My Low-Res DIY Doctor Who Video Collection

Yesterday’s announcement of the new Season 10 Doctor Who Blu-Ray set has me reminiscing about my homemade Doctor Who tape collection from the eighties. Jon Pertwee episodes at better than broadcast-quality! If you’d told me we’d have this some day, my teenage brain would have exploded.

We didn’t have the Internet! And the BBC hadn’t started issuing official Doctor Who tapes yet. So I survived on my own shady, low-res off-the air recordings. Luckily, my family hardly ever touched the VCR. So I took it over. I knew how to program it and I could bend it to my will. I wasn’t Omega or The Master, but I was dead-set, I was driven.

We lived in San Francisco and the only Doctor Who station in the area was KTEH, down the road in San Jose. Monday through Friday, I’d record the ongoing run of Hartnell, Troughton, or Pertwee, episode by episode. On Saturday nights, we’d get a full story from another Doctor’s run, at 11:30pm. I’d stay up late, watch it live, but also hit Record, so I could add another story to the collection.

The picture quality was appalling. Even though Viacom cable carried the KTEH feed in their channel lineup, the signal was weak. I still don’t know why! This was cable TV, after all. But I remember all of the times an episode would break up into snow or rainbow bands or ghostly double exposures.

Thankfully, this didn’t happen every night. Sometimes the picture was clear. I’d cross my fingers and pray that I’d get a decent image on the tape. Now consider this: I recorded most of the series on bottom-of-the-barrel EP mode, which let you fit six hours of content on a single tape. That’s a lot of Doctor Who. But all of it was low-res, grainy, and full of tape hiss.

Still, I wanted a collection of my own, something to keep and showcase. So I spent a good chunk of my allowance on blank tapes and plastic storage cases, the kind they used to put your tape rentals in.

My cases were black and had plastic sleeves on the front, perfect for tucking in some artwork. I would pillage the Doctor Who books and magazines I owned, which consisted mainly of John Peel’s Files Magazine episode guides or Peter Haining coffee table books like Doctor Who: A Celebration. I’d hunt down the best black and white stills, photocopy them at the S.F. State Library down the block, then trim them down to just the right size. Rule of thumb: the image had to relate to the season.

Every once in a while I’d hit a milestone story and I’d make an exception. The story would get its own tape, recorded in high-quality SP mode. At this speed, you could only fit two hours on the tape, perfect for four-parters. Regeneration stories and multi-Doctor adventures always got special treatment–episodes like “The Three Doctors,” “Logopolis” and “The Caves of Androzani.”

And then I had to display them! All of those black tapes, neatly assembled on my shelves, numbered and labeled. There must have been fifty of them, at least. They moved around with me for years. Got left behind in closets when I went off to college in San Diego. Came out again when I graduated. Moved across the country to my in-laws garage in Virginia when we spent two years in a fifth-floor walk-up in New York City.

I don’t have them anymore. My last VHS player died seven or eight years ago. I waited a while before I felt ready to dump this whole collection in the trash. Then one weekend, I was frantically packing to move out of my Austin apartment, and there was so much left to sort and pack and throw away. My DIY Doctor Who tapes went into the dumpster. I haven’t really given them a second thought till now.

Like a lot of you, I still love the experience of collecting physical media. I love the boxes and the artwork. I love the way they look on the shelves. The picture quality on the new Blu-Ray sets is superb, especially when I think about what I had to deal with for so long just to watch my favorite show. And the special features! Who knew we’d have a team of producer-fans lovingly assembling behind-the-scenes interviews and crafting offbeat documentaries.

I still love the ingenuity and determination of the collector-kid I used to be. A part of me even wishes I hadn’t thrown away all of those tapes. But I like this new era of collecting, too. No more static or rainbows or tape dropout for me.

Doctor Who is a 2019 Hugo Finalist – Twice Over!

This morning, Dublin 2019 announced the 2019 Hugo Award Finalists for all things science fiction and fantasy–novels, stories, art, and media. Doctor Who has two Series 11 episodes nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category:

  • “Demons of the Punjab” – written by Vinay Patel, directed by Jamie Childs.
  • “Rosa” – written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, directed by Mark Tonderai.

The Hugo Award Ceremony will be held on August 18, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland at this year’s Dublin 2019 WorldCon.

The Doctor’s Competition

As far as this year’s competition, Doctor Who is up against THE EXPANSE, several great episodes of THE GOOD PLACE, and a Janelle Monae music video feature. (My fifteen year-old will probably root for this last one. We took her to see Janelle at Austin City Limits Music Festival last October and she’s been wearing her T-shirt ever since.)

Here are all of the nominees in the category according to Dublin 2019:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • The Expanse: “Abaddon’s Gate,” written by Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Simon Cellan Jones (Penguin in a Parka / Alcon Entertainment)
  • Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab,” written by Vinay Patel, directed by Jamie Childs (BBC)
  • Dirty Computer, written by Janelle Monáe, directed by Andrew Donoho and Chuck Lightning (Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy Records / Atlantic Records)
  • The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett (NBC)
  • The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy,” written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell (NBC)
  • Doctor Who: “Rosa,” written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, directed by Mark Tonderai (BBC)

Do you have a favorite here? As far as I’m concerned, both episodes were moving, insightful, and packed an emotional wallop, each in their own way. DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB had me in tears by the end and ROSA was like a splash of cold water on the face–particularly because of how it ties back into the here and now.  When I think about scenes in Series 11 that really affected me and say something about who we are right now, I think immediately of that moment between Yaz and Ryan when they talk about the so-called casual racism they encounter every day of their lives in the twenty-first century.

Hugo Awards – Previous Regenerations

The Doctor is no stranger to WorldCon voters and the Hugo Awards. In addition to receiving more nominations than I can possibly list here, Doctor Who has won the Hugo Award in this category six times in the past. The award-winning stories were: “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances” (2006), “The Girl in the Fireplace” (2007), “Blink” (2008), “The Waters of Mars” (2010), “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang” (2011), and “The Doctor’s Wife” (2012). Even though the show continued to receive nominations every year since 2012, the Doctor hasn’t taken the award home (or rather, back to the TARDIS) in years.

The Hugo Awards – You Can Vote!

The Hugo Awards are considered to be the best in sci-fi/fantasy as determined by the fans. While the Nebula Awards are selected by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Hugo nomination process and voting privilege is open to anyone who becomes a member of the World Science Fiction convention.

Whether or not you attend the Hugo Award ceremony in Dublin this year is up to you, but for as little as €40 (about $45) you can purchase a Supporting Membership to Dublin 2019. You’ll be allowed to vote for your favorites in all categories–and my favorite perk: as a Hugo voter, you’ll have access to the Hugo Voter’s Packet, a huge stockpile of eBooks for most of the nominated novels, novellas, comics, and short stories.

I’ve been a Hugo Awards Supporting Member and Voter about five years now and I love it! So come and join up.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love “The Myth Makers”

About two years ago I decided to go back and watch all of William Hartnell’s First Doctor episodes and finally grapple with the missing stories for the first time. Most of the time when I hit chunks of lost episodes, I would Google around and find a telesnap reconstruction on YouTube. The Loose Cannon recons were usually best. At least I’d get the gist of the story and hear all of the dialogue, music, and effects, even if I sometimes found my mind wandering. Somehow I made it all the way through “Galaxy 4” and even “Mission to the Unknown” in this way, but by the time I got to “The Myth Makers” I was done. I needed a break. I even started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t enough of a real fan. How can you just stop?

At cons like Gallifrey One, I started buying copies of some of the Target novels. I’m not really collecting these, I’d say. I’ll just focus on the missing stories. Maybe if I can’t make it through another recon, then I’ll read the Target novel. I found a few here and there, but most of them are still on my shelf unread.

The sad thing is I was really enjoying my rewatch until I hit the wall. And I had all sorts of fellow fans and travellers to keep me company. I would chase a night of viewing with Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke’s diary entries in Running Through Corridors or listen to podcasts like Lazy Doctor Who, on the way to work the next morning, comparing my impressions to Steven and Erika’s.

Well, I got a second wind a few weeks ago. I can do this. I’ve always heard that the “The Myth Makers” is an utter delight, one of the stories that fans desperately hope will turn up in someone’s attic and find its way back to the BBC.

Here’s the journey I took with “The Myth Makers.” This isn’t a review of the story itself, which I’m so happy I finally experienced, but a few takeaways about listening vs. watching.

For the record, yes–it’s a wonderful story with crackling dialogue and all of the legendary figures we know from The Iliad treated more like snarky Arrested Development characters than heroes.

Telesnaps and Visual Recons – Not Always Best

Not really knowing any better, I dialed up a recon of Episode 1 that I found on YouTube and a few minutes into the story, the same old malaise hit me. I’m usually a visual person, so I thought that fan-edited recons using scraps like publicity photos or telesnaps would at least show me something about the characters and the action that I would otherwise miss. This is the way you have to experience a missing story.

Well, no. My mind wandered, my eyes glazed over, and I found myself so distracted that I wasn’t even entirely sure who was Agamemnon and who was Menelaus.

Reading the Script

Another couple of searches led me to a script for “The Myth Makers” posted online. I’d heard Lazy Doctor Who’s Steven Schapansky and Erika Ensign talk about following along with camera scripts whenever they watched recons of missing episodes. The script I found was basically a transcription of the dialogue, bridged with simple stage directions to indicate what we should be seeing.

I quietly read Episode 1 without listening along to the soundtrack, and had a totally different experience. I knew who was speaking now. I could see the characters’ names on the page. The story began to reveal itself to me. I was no longer struggling just to keep my attention on the damn thing.

Listening to the BBC Soundtrack

Around this time, I stumbled on a Twitter thread in which Verity podcast’s Deb Stanish mentioned that she absolutely adored “The Myth Makers,” but she recommended that people having trouble with recons try the BBC soundtrack, which is a complete recording of the episode’s audio with bits of linking narrative by Peter Purves (Steven). Somewhere in this thread, she tweets, ” I think with the missing eps everyone has to find the medium that works for them.” There isn’t “one right way,” she says.

I know some of you probably own the CD, but this was a case where the internet could immediately satisfy my curiosity. I had a leftover Audible credit and I downloaded the BBC collection, Adventures in History, which also includes “The Massacre” and “The Highlanders.”

I put on episode 1 and drove to work. Throughout the week I listened on my commute, and on Saturday, I went for a long walk and listened to the story’s finale: Troy falls, Vicky stays behind with Troilus, and the Doctor flies off with handmaiden Katarina and a gravely wounded Steven. Along the way, I laughed at the dysfunctional family antics of Paris and Priam, rolled my eyes at Cassandra’s shrill warnings and hysterical prophecies, and finally, I was sorry to see Vicky leave us.

Most surprisingly, when I reached the end, I had the sense that I had “seen” the story. I think I know why.

Freeze Frames vs. the Imagination

I think the visual recon suffers more than most because there simply aren’t any telesnaps for “The Myth Makers,” so there’s precious little to work with. And yet, because there’s an image to stare at–one that insists that it conveys vital story information–this is where most of my attention ends up. But the freeze frames, the actors frozen like statues, and the filler shots that are repeated over and over–don’t convey anything of the life or the movement of the story. They take up my attention and sometimes they start to annoy me: not this shot again. How many times for this shot? Every time Agamemnon speaks? Meanwhile I miss dialogue, I grow impatient, my wanders, I get bored.

When I listen to the audio, I can visualize the action. Maybe not precisely; not the way it was broadcast. But I can see the Doctor climbing into the Trojan Horse, or Vicky and Steven in their prison cells. Nobody’s frozen in place. In my mind, they have life, they move and run about, swing swords, and give each other knowing glances. It’s the same magic at play when we listen to an audiobook, a narrative podcast, or a Big Finish audio story.

It’s radio days all over again. It worked seventy or eighty years ago for our grandparents and it still works today. And who knows, maybe now I’ll finally give the Target novel a shot to see what other pleasures this lost story has to offer. I’ve already moved on to the BBC soundtrack for “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” because this format is working for me. Whenever we aren’t lucky enough to have a fully animated reconstruction like “The Macra Terror,” I’m heading to the audios first and possibly skipping the telesnaps altogether.

Review: “A Weekend with Waterhouse”

My copy of the new Doctor Who: Season 18 Blu-Ray arrived mid-morning yesterday (that’s Tom Baker: Season 7 in the U.S.) Perfect timing! I’m on vacation this week, so there was time to rip into the package and get started right away. Instead of launching “The Leisure Hive,” which was the very first Doctor Who story I saw as a kid, I did what I think a lot Who fans did, and went straight for the extras.

Now this set is massive and it’s going to take me months to make my way through the whole collection, but I wanted to get a taste of some of the new documentaries, especially after seeing some of the clips producer/director Chris Chapman shared with us during his Kaffeeklatsch last month at Gallifrey One.

“A Weekend with Waterhouse” (a supplement on Disc 3) follows comedian and Doctor Who fanatic Toby Hadoke on a visit to the seaside town of Hastings, where we drop in on Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), whose character was first introduced in Season 18’s “Full Circle,” and was originally conceived as a sort of E-Space Artful Dodger. Instead of a dull studio interview, we follow along as Matthew invites Toby into his apartment and into his life, sharing his book collection (he loves Graham Greene), his Batman and Prisoner DVDs, his love of jazz, and introducing us to his American husband Tim. We also take in Matthew’s childhood home, meet his sister, and visit some of his favorite haunts, stopping for dinner at a favorite Thai restaurant and taking in a jazz show at a wine bar down the road. All the while, the conversation flows, touching upon everything that you’d want to know about Matthew’s take on Adric, his role in the crowded TARDIS, what it was like to work with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, and his life before and after Doctor Who.

What I love about “A Weekend with Waterhouse” is that we get an intimate glimpse of Matthew Waterhouse as a person–kind, creative, witty, and literate–with a full life outside of this TV show that we all happen to love. We break away from the narrow focus of behind the scenes anecdotes, and come away with a deeper understanding of Matthew’s contribution to the show and his life in 2019.

I really enjoyed keeping these two company. The banter was perfect and I often found myself smiling as I watched. But when there is a good rapport like this, sometimes conversations lead to confidences. As Toby and Matthew walk through Hastings, considering Matthew’s past and present, there are some unexpected turns in the conversation, and we learn about some of the tragedies in Matthew’s past, including the devastating loss of a brother when he was a teenager.

Then we’re back in the here and now with Matthew happily married for twenty years, now an author as well as an actor. All in all, there is a wonderful candor and openness about this documentary that makes us feel as though we’re in the same room with Toby and Matthew and that we’re a part of this conversation.

Director Chris Chapman and Executive Producer Russell Minton are really setting a new standard of excellence with these Classic Who Blu-Ray seasons. This is just one feature on an 8-disc Blu-Ray set! I can’t wait to see what else is tucked away on this set, but I’ll savor it, like I said, and take it slowly, so that it lasts me until the next release.

The Day I Fell Into “The Leisure Hive”

Do you remember the first time you ever watched Doctor Who?

For me, it was years and years ago. I’m forty-seven now and first stumbled on the show when I was ten or eleven on a family trip to my aunt and uncle’s place in Denver, Colorado. But I remember the experience pretty clearly. My Uncle Lee watched a lot of TV, and he was parked one morning in the family room, watching a strange and mesmerizing British sci-fi show about some sort of half-mad space traveler wrapped up in a scarf that went on for miles. This mysterious traveler had a deep voice and huge, friendly eyes, and his companion was a self-assured and super-intelligent woman in some kind of sailor suit. Her name was Romana, I soon learned. They even had a poor little robot dog that blew up after rolling down a rocky beach into the sea.

What was this strange program? I didn’t ask many questions. My uncle wouldn’t have given them; he didn’t want to be disturbed. I just hunkered down and kept watching. Before I knew it, I was completely absorbed by these benevolent travelers and their adventures on the planet Argolis, which had something to do with alien tourist spots and tachyon technology–whatever that was–and two races of aliens, one with cone-shaped swirls of hair and the other in bulky, rumpled bug costumes.

Then something happened I wasn’t expecting at all. The Argolin recreation booth malfunctioned and the Doctor was ripped apart, arms and legs flying across the screen. An electronic stinger sounded and the curtain fell on the action, end credits scrolling across the screen. What? How was this happening? Doctor Who was the hero, right? The world of TV cliffhangers and multi-part stories was completely new to me except maybe for the time Bobby and Cindy got lost in the Grand Canyon. My uncle shushed me and told me to stay put. I didn’t argue. Like him, I became one with the sofa and watched the whole four-part story, one after the other, while the hours ticked away.

The story was “The Leisure Hive,” which I now know to be the first entry of Season 18, Tom Baker’s last season on the show. (By the way, I can’t wait to get my hands on the Season 18 Blu-Ray release that comes out next week!) But back in the early eighties, I didn’t know anything about regeneration, or Doctors past, present, and future, or the nearly twenty years of episodes that came before this one. Tom Baker was Doctor Who, but only for a short time. My mom and I stayed in town long enough for me to binge one more story with Uncle Lee the following weekend: “Meglos,” with its cactus-skinned Doctor imposter. We flew home to San Francisco and Doctor Who fell off my radar completely for about four more years until I found it once again on KTEH in San Jose, CA. I remember that one, too. “The Gunfighters” with First Doctor William Hartnell.

Here’s the funny thing. This morning I fell into an Internet wormhole trying to figure out when this all happened. Denver, Colorado in the eighties, for starters. I figured I was about ten or eleven. Unfortunately, my parents aren’t around anymore to pin down this trip to Colorado. But bless you, Whovians! You have made this kind of research relatively easy. Do you know about this site? A few Google searches and I dropped into a vast wiki called BroaDWcast, which has pages and pages documenting Doctor Who airdates all over the world.

A few clicks and I learned that the station must have been KRMA, the PBS affiliate in Denver, Colorado. There’s even a grid for Airdates in Denver that shows when each Tom Baker story aired in 1981 and 1982. The summer I was ten years old, “The Leisure Hive” aired on a Sunday morning, July 5, 1981 at 10:00 AM. According to the site, KRMA broadcasted complete Who stories every Sunday morning, which lines up perfectly with my recollection of blasting through all of “The Leisure Hive” in one morning, and also with my sense that I saw a second story in this way a few days later. According to BroaDWcast, “Meglos” aired the following week on Sunday, July 12.

Airdates in Denver (KRMA). With thanks to

Now I have some certainty. I don’t know why this really matters. Maybe because it confirms my memories, places them in time and space, assigns them precise coordinates, if you will. In fact, if I had a TARDIS, I could go back and tell that kid on the sofa that the adventure was just beginning.

Do you remember your first episode of Doctor Who? Where were you and what were the circumstances? Leave a comment and let me know.

“Lionheart promo card” by BroaDWcast is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

When Your Kids Outgrow Doctor Who

One of the perks of being a parent is getting to expose your kids to all of the things you love: music by Spoon or Sweet Spirit, giant San Francisco-style burritos, Charlie Chaplin movies, Welcome to Night Vale, or that show you’ve been watching most of your life: Doctor Who. And for a while, if you’re lucky, you get to see your kids experience the same joy you do when the Daleks come rolling in waving their plungers or Tom Baker offers some insufferable space bureaucrat a bag full of jelly babies. But don’t get too comfortable. Your kids, of course, are people, too, and before you know it, they go off into the world and come back listening to Panic! At the Disco and talking about Riverdale, or Sims, or Shane Dawson conspiracy videos.

I’ve watched this happen with my two girls over the past couple of years. They’re two years apart, nearly thirteen and fifteen now, but their first exposure to Dad’s show, Doctor Who, must have been when they were five and seven–not because I plopped them down beside me, but because they wandered into the room when I was sneaking some time with the Doctor. My older daughter fell for David Tennant and my younger daughter became a devotee of Tom Baker with his crazy hair and bug-eyed silliness. There was a good stretch of time where one or the other would crash beside me to watch Fourth and Fifth Doctor stories (“Logopolis” and “Earthshock” were favorites for a while), or to beg me to watch creepy New Who stories like “Blink” or “The Empty Child.” The girls were along for the ride throughout most of Matt Smith’s run and they wanted T-shirts for their birthdays and toy TARDISes for their rooms, and eventually about five years ago, I took us all by plane across the country to Gallifrey One in L.A, our first Doctor Who convention as a family.

There was nothing like that first Gally with kids. On the first morning, while waiting in line for Radio Free Skaro’s opening show, the girls ran off to play hide and seek with the full-size Dalek that was rolling around outside in the courtyard threatening to exterminate them. They wandered up and down the halls, completely amazed by the cosplay contingent of monsters and robots, Cybermen and Weeping Angels, even a cute, real-life K9 to pose for a photo with. When they wanted downtime, they’d plop down for a few minutes in the Video Room to watch a few minutes of “Shada” or make their own sonics upstairs in the kids craft room.

I’m thinking about all of this now because most of this has faded now. After three years of going to Gally with the girls, this was the first year that they said they didn’t want to go anymore. Instead I took my new wife and partner in podcasting and geekdom, and this was fun, of course, but also something completely different. To be honest, last year’s Gallifrey One was a disaster for the kids. They weren’t interested in the celebrity panels anymore; the puppet shows, cosplay, and Masquerade still held some attraction for my eleven-year-old, but it was clear most of the time that the girls were bored, and simply more interested in wandering around with earbuds on or playing games on their phones. In fact, there was nearly an entire day where my older daughter, in the throes of teenage moodiness, refused to leave the room at all. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Now another year has gone by, and my fourteen-year-old hasn’t watched Doctor Who in several years. Maybe she’s the fan I feel I’ve lost. She dropped out fairly soon after Peter Capaldi became the Doctor. And strangely, both girls were a little disappointed when they first heard that the new Doctor was going to be a woman. I finally realized that some of what they loved about the show was crushing on David Tennant and Matt Smith. But my youngest came around. She gave “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” a shot and throughout the season, she joined us on the sofa most of the time, even though she was usually only half-watching while building Minecraft worlds on her laptop. But I think she gets it. She appreciates Jodie Whittaker’s giddy energy, problem-solving panache, and tremendous heart (or hearts?).

I realize now that maybe I’m really mourning the loss of my little convention-going companions. It’s not that they stopped liking the show. And really, can I blame them? They’re at an in-between age where panels don’t really carry much interest for them and they’re old hands at posing for photos with Doctors and companions from the past, so I suppose there’s a sense of been-there, done-that. And no–they don’t care about all of the nitty-gritty behind the scenes production details. They’re not cosplayers, and they’re still on the young side for some of the evening events.

But maybe they haven’t outgrown the Doctor after all. Recently, my fourteen-year-old heard the theme song playing on the living room TV while she was in her bedroom, and when she came out in search of a snack, she said, “You better not be watching Doctor Who without me.” I told her it was an old one, and she said, “All right. But don’t ever watch a David Tennant without me.” Last week, I saw that she wore her old Matt Smith t-shirt to high school for the first time. And now this reminds me that the first Doctor Who shirt she ever owned simply had an image of the TARDIS on it and the slogan, “You never forget your first Doctor.”

They won’t forget. The twelve-year-old who watches the latest New Who episodes with us, still has a TARDIS poster on the wall beside her new Riverdale poster, as well as tacked-up photos of Capaldi and Tom Baker and Jodie Whittaker. She still has her first-ever photo op with Karen Gillan in a frame on her bookcase beside a TARDIS jewelry box.

Maybe they’re not everyday fans like I am, but I suspect that Doctor Who will always be some sort of comfort to them. Even if they stop watching or stop going on magical trips to Gallifrey One, they’ll always remember their first Doctor.

On Kaffeeklatsches and Zoo Animals

Directors Ben Wheatley and Jamie Childs with panel moderator Edward Russell.

Zoo Animals

On a recent episode of the podcast, Radio Free Skaro (#676), recorded live at Gallifrey One, Doctor Who director Jamie Childs was asked how he was enjoying the convention so far. Jamie replied, “You never know what to expect with these kinds of things. Turns out it’s quite fun to be a zoo animal.” Jamie went on to explain the unsettling experience of going to a coffee meet-up and being asked to stand on display in the corner in a narrow box-like alcove when the kaffeeklatsch guests arrived. “Yeah, I’m definitely a zoo animal,” he told himself. In the end, he said, the meetup turned out to be quite fun.

I remember that initial offbeat moment because I was one of the guests—and he’s right. It was a bit strange. When we filed in the door we were all asked to squish into that narrow alcove with him. A moment later, the kaffeeklatsch attendant pulled out a camera, snapped a picture of us, then gave us the go-ahead to disperse and sit down for coffee with Jamie Childs. 

Coffee with Jamie Childs

This experience at Gallifrey One was the first time I’d ever participated in a kaffeeklatsch at a convention. If you’re not familiar with the format, it’s really just an informal coffee meet-up with a con guest and about ten or twelve other attendees held in a small conference room. If you’re intimidated by the social awkwardness or the expense of more formal evening receptions offered at a con, then this more intimate, structured gathering might be for you. Plus there’s no price tag at all. It’s totally free. But be prepared to drop everything to hit the online reservation form when it goes live a few weeks before the con; there’s a lot of competition for spots at the table. 

Yes, it’s true. When you enter the room, the folks running the kaffeeklatsch corral everyone in a corner for a quick photo with the guest. When do you see these photos? The organizers told me they would email them to us in mid-March, otherwise I’d add a photo to this post. After the photo op, you help yourself to tea or coffee at the setup in the corner, and sit down at the conference table for an informal chat with the guest. The whole session lasts just under an hour. 

Jamie Childs directed the first and last blocks of Doctor Who Series 11, including Jodie Whittaker’s debut, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” the moving historical episode, “Demons of the Punjab,” “It Takes You Away,” and the season finale, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.” 

Jamie was incredibly kind and down to earth, and conversation flowed very easily. About halfway through the meet-up, we found ourselves leaning across the table to look at photos on his phone of the construction crane set-up taken on his first day of production on “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” No easing into the shoot with a quiet dialogue scene, Jamie said, but instead, his first day was a daunting full-scale action sequence with construction cranes and The Doctor’s leap through the air from one crane to another. He explained that while they faked the set-up to some extent so that the cranes were much closer to the ground, they were real cranes, there was a gap, and Jodie made that leap herself.

We also learned a bit about Jamie’s background and how he originally trained in sound design work when he was in film school before eventually breaking into directing for television, working with legends like Brenda Blethyn on ITV’s Vera. He also shared that he was initially taken aback when he saw that Series 11 was going to center around an ensemble cast—the fam played by Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole. But he learned a lot from the challenge of blocking longer, more cinematic scenes for multiple actors, working with space and depth, so that people moved out of the background and into the foreground to pair off, deliver lines, interact with each other, and then move out again to make way for the next character and the next beat of action.

Some other details he shared:

  • Jodie Whittaker is channelling a lot of her own personality when she plays The Doctor. “That’s really her,” Jamie said. She’s a bundle of energy, loves to talk to everyone, and never gets bored. He joked that sometimes he wants to tell Jodie, “Hey, wait—save some of that energy for the take!”
  • Behind the scenes, Jodie and her co-stars really are the best of friends. They laugh a lot, play games, hang out, and keep each other company during their down time waiting for the next set-up. The on-set camaraderie was one of the things that made Jamie’s time on Doctor Who such a great experience.

As a former film school grad, I loved hearing about other geeky directing details like the experience of shooting with anamorphic lenses and the challenge of shooting on a tight budget in Wales and Sheffield. He said that the new series he’s working on (His Dark Materials, episodes 4, 5, and 6, if I’ve done my research correctly), has about ten times the budget, which is awesome, but certainly has its own share of challenges. 

Finally, Jamie shared that Jodie Whittaker and he are both huge film buffs and they had lots of conversations about what kind of tone they wanted for The Doctor and the world she inhabits, referencing directors they admired and scenes and characters from other films. He kept Jodie’s confidence, though, and wouldn’t share any specific titles they talked about. Still, it was fun to hear that they drew upon a common series of references that helped them make connections, flesh out what they wanted to do, and develop a good working relationship with each other.

Honestly, the hour flew by, and before we knew it, the kaffeeklatsch guy was knocking on our door again and telling us it was time to go.

If it’s any consolation, Jamie, you weren’t a zoo animal to us. If anything, this type of event lets you, the fan, drop all pretense and interact with directors, writers, artists, and actors as fellow people without any of the weird transactions that take place at autograph tables. It turned out to be one of the best things I did at Gallifrey One this year, and I’ll be back next year to fight over seats at the table again!

3 Things I Learned at Gallifrey One

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to be back at work the Monday after Gallifrey One. Sunday I was in a crowded hotel halfway across the country surrounded by Doctor Who fans like myself. We’re talking t-shirts, ribbons, and cosplay, celebrity guests in the halls and at the breakfast table a few seats away, and all of us united—celebrating our love for Doctor Who and the deep roots and connections this program has to our lives. 

But today I’m at my desk eating a sandwich and looking at some of the photo ops I propped on the shelf a few feet away and the Rock Candy 13th Doctor on my filing cabinet that somehow got knocked over while I was away. A little of the elation is still here, but also a kind of mourning. Maybe this is because for me, a lot of my fan love, at least the public side of it, goes dormant the rest of the year. Without my tribe, I tend to keep it to myself, quietly watching Jodie Whittaker’s new Who episodes with my family, or sneaking in some classic Who here and there on Britbox when I have the time and no one else has claimed the TV.

With all of this floating around in my mind, I want to tell you a few things I learned this year in the wake of Gallifrey One 2019. I’ve got to put it down before it tries to hide again.

1. Ribbon quest is the perfect ice-breaker.

I have always been grateful when someone has offered me a ribbon at Gally, but I’ve never brought my own. Every year, I said to myself, next year! And then life happened and I never remembered in time to sort something out before February rolled around again. This time I remembered with about a month to spare. I cobbled something together on my laptop. Ribbons Galore, the vendor I chose, was fantastic. The ribbons showed up with a couple weeks to spare and they looked awesome. So this was the first year I got to participate in the whole ritual of trading and collecting ribbons. What I observed, which I’m sure all of you have known all along, is that ribbons are the perfect ice-breaker. Even though I never found the opportunity to make it to a ribbon meet-up, time and again, I met people in lines and in chairs waiting for panels because we had this magical creative conversation-starter. And you all are so damn creative. So many of the ribbons I saw were spot on and made me laugh out loud, or tipped me off to some new something—a podcast I didn’t know about, or an obscure reference that I wanted to follow up on. Plus I remember when I was the newbie and people gave me friendly welcome ribbons just to get me started. This year, I did the same whenever I met someone who was here for the first time. 

2. I want to be more active in the fan community. 

This is a big one for me. I’ve been to Gally three times before, but somehow this year was finally the con that inspired me to keep this going throughout the year. Yes, I watch and celebrate Doctor Who year round, but in a quiet way, disconnected from the amazing community of people I meet at Gallifrey One. My fandom tends to go dormant throughout the year, perhaps because I don’t really know any fans in my immediate community. 

That’s really why I’m plugging in this site and switching on the lights. So that I can be a part of this conversation. I’ve kept other blogs in the past. I even co-host a movie review podcast that has nothing at all to do with sci-fi fandom or Doctor Who. So why not carve out a little corner online to embrace this part of myself, too?

3. The Doctor Who community is the kind of positive, welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community that the world needs more of and that I’m proud to be associated with.

I feel so inspired by your warmth, your kindness, and the camaraderie I experienced at Gallifrey One. Yes, it was wonderful to meet so many of you in the halls, but I also attended courageous panels like the #MeWho session that I will remember for many years to come. 

I don’t have many long-term plans for this blog. The vision is still a bit hazy. I’m not even sure what I’ll cover on a daily or weekly basis. But you are welcome to join me on the journey, or look in from to time time and say hello. And if you’re a longtime Gally attendee I’ll see you at the next one—even if the new carpets aren’t up to snuff!