Nearly ten years ago I went to a Doctor Who convention at Castle Green, Gale Street, Greater London, called “Invasion 2008”, on Saturday 1st March 2008. The following is my convention report from the time, included here now as a historical curiosity!
I would like to start by thanking the organisers for a wonderful day. The convention took place in a large conference centre. In the morning there were interviews on the stage, in front of a hall that had enough seats for 600 people, plus another 150 on an upper level. As there were 680 of us there, that meant everyone could get a seat. There was the choice to queue up for photos with the actors throughout the morning, or go to ‘coffee lounges’ – basically interviews with a small group of paying fans. I decided to give all that a miss, as I didn’t want to miss any of the interviews on stage, or lose my good seat (which I had arrived at 7.15 to get!)
Admission was from 7.30 and the convention got under way at 9am. It all started with a sequence of Doctor Who clips on the huge screen behind the stage, and the theme music started booming out – a moment of great excitement. There were pre-recorded introductions on screen for each guest, which sounded like they had been read out by the guy that does the X Factor announcements – I don’t know if it was him or not.
The first guests were the three child actors: Lara Phillipart, William Hughes and Abisola Agbaje. William was the young Master last year and Abisola played Chloe in Fear Her. For those of you who don’t follow Torchwood, the one episode everyone should see is Small Worlds, in which Lara plays Jasmine – it is an incredible performance for a child actress. The three kids were supposed to have been joined on stage by Sophie Aldred, but unfortunately Sophie arrived late due to a late flight back from America, so the kids had to face the limelight on their own. They did remarkably well, especially considering that they had little help from the interviewer, who was at times at a loss for words. A better interviewer could have helped them out when they were at times struggling to find the right words, or the problem could have been solved by having somebody like Nick Briggs on stage with them. Even so, they answered all the questions, including the ones from the audience, with great enthusiasm. Hopefully 10thplanet will invite them to another convention in future, because they really deserve it.
Next up were Johnny Dennis, Jean Marsh and Sylvia Syms. They were joined late in the interview by Sophie Aldred. Considering she must have been jetlagged after her late flight, she was remarkably enthusiastic. Even late in the afternoon after signing hundreds of autographs she was still going out of her way to be bright and friendly to all the fans.
The next panel was the dream line-up of Paul McGann and Nick Briggs. They made a very funny double act, ending the panel with Paul egging Nick on to produce some video Doctor Who on the quiet with the Eighth Doctor, in a secret location!
Nick Briggs stayed for the next panel, to be joined by some other ‘monster’ actors: Sean Palmer who played a clockwork droid, Agnieszka Blonska who was a Weeping Angel, and Paul Kasey who has been nearly every monster, including Cybermen, Autons and Ood.
Finally it was the turn of Tom Baker. The chairs were cleared off the stage, absolutely everyone took their seats, and out came Tom to huge applause, talking into a bottle of wine as if it was a microphone. He spent the next hour on stage (stood up all the time – he has amazing stamina for his age) taking questions from the audience in a sort of stand up comedy routine. He was magnificent, of course.
The only thing that could have been improved about the morning was that it was really a mistake to have the dealers’ tables at the back of the convention hall. There was a lot of noise coming from the back of the hall which must have been a problem for people sitting near to the back. I could hear the murmur of conversation from near the front, and I thought it was disrespectful towards the guests on stage, particularly early in the day when the kids were being interviewed in front of a smaller audience. It should have been in another room, until the signing session in the afternoon.
The afternoon was given over to autographs. I made the mistake of actually getting something to eat, and by the time I had finished, the queue to get back into the hall had stretched along the corridor, out of the building and was spiralling round on itself outside! The organisers came up with a very sensible solution. A lady came round and said that if we didn’t want Tom’s autograph we could go straight in and get all the others. As much as I would have liked to meet Tom, I already had his autograph several times over and I was not prepared to sacrifice meeting all the others, so in I went. I certainly made the right decision because the people at the back of the queue that decided to wait never got to see Tom in any case as he had to leave early, and also missed out on some of the other guests after hours of queuing. I felt very sorry for them, but it is hard to see how it could have been organised any better. The autographs always cause problems at conventions and nobody has ever been able to come up with a solution.
Anyway, I greatly enjoyed meeting all the guests and getting my programme signed. You could see the pride in the three child actors’ faces – they were superstars for the day, with hundreds of people queuing up for their autographs. I particularly enjoyed meeting Nick Briggs, who has transformed over the years from a fan himself into a Doctor Who legend! I asked him if he still had the cardboard tie from In Memory Alone – I think he was pleased to be asked about something so obscure from his acting past!
A few of the guests deserve special mention and the heartfelt thanks of all attending: Anneke Wills was there to sign her new book but made it clear that she was happy to sign anything for anyone without charge. Not only that, but she spent the whole day chatting to the fans – she is a lovely lady and I felt honoured to meet her. Lara Phillipart was smiling from the moment she arrived at the convention and never stopped smiling the whole day. She is an extremely talented young actress who deserves to have a fantastic career. Richard Bonehill did signings but not a panel, and he made sure he shook everyone’s hand and introduced himself. Sophie Aldred was cheerful and friendly all day despite her jetlag, and of course no convention is complete without Nick Briggs.
Invasion was the first convention I had been to for many years. I was tempted back by the prospect of seeing Tom Baker, but in the end it was some of the other actors who really made the day for me, not to take anything away from Tom, of course. A Doctor Who fan’s love of the programme never really fades as such, but there are times when it takes a backseat or we take it all for granted. A convention like Invasion makes us excited and enthusiastic about Doctor Who all over again and reminds us why Doctor Who really is the best television programme in the world.