It’s difficult to scoop a Comic Con panel that is instantly widely reported, particularly when all footage is almost instantaneously available. And that, indeed, is why I have delayed so long in writing up this post. Because, the Doctor Who panel? All online. “Twice Upon a Time” trailer? All online. Lovely Capaldi tribute video? Online. But the one thing I can share is the personal experience of being there. You can get far better quality photos and video of everything I was privileged to see in person, and have been able to from the beginning. But I can share a bit of the experience of camping out for Hall H, the holy grail of Comic Con experiences.
First thing to know, your day will start early. Indeed, it will start the day before the panel. Because, in a post-Twilight world, getting in line the night before is the only way. The Con, conveniently, has implemented a new system to help. By arriving before a certain time the night before, you can get a wristband, which will give you priority entry the next day, though arriving at an early unholy hour is still advised. But if you want the fullest experience and the best seats, it’s business as usual: you sleep for it.
And the line doesn’t start very close to your destination, either.
The first star on the map above is, roughly, where the front of the line is. The second, far away star accross the water? That’s where I entered the line that evening, probably around 7:30PM, and was eventually given a wristband.
Many people arrived after us.
Google Maps estimates we were a 13 minute, 0.6 mile walk away from Hall H at this time.
I hope just how far that is for a line to go is sinking in.
And if you think that’s bad, imagine how bad it is on days with DC or Marvel.
Fortunately, the wristband situation helps. A lot of people bank on that doing the job and leave for the night, leaving the remaining, devoted, and soon to be exhausted stragglers to condense. On the not so bright side, that means jogging back all half a mile or so while lugging a sleeping bag to get into the proper line for the night.
And then, the waiting. There’s no atmosphere quite like the overnight line for Hall H at Comic Con. It’s a weird, liminal space of intensified social connections while the rest of the world stands still. I couldn’t for the life of me bring to mind again the names of the wonderful people we bonded with for the night, but until the next morning, it was like we would stand and fall in battle together for each other. People you speak to for even five minutes, you end up looking out for. People were holding spots for each other, swapping phone numbers for emergencies, even buying each other food! It’s bizarre and alienating, the long, warm night just holding while you sit in the same space in line, but at the same time, it’s weirdly one of the most connected and intimate fan spaces there can be.
Sleep isn’t easy. I crammed my backpack, wallet, and phone into my sleeping bag to get some degree of security and shoved eye covers over my eyes, and embraced the sweaty, lumpy purgatory of a cramped sweeping bag on wet, uneven grass.
Using the toilet, incidentally, was an odd experience. Every time you go, you need to swipe your badge on entry and departure and walk past several tired looking guards. Nothing about Comic Con is a swift or solo activity.
Mornings begin early. I woke around five in the morning, personally. Even if I hadn’t, Con staff habitually blare loud noises around six to prepare the groggy attendees to move.
That’s when you get to combat the next fun reality of Con going. Food. Or rather, a lack thereof. I lucked out, having family nearby who were able to bring a proper cooked meal to us through the morning crowds and traffic. But for most, it was a quick run to 7/11 or another nearby store, most likely overpriced, trying to collaborate with their comerades in line to get food for all and not lose their space and line.
And then it came, like a miracle… an angel armed with donut gnomes.
This is, I stress, entirely real. Supernatural actor Misha Collins, known for playing fan-favorite angel Castiel, routinely pops in on the line the morning before the show’s panel. This has escalated a lot over the years. First year I attended, I remember hearing he just jogged past, enjoying being chased. Last year, so I hear, he brought some people pizza. This year, though. This year, he pulled out all the stops, bringing people in specially-designed shirts with boxes of donuts to distribute to all of us in line.
I didn’t get a picture of Collins himself, but you can see what he did to the crowd.
The whole mass of the line crammed into one small space, desperate for a look, or better yet, a photo.
While everyone didn’t get a look at Misha Collins (incidentally, I did see him, though not at a time where a camera picture would have been reasonable), his “gnomes” made sure his presence was felt.
That’s probably the most indespensible experience of the day, right there. While I can’t say I saw an exclusive Doctor Who trailer, I can say a television star bought me a donut.
The final stretch of the line, I made sure to record, the video of which will be posted below. Even after being crammed into chutes staring down the enterance to Hall H, it took a full four minutes of recording time before entering the door.
In short, seeing a Comic Con Hall H Panel is an ordeal. An ordeal with hidden pleasures, like free t-shirts and donuts courtesy of Supernatrual and brief but powerful friendships with strangers, but an ordeal all the same.
But when it comes down to it, that’s the experience you come for. Because a Comic Con panel is the ultimate geeky show. Supernatural kicked it off with high energy, broadcasting a meta short skit about the show’s leads coming to San Diego Comic Con that transitioned, shockingly, into a live performance by band Kansas of “Carry on Wayward Son,” a song iconic to the show. Rather than broadcast any new footage from an upcoming episode or series, the Supernatural panel opened with the biggest possible spectacle before having a good laugh with the cast, including dumping Misha Collins, aforementioned angel of donuts, in the smallest possible chair and milking it for all it was worth.
It was an odd approach, truth told. Generally, shows and films will rush to have any kind of trailer together for the Con, just because it’s traditional to have something to show. That’s why, for example, in 2013, Steven Moffat and co stressed to the audience that the trailer for “The Day of the Doctor” was unfinished. Because it wasn’t ready to show the world, but just the small, unique pop culture bubble of San Diego Comic Con. But, perhaps, this panel showed the way future ones can progress. Because, inevitably, trailers get leaked. I can Google Infinity War right now and find a billion reuploads of the same shaky recording of the Con trailer, but the experience of being physically present for a live concert is something you don’t replicate in the same way, just as you don’t replicate a free t-shirt, or a donut hand delivered by helper gnomes. Supernatural is not my kind of show, but if there’s one thing they do know, it’s Comic Con showmanship. And, perhaps, they are showing the way forward for future Con content. Or, perhaps, they just didn’t cut together a trailer in time. Or both.
Comic Con moves in mysterious ways, however, from the best possible showmanship to something far, far less. The Last Ship is not a show I had ever heard of, and after its panel, I can’t say my interest is in any way increased. There was a brief preview clip of a man in a fist fight and a bunch of soldiers shooting people with turbans, but all that did, really, was convince the crowd how antithetical it was to anything they were in the audience to see. There was no audience Q and A, though that was a relief, because there was no audience interest whatsoever. But that didn’t make the dead, disinterested air any more uncomfortable. I actually felt a bit embarrassed on their behalf. Not only did the show seem out of place for the geek heaven of Comic Con, but it felt ideologically out of place with everything the day was celebrating (even Supernatural). I asked many people in line the night before if they had a clue what The Last Ship was. After the panel, I reckon the level of caring was about the same.
Dirk Gently, fortunately, brought the fun again. Max Landis isn’t someone who has endeared himself to me from the few things I’ve heard online, but he was a great presence for Hall H, with a nice endearing mix of geeky awkwardness and self-decrepating humor matched by a relative willingness to led the oddest of spoilers fly about witches and snails and such. The premise of the story from Landis’ mouth helped me enjoy the show more, I must say. I loved how he described how Farrah is, to him, one of three leads, for example, and how he explained the cosmic balance and narrative forces driving the story. And the preview clips were fun, I must say. The Dirk scene was an obvious dream sequence, but damn, they leaned into it beautifully. And the Ken interrogation scene showcased just how damn good Mpho Koaho is at reacting like a perfectly reasonable person dumped into utterly absurd situations. Overall, Dirk Gently looks like it’s set for a second season doubling down on the absurdity and maybe even some things I don’t like about the show, but in a way that I can’t help but love it for being itself. And the girl sitting with us who waited in line with us, who had never heard of Dirk Gently, immediately resolved to watch it when she got home. That’s the mark of a good panel, right there. BBC America is doing a really good job at building up its original content and promoting it. Putting Dirk Gently in the lineup right before Doctor Who was an inspired choice, and all the fans who had come just for the latter (most of the audience) were the perfect target audience. It worked.
And, of course, Doctor Who. It was a victory lap. The questions were about what you’d expect, and the answers, too, with Moffat saying the same answer he’d already given about Jodie Whittaker, for example. But God, it felt earned. In 2013, I remember being delighted that I could say I actually got tickets for the fiftieth anniversary year at Comic Con, to see the first preview of the trailer and all. Well, now, in 2017, after having been unable to get tickets for years, I’m glad I got to be there for Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat, Michelle Gomez, and Matt Lucas’ goodbye. It felt like an ending. Even moreso, now that we know the Christmas special exists to preserve the Christmas slot, and that Moffat had planned to leave before that, I feel privileged to have been there for it. By having one last special to say goodbye, we got one last Comic Con with the wonderful people who have shaped Doctor Who in one of its best eras. And what a treat it was.
Seriously, where to begin with the joys? Peter Capaldi’s beautiful speech to his cast members, complete with standing ovation which I was delighted to be part of and he had no idea how to respond to? Pearl Mackie’s one last return confirmed, to applause so loud the rest of the trailer was inaudible? A glimpse of Polly? Michelle Gomez ruining the pre-titles teaser to The Doctor Falls by discussing her, Matt Lucas, and John Simm’s snacking off camera? Actually, every word Michelle Gomez uttered, as usual? A lovely Peter Capaldi tribute video to round off the afternoon? Seriously, watch the whole thing. If there’s anything great about the fact that nothing I got to see isn’t online, it’s the fact that you can not just see the trailer, but the whole damn panel, and should.
I was going to end this on a very different note. I was going to discuss how frustrated I am about the loss of exclusivity to Con footage, how important it is that Doctor Who trailers can get the same hushed, under-wraps hype as the latest blockbusters from Marvel and DC and the like. And that is, I stand by that. The fandom’s response to the 2013 early trailer at the Con missed the point of Comic Con’s exclusive media environment. The Con’s all about exclusives, but what’s done is done. And that means, and I’m smiling typing this, I can share that with you all.
Not everybody can get tickets to Comic Con. That’s ridiculously hard. Let alone, not everybody can afford to get to San Diego, can manage to wait in a line overnight with strangers, can sit through a whole day of panels just for the one that matters most to them. But you can live vicariously through these notes for the getting there, and you can then watch that wonderful hour I was privileged to spend with several thousand other people in their company.
So seriously, watch that one last panel of these beautiful people if you haven’t. Watch it again if you have. Because Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat, Michelle Gomez, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas… they’ve helped make what’s certainly one of the most well-regarded runs by the fandom at large, and they’ve helped send off my favorite era of the best show in the universe in style. It’s only right that they got their own last salute at the biggest pop culture event there is.