There are myriad reasons why BBC Worldwide’s claim of this year’s official Doctor Who Convention being the “ultimate fan experience” was accurate. Being among the first one and a half thousand fans to see the trailer for the show’s seventh series was definitely a big part of it, on top of the opportunity to have questions fielded by lead cast members Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill, not to mention current Who mastermind Steven Moffat – but the real evidence was in the non-stop programme of prosthetics, pyrotechnics, and breakfast show-style cast discussions that left no dull moment in the 9 to 6 day.
Still, it wasn’t just the cast members receiving attention; the most incredible outpouring of creativity came from the fans, with notable highlights being a skilled recreation of the soldier doll from the most recent season’s “Night Terrors”, and a pair of Weeping Angels hailing from France who had their costume down to the tiniest detail, including stone-grey contact lenses. Obviously, fezes and bowties were well represented too (and Moffat is already mulling over his next crime against fashion, having recognised he now has the ability) and a number of young children had all the recent Doctors well represented, both in appearance and appropriate hyperactivity.
The venue, the Millennium Centre, is itself a location iconic to the series, its exterior most recognisable as the “tourist entrance” of the Torchwood headquarters in the distinctly Welsh spin-off (which also inspired a nearby “shrine” of sorts), but also its interior as the Two Streams clinic from “The Girl Who Waited” and a New New York hospital in the second season’s “New Earth”. What better place to host the ultimate Who Con than a location so central to the show’s whole universe, and within driving distance of the BBC Cymru studios? The limited number of fans who booked TARDIS tours enjoyed taking advantage of that latter point, taking a shuttle bus from the Centre for a small wander around the Type 40 set.
Although the esteemed show-runner was reluctant to reveal much of anything, with Moffat’s strong cries of “no!” and “nothing!” becoming well-known catchphrases by the day’s end, the world première of the show’s seventh series trailer at the end of the day ended things with a bang (less literally than in the special effects sessions), showing a number of the scenes recently shot in “America” – in actuality the same chunk of Spain where The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was shot – involving aliens, electricity, snow-topped mountains, a trigger-happy Amy Pond, and Matt Smith on horseback.
It’s hard to say for sure what was the best part of the convention; among the other highlights were Matt Smith’s improvised technobabble for a young boy’s sonic screwdriver question, the playable demos of Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock and Doctor Who: Worlds in Time, a Judoon terrifying Karen Gillan on stage, and the prop and costume display, which felt like England’s many Doctor Who museums on a slightly smaller scale. Matt Smith’s little verbal mix-up with “Doctor Ho” also served as a little unintentional comedy, and hinted at the cast’s own apprehension, backing up their proclaimed difficulty growing accustomed to having fans.
As far as conventions go, there’s no mistaking BBC Worldwide’s official event for one of the fan-organised alternatives; if this becomes the annual event that it aims to, then Cardiff’s Spring is going to see a new flurry of yearly activity. This is one Doctor Who event to which it’s worth making a pilgrimage; we came from Scotland, but judging by the number of questions that began “I’m from America”, there were more than a few that felt it was worth a transatlantic flight, and it’s hard to argue, especially with the Millennium Centre right in the centre of a gorgeous capital city like Cardiff. One thing is certain: this certainly is the ultimate Doctor Who fan experience.