notes from a ‘Doctor Who’ fan screening
Okay, fanboys: Here’s a bit of advice. If you’re the big sweaty guy wearing the T-shirt two sizes too small, the question someone like Karen Gillan wants to hear from you is not: “Are you a chubby chaser?” It’s not cute, it’s not charming, it’s not clever: it’s kinda icky. It’s even ickier when you’ve been granted the privilege of the microphone in a huge crowd of fans to ask a question, and this is how you use that privilege. How do you expect the poor girl to respond?
This occurred last night during the Q&A after BBC America’s screening of “The Eleventh Hour.” I sat with my professional colleague and fellow Doctor Who geek Cahir — he’s the one who ran into Matt Smith on the street last weekend — and I was explaining to him, before the screening began but after we’d seen and heard the tenor of the crowd, what science fiction conventions can be like, because he’s never been to one. Basically, I said, you know that William Shatner Saturday Night Live sketch, the one in which he tells his fans to “get a life”? It’s not really an exaggeration. The only thing embellished is Shatner’s blowup: I’ve never seen talent react like that to the boorish, clueless behavior of the most aggressive, most obnoxious fans. (Well, actually, I did once witness Bruce Campbell deliver a smackdown to a fan at a screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music… But he might be just about the only actor who could get away with that and not alienate his fans.)
Not all fans are like that, of course: just the ones obnoxious and aggressive enough to manage to hound their way round to commandeering a microphone in such a situation in the first place. Enthusiastic, though… that’s certainly a word that could be applied to everyone last night. There were more people on line outside the theater than could be accommodated inside — I heard one disappointed fan complaining that now she’d have to wait till Saturday to see “The Eleventh Hour” — that’s when it debuts on BBC America, at 9pm Eastern. (Perhaps she was joking, giving a sarcastic nod to the fact that supposedly no one in North America has seen the episode yet. Judging from the reactions of the audience to the episode, I think it’s safe to say that no one in the house was seeing it for the first time. The opening credits alone garnered enormous cheers for Smith, Gillan, and the TARDIS… but obviously, no one likes the new logo.) The folks at the front of the line:
had been there since 6am.
After the screening came a chat with the stars and Steven Moffat. This is the best picture I could get:
(The only privilege the small group of press got was reserved seating — we did not get any additional access to anyone beyond what the general public had. The moderator, Whitney Matheson of the USA Today blog Pop Candy blog, has posted some better images from the event.)
A few interesting tidbits from the Q&A (which mostly came before the floor was opened to fans who figured hitting on the stars couldn’t hurt):
• Smith “rather enjoyed” eating 12 fish custards… and he did really eat them. One of his “pet peeves” is when actors don’t eat onscreen when they should be. So he ate.
• The Doctor is “aboslutely, genuinely, properly mad,” said Moffat. He believes Doctor Who “should be funny,” but he also promises that what’s to come is “absolutely going to be terrifying.”
• If you want to know what’s to come, you should “watch the sodding thing,” Moffat said, joking about how “people always want to spoil Doctor Who.” He realizes that speculation is part of the fun of being a fan; he admitted, however, that he’s not above lying — in interviews or events like this, not in the show itself — to throw us off track.
• On recurring themes and motifs, and how much Moffat plans them out: “A theme is accidently repeating yourself and then pretending it was on purpose.” Heh.
Once fans started asking questions, it was like it always is when deeply fanatical people get the chance to express their love to the people who create the thing they love — though I’m often convinced that these fans are unable to truly appreciate the difference between an actor and a character, or to understand how subconscious and intuitive the act of writing fiction often is. There’s always the big sweaty guy hitting on a lovely actress (though hardly ever do female fans treat male actors the same way). There’s inevitably a small child who asks the most adorable question. And there’s always — always — someone who asks a question that makes you wonder if they’ve wandered into the wrong room. Last night’s came from a guy who begged, pleaded with Moffat to fix the chameleon circuit on the TARDIS. Which of course prompted a enormous roar of “NO!!” from the theater.
What happened after that, though, was brilliant. Matt Smith had already introduced us to his sister, who was sitting right behind me in the reserved section — she was a riot, and Smith obviously thinks so too, because he kept throwing her looks and funny faces all through the Q&A, though it was impossible to interpret what he meant by them. (He wasn’t rolling his eyes in disdain or anything, but clearly there was some communication going on between them. And knowing how I am with my brother Ken, how we seem to understand each other psychically sometimes even across a big room, I can well imagine that it was volumes of intriguing stuff being said.) But after the question about the chameleon circuit, Smith interrupted to explain directly to his friends — the whole gang of Brits behind me were his entourage, it seemed — what the chameleon circuit was. Their faces lit up for a moment, and then it was back to shaking their heads at how crazy this whole shebang was.
So there you go: Even in England, where Doctor Who is an institution, the friends of the actor playing the Doctor aren’t big fans of the show. I don’t know what that means, except that this crowd must have seemed like they were from another planet. Smith was totally eating it up: grabbing a sonic screwdriver from one guy in the crowd, borrowing a Tom Baker scarf from another, but I was tempted to stop his sister on the way out and ask her to apologize for me to her brother for how strange and rude some of the fans were. (I resisted the urge.) We’re not all like that. Just the ones who’d wait on line all day, I guess.
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