Doctor Who and Star Wars at San Diego Comic-Con 2015
By Peter Lee
photos by Peter Lee https://www.flickr.com/photos/dragoniching/albums/72157664471254816
For a fan of science fiction and fantasy, there can be so many panels to choose from at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con saw the return of two of fandom’s most popular television and movie series to Hall H, “Doctor Who” and “Star Wars.”
“Doctor Who”, the long-running TV series about a mysterious alien time traveler with his companion Clara who have adventures in time and space, was absent from Hall H and San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. Fans who had hoped last year to see actor Peter Capaldi, who took over the iconic role from Matt Smith, had to wait until this year to see him make his first appearance ever at San Diego Comic-Con. In the past few years when BBC had a “Doctor Who” panel at San Diego Comic-Con, it had been held on Sunday, but this year, it was held on the first day of the convention, Thursday, in the afternoon.
The lines to get into Hall H had already started the day before on Preview Night. As a surprise treat, Peter Capaldi came out that night to meet and take photos with the dedicated fans in line who had camped out. There was still an opportunity to get a seat in Hall H to attend the “Doctor Who” panel even if you had not waited in line the day before since the first panel of the day, Open Road Films, did not have much information about who was going to be on the panel or what film was going to be previewed (it ended up being “Rock The Kasbah” with guest Bill Murray in attendance). I happened to be walking out of the Exhibition Hall and seeing no lines in front of Hall H, just walked in and got a nice seat.
After sitting through this panel, the following “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2”panel, and the Trailer Park panel of upcoming movie trailers, the “Doctor Who” panel started with the appearance of Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick arriving on stage as the moderator. He introduced the first clip, which was a BBC clip of the highlights of Season 8, Peter Capaldi’s debut season. Then, in succession, showrunner Steven Moffat came onto the stage, followed by the guest cast members, Michelle Gomez (villainess “Missy”), Jenna Coleman (companion Clara Oswald), and Peter Capaldi.
Chris Hardwick asked some questions to the cast. Peter Capaldi shared his feelings on what it was like to be a fan of the show, then appear as a guest cast member in David Tennant’s “Fires of Pompeii” episode, and then get the role of The Doctor, and see how the phenomenon of “Doctor Who” has spread over the world. Jenna and Peter remarked how last season Clara was still getting to know her best friend again in his new incarnation and that in the next season, their friendship was now established and this would be their glory years as they would enjoy their adventures together. With the question on the relationship between Missy and The Doctor, Steven Moffat, Michelle Gomez, and Peter Capaldi gave their views on how Missy and The Doctor were opposed to each other, yet they had been best friends.
Before the next segment for audience questions, the audience saw for the first time, the Season 9 preview trailer. With glimpses of new aliens, an undersea base, the return of the Daleks, Missy, and the Sisterhood of Karn, The Doctor sporting some Ray-Ban sunglasses and playing guitar, the audience showed their excitement for the upcoming season, set to debut on September 19. Then, another end scene to the trailer appeared with guest star, Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones”, and an uproar of applause filled Hall H.
Next, the audience was given their chance to ask questions. When asked what was iconic about their characters, eyebrows was attributed to Peter’s Doctor, while Steven Moffat said it was eyes for Jenna, and Michelle said lips for Missy. In another question, Jenna talked about the transition from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi. In an amusing exchange, Michelle described Missy’s perfect day would be drinking tea, eating a croissant, and slapping Wonder Woman in the face. When asked what they found unexpected while working on the show, Peter told of how he didn’t realize how much warmth and affection he would receive from the fans and Jenna responded by how she loved working with Peter. The panel concluded with a clip from Lego Dimensions featuring the Lego version of The Twelfth Doctor.
While this panel would have been enough to satisfy any “Doctor Who” fan, there was another “Doctor Who” event going on Saturday afternoon, BBC America’s “Doctor Who” Official Fan Meet-Up party at The House of Blues. This event was open to the public, so a Comic-Con badge was not required. Having heard the BBC America Orphan Black Clone Club Fan meet-up earlier that morning had long lines to get in, I got my place in line two hours in advance. Each fan in line got a pair of BBC America sunglasses as the entry pass to get in (as a nod to Peter Capaldi’s Ray-Bans which he wears in Season 9).
The party was held on the lower floor of The House of Blues, where there was an open floor in front of the stage where fans could congregate and get various Dr. Who themed hors d’oeuvres. A popular dessert was the “Fish Fingers and Custard” which substituted churros for the fish fingers. Non-alcoholic beverages were complimentary, including a Doctor Who themed drink, “Capaldi’s”, a refreshing concoction of Blue Curacao and Sprite.
Host Jake Roper brought on the first celebrity guests, Michelle Gomez and Jenna Coleman. It was nice to see them so close on the stage compared to Hall H. After greeting the fans, there was some music set to a mash-up of Dr. Who videos played by DJ Eclectic Method. Other entertainment during the party included a cosplay contest and a Family Feud style Dr. Who game with questions like naming the most popular Dr. Who catch-phrases or food items associated with the show. There was an area where fans could draw on the BBC America Fan Art Wall. In another room in the back, there was a line to take photos against a green screen which would make a short video of the person and a menacing Weeping Angel. This was the same photo booth that was in the BBC America booth on the Exhibition Hall. Finally, the other celebrity guests, Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi came out on stage to greet fans and thank them for supporting the show. The Fan Meet-Up party was quite a fun event to attend.
The Lucasfilm panel for the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel was held late Friday afternoon in Hall H and was one of the most widely anticipated panels for San Diego Comic-Con 2015. While earlier reports indicated there was not going to be any new trailers, this did not stop the enthusiasm of the legion of Star Wars fans. Not to mention this panel followed some other popular panels like AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” it wasn’t surprising that some people were already lining up a full day earlier. JJ Abrams also gave out donuts and coffee to some of the people who had camped out overnight.
Once again, Nerdist Chris Hardwick was the moderator for the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel. He recalled watching the original series in the theatre with his dad and how it changed his life. Then, he introduced the first three panelists, producer Kathleen Kennedy, director JJ Abrams, and writer Lawrence Kasdan (”Empire Strikes Back”, “The Force Awakens”). They told how the project got started after Lawrence Kasdan received a call from George Lucas, then JJ Abrams was brought on board, and they spent the next year writing the movie. They brought one of the characters, Bobbajo, an animatronic creature, who walked across the stage, much to the delight of the fans. It was important for them to use practical effects to allow the actors to interact with the sets and props to give the film more authenticity. There was a short question and answer period with the first panelists. JJ Abrams talked about how much “Star Wars” meant to him, and although the three of them were all fans, they couldn’t be blinded as fans while making the film and it was important to have a good story. Katherine Kennedy talked about the arc of the films for Episodes 7, 8, and 9, and how there would be the stand-alone anthology films too.
While there wasn’t any new trailer, they did bring a special treat to the fans, a short behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. After the footage was shown, the next group of panelists came out on stage, new cast members John Boyega (Finn), Daisy Ridley (Rey), and Oscar Isaac (Poe). There was another short question and answer session with the new cast members, who talked about how it was like to work with the legacy cast members. Chris brought out the new cast members from the Dark Side: Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), and Gwendolyn Christie (Captain Phasma). During their Q & A session, Domhnall let slip the name of the First Order Stormtrooper base, the Starkiller base, which was a tribute to original name prior to the change to Skywalker.
Next to come onto the panel was Carrie Fisher, who recalled her reaction on coming back to shoot the film with her original co-stars. Mark Hamill was the next panelist to join the group. Since seeing him at Star Wars Celebration, Mark was sporting a beard this time. He talked about how Star Wars had made so many personal connections to people all over the world. Finally, Harrison Ford came out on stage as the final panelist to a standing ovation and cheers. It was so special to see the original three members together on stage, especially since Harrison wasn’t able to attend Star Wars Celebration in April. Harrison showed his appreciation on being back to play Han Solo and that it felt great. He had said he had not thought about this coming about again, but after receiving the script, he felt it was very well written and he was delighted to be involved.
Just seeing the new and old cast together would have been an experience by itself, but JJ Abrams had one more surprise for the fans. He talked about how another major star of the films was the music, so as a special treat, everyone in the audience would be invited to a free special live Star Wars music concert from the San Diego Symphony! JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy and the cast were escorted off the stage with a group of First Order Stormtroopers. Unlike the slow distribution of wristbands for Hall H the night before, Disney and Lucasfilms had much better organization and were able to pass out the special lanyard and pass to the thousands in attendance quickly, and we walked out of Hall H to the nearby outdoor amphitheater at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
We were also given free lightsabers for the Star Wars Concert for the Fans to light up the field as the sun was starting to set. JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy came on and brought along the cast on stage with the San Diego Symphony. After a brief video introduction from composer John Williams, the concert began. There was a video screen showing scenes from the various Star Wars movies to accompany the music. The San Diego Symphony started with “The Imperial March” and included other selections such as “Princess Leia’s Theme” and “Yoda’s Theme”, and concluded with the Star Wars Main Theme and a brilliant fireworks display. As we were walking out of the amphitheater, we spotted JJ Abrams riding past us, so everyone cheered as he waved. It was one of the most amazing, memorable Comic-Con panels that I had ever been to, and well worth the wait. As Darth Vader would say in “Star Wars: A New Hope”, “This will be a day long remembered.”