Attending Chicago TARDIS with Best Fest Buddy Tom has become a Thanksgiving time tradition. This year’s convention turned out to tie things together nicely, if not in a big red bow, as material for this blog post, if not for some seasonal rumination.
Sure, there was all that turkey to eat, including the delicious rotisserie and smoked versions my neighbors served.
And I learned the crust-first-with-fork version of eating pie from one of Tom’s grandkids.
But Chicago TARDIS at the Westin in Lombard is where this story begins and possibly even ends.
In the long-running BBC series Doctor Who, the titular character travels through the ages, galaxies and universes in the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).
The Doctor gets involved in all sorts of adventures. With the help of his companions, the Doctor typically saves somewhere, usually the Earth, from something bad.
The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Obfuscating, the Doctor once told people Gallifrey is a small town in Ireland.
The Doctor also regenerates – 13 times so far, giving a baker’s dozen actors a chance to play the role. Currently, for the first time and to the dismay of some fanboys, a woman, Jodi Whittaker, has the part.
Sure, it can be silly. But the show has more heart than most Marvel Universe movies. That’s to say, it ain’t easy being a time-traveler with a dark secret who knows a thing or two about mortality.
Tom’s been a fan of the show since back in the 70s when WTTW and other PBS outlets ran it on weekends. Tom Baker is his favorite Doctor Who. They once both had long, curly hair.
As for Chicago TARDIS, this marked the 20th anniversary of the convention. Gene Smith, who owns pop culture collectibles store Alien Entertainment in Lombard, produces the gathering.
That means he books panels, brings in performers and others who have been involved with the show for talks, picks up such guests at the airport and sets up a room filled with Doctor Who memorabilia available from his shop and from other vendors and artists.
In a way, Smith is a Whovian hero, organizing the second largest event of its sort in the US while running a retail business that, like all retail businesses, faces challenges from the internet monsters that are Amazon and eBay.
I bought a TARDIS hat and a TARDIS Christmas ornament to show support, and, well, I have a geek side, too.
To attend Chicago TARDIS, I even sort of dressed like Nardole, one of Doctor Who’s companions. Yeah, he’s bald and pale, too. And I have a coat and hat similar to his. Sigh.
Tom, though, went all out. He wore the Santa suit he bought at Bronner’s. Nick Frost played Santa in the 2014 Doctor Who Christmas episode, Last Christmas, which is better than the recent movie of the same name.
This also provided Tom a chance to practice being Santa before tackling the role in front of the grandkids later in the month and making an appearance at an Irish Breakfast at Rosie O’Hare’s in East Dundee the morning of Dec. 14. Spoiler alert: I’m his elf, Bucky.
Before Tom turned into Santa for Chicago TARDIS, though, we stopped at Frankie’s Deli. The spot with the best muffaletta in the area had moved to Oakbrook Terrace from closer to Yorktown Center since we had been there last, two years ago. They are making way for more apartment buildings near the mall, because who wouldn’t want to live on a mall campus?
The new Frankie’s is nice, and the sandwiches still impressive, but I missed the old school deli feel of the prior location.
After lunch, Tom put on the Santa outfit, over his clothes, in the deli parking lot. He did this from the side of his SUV farthest from the road, just in case any kids might pass by in cars. He’s thoughtful that way. Yet, I wondered what the guy on break from this deli job was thinking when he saw Tom dressing – or if he snapped a photo on his phone.
Thus donned in our Who apparel, we hit the hotel for Chicago TARDIS. Once Tom stepped out of the Navigator, he felt for the first time what it’s like to dress like Santa in public.
People of all ages smile at you. They wish you a Merry Christmas. Women flirt with you. Tom even wound up with some parents asking him to pose with their kids, which he obligingly did.
Best of all, for Tom anyway, was having actress Katy Manning, who played one of Doctor Who’s companions, Jo Grant, notice him as he stood in the hallway, waiting for me.
At the time, I was busy talking to a vendor about a virtual running club for Doctor Who fans. What will the internet bring us next?
“She said she had been a good girl this year,” Tom told me, beaming a little bit.
This happened, plus Tom, and to a lesser extent I, helped the folks from Acme Design put up a replica TARDIS on Wednesday in advance of the convention. And Tom posed in his garb with a Dalek, even!
So Chicago TARDIS brought a touch of Christmas for one Santa. Is that what the kids call meta?
It felt like cannabis had already been made legal in Illinois! Our minds blown, we headed home.
That evening, Tom and I and his brother Mark wound up watching the much-acclaimed, really long Martin Scorcese film The Irishman on Netflix.
Sure, it’s a grand gangster pic. But with lines like “You don’t know how fast time goes by until you get there,” it reminded me of the better Doctor Who episodes.
Of the movie’s conclusion, Alissa Wilkinson wrote in Vox:
“What matters at the end is who we loved and how we loved them, and whether we treated them like they mattered. And the film leaves open the question we all face: If we messed that part up, what, in the end, was life really worth?”
Coincidentally, the guest priest at Sunday Mass at St. Monica’s, mentioned during his sermon comments Pope Benedict XVI once made about the role of joy in our lives.
Curious, particularly since Benedict hardly seemed a happy Pope, I looked online for what he had to say.
“Now, someone could ask whether it is right to be so happy when the world is so full of suffering, when there exists so much darkness and evil? Is it right to be so high spirited and joyful? The answer can only be ‘yes! ’Because saying ‘no’ to joy we do nothing of use to anyone, we only make the world darker,” the former Pope said. “And whoever does not love himself cannot give anything to his neighbor, he cannot help him, he cannot be a messenger of peace.”
Then I remembered and looked up the ending of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, Vincent and the Doctor.
As they gaze upward into the night, Vincent VanGogh tells the Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond,
“Try to see what I see. We’re so lucky we’re still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there! Lights are blue. And blue in through the blueness, and the blackness, the winds swirling through the air… and then shining. Burning, bursting through! The stars, can you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.”
All of which is good to remember through the holidays or any time of any year. That, and as the days go by, make some funny faces.