So there I was. Ticket clutched in one hand, desperately uncomfortable 3D glasses in the other. To my left, I could see a girl in a TARDIS dress holding hands with the 10th Doctor, while ahead of me loomed a very shaky looking, life-size Dalek with a cinema staff badge pinned to its chest? I’m not really sure that Daleks have chests, but I guess you know what I mean. I was there. Finally. The 50th Anniversary 3D screening of The Day of the Doctor, the Doctor Who extravaganza starring Matt Smith, David Tennant and, astonishingly, John Hurt. Bloody hell.

It’s not that common for TV episodes to screen in cinemas. TV show spin-off movies are one thing, but an actual honest-to-goodness episode of the show? That’s got to be almost a first. Whether it was because of the 50th anniversary, or simply due to the novelty of seeing Who on the big screen, my fellow fans clearly thought this just as big a deal as I did. My sold-out screening was packed with cosplayers, covering the gamut of Doctors, companions, villains, and general detritus of the show’s universe. Those who weren’t in costume were almost all brandishing accessories — a Dalek necklace here, a fez there — all in the name of showing off their fandom.

But their enthusiasm didn’t stop there. If you’ve ever been to a midnight screening of a slightly geeky film, you might be familiar with the gasps, cheers and cries that tend to accompany every pivotal moment — and every bit of fan service. This was like all of those events rolled into one. Barely five minutes went by without noise erupting from the crowd, making this cinema screening a markedly different experience from my typical Doctor Who experience — tea in hand, quiet in the room and my girlfriend doing her best to look enthusiastic about the next 45 minutes of her life.

And that’s the beauty of the cinema screenings. They celebrate the real reason that Doctor Who is still running after 50 long years: the fans. This was the chance to unite the fans, to bring them together in celebration. Importantly, it attracted those fans who aren’t quite committed (or ballsy) enough to attend conventions and expos, but relish the chance to celebrate their favorite show in public with like-minded Whovians. Suddenly, the tweed-jacket-and-bow-tie combo became a symbol of shared beliefs, rather than a slightly stuffy academic’s outfit.

Somehow, watching the show at home will never be the same. My Doctor Who viewing will never again be accompanied by a chorus of cries and cheers – but at least the 50th anniversary let me have the experience once. Now – who wants to get me a sonic screwdriver for Christmas?

Watch Doctor Who in the U.K. and Europe free on BBC 1 via FilmOn here

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