Sunday, May 26, 2013

50WHO: The Day I Met Matt Smith For A Drink

This is the fifth part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

I have been connected to fandom for many years. Not as many as some but longer than others. As have been well documented on this site I have been all over the world and have met many people because of my love for Doctor Who. I think some of my favourite moments were in the late 1990s as it seemed that Doctor Who was solely belonged to the fans. It was for the fans who had been so close to it for many years. It didn’t seem like the series would ever return but even without the series, Doctor Who felt very healthy. Money was being spent to restore the episodes, there were 2 distinct lines of original fiction books being released, audio soundtracks and some new audio dramas officially licenced by the BBC were on the way. As for myself, I had ramped up the number of conventions I was going to every year. The Minnesota Doctor Who Viewing Society was going in full swing and I even started a second group called The Minnesota British Television Viewing Society. It was so much fun but then it stopped.
Sometimes real life intervenes. I would have never thought that I would say good bye to going to conventions. I didn’t go to meet celebrities; I went because I had a group of friends from all over that I loved to hang out with. I met all the celebrities I cared to meet at one of the zillions of conventions I attended over the years so that wasn’t of interest to me. Things changed in the early 2000s and I needed to do things differently. Apart from getting married and budgets be allocated to different things, I also went back to school twice. Once for my undergrad and once again for my graduate degree. That sort of thing can take a while and is very expensive. One thing that never waned was my love for this series known as Doctor Who. I just didn’t go a lot of places to talk about it anymore.

Perhaps it was all getting a little too samey. In 2005, as we all know, things were about to change in ways we had hoped of for a long time which was the return of Doctor Who on television. I don’t think any of us could ever imagine how popular Doctor Who was going to be in the UK when it returned but perhaps even more shocking was how popular it was going to be in the US. I am jumping ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the popularity in a moment. First, let me re-introduce myself to you.
For all the years I wrote for this blog, I don’t really talk about myself outside the context of British television or Doctor Who. In fact, that’s the way I like it. For this story to make any kind of sense, I need to provide some background information. I work in the field of Advertising. I can guarantee it is one of the most cynical fields of work in the world. This is why I fit into it so well. In the same day you could have the most brilliant experience of your life while experiencing crushing defeats. It can be an emotional ringer. I love it. I think you need to be built in a special way to understand it let alone to work in it. People ask me if it is like Mad Men. I don’t know; I have never seen an episode. I have been working in the Advertising field since 1996. I currently work for one of the biggest (and dare I say it) the best agencies in the Twin Cities, Carmichael Lynch. We have great clients like Subaru, Jack Links, Trane, Tempur-Pedic and others. We are a creative agency which means that everything we do is going to be kick ass. I work in Content Production. There I manage two internal studios and produce video content on occasion. There are days where I can’t believe they are paying me to work in a creative agency and other days I want to walk away and never look back. That’s not a reflection of the agency but the Advertising industry in general. Emotional ringer. That being said, I am very proud to be CLer. Content Production is just what it says on the tin, it produces content. I love doing that. I do it in my spare time too. This blog is creating content, working on The Omega Podcast is creating content. Inside Carmichael Lynch is an amazing team called Consumer Engagement. When I started in Advertising, it was known simply as Media. They negotiate air time with Networks and Cable stations for our commercials to run during TV shows. This will be important for later in the article. Thank you for humoring me, now back to Doctor Who.

Doctor Who was a niche television program on PBS back in the 1980s. It was popular amongst Doctor Who fans but as far as mainstream it wasn’t going to happen. When Doctor Who returned in 2005 on BBC1, I thought it had a chance to become something more than a niche program but then I became disappointed when it found a home in the US on Sci-Fi. It was very predictable. In fact, it didn’t seem to be anything more than just another series on the roster of generic sci-fi shows. It was slotted in on Friday nights, at least it wasn’t sandwiched between one of the 57 Anaconda sequels made by Sci-Fi. Doctor Who’s fortune was going to change when Sci-Fi (or was it SyFy by then) did not renew their rights for showing more Doctor Who. Suddenly the show went to a network that seemed to be the right choice from the start, BBC America. If I am not mistaken, I think they started with the 2009 Specials plus reshowing old new-series episodes. Little did anyone know at the time that two explosions were going to happen simultaneously. First, BBC America were going to promote the hell out of Doctor Who when it returned for Series 5 and second, we were about to be introduced to Matt Smith as the Doctor. The marriage of these two entities have catapulted Doctor Who and BBC America in the US farther than anyone would ever dream.
In 2008, the fanbase of Doctor Who imploded with the exception of myself and some other people with the ridiculous announcement on live television during the NTA that David Tennant was leaving Doctor Who. I have never been a great fan of his version of this wonderful character but I cannot deny the stellar job he did for the fan community. The good news was that were going to get a new actor to play Doctor Who but there is always the unknown about who they would cast for this iconic role.  When Matt Smith was introduced to us in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential, I was worried. He did not interview well. He was all over the place using his hands to illustrate his points but even his points were all over the place too. It was a slightly unsettling time since Russell T. Davies was also leaving the series making way for Steven Moffat to take over the duties of Show Runner. It wasn’t until the 3D Cinema Trailer for Series 5 was released in the UK that I was literally shocked by Matt Smith. He was confident, decisive and extremely articulate. He wasn’t rambling like I saw in earlier interviews. I immediately felt better. Seeing trailers for the series I couldn’t wait.

Back in 2010, Doctor Who was not shown the same day in the UK and US. At that point, it was shown in the UK and shown in the US a week later. There is a distinct possibility that I saw Matt Smith’s first story, The Eleventh Hour prior to being shown on BBC America. Just before the launch of Series 5 of Doctor Who, I was looking through Gallifrey Base forum and noticed a very interesting post. Basically BBC America was bringing over Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat to New York City for a couple of Q&A sessions and a screening of The Eleventh Hour prior to the US premiere. This is when my brain started to think. As I mentioned above, I haven’t been to anything with Doctor Who fans for a while and how often would I have a chance to meet actors from the new series while they were in the show? I knew I need to go. So, I knew my favourite spot distribution partner we work with on a regular basis had an apartment in New York. If I could stay there for a day or so, that would help expenses. Then I realized that we run some client work on BBC America such as commercials we make. That was when things got really, really interesting.
I contacted people I knew in Consumer Engagement at CL to see if they would be willing to contact BBC America on my behalf to see if there was going to be an after party at this event in NYC that I could be invited to because all of these things usually have some sort of get together when the main event is over. To make an already long story short, BBC America got back to us and said they were not doing an after party. That’s cool; I understood that. Then, I read the entire e-mail. They went on to say that they took the liberty of contact Steve Moffat and he was cool to meet with me after the QA session and oh, he was going to bring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan along too. I found it hard to articulate in words how I felt but I think it went along the lines of Holy Shit!

I persuaded my friend Robert to come along since he is also a massive fan of the series and basically BBC America set up for us to go to the Apple Store is Soho for a Q&A session and that night we would have drinks with Matt, Karen and Steven. The next day we would go to the Village East theatre for a screening of The Eleventh Hour and another Q&A session. I could not wait.
I have never been to New York before. It really is like no place I have ever been. Landing at LaGuardia, I could not help but notice how blocky and big the Empire State Building is against the rest of the skyline. It really is a massive building. We get to the apartment we were staying at and it is gorgeous. It is just a wonderful place to stay. This was not something these partners of ours needed to do but because of their generosity they saved us a lot of money and help make our trip amazing.

The day that we were due at the Apple store was kind of nerve-wracking for me. We were going to meet the people who made Doctor Who! I had been through this scenario many times but this time it felt different. I was actually starting to feel a little awkward for having this chance to meet them. It was a Tuesday and during the day we met up with my spot distribution partners who kindly took us out for steak at an amazing steak house a couple of blocks from the Chrysler Building.  It was fun and the food was phenomenal. Those who know me will know what a steak aficionado I am; I love it and I love to prepare it. Yet, the entire time I was nervous. I wasn’t going on behalf of the agency I work for but regardless I still represent them and I want to come across as some kind of intelligent human being. A tall order indeed!
The apartment we stayed at was about four blocks from Grand Central station. If you went out the front door of the building we were staying at and looked to the left Grand Central was right there. It is one of the most majestic and cool places I have ever been in my life. Just around the corner where we were staying and up a couple of block was the Empire State Building. The Apple store where the Q&A session was being held was in Soho. We decided to walk from where we were staying up to Soho. It was a long walk but boy was it worth it. The sights! Everywhere you look was something familiar or just simply gorgeous. It’s cool that you could walk this route and not expecting to see anything but suddenly I found myself walking past such interesting things as the Flatiron building. Once again, the whole way there I was really nervous. Once we got to the Soho area, we had a little time before we needed to meet my BBC America contact so I decided to get some help to calm my nerves from an old friend of mine named alcohol!

We went to this small blue-collar bar that clearly was old. It was small and wasn’t an old bar that had been renovated with the owners making a big deal that this was an historic bar. It was just an old bar. They suggested to me to try a local brown ale and after about 3 of them I felt a little better. Now, it was time to meet Michael from BBC America.
After around 2,200 words into this article, let’s talk about the event. Meeting Michael was a great experience. It was clear everyone who I met from BBC America that night had high hopes that Doctor Who would perform well for them. We go up the stairs to where the event was being held. There were a ton of people there already. I was wondering where we were going to stand but Michael lead the way. He took us past rows and rows of people sitting and brought us right up to the front. There was a row of chairs that nobody was sitting in and they were reserved. That’s where we sat. No one else would join us. Eventually some photographers and press would sit there but it was just us. I felt kind of bad because all of these people were behind us and we were just sitting there taking up a whole row. I felt bad but it was pure awesome! We got Doctor Who magnets which were fun and then got a preview on a screen of the upcoming Series 5. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before but the crowd was enthusiastic. Finally the moment we were all waiting for came and that was when Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat came on stage.

They were right in front of me, just feet away from me. Because there were hardly any people in that front row, I felt very conspicuous and was hoping (for some reason) they didn’t see me. They answered all sorts of questions about everything. How do you like being Doctor Who? How do you like New York? How long do you plan on staying in the role? Moffat made a funny observation I never thought of before. He mentioned how everyone refers to Matt Smith and Karen Gillan by their names but when referencing Steven Moffat, most people just say Moffat. Like Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Moffat are at the Apple store. I thought that was funny and very true. So true, in fact, that I actually employ that in this article.
Even though I don’t go to these types of things often some of the same lameness that persisted in fandom back when I was super active still exists today. For example, when the questions were opened to the audience someone from the back prefaced his question with, “this is so and so from the so and so podcast”. Obviously, replace so and so with real names. I guess my point is should I be impressed with your podcast so much so that you need to name it prior to asking the question? Were you hoping for some people in the crowd saying oh my god, THEY ARE HERE TOO. Should Moffat be impressed? Podcasts are for many un-realized dreams of being a broadcaster, ( I worked in broadcasting for years) so they do stuff that is just silly to try and live out that dream. I think we tend to do that with the podcast I am on too and that includes me. It’s never good to take yourself too seriously. Then some 400 pound guys gets up to ask a question. He asks in his eloquent way, “Karen, do you like fat men?” Hi Karen welcome to the United States of America. Wow! The crowd did squirm but not as much as Karen. She was put on the spot and it was uncomfortable to me but she managed it well. I wish I could say that was the only time over the course of two days I would hear someone ask Karen that question. The Q&A was over and it was time for some drinks with BBC America plus Matt, Karen, and Moffat!

After the Q&A, we met up with Michael and he told us we would be going to a hotel a couple of blocks over to meet up with everyone. He was asking me how long I have been a fan of Doctor Who and general questions like that. It goes to show how things have changed since 2010 and what BBC America has done to promote the series. Back then, I felt weird talking about being a fan because it was so niche but now so many people I know casually are fans or have heard of it, I am just not bothered by it anymore. It is simply unbelievable.
The view from behind our seats at the Apple store.
We get to the hotel and go to the second level where the bar was located. It was very modern and even still I expected a large group of people to be at this bar to meet with the three stars. It took a while to realize that this drinks get together was solely for the benefit of me. Everyone, including the BBC America folks, were here at this function because of me. When Matt, Karen and Moffat turned up we all stood up from the couches we were on and Matt said, “Which one is the bloke from Carmichael Lynch?” That was me. Wow! Yes, I was star-struck. It was pretty cool to see them at the Apple store earlier that evening, I cannot find words to express how amazing it was to meet each one sit at a small table with them, have drinks and a conversation. Truly a highlight.

I hate to say it but there was one thing I did not want to talk about with them and that was Doctor Who. They live and breathe it. They talk about it in interviews and I just wanted to have a chat. I asked Matt how he liked New York and he mentioned how coming out here was their reward for the months of shooting they endured. He was extremely pleasant. I didn’t talk with Karen much. To be honest, I wouldn’t have much to say…she’s a girl. OK, that’s not the reason I just didn’t have anything to relate to as she was a young woman in NY, she was speaking with a BBC America person who was also female and her age so they spoke about all sorts of cool relating to being in New York. I really enjoyed talking with Moffat. He was very interesting and I tried to explain to him the difference in space between being in New York City and being in Minneapolis. In New York City, you could be in a room with a door at the far end of it. After a while you would open the door to find a busy fancy restaurant in it there you never knew existed and it turns out to be one of the best restaurants in town. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis the restaurant would be on a big piece of land with a huge parking lot with signage promoting it all over the place. Moffat also mentioned he couldn’t see the difference in quality between SD and HD. I now think it is really interesting with his views on 3D. When we met, he thought it was gimmicky and didn’t see a point to it. Of course now, the 50th anniversary special will be in 3D. We spoke a lot of television production. After about 40 minutes, each of the three stars were called away to do some interviews. When they were finished with the interviews, they were done for the night. That was the perfect amount of time as I wouldn’t have much to say to them. I felt really bad for Robert as it was pretty loud in there and he was at the far end of the table. I think he was left out of the conversation and I always felt badly about that.
After Matt, Karen and Moffat left we stayed at the bar with BBC America for hours and they were very kind with their hospitality. They bought us drink and food all night plus provided some great conversation. I really enjoyed it. They were kind enough to invite us to the BBC America offices the next day which I was tempted to do but I didn’t want to outstay our welcome. They had been very kind to us and we would be seeing a bunch of them the next night for the premiere of The Eleventh Hour. It was around midnight when we left the hotel in Soho. Instead of taking a cab with them, we walked all the way to Time Square. Perhaps not the smartest idea but we never felt unsafe. It was all good.

The next day we thought we would get in some sight-seeing and get ready to go to the Village East Theatre. Once again, we felt it would be a great idea to get in a drink or more in us before we got to the theatre. I knew that I needed to go into a separate entrance as we would be shown where we would be seated so I wasn’t worried that when we got to the area early and walked down the street to the theatre that we saw hundreds of people waiting in line to get in to watch The Eleventh Hour and a chance to see Matt, Karen, and Moffat. We get to a bar where I order a drink and we sit outside as it is a warm April day. A couple of other guys sit behind us. While we are sitting there, some other dude pulls up in his car to park and hits the other bumper of the car behind him, he gets out and walks away like nothing happened. The two guys behind me get up and start yelling at this other idiot. These two guys are built pretty solid while the other guy was shorter but had quite the mouth on him. The two guys start telling him that he hit their car while this shorter guy is denying he hit any car at all but we all saw it. They start throwing insults at him every time he mouthed off such as, “Shut up dude, you’re like 3 feet tall!” Alright, I laughed at that. He was probably about 5 foot but like I said, he had a mouth. It escalated with all of them screaming at each other with the two bigger dudes standing up. I thought there was going to be a fight with one of them falling on me. Finally, across the block everyone saw a policeman. So the two bigger dudes start telling the little guy that they are going to get him over here and they start yelling to the policeman who literally looks at them and runs off the other direction! Finally things die down and the little guy walks away. Some other woman sitting out there asked the two guys, “what are you going to do about your car?” In which one of the two guys responds, “Nothing. It’s not our car; we just wanted to give this guy a hard time!” Wow!
The front of the line outside the Village East Theatre that went on for blocks.
So after that we get to the theatre and go through the VIP entrance. I go up to the registration table and let the woman know I am guests of BBC America for the screening. She politely tells me that they are not seating yet nor taking names. So I stand back in a corner. About 5 minutes later, someone comes up to her, looks like he is checking in and she lets him pass. So being super hyper as I have been for some reason throughout this whole trip I go back to her and try checking in again. With a look of WTF, she once again politely tells me that they still are not checking people in and she will let me know when they are ready. To try and save some face, I just let her know I wasn’t sure as I thought I saw her just checking someone in. She let me know he worked there and I foolishly went back to my little corner. Soon, we were allowed to go into the theatre.

The interior of the theatre was magnificent. It was old and beautifully decorated inside. We got to sit in “Reserve Seating” and had a very good look at everything. Behind us was Arnold T. Blumberg. I don’t know him at all but Robert did and we all had a nice chat. Soon we got the screening of The Eleventh Hour. I have mentioned elsewhere that watching Doctor Who with a group of people can be pretty exhilarating. I have never watched it with nearly 400 people before and most of them had never seen the episode. Please remember, no episodes starring Matt Smith had been shown in the US yet. This was big. There are moments that still give me chills from watching the episode in the theatre. This included the first time we saw Matt, especially after his head poked out of the TARDIS when Amelia was investigating the crashed ship. Of course the biggest screams came from the shots of all the different monsters at the end of the episode with the Doctor warning the Atraxi and then the theatre exploded when all of the previous Doctor’s images show up on screen. It was really exciting.
Afterwards, we get a Q&A with Matt, Karen & Moffat. There are some good questions but a lot that we heard the previous night. That’s not too surprising. Yet again, either the same guy or someone different asks Karen the question if she likes to date fat guys and if she does, will she date him. Nice. Really nice. After everything ended, Robert and I stayed in the theatre to allow the 350 plus people leave. We were sitting next to a real nice woman who was named Kat. We all had an instant rapport. I don’t think she worked for BBC America but knew people who did because she got a call from someone while we were talking with her. Apparently BBC America were recording people who just seen the episode and wanted to use it in online promos for the series. Kat asked us if we want to be interviewed to be used in any of promos in which we both said yes. She brought us down to the front of the theatre and all three of us answered some questions on camera about what we saw. It’s funny because you may think you know how to answer questions to things when you are just sitting in a chair with no pressure to think about it. It is entirely different when you have bright lights and a camera in front of you. I don’t remember the questions but it was probably what was your favourite part of the story? I don’t remember what I answered but I wasn’t embarrassed by it. Robert had a creative and interesting answer that tied in nicely with the episode itself. Isaw the promo on the BBC America web site for a little while and then it was taken down. I never took a copy.  It was a nice ending to an exciting trip. The next day we packed up and went home.

I had started this blog in 2007 and stopped in 2008. When I went on this trip I decided that I wanted to go home and start up the blog again because I wanted to write this story. I decided to wait to tell the story because I didn’t want to look like I was showing off so I thought I would write it sometime in the summer of 2010 but in the meantime write some other articles so I could establish myself again and not have my first article back showing off about meeting Matt Smith. I never thought it would take 3 years to write this but I am glad I have done so now. A lot of people, including many I didn’t know or barely knew, went out of their way to make this trip special for us.
I just want to publicly thank Michael and his colleagues at BBC America, Sheri Lawrence and her wonderful team at Tylie Jones, and of course Carmichael Lynch. Also, a special thank you to Matt, Karen, Moffatt and my good friend Robert.

Back in 2010, I wrote an article about the actual episode of Doctor Who The Eleventh Hour. Please check it out here: The Eleventh Hour.
Next 50WHO article: The missing episodes of Doctor Who is my favourite subject concerning the series. I honestly don’t know if I would have enjoyed the series as much if it weren’t for this fascinating subject. For long-time Doctor Who fans, perhaps one of the most exciting moments for missing episodes was the return of The Tomb of the Cybermen. Next month I will explain more about my fascination with this subject, my love of this particular story and how I knew that The Tomb of the Cybermen was going to be returned to the BBC Archives back in November of 1991 while news broke about it in January of 1992.

Next week: I finish off my month long theme of final episodes of TV series as I look at the final 2 episodes of the very funny Thames series Man About the House.
Have a great week!
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Anonymous said...

Hey check out our Doctor who video,my girl Lani and I made together. It's pretty sweet! If you like it please share.

Greg said...

Cool video. Thanks for sharing!