Paul McGann, the 8th Doctor Who, and TARDIS touch down to charm fans at Pittsburgh Comicon

Written by Sharon Eberson on .


It was a Whovian day on Saturday, and not just because it was episode day on BBC America. At the Pittsburgh Comicon, the longest lines and most jubilant fans were for Doctor No. 8, Paul McGann, the movie doctor who has extended his run with continuing adventures on audio.

Cosplayers dressed as various versions of the Doctor (many believe fezzes are cool), young women in dresses and skirts with graphic TARDIS prints and fans of all sorts waited at Monroeville Convention Center to pay for an autograph or take pictures with TV Time Lord McGann and his TARDIS -- there was a smaller version of the time-traveling police box for the youngest fans, too.

McGann returned the adoration in kind, accommodating requests from hugs to poses with sonic screwdrivers representing the 13 Doctors -- although McGann kept his own nearby.

2014PaulMcGannPCI think of him as the bridge Doctor Who. The 1996 TV movie failed to catch on at the time, but it was the first "Doctor Who" sighting since the series had ended in the late '80s. And the Eighth Doctor didn't disappear just because he wasn't on our TV screens; audio plays fromBig Finish Productions and the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip helped keep Who-ville going until the writer-show runner Russell T Davies teamed with Christopher Eccleston to bring back the series in 2005.

Among his TV appearances as the Doctor since that 1996 movie, McGann's image appeared in episodes showing each incarnation of the Doctor and he reprised the role for the mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor" as a prelude to the show's 50th anniversary special.

Mr. McGann has stayed busy on BBC TV, including his role as Mark Roth on "Luther," and on stage and radio, but folks packed into the SRO room for his Saturday panel at Pittsburgh Comicon were there for talk of audio plays like "Blood of the Daleks" (which sold out at he "DW" booth minutes after the panel was over) and the 21st-century series.

2014GigiPC0927Stopped by to say hello to "Farscape's" Chiana, Gigi Edgley.The actor, who said he has been falling in love with America during his convention travels, was totally charming and convincingly charmed, even when a cheeky audience member asked if he would give her his everpresent sonic screwdriver. He asked if she would be there through the end of the weekend, and when she said she would not, he declined. "I need it this weekend," he said. "How else will I unlock every door in the universe?"

He did say yes to several other requests, including panel-ending video getting in on the act of audience members marching in place to "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles," getting into the act started by David Tennant.

McGann revealed the joys of working in radio at a studio owned by a Cordon Bleu chef, his love for the book "The Great Gatsby" ("the greatest American novel") and when my companion for the day, 10-year-old "Doctor Who" fan extraordinaire Sawyer Mervis (pictured below), asked him if he had the chance, would he play the Doctor in a longer run, he said, "Absolutely. I would drop everything and do it in a heartbeat."

It hit him that Americans were catching up with UK fans in their love for the series last year, he said. at a convention for excited Chicago fans during last year's 50th anniversary celebration of the show. That's when he realized "the kids were listening to the audiotapes." The Big Finish series also ran on BBC7 Radio in short form back home, furthering his run as the Time Lord.

2014SawyerDoctorPC0927In England, many actors fill the gaps between stage and screen roles with radio roles. "It's a shame you don't do that here anymore, because Americans invented the radio drama."

During the Q&A, it was brought up that he hated the wig he wore as the Eight Doctor, and he was asked if he had any input into his costume. He did not, although he suggested that the Doctor be brought up to date with a fashionably shorter haircut and a leather jacket. That drew a laugh from the knowledgable crowd -- Ninth Doctor Eccleston arrive in 2005 with short hair and a leather jacket.

He's a fan of the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and he got to meet his acting idol and fellow Doctor, John Hurt, just weeks ago at a convention. Hurt and current show runner Steven Moffat were surprise guests, and they sat on a panel with him. As actors, he and Hurt could never reveal any details, so they got to sit back and let Moffat field questions.

"I don't like spoilers. They ruin it for everyone," he said, noting that a leak of five scripts from the current season had left everyone in the Who-verse wary.

It was the only time McGann did not seem to be forthcoming. He even got into the act of a Doctor reading speeches by another Doctor. Usually it's Matt Smith's Stonehenge speech but this time the fan asked McGann to read the speech from "The Rings of Arkhaten."'

It was a cold reading, McGann admitted, but he obliged, and it was radio ready.

Doctors who leave their fans smiling are cool.

Pittsburgh Comicon is at the Monroeville Convention Center through 5 p.m. Sept. 28.

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Houdini posters remade for TV mini-series, courtesy of digital hocus pocus

Written by Maria Sciullo on .

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Harry Houdini is the subject of a new two-part TV mini-series airing on History September 1-2. In popular culture, he's made appearances in several feature films and television specials, not to mention a stint on Broadway in the musical "Ragtime."2HB corrrrrrrect after 271x380

Thanks to some digital sleight-of-hand, Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody -- who stars in the History event -- has been re-imagined in a series of classic Houdini posters. Here are two of them.

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Welcome to The Capaldi Era of 'Doctor Who'

Written by Sharon Eberson on .

The latest season of "Doctor Who" wastes no time in getting to the point, but doesn't get right to the new face of the regenerated Doctor in the Season 8 premiere episode (Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m., with pre- and post-shows hosted by Chris Hardwick). And in this episode, appearances — what they reveal and what they hide — are everything.

The loyal trio of the reptilian Vastra, human Jenny Flint and Sontaran commander Strax have evolved into the Scooby-Whos (sorry, couldn't resist) of the series. They are ready and able to lend a hand, a ninja blade, whatever the Doctor orders when he happens to be in distress. They are front and center often for an episode that introduces a new Doctor, in this case Peter Capaldi (above) the 12th Doctor by most counts. He's lean and green at being a Time Lord, until the effects of regeneration wear off. His look reads a gray David Copperfield, and he possesses the proper restless, relentless energy of a Time Lord.

While he seems to fill the bill of quirkiness and derring-do required of the Doctor, this jury of one is still out on The Capaldi Era — it took me a full season to get past the loss of David Tennant and Matt Smith's chin before I warmed to the new guy, and I still miss Christopher Eccleston. The latter revived the now 50-year-old franchise about an alien Time Lord who travels in a TARDIS (a time machine that looks like a UK police box) and picks up human companions to share his adventures.

ClaraDW20140821Companion Clara (Jenna Coleman, left), the Impossible Girl whose history was revealed toward the end of last season, gets a bit of a raw deal here. She is not immediately accepting of this new Doctor, with his gray hair and lined face, and gets called out on it a number of times.

Clara and the Doctor are deposited in Victorian London and are immediately scooped up by the Doctor's merry band of followers: Vastra (Neve McIntosh) as the voice of reason, Jenny (Catrin Stewart) as her devoted human wife and Strax (Dan Starkey) as comic relief. The first five minutes of the episode is devoted to Strax, with his twisted understanding of humans and genders, giving a recap of the Doctors' regenerations through the years.

He speaks for us all — well, me — when addressing the concept of this latest regeneration: "The number of Doctors gets a little trickier later on."

And did I mention the T-rex in the Thames?

Here's the thing about this episode to be appreciated by fans. tThis episode played out as Steven Moffat's check list of addressing fan concerns. Aging the Doctor from 20-something Smith to 50-something Capaldi? Check. Where do the new looks come from when the Doctor regenerates? Check. Is companion Clara just a pretty face who only had eyes for her much younger Doctor? Check.

My favorite line belongs to Vastra, though, who says when she's confronted with a newspaper page filled with classified ads, "Advertisements, yes, so many. It's a distressing modern trend." If only.

The story itself seems to be a concept evolved from Moffat's other BBC series, "Sherlock." Vastra even says, "The game's afoot" at one point. The mystery isn't how the T-rex got there — it swallowed the TARDIS and brought the Doctor and Clara to Victorian London. The T-rex meets his demise in a manner seen in other recent sudden deaths, sparking a creepy mystery and a nasty new villain for the Scoobies and you know Who.

There's a not-so-surprising cameo toward the end of the episode that helps in this transition process to another new face in the "Doctor Who" canon, and a last-scene reveal that moves the story forward.

Chris Hardwick, aka The Nerdist, who will be in town a week from Saturday with the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, was naturally delighted to talk about this new incarnation of the Doctor when we spoke recently. He summed up the great expectations of "Doctor Who" fans this way:

"I'm really excited because I think Capaldi is such an interesting choice and will take the Doctor in different places than he's been before. I'm hosting this little wraparound show for the premiere on the 23rd of August. I love the show because I think it's a metaphor for life, because you lose the things you love and there's always a place in your heart for those things and those people but then you get to discover new people and new experiences. It's kind of like when Tennant turned into Matt Smith. I still loved Tennant but then I grew to love Matt Smith. And now, hopefully, I'll get to love Capaldi. It's just kind of nice that the show keeps reinventing itself. I don't know how long they are going to do it, but hopefully forever."

Photo credits: @BBC/BBC


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We're off to see the Wizard... 75 years later

Written by Maria Sciullo on .


Someone in our household wanted to watch "The Wizard of Oz" on VHS just about every day when she was little. So we know a bit about the MGM classic that is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend... oh yes, we do.

Various media sites are running those "(fill in a number) things you didn't know about "The Wizard of Oz," and for the most part, they are worth reading. Reminisce magazine has a particularly good feature with some nice images. 

Here's one of my own. When Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch sends the flying monkeys to harass Dorothy and her friends, she tells them she's sent an insect ahead to soften them up. It's a reference to a song and dance number that didn't make the final cut, called "The Jitterbug."

Although MGM's $2.7 million big film of 1939 had a splashy Hollywood premiere on August 15, then one in New York City several days later (with star Judy Garland performing), it actually debuted in the tiny Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12.

There are several theories to this, but the most common: the studio was eager to field test the movie in what it considered America's heartland. Some sources claim there was a similar early showing in Massachusetts as well.

Director Victor Fleming's film was initially a box-office dud. According to Box Office Mojo, it has since made about $23 million worldwide, but it's found a loving home on television. Broadcast in 1956 for the first time, it became a stand-alone TV event that ran on commercial TV until 1991. Those of a certain age will remember families gathering to watch, and how there was always a commercial break just after the Cowardly Lion freaked and jumped out the window in the Emerald City.

Today of course, the Wizard of Oz can be watched in any number of DVD versions, even rented on iTunes. Skipping down the yellow brick road on your iPhone? Now that is a horse of a different color.


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The first time I heard of Robin Williams was before 'Happy Days'

Written by Sharon Eberson on .

My first thought when my son Josh called tonight to ask if I'd heard the heartbreaking news about Robin Williams' death:

My high school friend and comedian Barry Sobel calling to say I had to watch "Happy Days" to see this guy who was going to appear as an alien -- Robin Williams' first appearance as Mork. Barry had seen Robin Williams in California clubs and said he was the most talented comedian ever.

I will try to keep remembering that first laugh at the sight of him and all the laughs that followed. I think I have to break out my Comic Relief T-shirt ...

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