Tales from Chicago TARDIS: A Little Story About Fandom (and Colin Baker)

This is actually only partly my story, but it’s still one worth telling. Back after my very first Doctor Who convention, I wrote about what a family the Whofolk are and what an amazing experience it was for me to (albeit accidentally) be in the same room as that off-screen love, even if only for 30 minutes or so. At this year’s Chicago TARDIS, I got another glimpse of the amazing relationship that Doctor Who has with its fans, even decades after the actors have left the show.

A couple years ago, I listened to a lot of The Happiness Patrol podcast. Easily my favorite episodes were the ones where TARDIS Tara and Dale would regale us with stories of fandom in the ’80s and the Wilderness Years: stories of early conventions, misadventures, new friends made, and other such tales. I encountered Tara briefly at last year’s CT, but this year I actually got to hang out with her a little. A good chunk of that was helping to disassembling her TARDIS on the last day, but first there was The Book. I was chilling with my friend Sarah in mid-afternoon Friday Lobbycon as I showed off my art that I was bringing for people to sign, while she showed me the TARDIS embroidery where she kept all her Who signatures. While I certainly understand the appeal of keeping up a single fandom item for autographing, I’m not personally keen on putting all my eggs in one basket like that. But then Tara came over and offered to show us hers.

She’d been collecting autographs in this book for 30 years, so I knew I was in for something that was not just special, but a unique part of Who history.

Tara has a TARDIS Technical Manual from the ’80s that she uses to collect her autographs, and her showing me through it felt like taking my own little trip in the TARDIS. It was a unique glimpse into the past. She had autographs from Whofolk who died before I was born, like Patrick Troughton and Ian Marter, and Whofolk whose deaths I’d mourned along with the rest of the fandom, like Elisabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney. Also in the plastic sleeve where she kept the book was a picture of her and Colin Baker, back when she was 15 and he was either still the Doctor or immediately post-Who. It was pretty amazing, and the whole experience made me feel rather privileged.

Cut to Sunday afternoon.

After the horrific clusterfuck that was the Three Doctors autograph virtual queue the day before, I was finally on line to meet some Doctors. Tara was a few places ahead of me, but she eventually melted into the table-bound crowd as we entered the autograph room. A few paces away from Peter Davison, I glanced further down the table and noticed Colin Baker looking back and forth between the person in front of him and something in his hand…

Then I heard a delighted gasp of “It’s YOU!” and he got up from behind the table to hug Tara.

They stood there chatting for several minutes before Tara went on her way and Colin came back behind the table. He turned to his convention handler and said “sorry, talking to an old friend.”

I finally made up to him, mentioning that I’d wanted to give this art to him at a convention two years ago, but we were there on different days so I didn’t get to. He liked it, said it made him look “very athletic.”

(Also, apparently he and Terry Molloy are engaged in a fierce Croc war. He said at his panel that he owns 30 Crocs, while his “mortal enemy Davros” has 40 Crocs. Which is impressive in its own right.)

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