Next weekend, Feb. 26-28, is the annual Gallifrey One convention at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. This year’s convention is the 21st and is themed Blackjack 21 and looks to be the biggest one yet.
If you are a Doctor Who fan, it is an event not to be missed.
With actors, writers, and other behind the scenes artists from classic and new Doctor Who as well as the spinoffs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, there’s plenty of fan squee to be had. Actors include Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Georgia Moffett (Jenny, “The Doctor’s Daughter”), Tommy Knight (Luke Smith), Anneke Wills (Polly), Fraser Hines (Jamie), and Deborah Watling (Victoria). Behind the scenes crew include writers Paul Cornell (“Human Nature/Family of Blood”), Rob Shearman (“Dalek”), Phil Ford (“Waters of Mars”), John Fay, Bob Baker (“The Invisible Enemy” and co-creator of K9), costume designer Louise Page, directors Graham Harper, Colin Teague, and Alice Troughton, comics writer Tony Lee, artist Pia Guerra, and even more.
There are also guests not related to Doctor Who, including writers such as David Gerrold, Marv Wolfman, Javier Grillo-Marxauch, Mark Waid, Wendy Pini, and Nancy Holder. You can check out the entire guest list on the convention’s web page.
Its just not the guest list that makes Gallifrey One a great convention, its all the fun things that go on during the weekend that makes it a cut above and why I’ve been to every single one since it started in 1990. There’s the usual activities like the “Masquerade of Mandragoa,” Q&A panels with the guests, a charity auction, autograph sessions, a dealers room, and art show. There’s also panels such as live commentary on episodes with the actors, writers, and directors, a Mystery Science Theater 3000-like take on a classic Doctor Who story, fan videos, and to tie into this year’s theme, a “Gamble With Time” casino. But there’s also a lot of hanging out with the guests and other fans, just talking about the show and whatever else people are interested in.
With Doctor Who about to enter a new era with a new Doctor (Matt Smith, taking over for the very popular David Tennant), there will be lots of discussion about what the new series debuting soon will be like. Gallifrey One attendees are especially looking forward to it since they’ve seen a lot of the new showrunner, Steven Moffat, at previously Gallifrey One conventions and have heard him talk about the show as a fan as well as a writer for it. I’ve enjoyed the chance to get to know many of the writers on the show, some of whom, like Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman, had been coming to the convention since long before they had a chance to write for the new TV series.
Gallfirey One has come a long way since the first convention in 1990, when the BBC had just ended the series after 26 years. Fans were excited to meet the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, but they were somewhat fearful that there would never been any more Doctor Who on television again. The convention survived and brought over many actors (both Doctors and companions), writers, and other behind the scenes artists. Many of them have now been back several times as well and it is more like a reunion with old friends when we see them at the convention now. There was some hope for a series revival when Philip Segal appeared, previewing the TV movie being produced by the BBC for FOX that aired in 1996, but that was a disappointment and didn’t lead to any more Doctor Who on TV, although the fans did really take to Paul McGann’s portrayal of The Doctor. However, as the decade progressed, Doctor Who fandom persevered, embracing the new line of original novels as well as their authors, who started coming over to Gallfrey One in droves, bringing some new Who-related excitement to the convention. New stories were also created for audio productions by Big Finish and the actors now had new adventures to talk about. During those years, shows like Babylon 5, Andromeda, Forever Knight, Battlestar Galactica, and the various incarnations of Star Trek were well represented at the convention with creators and actors appearing regularly. The convention went from an intimate gathering of 400 or so fans to 600 to 700 attendees through the end of the decade and into the early 2000s.
However, by Gallifrey One’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame in 2004 there was new excitement at the convention. The BBC had announced a new series to be produced by Russel T. Davies, who had written a recent novel for the franchise and was known by many of the novelists as a big fan of the show. There was lots of discussion about what might be in store for the series as well as restrained hope that it wouldn’t be another mis-step like the FOX movie. All the actors were asked if they’d be up for a reappearance, especially Paul McGann, who played the Doctor in the FOX movie, but at the time they knew as little as the fans did about what was to come. By The Sixteen Swashbucklers of Galifrey One in 2005, anticipation was high for the series about to debut in a few weeks after the convention.
Writers Paul Cornell (pictured) and Rob Shearman were in a strange position where they had written episodes for the new series and knew all about it, but could only talk about what was about to happen in general terms and had to keep themselves from talking too much. When they came back in 2006, they were finally able to talk about being able to write for a show they loved and were much relieved to not have to limit what they could say. Also, as with the prior year, the actors appearing were asked about the new show and what they thought about it coming back. I particularly remember Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) being asked if she’d like to appear on the new series, and while she said it would be nice, she didn’t think it would happen. Of course, she did reprise her role in the “School Reunion” episode the next year and has gone on to star in her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. At Gallifrey One in the Seventeenth (And a Half) Century in 2006, fans were celebrating the return of the series and got a chance to talk to one of the actors, Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), writers Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell, and Rob Sherman, and Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voices) about their involvement with the new series. Surprisingly, the total attendance for that year’s convention and the next years was still in the mid to upper 700s. With Gallifrey One’s Nineteenth Symphony: Opus 2008, more fans discovered the convention, breaking the 1,000 level for the first time and bringing many new fans into the Gallifrey One fold. Of note at that year’s convention, while Steven Moffat joined in on the panels talking about his award winning episodes, earning him the nickname “Hugo”, unbeknownst to the fans he was already preparing to take over the series after Russell T. Davies. While he was not able to attend the convention in 2009, he did not forget them and sent a message via Paul Cornell. Anticipation is high that he might provide something special for the fans at this year’s convention as well.
So, I’ll be heading out to Los Angeles at the end of the week to join up with a lot of old friends and hopefully make some new ones. If you can make it to this year’s convention, don’t be surprised to see a group of all 11 Doctors running around, or a wise-cracking Dalek wandering through the crowd (last year it even did karaoke!).
Lee Whiteside has been writing about science fiction and fantasy in various forms online since before the WWW existed. His website, sftv.org, keeps track of genre TV shows. He also is quite involved with organized fandom, having chaired CopperCons (16 & 23), LepreCons (28 & upcoming 36), The 2006 Nebula Awards, and the first North American Discworld Convention. And he runs the official Connie Willis Website at ConnieWillis.net.