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Timeless appeal lures TV fans

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They came from the United States, from Australia, from Germany and all parts of Britain _ and a few visited from galaxies beyond ours. Wearing bow ties and tweed jackets, odd hats and home-made Dalek dresses, the Time Lord's most fervent fans gathered in Wales last weekend for the first official Doctor Who convention since the show's 2005 relaunch.

"Yes, we came especially for this. We love Doctor Who, we love Matt Smith and we couldn't resist it, so we planned a holiday around it," said Lula Stratton, 39, from Chicago, who came with her husband and brother-in-law and was carrying armfuls of T-shirts and a giant autograph book. "We'll be doing a tour of the filming sites around Wales later."

If proof were needed that the science-fiction series has successfully rematerialised at the heart of British culture, the +pound+99($192)-a-head convention in Cardiff, billed as the ultimate Doctor Who fan event, did the job.

Since its relaunch the series has become a runaway BBC success, and it stamped its place as a British institution and South Wales tourist attraction with the sell-out convention.

The recent announcement that 25-year-old Jenna-Louise Coleman was to replace Karen Gillan as the Doctor's next assistant made headlines around the English-speaking world. Coleman's on-screen chemistry _ as yet unseen by viewers _ with Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, was described by the show's producer and writer, Steven Moffat, as "a miracle". She was, he said, "exactly mad enough" to step on to the Tardis.

But Gillan still held the stage at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, the city where the relaunched show's seventh series began filming last month, as she and her co-stars answered questions from fans of all ages.

"It's odd and strange," said Smith, indicating huge posters of himself as the Doctor alongside Gillan and their co-star, Arthur Darvill.

"Being part of a show like this, which has become so iconic, and knowing that this will never happen to me in my career again."

Fans stumping up the entrance fee got to meet not just the actors but also the people behind the special effects and prosthetics _ and, of course, the monsters. "There is a bit of an awed silence in this room, isn't there? I guess we never thought we'd see these characters face to face; it's the best day of my life," said 34-year-old Matt Daniels from Bristol.

The sci-fi series that has become a British TV institution _ spawning spin-off shows such as Torchwood and The Sarah-Jane Adventures and generations of fans _ is heading towards its 50th anniversary next year and the build-up is clearly under way.

The method of Gillan's departure from the show is a closely guarded secret, although feverish gossip was being exchanged at the convention.

She announced in December that she would leave, a "mutual decision" between her and the show's producers, but it didn't seem to affect the keenness of fans to pay +pound+20 to have a photo taken with her.

Doctor Who is known for giving great exits to its favourite characters, and Gillan has won herself legions of fans as the indomitable Amy Pond.

The show's long-standing physical special effects expert, Danny Hargreaves, told fans it was his "all-time perfect episode" _ which for a man in love with explosions, guns and smoke suggests a spectacular climax.

"It's going to be bigger and better, and more than that I'm not telling."

The most exciting revelation? "I was pretty astonished to hear from the special effects guy that Matt Smith is really scared of pyrotechnics," said 49-year-old Paul Smithers, at the convention with two friends he'd met online in a Doctor Who forum.

Three teenage girls who had come up from Dorset were more interested in the Doctor's new assistant.

"I heard her say that she found out when she was standing in Marks & Spencer holding an avocado, so I really liked her for that," said 16-year-old Phoebe Levien.

Her friend, dressed in a Dalek costume, nodded her antennae. "With a show like this things have to keep changing. That's what happens in Doctor Who and that's why it's so good," said Sophie Dick, 15.


Caption: Doctor Who actors Matt Smith and Karen Gillan turned up for the convention, although Gillan is about to be replaced in her role.

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  • APA 6th ed.: McVeigh, Tracy (2012-03-31). Timeless appeal lures TV fans. The New Zealand Herald .
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