Thanksgiving. A time for family, turkey, and… Doctor Who? Well, yes if you’re in the Chicago area. Last weekend was the American Thanksgiving weekend, and concurrent with those celebrations, Chicago TARDIS led a celebration of all things Doctor Who.
The convention was celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and that is oddly appropriate as this was also the 20th anniversary of the first Doctor Who audio from Big Finish.
Big Finish was present in a big way. They had a large booth in the centre of the vendors’ area, with an uncountable number of CDs and box sets. Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery was present at the booth, as was Sue Cowley, whose role, if I recall correctly, is digital asset manager at Big Finish. Jason also ran a daily Big Finish session. The first featured Rhianne Starbuck, who had worked with Tom Baker on a fourth Doctor adventure, Doctor Who: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 01. The second session included Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor, and the third brought in just about everyone associated with Big Finish.
I enjoyed many of the sessions and panels. Of particular interest, I found, was a session in which Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy interviewed each other, then took questions from the audience. Another was where Arthur Darvill provided live commentary on the episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan”. This was apparently the first time he’d seen the episode since working on it. Asked who was his favourite character in Doctor Who, he said “River Song. She gets all the best lines.” He also said that he didn’t wish to resume playing Rory as he and Amy had had a perfect ending, and to add to that would, in his view, diminish that ending. Personally, I think there’s room for many more Amy and Rory stories, but that’s certainly a fair point of view.
The knowledge and love of the fans for Doctor Who was quite extraordinary. I freely confess that, compared to the average attendee, my knowledge of Doctor Who falls into the category of rank amateur. For not only is the TV version of Who 56 years old (minus a few years of hiatus), but there are innumerable books, comics and audios, and somehow, attendees seemed to have more than a passing familiarity with many of them. I still don’t know how they do it.
There was a wedding at the convention, on the Saturday night, I think. And then, to my surprise, the happy couple showed up for work the following day. In another case, a woman thanked the organizers because she’d met her husband of four years at this convention. It also seemed that many friendships had been struck here, and that people come year after year in part to renew those acquaintances. Nice to see how a convention like this can bring people together.
The convention is held in a hotel, with various meeting rooms used for panels, vendors, and artists. It’s oddly informal, as you might find Arthur Darvill waiting for an elevator, or catch one of the guests chatting in the lobby. I ran into Rhianne Starbuck in the corridor and we had a short but nice chat, comparing notes about the north of England. Still, I had to wonder what the regular hotel guests made of the whole thing, with cosplayers, Daleks and K-9 roaming the halls.
Of course, there’s time for a chat with the guests at their autograph sessions. I met Paul McGann and Katy Manning this way. Paul McGann was fully engaged with his fans, and seemed genuinely pleased to have the chance to meet them. And as for Katy Manning, well, there are no words. She was sweet as can be, giving everyone hugs and taking a real interest in everyone. I might have let slip to both of them that I’d written a couple of Short Trips for Big Finish, and this sparked a lovely conversation with them.
This was my first Chicago TARDIS and I wasn’t disappointed. There was so much going on that you had to be choosy, so actually, my only disappointment was that I couldn’t be in two places at once. It’s quite a testament to the history of Doctor Who that so many activities can be set up over three days, and that so many fans would congregate here to compare notes and express their love of the show. You can’t help but leave exhilarated. I don’t expect that this will be my last visit to Chicago TARDIS.