Sydney Sunday: Doctor Who galore

Sunday! And so we get to the main excuse reason for the trip to Sydney on this specific weekend: the Doctor Who Festival.

I’ve been to Comic-Con in Melbourne twice, but this was a different beast: 98% dedicated to Doctor Who, with little bit of Sherlock (which has many of the same producers/writers/crew members/fans!) getting a look-in too. But its official status meant this event got big guns in the guest department: star Peter Capaldi, former Doctor Sylvester McCoy, semi-regular cast member Ingrid Oliver (as Osgood), showrunner Steven Moffat, writer Mark Gattis, special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves. These things don’t get to Australia very often — that’s why I was willing to build an interstate trip around it.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: miniature Dalek props in a Dalek city

But first: Doctor Who is currently airing on Saturday nights in the UK, and in Australia the ABC puts it on iView as soon as the UK broadcast is finished: in this case, 8am Sunday.

So we got up at about 7:30am, showered and dressed and went downstairs to enjoy the slightly bland but plentiful breakfast buffet, then with our unlimited hotel WiFi organised ($9.95 per 24 hours), we fired up iView on the iPad, plugged it into the TV and watched the episode. Which I won’t talk about in case anybody hasn’t seen it.

Then we headed for the bus stop outside Museum Station, where Google Transit told me we needed a 373, 377, 392, 394, 396, 397, 399 or M10 bus. This was a common theme for the inner-city trunk bus routes: as each bus approached, I’d look back at the phone and see if the number matched one on the list.

The bus took us to Moore Park and the Hordern Pavillion, where after a lengthy walk trying to find a way in (like the restaurant the night before, sadly clearly designed to prioritise arrivals by car), and a mild panic trying to find the right ticket barcodes (thank goodness everything was available in my email, and thank goodness for mobile internet), we entered the Festival.

Inside the Doctor Who Festival

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: I feel like I've forgotten something

The main hall was a mix of displays and small theatre areas: a very impressive fullsize Lego TARDIS, sessions on writing, production, Cosplay, a big display of costumes and props, some merchandising, a special effects display, “pub” quiz, and areas for autograph signing and photos with cast members.

People were snapping away at anything that moved, and many things that didn’t. Two uber-fans behind us in the queue for the costumes and props seemed amazed that few people were taking photos of Matt Smith’s actual coat.

A Festival crew member showed us the stick from the recent Dalek episode — actually made of rubber, making it safe despite the pointy end, and had the advantage of not being caught up in quarantine as an actual stick would.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Sylvester McCoy

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Peter Capaldi, Ingrid Oliver and Steven Moffat

After a circuit, we went into the Sylvester McCoy session — which was very entertaining, as he strolled around the theatre taking questions.

We had pretty good seats despite not having paid the premium for the front section, so we stayed put in the theatre for a short time until the Capaldi/Moffat/Oliver session started. Before it was a trailer for the new Sherlock episode, which got applause from the audience.

On stage, Moffat noted that it would be a good idea not to talk about the climactic events of the latest episode, given many wouldn’t have seen it yet. Oliver said the first time she really appreciated the popularity of the show among fans was seeing lots of people dressed up as her character. They took some pretty good questions… though the one that got the biggest laugh was when one little kid asked Capaldi how much longer he’d be quitting.

After that we grabbed a bite to eat then went back into the hall to join a long queue for photos with Capaldi. These had been pre-booked at $60 a pop, which seems to be the going rate for a photo with a star of this calibre. Churning through one about every 30-45 seconds during a session lasting a bit under an hour must mean a fair wad of cash is collected, though a whole infrastructure of queues and staff is needed to make it all run smoothly.

It must be a bit exhausting for the star, but he seemed to be managing okay. He was chatty with everybody, greeting them by name (with help from assistants), and he seemed to have figured out a range of poses for photos that would make the punters happy.

I told him I was enjoying his stint as the Doctor, and I loved him as Malcolm Tucker too. I don’t know if he was taking it all in, but we posed for a simple handshake (other people got more “in-character” poses). So here’s me making a deal with Malcolm Tucker:

Hatching a deal with Malcolm Tucker... or maybe it's the 12th Doctor Who

After collecting the photos that we wandered around a bit more, before looking in on a special effects presentation.

Special effects whiz Danny Hargreaves blew bits off a “stunt Dalek”, and with the help of some audience members and a sonic screwdriver, had sparks flying off a Cyberman.

By then, we’d just about had our fill of Doctor Who.

Was it worth $195 each? Well, you know, YOLO. The boys were delighted. I refrained from paying the $170 additional for premium tickets (which gained you a showbag, access to a “lounge” and a fast track queue to good seats up the front of each session).

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: A Cyberman gets his comeuppance

Bus way outside Moore Park/Hordern Pavilion

Finding dinner

Eventually it was time to go; we headed back to the bus stops, and were about to cross ANZAC Parade to wait for a bus back when we saw a bus approaching on the parallel bus way. I’m not clear on why some buses do and don’t use it, but it took us back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.

Time for dinner: I thought we could catch the ferry to Manly and have fish and chips — especially as we’d hit the ridiculously low Sunday Opal $2.50 cap, so all PT would be free for the rest of the day.

The Manly ferry only runs every 30-40 minutes at that time, so I checked Google Transit for the quickest bus to Circular Quay. It showed a “5 CC” bustitution service that would take us there — but while I’m pretty sure we were standing at the suggested bus stop adjacent to Museum Station, the regular 5 CC buses didn’t stop there. After seeing a few of these zoom by (and other buses not going to Circuular Quay) we walked up one stop and quickly got a 5 CC to the Quay… only to miss the ferry by a couple of minutes.

Circular Quay

Trains at Milsons Point station

Sydney Opera House

Another ferry for Milsons Point was leaving shortly, so I identified via Google Maps that there was a fish’n’chip shop nearby to there, and we caught that instead. Dinner in the park under the northern end of the Harbour Bridge, then we walked back across it at dusk.

A further walk through the CBD, via a supermarket to get some fruit to eat and also something flat for storage of our precious printed Capaldi photos, then back to the hotel for some sleep.

Total steps that day, according to my phone: 14,938.

It’s okay

I don’t know if anybody’s done this before, but…

West Wing - shuttle

It’s from The West Wing, the finale of season 1, a signal the staff work out to indicate that the Space Shuttle has resolved an issue while on a mission. The show is known for infusing humour into the drama — in this case, the Shuttle plot line in this episode is of consequence, but the gesture lightens it up.

A couple of us started using this signal at work to indicate if something’s working — with a similar but different, downward, gesture if it’s not. I guess it’s the latter that applies to City Loop phone coverage.

Update 5pm: There we go, I can use it to mark Turnbull challenging Abbott.

The ABC Shops to close

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My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

Sense8’s public transport. Can you name the cities?

I’m always interested to see portrayals of public transport in popular culture.

I’ve been watching the Netflix series Sense8 — I’m a bit over halfway through it. (And I just realised the Wikipedia article includes spoilers, so watch your step if you’re planning to watch it).

It’s pretty good — at least, I’m intrigued enough by the story to keep watching. It’s scifi, created by the minds behind The Matrix and Babylon 5, and set in the present day, with eight (hence the name) main characters in different cities around the globe.

In the title sequence they seek to highlight different parts of the world with lots of different shots from the cities featured. Here’s the video if you feel so inclined (it’s about two minutes long).

If you’re trying to highlight different cities, what helps distinguishes them apart from their skyline and famous buildings? Their public transport systems!

Public transport can visually differentiate cities a lot more than, say, freeways, given that motorway signs and cars look pretty much the same across the (western) world.

Perhaps they (at least subconsciously) thought a bit about this, because in the title sequence there are numerous shots of public transport. … Or perhaps there aren’t really that many, and it’s just me that notices them. (Actually there are shots of freeways and road bridges as well.)

Can you guess the cities? Some of them are pretty easy. They’ve doubled up on some, and I think they’ve missed one of the eight cities here.

Here they are in the order shown in the titles:

PT in the Sense8 titles 01

PT in the Sense8 titles 02

PT in the Sense8 titles 03

PT in the Sense8 titles 04

PT in the Sense8 titles 05

PT in the Sense8 titles 06

PT in the Sense8 titles 07

PT in the Sense8 titles 08

PT in the Sense8 titles 09

PT in the Sense8 titles 10

Those who have actually watched the series would know that one of these actually features heavily in the plot.

What are some other TV shows or movies that have prominently featured the PT systems of their cities (without it necessarily being the basis of the plot, such as Pelham 123) ?

Oh damn. Someone’s catalogued all the locations in the Sense8 titles (with assistance from the program makers).

Never mind — have a guess. No cheating now.

Oz Comic-Con 2015 – and marriage equality

Science fiction and fantasy conventions used to be a homespun affair, run by the local clubs, featuring broadcasts of rare episodes and out-takes (before it all got released on DVD) and fan films. If there were guest artists, often they would appear only if they happened to be in the country at the time, and fees for photos and autographs were unheard of.

These days it’s big business. Not that it’s a bad thing. I like that geek culture is no longer a hidden-away, niche enterprise, and those who are interested in it have big events like Oz Comic-Con and Armageddon, and SupaNova, and others to go to every year.

And yet for all the big budget exhibition halls and merchandise stalls and paid guest appearances, it’s still the fans and their costumes that make it what it is.

OzComicon 2015: Batman

On the train into OzComiCon on Sunday morning, we were keeping a lookout for others attending — of course it’s sometimes a guess as to whether someone’s in costume, or just dresses eccentrically. I’d had a plan for a costume but wasn’t organised enough to get it all prepared, so went in civvies, but it was just as well as at lunchtime I had to duck out to talk to Channel 9 about the airport rail link.

This year it was at MCEC (along with SpecTex15 — a trade show about specialist textiles… their attendees were a little less outlandishly dressed).

Given the number of Doctor Who fans out and about, it was a shame that there were no related guests or sessions, but I went to an interesting Star Trek: Deep Space 9 session with Terry Farrell (Dax) and Rene Auberjonois (shapeshifter Odo).

Mostly it was light-hearted, but at one point they noted Friday’s marriage equality decision of the US Supreme Court, and Farrell said she was proud of the episode where she kissed another female actress — although the genders of both characters was unclear, she said that it had provided a chance to indirectly have the show stand up for people who then might have been unable to be public about their own relationships.

I’m struggling to paraphrase it well; she expressed it in a much more graceful and passionate way, and got a round of applause from the audience. In any case, it fits in well with the generally progressive vision of future society that has long been the hallmark of the Star Trek franchise — everything from the once-controversial multi-racial cast to the absence of money.

Anyway, here are some photos from OzComicon… as you can see, it was pretty busy, and people in costume were only too pleased to pose for photos.

Who you gonna call?
OzComicon 2015: Who you gonna call?

Whatever you do, don’t cross the franchises!
OzComicon 2015: Whatever you do, don't cross the franchises!

Lego TARDIS! Lego Pac-Man!
OzComicon 2015: Lego Tardis and Lego PacMan

Captain Picard from Star Trek: Next Generation snaps a photo of a Star Wars Storm trooper.
Captain Picard snaps a stormtrooper

Lots of cosplayers pose for a photo outside… you can see the picture in this story: Costume-clad fans flock to Oz Comic-Con Melbourne 2015
OzComicon 2015: Gathering for a photo
(View this photo at full size)

More media coverage:

Speaking of marriage equality, I’m somewhat surprised to see this that this tweet netted over 300 retweets and a similar number of favourites in 24 hours, and got quoted on Buzzfeed. Cool!