Gallifrey One: Doctor Who fans should dance

I’ve been going to the Gallifrey conventions in Los Angeles every February for nine years now.  It’s an important part of my life, a series of time lapse photos of how I’ve changed, and how Doctor Who has changed.  Gallifrey isn’t as huge as the biggest American conventions of the 1980s were (although it might get that way next year), but it is big by British standards.  It differs from British events also in the distance between audience and guest.  In Britain, an actor (and it usually is an actor) is placed on a stage and an audience puts their hands up.  In the States, and in SF prose fandom, where this comes from, a panel is a town hall gathering with a few people who know slightly more than the rest of the room onstage, and the audience participating.  In the fifteen years Who was off the air, that sort of panel every February became where the fan authorship met both their audience and their editors.  Business was done in L.A..  Directions were set.  With the show back, I rather missed that.  At my first Gallifreys, I had the vague sensation that I wasn’t supposed to be on the guest list, as a Who book author in a world of actors.  Then everyone got interested in the books, and suddenly there were too many ‘Brit authors’ to fit onstage at once, and we started singing a group song in the cabaret.  Now those of us who worked on the show are partitioned off into our own panels, and rush back with relief to being part of the Big Finish audio line up.  
It’s a wonderfully packed weekend.  It’s like being in the Light Entertainment Marines.  You’re flown around the world, and very swiftly have to: talk about writing; auction something; perform in cabaret; play cricket; do a live DVD commentary; dance; sign things; debate; promote; find something to say about a subject you’ve been put on a panel about for no good reason.  All fuelled with jetlag, great coffee, home baked goods in the Green Room, beer and enormous American breakfasts.  
     The audience hasn’t got that self-hating cultural cringe thing going like the British fan audience often has.  (How terrible is it that what fans say these days is ‘the programme shouldn’t be made for us, we don’t matter’?) They just like what they like, and don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t yell that from the rooftops.  It’s infectious.  It creates a space where British writers and producers can talk to each other really openly.  I’ve had some of my best, most calm, political conversations at these conventions.  Each year, I get to chat with organiser Shaun Lyons’ partner about Democrat politics, and this time round Moffat and I found ourselves sorting out the world in the Green Room.  There’s nothing like people demanding your autograph to make the world feel sortable.  
     It was good to see Noel Clarke being adored while being thoroughly decent, outgoing and fun.  (The movie he wrote and stars in, Kidulthood, sounds like it should get him a knighthood.) It was supremely cool to be onstage with Rob, Mark and Moffat, letting writer banter happen in front of an audience.  We ought to do that more.  Caroline sang her Welsh lullaby in the cabaret, to great acclaim.  Nev Fountain hosted, fabulously acerbic as always.  He doesn’t really get the audience participation thing, bless him, yelling ‘we want questions, not statements!’ during the writer panel.  They do like him in L.A., because he’s a walking bit of Britain, but he does scare them.
     There are also people who I’ve formed great friendships with while only seeing them once a year, such as my mates from a mailing list I used to be on, Mike, Felicity, Greg, Graeme and Steve.  And there are always people you instantly connect with, such as fan society host Tara O’Shea, whose art is introducing people, and who this year brought to Galley (as it’s called) the Lost writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a sweet and fun chap who I drunkenly burbled at while he sipped his Pepsi.  They do have a plan, he assures us, though of course he won’t tell us a thing about it.  
One of my favourite panels was the ‘shipper’ one, where a heroic group of Those Who Like To See Romantic Relationships In Their SF (hence ‘shippers’) defended themselves against the We’ve Worked For Decades To Keep This Fandom Going Worked Down The Mines Exchanging Lumps Of Coal For Betamax Tapes Kids Today With Their Fly By Night Hopping From One Fandom To Another When They’re Only Interested In Writing Fan Fiction About The Relationships Ugh Kissing people.  And yes, the latter group did include some of my best friends.  It’s only in SF fandoms that there’s a special word for the texts that include relationships.  In the rest of human culture, there’s a special word for those that don’t.  I am now the proud wearer of a ‘got squee?’ badge.  (‘Squee’ being the excited Beatles-scream exclamation uttered by a shipper when encountering some particularly cute/heartwarming depiction of, say, the Ninth Doctor’s love for Rose, or some particularly horny photo of David Tennant.  It’s a bit like the Japanese girl’s battlecry of ‘Kawaiiiiii!’  And ‘got’ is from the American ‘got milk?’ ad campaign.  That took a bit of cultural unpacking, didn’t it?)  As I rather crossly said on the panel, armies of teenage girls raving about Doctor Who used to be a distant dream.  Let’s not blow it now!
     Oh, and hey, the Battlestar Galactica panel was a blast too.  Just everyone in the room leaping up and down about it.  Apart from one brave soul who preferred the old show.  And was sulking.
     But I mainly want to talk about the disco.  There are usually two discos at Galley, a more serious one (that’s unfortunately on opposite the karaoke), and a more poppy one.  The pop one, when he’s in L.A., is hosted by D.J. Paul Condon, the fan D.J. of choice in Britain.  He plays pure pop: Michael Jackson; S Club; Sophie Ellis Bextor, and uniquely at Galley, ‘Ra Ra Rasputin’ by Boney M.  Which Americans haven’t heard, and, as you might expect, are boggled by.  
     There’s nothing like a good fan disco.  The sheer release of people who’ve never danced before, who felt that dancing was denied to them, all getting up as they gradually realise this is a safe space… you have to be there, you have to try it.  Nobody likes to hear me talking about a culture of the bullied, because that makes us all sound like victims, but it’s why I’m a fan, and I think it’s why a lot of other people are too.  Doctor Who was our saving show, like in twenty years there are going to be ecstatic discos at Veronica Mars conventions.  Victims of bullying either embrace the culture of their oppressors (like I did with cricket and pop music), or they deny it (one writer friend of mine doesn’t do pop music or sport at all).  Mainstream pop and, particularly, mainstream sport, are things we associate with those who kept us down.  And now, when there’s a thread on the Outpost Gallifrey forums about a disco, you get people posting about how they can’t dance, won’t dance unless some incredibly undanceable intellectual number is played, boasting about not dancing, etc..  
     I can’t dance, but I do.  I do a lot.  I do while people are telling me to stop.  I’m incredibly bad at it.  But I love it so hugely.  I like to think that seeing me do that, particularly since I’m now ‘local boy made good’ as a Galley guest, encourages other people to get up, because they can’t be as bad as I am.  
     I remember the one founding dance that started it all.  It was at a convention in Manchester, and Paul was DJing for the first time.  He asked us to dance early because he didn’t know if it would work, so me, Alison Lawson, Julia Houghton and Nev Fountain were there immediately.  Russell T. Davies, before the new show was heard of, was there that night.  Big Finish Who supremo Gary Russell danced.  Doctor Who Magazine editor Gary Gillatt invented the Fan Pogo that night, an ecstatic leaping up and down, the minimum skill required to be part of a huge crowd that have suddenly found they liked this.  Similarly, Who DVD contributor Ed Stradling marched back and forth across the dancefloor like a train.  Faction Paradox writer Mags Halliday ran onto the floor when she heard The Smiths.  The floor stayed full until the end, and then the crowd shouted ‘Condon, Condon’ as Paul took his bows.
     And that’s what’s always in my head when I dance at Galleys, that uniting moment of a separate, beautiful, strong underground culture, who dance now.  Me and Karen Baldwin and the American fan known as Dancin’ Dan (who I remember doing ‘Can’t Touch This’ dressed as Sylvester McCoy), keeping the dancefloor full through, respectively, stupid, stylish and proudly uncaring example.  Galley makes it all possible.  
     Doctor Who fans should dance.  

24 Response to "Gallifrey One: Doctor Who fans should dance"

  • Michael Says:

    Or to steal worlds from Stephen Moffat, it "the world doesn't end because the Doctor Who fan dances".

    Recovering from being sick this year meant that I didn't get a chance to dance, which was one of my regrets for the year.

  • Mags Says:

    Faction Paradox writer Mags Halliday ran onto the floor when she heard The Smiths.

    Which is a pretty simple way of summing me up. I actually left a drink with someone in my rush to get on that floor.

    Glad Galley was good fun. And I got squee. Over two decades of pointing out that female fans "actually like the series not fancy the Doctor", RTD hits us with Tennant and I'm reduced to "aliens bad, Doctor pretty".

  • Paul Hayes Says:

    Noooooo. Dancing is evil and must be destroyed! Well, that's something of an overreaction, admittedly, but you wouldn't get me dancing. I'm far too crushingly self-conscious for that sort of thing.

    But then again I've never been to a "Doctor Who" convention, so perhaps there's a special sort of madness that settles upon people at such gatherings.

  • LJC Says:

    ‘Ra Ra Rasputin’ by Boney M. Which Americans haven’t heard, and, as you might expect, are boggled by.

    erm... I've never heard Boney M. but I have heard Minneapolis folk-punk-rock-trad band Boiled in Lead play it live half a dozen times, and now I'm blushing cos I had no idea in the 'verse it was a cover...

    I live in a cultural wasteland!

    (Okay, a cultural wasteland with Steve Brust.)

    However, glad you like the "got squee?" button. I'm still vaguely amazed I wasn't stoned to death by angry men wearing 30 foot long scarves and brandishing copies of whatever NA it was what had looms in it.

  • Paul Hayes Says:

    I'm not sure the scarf-wearers and the NA worshippers actually go together... But that's not for here!

  • Anonymous Says:


    You get a similar phenomenon at the anime conventions I frequent. There's few things which are more of a relief and more enabling of overcoming inhibitions than to be around people you know will understand you.

    I love to dance enough that I can dance anywhere, even though my dancing has been compared to 'a Veritech in heat', but I know there's a ton of people afraid to dance. Trust me, most of those who DO dance don't know what they're doing any better than those who do not.

  • Spaceminx Says:

    Ooh that brings back memories. I'd forgotten that Nev was on the dance floor with us. One of these days I might get to a 'Galley' but his year I'll make do with Regenerations (hopefully).

    Jules H

  • dougggie Says:

    I love the music, I like to peoplewatch, but will only dance if I'm fairly paralytic with alcohol and think people won't notice me if I can't see them straight!
    And so glad you explained the squee thing... I thought it might be that, but didn't want to ask just in case it turned out to be something slashier :-)

  • Kate Orman Says:

    Ah, those Russians!

    Jon and I got hooted at by elderly relatives after dirty dancing at his sister's wedding. The fact that I looked like a dragged-up hamster jogging on the spot did not dissuade them.

    The collision between NO GURLS and GUH TENNANT is the true Clash of Civilisations.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    I'm far too crushingly self-conscious for that sort of thing too! I've had a look on Itunes, and I can't find Boiled in Lead, but I did find one Japanese and one very deep voiced (yes, deeper) version of Rasputin. (I'll ask Paul Condon if he could do a convention disco IMix.) There is something utter fan culture about the Looms (created as they were by the wonderful Marc Platt, mind you) that is, both practically and academically, the very opposite of Squee (and there's a line from a musical, 'you're... the... very opposite of squee...') And Jules, can you remember which convention the formative disco of which I speak was at? More conventions I'm going to this year about to be added to the links!

  • Jon Blum Says:

    God I miss Gallifrey. You're not even on the mailing list with Greg et al any more, and yet you're more a part of that group than I am these days...

    About the "shipper versus ugh kissing" thing... I don't think it can really be summed up like that. You can absolutely love storytelling that's about relationships without it having to be about *The* Relationship. By which I don't even mean the Doctor and Rose's actual relationship as shown in the show, with all its odd angles and rough edges, but the lowest common denominator omgtheirloveissopure cliche relationship which fanfic from across the whole genre seems inexorably pulled towards. The same way the Campbellian monomyth so often reduces stories to formula instead of archetype.

    It's kind of like Buffy for me -- there was a constant pressure to turn Spike into a straight-up romantic hero, when he was far more interesting when he veered away from the familiar. When he had not just a poet's soul but a *bad* poet's soul, and just plain couldn't get why Buffy wouldn't be impressed when he offered to torture and kill his ex for her. That's a character we _haven't_ seen before.

    I think that's why I still feel "the program shouldn't be made for us" -- that implies giving me what I already expect. I'd rather you give me what I don't realize I wanted until after I've got it.

  • A.j. Says:

    I am now kicking myself for citing finanicial reasons for not attending this. I have personal experience with Tara and her ability to know and introduce everyone to anyone and should have packed myself in her luggage, because watching N number of Doctor Who fans get down with their bad selves would have Made. My. Year.

    Hrm. Next year, yes. As watching Tara get beaten with Proof Of Looms materials by men in 30-ft scarves is an event worthy of being stuck in a program...

  • LJC Says:

    I am not surprised, as BiL is cultish.

    Basically, picture Minneapolis. Now, picture Minneapolis in winter (which would be 9 months of the year). Now, picture the harsh there-are-reasons-this-continent-was-sparsely-populated-before-you-insane-white-folks-arrived-here winters breeding an abnormal number of both fantasists and Irish Trad. musicians.

    Then imagine every 3rd fantasy author is in a band (or, in the case of 1990s lead BiL singer Adam Stemple, every 3rd son of an acclaimed folklorist like Jane Yolen is in a band).

    Then factor in the fact that Steve Brust is in 3 bands *at least* if not more. Add drum jams, stir, and BAM. You will produce Boiled In Lead.

    (you will also produce Morrighan, Bedlam, Cat's Laughing, The Flash Girls, and countless other bands. But only BiL had a fiddler who left to join a Klingon Klezmer band. No lie.)

    Also, they do a kickass cover of both Newry Highwayman, Ta Corbies, State rooper (yes, *that* State trooper) and the eternal St Paddy's day fave, "Puking In The Heather."

    I shall make you a mix cd.

  • Mags Says:

    The disco I recall, in which I lurked in a corner drinking a foul mix of vodka and red aftershock until they played stuff I liked, was Manopticon. I don't recall which year.

  • Spaceminx Says:

    It was one of the Panopticons at the Palace Hotel in Manchester. Can't remember which year though.

  • Spaceminx Says:

    Yes, definitely a Panopticon as the Manopticons were well and truly over before Mr Fountain was on the scene. I'm trying to place which year it was. I'm sure I've been to two Panopticons in Manchester - it may be the one where you did a quiz on the Friday night in a very small bar area (the first I went to) rather than the one just before our Manchester Olympiad (& where we were filming stuff for Banzai). I could be wrong though.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    I love 'Proof of Looms'! Is this because Chicago gets cold in the winters? And yes, it was a Manchester Panopticon, with a huge bar and a lovely big dancefloor, thanks, Jules.

  • dougggie Says:

    Didn't realise Marie had got round to getting her old photos online...but this is from one of the Leisure Hives, probably 1985...

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    I'd love it if you could sort that link for me!

  • dougggie Says:

    Well, taking the http off... seems to work for me as a cut 'n' paste, but no idea how to make it clickable!

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Oh, that's wonderful! I think I look cute! And very, very, young. So that's okay by me!

  • Eric Says:

    Hang on, let me see if I can make it clickable:

    Does that do the trick?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Good of you to keep refining!

  • Lioness Says:

    I'm a terrible geek who never dared to dance until I was 37. I got too depressed to dance last year. Thank you for reminding me I need it.