Essay 5

I attended Marcon recently and for the first time in many years sat and watched a Doctor Who episode. Marcon is a local science fiction convention that is held yearly in Columbus. Oh, I've long since given up my obsession with Doctor Who and science fiction conventions, but have never forgotten the excitement of being in love with the show and the many adventures that I embarked on in my early 20s.

I attended with my old Doctor Who chum Desiree and a more recent friend, Rusty. This was Rusty's first convention and although we didn't stay long, he left with that special feeling that only a science fiction convention can create.

Desiree and I are old hands at science fiction conventions. we met at a small Doctor Who exposition back in 1981 called Dwexpo. Both of us shared an unreasonable lust for Tom Baker, something that we both snicker at now but took very seriously at the time. We try to attend Marcon every year together and have a ball discussing our past adventures. We cruise the "con" and giggle like children at the attendees. We secretly call them "geeks," as most people do who accidentally meet Klingons or other Star Fleet wannabes wandering the halls of a prestigious hotel. Through our alliance with a local Doctor Who Club, however, both Desiree and I learned much about people and why ordinary folks like Desiree and I become so involved in something as trivial as an old British science fiction television show.

I guess the first reason why we grew to love Doctor Who so much is the concept itself. I love time travel stories. The prospect of visiting other times and places to engage in past life-styles enchants me like nothing else. I have always been attracted to movies with these themes, particularly Time After Time and Somewhere in Time. Both are more romantic, but each plays upon the concept of the characters being out of their time and the problems it presents.

Doctor Who was (or is) a professional time traveler. These out-of-place and out-of-time concepts never seem to ruffle him. He's accepting and appreciated what each time and place had to offer. I think this is a large part of the attraction.

Another was his penchant for whimsy. He once said: "What's the point of growing up if you can't act childish?" This phrase typifies his behavior, but he always came through when things got serious. He didn't just approach problems (the universe on the verge of destruction, for instance) like the rest of us would. He bumbles and brandishes his way through crises, using logic and illogic to solve the most incredible problems.

The episode I saw at Marcon, Shada, was one that was never completed because of a BBC strike in the late 70s. Tom Baker narrated the pieces that were missing. One in particular was where the Doctor convinced a computer that he was, in fact, already dead and so the computer didn't have to kill him. I turned to my friend Desiree in the dark and told her I'd have loved to have heard that conversation. Not too many characters have the wit to be able to pull off such a convincing lie, especially to a computer.

Another charm of Doctor Who was the BBC's lack of money to produce the show. They used whatever was available to bring it off. They didn't have high-tech sets and highly paid actors to work with. I remember a friend once told me that he'd spotted a kitchen colander on one of the sets, masquerading as a critical piece of electronic equipment.

Another aspect of the show that I liked were the relationships. The Doctor always had a companion that he'd picked up off some planet. He preferred companions from Earth, since it was his favorite planet. Each different companion interacted in a peculiar way with the Doctor, bringing out the many different facets of his personality. I always wondered why he never fell in love with any. Some were more likable than others. Sarah Jane, for instance, was a cutesy, spunky girl from London who seemed to simply accept the Doctor's position within the scheme of the universe and rely on his expertise. Romana, another time lady from Gallifrey, was an icy calculating character, who always seemed to disapprove of the Doctor's unorthodox methods, but one couldn't help but think that deep down she was a little envious of his free and easy manner.

Doctor is only one of many themes that one finds at a science fiction convention. Marcon celebrates all manner of science fiction and fantasy media and attracts a wide variety of attendees. Some attend to participate, some to simply watch. Some have taken science fiction and made it as important in their lives as their families, others only dabble in the genre for fun. I get the most fun out of remembering the incredible array of personalities that I met over the years, those precious "geeks" that keep conventions cropping up all over the country.

When Desiree and I joined the local Doctor Who fan club in 1982 we had no idea what wwere getting into. The club was called the Prydonian Renegades and was headed up by a middle-aged professional woman named Jean. Jean was an enigma to me. She was older, had a strong career, was married and had children. But she drooled over Tom Baker like no one else ever did or could, I imagine. It was hilarious to watch her as we sat and viewed old Tom Baker episodes. Since my taste in men has altered drastically since then, it's difficult now for me to imagine why she lusted after him so, but she did. She sat, rapt, clutching the arm of her chair as we watched the Doctor battle Cybermen and elude the Daleks. She particularly enjoyed scenes where the Doctor was tied up. I found this embarrassing. At the time I thought women didn't openly show appreciation for such erotic fancies.

Jean introduced me to the world of fandom. Up until 1982, I thought fans simply attended movies, read books and dreamed about adventures with their heroes. Jean recognized my interest, however, and allowed me to participate actively in the club. Shortly after I joined, we began making plans to attend a Doctor Who convention in Chicago called Panopticon West.

Panopticon is a Doctor Who invention. Gallifrean Time Lords gather together for a Panopticon, much like the house or senate gather in our government. Hence, the name Panopticon West represented a gathering of American Doctor Who fans.

Panopticon West 1982 was held in August of 1982 at the Pick-Congress Hotel in Chicago. Prior to the convention, I got it in my head that I had to make a Tom Baker costume and participate in the masquerade ball. Most big conventions hold a variety of functions that allow everyone to participate: masquerade balls, writing contests, art shows and auctions, filk-sings, panel discussions with guests and autograph sessions. Each convention has a dealers room filled with merchandise, professional and amateur. Rooms are set up where science fiction films and videos are played 24 hours a day.

I borrowed a sewing machine and created my masterpiece. My costume consisted of knickers, a white balloon-sleeved shirt, vest, brown velvet coat, wing-tip shoes and the trademark Tom Baker scarf (which is about 14 feet long). I stuffed my pockets with paraphernalia that would have made me a player on Let's Make a Deal. Preparations complete, Desiree, our friend Tina and I piled into my dilapidated 1969 Plymouth Valiant and set out for a weekend of Doctor Who abandon.

The Pick-Congress hotel was a Chicago original. Towering, ancient and totally unprepared for the 7000 fans that converged upon it. We jammed eight female Prydonian Renegades into a room suited for two. The weather was uncharacteristically hot that weekend and soon, every pop and ice machine in the hotel was empty. To make matters even worse, the hotel's air conditioning system decided to call it quits. Soon, I began hearing conventioneers begin to call the convention "sweatcon" instead of Panopticon.

Despite the heat, the lack of refreshments and privacy, I'll never forget the feeling of camaraderie that developed among our group. With eight women stuffed into one room, it's tough to keep too many secrets. At night we slept with the windows open and a phone book propped in the door to allow the breeze to pass through. We laughed and roamed the halls together, listening for clues regarding the whereabouts of British guests or making fun of the "mundanes" that we saw. (Mundanes, in fandom, are the guests who are staying at the hotel who aren't there for the convention.)

During the masquerade, I paraded across the stage, made some silly remarks about the weather and received applause. My main mission wasn't to win any prizes, but to get out of my dreadfully hot costume and splash water on my face.

When it was all over, the Prydonians made a caravan and headed back to Columbus. Halfway back, one of our vehicles disappeared. Those remaining turned back and began a hunt that lasted over an hour. We found the disabled van five exits back and waited with them while they contacted a local garage and had the van repaired. We arrived in Columbus at 4:00 a.m. I went to work that some morning at 7:30.

Shortly after our return, the Renegades began making plans to bid on holding Panopticon 1983 in Columbus. After winning the bid, we began holding regular planning meetings during which individual tasks were distributed among the club members. I was put in charge of organizing and operating the pre-registration and convention registration activities.

Planning and organizing a convention takes time, talent and effort. Although I remember our meetings and the steps that we took to bring Panopticon West 1984 to life, what I remember most are the people involved and the many lessons I learned about fan politics and relationships. Although science fiction fans may appear unusual to the "mundane," deep down they are just like everyone else.

Somewhere between planning and the actual event itself, a deep and silent war began to rage between the older members and the younger ones. Desiree and I, after years of watching this war and at times becoming involved, devised a secret phrase that we used to classify members of both sides. The Prydonian Renegades, we decided, were victims of the dreaded disease ESI or "Exaggerated Self-Importance."

Several battles erupted. The most devastating was the one that waged on and on and on through Panopticon 1984 and several conventions beyond. Each Doctor Who convention must, to be successful, arrange for at least two guests from England to attend and participate in panels and autograph signings. Although it's great to get together with other fans and party, buy stuff, dress up and watch videos, the bottom line was that people wanted to meet celebrities and the more celebrities the better. Autograph books burned in anticipation of those sacred scribblings. Fans dreamed of meeting their favorite Doctor Who Doctors or companions by accident while buying a can of Diet Coke or eating in the hotel restaurant. Convention officials had to supply the guests but also assign certain staff members the duty of keeping track of them, shuttling them around and keeping them amused.

What happened, of course, is that those chosen few that were selected to keep guests company during their stay in Columbus enjoyed their duties just a little too much. Staffers swelled with obvious pride whenever they ushered a guest into a crowded room. Staff security guards appeared too eager to keep the fans away from their charges. Soon, the sight of walkie talkies pressed urgently to lips was coupled with the whispers of "gimme a break." Other staff members with less glamorous jobs began to resent this behavior. Friction began to erode away at friendships and camaraderie slackened miserably.

Another memorable battle that waged relentlessly was the battle of the artists. One veteran fan, Sally, had made a big name for herself in the fandom circuit with her artwork. Her paintings and drawings were coveted by fanzine publishers and brought hefty prices at auctions. Some of the younger artistic members of our clan accidentally discovered that Sally produced most of her pieces using either a shadow box or a pantograph. Sally's favorite method of picture reproduction was to photograph the original picture using slide film, put the slide on an overhead projector and project the image onto a piece of drawing paper that had been stapled to the wall. Then she traced the likeness and added enough bells and whistles to make the picture look as if it had been her own invention.

This infuriated the other artists in our group. Most were too young yet to know that "professional" artists used pantographs or other reproductive devices all the time. To them it was cheating, plain and simple, and Sally should not be allowed to get away with it.

Another subplot that popped up was when a small team of the older women decided to play matchmaker between two of the young artists in our group, Rob and Erica. Rob was my favorite Renegade. He was talented, impressionable and intense to the point of obsession. Erica was an adorable creature with a shy disposition but a little flaky. Neither was attached to anyone else and both were passionately interested in becoming artists. The older Renegades made a game of pushing them together until they eventually became involved. It was a bitter and short-lived romance, however, and the romance team gave up on their scheme.

The Prydonian Renegades also produced two fanzines, one on a regular basis called Zeta Minor and one that Jean and a couple of the older gals put together on their own called Blue Guardian. Blue Guardian was my introduction into the world of erotica. I knew that women lusted after their favorite stars, but I had no idea that they wrote stories about the characters and published them.

Blue Guardian #13 was a club in-joke. I purchased a copy and read it, thinking that twelve previous issues existed. Jean explained to me in confidence that the note inside the front cover explaining that issues one through twelve had been destroyed in "The Great Reynoldsburg Flood" was a hoax and that they were just kidding around with the readers. I was certain that legions of Tom Baker fanatics were slashing their wrists in disappointment. It was obvious to me from the graphic content that these women were seriously in lust with Mr. Baker. I was merely an amateur.

Shortly after I became a Renegade, Jean passed the mantle of Zeta Minor editorship to Rob. Rob was a good choice. He was a writer and artist himself and knew a good story when he read one. Soon, however, he became a student at Columbus College of Art and Design and admitted that he couldn't continue. He visited me one evening and asked me if I wanted to take over as editor. The other Renegades thought I was a good choice so I agreed.

Editing Zeta Minor was one of the best opportunities and greatest challenges of my life. I learned to organize materials, to lay out pages, to edit and proofread and most importantly, to deal with cranky authors and artists. I learned all the ins and outs of publishing, financing, diplomacy and later on, after I left the Renegades, went on to publish two amateur fanzines of my own, Bludgeon Riffola 1 and 2.

Despite all the adventures and duties that I performed, I remember the people most of all. Jean and her lusty oohs and aahs while we watched Tom Baker cavorting through time and space. Laurie and her common-sense, practical approach to all issues of fandom. Karen, the schoolteacher from Chillicothe, and her bubbly approach to filk-songs. Sally, the horrible charlatan, who gave me my first ever Tarot reading. Ann, Sally's roommate, who was a professional masseuse and self-proclaimed witch. Rhonda, another temperamental artist who flared brighter than anyone when issues of honesty and art were at stake. Erica, the pretty heart-breaker whose father raised chinchillas and performed hypnosis for a living. Tina, our Battlestar Gallactica nut. Bobbie, hopelessly in love with Doctor #5, Peter Davison, and who attended every masquerade sporting her Doctor Pooh costume.

My favorite, however, will always be Rob. I learned more from Rob than any of the rest. Rob was, I believe, a legitimate genius, completely unable to settle down and relax, obsessed with every task set before him, a classic over-achiever. I remember when BladeRunner came out. He began wearing a trench coat, just like Harrison Ford's from the film. He attacked CCAD life with more energy and determination, too much in fact, than anyone ever could. Shortly after he entered CCAD, he began to change his hair style. Once I commented that he looked like a member of Duran Duran. He fell down on the floor before me and kissed my feet. Hilarious! He holed up in a tiny one-room apartment on Broad Street. What a marvelous place it was! Escher prints, pictures of Fritz the Cat and movie posters covered the walls. I could sit and watch him for hours sitting and making art from errant pieces of paper or a pile of electronic junk he'd purchased at Radio Shack. He became a punk, dyed his hair fire engine red and mastered the art of pedestrian annoyance. He was once threatened by a man in a passing truck who claimed he had a shotgun in the car. Rob tried too hard to be everybody's great guy, however. he had a smile like a car salesman and an inner desire to do right by everybody. About three quarters into his CCAD life, he sold everything he owned and bought a ticket to England. He left it all behind, expecting to be taken in by the haunts of Carnaby Street as one of their own. he found out that a good hair style and the appropriate clothing weren't enough and returned home, miserable and lost. He now works at a bank. I hope he's still verifying VISA balances using Darth Vader's voice.

My Doctor Who days lasted a few short years, but my memories and lessons learned are many. The most important memory is the fun we had, despite the fighting and back-stabbing and politics. The most important lesson is that no matter how much you like something, no matter how important things may seem, don't take it all too seriously. It's just a show.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License