It’s pretty much the first thing one sees as you exit the car park at East London’s vast Excel centre – a Doctor Who clone, dressed as one of the incarnations of the Time Lord.
It’s a Matt Smith lookalike, seeing as you ask a youngster dressed in the kind of outfit the 10th Doctor wore, complete with a fez on top of his head.
Before long we’ve spotted assorted other cosplayers dressed as different regenerated versions of the good Doctor. The art of cosplay, dressing up as your favourite TV, film or comic book character and parading around at a comic convention or other similar event, may have been imported from Japan, but these Whovians have made it their own, as well as adding a quintessential touch of Britishness to the activity.
The Raygun is at Excel for the third and final day of the Doctor Who Festival, a three-day event that has seen some 15,000 or so people make the trek out to the nether regions of the East End to pay homage to all things Who-related.
It’s as good a way as any of judging where the franchise is and, perhaps crucially for the video industry, where home entertainment, both DVD and Blu-ray, fit into it all.
And the first thing that grabs you is the sheer scale and size of it. All of which proves that this is a brand that is not only remarkably resilient – 50 years and counting – but is showing no signs of diminishing either.
It’s a remarkably savvy audience too – the questions in the assorted Q&A sessions we attended were notable, among other things, for the smart kind of queries put to the assorted stars and writers. Who chief Steven Moffat bristled at one or two of them, but, given the passion of diehard fans, and the airing of gripes over the Internet with everyone telling him what he should and shouldn’t be doing, it’s kind of understandable.
Outside of the main hall, where the Q&As and appearances took place, there’s plenty for Whovians to browse. Chief among these – and where we come in – is the BBC shop, offering up physical home entertainment offerings among its wares on sale.
As svp of eCommerce at BBC Worldwide Steve Wind-Mozley tells us after the event: “Boxed media is central to our retail offer, both at Festival and online at BBCShop.com.
“Blu-ray performed strongly for titles like Doctor Who Series 9 part 1 and the newly released Christmas Specials box set, while older titles from the ‘New Who’ re-boot did better on DVD.
“Over the weekend at Festival we saw a large number of younger (eight to 16 years old), mainly male customers buying classic Who, many commenting that they were working on completing their collection over time.”
The physical element is important for both BBC and the fans. “We know that Doctor Who fans really value the physicality of our products and we put a lot of care and thought into the packaging and presentation,” says Wind-Mozley. “A couple of good examples of this are our BBC Shop exclusives, The Complete David Tennant Years Boxset and the Tom Baker Years Tine Capsule Collectors set, both of which sold strongly at Festival.”
As wel as the aforementioned physicality and tactile nature of seeing the package media, it’s the engagement of the whole event that helps BBC Worldwide really connect with the fans. As head of Doctor Who brand Kirsty Mullan states: “Doctor Who is all about engaging audiences, whether through a TV show, gaming or in the Live Event space. Being able to host our audiences, and entertain them in a physical world of Doctor Who, is key to immersing them even further into a brand they love.”
BBC Worldwide head of exhibitions and events Paula Al-Lach expands on some of the thinking behind the event. “For any activity around key brands such as Doctor Who, we’re careful to offer experiences, products and live events to suit every pocket,” she says. “The Doctor Who Festival took a huge amount of organisation, but kept our fans top of mind when creating Festival. The Festival was really about delivering more interactive content to the fans, such as the Production Village, the Drama school, the 3500 seat theatre with the cast and writers panels and the MFX sessions. For fans who want to continue their adventures with the Doctor and want to see more of the sets, costumes and monsters, there is the amazing Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff which delivers all of that as well.”
So how was the event for BBC Worldwide? Both us at The Raygun and our 12-year-old junior correspondent were taken by the event as a whole, as veterans of the MCM London Comic Con almost since its inception, we’re used to the convention concept, and the Festival delivered what the fans want.
“We were incredibly pleased with how it went, and the feedback from fans has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Paula Al-Lach. “We had over 15,000 fans attend across the weekend, and have had an overwhelming response on email of great customer feedback. The fans particularly loved the Cosplay Showcase Competition, which 600 took part in over the weekend.
Staff at Worldwide were impressed with how the diehard Doctor devotees were fully immersed in the Festival idea, especially traditional convention elements such as the cosplay. As Paula Al-Lach notes: “The creativity and obvious excitement from fans is always the highlight of an event like this. The fans love the Festival – 600 ticket holders took part in the Cosplay Competition and look AMAZING. It‘s always great to see how dedicated the fans are to the show and how they interact with all the content that was at the event. Many shared their love of the Festival through social media and the response has been fantastic.
“Other highlights include seeing visitors act with a Dalek coached by Nick Briggs and Barnaby Edwards and being directed by Director Douglas Mackinnon in a scene from Listen. Of course the emotional farewell to Jenna Coleman as she bowed out as Clara was sad but a memory that I’ll take away from the weekend.”
The Festival comes as BBC Worldwide’s strategy to turn Who into a truly global property continue apace. As Kirsty Mullan, Head of Doctor Who Brand concludes: “Doctor Who continues to grow as a global brand around the world. With a hugely successful series on BBC America and launching the brand in India and Latin America we are continuing to grow audiences and connect fans from different countries around the world.
“For DVD, the next release will be Doctor Who Series 9 Part 2 in January with the Complete in March. We’ve also launched a number of titles on BBC Store for both new Doctor Who and Classic.”
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