The upcoming fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who seem to be, for me a wonderful time to reflect on the series, and my life as a Doctor Who fan.
I have had the great fortune to be on a number of panels and conferences and conventions, and have been asked which was my first episode of Doctor Who. I must confess that I sincerely do not remember my ‘first’ episode, and I am seriously jealous of those who can remember that apparently life-changing moment when they watched the Doctor. I do know that I watched the series when it was first broadcast on TVOntario in the mid-1970s, and remember that it was on just before Saturday at the Movies with Elwy Yost. I have vague recollections of ‘The Brain of Morbius” and watching it with my brother, but this was not my first episode. I do know that Jon Pertwee was my first Doctor, and remains, my favourite Doctor. It is even possible that when we visited my grandparents in England I also watched it there. Couldn’t say for sure. Doctor Who has just always been around, and a part of my viewing life.
I liked the show because of the humour, the good stories, and the fun. I like television that entertains, but doesn’t treat you like a dunce. There were interesting stories, and they made you think, but they also made you smile. Doctors and companions may change over time, but these stayed the same.
When my family moved out west, my brother and I watched the series on the PBS station coming from Spokane, WA. For a small while they aired during the week, but eventually they were aired on Saturday nights, the complete stories. Sometimes this meant watching until well after midnight. The parents usually retired earlier, so it was like a treat. It was like a guilty pleasure, watching a long story well into the wee hours.
By the time I was in high school I was a serious fan, which I would say differs from someone who just enjoyed the show, like my brother. I consumed Doctor Who. I discovered that there was a Doctor Who Magazine, books, and stuff. It was like a world opening up for me. Of course, the real turning point was going to my first Doctor Who meeting. My brother came with me. We met at the back of a Stained Glass Art Studio and watched the story “Pyramids of Mars” which is a good one, I must say. This was the beginning of the club called ’10-0-11-00 by 02 from Galactic Centre,” and the Doctor Who Information Network. I met some great people in the club (and some not so great), and it through it I was able to go to conventions, and meet some of the amazing talent that produced and starred in the series. How wonderful to connect to the series on a more intimate level.
My first convention was Timefest ’86. It was held in Spokane, WA, and brought in a super number of people. I met John Nathan Turner, John Levene, Nicholas Courtney, Anthony Ainley, Ian Marter, Katy Manning, and Richard Franklin. Jon Pertwee had been invited but unfortunately couldn’t make it. It was all very wonderful. I got all their autographs- a phenomenon I doubt I could have done nowadays as they charge for autographs now. Anthony Ainley was a darling, I went with my programme for him to sign, which he did, but then he also game me a Master game book which he also signed.
These were really the glory years, which I look on now with a great deal of nostalgia. Such fun! Doctor Who was still in production, and there were new episodes coming along. Then came the twenty-fifth anniversary, and our club organized a convention. We invited John Levene, and it was a good time. I dressed as ‘Sirgasity’ from the “Trial of the Time Lords” for the costume contest, but lost to a guy who was dressed as Jamie McCrimmon. I felt cheated, I must admit, as he was in a highland band, not a hard costume for him to do, while I actually had to build a Time Lord head piece from paper-maché, and sew a dress that looked exactly what the actress wore in the show. I spent hours watching and re-watching the episodes to get it just right. I think I did well. My first and really last experience in ‘cosplay’.
Then the series was cancelled. Boom, there was no more Doctor Who. PBS continued to show it for a few more years, but it wasn’t the same. It was like a light went out. I was briefly seduced by the idea of a return, with talk of the television movie, and then its broadcast. But it really sucked. And then there was no more.
I know that a lot of Doctor Who fans were able to feed their need for the series with books, comics and magazines, but that was never my thing. I had a lot of video tapes, and I watched them. But essentially I lay in wait.
My first indication that the series was coming back was an ad in the Famous Players movie magazine. How exciting. And the CBC was broadcasting it. What better news could there be. I invited my friend Boris over, and we watched the first episode “Rose.” Well wow, it was back. I will confess, while I really liked the episode “Rose” a lot, I was not a great fan of the character of Rose. Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor was just amazing. The stories were well written, and had a great pace.
With the advent of “New Who” came a new phase of my fandom. I was a PhD student when the series started again, and so very academically minded. One of my friends was involved in the PCA (Popular Culture Association) and asked me to present a paper at the national conference in Atlanta, GA. The series had aired in Canada, but not the US, so I was a privileged person who could compare the old and the new for the mostly American audience. And I had the first season on DVD- spoiler alerts were given. Somehow through this, and presentations in subsequent years, I became an ‘expert’ on Doctor Who. I gave papers on its history, the fans, and the old stories. The historian delving into popular culture!
A few years ago, at the PCA it was expressed by many that there needed to be a book on Doctor Who geared to the academic audience, and my friend Sherry suggested that I be the one that did that. That day I thought up a call for papers, approached a publisher and the result- a book published on Doctor Who this year. The editing of this book has given me several opportunities to attend more conferences and more conventions to talk about Doctor Who. An amazing experience overall.
And of course the series continues on television. The world seems to be gearing up for the anniversary, now only a few weeks away. I am looking forward to the anniversary special- “the Day of the Doctor” and of course the anticipated drama of the making of Doctor Who written by Mark Gatiss. (All I hope is that Sidney Newman is played with a Canadian accent- please remember who he was!)
Of course being a Doctor Who fan now is a far different experience from being one in the 1980s. The Doctor is everywhere. I can now buy DW stuff in local stores, I can get the dvds, the t-shirts, pins, doo-dads, everything. I had to scour the Earth to get stuff before. I usually had to stock up when I went to Britain for vacation, or beg my relatives there to send stuff. Each item was precious. Before I had to explain what Doctor Who was, few had heard of it, fewer had watched it. Now, not really a problem. It has entered Canadian popular culture as never before.
Being a fan now, while I am still considered a bit unusual, I am not alone. Before I was just peculiar. Oh well, with time and patience, good is recognized, and Doctor Who, like its fans, are now cool. And bow ties are cool.