C2E2 hears about Pluto

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sylvester McCoy put on an entertaining show for a large crowd in C2E2’s main hall. // all images: Astronomy: Michael E. Bakich
The fifth annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is over. It began Friday, April 24 and concluded Sunday, April 26. I was there as media, representing Astronomy magazine, for the fourth straight year. And, oh, was it fun!

The convention venue was the North Building of Chicago’s McCormick Place. I could tell you lots of stories about my time there, but the memory of one sticks out above all the others combined.

The event occurred Sunday at 12:15 p.m. on C2E2’s main stage. Titled, “The Doctor Will See You Now,” it was a live discussion with actors Sylvester McCoy (who played the 7th Doctor Who from 1987 to 1989) and Neve McIntosh (who plays Madame Vastra in the current series). Not only was it live, it was also spectacularly lively.

After answering a couple questions posed by the moderator, McCoy noticed that people were queuing up to ask him and McIntosh questions (standard procedure at panels like this one). Without another word, he ran off the stage and into the crowd of about 1,000 people and began fielding questions by shoving the microphone he was holding toward anyone who had their hand up. Around and around the room he went like a whirling dervish. I have attended many panels at lots of pop culture conventions. This was the most entertaining one by far.

But my science highlight came when a child of about 10 asked McCoy, “What is your favorite planet?” He immediately replied, “Pluto,” to rousing applause from the audience. Then, after a pause, he said, “Although technically I don’t believe it is a planet anymore.” As it happens, he was standing about three feet away from me when he said this.

This photo shows McCoy fielding a question from the author’s wife, Holley.
“Oh, yes,” I replied without thinking, “Pluto is definitely a planet.” A second later, McCoy was next to me with the microphone. “You think Pluto is a planet?” he queried. “I’m an astronomer,” I said, “and I can tell you definitely that Pluto is a planet.” Another cheer went up from the crowd.

“So it’s coming back,” he said, almost to himself. “Yes, it’s coming back in a big way,” I answered. As we all know, 2015 is going to be a big year for the littlest planet.

Doctor Who is a natural fun outlet for anyone who loves astronomy. The show deals with space and time and interweaves the two like no other. And throughout its 50-plus-year run, the program’s 12 Doctors have traveled not just everywhere, but every-when as well — from the Big Bang to the last planet in the universe. It must be great to be a time lord.

It certainly was great to meet one of the men who has played a time lord. I want to thank Sylvester McCoy for giving me the chance to interject just a bit of science into his science-fiction world.

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