The Official Doctor Who Convention – Part Two

The Millennium Centre Cardiff during the Convention © Sophie Brown
The Millennium Centre Cardiff during the Convention © Sophie Brown

Last week I wrote about the three main theatre panel sessions at the Official Doctor Who convention in March. Today I’ll be focusing on some of the smaller panels and talks that were given throughout the day. There were two presentations outside of those in main theatre along with a third fifteen minute talk and several other events happening throughout the day.

The Millennium FX team demonstrate prosthetics casting © Sophie Brown
The Millennium FX team demonstrate prosthetics casting © Sophie Brown

The first of the smaller panels I attended was run by Millennium FX, the team who produce the prosthetics and special effects makeup for the show.

The prosthetics team create the masks worn by actors playing the countless alien species on Doctor Who and the company also produce prosthetics for other productions, recently including one for Lady GaGa. The prosthetics sessions ran repeatedly throughout the day with four different demonstrations rotating to allow attendees to watch multiple processes.

The session I attended had the team creating a mould from the hand of an audience volunteer who was allowed to take the rubber fingers produced at the end home with him. They also made a face cast of one of their own crew members before using biscuit foam (what the Mythbusters referred to as “AB Foam” in the “Plane on a Conveyor Belt” episode) to form a replica of her face.

It was a fascinating experience to see these processes occurring in real time right in front of you. The team also passed out several samples of the products they were using into the audience so everyone could touch the materials. The other prosthetics sessions included transforming a crew member into a ganger live on stage, learning how to colour the prosthetics with airbrushing, and hearing about life on set from the cast who play Doctor Who’s aliens and monsters.

In between the prosthetics demonstrations, the team from SVS Resources who are responsible for digitally remastering Classic Who episodes for their DVD releases were doing short talks on the process of fixing the often heavily damaged film. They explained the processes involved and showed dozens of clips which demonstrated the work the team put into making these episodes sparkle.

Some of the original scenes they showed looked beyond repair, yet when they showed the same footage after it had gone through their painstaking processes, it looked like it might have been shot yesterday. They also explained how they rebuilt the credits in every episode as the originals were now virtually impossible to read, making sure that all the cast and crew in these early episodes could have their moments of fame preserved.

A DVD Extra shows some of the techniques that were discussed in the restoration talk.

A young audience volunteer shoots a Cyberman © Sophie Brown
A young audience volunteer shoots a Cyberman © Sophie Brown

The second of the smaller panels took place inside one of the side theatres and was run by Danny Hargreaves, Doctor Who‘s SFX supervisor. Danny’s team is in charge of physical effects, those which actually take place on set rather than being added in afterwards by computers.

Multiple demonstrations took place including blowing out part of a fake wall which caused everyone in the audience to jump, even those of us who had been expecting something to happen!

The team brought in weather effects including fog and falling snow and demonstrated explosive gunfire for battle scenes. The panel was also invaded by a Dalek (the only Dalek I saw all day, as it happened) and a Cyberman, the latter being shot at by a young audience volunteer armed with an obscenely large fake gun.

After the session ended with an in depth audience Q& A, guests could stay behind for a photo opportunity with the Cyberman who was much larger in “person” than they appear on screen.

Guests try out the latest Doctor Who video games © Sophie Brown
Guests try out the latest Doctor Who video games © Sophie Brown

Down the hall in a small lobby area, multiple Playstation 3’s and new PS Vita’s had been set up to allow guests to try out the latest Doctor Who video game – The Eternity Clock (out this month, and later in the year for PC.)

I chose not to try the game myself at the con, my gaming skills are rather weak and I didn’t feel like showing myself up in a room full of teenage boys who all seemed to be able to pick up the controls and have the Doctor doing triple somersaults across a warehouse ten seconds later.

The game did look really interesting, and the graphics are absolutely stunning – though River’s hair was a little… odd from what I saw. Matt’s Doctor was very accurate and the surroundings as beautiful as you can make the inside of a warehouse look – it certainly made me want to play it. One screen in the games area was dedicated to another new game, the first MMORPG game for the Who franchise Worlds in Time which is now available to play for free. This is a very different style of game with puzzle solving at its core and with cute cartoonish graphics. I saw players designing their characters and choosing outfits and accessories, this is a game that looks at first glance to be worlds apart from The Eternity Clock. The Worlds in Time screen was also being broadcast live on YouTube for viewers around the world to watch.

The trailer for “The Eternity Clock”

The trailer for “Worlds in Time”

Throughout the day, other events were continuously running for guests to drop in and out of between the scheduled panels. Various supporting cast and several lead crew members were out signing autographs for free at the venue’s reception desk including Mark Sheppard who commanded a continuously long line all day, probably in part due to the long conversations he was striking up with everyone who approached him.

I managed to make him laugh by asking him to sign a card from my X-Files CCG deck – the villain he played back in 1993, Mark promptly grabbed the card and showed it to the others at the desk, “this is what I looked like when I was young!” he announced. Matt, Karen and Arthur were also available for autographs and photo sessions, however these had to be pre-booked through the conventions website at a not insignificant cost.

Cosplayers genderswap the 5th and 11th Doctors © Sophie Brown
Cosplayers genderswap the 5th and 11th Doctors © Sophie Brown

There was always something to see and at the Doctor Who convention.

Even eating lunch had a Who theme to it as the stunning weather allowed me to join many Whovians eating outside around the guest entrance to Torchwood HQ. All day long I saw monsters out for photo opps in the lobby and guests dressed in awesome costumes, I also got a good idea of just how many different Doctor Who t-shirts designs there are in the world and I tell you this, there’s a LOT.

Everyone I saw seemed to be having a good time and I heard good comments about the free tote bags handed out to all guests that included a convention tee and programme. Sadly I didn’t have the time to take one of the free tour buses out to the actual TARDIS set but if the event runs again next year I assure you that is top of my to-do list.

Overall this was an incredibly well put together convention that seems to have been a huge hit with the fans. I’ve heard a lot of discussion already about “next year” and I hope the event will run again as I know I’ll be attending if possible.

Entry to the convention was provided free of charge for this review. 

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