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Chicago TARDIS Panel Catchup 2021

Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Contributing authors: Marielle Bokor, Antal Bokor

While it’s been a minute since we all took our last look at Chicago TARDIS, there’s always room for a little more Doctor Who. That’s why we’ve compiled this panel catchup for anyone who didn’t make it out to this year’s convention or who might just want a few more tidbits from the amazing celebrity guests who showed up for all the fun.

A lot of what we love about Chicago TARDIS is in its intimate vibe and passionate fan base. But it wouldn’t be a convention at all without the lineup of celebrity guests. And though COVID takes its toll on every industry and event, it didn’t seem to make a huge dent in the quality of Chicago TARDIS’ guests. Indeed, many guests have been loyal to the fan family feel of it for years and look forward to it popping up on their itinerary. 

Friday:

Sadie Miller @ Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

We got cozy quickly with a sort of heiress to the Whovian throne, Sadie Miller, who took over for her  mother, Elisabeth Sladen, as the much beloved Sarah Jane Smith in the also much beloved Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures. Overall, it’s a huge honor to take up the mantle for her mom, she said, who was, in her eyes, a “powerful feminist with spirit” and great role model in sci-fi during her time on the show, but there’s strange things about being the daughter of someone famous, including hearing about her own birth from her mom’s perspective. 

Big Finish Friday @ Chicago TARDIS. L to R Jason Haigh-Ellery, Lauren Cornelius, Sadie Miller, Terry Molloy . Photo: Marielle Bokor

Next up was one of Chicago TARDIS perpetual largest, loudest and most loved contingents with Big Finish Friday. This panel featured con staple Jason Haigh-Ellery, also known as the big cheese at Big Finish, as well as Lauren Cornelius, who’s best known for her work as Dodo Chaplet in the audioseries, Sadie Miller, aka Sarah Jane Smith, Michael Jayston, one of Who’s big bads, The Valeyard, and Terry Molloy, who most famously played Davros throughout Who’s run on TV and in the audio adventures.

It’s always fun to see these coworkers having fun together, and much was discussed, from their high praise of Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor, about their COVID recording studios — Lauren Cornelius’ was in a stuffy coat closet, where she’d sweat it out while having to pretend she was in the Himalayas, for example. They also discussed having to voice other well known characters in the universe, and how the key isn’t to impersonate someone else, as that only diminishes the performance, but to instead study the music of that person’s voice and use it. They talked of cast dinners and hard partings, and even Mary Shelley as a companion, which of course can be explained because of the multiple universes. Big Finish panels are a great time for a lot of reasons, but this mesh of the fun of current coworkers getting to chat and classic Who makes for a great time for any fan. 

Frazer Hines and Colin Baker, Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Then it was time for a fan favorite, or at least one of my favorites, the Tipsy Turvy interviews in which one famous Whovian interviews another, or each other. This time it was to be Colin Baker and Frazer Hines at the helm, and given both of their impish natures, it was a panel we knew we’d have to buckle up for. 

In a rousing interview where Frazer Hines (Second Doctor Companion Jamie McCrimmon) interviewed Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor) they traded anecdotes about working on the set of Doctor Who, and stories about their careers. When asked who was the most famous person Colin Baker met, he said it was Lawrence Olivier. 

When Baker, then a tender young actor, asked the mighty Olivier for acting advice he was told to shave off his mustache with a concise “Separate your features. Good luck.” Advice that Baker took to heart, joking that he started to pull out his mustache right there at the table. When Baker shot the same question back to Hines, Hines had a few interesting answers. He first claimed Michael Caine was the most famous person he met, before admitting he also met John Wayne and told the story while affecting a bad—but passable– southern American drawl for part of it. 

Colin Baker also had some words about the new Doctor, and when asked if he knew who the new Doctor would be he joked, “Well, I won’t tell you… because I don’t know!

After taking care of business and giving a hearty, deeply felt welcome back to in person conventions at the Opening Ceremonies, it was on to Colin Baker. 

Colin Baker, Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Colin Baker, another Chicago TARDIS frequent flier, took the stage and got some important information out of the way right off the bat: his favorite episode is “The Three Doctors” his favorite villain is Davros and his favorite Doctor is the Second.  

He also gave some interesting insight into early Doctor Who conventions, specifically Omnicon in Miami, Florida in 1984. When he was asked to do that convention, Baker hadn’t yet played the role of Doctor. When he went up to greet the crowd for the first time as the Sixth Doctor he recalled, “I had nothing to say, I hadn’t even seen the script. There were thousands of people there. Weird sensation!”

Baker has plenty to say now, however, after getting a chance to play the Doctor in Big Finish productions for years after not being completely happy with his on-screen stories. Though, about his infamous Sixth Doctor costume, he had to say, “I’m glad I ended up with that costume. It sells more toys than the others because it’s so colorful” and he went on to credit its popularity among kids with his Doctors’ ongoing popularity.

Given that it was the first night at the convention and still very much Black Friday, and we were working off some heavy Thanksgiving turkey hangovers, we turned in for the evening, even as Cybermen DJ’d in a ballroom downstairs.

 

Saturday:

Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

 

Saturday began with some new Who celeb time, with Neve McIntosh, aka Madame Vastra, joining fans for some one on one time. It was her first time at Chicago TARDIS but she was quick to fit in and a lot of fun to listen to. 

Chicago TARDIS 2021. Neve McIntosh. Photo: Marielle Bokor

For fans of new Who and Vastra, this panel was amazing. McIntosh was ready and willing to do a deep dive into who Vastra is and why she is the way that she is, giving lots of great insight into how she goes about portraying someone with so much of herself hidden, and illuminating, perhaps, why she’s so amazing in her role. She talked a lot about how she created a sense of intimacy between her character, Vastra, and her wife Jenny Flint, even when they couldn’t be public with their relationship fully due to the timeframe they lived in, and how there was such a difference in their interaction inside and outside, and how the real love exists within those walls. She also touched on the precious nature of chosen family, and, talking of the struggles that they faced together, about the fact that “underneath all of us, no matter what, we really are warriors.”

Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

After a run for Who merch and some time in Camp Time Lord where we met baby Daleks and planned to sign up for next year’s adult craft night, we headed back to our cozy seats in the main panel room for some time with long time Chicago TARDIS favorite, Frazer Hines.

Frazer Hines @ Chicago TARDIS. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Frazer Hines is a regular at Chicago TARDIS, and as one of my favorite companions, it’s always great to see the veteran actor year after year. This year, Hines talked about his successful past as a child actor, voicing the Second Doctor for Big Finish, and even regaled us with poetry and a Doctor Who themed version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” 

Frazer Hines, if you don’t know, started his career as a child star. Describing the process, he said a lot of child actors go by the wayside, but he attributes his success to not being awkward, or dim. He had his first part when he was about ten years old. “It was a crowd scene, and I said a couple of lines” and the director liked him, and invited him to larger roles—and his career developed from there.

Frazer Hines is a man of many talents, and one of them, evidently, is poetry. He recited two poems, with his ”Ode to a Statue” which is an anti-war piece. His Doctor Who themed version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the other hand,  was a fun singalong featuring 12 Doctor Whos, Five lost stories and a “Jon in a Pertwee.”

Masquerade @ Chicago TARDIS. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Later that evening, we gathered with what felt like the whole of Chicago TARDIS attendees for the annual Masquerade, a costuming contest that the entire close-knit community holds dear, and for good reason. The contest is split into different levels of mastery, meaning even as a beginner, you can take home top honors in your category, and the whole evening has a bit of theatrics about it, from a Master of ceremonies who’s a Master indeed to some cosplayers actually acting out scenes as the characters they’re playing, or in one case, bounding up on stage to sing the digits of Pi. There’s also awards for great cosplay on the floor each day of the convention, so you don’t even have to enter to win!

 

Sunday:

Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle BokorFriday and Saturday flew by and before we knew it it was Sunday, and time to sit down with Colin Baker yet again, this time for another of our favorite features unique to this convention: a Young Fans interview. This amazing concept brings young fans of Doctor Who to the stage for a special panel in which they get to ask all the questions, and for someone as gregarious and delightful as Baker, it’s not a hard ask. 

Young Fans Interview Colin Baker @ Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

As happens every year, some questions are delightfully unusual and others surprisingly insightful. Baker was a delight, and shared a lot of great tidbits due to the kids’ amazing questions. He talked quite a bit about his relationship with other doctors in particular, as some of the young panelists had wondered if he’d been friends with other doctors or had met some of the newer ones, confessing his love/hate relationship with David Tennant, the tenth doctor, because he’s “just one of the nicest men on the planet, and really is wildly talented…I hate it!”

He also revealed that he still had at least one copy of his somewhat infamous outfit at home, and when asked if he liked it, said “Did you like it? I wasn’t too sure, but I was on the inside looking out, so except when I saw myself in a mirror I didn’t have to look at it. I always said it was like an explosion at the rainbow factory.”  

Baker also addressed his favorite aliens from the series, showing great affection for the Slitheen and their gaseous ways, but poo-pooing the Weeping Angels a bit, and at first the Daleks as well, since working with them presented a less-than-frightening side. Colin explained that oftentimes, on set, the Daleks, which had actual people inside them and were limited sight-wise and in regards to mobility, would bash into things and injure themselves on sharp bolts inside the shells, and would be cursing and bumping into things slowly, which, according to Baker, just wasn’t that scary.

As it turns out though, his thoughts on the Daleks would change one night when he had to return to set after everyone else had gone home, and found himself inside an empty studio with just a few dim lights on, face to face with a lone Dalek. Assuming it had just been left in place after the day’s shoot, he walked past it and was startled to find its eye stalk following his motion, which made him “the most frightened man in England at that moment” until he discovered the Dalek’s technician inside, who’d been oiling the stalk because it’d been squeaking all day.

Chicago TARDIS 2021. L to R, Colin Spaull, Terry Molloy, Mickey Lewis.  Photo: Marielle Bokor

Our next panel stop was Sunday with the Boys, which featured Mickey Lewis, Colin Spaull, Terry Molloy and Clem So, all of whom seemed hyped and ready for a great time, which they consequently delivered. 

Molloy and Lewis both spent some time discussing masks, prosthetics and how to act through those challenges, describing the endurance needed as well as the need to convey emotions through your voice since your face and other features may be covered. They also told some rather gross tales of long hours in costumes that ended in pools of sweat poured out near appalled coworkers. 

Clem was eager to chime in about his craft, talking about how you have to pour yourself fully into your roles, as the camera and fans see through it. He talked of weird things editing didn’t catch and his love for plotting and blocking with other actors, and how he likes to prepare for each character and role in advance. 

Terry chimed in some about the difficulty of playing Davros at times, and his thoughts on what Davros had been through and was thinking and how it affected his performance, as well as the sort of symbiotic nuances of Davros and the Doctor’s relationship.

Chicago TARDIS 2021. Photo: Marielle Bokor

After a few more runs on the merch rooms and some time spent with favorite episodes and other fans in the viewing room, it was time to wrap up and go home, and this time, we stuck around for the closing ceremonies, where it was clear everyone was more than a little reluctant to let it go. All the guests made a final appearance and had a tidbit or two to share, like Sadie Miller’s favorite Shakespeare quote, “exit, pursued by a bear” and some photos to pose for, before the time key was removed from its place on the sound table and we were all headed home. 

Plans for 2022’s convention are already under way, and as with all industries and conventions, it’s been a rough year, so if you’re a Doctor Who fan who’s been on the fence about this convention or someone who tends to put things off, don’t, and grab some tickets for next year, as they’re already on presale

 

We’ll see you all next year in Lombard.

 

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