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Doctor Who Festival

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.

Price

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.

Standard Tardis
Adult Child Family Adult Child Family
2013 £45.00 £20.00 £104.00 £95.50 £44.25 £218.00
2015 £68.00 £32.35 £171.00 £116.00 £52.75 £293.00
Increase 51.11% 61.75% 64.42% 21.47% 19.21% 34.40%

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.

Tardis Tickets

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.

Main Panels

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.

Exhibition Hall

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.

Merchandise

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.

Other Stages

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.

In Summary

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?

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Quoted By The Daily Mail

This morning Tweetdeck pinged and alerted me to this tweet from a friend of mine.

He was right too. The article was about Reddit’s Button and about half-way though it, they quoted my tweet.

My reaction was predictable.

I was terribly embarrassed. Being quoted in the Daily Mail isn’t exactly great for your reputation. So I started wondering if there was anything I could do to to recover the situation.

Then it came to me. The Mail were following Twitter’s display guidelines and were embedding the tweets in the web page (to be honest, that surprised me slightly – I was sure they would just take a screenshot). This meant that every time someone looked at the Mail’s article, the Mail’s site would refresh its view of the tweet from Twitter’s servers.

You can’t edit the content of tweets once they had been published. But you can change some of the material that is displayed – specifically your profile picture and your display name.

So, over lunch I took a few minutes to create a new profile picture and I changed my display name to “The Mail Lies”. And now my tweet looks how you see it above. It looks the same on the Mail article.

As I see it, this can go one of two ways. Either I the Mail notice what I’ve done and remove my tweet from the article (in which case I win because I’m no longer being quoted by the Daily Mail). Or they don’t notice and my tweet is displayed on the article in its current form – well at least until I get bored and change my profile picture and display name back again.

This afternoon has been quite fun. The caper has been pretty widely shared on Twitter and Facebook and couple of people have told me that I’ve “won the internet”.

So remember boys and girls, publishing unfiltered user-generated content on your web site is always a dangerous prospect.

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UK Film Releases

I like watching films. I’ve been a member of the Clapham Picturehouse for about ten years and I like to get there a few times a month.

But I’m not very organised in my cinema-going. I never really seem to have much of an idea about what films are being released in the coming weeks. This means that sometimes I get taken by surprise when three or four films I want to see all open in the same week.

So I decided that if I had a better view of what is coming up, then I’d be better able to plan my visits. And that sent me looking for an iCal feed of upcoming UK film releases. But I was surprised to find that no such thing existed. Or, at least, if it did, it was very well hidden. I found a couple of RSS feeds on filmdates.co.uk, but they omitted the most important information – the date the film was going to be released.

After an unproductive couple of hours trying to track down an existing feed, I decided that I was just going to have to build one myself. So that’s what I did.

The iCal feed itself is at http://dave.org.uk/ukfilmrel.ics and I’ve also built a page that presents the information in a more easy to understand format. Currently, the data comes from a text file that I created by hand from just going through the latest copy of Empire. Hopefully I’ll find a better source for this information at some point in the future.

I thought it would be a two-hour job. But (as is usually the way) it took a bit longer than that and I ended up having to learn rather more about iCal than I thought I would. If you’re interested, you can find the code on Github.

If you find it useful, please let me know.

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The Return of Winterval

One Christmas tradition in my household is marking the appearance of the first Winterval story in the British press. Some time in late November or early December, you could always guarantee that one of the tabloids would take some innocuous council memo, link it with the Winterval meme and concoct a “war on Christmas” story.

That all came to an end in November 2011 when the Mail printed a correction admitting that it was wrong about Winterval. Last year I didn’t see a single Winterval story.

But memories are short in the British tabloids. So this year it’s back. And it’s the Daily Mail that has resurrected the story. A story published on their web site yesterday has the headline “She may as well have wished us Happy Winterval!’ MP who sent out Happy Holidays card faces backlash for ‘marginalising’ Christmas“. Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt has sent out a Christmas card that commits the heinous crime of wishing her constituents “Happy Holidays”.

And the Mail wastes no time at all linking this to Winterval. The article says:

The row harks back to the Winterval furore in Birmingham in the 1990s, a season of public events over Christmas organised by the city council – a move widely considered politically correct so as not to offend non-Christians

And there’s even a sidebar – “Winterval Remembered” – which tells a (rather biased) version of the Winterval story.

I’ve tried to post a couple of comments on the story pointing out the paper’s previous correction about Winterval. But comments on the article are moderated and neither of my comments were published. I wonder why.

So, welcome back Winterval. You’ve been missed. And Happy Winterval to all my readers.

p.s. It’s worth pointing out that Kevin Arscott’s excellent debunking of the Winterval myth is now available as an Kindle book – The Winterval Myth: A Festive Tale of Bad Journalism.

Update: @bigdaddymerk has pointed out a great example of a journalist either making quotes up or (at the very least) putting quotes into people’s mouths. The story contains this:

Resident Adam Higgs complained: ‘She may as well have wished her constituents a Merry Winterval since that is the name Birmingham City Council once used to seemingly marginalise use of the word Christmas.’

Do you honestly know anyone who would give a quote like that?

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Amanda Palmer vs The Daily Mail

I’ve obviously been slacking in my Daily Mail watching duties as this completely passed me by.

Two weeks ago, the Mail published a write-up of Amanda Palmer’s appearance at Glastonbury (don’t bother following that link – it’s really not worth reading). I say “write-up” rather than “review” because they didn’t mention her songs or the performance at all. No, they just fixated on one aspect of the show.

At some point during the show, Amanda’s bra rode up and for a while you could see her left nipple.

That’s what “Daily Mail Reporter” thought was the most interesting part of her set. That’s what he chose to write a whole article around. Oh, and a little bit at the end pointing out that her fans were annoyed that the BBC didn’t broadcast her set.

Of course they had a photo too. Which they published so that their readers knew exactly what they should be getting enraged about. The comments soon filled up with Mail readers who felt it was important to tell us that they had never heard of her. And others who were impelled to share their disgust at the fact that she doesn’t shave her armpits. It was all deeply depressing.

But this was all two weeks ago. Why am I telling you now?

Well, last night Amanda Palmer played a gig in London. And she got her revenge. As she came on for her encore, she sang this (warning: probably not safe for most workplaces).

She specifically asked us to film it and share it as far and wide as possible. So this is me doing my bit.

This video just surpassed Martin Robbins’ Fuck You Daily Mail talk as my favourite anti-Mail video.

Update: Found a higher quality version of the video.

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I Am Number Twelve

I Am Number Twelve I made a t-shirt. You might like it.

If you like it, you can buy it from my Spreadshirt shop. Other colours are available.

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Doctor Who News

I’m getting bored of the number of media outlets who are taking the slightest of comments that someone makes about the upcoming Doctor Who anniversary special and spinning it into a story packed full of completely unsubstantiated nonsense. Headlines like “No Doctors To Return For 50th Special” which, when you read them turn out to be based on the fact that Colin Baker hasn’t had a phone call from Steven Moffat.

Obviously it’s good for the show that it gets all of this publicity and I don’t, for one second, expect the production team to do anything to put a stop to it. They’ll tell us what they want us to know when they want us to know it. Not a moment sooner.

But in the meantime, anyone who has ever appeared in Doctor Who has to watch what they say for fear of it being overhead by a tabloid journalist and being used to reinforce what ever story the journalist wants to write.

In an attempt to counter this, I’ve set up whonews.tv. The plan is that I’ll read these stories, extract the actual facts that they are based on and explain what we can actually believe based on those facts. Forensic analysis of entertainment news, I suppose.

I’ve also got a page where I list the best current information we have about what is actually happening for the show’s 50th anniversary. I’ll try to keep that up to date as more details emerge over the coming months.

Oh, and there’s at Twitter account too – WhoNews50. You might want to follow that.

Let me know if you find it useful.

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Mailbait

We’re in the middle of one of the biggest paedophile scandals that this country has ever seen. And yet, the Daily Mail still thinks that it’s appropriate to report on Elle Fanning‘s Halloween costume with the headline

Lady Liberty! Teenager Elle Fanning shows off her womanly curves as she pays homage to New York Statue

The article continued the theme:

Elle was a posing professional as she wore a metallic maxi dress which looked rather demure at first glance.

Although it covered up her chest area and thighs, the design featured a high split which allowed her to pop her leg out of the side.

When she turned around, flesh was on show as the cut-out material scooped to just above her derriere and featured clasps which fastened at the centre of her neck.

Elle Fanning is 14.

This creepiness didn’t go unnoticed. There was soon plenty of criticism of the headline both on Twitter and in the article’s comments. Later on the headline was updated to the simpler

Lady Liberty! Teenager Elle Fanning pays homage to New York Statue

And the article was edited to remove the worst of the content. Although the author still insisted that Fanning “was eager to show the lady she is becoming”.

The Fanning family must be getting used to this. The Mail were similarly creepy about Elle’s older sister Dakota when she was 14.

The Mail has been very vocal in its coverage of the Savile affair. But, of course, they seem to see it more as yet another stick to beat the BBC with rather than actually understanding what the real problem is here. If they really understood the problem, would they publish so many stories containing the creepy phrases “older than her years” and “all grown up“?

Two weeks ago Melanie Phillips wrote an article where she blames the “liberal left” for making paedophilia acceptable. In her survey of organisations that promote the sexualisation of underage girls she somehow omits the Mail and its “sidebar of shame”. Alan White has written an open letter to Phillips inviting her to comment on the Mail providing this useful service for paedophiles. I await her response with interest.

Finally, I highly recommend that you take twenty minutes to watch Martin Robbins‘ brilliant talk on this subject from the Pod Delusion‘s third birthday bash.

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BBC on Curiosity

A few days ago I complained to the BBC about the lack of live coverage of the Curiosity landing. The automatic response promised a reply within ten working days. Impressively, it arrived just now.

Less impressively, it didn’t really say anything useful.

Thanks for contacting us regarding the BBC’s Olympic Breakfast on 6 August.

I understand you were disappointed news of Nasa’s Curiosity Rover landing on Mars wasn’t broadcast live on the programme.

Choosing the stories to cover in our programmes is a subjective matter and one which we know not every viewer will feel we get right every time. Factors such as whether it’s news that has just come in and needs immediate coverage, how unusual the story is and how much national interest there is in the subject matter will all play a part in deciding the level of coverage and where it falls within our output.

Essentially this is a judgement call rather than an exact science but BBC News does appreciate the feedback when viewers feel we may have overlooked or neglected a story.

It’s worth mentioning that there was coverage on our BBC News website at the time and that we’ve had a number of follow up stories and photo articles on the early days of Curiosity Rover’s mission on Mars, as the following articles illustrate:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19141172

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19145020

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19201742

Nevertheless, I’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your comments on our audience log for the benefit of news teams and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

I guess I’m just going to accept that the people who decide what is important enough to warrant live coverage on BBC Breakfast don’t have anywhere near the same priorities as me and most of my friends.

Which is all very disappointing.

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The Chances of Anything Going to Mars

At just after 6:30 this morning, history was made. NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. That was undoubtedly the biggest news that was happening live at 6:30 this morning. I don’t think any reasonable person could question that.

The people scheduling the stories that would be covered on the BBC News Channel are obviously not reasonable people.

I woke up at 6:00 fully expecting to find live pictures from NASA available somewhere on British television, When BBC Breakfast (temporarily renamed “Olympic Breakfast”) started, they spent the first five or ten minutes reviewing last night at the Olympics. The Mars landing was briefly mentioned as about the fifth item in the summary of “other news”.

“Ok,” I thought, “that’s slightly disappointing; but surely they’ll go live to NASA as the landing approaches.” I was wrong.

As Curiosity landed at 6:31, the BBC News Channel was broadcasting a local travel bulletin. It was something like fifteen minutes before they got round to showing scenes from the NASA control room.

Here’s how I watched the landing. I found the NASA live stream on my Nexus 7 and had the BBC on in the background in case the editors ever came to their senses.

I understand that the Olympics are important to the BBC. Their coverage of the  event has been outstanding. But surely the point of having a 24-hour rolling news channel is that it gives you the ability to cover big news stories as they happen. There was no new Olympic news at 6:30 this morning. We were several hours away from anything happening in any Olympic event. Surely the BBC could have taken fifteen minutes out of its flagship news channel to show live pictures of one of the year’s biggest science stories.

Over the last week, the BBC has been broadcasting 51 channels that are dedicated to the Olympics (BBC One, BBC Three, BBC One HD and twenty-four special Olympics channels that are broadcast in both SD and HD). No-one can seriously argue that the Olympics aren’t getting enough coverage. It’s very disappointing that the BBC couldn’t find fifteen minutes to give this story the coverage it deserved.

I’m a big fan of the BBC. I will defend it against any ridiculous attack that the Mail or the Sun throw at it. It’s not often that the BBC disappoints me.

But I can’t remember ever being quite as disappointed in the BBC as I am right now.

Update: Through the power of Twitter I had a brief conversation about this with Kevin Bakhurst, the controller of the BBC News Channel.