First of all I would like to thank all of the organisers of the conference in Chicago yesterday, specially Paul Booth. Thanks also to all of the panelists and to all of the audience. It was a great moment, and very informative.
Notes made in anticipation of my participation in the conference “A Celebration of Fifty Years of Doctor Who” in the panels on Fandom and the Longevity of the series.
Naturally not everything I wrote down was said, as it was a panel, and fluid, but I thought some of my insights worth saving.
It was the fall of 1984 when I first became aware of Doctor Who fandom. I saw an advertisement for the inaugural meeting of a Doctor Who club in Edmonton. We met in the back room of a stained glass studio, and watched the episode “Pyramid of Mars”. The club was affiliated with the Doctor Who Information Network, and I joined both.
It was a revelatory experience! People coming together to enjoy Doctor Who! There was a whole world of fan magazines, books and toys- and, sigh- conventions where you could meet those we saw on our tvs! It was a network of inter-related things which fuelled interest in the show.
Fandom has evolved a great deal since the mid-1980s.
With the cancellation of the series in 1989, fans had to create an even more sophisticated resource network to fill the void. The fans not only facilitated the viewing of old episodes- trading VHS tapes, but created their own adventures on video and in books. The internet has allowed fans to communicate and to disseminate their fan-fic. Doctor Who fans created a new universe to replace the one that had been controlled by the BBC.
While other science fiction series have strong fan bases, and indeed, like Star Trek, through the years following cancellation built up similar worlds using the series as a starting point, Doctor Who stands out as special.
These Doctor Who fans were the source of its rebirth. Russell T Davies, Stephen Moffatt and Paul Cornell, among some, were a part of its fan base, and participated within its community during the “wilderness” years. Davies was able to put Doctor Who back on the air, satisfy its following, more or less, and attract new viewers.
In simplistic terms, the old fans kept the flame, brought it back, and are able to exert a major influence on its performance and production.
[During the fandom panel, the discussion was turned specifically to our own experiences of fandom, and we were asked to talk about the oddest experience in fandom. I had none to offer. I feel like I must have missed out on the best/worst of the fan experience. While I did meet some very odd people, I didn’t have anything bad happen, or seriously funny. Man, what a sheltered life!]
Doctor Who’s Longevity
[I had first signed up for this panel with the title New vs Old so my thoughts are more geared to comparison]
It is a hard comparion to make new versus old Doctor Who. I like both old and new, but for different reasons.
So let’s start with the original series, which I started watching in the mid 1970s, when TVOntario broadcast it every Saturday night.
A lot of the appeal for old who comes from the fact that it was a ‘childhood’ favourite. But it differs from many series I watched as a child because I still watch it.
I bought the DVD for the first season of the Hardy Boys, a series of similar vintage which I used to watch. While I could still appreciate that Shaun Cassidy was cute, the show itself was lame. Doctor Who stood the test of time.
Nostalgia for the ‘Childhood’ Doctor Who moments play a role, as does a more general nostalgia for the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Doctor Who is a product of its time, and the modern eye picks out easily the dated costumes, the contemporary references, and the unsophisticated technology like rotary dial telephones.
As a historian, of course, these dated references are great, and are viewed with historical context- giving the stories an added complexity.
As you can imagine the time travel aspect is also a draw. The BBC has always been good at getting down the historical details. And because this is science fiction, I don’t get nearly as critical or upset when they get something wrong, like I do when I watch ordinary historical dramas. The presence of aliens helps suspend my disbelief.
Sure the special effects were rather cheap, even in their day, and the melting of Styrofoam doors with ‘lasers’ is a bit much, but the stories were generally well written, fast paced and carried over several half hour episodes. Your attention was kept, and you were often made to think.
New who is a lot like the old, keeping the faith with the old series- using familiar foes, etc., but it is also different. The stories are shorter, more contained, the production budget is more the special effects are more believable.
The writing is good, and I think there is more of a respect for the concept and its viewers.
So far the choice of stories, writers, and cast have been quite good. The character of the Doctor has been allowed to be more complex. He can be good, bad, sad, funny or in love, and often in the same episodes.
I have not always liked his companions in new Who, but then I cheered when they killed off Adric in the old series.
-timeliness- relevant stories
-nostalgia- in terms of watching old episodes
-old Doctor Who- special effects part of appeal
-time travel- flexibility and imagination
-sense of humour