We 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.
Showrunner 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.
Take 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.
This 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.)
Through 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.
Want 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.
Throughout 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.
The 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.
As 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.
If 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.
[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!]
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