In 2013, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC put on a big celebration at the Excel centre in London’s Docklands. They must have thought that it went well as this year they decided to do it all over again at the Doctor Who Festival which took place last weekend. Being the biggest Doctor Who fan I know, I was at both events and I thought it might be interesting to compare them.
Each event ran over three days (Friday to Sunday). I visited both events on the Sunday on the basis that there would be one more episode of the show to talk about. This was particularly important in 2013 when the 50th anniversary special was broadcast on the Saturday night.
Let’s start with the basics. This years event was more expensive than the 2013 one. And the price increases were both large and seemingly random. Here’s a table comparing the prices.
You’ll see that some prices “only” went up by about 20% while others increased by an eye-watering 65%. There’s obviously money to be made in these events. And, equally obviously, Doctor Who fans are happy to pay any price for entrance to these events. I don’t know about you, but those increases over two years where inflation has hovered around 0% scream “rip-off” to me.
You’ll notice that I’ve quoted prices for two different types of ticket. There are standard tickets and “Tardis” tickets. Tardis tickets give you certain extras. We’ll look at those next.
I’ll admit here that I went for the Tardis ticket both times. The big advantage that this ticket gives you is that in the big panels (and we’ll see later how those panels are the main part of the days) the front eight or so tickets are reserved for Tardis ticket holders. So if you have a Tardis ticket you are guaranteed to be close enough to see the people on the stage. Without a Tardis ticket you can be at the far end of the huge hall where you might be able to make out that some people are on the stage, but you’ll be relying on the big video screens to see what is going on.
To me, that’s the big advantage of the Tardis ticket. Does it justify paying almost double the standard ticket price? I’m not sure. But you get a couple of other advantages. You get a free goodie bag. In 2013, that contained a load of tat (postcards, stickers, a keyfob, stuff like that) that I ended up giving away. This year we got the show book (which was pretty interesting and very nearly worth the £10 they were charging for it) and a t-shirt (which was being sold on the day for £25). So the 2015 goodie bag was a massive improvement on the 2013 one.
Tardis ticket-holders also got access to a special lounge were you could relax and partake of free tea, coffee and biscuits. In 2013 this was in a private area away from the rest of the show. This year it was a cordoned off corner of the main exhibition hall which didn’t seem like quite so much of a haven of calm.
The main structure of the day is made up of three big discussion panels that are held in a huge room. Each panel is run twice during the day, but when you buy your ticket you know which time you’ll be seeing each panel.
Each panel has people who are deeply involved in the show. In 2013 we had the following panels:
- Danny Hargreaves of Real SFX talking about the special effects on the show.
- Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy talking about playing the Doctor. I think Tom Baker also came to this panel on one of the three days.
- Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman and Stephen Moffat talking about the show.
This year we had:
- Kate Walsh of Millennium FX (who make a lot of the prosthetics for the show) talking to Mark Gatiss.
- Stephen Moffat, Toby Whithouse and Jamie Mathieson talking about writing for the show. This panel had different writers on each of the three days.
- Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, Ingrid Oliver and Stephen Moffat talking about the show. Jenna Coleman was only on this panel on Sunday.
Both sets of panels were equally interesting. Having the former Doctors taking apart in the 50th anniversary year made a lot of sense.
The other main part of the event was an exhibition hall where various things were taking place. I think this was disappointing this year. Here are some comparisons:
Sets from the show
As far as I can remember, in 2013 there was only the entrance to Totter’s Yard and the outside of a Tardis. This year there was Davros’ hospital room, Clara’s living room and the outside of a Tardis (although this clearly wasn’t a “real” Tardis – the font on the door sign was terrible). So there were more sets this year, but I rather questioned their description of Clara’s living room as an “iconic” set.
There were a lot of opportunities to buy stuff, but it seemed to me that there were rather fewer stalls there this year. Merchandise seemed to fall into two categories. There was stuff that you would have been better off buying from Amazon (DVDs, board games, books, stuff like that). And there was really expensive stuff. I really can’t justify spending £60 or £80 for incredibly intricate replicas of props from the show or £200(!) for a copy of one of the Doctor’s coats.
There was one big exception to the “cheaper on Amazon” rule. The BBC shop had a load of classic DVDs on sale for £6 each.
In 2013 I bought a couple of postcards. This year I managed to resist buying anything. But I appeared to be rather unusual in that – there were a lot of people carrying many large bags of stuff.
Both years, around the edge of the main hall there were areas where other talks and workshops were taking place. This years seemed slightly disappointing. For example, on one stage in 2013 I saw Dick Maggs giving an interesting talk about working with Delia Derbyshire to create the original theme tune. The equivalent area this year had a group of assistant directors giving a list of the people who work on set when an episode of the show is being made.
In 2013, the centre of this room was given over to an area where many cast members from the show’s history were available for autographs and photos. This year, that’s where Clara’s living room was set up. In fact the four cast members who were in the panel I mentioned above were the only cast members who were involved in this event at all. I realise that it makes more sense for there to be lots of cast members involved in the 50th anniversary celebrations, but surely there were some other current cast members who could have turned up and met their fans.
Also in this hall was an area where the Horror Channel (who are the current home of Classic Doctor Who in the UK) were showing old episodes. There was something similar in 2013, but (like the Tardis lounge) it was away from the main hall. Moving this and the Tardis lounge to the main hall made me think that they were struggling a bit to fill the space.
This year’s event was clearly a lot more expensive than the one in 2013 and I think attendees got rather less for their money. All in all I think it was slightly disappointing.
The big panels are clearly the centrepiece of the event and they are well worth seeing. But I think you need a Tardis ticket in order to guarantee getting a decent view. Oh, yes you can get in the ninth row without a Tardis ticket, but you’d be competing with a lot of people for those seats. You’d spend the whole day queuing to stand a chance of getting near the front.
I don’t know what the BBC’s plans for this event are, but it’s clearly a good money-spinner for them and I’d be surprised if they didn’t do it again either next year or in 2017. And the fans don’t really seem to mind how much they pay to attend, so it’ll be interesting to see how the next one is priced.
I think that the big panels still make the event worth attending, but there’s really not much else that I’m interested in. So I’m undecided as to whether I’d bother going again in the future.
Were you are the event? What did you think of it? How much money did you spend in total?