Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Doctor Who and Me - Part One

When you are a fan of something, no matter what that may be, you can find yourself experiencing some pretty amazing life moments. This blog springs from my love for all things Nerdy and Awesome, but I've never shared the story of how I became a fan of my nerdiest of nerdy obsessions, Doctor Who, and how being a fan resulted in a unique experience.

One of my first memories is of Doctor Who. I must have been three or four, and it was night time and I think I was at the home of some friends' of my parents. The TV was on, and all I recall was seeing the opening titles of Jon Pertwee's final season. If you're three or four, that's going to leave an impression. I mean the bouffant alone...
When I was eight or nine and over at a cousins house, I saw my first full episodes. He was the son of a Brit, so he was a fan of Doctor Who in a big way. This was during the Peter Davison years, and I remember watching his videotapes, recorded from PBS, and being captivated.

I was in high school when I next encountered the series. Stumbling across a copy of The Five Doctors in a video store, I rented it out of a sense of nostalgia. I was blown away. I loved every second of it, even though I barely got any of the references. I even thought Tom Baker's brief appearance was planned! I managed to find a few more video copies in video stores to rent, but this being Canada in the early 1990s, there wasn't much to choose from. I saw The Time Warrior, encountering those memorable titles again. I saw the Brain of Morbiusand was introduced to the brilliance of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker era.

The day after I graduated from high school, I moved from my hometown of Victoria, BC, to Vancouver, BC. The reason for my haste had nothing to do with my parents or any desire to flee the nest, but more to do with another aspect of my life. Since the age of eleven, I had been a professional actor after appearing as a regular in a local TV series about kids who travelled through time called Time Exposures. It was shot on video, and it had a budget of about a dollar ninety-eight, but that's really where any similarities to Who ends! I went through high school shooting several Canadian films and two TV series for the CBC, plus a handful of American TV shows and TV movies as well as some local theatre. Vancouver was where the action was in those days, so it was there I moved.

When I moved to Vancouver, I was shooting the final season of a TV series. I had a recurring role, so that meant I shot a few days a week, but it wasn't all the time and so I had a lot of free days. There was this great video store in the West End called Mega Movies where you could rent seven movies for seven days for seven dollars. It was there that I found a trove of Doctor Who tapes. The first one I rented was The War Games. That's when I went from a guy who had seen and enjoyed some Doctor Who to a fully-fledged Whovian. I would go on to start buying the VHS tapes who alarming frequency. I bought the Howe, Stammers, Walker books on the making of the series. I picked up copies of Doctor Who Magazine and the Virgin Book line where possible (during the wilderness years of the Nineties in Canada it was often difficult to regularly get hold of this stuff).

Fast forward a year. I'm working on a production of one-act plays written by high school students. I was acting and stage managing, and a fellow actor friend of mine named Alan Buckley arrived for rehearsal. He was talking about this "really weird" audition he went on. He said it was for a new version of some TV show he had never heard of about a guy in a phone booth travelling through time.

I looked at him incredulously and said, "Was it called Doctor Who?"

He nodded, and I…proceeded…to…freak…out.

This was before the Internet was really much of anything, certainly nowhere near the fixture of our lives it is now. I had heard rumours that Doctor Who was coming back, but I was at this point unaware that it would be filmed in Canada, let alone in the city in which I lived!

I immediately called my agent and said, "I am doing this movie. I don't care what I have to do. I'll be a potted plant. I'll be a chair. Please, please, get me an audition."

The problem was that they had already had auditions. And they had really only one role that would fit me. At this point, the role was for a young lab technician working on an atomic clock, according to Alan. The casting director was resistant to bring me in. They had seen a few actors for the role, wanted to do one round of call backs, and that would be it. They weren't really interested in accommodating an actor.

My agent, a wonderful guy named Ross Rhodes, basically said to them, "Look, who else have you brought in who has been this familiar with this show? This actor gets it. He gets the tone, he knows what this is all about. You won't have to spend any time explaining anything to him at all."

It must have worked because they grudgingly allowed me to come in and do my first audition when everyone else up for the part did their call back. I felt a little bad, to be honest, especially when it came to Alan. I wouldn't have even know about the part if not for him, and now I was about to try my damnedest to steal it from under him.

Geoffrey Sax
I went in to the room, thanking local casting director Trish Robinson profusely for considering me. Director Geoffrey Sax was in the room, and he was very nice. He asked me if I had heard of the show, I said that I was a big fan and hugely excited that it was coming back. And then we went into the scene, which involved me getting a jelly baby from the Doctor. I did the scene only one time, but after finishing, I noticed the atmosphere of the room was a little less chilly.

And then that was it. I shook hands with Geoffrey, and walked out. I remember thinking that I had done my best, and now it was all down to luck. I waited for Alan to finish his audition, and then we both went for lunch together. We both wanted the part, and Alan was really great about the whole thing, saying the he sincerely hoped I got it, being a fan.

We didn't get a call that day at lunch. But I believe it was the next day that Ross called me to let me know their decision. They were going with me. In a few months, I'd be joining the cast of Doctor Who: The Movie. I couldn't believe it, and proceeded to do a little dance around my apartment.
And for anyone feeling bad for Alan, he went on to star on a little show called CSI: NY, so things turned out all right for him!

In my next post, I'll cover my day of shooting, and the aftermath!

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