My First Doctor Who Convention, 1982

Its name lives on in the murky annals of pre-Internest Doctor Who fandom:


Oh, all right, it’s official name was Comicon/Panopticon West 1982, but the con earned the Sweatcon moniker. It was the middle of the summer, with temperatures in the upper 90’s and humidity to match, and being in downtown Chicago with all those tall, heat-generating buildings didn’t help matters any. The facility– the Americana Congress Hotel, right on Michigan Avenue– had seen better days. The central a/c system took one look at the hoards of people who descended on the hotel to attend the convention and gave up.

So, yeah, it was hot and sweaty, and made worse by the fact that many of the attendees had on 4th Doctor scarves. Me, after surviving a very hot Friday, and knowing what I would have to wear Saturday evening for the Masquerade, well… I pulled out my Leela costume.

Your Charming And Delightful Blogger as Leela, 1982

Quite popular with the gentlemen I suddenly became that day. Oh, and I think I intimidated Sarah Sutton. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

So… rumor was that 10,000 people showed up to attend the Doctor Who part of the convention. (For, yeah, it was a two-in-one thing, Comicon taking place in the grand ballroom and several meeting rooms on one floor, and Panopticon West (the DW part) taking place in rooms (and ballroom balcony) one flight up. Even then, I thought the 10K figure was exaggerated– perhaps just 2K or 3K more people than anticipated showed up. In any case, it was a mad crush, and certainly more people came for the good Doctor than for the comics.

Here’s the view from the balcony, where all the DW-related dealers were shoved:

The dealers area of Panopticon West 1982

In truth, I don’t remember all that much of the con, because it was 26 freaking years ago. I do know that I spent a good chunk of Friday in the teeny tiny video room catching up on the New New Doctor. (I blogged about it in greater detail last year.) I also trolled the dealers’ area (when I could squeeze in– tricky, that), where I discovered something truly amazing: fan clubs.

Oh, I was vaguely aware of the North American Doctor Who Appreciation Society (NADWAS), run by an older lady named Barbara Elder. I may actually even have been a member of it by then– memory fails as to when I actually joined, but I still have my membership button so there nyah. But… I had no idea that there were regional clubs as well. Oh, no, not “regional” as in “local to Chicagoland,” because really, I don’t think Chicago fandom quite had its act together by then. “Regional” as in “Other Parts of the Country.” Several clubs had representation in the dealers’ room. A club out of Columbus, OH (whose name alludes me, but I can tell you it was run by Robert St. John and Jean Airey) had a table there– they were hosting Panopticon West the following year and were selling memberships to it. Two girls about my age (which, was, eep, 18) manned the table the entire weekend, and I kept going back to chat with them.

Two girls from Columbus, Ohio.

Although I kept up a correspondence of sorts with them for a year or so afterwards, and hung a bit with them at their Panopticon the next year, I have absolutely no idea what their names are. Ah, well, that only goes to show that long-term memory is the first to go….

The real mind-blower, though, was the Companions of Doctor Who out of New Orleans, LA. More specifically, the artwork of club officer Cheryl Duvall. Those of you who go back in fandom as far as I will recall her as the cartoonist who did buttons, stationery, postcards, etc. that you absolutely, positively had to own. (I still have a large box of her buttons, and a catalog of her work that I might just Acrobat-ize for y’all one day.) A visual reminder of her work:

Cheryl Duvall\'s work on display, 1982

(Cheryl eventually became part of JNT’s group of older lady hanger-ons, which also featured Jean Airey, Laura Kyro (from the Saint Louis Celestial Intervention Agency) and Gail Bennett (who was involved in Florida fandom, and did the artwork of Jon Pertwee that was used in the episode “Timelash.”)

(Note: when I say “older lady,” I mean they were in their mid-30’s to mid-40’s. A proper age to me now, but to the Teenage!Jenn, that was older than dirt.)

In addition to the dealers and the videos, we had panels. Oh lordy! The convention had actual actors and writers and producers from the actual series OMG!!!!1!111! In attendance were John Nathan-Turner (who never met a convention he wouldn’t attend, especially if it were in the U.S.), Terry Nation, Anthony Ainley, and Sarah Sutton. It was amazing– mostly because virtually no one in the audience had seen any of them before, so all the same-old, same-old questions that were asked were brand spanking new and therefore interesting. Despite the crowds, I was able to get close enough to snap a couple of pix, including this one:

Guests of Honor at Panopticon West, 1982

Saturday morning, Sarah Sutton wandered around unattended in the con hallways, chatting with the fans, signing autographs, and getting gooned out by a tall girl in a Leela costume. Well, I asked her a question or two about “Black Orchid” (which I had just seen the day before). She answered politely enough, but her eyes widened when I approached her, and she seemed somewhat glad to get away. She’s very small, you have to understand, and I suppose the sight of 5’7″ me wearing the Leela costume would be enough to goon anyone out….. As you can see, though, she survived the encounter:

Sarah Sutton signing autographs, Saturday of Panopticon West 1982

Other things I can say about the con:

  • It was organized really well, despite the massive crowds. Sure, I had to wait a couple of hours on Friday for my badge, but things moved smoothly and no one– attendees or workers– seemed to crank out.
  • Video programming at least went well into the evening. I had to leave by 7 p.m. on Friday, though, in order to get back to the train station for the ride back into the suburbs while it was still light. And, although my soon-to-be stepdad came downtown to pick me up on Saturday night, I still had to leave right after the Masquerade ’cause he wasn’t going to wait up forever for me to call. In any case, Pertwee episodes were shown at night, so I didn’t get to see any of them. Not that I really cared much– even before seeing his stories, his Doctor didn’t particularly excite me.
  • I had lunch on Saturday with my spiritual sister’s then-boyfriend, gooning out the people at McDonald’s with my costume. I mention it only because it’s something that sticks out in my mind from the weekend.

There’s one last highlight to go… but I’m saving it for its own post. Next time we delve into the past, I will tell you the tale of my First Masquerade. Can you stand the excitement?

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2 thoughts on “My First Doctor Who Convention, 1982

  1. Okay, in picture #3 of the two Columbus gals, that’s Sandra on the right. If it’s any consolation, these were all friends of mine and I also can’t for the life of me recall the name of the girl on the left! The shame.

    The name of our group was “The Prydonian Renegades”. Other names that might ring a bell are Laurie Haldeman, Connie Faddis, Rhonda Reece (still one of my best friends and my co-editor on the zine “Zeta Minor”), Erika Rauscher, there were two Scotts in there somewhere and, oh dear, I really should remember more but don’t.

    Ro and I still joke about the sweat.

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