For Maryland's 'Doctor Who' fans, a convention to revel in a cult favorite

"Doctor Who" fans to gather in Hunt Valley for the area's first convention in decades.

Kara Dennison’s a Whovian — a fan of the long-running British sci-fi series “Doctor Who” — because you never know who or what is going to show up.

Michael O’Brien loves it because it has never let low budgets or the limitations of conventional narrative get in the way. For Kathryn Patterson, the show’s become a good friend that helped get her through a family crisis.

And Connor Butler? Connor’s only 6, a little young to be understanding why he likes something. But in costume, wielding one of the doctor’s sonic screwdrivers with serious authority, he’s clearly a big-time fan. “He’s fun,” Connor explains, and what good Whovian is going to argue that point?

These are heady times for area "Doctor Who" fans. The show is still going strong, more than a half-century after its debut on the BBC. And this weekend, the first "Doctor Who" fan convention to hit the area in decades is set for Baltimore County's Hunt Valley Inn.

Scores of fans will be able to meet two of the 13 actors who have played the Doctor since 1963 (and visit with a third via Skype), dress in costume, watch episodes, buy and trade collectibles and generally immerse themselves in more Whovian culture than anyplace this side of the titular Time Lord's home planet of Gallifrey.

"I don't do anything that I don't personally want to go to myself," says (Re)Generation Who organizer Oni Hartstein, who sees (Re)Generation Who (named for the Doctor's handy ability to regenerate himself in the guise of another actor when on the brink of death, as well as a nod to the wide-ranging ages of fans) as a worthy companion to the Intervention conventions she and her husband, James Harknell, have been running in suburban D.C. since 2010.

"We were trying to come up with another convention idea," she says from her home in Brunswick, N.J., "and I remember saying that the only thing that I really like is 'Doctor Who' ... and then I stopped. There is no 'Doctor Who' convention! It was the only thing that I really liked that wasn't being done in the area already."

That "Doctor Who" is still on the pop-culture radar screen at all may strike some as amazing. Debuting on the BBC on Nov. 23, 1963, the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the show started off as a resolutely low-budget chronicle of the adventures of a time lord from another planet, able to jump back and forth in time and fond of saving civilizations (he's especially fond of Earth) and helping people in need.

Weathering numerous cast changes, the show originally remained on the air until 1989 — at 26 years, an impressive run for any series. But demand for the good doctor's exploits continued — much like demand for more adventures of the starship Enterprise on "Star Trek" were barely daunted by the initial series' cancellation in 1969 — leading to a TV movie in 1996 and the return of "Doctor Who" to series television in 2005. For the relaunch, Christopher Eccleston was cast as the ninth Doctor; currently, Peter Capaldi is playing the 12th (or 13th, if you count the out-of-character War Doctor played by John Hurt in 2013).

That's a lot of different guises, different plot lines and different eras for a single TV show, an awful lot of ground to cover for fans and for conventions. It's that very scope that appeals to so many fans.

"I admire the enormous storytelling potential of a show that can go anywhere in time and space," says Michael O'Brien, 46, a tech expert ad podcast writer from Chesapeake, Va., who will be in Hunt Valley this weekend. "Plus the audacity of the show, to do the craziest things on generally no budget, and trust that the audience was willing to run with them on that — I appreciate that."

Dennison, 34, an anime and video game editor from Newport News, Va., who is also convention-bound, agrees. "My aunt put it very well when she first started watching: 'Doctor Who' is never the same genre from week-to-week," she says. "One week it's a fairy tale, then it's a horror movie, then it's hard sci-fi, then it's something else. The core is always the same, but it's more like an old adventure serial than a sci-fi show. And there's something for everybody."

Other staunch Whovians praise the spirit of the show — its underlying optimism about the future and about human (and alien) nature. The Doctor and his companions (supporting characters lucky enough to accompany the Time Lord on his travels, often over multiple episodes) are an eminently embraceable bunch.

"It's not just about this silly guy who runs around," says Patterson, a 22-year-old student at the College of Southern Maryland in Leonardtown. "It's about hope. It's about how it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from. That's part of what makes his companions so great — he takes these people who are extraordinary, but they just don't see it. He doesn't make them great, he just helps them see the greatness in themselves."

Patterson credits the show's positive spirit with helping her get through a family crisis a few years back, when a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. "That's when, to me, the real love of 'Doctor Who' sank in," she says.

And like any good, ravenous fan base, Whovians take enormous pleasure in each other's company.

"It's great," says Erin Hamilton, 29, who lives in Silver Spring and works for KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that helps build community playgrounds for children. "This is one of those things where I'm just making new friends all the time — these people who love the same things that I love, and sometimes we find out that we live fairly close to one another. It's a great place to hang out and talk about the things we love."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

twitter.com: chriskaltsun

If you go

(Re)Generation Who kicks off at noon today and runs until 5 p.m. Sunday at the Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. Tickets are $20-$70, with various VIP packages available at an extra charge. For more information, go to regenerationwho.com.

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