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.  

Tales of Faringdon: The Long Shot

Faringdon was created in a glacial accident that left a single hill standing above the rolling downloads on every side. And on that hill, in what was definitely not an accident, Lord Berners placed England’s last folly. It stands surrounded by trees, a compass cross of paths quartering them. The hill contains a reservoir: Faringdon orbits that weight of water. There are other geographical markers laid down, by accident or design. The ‘Egypt’ statue stands looking down the grand valley towards Radcot. Two schools form a gate across a road. The quarries and the new stone circle in the park set bounds on a landscape that’s perfectly weighted, a modern reflection of the chalkhills of Uffington across the way. This place seems to have stumbled upon a natural order. I walked into my flat, the first I’d looked at, of any I might buy within a twenty-five mile radius of a particular spire in Oxford (that marks where my wife is allowed to live while at university), and knew I would live here and be happy here. In our first month in the house, we were infested with Red Admiral Butterflies, once and never again. They were like confetti, to go with the bells of the churchyard outside my window, where every other day I watch the Happy Wolfhound and his owner bounding about amongst the graves. And still, while walking my ten thousand paces a day for fitness, or going definitely somewhere amongst these perfectly right lengths of street, or relaxing when I reach the roundabout that means I’m home from London, I know that I live inside exactly the right shape for me.
Faringdon is the navel of the world, and the top table of the Portwell Bar is the navel of the navel of that navel (unless you go to the Bell, who have their own version, and will stand no talk of navels). And in Faringdon there are no accidents, just love and chaos written by someone who seems often to be drunk, but occasionally displays flashes of ability.
‘I’ve been betting again,’ I said to the others one night, to try to stop them playing Liar Dice.
‘Did you find out who’s going to be Robin Hood?’ asked Guy, who works for a betting shop chain, and indulges my attempts at gambling like a mother bird one day hoping her offspring might fly. ‘Because when that online bookmaker offered odds on that, you set up a meeting with that production company to find out who it was –‘
‘Yes, thank you, Guy –‘
‘But they ended up letting you write for them instead.’
‘Which was very good luck and for which I’m very grateful. And they still won’t tell me.’
‘And then there was that bet you made on that actor, you know, the one who’s up for the Orange Award-‘
‘And you found out it was voted for online, so you tried to get all the SF geeks to vote for him –‘
‘I happen to think he deserves to win. As well as having put a small sum of money on the outcome. And don’t use the G word if you please. But this time it’s my Oscar bets –‘
They groan. ‘Can I get you a drink?’ says Martin. ‘Save you some money for March. Not that there’s any particular reason you’re going to need it in March…’
‘Only crippling poverty after he does another Sideways,’ says Simon.
Sideways was the best movie last year by a mile!’ I… well, yell. ‘It’s only because it was promoted as a comedy, and Hollywood don’t give Oscars to comedies. Paul Giamatti will win Best Supporting this year as a consolation prize, like Jeremy Irons won the year after Dead Ringers because Hollywood don’t give Oscars to Cronenberg!’
‘Anyone following this?’ mutters Huw, looking up from his dice.
‘This year it’s going to be a full set for Brokeback Mountain. Even Heath Ledger as Best Actor. He deserves it more than anyone.’
‘And of course everyone gets what they deserve…’ says Simon.
‘Like they’re going to give even a truly great character actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman a lead’s award for a picture nobody saw! The only other exception will be Reese Witherspoon, who’ll get Best Actress for I Walk The Line.’
‘Is this like Rachel out of S Club 7 being in Casino Royale? And isn’t Ricky Gervais going to host the Oscars?’
One hundred to one against Ricky, a stand up with a gift for improvisation, beloved in Hollywood!’ I, well… bellow.
‘And the U.S.A. to win the World Cup?’
Guy holds my gaze until I look away, and back to the glass in my hand, which contains my sixth Vodka and Diet Coke. ‘It’s a long shot. I was just thinking one night, after I came back from here, about how sometimes people do get what they deserve. Not that I quite believe I deserve this town. And with all the work they’ve put into laying down a structure for soccer in the States, all those pitches and lines and circles and…’
‘Anyone?’ Huw looks up again.
Martin hands me my seventh drink. ‘Mate,’ he says, ‘just don’t put your house on it.’
I tell him that’s the last thing I’d do.

Robin Hood and business ongoing

Someone guessed correctly in an earlier reply, I’m going to be writing episode three of the new BBC Robin Hood, which will be on Saturday nights in the Doctor Who slot.  I’m very excited about this new version, which is all leaping through windows and swordfights, but has a passionate depth to it too.  It’s a new take, appropriate for both the modern audience and the history of the material, entirely different to Robin of Sherwood, gorgeous as that was.  It’s being made by Tiger Aspect, who are collectively flying out to Hungary shortly, where our Nottingham and Sherwood will be.  The show is the creation of Dominic Minghella, the wonderfully talented writer of Doc Martin, and the producer is Foz Allan, an old Casualty mate of mine, and together they’ve already formed a double act that can only be described as ‘Bad Cop/Bad Cop’.  (Why do I always end up working for toweringly huge Welshmen?  Foz and Russell should have a fight, like Godzilla vs. Mothra.  ‘Hello hello!’ Russell would boom.  ‘All right mate?’ Foz would roar back, and they’d go at it, city blocks crumbling as they wrestled and bellowed.)  I’m also very much enjoying the script editing of Jenny White, who has at her fingertips medieval knowledge about bows, taxes and carrots.  She’d probably be too sensible to join in the fight.  

I mentioned the above when I popped in to Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone on Friday, to entertain two hundred students.  Well, I say entertain.  I yelled terrified hysterics at them for over an hour, running between two stages like I’d got a stew on the go somewhere in the wings.  I talked a bit about ‘Father’s Day’, but there was also a lot of interest in Casualty and, curiously, Doctors.  Well, they do watch telly in the afternoons.  I left with a glow in my heart about the intelligence and erudition of our young people.  But doubts about their aim, because I managed to dodge every bit of fruit.  

The talk down the Portwell, meanwhile, is of the cox of the Oxford team in the Boat Race, a sometime Portwell barperson, who will be sporting a Portwell Bar cap in the boat.  More on that as the day of the race approaches.