Friday, July 25, 2008

the happening

went to the san diego comic-con yesterday -- just for the first day of the weekend-long event. a couple of weeks ago, i saw there were going to be panels on doctor who and torchwood. this is bbc america's first foray to the con; as TW is its most successful show ever, it makes sense that the net would want a presence there. anyway, i bought a ticket for thursday, and later mimi managed to snag one too -- the event sold out not long after we bought 'em. i rented a car for the drive, and we went down there on wednesday night. we made it to the con ctr in time to pick up our badges in advance that evening (OMG the line), then met up with a couple of artist pals of hers from new york city, who generously let us crash at their hotel.

i haven't been to a con since the late '80s. i knew it had gotten a lot bigger, but the scale of it was a fully overwhelming, sensory-overloaded, trance-inducing, at times alarming (due to sheer crush of humanity, mainly) but usually delightful experience. we got into the con ctr around 10:30 on thursday morning, secured coffee, and sat in on the virgin comics panel featuring stan lee and grant morrison -- mainly b/c it was in the same ballroom that the DW/TW panels were in right afterward, and we wanted to make sure we got seats. stan lee is a self-aggrandizing old coot -- yeah, yeah, and a comics legend, blah blah blah -- but grant morrison was game, not to mention charming in his suit.

various fan were dressed as characters from the two shows, including several tenth doctors. at one point a whole parade of different doctors walked by -- one, three, four, six, and ten. what a groovy sight. later on, mimi and i spotted the fan in the above photo (by mimi) dressed perfectly like ten -- brown pinstripes, patterned tie, pale dress shirt, cream-colored converse, camel coat ... not to mention spiky hair. and when we asked to take his picture, he busted out the sonic screwdriver and struck a pose -- so awes!

i had decided to embark on this whole endeavor b/c i wanted to hear DW reimaginer/head writer/producer russell t. davies talk. but he wasn't on the panel. (he apparently had to stay behind and write the rest of TW S3.) i knew this going in b/c i had inside info. but i thought it was weird that, although it was known at least a week ago (and maybe more) that he wouldn't be there, the official con website schedule was never updated to show this.

anyway, so, it turned out ok, b/c the DW panel DID feature writer steven moffat (who's penned such brill eps as "blink," "the empty child"/"the doctor dances," "the girl in the fireplace," and "silence in the library"/"forest of the dead"), who will be taking over show-running for the 2010 season, and executive producer julie gardner, who is also a bigwig at BBC TV and BBC wales. both were great, and i ended up almost glad that RTD wasn't there, b/c it put the spotlight on moffat (a scot, like DW star david tennant and, actually, grant morrison). he and julie had a sort of running bit about some apparent troubles he'd had getting into the country for the con. he joked at one point that he thought the doctor's sending his "clingy girlfriend" to another dimension with his clone was a clever way to get rid of her. (hmm, i sense they're done with billie piper, then?) and he generally took on the fans with good humor but wasn't afraid to poke fun at some ideas and comments -- even while flatly rejecting any overtures for the slightest detail of what he has planned for the show.

they showed a montage of clips from who eps moffat wrote (but -- boo! -- not from the eccleston two-fer "the empty child"/"the doctor dances" ... i hope it wasn't b/c someone decided, "whatever. that doctor is sooo four seasons ago.") and, later, we got the full trailer for the '08 christmas special (featuring cybermen, bleah, but still looking like it's gonna be cool) -- the only piece of preview footage shown (they got nothing else to show ... i mean, the sarah jane adventures weren't part of it, although there is a brief trailer for SJA S2 now.) it has a seemingly sinister female in it, and i taunted mimi that it might be the rani at last.

the panelists had a brief chat session before taking questions from the audience. most of these were of the "how do you come up with your ideas?" and, "will we be seeing more of _____ [river song, the doctor's daughter, etc.] in S5?" (not telling.) and, will all the episodes be as scary as "blink," "silence in the library"/"forest of the dead," etc.? (maybe.) his answer about whether or not river song recognized "the essence" of the doctor or the actual tennant doctor was interesting: he said that she had met the tennant doctor but "that's not the only doctor she's met." hmm. so she met tennant's doctor, and then he regenerated at some point? maybe? would be a clever way to keep his options open, i suppose.

one person referenced "time crash" and asked if moffat would consider writing a longer story featuring some of the other actors who've played the doctor. he said he thought such a thing could be dispatched in 8 minutes (a la "time crash") and added that the story would have to be worth more than the novelty of two different versions of the same man meeting. (backstory: there have apparently been rumors, or wishful thinking, or something, about a "three doctors" with paul mcgann, christopher eccleston, and david tennant.) yeah? well, i've got an idea! they all somehow get dragged back to the time war and end up saving gallifrey. b/c frankly, all this last-of-the-time-lords stuff has run its course. bring back the time lords, so the doctor can have someone messing with HIS life once in a while! plus, it would be a great story for those three, b/c it seems likely that mcgann's doctor went through the time war, eccleston's is the regeneration from whatever happened to him in it, and tennant is the still-processing-it-all doctor.

someone else brought up SJA and the spoiler about another old who supporting character coming back on that show (click the link if you want to know), and asked if there were plans to bring back anyone else. moffat rather aggressively stated that the show is really for the new crop of 8-year-olds who come to it every year, and not about nostalgia. this may be an insight into how he will want to shape the show -- although i don't think he meant that there's no value in tapping into the show's history or the longtime cultural love affair with it. RTD has certainly been forward-looking with who, but part of the appeal for him was definitely, and specifically, nostalgic. and he played to that sentiment for viewers too: bringing back all the old villains, and some old friends, and even an earlier version of the doctor. by contrast, moffat's nostalgia for the series seems more rooted in the effect the show had on him as a kid, the lasting impression it left -- mostly the scary-creepy impression.

indeed, moffat's take on the whoniverse seems to be that, as mimi later summed it up, "everything is canon, and nothing is canon." which makes for exciting possibilities. the only thing i want never to happen, ever, is for the doctor's true name to be revealed. other than that, go for it.

the TW panel was a much different animal, mainly due to the presence of john "captain jack" barrowman. as they say in the old school, he's a pistol! he came charging out, leaped up on his chair, and waved his arms in the air like he just didn't care. his short black polo shirt rode up, exposing his white belt (!) and white belly, and he pretended like he was going to moon us, but didn't. and that was just the entrance. here he is below (second from left) in this close-up from my one half-decent shot of the panel, grinning mischievously:

julie gardner stayed on for the TW panel (more photos from it in this report from the con), and they were joined by gareth david-lloyd (who plays torchwood righthand man/jack's lover ianto jones) wearing a black portishead t-shirt, and naoko mori (who played toshiko sato, until her character was killed off this season). it was a rollicking good time, although the clip reel they showed from S2 ended with tosh's death scene, which was truly devastational. the lights came up, and barrowman was wiping his eyes, gareth had his head in his hands, and everyone in the crowd was like, "bummer!" JB commented that it was hard to watch that scene, and indeed they had had a hard time shooting it, b/c they weren't just losing a character from the show but a family member (i've read this sentiment before in interviews). but he praised naoko's acting -- she actually seemed like the least shook up by seeing the scene again, which was interesting. or maybe she's just better at covering her emotions.

anyway, the fan Q&A included the cringeworthy moment when one guy said he finally got to get on his knees for captain jack -- OMG, no he diiiidn't!! and the totes charming part where someone noted that JB had earlier mentioned appearing in miss saigon with naoko, so now could they please sing some of their duet "sun and moon"? ahaha! they actually did "the last night of the world," somewhat haltingly in terms of remembering the lyrics at first, but naoko sang purely, and by the end JB got on track, and it was rather lovely, actually, with a sweet melancholy to it.

gardner said that the next TW series (which is only five eps long) will be all one big story, and that really bad things will happen. OMG, they killed off half the team last season -- how much worse can it GET? and -- can't wait to find out!

i was really struck by how much all of these people seemed truly enthusiastic and happy in their jobs. it's not surprising, of course -- both shows are great, and really popular in the UK. some of the joy comes from being successful, but also, i think, especially for the people who grew up loving who (like moffat and barrowman), it's the bliss of getting to be a part of something that meant so much to them. even as a viewer, that's one of the charms of the modern whoniverse for me -- seeing this show i used to love as a kid brought back to even more exceptional and brilliant life. also, the camaraderie among the three TW actors felt genuine, although frankly i can imagine that dealing with barrowman's over-the-top personality all day, every day might be wearing after a while.

this concludes the panels portion of my comic-con report. there's more to say about the carnival that was the trade show (and the stuff i bought), but i'll save it for the next post.

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