More than a year ago, some members of the Dallas Future Society, which puts on FenCon every October, thought it might be a good idea to have a gathering to celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, which takes place Nov. 23. Originally, it was supposed to happen at someone’s house. But then social media got the buzz growing.
“More and more people were interested,” says Mike Erickson of Fort Worth, a longtime Doctor Who fan. “Somebody said, ‘All right, if we can get a couple hundred people, we can have it at the [Addison] Crowne Plaza, where they usually have the FenCon convention. We started promoting it over a year ago, and eventually got to the point where we had to cut it off, because it exceeded the capacity of that hotel. And Facebook did it.”
Now Erickson finds himself handling promotions and marketing for WhoFest, a three-day, sold-out fest celebrating the long-running British science-fiction hit. The fest, which runs from Friday through Sunday, won’t have any Doctor Who stars, but it will have video presentations of episodes of Doctor Who and its spinoffs; a Saturday-night costume contest; and a strong costume element running throughout the weekend, which will also feature a screening of The Day of the Doctor, the 50th-anniversary episode airing at 1:50 p.m. Central Time on BBC America.
The fest will also include such sessions as My First Doctor and Talkin’ About My Regenerations, both references to the series’ multiple Doctors -- the time-and-space-traveling “Time Lord” has been played by 11 actors to date, with the changes explained by the Doctor’s regenerating every few years or so (a 12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, will make his first appearance in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special).
If that sounds a little confusing, you’re not part of the show’s cult following -- and it can still be confusing even to a casual fan. The original run of the show lasted from 1963 to 1989. A 1996 TV-movie was seen as an effort to relaunch the series, but it didn’t catch on. Then Russell T. Davies -- a longtime BBC director who, coincidentally, was born in 1963 -- reluanched the show, with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth doctor.
Previous incarnations of the show had aired in the United States on PBS stations, but the Davies version made its way to BBC America, where the cult really took off, especially when David Tennant came on board to play the flashy 10th doctor.
“Up until the last several years, [the fan base] was very isolated and limited,” Erickson says. “It was broadcast here in the United States, but it was only on PBS late at night on Saturday nights. So a lot of people discovered it, and have been fans for a long time. But it really wasn’t until the David Tennant years that [it was] widely broadcast here, and that continued to grow with Tennant’s popularity. ... Frankly, I consider it part of the mainstream now.”
Well, yes and no. Chances are you’ve heard of Doctor Who, but maybe you’ve never watched it. Or maybe you’ve watched it, and don’t get it. Or you’ve watched it and you like it -- but you’re not the kind of fan to attend a convention, whether you’re in costume or not. And it’s not always easy for that kind of fan to explain to the casual fan or the non-watcher why the show can be so entrancing. But here’s how Erickson discovered it.
“I was about 9 or 10 and I lived in South Dakota at the time, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do on Saturday afternoons in the middle of the winter,” he says. “So I stumbled on it on our South Dakota PBS television station and got hooked. It was like nothing that I’d seen before. ... And then I started watching the show and I was completely fascinated and stayed that way. I would stay up late in high school and get zero sleep because it would not come on till 10 or 11, and it would continue sometimes till 2 or 3 in the morning.”
When Erickson came to Texas in his mid-20s, he joined a Doctor Who viewing society, mostly consisting of people involved with FenCon and convention culture. The group dissolved but stayed in touch, and then the show came back -- but they never expected it to get as big as it has become.
The inaugural DFW WhoFest might be tied to the 50th anniversary, but that doesn’t mean that the organizers are waiting till the 55th or 60th anniversary for another fest.
“We’ve already determined that we will have at least a WhoFest II. “[But] The Chicago TARDIS is done the weekend after Thanksgiving in Chicago, so we don’t want to compete with them for multiple reasons. And we didn’t want to compete with the Gallifrey One convention, which is in Los Angeles in February. So we’re going to do it in April, but the turnaround is too quick this year, so we’re shooting for April 2015.”
As noted above, the fest is sold out. But the Doctor Who community isn’t closed. For updates, check out the WhoFestDFW Facebook page.