The “Doctor Who Am I?” Documentary Project

If you’ve attended a Doctor Who themed convention in the United States over the past year, odds are very good that one of the camera crews seen milling about was shooting footage for an upcoming documentary titled, “Doctor Who Am I?”, a project from the creative minds of Vanessa Yuille and Matthew Jacobs, who co-produced and wrote the 1996 TV Doctor Who film. As a study of the American DW fandom and its fascinating embrace of a five decade-running British program, it will feature interviews and commentary from those fans, along with collectors, writers, television historians, convention showrunners, and the stars of the 1996 production, including Daphne Ashbrook, Yee Jee Tso, and the Eighth Doctor himself, Paul McGann.

We sat down with Mr. Jacobs and Ms. Yuille for a chat about the project, the creative spark that is bringing it about as we near the 20th anniversary of the Eighth Doctor’s first appearance, and the incredible source material that is the Doctor Who fan base in the United States. Supported in large part by an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, the film is moving from the filming stage to the time and resource-intensive post-production cycle, and Whovian fans around the world are encouraged to join in the support — by contribution if possible, but in any capacity, by simply spreading the word about this ambitious labor of love.

During the conversation, we were thrilled to get some insight into the film in progress, as well as details on Matthew Jacobs’ experiences writing and producing the ’96 film. We asked a few bold questions about challenges faced in the process, and not only got our answers, but were informed that a lot more candid discussion from the cast and crew will be included in the documentary to be released by May of 2016 — as if we needed more encouragement!

Join GPR in supporting and promoting the documentary project, and help “Doctor Who Am I?” reach its advanced fundraising goals, and become the feature we’re all certain it can be. (And American project backers, your donations are tax deductible!)

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The Clique-ing of the Clock

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Whether you deem yourself a part of the “Baker Brigade” or a flag-waving resident of “Tennant Nation”, we’re talking to you. If you align yourself firmly with “Classic Who”, “NuWho”, or are a recruit/convert/drop-in from Torchwood, we’d like a moment of your time. Everyone listening? Thank you. In the words of another time-traveling team, we ask that you cease with in-fighting, and “be excellent to each other.”

There are all sorts of subsets within the Doctor Who fan base, and if examine your stance carefully, you’ll find that you likely fit into more than one. The diversity in our fandom is one of the many aspects of being a Whovian that bolsters and enriches the experience. But not every group is constructive — some are elitist, confrontational, or downright toxic.

This week, we take a look at those factions of Whovians that prefer to exclude rather than include. Be it the “Classic” standard-bearers who openly disdain those post-2005 fans, or the Rose/10 ‘shippers who say that the world ended with Series 4; some of the cliques that develop around a 50-plus year program simply fail to adopt the same inclusive ideologies as their own beloved title character. We look at the effect that such toxic attitudes can have on the rest of the fandom, and how to deal with someone who tells you that you are someone “fan”-ing wrong.

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One L.I. Who 2 Remember

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gpr_liwho2_01We knew we had arrived at a very special place when the little Nissan compact in front of us had license plates from over 1,800 miles away, and a plush Dalek hanging from the rear-view window. Unpacking the recording gear and heading towards the lobby, the unmistakable “Official TARDIS Chase & Recovery Vehicle” owned and operated by the gifted TARDIS Tara dominated the first two parking spaces like a Whovian shrine. A glance to the right displayed a small sign posted down among the flower beds with a Dalek silhouette and the caption, “CULTIVATE!”

Let me retract just a bit. Using the term “special place” may not do this justice. Long Island Doctor Who Con was like coming home — and we’d never set foot in Ronkonkoma, New York in our lives.

gpr_liwho2_13Showrunner and creator Ken Deep, program director Billy Davis, and operations director Brad Hausman had assembled a staff of volunteers, contributors, artists, vendors ready to handle a con twice its size, and when taking into account the fact that this was only the second year hosting the event, his efforts bordered on Herculean. You would think that from the star-studded guest roster, this was actually going to be twice the size it was — the line-up had us at GPR reeling from first mention of the convention. We arrived early in the first day to conduct interviews and meet with staff, but by the time general registration tables were open, and the Whovians descended upon the Clarion Hotel, it was clear that Ken had met all these challenges, and created something incredible.

gpr_liwho2_04Take a moment to think about convention atmosphere. There’s a particular charm and intimacy of privately-run gatherings that target a single fandom, as opposed to the multi-faceted industry-driven circuses like NYCC and SDCC, or even the fan-structured but densely populated DragonCon or WizardCon. Within the Whovian milieu, the mind immediately jumps to Gallifrey One (and we did bump into their program director Shaun in attendance), but the controlled size of L.I. Who allowed for a more familiar and approachable tone to the weekend.

gpr_liwho2_02This was even apparent among the guests, who were able to walk casually and unrushed through the corridors and panel rooms, chatting and enjoying themselves as much as the public. Colin Baker commented on cosplayers, and his ‘dashing’ likeness in portraits on artists’ displays as he headed towards a signing table. Yee Jee Tso borrowed a fan’s guitar to serenade early attendees. I stood at an immensely crowded bar waiting 15 minutes for a glass of wine, and when bumping accidentally into the shoulder of someone next to me, I turned to find myself apologizing to Paul McGann. (I’ll take that Malbec with a side of surrealism, please and thank you.)

gpr_liwho2_09Through it all, the staff was so upbeat and pleasant, even in the face of tight schedules and logistic stressors, that the positivity could not help but infect the con-goers like so much “Happy-Bola”. (Yes. I just made that a word, and it’s on the Internet. Hence, REAL.) Even the orange-shirted security staff were smiling and laughing with passers-by, collecting snarky commemorative ribbons, and taking photos of exceptional cosplay when spotted. On that note, we should tip the brown felt fedora to the amazing array of the presented DW characters and icons — so vast and thorough, in fact, that they were able to conduct a ‘Time Line’ of cosplayers, stretching from ‘Unearthly Child’ Hartnell, complete with tea-cozy hat, to a ‘Caretaker’ Capaldi. Companions, monsters, and even a few clever crossovers rounded out the scene, adding more color, LED glow, and accessories than you could shake a vortex manipulator at.

gpr_liwho2_06Want to test the organization and crowd-control skills of the convention staff, while simultaneously assessing the hive-minded behavior of hundreds of overexcited nerds? Pack them into two ballrooms, and present a live broadcast of the Doctor Who series 8 finale. Deciding first to designate a ‘quiet room’ where reactions were laughed/cried/squeed into one’s hands to allow others to hear, and a distant ‘raucous room’ where all emotional outbursts were flung headlong at the projection screen, was a wise move. (Making that second room the larger of the two was a stroke of genius.) The energy erupting from those rooms after the “Death in Heaven” broadcast completed was incredible: strangers embracing; favorite lines being repeated through Tom Baker-like grins (“Bananas!”); hands waving frantically overhead as if trying to shake answers out of an invisible Steven Moffat. The post-viewing L.I. Who crowd was nearly as entertaining as the finale episode itself. Nearly.

gpr_liwho2_07Throughout the weekend, contributing panelists did a commendable job keeping topics related to “classic” Who fresh and interesting, while giving plenty of opportunity to discuss the post-2005 series. From companion analyses, to the changing roles and representation of women in the program, nearly every slot on the schedule filled to capacity — which is likely one of the many factors why Mr. Deep will be looking to a larger venue for 2015. (More on that shortly.) The guests were gracious, affable, and like all others, limitlessy cheerful. No doubt that their enthusiasm was supported by the intelligent and thought-provoking questions posed by moderators and fans. I’d be hard-pressed to tell you how many times I heard a guest like Daphne Ashbrook or Jason Haigh-Ellery of Big Finish reply, “You know, quite honestly? I’ve never been asked that before”, and know they were genuine in saying so.

gpr_liwho2_03The end result was hours spent gathering fascinating insight into production experiences, laughing along to on-set anecdotes (bless you, Frazer Hines!), witnessing side-splitting interactions when assembled guests played games like “The Whovian Match Game” (and we now know that “Asian Child-ed” is a verb, courtesy of Mr. Tso), and listening in awe as guest of honor Terrance Dicks recounted his incredible writing legacy, with sharpness that would make you think he penned the scripts only yesterday.

gpr_liwho2_09bAs mentioned earlier, a convention focused upon one fandom has the advantage of focus and attention to detail. Utilizing an operations and coordinating staff that are, each and every one, also fans themselves, takes that focus and generates an experience that truly knows its attendees and their passions. And lastly, by keeping the total attendance numbers carefully limited, that passionate experience has room to move, see, hear, and absorb all it desires. 2015 will bring Long Island Doctor Who 3, and while it will be moving to a larger venue in an adjacent town, the goal as I understood from those describing it was not so much to increase headcount — in fact, that will still be kept to reasonable levels by anyone’s standards — but to provide a more open, mobile and aesthetically pleasing convention.

gpr_liwho2_11If these brave (mad?) Whovians are able to make the next year’s event just as successful and memorable as this proved to be, they will have done the Doctor Who program and its dedicated fan base a wonderful service. The fact that they plan to further and improve the convention is a feat I personally am eager to witness — and I certainly plan to, because I have every confidence that they can do so.

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[NOTE: Gallifrey Public Radio interviews from L.I. Who 2 will be released in a supplemental cast. GPR guests include Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Frazer Hines, Paul McGann, and Terrance Dicks. Stay tuned!]

[Full photo gallery available on our Facebook profile.]

[Very special thanks to Ken D. and Andre T. of L.I. Who — visit at longislanddoctorwho.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LIDoctorWhoCon. ]