I will admit from the outset that I’m not really sure of the direction which this blog will take. Nominally, the purpose is to confirm the completion of another of my “Time to Change” challenges: that of meeting a Doctor Who companion (which was achieved at the Dimensions 2015 event, which was held at the Copthorne Hotel in Newcastle).
But... in doing so, I learned quite a lot about the nature of these clearly incredibly popular events, and the apparent culture of what I believe was/is called “fandom”; and I found the experience slightly... what’s the word I’m looking for... “uncomfortable” perhaps?
There were some massive positives to come out of the day; but the second thing you notice (the first being that a lot of people are wearing Doctor Who-related costumes – I must be getting old because I just don’t see the attraction at all) is that almost everything revolves around money.
If you ignore the travel, accommodation, food, drink etc., the price of admission is far from cheap (I had what amounted to the economy ticket... and that cost £50). For that you were entitled to queue for an autograph from most of the guests; although there was a charge associated with others; but woe betide you if you asked for a photograph... because a series of separate “official” photoshoots would set you back anything from £15 to £40... each!
You could buy a silver or gold ticket that would gain you a number of “free” photos, but any extras meant another peek inside a wallet that was probably begging for mercy. On the basis that this “experience” was always likely to be a one-off, I had pre-ordered a photo with Daphne Ashbrook (who played Grace Holloway in the 1996 Doctor Who movie), and at the appointed time I joined the queue... it grew into a very long queue, but happily I was about tenth in line....
Well I was until gold pass holders were ushered to the front, with silver following right behind. As for me with my contemptibly cheap £50 day pass and £15 photo ticket: “Please would you just join the back of the queue....”
The shoot itself was little more than a conveyor belt. Sit, smile, click, bye... but at this point, I need to mention the highlight of my day: meeting Daphne Ashbrook.
Many moons ago I wrote a book about Doctor Who - the first two editions were self-published and profits given to charity, before the third edition was published by BearManor Media in the U.S.. The premise of the book was that I would build a personal history of a programme I had watched since 1968 (and yes I know I don’t look old enough) around a search to obtain a signed photo from as many female TARDIS companions as possible.
I was incredibly grateful to everyone who took the time to reply, and genuinely humbled by the lengths some people went to support the project: the late (and much missed) Caroline John wrote a couple of lovely letters, and Daphne took the time to send a fantastic personalised photo all the way across the Atlantic. Yesterday I had the opportunity to thank her in person, and give her a copy of the book....
A couple of hours before the official photo, I spent a couple of minutes in Daphne’s company, explained about the book and my mental health awareness work, and she was an absolute joy. I asked for the photo (to complete the challenge); she immediately agreed although her “minder” was slightly more reluctant. The flash didn’t go off, so the picture is a bit grainy, but the photo proves two things: one, I actually met the fantastic Daphne Ashbrook; and two, I’m still eminently huggable! I took a selfie for good measure, but I haven’t seen the “professional” photo yet as I had to leave before it was printed - an unforeseen two hour delay presumably caused by the sheer volume of pictures... or maybe I’d simply been dispatched to the back of another queue!
Hopefully I will receive the photo in due course, and I would like to say a quick thank you to the member of the event staff who offered to post the picture to me. I did ask how he would know which picture was actually mine. I expected some really clever technical explanation, but he simply said: “grey top, red sleeves!”
I met three other people who had appeared in Doctor Who at various points during its near fifty-two year history, and I also want to mention Jacqueline King, who played companion Donna Noble’s mother Sylvia in relatively recent times. She took a real interest in what I had been doing, and the photo was absolutely no trouble at all. A lovely lady.
From what I could gather, the level of interaction very much depended on the allocated minder; one of whom issued a refusal to a photo request that was blunt enough to actually take the actress concerned by surprise. Another looked like he was going to have palpitations when a former companion agreed to a quick photo that wasn’t going to boost the coffers by that all-important £15.
Twenty-four hours on, I can look back on a slightly surreal trip to Newcastle. Meeting Daphne and Jacqueline was brilliant. Seeing a couple of other former companions was nice, but no more memorable than it was for them to meet me; but I did enjoy having the chance to catch up with Cory and Tricia who I had met at my first (and probably only) book-signing in Mansfield a couple of years ago.
Above all however, the day was about ticking another challenge off my list (thank you so much Daphne) and continuing to raise awareness of mental health issues in the best way I can. My bank manager might not be speaking to me right now, but he can relax because it’s pretty safe to say I won’t be making the journey north again next year. As the day progressed I became increasingly aware that I was (rather ironically it has to be said) the odd one out; and in future I think I should stick to sharing my love of the programme through the written word because the atmosphere and genuine excitement I sensed amongst so many others attending Dimensions 2015 was something I just didn’t feel.
Next stop for me? A chance to meet 1964 Olympic gold medallist Ann Packer (now Brightwell) and, having set myself a goal of 13st 13lbs, a very definite need to lose some weight.
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest