17 April 2018

Hello! Welcome to this new column! ‘What’s it about?’ I hear you cry. Good question. I’m not entirely sure of the answer yet - let’s just see what happens. 

My initial thought was that this would be a sort of ‘Doctor Who Diary’ - a monthly round-up of things that have been happening in the Whoniverse, peppered with gossip and chit-chat and gags. A bit like the ‘3AM Girls’, but with more Terileptils. With this in mind, on Friday the 13th of April I dutifully headed off to the Target Books signing at the London Forbidden Planet Megastore on Shaftesbury Avenue. Due to attend were all five authors of the new adaptations, including Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat - perhaps I could get some juicy quotes from them! Maybe Russell could be persuaded to finally spill the beans on Christopher Eccleston, or Steven could explain the actual literal silence at the end of Vampires of Venice…? That sort of inside scoop could really get this fledgling feature off to a flying start! 

Quick bit of background: I have been to a few organised fan events in the past, but not many. I attended Panopticon 93 - the big 30th anniversary convention - as a precocious fourteen year old. And then, twenty years later, I trotted along to the enormous, slick, BBC organised 50th Anniversary celebration at London’s ExCel Exhibition Centre. (Where fans were herded about in giant hangers like Ood being prepared for shipping - a lot of the experience was quite miserable.) And, most recently, for the past couple of years I’ve enjoyed the annual Utopia weekends held at Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire, relaxed affairs which are much more up my alley. Mostly a lot of drunk gay men in a big old country house fawning over Wendy Padbury and other ‘actresses of a certain age’. (I say that with the greatest of affection, and count myself among the fawners.) Throw in the odd book signing here and there, (as well as pub meets for LGBT Doctor Who fans with The Sisterhood of Karn in Soho - more on them another time…) and that’s about the sum total of my fan event experience. So I had a reasonable idea of what to expect from the Target event, but by no means consider myself an expert on such matters. 

I arrived at Forbidden Planet a good hour before the scheduled start time, and was surprised to be confronted by a snaking queue already winding its way right around the block - there were *hundreds* of people there, far more than I had anticipated. Perhaps you were one of them and saw me - looking slightly panicked as I walked along the line to join the back of the queue, trying desperately to appear terribly cool and above it all.

I’ve always had a slightly complicated relationship with my own fandom. I consider myself to be a hardcore aficionado - I own Wartime on DVD - but there’s still sometimes a slight sense of shame that can nip at my heels from time to time. Here I was, suddenly exposed and out on the street, clutching my carrier bag full of books ready to be signed. Within the first few minutes several bemused onlookers asked what was going on - the look on their faces when I explained that the queue was to meet some Doctor Who writers only helped to fuel my shame demons… Which I *know* is ridiculous - I *know* that being a fan is wonderful and magical and enriching - I think it’s just the baggage of preconceived ideas of others that sometimes weighs heavy on me. Plus there was the fact that at that precise moment I was surrounded by the worst thing in the universe - other fans. 

Fans in front of me, fans behind me - nothing but fans. I didn’t want to interact, I didn’t want them to talk to me - I steeled myself for however many hours it was going to take of standing in complete silence. I absolutely didn’t want to engage with the sort of people who would subject themselves to standing in the cold, for hours, all for the sake of a sci-fi show. So instead I popped in my headphones and played the latest Fifth Doctor adventure from Big Finish

Eventually, the people in front of me, two men and a girl, did strike up a conversation, and, reluctantly, I got drawn in. And then, of course, we talked for *hours*. Talking and talking and more wonderful talking. It is an extraordinary and liberating thing to converse with people who share the same specialised knowledge as oneself. (‘Yes, the spine numbering on the Titan graphic novels IS quite irritating…’ ) We learnt about each other’s lives and loves and favourite Virgin Missing Adventures. And it was glorious. There was I, intent on being all stand-offish and judgemental, and here were these wonderful, funny, generous people - kind and wise enough to ignore my pretentions and include me in a happy little makeshift group that smiled and laughed and queued in the cold.

When we reached the head of the line - two and a half hours later - we insisted to the Forbidden Planet gatekeepers that we should go in to the signing as a foursome, and refused to be separated. It is clear to me, and probably to you, that I had been projecting my own fears and insecurities about my own fandom onto others, and that, dear reader, is a very silly thing to do. What I had so foolishly feared wasn’t other fans at all - it was simply my own reflection. Fortunately, on this occasion the Mara was defeated, and everyone skipped off into the sunset for space buns and tea. 

I can’t say that the shame demons will never haunt me again, but this happy and enlightening experience has equipped me to better fight them off if they do. (Oh - also there was a bit where some people signed some books for us, but that was over very quickly, and I was too busy giggling with my new friends to ask them for any quotes or gossip. Sorry.)

Richard Unwin

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