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Do you like fish fingers and custard?: Doctor Who goes to Sunderland

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Phil Roberts Phil Roberts | 13:45 UK time, Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Doctor Who tour busI've just seen a seven foot monster on the streets of Sunderland - but don't worry, it was actually an actress called Sarah - after a good hour or so in make-up, that is. The result was impressive. She was there playing a Weeping Angel at a Doctor Who premier that I hosted yesterday. The event was one of five over three days: part of a whistle-stop tour to mark the beginning of a new series of Doctor Who - and a new cast to match.

Our event included a preview screening of the first episode, which worked really well in the University of Sunderland's HD cinema. The programme was introduced by none other than the new Doctor himself, Matt Smith, and his Assistant, Karen Gillan. They arrived on a branded tour bus (see pic above) - not quite the TARDIS, but still certainly impressive.

Allocating the 200 tickets for the event actually turned out to be a little controversial. We knew from the outset that it wasn't possible to open the premieres to members of the public, so we worked with BBC Outreach to pre-ticket the event. We felt that the fairest way to distribute tickets was by working with local primary schools. However, we also knew that some fans may still feel disappointed - and we were right. We had numerous requests for entry and there was even a Facebook group set up protesting that the events should be opened up to the public.

Children at the Doctor Who event, Sunderland UniversityEven I've been surprised by the reaction - the strength of the Doctor Who brand is amazing - we've even had requests for memorabilia from the tour to be put on sale. We weren't able to hold any additional premieres, so couldn't help the fans who got in touch, but I do hope that hasn't put them off. There will, however, be public events to mark the new series at BBC Big Screens from 1st to 3rd April in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Plymouth and Swansea.

After the event, I still feel this we ran the ticketing system in the fairest way possible and having such a young audience created a real buzz on the day. The children seemed genuinely excited - as were all us adults!

The highlight of the day had to be the moment when Matt and Karen arrived and all the kids started screaming and applauding like mad. Alfie Joey from BBC Newcastle did a great job of keeping the audience entertained while we were waiting for the bus to pull into the University campus, as well as during the Q&A session after the episode. One young member of the audience posed the insightful question to the Doctor: "Do you like fish fingers and custard?" I can reveal, hot off the press, for all you fans that the answer is "Yes!"

Karen Gillan and Matt SmithFor me, the event was a great example of the BBC working better together internally - joining up with the Doctor Who team from Wales, BBC Outreach in London and getting some great coverage for my teams at BBC Newcastle and Look North. See for yourself by watching the film.

I also think it was a great day for Sunderland. We worked in partnership with the University and their team did a great job. We had the local and regional press there and I got a genuine sense of taking the best of the BBC to a place where you wouldn't usually find it, which was another key motivation for this tour.

Sunderland was chosen as a location in the context of BBC North, which is all about focusing more of the BBC's resources in the north of England. The most significant piece of that project is the relocation of BBC Sport and Children's (amongst other departments) from London to MediaCity in Salford. MediaCity will open next year and I'm optimistic that means we'll see more evidence of the BBC's commitment right across the north.

Now I'm looking forward to the Doctor Who series starting on TV so I can see what happens next! The first episode will air on BBC One at 6.20pm on Saturday 3rd April.

Check out all the action from the tour at bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/dw/news

Phil Roberts is Head of the BBC in the North East and Cumbria

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