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.
I 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.
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.
In 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.