This past week may have marked the 50th anniversary of one of Dallas' darker moments, but we didn't have to spend the entire time in the shadow of maudlin JFK introspection, thanks to a more upbeat 50th anniversary: the beginning of the adventures of TV's Doctor Who.
Conventions across the nation and the world popped up to celebrate this momentous occasion in geek-dom and Dallas/Fort Worth was no exception, thanks to the people who put together the WhoFest at the Crowne Plaza in Addison. The weekend was filled with all sorts of panels with bizarre titles such as "What Do We Want? Time Travel! When Do We Want It? Yesterday!" and "What to Expect When You're Exterminating." However, not even the most detailed discussion about how a police box could harness the powers of quantum physics without turning its inhabitants into fleshy Jell-O could top what was sure to be the most memorable moment of the weekend: the airing of the BBC's 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.
I confess I dreaded attending another convention of ordinary people wearing more ridiculous cosplay than a Comic-Con sponsored chemical dependency support group. Such conventions have been popping up ever since San Diego made it easier for major metropolises to gather every geek, dweeb, dork and other narrow-minded moniker into one room to celebrate something that would raise the eyebrows of the so-called "normals."
Luckily, the subject of this con was much different from the usual space based, shoot 'em up series.
Doctor Who wasn't completely unfamiliar territory for me. As a kid, my old man was one of the first, old school Who-heads or Whovians or whatever the hell the proper term is for people who dedicate themselves to the show. We used to watch it on the local PBS affiliate back in New Orleans because the apartment building we lived in didn't allow for a cable hookup. Even though the ominous theme song and Tom Baker's icy stare in the opening credit sent a chill across my young, malleable brain, it felt like a show that I should like or get to know even though I had no clue what was going on.
It had all the things that the usual sci-fi fare had: robots, giant rubbery monsters, scads of alien lifeforms. That just made it seem more confusing. The whole Who universe had its own form of scientific thought, a subject I hardly excelled at in my own universe. I loved the early Star Wars movies and just about anything with a spaceship, but those shows didn't grind my brain to a halt with characters who walked into a small space that suddenly became big enough to hold a goddamn Optimist Club meeting.
Worst of all, Dr. Who didn't use brute force to dole out intergalactic justice on his enemies. He didn't even carry what seemed to be a weapon. It was like watching a western in which the town sheriff would use a slide rule to calculate the trajectory of the bullet in a showdown rather than just blow a huge hole in the bad guy's abdomen and be done with it.
Cut to last Saturday and the crowd that gathered in the Crowne Plaza's second floor, where the experience was just as confusing and foreign. Cosplayers aren't just dressed up as one of the 11 doctors. They are wearing everything from royal alien outfits to Victorian period dress that look like a sci-fi and a steampunk convention accidentally booked the same venue and are about to throw down LARP-style in a territorial fight for dominance. It was hard not to laugh out loud when the moderator of the Day of the Doctor screening had to announce to the crowd "If you're wearing a hat, please take it off so other people can enjoy it as well."
The most impressive were the full-size Daleks, the mindless, oppressive robotic beings that serve as the violent yin to the Doctor's diplomatic yang, crafted by local builder Jerry Chevalier, who said his creations have been featured in magazines, newspapers and even TV shows such as The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He seemed to spend most of his time piloting his masterpiece through the hotel's halls to give the fans someone they could pretend to fight, snap pictures with and flash their sonic screwdrivers at in lieu of a sidearm blaster.
"Just like science fiction in general, [Dr. Who] shows that there's hope for the world," he said, "how we can be better than what we are and why we should be."
Rachel Hargrove of Addison came dressed in an appropriate costume that I can't quite remember, probably because I couldn't even guess it in the first place. She started watching during the David Tennant episodes and from then on, she said, "I was hooked."
"It's about one man's strength to do right," she said. "He's about doing the best he can to his ability and to be the best version of himself. He's constantly seeking perfect versions of himself. He's us and that's what makes him emotionally connected to us, even though he's an alien."
This was the most amount of information I was going to be able to get and retain from the experts at the con going into the big screening. The Crowne Plaza's main ballroom, usually reserved for engineering association fundraisers or awards banquets for insurance adjusters, was almost completely darkened as costumed fans piled in to sit as close to the big screen as possible. The episode itself isn't worth recapping because any show that has a 50th anniversary has to be seen with your own eyes without an Internet writer tainting the experience by spoiling the plot. Plus, I couldn't explain it to you if I tried. The last time I had a confused face on for that long I was in my high school algebra II class.
It did, however, reach me on the levels that fans like Hargrove and Chevalier described. The good Doctor saved the universe yet again without firing a single shot or even carrying a gun into the fray. And the crowd cheered, laughed and swooned the whole way. They never begged the hero to just blow away some smart-ass enemy who clearly put might above right.
They cheered in all the right parts, of course, but the ensuing joygasm celebrated their heroes' accomplishments based on how they were accomplished and expressed a deep reverence for those that came before them to help drive such a bizarre concept to its 50th anniversary.
Unlike most of the geek obsessions that permeate pop culture, these and the rest of the world's Whoites or Whooligans or whatever aren't into Doctor Who for the chance to escape the world that they're stuck. They honestly believe that a fictional time lord can save the rest of us would just sit down and watch it with an open third eye.
It was such an enjoyable, eye-opening experience that I failed to notice that two whole hours had gone by in what felt like the blink of an eye. I'm not ashamed to say that I felt like I was a fucking time lord.