What of Doctor Who?
Presentation at the 2013 PCA/ACA Conference, Science Fiction Fantasy Area
Gillian I Leitch
I decided to do a survey of Doctor Who fans in order to better understand their connection to the series, its characters, other fans, and perhaps to better understand its popularity.
In 1995 John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins published their studies on Doctor Who and Star Trek Fans entitled “Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek” [London, Routledge, 1995: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Fiction-Audiences-Watching-Fictions/dp/0415061415%5D Their focus was principally on the reactions of fans to specific episodes of Doctor Who: “Monsters of Peladon,” “City of Death,” and “Kinda.” The bulk of their interviews took place in Australia and the UK in 1982. Already Doctor Who had a long lived broadcast life, and was still enjoying the thrill of new episodes, although there are references to the later period, after its cancellation in 1989.
A more recent look at fans and their relationship to Doctor Who by Andrew O’Day in “Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays in Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012” [edited by Gillian I Leitch, McFarland, 2013: http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Time-Space-Explorations/dp/0786465492/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364503586&sr=1-1&keywords=doctor+who+in+time+and+space] deals with British fans of the original series, mostly through interviews, their relationships as fans of the series, with the series, with other fans, and how they consumed Doctor Who. SHAMELESS PLUG! How Doctor Who was broadcast, replayed, and shared, informed the relationships the fans had with the series.
I will begin this presentation by describing my methodology. I published/ distributed my survey online through my blog www.gilliandr.wordpress.com [http://gilliandr.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/doctor-who-survey-2012/ ], Twitter, and Facebook. I also emailed it out to as many as possible, hoping to elicit responses from a wide variety of sources. My questions were grouped mostly around the ideas of firsts and favourites, with room left for comments. I wanted qualitative and quantitative data. I also did a lot of research online, looking for more comments and fan surveys to round out the information I was presenting. Not all questions were expected to receive answers, but there was room for comments which often explained the absences.
My first conclusion from the responses I received was that Doctor Who fans don’t like surveys. At first I took this lack of response as a personal critique, but after researching fan sites and other surveys, I realized that actually I did quite well. One site had posted a survey in 2011, but after a while added a not stating that the deadline posted was being extended as only two responses had been received. That survey is still open.
Doctor Who fans are not a homogenous group, but there are some divisions which can be made. The first comes from the country of origin. Of the 20 responses I received where residence was stated, 13 were from the United States and 4 from Canada. I am assuming the rest also come from these two countries as well.
I could go into the cultural differences between the two countries, but rather than explain this, I will take it as a given, I will instead explain the different broadcast histories of Doctor Who which contributes to the differences between the two fan groups- particularly when they became fans, and the opportunities they had to watch the series to cement this relationship. It helps explain which episodes that they watched, and which characters and actors they were attracted to.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had purchased and broadcast Doctor Who in the 1960s- Hartnell and Troughton episodes, but it wasn’t a huge success, and at the time the CBC produced its own slate of programming. While it did purchase material from the BBC, particularly Coronation Street (which it still broadcasts), it did not rely on them for their main content.
In 1975 TV Ontario, an educational channel which broadcasts only in Ontario (currently 38.8% of the Canadian population). Coincidentally, it was aired on Saturday evenings, a similar time to the British broadcast. They broadcast the episodes in the original half hour format, and followed it with a short “educational” analysis, first by Dr Jim Dator, then author Judith Merrill. [Ed Conroy, “That Time When the Doctor Educated Ontario,” www.blogto.com/city/2012/09/that_time_when_doctor_who_educated_ontario/ (24/03/2013)] TVO aired the series until 1990, when the national cable network YTV (geared to children’s television programming) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YTV_(TV_channel)] purchased the rights to broadcast. They did so for a few years.
The rest of Canada got their fixt of Doctor Who the same way and time as American viewers, on PBS. In the late 1970s early 1980s individual PBS stations purchased episodes of Doctor Who as part of local programming. They dictated air times and format. Some showed the half hour episodes complete with cliffhangers, others broadcast them in their entire story arc. Canadians accessed PBS through cable.
In 2005, faced with a hockey strike and no programming, the CBC entered into a partnership with the BBC to finance and broadcast Doctor Who to great ratings. The US SciFi (now Syfy) Channel purchased it a few months later. The strike ended and the next season was aired, but not in the same way, with the same support. The Christmas Specials did not air at Christmas, and “Voyage of the Damned” never aired. The CBC ended this relationship four years later, and the series moved to Space Channel. The series is now aired on the same day in both countries, with an hour difference in the US’ favour.
So now it comes to the fans, and the survey. There is a marked difference of what was the first episode they remember watching- the Canadians all list the original series as their first, and also are more likely to list the older doctors as their favourite (although this is mixed- see further).
In general though, those who list older episodes as either their first or favourite episodes prefer Jon Pertwee as their favourite Doctor. There exists a bit of a divide between those who started watching Doctor Who in its newest incarnation and those who started watching during its original run. Fans of the original series have watched most, if not all of the original series. Fans who began to watch during the new series have not necessarily watched the old series. This is despite the availability of these episodes on DVD and Netflix. In fact, fans of the old series don’t dwell on their memories of the old series, but are more likely to purchase those DVDs or to watch them again on Netflix or other streaming services.
Another question I asked in the survey was whether or not they watched other science fiction series. In this I received multiple answers. Star Trek was the most popular answer- and in this I include all versions of Star Trek, although the original was the most mentioned. Battlestar Galactica was second. I assumed the respondents meant the new series and not the one from the 1970s, but they did not specify. Firefly was third, followed by Stargate SG-1 and Babylon 5. Only two respondents stated that they weren’t heavily into Science Fiction television, and each qualified this with a science fiction series that they did watch.
Oddly enough, only a few mentioned that they watched other British science fiction: Torchwood, Being Human, Primeval and Red Dwarf. Clearly there is a lack of Anglophilia among Doctor Who fans. They are not necessarily watching it because it is British.
As to what attracted fans to the series in the first place- most express a connection with the characters, mostly the Doctor, and the humour. And while some were not immediately captivated, they did come around to watching.
As to the choice of favourite episodes, the new series wins hands down. The divide is not present here. “Blink,” “the Girl in the Fireplace” and “Journey’s End” were the most favoured of episodes. And likewise, David Tennant was the most popular Doctor. The fans of the older series often stated more than one choice, and this is how Pertwee was the most popular of the older Doctors. This is also reflected in other surveys found online. Tom Baker was neither universally loved or hated, despite being the longest running doctor, and the doctor that most of the older Doctor Who fans saw first.
Christopher Eccleston was the least liked, followed by Colin Baker and Peter Davison.
As to the choice of companion, things get more complicated. Yes there were more options available- over 40 different companions over the run of the series but there was little variation in the two lists of favourite/ least favourite.
Donna was the most favoured of companions in the survey. She was chosen mostly because of the humour and chemistry she had with the Doctor. She is followed by Amy, then Rose.
Rose was the least favourite companion, followed by Martha and then Amy. Rose was not liked because of her personality- whiney, and the romantic relationship she had with the Doctor. Martha was considered hard to understand, especially as she had an unrequited love with the Doctor. Adric got only one vote. This is hard to understand, remembering the utter joy expressed by fans when his character was killed off in the early 1980s.
I then asked about favourite episodes- here not all respondents answered, as many were unfamiliar with the older Doctors.
Top Hartnell: Space Museum
Top Troughton: War Games; Tomb of the Cybermen
Top Pertwee: Terror of the Autons; Green Death
Top Tom Baker: City of Death; Deadly Assassin
Top Davison: Caves of Androzani
Top Colin Baker: Two Doctors
Top McCoy: Silver Nemesis; Survival
Top Eccleston: Empty Child; Doctor Dances
Top Tennant: Girl in the Fireplace, Unicorn and the Wasp
Top Smith: Vincent and the Doctor; The Girl Who Waited; Eleventh Hour
This is clearly a work in progress, and asks many more questions than I have answers for right now.
After such amazing questions and discussions I have decided to keep the survey open, and hopefully there will be more input about Doctor Who and its fans through the survey, and correspondence with me, to enable more solid conclusions to be reached about fans and their likes and dislikes, and where they began to be fans, watching, consuming Doctor Who.