PANOPTICON comes from a time before the intense cult of celebrity which has grown over the years and now dominates many modern multi-media events. Although we hope principally to have fun and entertain (and, of course, make as much money as we can for the charities we support), we are mindful of the other Reithian values on which the BBC was founded – to inform and educate. So, rather than just obsess about “the stars of stage and screen”, we have always taken a more rounded look at the TV show as a whole – how it is conceived, designed and produced, and the evolution of those processes over a period now spanning more than five decades.
At each event we provide an unique mix of interviews with members of the show’s cast and crew (and others associated with it), together with demonstrations, displays, screenings and signings (coupled with formal photo sessions) – and one or two surprises. Historically we have used our Dealers’ Area to launch a variety of new licensed merchandise, together with some products exclusive to the event. Over the years, many of these have become collectors’ items.
Due to this approach, for many years it has been our policy not to make a ‘big deal’ of confirming all our guests in advance – also because we have found that raised expectations can lead to profound disappointment if a given guest has to drop out (which sadly happens sometimes). And, of course, it’s always nice to hold back a few big ‘surprises’. So the USP (Unique Selling Point) of this event is that we are celebrating Doctor Who as a whole – we aim to ensure that everyone has a really good time, regardless who is on the Guest List or what specific topics we look at.
So far, so dry. In the words of the Third Doctor, we [may be] very serious about what we do, but not necessarily in the way we do it. By way of explanation, we have again asked our long term collaborator (and event attendee) Charles Illumination to give his ‘take’ on our events –
“WHAT WE DO
Attending a PANOPTICON is a bit like coming home to find an elephant uni-cycling around your living room whilst singing “When I’m Cleaning Windows” – i.e. unusual. So I have compiled a few notes explaining some of the more common elements experienced by people trying to live and breathe Doctor Who for an entire weekend:
- Badges – I have no doubt that somewhere within this website there is a reminder to wear your convention badge at all times. After considerable research I can reveal that, however likely it is that you will be ejected from the building for not complying, you are far more likely to be dumped unceremoniously on the hotel’s door step for failing to wear clothes. I know of someone who, in the excitement of attending a Doctor Who event, turned up in the main hall wearing only a pair of odd socks and a smile. Embarrassed stewards had to escort him back to his hotel room. Of course, far fewer people would have witnessed the event had the person in question not been organising the convention and standing on the stage giving the opening speech at the time. I am not mentioning Andrew Beech’s name at this point.
- Seats – Everyone wants a good seat at the front of the hall where they can feel Tom Baker’s aura, or where they can try to look up the companion’s skirt (be it Katy or Frazer), or where they have some chance of hearing the panel after the sound system packs up, which it will do at various points during the weekend. But how do you secure such a seat? Convention organisers are wise to fans who leave bags on seats to save their place and frequently close the hall so that they can search the bags for illicit drugs, bootleg videos of The Daleks’ Master Plan, or soiled Terrance Dicks paperbacks. There are two ways of keeping your front row position. First, you can cover the seat with some sticky substance so no one wants to sit there (although this does mean that you have to walk around with a sticky stain on the seat of your trousers for the whole weekend; this may or may not cause you problems?). Secondly, you can walk into the hall and start a rumour that David Tennant is doing a signing in the Dealers Area: this usually clears the hall completely in under thirty seconds. This routine is unlikely to work more than twenty or thirty times at any one convention… and now that everyone has read this, it might not work at all.
- The Bar – It is not a good idea to try to outlast the rest of the attendees at the bar. More specifically, it is not a good idea to try to outdrink the audio/visual crew. Indeed, there is a medical term for this sort of behaviour: “Complete Stupidity”. If you look up the word drunk in the dictionary you will find that it makes some reference to “acting like an A/V crew at a Doctor Who convention” . If you remain unconvinced that out-drinking the A/V crew is a bad idea, consider this: the first ever Doctor Who convention was in 1977, and no one has seen a sober member of the team since.
- Autograph Queues – Autograph queues are boring. This is a great shame, considering how many convention-goers seem to spend a large proportion of their weekend standing in line. The most frustrating experience is to find that, having waited five hours to see Tom Baker and Peter Davison, when you arrive at the front of the queue the organisers have rotated the panel and you are about to meet an unidentified extra from The Underwater Menace, Sylvester McCoy’s mother, Louise Jameson’s orthodontist and Keff McCulloch. The easiest way to avoid this problem is to persuade the people in front of you to leave the queue. Eating chilli and garlic crisps is usually quite effective, but there is no food up to the challenge of repelling the fan who hasn’t removed his anorak for at least three years (and is therefore immune to all smells).
- Anoraks – Doctor Who fans don’t wear anoraks, they wear ski jackets. Honest.
- Stewards – Don’t assume that the stewards know what is going on. If there is a change in the schedule, they will be the last to be informed, indeed they probably won’t have been told what was supposed to happen in the first place. They are always so ill-informed that it is a miracle to me that they ever turn up at the right venue. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking a steward where the lavatories are (even if it means waking them up to do so) because this is the one question to which they are likely to know the answer. Don’t ask them difficult questions like “What day of the week is it?” That’s just being cruel.
- Daleks – At every convention there is bound to be someone who thinks it’s a great idea to trundle around the event in a Dalek: it’s tradition or an old charter or something. Normally the Dalek operator is a quiet accountant from the West Midlands and the wildest thing in his life is a cup of coffee. But once in the machine, he is a changed person – innuendo flies from his modulated vocal chords and he shoves his sink plunger into places that he wouldn’t normally dare mention. Pouring lager through the Dalek’s ventilation slats is childish and immature. It is also a lot of fun.
- The Convention Booklet – Don’t read the convention booklet. It’s not as if the editor has. And if you do by some chance read the booklet, don’t believe a word of it.