“Science is a way of talking about the universe in words that bind it to a common reality.
Magic is a method of talking to the universe in words that it cannot ignore.
The two are rarely compatible.”
―Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic
May 11th is the anniversary of an episode of Doctor Who that among many fans of the show lives in infamy, but for me is a work of art that has changed my life. It has inspired me, caused me pain, physical and emotional, remade me, then broke me again. Nightmare in Silver has become such a integral part of who I am that some people equate me with the titular villain of the story – Mr. Clever. If that sounds arrogant or over the top its because my spouse typed it.
All I can say is that it has been a bumpy 6 years since I started cosplaying as this character. I have learned a lot, made friends and lost them again.
I wanted this to be a review of the episode. A critique from the perspective of Mr. Clever. But how do I separate the joy of the episode from how I used that joy to craft this whole new persona and just run with it? I guess I can’t. So instead I came at this in a rambling, disjointed diatribe that became a novella on how this episode changed my life. The moment my Doctor, Matt Smith, stepped off the TARDIS onto Hedgwick’s World.
Six years ago, my spouse and I were sitting in bed and continuing our watch of Matt’s run on Doctor Who. CJ had been a fan of David, and I had already fallen in love with 11. His goofiness combined with his dark side had already won me over.
I remember CJ leaning towards the screen saying “Wait. This one was ALSO written by Neil? There were TWO? How come no one told us?”
We’ve always been huge fans of Neil Gaiman. I remember when CJ and I first started dating, we would have nightly conversations about American Gods. Now, of course, I know why no one told us. As much as I love NiS, I am in the minority. Watching it, I thought that somehow people just must have missed this one. Because how could you not love it?
Dead amusement park. Written by Neil. Warwick Davis. Little silver bugs. Cybermen. Cool chess game. And the single greatest villain ever. I mean, come on.
Looking back, I recalled a friend telling me that I would love Neil’s episode, and of course I know NOW that she meant The Doctor’s Wife, but every time I see her in person I smirk as she shakes her head.
Someone asked me once if I knew how long Clever was on screen, like in total. I sat down and clocked it once. It comes in at roughly 9 minutes. As I sit here and listen to the tippety tap of my keyboard, I look around at all the Clever swag that I have gotten over the years, the gifts that people have given me, the fan art, all the little silver creatures scattered around my house. Its incredible to me to think back and try to remember what my life was like before this. BC? Before Clever? Before con life? Before cosplay? Nine minutes changed my life.
A path is built by placing one stone at a time. How does one single character manage to be that stone, to set in motion a series of little events that lead to life altering decisions for so many people. And it all had to line up so perfectly. If I had already known what cosplay WAS, I don’t think I would have tried this. If I had already known what photoshoots were, and meet ups and cons, and had fb pages, and had friends that were Whovians – I think I would have been too freaked out to try to cosplay. I know for sure that if had known that people would have taken my photo and put it on the internet, I would have never even tried this. If I wasn’t allergic to so many things, would I have even found the mixture of ingredients to make the perfect working Cyberplanner piece? Who knows. One stone at a time, and the path was laid.
And what a path it has been.
I have learned a lot, made friends and lost them again.
I used to watch Doctor Who when I was very young, though I don’t remember much. My grandmother loved Tom Baker. Used to say “Oh, that man looks great in a scarf”.
Fast forward to 2009, CJ and I were living in California, and we started watching the 9th Doctor on reruns. But Matt’s run had already started. At the time I only knew one other person who watched Doctor Who and she was telling me that she “hated the new Doctor. Bring back David”. That was all I remember except for a few whispers here and there about Matt until MISTI-Con in 2013.
MISTI was where I met most of the costumed people that I admired and aspired to become. They were so perfect. Especially a pair of cosplayers I am still friends with today – The Malfoys. I still didn’t know what cosplay meant. I heard it once or twice, but only in reference to Anime. My friends called themselves costumers, performers, actors. Not cosplayers. So that is what I thought was the norm.
We finally finished David’s run and CJ was pretty upset. And TBH, David’s last episode is still one of my favorite endings. I loved it then and still find it moving now. We didn’t start Matt right away, but I was already searching Pinterest and Tumblr for memes and gifs of the 11th Doctor and already fell in love with him without even seeing an episode.
I thought I would make CJ feel better about losing David by buying him a fez. Except I didn’t want to take it off. And it became mine. Which kind of started a whole wardrobe filled with 11’s items. And I mean a wardrobe. I have an antique wardrobe that was my grandmothers filled with items that 11 wore. Mind you I never wear them, unless it’s for Clever. But I have them.
I tried cosplaying as ‘Town Called Mercy‘ 11. I tried the ‘Let’s Kill Hitler‘ green coat. I tried the standard purple coat sans Cybernetics. Eh. Wasn’t for me. I didn’t like it. Like all the other costumes before, I just didn’t get the appeal. I couldn’t understand why “those people dressed up”. Try as I might, I couldn’t be a Malfoy.
Until I saw 11 get converted into Mr. Clever. I lost my damn mind. I really couldn’t tell you why. Still. SIX years later. I don’t know what clicked. I have tried to analyze it, I have tried to figure it out. I don’t know. But I HAD to be him. Watching his smirks, his flirty outbursts, how manipulative he was. Or maybe it was the line about being effected by gold and cleaning fluids (two things that I’m allergic to). I knew instantly that he was my cosplay, my character. Maybe its because I knew I couldn’t act, and to me, cosplay is about the performance, so I knew I had to pick someone close to my own personality, or at the very least something that I could pull off. Or maybe its cause I always loved cybernetically enhanced things. Who knows? But at that moment the first stone of my path was put into place.
But HOW to become him? HOW was I going to pull this off? Looking at myself – long blonde hair, not exactly young and thin like Matt was, and well, not cybernetically enhanced. I refused to wear a wig. So dying my hair was the first permanent thing I did. But for two years, I refused to cut it. I thought I was too fat for short hair, and I didn’t want to be that person that cut their hair to look like a celebrity. Which was dumb. I could have saved myself and my friend Kat MANY hours of braiding my damn hair if I had just chopped it all off to begin with. Eventually I did chop it off to look like Matt’s. Thank god for Ashley and later Sarai, for being the amazing stylists that they are. Instead of taking two and half hours to get into costume, it now only takes about hour and half.
Next I started the acquisition of all the screen accurate pieces I would need. I managed to find all the pieces except for a coat. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to wool – lucky me. Include that in with the hundreds of things that I’m allergic to, so my search was a difficult one. I got very lucky and found a purple coat at a thrift store that I used for about the first two years. Very far from screen accurate but no one seemed to notice. I was all over BBC sites and in DW magazine with this coat. Eventually I got a custom made one and then this past Christmas I took a HUGE chance and got the Abbyshot replica which has become my favorite coat, not only because it doesn’t make me itch, but because it looks and feels fabulous.
So: Hair. Check. Costume. Check. Accessories including cybermites and hand pulse. Check. Now what to do about my face? Again, at this time I didn’t know any other Whovian cosplayers when I put this costume together. I didn’t know there were resources: forums, pages, groups, etc. I knew what I wanted, and I was going to become that. I did know one person who worked with prosthetics, so I asked him if he had ideas.
“Yes, use latex”.
“Um, I’m deathly allergic to that.”
“Well, you’re shit outta luck.”
I did some research on what people used for movies. Mostly latex, silicones, rubbers and urethanes. All things that I can not touch. Someone told me to search youtube. But I have never learned anything that I know how to do except by trial and error. So I sat down, and I experimented. I tried various clays. Nope. That burned a cyberplanner shaped rash onto my face. I tried Eva foam. Ugly as hell, made me itch and didn’t stick anyway. I gave up on the “suggested materials” and made my own. Fragile. Lightweight. Breaks by looking at it, I swear. But it works. 22 days later and I had a working, blinking, wireless cyberplanner piece. It is the most incredible thing I have ever made and the one piece of art that I am the most proud of, and the only thing I have *ever* made for myself.
As an artist, over the years, I’ve made many pieces; from remade Breyer model horses, to wands and jewelry but only if it was a commission. Only if people paid me. That was my job. I never made art for fun. For myself.
Until I sat down to make the cyberplanner piece. No clue what I was doing, but I knew it had to be done. I had never done anything like this before – or since. It was an act of magick, filled with passion and planning and pain.
Every time I hold it in my hands, it fills me with such a sense of pride, wonder, and excitement. Well, until I have to put it on. Or until I have to take it off. Or until it gives me migraines. Or until it pushes into my head all day and causes me actual pain. I guess it’s more accurate to say I have a love/hate relationship with this…I don’t know…horcrux?
It’s more than a costume piece. More than a cosplay. Its pure magick. Something that resonates on its own, but incomplete without its owner. I feel incomplete sometimes when I’m not wearing it or maybe just feel more complete when its on. And sometimes I feel like I’m not worthy. Like Mjolnir and Thor.
Now I was ready…
Arisia 2014. This was the catalyst. The start of con life and all things Cyberiad and Clever and friends. Rewind to my life before – BC. Going out, socializing. It was hard, it was almost non existent, and it was harrowing. Especially getting dressed. Ugh, even now I just hate dressing up. Clothes are the enemy. I’ve always had issues with my appearance. Hated myself, my looks. Always been the ugly one, the fat one. Going out in public was never easy for me. Deciding to throw on a costume and go to a convention was an odd, out of character choice for me. Certainly for CJ. But we grabbed a friend, and off we went.
Boston Whovians were having a photoshoot but I didn’t want to be a part of it. Photos? Oh hell no! We stood at the bottom of the escalator and watched the procession of Whovians go by. ‘I’m going to just stand in the shadows and hope no one sees me’
Our friend said, “You know your face blinks, right?” and suddenly I heard what I think was “Mr. Clever you better get your ass to this photoshoot” from the best looking River Song cosplayer I’ve ever seen. (Cat Smith, and who turned out to be a good friend shortly after.) I remember looking around for advice and him saying “Someone who very well could BE River Song just screamed the word shoot. I would follow her if I were you.”
SIDE NOTE: River Song is my second favorite DW character, so it didn’t take much convincing.
I was very blown away with the amount of people at this meet up, and was not expecting so many people to come running up to me, posing me, asking for photos and calling me “delicious”. (Yes that happened) I posed for one particular photo for my friend Lynn Wine, and that is the pic that ended up going viral. Not long after Arisia, it ended up on Geek Universe, The Nerdist, a few other geek sites, and got retweeted by BBCA. That was shocking for me, and I was not 100% sure how I felt about seeing myself all over the place. But that is how it began.
It’s more than a costume piece. More than a cosplay. Its pure magick.
Of course, with all the good things, there is usually bad. This is also the time period where I first started getting hate for my choice of characters, how I presented the character, etc. I talk all about that in another post here – Haters Gonna Hate. Even with all the hate and negativity, I would not trade this, nor do I have a single regret.
I can’t emphasize enough how much my whole life changed at that very moment; Arisia 2014 was truly the point of no return.
And as with all my more personal posts I need to include something Taylor Swift:
Another year, another wonderful masquerade at the Hawthorne hosted by Creative Collective. This year’s theme was Game of Thrones, which proved a little more challenging for me than previous years did. How am I going to work Mr. Clever into this theme? Especially given that I am very unfamiliar with the world. I came up with the idea of Clever of Dragons, and had a few ideas on how to make it work. Unfortunately most of my ideas looked great on paper, but just didn’t seem to pan out the way I wanted.
I had started to make a dragon shaped cyberplanner, and as amazing as it came out, it just did not fit well on my face, nor did it want to actually stay on. So I scrapped that, and just wore my alt cyberplanner piece. My good friend Mandi, who also happened to win Best Mask, made a caplet for me, which did not end up draping over me as well as I had hoped. So I scrapped that as well. All that I really ended up with was my cyber dragon – Fernando. Which came out very well.
The Iron Throne was a fun and interesting photo opportunity. Witch Pix, the folks who ran the photo booth this year were really on point and went out of their way to help attendees pose to get the perfect photo. There were acrobats and themed foods. The best decoration though, in my opinion, was the giant dragon that they had in the ballroom. It was not only gorgeous, but was brought in from a private home in Marblehead. Someone just made as a decoration for themselves, it was so nice to see because it just felt like such a great sense of community to have it there.
I did have a hard time interacting with the performers because I just did not know who they were supposed to be so I did my best and told all of them that I thought they were beautiful and I hoped they won the Throne. That seemed to please them.
It was a very fun night out with friends and as always a great party. Already looking forward to next year.
My first time saying YES to being a guest speaker on a Doctor Who podcast. I met some of the wonderful people from Man Bites Media and Diversely Geek while at SqueeCon, so I could not say no. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part this three-part series that talks about “The Influence of the Doctor. ”
I hope you will tune in and enjoy listening to us discuss how Doctor Who changed and influenced our lives and the lives of our friends and the community that we move around in.
For those that may need a TW, I do, however briefly, towards the end, discuss my experiences with sexual assault, and the many types of threats that I have had throughout the years. Brief mentions of r*pe and transphobia.
When I first decided to do my Clever of Dragons Doctor Who/Game of Thrones mash-up for the Winds of Winter masquerade ball I figured since it was going to be pretty obscure I needed some sort of prop to make it fun and to have something to tie in to the theme. The concept of a Cyber-Dragon staff seemed interesting and fun! And totally something Mr. Clever would carry.
Obviously, it was going to be silver, and I knew I wanted its eyes to be blue to match the blue lights on my cyberplanner. I had never worked with props of this nature before and the process proved to be a little bit more challenging than I thought especially since my craft area is not very conducive to making anything larger than a cyberplanner.
I also don’t have space away from my cats. Which is a whole other challenge!
I started with a roll of wrapping paper and I decided to make the basic head shape of the dragon itself out of paper mache. Mind you, I have never worked with paper mache before, not even as a child. The reason for this is that newspaper is part of the long list of things I am allergic to. So I wasn’t able to do work with the paper mache as well and as long as I had first planned. I did the best I could with it, and ended up filling in the gaps with aluminum foil and tape.
At first, the shape looked way off.
Each individual dragon scale was made out of thin craft foam. Initially, I wasn’t going to cover the cardboard tube completely but that just got a little bit away from me. I started cutting out a few scales here and there, sometimes in bed, sometimes at the hair salon, sometime while I was waiting for laundry to dry – wherever I could. So I figured, well, I have all these scales, might as well glue them on.
The plastic that I ended up using for the eyes and the chestplate actually came from a Quidditch set that CJ got me for Christmas. The set came in a box, with all the Quidditch balls, protected in this one piece of plastic. I got so excited because I realized that the plastic was the perfect shape and size for the eyes and chest. It was also the moment where I realized that I went full on cat, as I was more excited about the packaging that I was about the product.
I carved out a hole in the wrapping paper tube for the chest plate, then cut out the eye holes in the head, put the plastic in. Found blue LED lights and strung them through. I then cut out a hole in the back of the tube for the lights’ battery pack. After that I just used a glue gun to glue the rest of the scales around the remaining openings.
To finish the head, I covered it the best I could with the rest of the scales, aluminum foil spikes, and window insulation around the eyes. I covered the entire thing in silver spray paint…
… and off I went to the ball. Except I forgot to cover it in sealant and my hands were covered in silver paint the entire night of the ball. I fixed it later, sealed it, just in case I ever use Fernando again. Yes, we have decided that his name shall be Fernando.
I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at a tutorial! Stay tuned for more on future projects!