Needless to say, this past weekend — actually the whole of last week — was huge for Whovians (the official nickname of Doctor who fans, for those not in the know). A week long marathon of Doctor Who episodes, original specials, and an original film about the show’s beginnings, all culminating with not just a global broadcast, but a global simulcast (including screenings in select movie theaters) of an altogether new feature length episode, The Day of The Doctor starring not only Matt Smith in his penultimate go ’round as The Doctor (he will be replaced after this year’s Christmas episode by Peter Capaldi) , but David Tennant (Smith’s predecessor in the role); past and current companions Billie Piper and Jenna Coleman; and in a casting move that, even when considering such top shelf international talent who appeared on the show like Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Toby Jones, was sure to please even the pickiest Whovian – the legendary John Hurt as “The Lost Doctor,” the man who pulled the plug on Gallifrey, home planet of the Time Lords, to prevent the hated and feared Daleks from destroying the rest of the universe.
I’m positive I was far from alone in having plans for some of kind simulcast party. Speaking for myself, I was to watch the 11:50 am (West Coast time) broadcast with a handful Whovian friends, hosted by Comic Book Resource‘s Erik Amaya – my frequent collaborator, and the man who got me into the show in the first place. We were going to throw open our Skype windows and watch it “with” our friends in the UK. I had even gone so far as to purchase copious supplies of tea and crumpets! However, duty — rather, our fearless leader, Editor-In-Chief, Louis Love — called. The assignment: a Day of the Doctor simulcast viewing party at the Youtube Space in The Campus at Playa del Rey – one of LA’s premiere digital production facilities. Put the crumpets in the fridge. Take the kettle off the stove. I can’t resist a good party. Plus, as BBC/BBC America’s perennial hit continues to gain momentum here in the States, I just wanted get a barometer, however small, of how the show is doing.
A few miles south of the more traditional studios in Burbank and Hollywood (proper), The Campus is an unassuming parcel of land, near Loyola Marymont University, and about a mile or so from the beach. From the street, it looks more like warehouses with some adjacent loft-space. However, driving through the complex itself, the corporate logos on the buildings are far from anonymous: Fox, UCLA, Konami, and of course, Youtube. At first glance, it appeared that a lot of young girls have gotten into Doctor Who, but it turned out that Youtube was hosting two events from the UK: the Doctor Who global simulcast, and something featuring… well… a musical act from Great Britain who, while wildly popular, I can not mention, due to a confidentiality agreement. I’m pretty sure it was just so I didn’t post something like “Hey Blah Blah is here, so everybody come down to 123 Main Street,” on my Twitter feed that day, but better safe than sorry. Whether it was due to event organizers, or due to the soundproofing in the Youtube studios, or perhaps a combination of both, I can’t say, but despite my fear that we’d be enduring a lot of high-pitched screaming, if it wasn’t for crossing paths in the courtyard, I’d have had no idea that we were sharing space with a boy band.
What can I say? BBC America and Youtube certainly know how to throw a party. First and foremost, guests had a prime photo-op with a life sized replica of The Doctor’s transportation through space and time, the TARDIS. In addition to the screening and snacks, we weren’t so much guests for a party as we were the audience for BBC America’s global pre-sh0w on their Youtube channel. On these shores, (pre) pre-show festivities were hosted by by Nerdist’s Veronica Belmont and Anthony Carboni. Carboni continued to work the crowd as Belmont moved to the studio for the official pre-show; a self-contained mini chat show about all things Who with guests Grant Imahara (Mythbusters); Phil DeFranco (of Youtube’s Phil DeFranco Show); and Noelene Clark (LA Times, Hero Complex) – all Whovian heavyweights. I think my only criticism of the show, which was a lot of fun overall, is that neither the host, nor the guests, could name all of the Doctors in order. That’s Doctor Who 101.
The studio’s setup was different than every production facility, and every movie or TV set I’ve visited – primarily because, as a purely digital facility, they simply don’t need the kind of space a traditional production requires. So while we were a “studio audience” we weren’t in theater seats. Nor were most people allowed into the studio with the talent. Rather, an assortment of comfortable chairs, even some couches, was assembled in what appeared to be an employee’s common room. This might seem like an odd choice, as it separates the audience from the talent, which is key to the rhythm and energy of a chat show broadcast. Having Belmont circulate during the pre-pre-show and a live feed projected on a wall of big screen monitors mitigated the isolation factor.
At the end of the day, that’s the main thing I’d say about this event: barriers — whether small ones, like the walls of a studio, or larger geographic boundaries like countries and time zones — didn’t matter. For one unique moment and time and space, all of us, everywhere, were watching the show together, Whovians united.