Location Eden Court, Inverness 08:30 – 10:00
By coincidence the beginning of the week after Hi-Ex 2010 saw the BBC Outreachs’ Doctor Who Tour arrive in Karen Gillens home town of Inverness and so it was that we elected to spend an extra day in the area in the hopes of ingratiating ourselves into the event which would also be held at Eden Court.
Having not so subtly enquired a couple of weeks prior, we already knew that nobody could swing us admission to this local school invite only event, but we’d heard rumours of a tour bus and though maybe there might be some sort of display to promote the upcoming arrival of Matt Smiths first season as The Doctor. Thus it was we checked out of the hotel, after begging a pen from them, on the Tuesday morning and braved the ice-cold temperature and constant sleet to tramp round the Eden Court perimeter looking for any evidence of BBC branding, of which we found absolutely nothing. Walking despondently and drippingly along the banks of the Ness back towards the car for the journey home though we spied, across the flowing waters, a large bus emblazoned with the new series logo and Matt and Karens flailing bodies. Debating whether to walk to the nearest bridge and cross for a better look or remain where we were in the vicinity of it destination, the decision was taken from our hands by the imperceptible, almost TARDIS-like way the vehicle moved without our notice from its parking place and so we elected to return to Eden Court and stand in the small amount of shelter provided by the canopy above its frontage. After an eternity of freezing, rain-soaked minutes the bus arrived at the car park entrance which meant that THE TALENT would have to walk past us to gain entry to the building and fall into our autograph trap.
Except the people in charge had other ideas.
“You can’t stand there”, came a womans voice. “But… But we…”, we wetly stammered, noses dripping pathetically. “You’ll have to move, you can’t be blocking the entrance for the TV people,” she continued as our hearts sunk. A beat and then she continued, “you’ll have to come inside.”
So, yes, the place was mobbed with school kids and my inherent honesty precluded me from lifting from the pile of wrist bands which would have gained us access to the preview screening of The Eleventh Hour, but we did score a free poster and Julie managed to climb over the crowd of children to get Karens autograph and phone number* before she and Matt were whisked away to introduce the episode to the young fans.
We sat outside the entrance to the auditorium drinking hot chocolates waiting on them leaving while the episode was playing to undertake press interviews in the hopes of gaining the new Doctors signature too. “Matt Smith is quite handsome”, Julie says. “I thought you were never watching Doctor Who again after David Tennant left?”, I queried. “I’m just saying, up close, he’s alright”, she replies, “I might give the first episode a try, see if it’s any good…”
The auditorium doors burst open and Matt Smith in his striped jumper strides past before we can even get out our seats. Julie holds out the autograph book behind his back forlornly and, coming up a few steps behind, Karen Gillan offers to sign it. “Umm… We got you already, we wanted Matt…” she mumbles and Karen resumes her march, haughtily, ensuring we know there’s no chance of asking her to obtain the signature on our behalf. “You couldn’t just have let her sign a different page?”, I ask. Years later, I’m sure she remembered this snub and was only pretending to be on her mobile when she walked past me in at the departure gate of Glasgow airport without acknowledgement.*
We try to hover in the background near Edward Russell, Brand Manager, in an attempt to overhear the pairs itinerary for the rest of the visit. Apparently they finish with the press, say goodbye to the audience at the end of the episode then get on the bus to drive South meaning our scope for getting the elusive autograph is rapidly running out. As we ponder the odds of getting Mr Thomas to obtain it for us, a less shamed faced woman arrives up with her two children in tow. “We’ve come to see Doctor Who”, she shrills. “Sorry it’s an invite only thing, besides you’re about 40 minutes too late…”, one of the organisers says. “We’ve driven two hours to get here!”, she points out restrainedly*, “And it’s my son Dominic’s birthday!” The child she gestures at blinks sleepily back, possibly slightly confused as to why his mother has apparently forgotten his birthday is several days away yet. “I’ll see what I can do”, Ed seems to sigh wearily, ensuring we know that his head doesn’t button up the back and that there’s now no chance of asking him to obtain the signature on our behalf.
Thinking strategically, I position us at a choke point, where the wide entrance way of Eden Court channels into a small passage outside alongside the restaurant. Unless they sneak both stars round the back way, they’ll have to slap the book and pen from our hands to get past without signing. “Hold these”, I say to Julie as I hand her objects while I ready the camera, “Quick, give me those,” I snap as I set off in pursuit of a curly-headed man who has entered the building unnoticed.
“Mister Moffat, excuse me, I know you must be very busy today, but could I trouble you for your autograph please..?” I blurt out as I follow. He turns and appraises me, either unsure how his cover has been blown or surprised that someone is asking him. “Congratulations on having the best job in television”, I say as I hand him the pen. “What’s your name..?”, he asks, as he begins so scrawl. “Mark”, I say, while simultaneously thinking “Good Lord, Stephen Moffat has been so impressed with my insightful platitude he going to want me to act as special advisor to him during production…” “With a C or a K?”, he asks. “k”, I respond as realisation dawns that he’s only enquiring to personalise it and prevent any future eBay resale. “You know, years ago, when you were doing Coupling, my uncles partner always claimed to have been your art teacher at high school…” “Really”, Stephen says, “Maybe, what was his name?” “Buh-Brian… ummm… something…” I stammer. “…”, Moffat pauses politely, “Then it’s probably true…” he says as he walks off, now being pestered by other people looking for his signature, even though they most likely had no idea who he was and were just doing it because they’d seen me. A hurried phone call to my mother, who didn’t know either but who did contact my aunt to find out the surname on my behalf, filled me with enough false bravado to shout at Mr Moffat on his return. His painful lack of acknowledgement was enough to assure me that he gets nutters shouting random names at him in passing all the time and that there was now no chance of asking him to obtain Matt’s signature on our behalf. A few months later in his Production Notes column in Doctor Who Magazine, he would singularly fail to mention being in Inverness, doubtless for no other reason than due to my accostment.*
Back in position at the bottleneck, Matt Smith is striding towards us. This is it. This is my moment. Ready. Set. G- Oh. Except he’s derailed some six feet away by Ed who’s handing over a rolled up signed poster. “Who’s birthday is it?”, he almost puns. There’s a slight pause until the mother from earlier prods her still confused son forward to accept the gift. “Happy Birthday mate”, says Matt and resumes his locomotion at a speed suggesting he’s never broken stride, bombing past me.
I’m turning, realising he’s gone again and I didn’t have the book or pen anyway. I’m raising my camera to get, at best, a blurred shot of his left shoulder and back of his striped jumper. And from nowhere Julie’s stepped out from the opposite side of the passageway, in front of him, book in hand, “Could you sign this please Matt?” I step to the side. Once. Twice. He’s scrawled something, initials maybe, stopped, acknowledged her presence and expanded it into a full signature. “There you go…” and the shutter clicks and time kicks into gear again. The entourage stomps past between Julie and I. Karen Gillan possibly mutters under her breath about me not noticing her two feet in front of me.
“He was going to walk right past you. I would have tripped him up if he had,” Julie is saying, “I think he was just going to scribble whatever he does for the kids, but because I said ‘please’ or was an adult or something he did it properly…”
We wander outside where the sleet has given up trying to get everyone’s attention and take photos of the tour bus. Watching as the visit comes to and end and the crew run through the puddles to get back aboard to see watch finished version of the new title sequence that The Moff has brought along for the first time and ponder whether we’ll catch them up on the way down the road. “I can’t believe she gave you her phone number…” says Julie…
*No obviously, not really.