There are a few Dr Who themed shows at the Fringe this year but this one is the only one where The Doctor is a woman. Or, at least, there's a woman (Jennifer Lusk) dressed as The Doctor because this is a story based around a meeting at the Nerd-Vana science fiction convention.
Ash (Jennifer Lusk) and Gene (Cameron K McEwan) follow each other on Twitter but have never met until the first day of the convention. Ash has travelled over from
try to meet her favourite Doctor, Peter Davison, and has dressed up as the
fifth Doctor for the duration, complete with TARDIS suitcase. She meets
Gene, typically dressed in geek attire of a character T-shirt and questionable
trousers, who is there to try to speak to someone about a script. Australia
On day one, he pokes fun at Ash for dressing up "like a man" and missing her iconic celery stick. On day two, she questions him over his statements on the panel for "Fake Geek Girls". We find out that Gene's ex is there, and dressed as Emma Frost from the X-Men and, although we never see her, we know how she fits the story because almost every mention of her is accompanied by a sound-bite of The Master's theme, arch nemesis from the Dr Who series. As the story progresses through days 3 and 4 of the convention, Ash doesn't quite make it to the front of the queue to meet her idol and Gene's script is "lost" but everything is eventually resolved.
However, the actual plot of this play, although great fun and entertaining, is not the real story here at all. Yes, the awkwardness in their relationship is important and the story follows a classic romantic comedy scenario of meeting, talking, arguing, falling out and making up. They discuss and argue over various geek points, like whether The Doctor could ever be a woman and what a female sci-fi fan's "role" should be at a convention, but it's not just a boy-geek meets girl-geek love story, it's also a story of acceptance, of everyone's need for a "safe space" to allow them to be themselves and an accurate study in Ash of what it's like to be a girl in a boy's club.
There were a lot of great geek references too, not just Dr Who related, scattered throughout the script and it became quite a challenge to spot some of the more subtle ones, they were so cleverly added in. When I went to see the show it was only their second performance and the cast came across well and got a good reaction. You could tell there were still a few nerves but these will easily polish out as the run goes on. The audience for the show I was at was comparatively small but still bigger than average for a Fringe show and I am sure that it will grow as more people find out about it.
After the show I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with Jennifer Lusk and Cameron K McEwan, along with their technical expert Issy Van Braeckel.
I asked Jennifer, as co-writer of the play with Keith Gow, where the idea for it came from and she said it is based on fact in a way, as it is vaguely similar to how she and Keith met. Also she had done a play at the Fringe last year based on one of her short stories, called "Photographing the Dead" and, as her visa is running out (she is Australian), this year would be her last chance for a while to get something on stage over here so she wanted to do something totally different. The play, like the Doctor, has gone through several regenerations over time and Keith, on reading the final script just before rehearsals, apparently said that it was like reading a play based on a play he had written, but that he still enjoyed it.
I asked Cameron, an actor and writer, best known in some circles for being the blogger behind the popular site Blogtor Who, how he got involved with the play. He said he was contacted by Emrys Matthews, the director, to see if he would be interested, and he turned it down flat. Further contact resulted in a meeting where the script was read and that was that.
With Jennifer playing Ash playing the Doctor, the chat drifted round to whether there ever would be a female in the role of the Doctor on TV and what were their reactions to Peter Capaldi's recent appointment to the role. The general consensus of opinion was yes there would be a female Doctor at some point but that the series would get cancelled very soon afterwards. Cameron said that he had not heard a bad word against Capaldi being the new Doctor. He himself thought that Capaldi was an exciting but overall safe choice and, after 8 years of the "new" Dr Who series, this was a missed opportunity to shake things up a bit and stop it stagnating. His choice for a "different" Doctor would have been either Helena Bonham Carter or Serenity actor Chiwetel Ejiofor but he hoped that Capaldi would deliver on the part. He also hoped that people were not expecting the new Doctor to be Capaldi's character in The Thick of It, Malcolm Tucker, because Capaldi is "far too good an actor for that". He was also aware that the show may lose some of the "fake geek girl" fans that were just viewers because of the "eye candy" younger leading men, but as Jennifer pointed out, Capaldi has that certain older-man thing about him anyway. Jennifer also added that the play had had a slight rewrite to take account of Matt Smith leaving Dr Who and the announcement of Capaldi as the new Doctor.
On the subject of the evolution of the play they told me that there are several sections of the play that are improvised differently every night - the riff on Peter Davison episodes for example, and the totally random fan memorabilia bought from the convention stands - like an R2D2 shoe - just the one though. This made me appreciate that both Jennifer and Cameron definitely know their stuff when it comes to geek trivia to be able to come up with convincing lines at the drop of a hat, as some of the references were fairly obscure.
Before I left them to their post-show relaxation (drinking) I felt I had to ask everyone who was their first Doctor and who was their favourite. For Cameron, technically his first was Tom Baker but he was a bit scared of him. So for his first, and his favourite, he chose Peter Davison because that's when he really started getting in to Dr Who as a show. He said that Davison's acting brought out a subtle humour and vulnerability in the character. For Jennifer, because of Australia getting daily re-runs of Classic Dr Who as she was growing up, her first was also Tom Baker and she thought that the first regeneration was the most ridiculous thing she'd seen on TV at the time. Her favourite is David Tennant. She loved the "love story" between Tennant's Doctor and Rose Tyler and also really enjoyed the forthright Donna Noble as a companion. I also asked Issy who, up until now, had been sitting quietly listening. Her first and favourite was Chris Ecclestone as she really enjoyed the darker side of the character that he brought out. She said that she hadn't seen much of the classic series but, from what she had seen already, Patrick Troughton was coming a close second for her favourite.
I left them to it then, after thanking them for spending time with me, and came away knowing and appreciating Dr Who just that little bit more.
Who Are You Supposed To Be is on at 15:40 until 26th August
C Aquila (Venue 21), Johnston Terrace (just across from the Hub), Edinburgh