When the Doctor tells you to follow him, you just do. That's how about a thousand New Yorkers felt Monday night April 11, 2011 when it came to a special event hosted by BBC America.
After a smaller event last year, and record ratings for the network thanks to season 5 of the British science fiction staple Doctor Who, BBC America brought the four principal cast members, showrunner and writer Steven Moffat, director Toby Haynes, and executive producers Piers Wenger & Beth Willis to premiere the first two episodes of season 6 to an American crowd and hold a question and answer panel afterward. The response was a crowd that filled four theaters and still had run-off.
The first fans lined up for the 7pm Monday event at 4pm on Sunday afternoon. They braved the chill of night and the hottest day of the year in New York City so far in their pursuit to meet the cast and see the premiere episodes. The crowd continued to grow, eventually nearly circling an entire city block, reaching around three of the four streets. One couple from the midwest told Newsarama they came to NYC just for the weekend of events (a signing was also held the previous Friday), and waited in line for about 21 hours, taking turns sleeping on the cold sidewalk. They and the other line-waiters made a day of it, however, starting the Twitter hashtag #DWLinecon, trading stories, doing trivia, showing off costumes, drawing with chalk, and even occasionally bursting out into song.
Their faithfulness was rewarded in the morning when the cast members in attendance, Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), and Alex Kingston (River Song) walked the line with donuts they brought to the fans. That set the tone for the entire day's events; these fans, the actors, the producers on the show, the BBC America staff, even the staff of Village East Theaters that hosted the event were all just one extended group of friends, sharing something they loved together.
After the long wait, at last it was time for the theater to open. Originally one theater, they wound up simulcasting the event to three others, and had others still waiting. BBC America and Village East even accommodated them, however; while they couldn't get in for the first showing and the live Q&A, they brought those later fans in immediately following for a rebroadcast.
The episodes themselves were a raucous affair. The first two episodes were written by Moffat and directed by Haynes, so their presentation as a cohesive film made sense. The crowd was laughing, cheering when people came on the screen the first time, screaming out in terror, gripping their seats, sighing with relief and clapping with joy. Moffat requested that the press not spoil or describe the actual scenes from the episodes so that everyone could experience as freshly as this opening crowd. Suffice to say, this is the biggest opening to a season of Doctor Who of the modern era with as many questions as answers and some big, big cliffhangers.
After the episodes played and the cheering (barely) died down, the cast and crew were introduced to the crowd by emcee and self-proclaimed Whovian Chris Hardwick of nerdist.com, Web Soup, and G4's Attack of the Show. All the actors and crew got massive applause, with Arthur Darvill getting screams of "Rory!" from his apparently large female fanbase.
Executive Producer Beth Willis thanked the American crowd, saying "you are so much more fun to watch with than a UK audience. They politely clap but you really go for it." The panelists talked from there about what it was like to shoot in America, with Haynes and the cast members talking about how "amazing" shooting in the foreign landscapes of Utah was.
They were also all humbled by the incredible response American fans have given them. While they were shooting, fans would line up at 4am just to see them as they walked onto the closed set, said Kingston. Darvill called it simply "shocking."
Moving into the story, the cast told the crowd that while shooting they are kept in the dark as much as the fans are, being given partial scripts and even doing table reads of completely false endings.
"I know the least of what's going on in any given script," said Smith. However, he then teased that while people were stunned by the cliffhanger at the end of the first episode, "wait until the end of episode 6 [the last before a summer hiatus], your jaws will literally be on the floor."
Moffat later added to that tease when asked by a fan if he felt bad about these cliffhangers. "No, it's brilliant. And you think that's bad," he said with a smirk while rubbing his hands together, "just wait until episode 6. It's going to be a long summer."
Fans heaped praise on the cast and crew, noting things like the diversity seen on the program, with inter-racial and homosexual couples and truly strong, empowered women. Kingston noted that's part of her love for River Song, that while it's the "most challenging" role she's ever had, she loves it because she gets "the chance to kick some ass. It's just fantastic and to be given that opportunity is great."
Moffat noted that while he likes there being diversity on the show, it's never something he consciously thinks about. "It's more fun. If it was just a bunch of white men in a room all the time it would be boring."
Of his other current BBC series, Sherlock, Moffat said that while both feature genius leads, they are really polar opposites of each other. "Sherlock Holmes is a human being aspiring to be a god and the Doctor is a god aspiring to be human."
As for the really geeky questions fans got into? Well, John Simm loves playing the evil counterpart of The Doctor, The Master. Karen Gillan prefers the fez to the stetson hat. Moffat's dream crossover would have The Doctor meeting Mr. Spock from Star Trek Rory was always destined to stay around, and the plan was always for "a married couple in the TARDIS," said Moffat. He also knows that the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who is coming, and with a sly grin told fans, "Yeah. We'll do something big."
Finally, Matt Smith, though in a double windsor at the premiere, did let fans know he agrees with his character, assuring all in attendance that "Bowties are cooler."