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Doctor Who The F*ck Cares? The experience of #DWLineCon

April 13, 2011

I went with some pals to see the screening of the new Who episodes on Monday. They ruled. Reading this entry you might not think it, but I had a great time waiting in line (for eleven hours.) The whole experience was overwhelmingly positive, and I don’t want anyone reading this to think otherwise. While I was in line I started writing down my thoughts, as I had them, and I’ve edited the whole thing together into three parts. This first part is my thoughts on the experience of being a not-very-outwardly-or-stereotypically-enthusiastic fan in line for eleven hours with superfans, the most devoted of the devoted, and feeling like a giant asshole for my reactions to the whole situation (spoiler alert: I’m a judgmental jerk! In case you didn’t know this about me already!) Part II will be my thoughts on the episode and the Q&A panel, and Part III will be some more thoughts on fandom that have been percolating in my brain in the days after the screening.

Part I: #DWLineCon as Anthropological Experience / Existential Crisis

I got here at 8am. Last night at 1:30, my friend R texted me that she couldn’t sleep- there are 60 people down there already according to Facebook, she said, I can’t sleep. I’m going down there with blankets. I was already in stretchy pants and be-muu-muu’d, so I told her to text me at 6:30 and let me know what was going on. After that I lay there and thought about getting up, grabbing a beach chair, going down to 12th and 2nd to wait, but decided against it. I’m too old for this, I thought.

I’m in line for a screening of the first two episodes of the new season of the venerable British scifi television series Doctor Who. The show has been on the air for ages, and as Steven Moffatt will say later in the evening, the only thing you need to know about it is that the Doctor is an alien who has a spaceship that travels through time and space. I would go one step further and say that the Doctor likes Great Britain and picking up people to come with him on his adventures. Adding to the excitement is the panel that’s taking place after the screening. All four of the main actors—Matt Smith (the Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams, Amy’s husband) and Alex Kingston (River Song)—are all going to be there, along with the executive producers, the director of these two episodes, and showrunner Stephen Moffatt (Sherlock, Coupling.) The hashtag #DWLineCon has been trending for days on twitter, full of people either planning on waiting in line or bemoaning their distance from New York. My friend Mallory has been sending me vaguely obscene texts about Arthur Darvill all day. Everyone in line is pumped beyond reason. The guy at the front of the line has set up a blog: Waiting for the Doctor.

At 6:30  this morning I got up and showered and texted R to see what was going on. “250 in line, you might get into the overflow room.” I dithered as I got real pants on- all day? On the sidewalk? Waiting? What if it rains?” Fuck it, I decided, and texted my other friend A that I was on my way. I grabbed the only yellow cab in Washington Heights and hit traffic at 125th, finally arriving around 8am. A and I and her friend Ryan (my new friend Ryan) are numbers 334-336 in line, if not too many people have joined friends in front of us. If we are lucky, we will be in the (rumored) 500-seat main room with the cast, including Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, when the 7pm start time rolls around. There are lots of rumors- the main room seats 500, the overflow room seats 250, only the first 200 will get autographs, at 5pm Matt Smith will come out and give everyone their wristbands personally. I periodically check the #DWLineCon hashtag to see if anything has materialized. The same tweet about Matt Smith giving out donuts has been the top tweet for hours.

To put it bluntly, there are a lot of nerds here, and we collectively are doing little to belie stereotypes. A Tibetan monk just wandered by, looking at us like we are crazy. He and others occasionally pause and ask what is going on, why are so many people on the sidewalk? By the end of the day over thirty people will have asked us this question. And that’s just my little group. At the front of the line, there are people who have been there since 4pm yesterday. The photos R posted to twitter in the wee hours of the morning look like some kind of hobo landing zone had taken over 12th—people hunched in folding chairs and beach chairs and spread out on blankets on the ground, in sleeping bags, white chuck taylors and sonic screwdrivers abounding.

(The guy right in front of us in line had two people join him. #336-338 now.)

Where was I? Oh yeah. Nerds. There are a ton of people in costume. There are several very convincing and expensive-looking Ten suits, with what look suspiciously like custom-made suede dusters. (Later on R will confirm this.) There are tweed jackets with elbow patches. There are bow ties. There are fezzes. There are buttons and t-shirts that say Bow-Ties Are Cool. There is, I’m sure, a t-shirt on a body at some point in this line that says “I wear a fez now.” There are epic Four scarves. There are about twenty girls dressed as Amy Pond, mostly in the plaid outfit, only two (my friend R included, and doing it best, IMHO) in the cute Vampires of Venice getup. Mostly because of the boots. And the fishnets. Most people here, me included, would not be able to pull off fishnets. Many have attempted it anyway.

Beards. Awkward facial hair that is attempting to be a beard. Acne. Worse acne. Very, very bad acne. Glasses, from clearly fashion to coke-bottle. Khaki pants of all hideous descriptions. Fedoras. Knitted Jayne hats covering hair that appears to not have touched water or shampoo in days. Vests. Buttons. There is a girl to the left of me wearing a tailcoat. Someone around here keeps yelling “HI CAMERA!” every time someone walks by taping the proceedings, which is often.

In hour five I have done most of the work that I brought with me. I even drafted some rejection letters for the partials I finally read, weeks after I requested them. I brought Game of Thrones with me, because my roommate is convinced it is the best book ever, and I’m trying not to let myself be convinced. I don’t know why I am resisting it so hard—I have liked many a stupider book, and I have been repeatedly assured by multiple people that the series as a whole is brilliant. Maybe I just don’t like being told what I’ll enjoy? Do I subconsciously think it’s an affront to my good taste if someone else enjoys something before I do?

Hour five and I still feel like I’m too old for this. I’m so excited for the new episodes; I loved last season more than I can say, and there are so many questions I want answered. That said, I know that I will be listening to the episode through the screams of fans. I screamed with the same shrieky enthusiasm when I went to my first Hanson concert. I think I was 13, and I did it again at every concert of theirs I went to thereafter (Four. I suspect I would do it again if I went to one of their concerts today. I am 25.) I am no stranger to fannish bullshit. I have both read and written fanfiction (a crossover, even.) Still, I feel too old for this. I feel like an asshole for judging the people I am with, the people who are all waiting for the exact same event as I am.

They’ve finished taking pictures of all the Amy’s in front of the chalk “crack in the universe” drawn on the wall of the NYU dorm on the corner of 12th and 2nd- now they’re taking a picture with all the Doctors. NYU students have come out of their rooms to smoke and they’re looking at us like freaks. Which we are, I guess.  The crack started out as just a crack, then people added to it- “Hello Sweetie,” “Duck. No Really, Duck.,” Someone has a Jammy Dodger. This is apparently reason enough to cheer.

Piercings. More chuck taylors. British paraphernalia, including  the union jack stuck jauntily in the band of a top hat. There are a lot of people with extra body-padding, myself included. (By which I mean, I’m fat. And so is a lot of this crowd.)  We’re all pretty orderly, and most people have come prepared for a long wait. Quite a fewof those dressed up as the Doctor are women. No men are dressed up as Amy. Donna and Rose are getting very little love; Martha, so far as I can tell, is getting none whatsoever.

Things I brought with me:

  • My laptop
  • My charger, even though there are no outlets
  • Five partial manuscripts of 50 pages each
  • One complete manuscript
  • Game of Thrones
  • A book my boss wants me to read
  • Season 5 of Doctor Who on DVD, in case of autographs (hah)
  • Camera (though my battery keeps dying)
  • 2 cans of diet coke
  • Cash
  • One folding chair which I keep inelegantly trying to get out of

I wish I had brought other stuff with me, like a blanket and maybe a jacket that covers my arms. It’s shady and there is wind and I could get up and walk around, but it’s comfy and I feel like I have to talk about this weird feeling I have, like I’m an impostor, that my love for this show is insufficient because I didn’t find a plaid shirt and a red wig. I feel bad for judging almost everyone around me so very, very hard. I feel bad for wanting to meet Matt Smith. Just like everyone else here.

Hour seven and a half. People keep walking through with cameras, videotaping the line. As if it’s changed in the last seven (eight? nine? twelve?) hours. The chalky nightmare on the NYU dorm’s wall has been cordoned off by security and they’ve come out several times to yell “Don’t write any more on the walls!” People are taking this as an attack against fans by NYU- as though these guys don’t have enough to deal with, cleaning up college vom half the time. The crack on the wall was charming; someone added a dalek, and a note to Sally Sparrow. Several different someones have written Blaidd Drwg; there are two different drawings of the Doctor. One is Ten, wearing his 3D glasses. The other is Eleven. He has a speech bubble, and is saying ‘Bow ties are cool.’

New trends I’m noticing: suspenders. Combat boots. Four different iterations of my favorite Doctor Who-related shirt, the DeLorean crashing into the TARDIS. (It’s apparently called “It Came Out of Nowhere,” and I want it.) I was walking back from my millionth bathroom break at Starbucks and was behind two NYU security guys. Someone stopped them and asked what everyone was waiting for. “Doctor Who,” they said. As soon as the guy walked away they looked at each other and said “Doctor Who the fuck cares?” and laughed. I wanted to die. Three different people are reading Bossypants. Someone near the front of the line (the 12am crowd) has Matt Smith: The Biography and I wonder how a man who is 27 and been in like four movies has a biography. Then I realize the cover is an appearance shot and realize it’s unauthorized. I notice this girl is holding a pen, so that she can have Matt Smith sign his unauthorized biography when he walks by. More bow ties. Harry Potter paraphernalia. Dyed hair. A gets excited when she sees a fez; I’m too much of an asshole and have seen too many to get excited. I’ve started to deeply hate myself for my reaction to all this.

When did I lose my ability to freak out about this stuff? I should be kvelling. I should be dissecting episodes. I should be wondering, aloud and in conversation with my fan brethren, whether or not the “best man” that River Song killed is the Doctor (or, as some theories would have it, Rory.) I should be wearing a red wig, or a white coat, or a wedding dress. I haven’t done any more reading. I have drunk two venti iced coffees. Lunch was a cheeseburger and some fries I threw away. There are four and a half hours left to go.

Walking up and down the line there are more chalk drawings. More blaidd drwg, more cracks. Several Vote Saxons. There are fliers asking “Have You Seen This Man?” with pictures of the last three doctors on it. There are at least five TARDISes drawn on the ground. (And in the case of the NYU building, the wall.) The guy next to me, who for the first four hours was alone and creepy looking, has had three friends join him now (#339-341) and is being more social than I have been all day. I have talked to A and Ryan; I have talked to R and E and B further up the line. This crowd isn’t shy, one of fandom’s more charming aspects. There are few in line who would be averse to joining a conversation of which they are not part. And since we are all here for the same thing, conversations all tend to focus around Doctor Who.

There is this fierce as fuck girl dressed up as Ten; she has this amazing spiky wig hairdo and the suit and then these long, talon-like red nails and elaborate cat-eye eyeliner. She keeps walking back and forth with her awesome brown coat and her nails and then back to her friends who are further up the line. There aren’t that many black people here, much like in the TARDIS. No one appears to have brought sneaky liquor. There are five bars within spitting distance. I’m trying to choose which one I’m going to visit first, and when.

More things I wish I had brought for today: sunglasses. Sunscreen. (The sun has crept around the corner of the NYU building.) My gym stuff; there is a Crunch near here and I could work off that burger. The people behind us line have left to go to Barnes & Noble and get out of the sun; we have agreed to hold their spot in line. people keep rounding the corner and oohing over the chalk wall. They have handed out the wrist bands: there are three theaters and we are in overflow theater number one. Our wristbands have little Doctor Who logos on them. The line wraps all the way around, almost all the way back to 2nd ave on 11th. Three hours and twenty minutes left.

There are rumors that the Doctor Who Confidential people are interviewing the #dwlinecon people. I haven’t seen them but I did see The Sartorialist ride by on his bike sans helmet. I wonder what he will find to shoot in this crowd, and immediately hate myself for thinking it. There is an Amy Pond on a motorized scooter. I wish she had been here for the group picture. One lady in a scooter is already inside the theater, taking refuge from the sun. Someone up the line has what looks like a complete set of Doctor Who action figures, arranged in neat rows like a choir. He is a grown man.

At almost 5pm the sun has completely enveloped our corner. There is no way of getting comfortable. I am getting thirsty. My friend M is coming to join me for a frosty adult beverage around the corner to kill the last hour. I hope the actors don’t  come by and do autographs while we’re gone. As it transpires, they don’t. I don’t know why I thought that was a possibility, or why I am disappointed. No one around us is talking about anything other than TV: The office. Firefly. Doctor Who. There are at least three iPads in use ahead of us in line. The people at the back of the line who arrived at 4pm came from Philly and probably won’t get in. I keep making reflexive laps: 12th and 3rd to 11th around to 2nd and then back, just to reassure myself that I am close to the front. By the time I actually turn off my laptop to get up I will have written 2,500 words on the experience of lining up alone. By the time this post has gone up that number will have swelled to 3,500.

I keep imagining the society we’ve created here devolving, people fighting with each other for pride of place, cutting off limbs and wielding the wristbanded hands of their vanquished enemies to get into the main theater. There will be tribes soon, the 2nd avenue batallion, the awning tribe, the scrappy 3rd theater upstarts. The guy at the front of the line—the one who has been here since 4pm yesterday—is dressed like Nurse Rory. Will his scrubs be stained with blood by the time the theme song rolls?

I have to go to the bathroom. Again. I haven’t even touched my diet coke. (It doesn’t help that I dropped it on my way to the ATM this morning.) Walking this block I realize I have been to this neighborhood before. Ryan’s bar around the corner (I think that’s the name) is where I had drinks with Raygan and Jamie after their engagement dinner. Everything Bagles is where Sarah and I had breakfast with Liz’s daughter. Three blocks away I had fancy toast with jam and bubble tea with Ian before seeing Sucker Punch. It all looks different.

The chalking has turned desperate-sounding: “You are beautiful” on the wall on 11th street halfway down the block. Does that make those folks feel better about the unlikelihood of their actually seeing these episodes? I have learned that Alex Kingsotn is going to be here. This is the thing that fills me with irrational frustration that I didn’t get here earlier. River Song is my favorite character. What would I say if I actually met her?

At 5:15 they condense the line, and have everyone pack up their shit. We react quickly, grabbing our stuff and following the people in front of us in an orderly manner. We pass a woman screaming into her cell phone: evidently she was the person watching the stuff while her people went to go get coffee, and she got left. “Where are you? We’re losing our fucking place in line!” Judging by her position on 12th street she got here around 5am, three hours before us. We have passed her. Later I see her back in line; the people behind her group let them back in. There is honor among fans.

After two Magner’s with M at a cute, mostly empty bar called the Penny Farthing I get the text from A.: Coming? I head back, and we all chat until the line starts moving fitfully forward. M leaves and A and Ryan and I have a real conversation for the first time with the people behind us in line. When I mention that Matt Smith’s (hot) girlfriend is Gavin Rossdale’s daughter, one of them asks “who?” I feel so, so old.

There is a guy walking back and forth over and over with a set of speakers that is playing the Doctor Who theme. He doesn’t have a wristband that I can see. This means that he is either part of the PR team of the event or he didn’t get a wristband, which means that he is still there, at the line for the thing he won’t get into, pumping the crowd up anyway. As he walks by, people sing along. Sometimes I join in. There is screaming and cheering up ahead: “Those are actor screams,” A says. Moments later a photo crops up on twitter of the actors, “arriving in style” in a vintage car. There is more cheering. There will be cheering until we actually get into the theater.

It’s 6:45 and we’ve made it to 2nd avenue. We’re almost inside. We hold our wrists aloft for the security guys. Our wristbands are green- have I said that already? We’re funneled to a theater upstairs where we’re given awesome swag and A and Ryan and I grab seats on the front row. That way if the actors come by this overflow theater we’ll be in prime autograph location. I don’t know why I keep thinking I’ll get to meet them. I know, by this time, that I won’t.

The people behind us have been awake for 24 hours because they drove to New York from Virginia specifically to see this. The kid sitting next to me is literally a kid- he can’t be more than ten, and he has a sonic screwdriver. When the episode starts I will wonder why this kid isn’t crapping his pants in fear like I am.

An introduction from the guy from Nerdist who will be moderating the panel later. Cheers: When I say Doctor, you say Who! Doctor! Who! Doctor! Who! And then: the credits, the dark screen. It’s 7:15 pm. I’ve been here since 8 this morning. It’s starting.

Coming soon:

Part II: What We Came Here For

Part III: Whither fandom?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. justsomethings permalink
    April 14, 2011 3:20 am

    Googling to see if I was the only person who saw The Sartorialist ride past the line (hooray it wasn’t just me!), and came across your post. So, thank god I’m not the only one who was thinking things like “Still, I feel too old for this. I feel like an asshole for judging the people I am with, the people who are all waiting for the exact same event as I am.” I was in line from 5am, and two days later I still can’t decide whether I’m glad I did it. Awesome to see the episodes and the Q&A, but…

    And yeah, the reactions of passers-by made me cringe every single time, as did the constant videotaping of the line.

  2. April 14, 2011 4:18 am

    @justsomethings Hahah yeah! I was like “ZOMG THE SARTORIALIST” and of course everyone around me was like “…?” He’s so tiny in real life.

    I’m glad I did it, even though this post might not sound like it. I used to be a big crazy fan and being in that environment is a nice reminder of the time when I used to be able to unironically enjoy something. I dunno- Lots Of Thoughts. 🙂

    Still, thank you for reading and commenting! Did you get into the main theater for the Q&A? The nice thing about being in the overflow theater is that we were able to groan loudly when people asked idiotic, self-serving questions. It’s THAT kind of shit that drives me UP THE WALL.

  3. justsomethings permalink
    April 14, 2011 3:39 pm

    The look on Scott Schuman’s face as he rode past (he seemed to be doing laps of the block) was hilarious – amused befuddlement, mostly.

    I did get into the main theatre, but only just; there were only another 10 or so people behind me who got the “magic blue wristbands.” And believe me, even in the main theatre there was much groaning and facepalming over the questions. “I’m like, a like writing student at like NYU, and I like would like to like get into like screenwriting?” ARGH contact embarrassment.

    Anyway, looking forward to Parts II and III!


  1. #DWLineCon Part 2: Why We’re Here (Or, some thoughts on companionship and hero-worship.) « steady as she goes

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