Doctor Who has been around forever. Long before you could find a TARDIS shirt at the mall, it had left an indelible mark on the landscape of British TV. It predates comic conventions, Star Trek, and far and away outdates the rise of nerd culture as pop culture. Lots of things have changed since that first episode on November 23, 1963. As much as Doctor Who has been able to adapt and change with each regeneration, it’s also never lost its whimsy, kitsch and humor. It’s never apologized for pepper shakeresque enemies with plungers affixed to them or crazy costumes and celery lapels. And so it hasn’t lost itself. Likewise, Chicago TARDIS, billed as the “Midwest’s largest Doctor Who convention” makes no apologies for being a deep dive or being old school. It welcomes those who enjoyed the show from every era, but it doesn’t coddle attendees. What results is an event with a true sense of community, for better or worse.
Chicago TARDIS itself has been around for a while. Beginning in 2000 at the Arlington Heights Sheraton, the con has relocated to Lombard’s Westin Yorktown Center, but kept to its roots, and the roots of its fanbase. There have been guests from all aspects of the universe, or if you’ll pardon my indulgence, the Whoniverse- from the books and audio adventures to Classic and new Who. This year’s lineup leaned more towards Classic Who, and featured 3 different Doctors- Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker and Peter Davison. These classic doctors were accompanied by a few fan favorite companions, like Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, Peri, played by Nicola Bryant, and Frazier Hines, who played Jamie.
Panels mostly centered around these guests, though attention was paid to engage those who may not have been familiar with “Classic Who” including introductory panels to that era of the show and guides to the audio series. There were even panels celebrating other favorite franchises, including a discussion on Star Trek: Discovery and what fans hope for for its future. Some of our favorite moments of the con came in our time in the guest panels, though.
Though the 2 companion panels on Saturday were fun, Sunday’s solo talks with Nicola Bryant and Sophie Aldred easily topped them. Aldred is a live wire, and she spoke to the audiences about the difference between herself and her character Ace and the incredible way the BBC announced her presence on the series. When she signed on, Aldred was asked to attend a fan convention, and it was decided during the course of the convention that she’d start her acting then. Sophie was planted in the audience as the winner of a contest to visit the Doctor Who set, and once announced, feigned some indifference to the win, much to the dismay of fans who hoped they’d get the win. Finally though, the jig was up, and Sophie was announced as the Doctor’s newest companion. Sophie also talked some about her voice over work, both for Doctor Who and other projects, rounding it out with a spot-on impression of Sylvester McCoy and the confession that she’d both taken and cherished her character’s iconic Doc Martens and jacket as some of her most prized possessions.
Nicola Bryant, who played companion Peri, echoed Aldred’s sentiments on the show, confessing her lifelong love of Doctor Who. She talked a lot about her work with Big Finish Productions, who produce the Doctor Who audio adventures, and of her experiences as a director on the project. When she was asked what it was like to have a female director in a series that leaned more towards male majority, she quipped “Who cares if it’s a man or a woman if they’re good? We should be looking at them as a person.” She also touched on the somewhat controversial end to her character’s run on the show, with a declaration of her preference for the audio tale’s wrap-up of her time with the Doctor over the show’s, which had us curious to seek this out.
Sunday also brought some time with the Doctors themselves. We weren’t fortunate enough to make Fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s panel, but we did check in with Sixth Doctor Colin Baker as he sat for a special panel for young fans. He was warm, easygoing and downright hysterical, answering a range of questions, from what Time Lords eat (his answer? Weeping angels, naturally.) to revelations of his favorite modern Who enemies, the Silence and Slitheen. He even revealed a true fondness for Tenth Doctor David Tennant, both because of his innate handsomeness and his ability to not sound Scottish, something he lightly jabbed Sean Connery for.
Sylvester McCoy, Doctor Who’s Seventh Doctor, finished out the panels on Chicago TARDIS’ last day, and he was the perfect closer. Not content to stay on stage and field questions, McCoy instead worked the audience by walking amongst them. He played spoons, told tales of his time as a stuntman and magician, and voiced his support for the upcoming Thirteenth Doctor, to be played by Jodie Whitaker, calling her a fantastic actress and expressing sadness there was any hesitance within or even outside the fan base for the Doctor to be a woman. “Why not a woman?” McCoy said. “The Doctor is a completely different person each time he regenerates.”
Chicago TARDIS may not have the glamour or grandeur of a con like C2E2 or Wizard World Chicago, but what it does have is an incredibly passionate fan base who’s there to engage. Everyone we talked to had been making a stop at Chicago TARDIS for years, and it almost seemed like a family reunion. It’s a con where ribbons are still passed out, where there are video rooms that play the show 24/7, and where you can meet people who love the same things you do just as fervently. Local artists, makers and cosplayers bring a homespun touch to a con world full of bright lights and big merch, giving Chicago TARDIS a special place in our hearts as a representation of what fan conventions were and should endeavor to remain, even when not rooted in a singular fandom – a community of people with a real passion and obsession for the things they love, coming together to celebrate it however they feel most comfortable.
This year’s convention is over, but next year’s dates and even some guests have already been announced. You can take a look and plan to spend some timey-wimey there next year by following this link.