Last weekend, Gallifrey One, Los Angeles' Doctor Who convention, sold out its 24th annual show. That's 3,200 convention memberships scored before the day of the event. Back in 2006, when the convention first moved to its current home, the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, attendance was under 800 Whovians.
The convention's success, according to co-founder and program director Shaun Lyon, mirrors the growing popularity of Doctor Who in the United States. "I don't think it's ever been as popular as it is now here," says Lyon of the series, which broadcasts on BBC America. "It really was kind of a niche thing for a long time."
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who, the British science-fiction program, can be broken up into two categories. There's what Lyon and many other fans refer to as the "classic" show. Those are the episodes that originally aired between the 1960s and 1980s, featuring the first seven incarnations of the Doctor. Then there is the current incarnation of the program, which launched in 2005 and features Doctors 9 through 11, respectively. It continues today with Matt Smith starring as the eleventh Doctor. In between those two eras, there was the 1996 TV movie with Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor.
This is just the core of the franchise. There's also a lot of related media, like books and audio dramas, plus spin-off television programs like The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.
Since Doctor Who's 21st century rebirth, the fandom surrounding this franchise has blossomed in the States. Go to events like San Diego Comic-Con, or even the local anime convention, and you're bound to see Doctors, companions, Daleks, Weeping Angels and other references to the show. From cosplayers to fan artists, the Doctor Who fandom is one of the most visible communities within the convention world.
That there is a dedicated Doctor Who convention, and that it's really popular, shouldn't come as a surprise. But what is interesting is that Gallifrey One has been around for almost a quarter of a century.
Twenty-four years ago, a group of L.A.-based Doctor Who fans came together to organize an event celebrating the show. Lyon was part of that team and he's one of the small handful of Gallifrey One originators who remain with the event. They pulled off their first convention in 1990, the year after Doctor Who left British television. "It was successful in terms of it was fun for everybody, but we lost a lot of money," Lyon recalls.
Still, they persisted. "We took a loan out, made sure we paid it off over the next 12 years and kept right on going," he says. "Initially it was to make sure that we paid off our bills. After that, we were having too much fun and we kept going."
Up next: this year's special guests