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Getting in Touch With My Inner Geek at Gallifrey: A weekend with my fellow Doctor Who fanatics


A deadly Dalek threatens to EX-TER-MI-NATE other convention-goers. Why aren't they scared?
  • A deadly Dalek threatens to EX-TER-MI-NATE other convention-goers. Why aren't they scared?
A deadly Dalek threatens to EX-TER-MI-NATE other convention-goers. Why aren't they scared?
Question: What's geekier than a Star Trek convention?

Answer: The 19th annual Doctor Who convention, held a few weeks ago in Southern California.

So what was I doing there with more than 1,000 sci-fi geeks at the LAX Marriott hotel?

I was looking for a story, but I was also fulfilling a childhood fantasy. I discovered Doctor Who in the late 1970s during the "dark ages" before cable TV. As a latchkey kid, I watched the super campy series after school on PBS. I loved everything about it: the psychedelic intro, the British humor, the tin-foil aliens. It was like tripping on acid at the tender age of 10. The campy, sci-fi series first hit British airwaves in 1963, running for two and a half decades before being cancelled abruptly in 1989.

For me, the Doctor ignited a life-long crush on all things British, including clipped accents, bad pop music and bright red phone booths. Last summer, when I learned there was a new Doctor Who series, my heart raced. I got butterflies in my stomach. It was just like the elusive Doctor to show up, unannounced, after an unexplained, 15-year absence. I had to see him, so I signed up for NetFlix.

You don't have to be a geek to like Doctor Who, but it helps. Fortunately, I have a geek fetish, and I met some fascinating people at the convention like Matt Abbott, a 35-year-old audio software engineer from San Francisco who loves gadgets almost as much as the Doctor. Though he doesn't carry the Doctor's classic sonic screwdriver, he does own a robot dog, an XO laptop, a Theramin, and an alarmingly large collection of small Casio keyboards. He plays kickball, wins poker tournaments, and enjoys fine whiskey and microbrews. He says he is too well rounded to be a true geek, but I like him anyway.

This year's convention was the biggest in Gally's history. Still, compared to a Star Trek convention, it was tiny. If Trekkies are the Protestants of the science fiction religion, Whovians might be the Quakers. Their Doctor is maddeningly asexual, prefers compassionate dialogue to violence, and is remarkably tolerant of alternative life forms. Who fans even have their own call and response ritual. Just say, "Wibbly-wobbly" in a room full of Whovians, and they'll all reply, "Timey-wimey!" This is shorthand for How Time Works, according to the Doctor: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect. But actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly- wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."

Though Doctor Who has never enjoyed the mainstream appeal that Star Trek has in the U.S., it has maintained a cult-like following of dedicated fans who kept the Doctor's memory alive during his long absence. Now that Doctor Who has returned, bigger and better than ever, fans of the classic series are ready to welcome a whole new generation of Whovians.

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