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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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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  • Keith

    Thanks for the post and the pics, Maryann. I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who (and sci-fi in general), but I’m not THAT big a fan. I also understand that actors are people too, but then I’ve always had a good grasp of what is real and what is fantasy. Anyway, sounds like you had a good time.

  • allochthon

    Thank you!

  • AJP

    Boorish behaviour abounds in fandom. I saw a clip in which some dork at a Q&A for The Guild asked Felicia Day “does the carpet match the drapes”. She took it rather well considering the obnoxiousness of the question (and properly declined to respond).

    The only thing I can say about guys like that is this: stop being such a loser. You make all genre fans look bad with this sort of social ineptitude.

  • MaryAnn

    Boorish behaviour abounds in fandom.

    Unfortunately. Alas, I fear that even public shaming cannot squash it.

  • I’ve seen women at cons ask embarrassing and idiotic questions – James Marsters got a lot of them several years ago. On one memorable occasion, it was Ted Raimi…http://nerdycellist.livejournal.com/31386.html I would imagine the Twilight guys are catching the cringe-worthy fangirl squee these days.

  • Monica

    Damn, I missed you there last night. From the sound of it, I was just on the other side of the aisle from you.

    Yes, that guy was obnoxious, to the point that the friend I came with asked me if he was drunk (I felt the odds were 50/50). Also obnxious was the constant questions about what would happen throughout the series to Moffat. What were they expecting? For him to divulge every plot point from here on out?

    Also, I know of at least two people in he theater last night who hadn’t seen it yet–my friend and a Brit who met a friend after work.

    Lastly, are you a crazy fan if you’re on line from 11am?

  • RyanT

    A friend of mine stood in line for this event. She got off work at 3:30pm, but alas she still didn’t get a ticket.

    About boorish fans, sad really. Though I guess props for them to have the courage (though not the intelligence) to say what they want to say. If I had the opportunity to ask Karen, Matt, or Steven something it’d probably come out as “…. thanks.”

  • Joanne

    So how did she respond? As a Brit I have no idea what that question even means!

    It’s nice that BBC America did this. Good for them.

  • Mo

    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.

    Well Matt is an admitted Hawley Arms regular: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/tv/2917853/New-Dr-Who-Matt-Smith-visits-Sun-HQ-for-a-chat.html That sort of ultra hipster crowd doesn’t exactly strike me as the sort that would be watching tv much, especially on a Saturday evening. I think Moffat said at some point that Matt was hired because he was so Doctor-like in spite of never watching the show.

    But yeah I spend time with both scifi geeks and music geeks (inevitably with a few hipsters thrown in) and the two crowds are so profoundly different that there’s no point in even comparing them. They might as well be from two different universes. It’s not even a rivalry it’s just that the other crowd’s existence has nothing to do with their lives or scene so it might as well not exist. Must have been very odd for his friends.

  • I_Sell_Books

    My husband and I went to WorldCon in Glasgow a few years ago – my second world, his first – and I can say that cons over there are…restrained. Cons over here? Not so much.

    11 fish custards? ew.

  • Orangutan

    So how did she respond? As a Brit I have no idea what that question even means!

    He basically was propositioning her. I’m curious how she responded, too.

  • Lisa

    he didn’t actually eat real fish custards!! they were made out of coconut either he’s lying to you or he’s lying to me

  • Ryan H

    He doesn’t have to be lying. The thing pretending to be fish custard may have in fact been made of coconut. He was also really eating it, something that can not be taken for granted on screen. For good reason actually. Imagine bring on take 27 of ‘he takes a big drink from the cup’. That’s a lot of liquid.

  • Lisa

    I think he’s trying to keep people going about it. At the Q & A I went to, he was like yeah they were real fish and then he went no they were made of coconut. It doesn’t affect me either way that he ate 12 of them – Just try acting, luv!

    would have loved to have seen the Campbell smackdown.

    ^^crikey if that’s a proposition… on this side of the Atlantic, we’d just call it incredibly rude and vulgar.

  • Paul

    @Joanne: The hair on her head is the drapes.

    But it seems like an odd proposition, since I can’t imagine it working. More like verbal invasion.

  • MaryAnn

    So how did she respond? As a Brit I have no idea what that question even means!

    The question means, “Do you fancy big sweaty guys?” She didn’t respond — she just looked sort of stunned.

  • yes, and that was hardly a proposition… more like a lead up to a proposition… she was better off being stunned than responding in *any* way….

  • Rob

    James Marsters got a lot of them several years ago.

    Ohhh, yeah, I was at Dragoncon with James Marsters a bunch of years back. One woman kept screaming at him to take off his shirt, until he fired back that he’s not a piece of meat and she should take off hers. And then she did. Sigh.

  • Oddly enough, I first heard the expression “chubby chaser” on British television: Dawn French was gently teasing a member of the public.

  • Outraged Fan

    Unfortunately creepy sweaty overweight weirdos are a dime a dozen in fandom.

    I was in the theater for the “chubby chaser” comment for Karen Gillan, and at Dragon*Con for the “carpets and drapes” comment for Felicia Day. All I can say is that I was shocked and outraged about those questions in both occasions. Thankfully there were plenty of cries of disgust or of “Dude, not cool!” or “So inappropriate.”

    Trust me, the normal fans get it. We know the crazies are out there. And we pray that things like these don’t creep out the stars enough that they’ll have second thoughts about interacting with their fans in the future.

  • But it seems like an odd proposition, since I can’t imagine it working. More like verbal invasion.

    Last time I remember hearing that line, it was on one of the first episodes of the American version of The Office and it was said by either the Michael Scott character–who has at best dubious people skills–or one of his obnoxious friends.

    And yes, the first time I heard it, it took me a while to figure out what it meant. But it’s usually not taken as a compliment since it implies the subject of the comment dyes her hair.

  • Joanne

    Thanks all. I am now enlightened. Unfortunately. Stunned seems a good response, in the circumstances.

  • Isobel

    I’m always too frightened to watch interviews and panels with the actors from programmes I like – what if the actor turns out to be a bit of a twat, really? It messes with my whole suspension-of-disbelief thing because then I end up thinking about what the actor did rather than watching the character – it’s why I can’t watch anything with Tom Cruise in it anymore, or Kiera Knightley. Sounds like Matt Smith and Karen Gillian managed it well, though, especially after being propositioned by the audience.

  • Rob –

    I was at that Dragon*Con – not at that session, but I did hear about it the rest of the weekend. We saw a later session with Marsters as part of a panel and were a row behind a woman who stared at him disconcertingly through the whole thing and sometimes forgot to breathe. Her friend sitting next to her in the second row had a big SLR camera with the longest lens I’ve seen and took pictures constantly. Before the panel, we joked around with these ladies that James was pretty hot, although Spike would make a bad boyfriend. That argument took a disturbing toll for the serious. I think one of them was planning on marrying Spike.

    It was then that my friend and I determined that no matter how much we enjoyed watching Marsters in Buffy, we would never again go to a Q&A where he was present.

    My other “favorite” con audience questions start with “I’m an actress…” or “I’m a screenwriter…” and get really masturbatory. At the San Diego Comic Con, the rest of the fen in the room get really agitated at these types of clueless/rude shenanigans and will loudly try and drown them out. It warms the cockles of my cynical heart when this happens.

  • deb

    i was there and i completely agree with you about the stupid chubby chaser comment! its not funny its stupid, rude and just sad.. what these guys just really need is a like a life size doll to keep them company in their parents basement… i know that was rude for me to say but i really felt embarrassed for Karen!
    i kinda wished the Q&A with fans were longer like at the apple store which the whole even was almost an hour long…

  • LaSargenta

    …been there since 6am.

    I am now officially relieved that my schedule went haywire some time late last week and about Saturday evening I mentally scratched the idea of trying to make it to the screening.

    You know, I haven’t seen the episode yet…but, still, all these “spoilers” aren’t gonna ruin it for me. I may even wait for the DVD just to be extra weird.

  • claire

    exactly why I don’t really want to go to one of these Q&A things… fans can be so creepy.

  • I’m amazed at the stars who still bother to interact with fans when they get crazies at these things. Most of us are sane, sure, but when fans are bad, they’re REALLY bad. And word to Rob on the masturbatory “I’m an actor/actress/screenwriter/special snowflake” “questions” at these things. I haven’t been to a lot myself, but when Terry Jones visited my town for a screening of Life of Brian, some schmuck in the audience kept trying to commandeer the Q&A that followed to talk about arguments he’d had with Catholics that were only tangentially related to the film. Mr. Jones was quite polite with him, and thankfully someone in the audience spoke up to shut the guy down and let someone else get a real question in.

    And poor James Marsters. :( I had no idea he had fans that rabid. On what planet would that sort of behavior ever be appropriate?

  • Herb Finn

    Every group of fans always have a few nutters in the bunch!

  • tokyo

    Maryann, who the hell do you think you are to say NOBODY likes that new logo? I love the new logo and reworked opening titles.

    So Maryann, did you read everybody’s brain on the planet?

    I had no idea you were a goddess with such mental ability.

  • tokyo

    I didn’t even go to that thing.

    The sad thing is not one guy but all of you nerds who waited hours and hours with your scarfs on.

    And I saw a pic of some young woman displaying Who toys on the sidewalk. A grown girl playing with action figures?

    All of you who go to these comic-con things are super losers!

  • Lisa

    Not keen on new logo, theme tune, opening credits they’re like Times New Roman, for God’s sake!

    Owner of a Tennant doll and Proud of it I don’t play with it… exactly…

  • tokyo

    You’re a grown man with a Tennant doll? And you’re calling someone else creepy?

    Grow up!

    And you Maryann, what does it say about you to make an un-Christian remark such as “If you’re the big sweaty guy wearing the T-shirt two sizes too small”

    That just shows that you’re no better than the person you’re being nasty to. It shows that you have lots of problems yourself.

    No one knows who you are, and looking at your picture, you’re no prize yourself!

  • tokyo

    “Deb” writes:

    *i was there and i completely agree with you about the stupid chubby chaser comment! its not funny its stupid, rude and just sad.. what these guys just really need is a like a life size doll to keep them company in their parents basement*

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    So, you’re absolutely perfect? Who are you to judge another person in a cruel manner?

    If you were perfect, you would not chastise another’s soul.

    The real pathetic ones are un-Christian people like you who don’t follow the path of lovingkindness.

    Shame on all of you! You all probably have tons of skeletons & sins in your closet.

  • tokyo

    Outraged Fan: “Unfortunately creepy sweaty overweight weirdos are a dime a dozen in fandom”

    I bet you’re the creepy sweaty overweight wierdo wearing a geek scarf in the picture above.

    You are not The Lord and you have no right to judge anyone.

  • @Tokyo: get on your high horse, and ride yourself off to the Magic Kingdom in the Sky you seem so intent on forcing on us. everyone gets their pleasures in their own way. owning a David Tennant doll hurts no one. trying to embarass an actor by making a personal question or remark deserves to be called out.

  • MaryAnn

    And you Maryann, what does it say about you to make an un-Christian remark such as “If you’re the big sweaty guy wearing the T-shirt two sizes too small”

    I’m not Christian.

  • Mo

    You know, those occasional stereotypical demented fans may be pretty bad, but I’m beggining to think it may be the least of the actors’ worries. The dweebs aren’t that bad compared to the treatment the British tabloids have started giving the both of them as of last weekend…

    Two weeks. It only took two weeks. *sigh*

  • Lisa

    I think the other actors doing the roles have had lower profiles. Matt and Karen are obviously “cool”. He’s dating a model, she is one.

    Billie Piper has quite a high profile – she spent 2 years boozing around the world before she landed Who and there were plenty of pictures of her drunk in Vegas. . . lucky girl … but she and Tennant, Freema and Catherine are not putting themselves out there like Matt and Karen are. If you go to openings, festivals, etc, you are asking to be photgraphed … to a certain extent. They are younger and at the start of their careers and they are making the most of their opportunities.

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