Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Tale of Two Saturdays

I can't believe it's been sixteen years.

Leap Day has been over for a few hours as I write this. For most people, I suppose, it's little more than a chronological curiosity; but for me it's a reminder of a Saturday in 1992. Quantum Leap was in its fourth season, and some fans (mostly one fan) had come up with the bright idea of lobbying to get actor Dean Stockwell a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Since Dean cared a great deal about environmental concerns, the cost was to be raised by the fans through recycling.

So it came to pass that Johnny Grant, the "Honorary Mayor of Hollywood" who was in charge of the Walk of Fame, agreed to Dean's nomination, and furthermore agreed to hold the Star ceremony on a Saturday, something that he seldom did. That particular Saturday was February 29th, 1992: Leap Day. Dean's star was unveiled near the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. After the ceremony, fans held a luncheon in his honor. I sat at a table with Julie B. In theory we'd designed the commemorative booklet together, but in fact Julie did all the work. It was a great day, and more fun was yet to come. The next day was the first Quantum Leap convention, with over a thousand fans and a few dozen guests. And in and around these scheduled events, Tracy, Teresa, Dimitra and I went to Universal Studios and to Hollywood Book and Poster and elsewhere, interviewed people in the Belisarius production office and generally had a grand time.

Fast forward to Saturday, February 16th, 2008. I was back in Los Angeles for another sf media convention, this one dedicated to my other favorite tv show of all time. Unlike the other trip, I was traveling alone, a fact that in a fit of tired introspection I moaned about at some length later that night. But in truth it was mostly a great day:

That Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed sometime after 10 AM, having blogged until about 4 AM. By the time I again made use of my expensive broadband connection, showered and got dressed, I had just enough time to get downstairs, buy juice and a muffin in the hotel lobby, and get down to "The Undercity" for a live DVD commentary for the Doctor Who episode "Blink." Taking us through the show's most celebrated episode of 2007 would be its award-winning author, Steven Moffat, known to fans as "the Moff."

One slight problem: Gallifrey One's Nineteenth Symphony had the convention's biggest turnout ever, 1080 all told. Somehow the convention staff managed to accommodate all those fans with very little difficulty, but the Moffat "Blink" commentary was an exception. When I got to the venue with my juice and my muffin, I was unable to even get into the room. It was completely full, just barely fire marshall-compliant. So I stood in the hallway with ten or twenty other "spillover" fans, and watched and listened from there as best I could.

And it was totally worth it. Moffat was funny throughout, cracking jokes about the proposed sequel, "Sally Sparrow Takes a Bath," and the Weeping Angels' apparent willingness to pay the electric bill on the abandoned house. Great stuff!

After that I went next door to "Malcassairo" for a panel discussion entitled "Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Doctor Who?" The previous panel, "Save Our Shows" with Lee Whiteside, was just finishing up. The "Too Much" discussion approached the question from several angles, from the issuing of additional stories in print and on audio, to the plethora of toys and accessories, to the airing of two spin-off series, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

At one point writer Gary Russell asked fans whether we would like to see more than thirteen episodes a year plus the Christmas special. Writer's strike aside, it's a short television season compared to an American series, which usually manages about 22 episodes per year. (Decades ago, some tv series made far more than that.) And yet Doctor Who fans are aware that making even 14 episodes a year is an enormous amount of work. Lead actor David Tennant, who plays the Doctor in nearly every scene, has a ten month shooting schedule. In his video diary from the end of Series Three, Tennant mused that one could not keep up the pace forever, "because it will kill you." And he's just one of the many people who work long and hard to get the show done. In agreeing with other fans that 13-great-episodes-plus-Christmas was better than 22 mediocre shows, I remarked, "And we don't want to actually kill David Tennant."

Gary pretended to mishear me. "You want to kill David Tennant?" As late as Sunday evening he was jokingly pretending that was what I'd said. To which I could only reply, "Oh, Gary, you're such a troublemaker!"

After that I hit the dealer's room, collected up items to be autographed later, and got a burger to go from the sports bar. Another live commentary was coming up, and I didn't want to take any chances that I wouldn't get in the room. I ended up wolfing down the burger while watching a presentation on "The Cassini Mission," with cool slides of Saturn's rings and stuff.

Then it was time for Paul Cornell to do the live commentary for his two-part 2007 masterpiece, "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood". He'd barely started when they cut the volume on his microphone to almost nothing; apparently the folks on the panel in the next room couldn't make themselves heard otherwise, having no amplification themselves. But I was well inside the room this time, and hearing Paul wasn't a major problem. He was doing the commentary with his wife, but once things got started he did nearly all the talking.

At one point he invited fans to call out questions if he went silent or we wanted to know something. I did so, twice. I asked what was going on in Smith's head as he looked down on the exchange between Rocastle and Son of Mine.

"He's trying desperately to come up with an alternate explanation for what's going on," Paul said. (I may be paraphrasing.)

"I am not the Doctor" - Mr. John Smith, in a line cut from the story

Yes, that made sense. Later I asked about a clip that appeared in the trailers but was ultimately not used in the story. Paul Cornell pointed out approximately where the line of dialogue, "I am not the Doctor!" had originally appeared. He also pointed out that the line wasn't really needed in the episode, the point having been amply made by that point that Smith did not want to believe in his Time Lord alter ego.

There's lots more of Saturday to cover in my interminable con report, but it will have to wait until after my weekly dose of adequate sleep.


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