GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
When a show has spanned as many decades as Doctor Who it’s going to have a wide and varied fandom, all of whom picked up the show at different times, from those fans watching since the very beginning in 1963 right up to those whose first taste of the TARDIS will be this year’s upcoming series. The ways we have fed our fandom has changed along with the times and technology. For a while the only access to Doctor Who was watching it on the day of broadcast and then in time came the Target novelisations, video cassettes and eventually DVDs bringing past stories back to life. After cancellation, new stories started to emerge through novels, fan-made videos and Big Finish audio plays and with the birth of the internet and the success of the modern series every fan can make their voice heard louder than before.
This time around, I would like to look at a couple of different areas of fandom that I’ve experienced.
Starting with today’s fandom, one of my favourite podcasts and the only Doctor Who related podcast I’ve regularly listened to in the last few years ended back in March, The Doctor Who Podcast.
With the series a worldwide hit, there are many and varied Doctor Who related podcasts out there vying for your ear time. There’s certainly plenty of material for would-be hosts to chew over. Starting with 51 years of television stories (give or take the 1990s) you have the audio adventures and book ranges to get those reviewing claws into, not least many of the questions and debates that could be had about the characters and concept in general. Although some have hit on brilliant concepts like Bigger on the Inside which saw a fan and a newbie reviewing the stories together, most will focus on the here and now: the news and rumours about the upcoming new series and Who-related releases from that week/month etc. What makes the same old presentation of news more palatable however are the individual personalities involved and it’s those people that keep you listening. A podcast could have the best format in the world but if you dislike the hosts then you’re going to tune out.
Many years ago I started listening to the Doctor Who Online Whocast with Tony and Trevor. A couple of personnel changes later and the new team of Trevor, James and Tom decamped from Doctor Who Online to start their own show, The Doctor Who Podcast, in 2010. Since then, the crew expanded to include Ian, Leeson, Melissa and Steven all crowding into the mythical DWP campervan to record the podcast, with GeekPlanetOnline friend and podcaster Marty Perrett providing the intros. Like most Doctor Who podcasts, the new series would take precedence but you would get some interesting topics while it was off the air. Regular “geek out” episodes saw the hosts discuss random topics and there were series looking at sacred cows, regeneration stories or focusing on individual Doctors’ eras. Other topics included comedy in Doctor Who, ideology and the use of social media. The long running quiz would also pop up regularly with much runtime devoted to arguing over the answers. There were also the prediction episodes. At the beginning of each year the hosts would make predictions about what would happen in the world of Doctor Who and examine last year’s for more precious points. Other favourites of mine include the brilliant April Fools episodes (check out podcast special 5 and episode 543) and a rare interview with the Master himself, Anthony Ainley, recorded by two fans while he was driving them to the train station from Panopticon in 1981.
It was always an enjoyable listen, like overhearing a discussion between friends over a few pints, and it must have taken UNIT-like precision to organize recordings with hosts hailing from England, America and Australia, which only goes to show what a global fandom we have become. My Tuesday commute will be a sadder one from now on but perhaps I could fill the time by listening to a Big Finish play – preceded of course by the marvellous jingle for Ian and Michelle’s Big Finish reviews slot.
Turning back the clock to 1997, the show was firmly dead and buried with the one flicker of hope, the Paul McGann TV movie, snuffed out by TV executives; it was thought of as a national joke. Writing for Doctor Who Magazine at this time was columnist Jackie Jenkins who, along with friends Chas and Nigel, could be found at conventions (mainly in Coventry) and in pubs debating the show at length. The book Single White Who Fan: The Life & Times of Jackie Jenkins (2011) by Jackie Jenkins gathers together her columns written between 1997 and 1999 along with new material on the modern series. The book received some good reviews and so I thought I would give it a try. What I found was one of the funniest books on Doctor Who fandom, and indeed nerd culture, that I have ever read. It even replaced my regular nighttime read so that I could have a daily dose of Jackie.
There are some marvellous moments and discussions especially as the gang get into relationships, be it with “glamour pustule” Nicky Parrot or Jackie’s childhood nemesis Darren Barry and are scared of showing their fandom to their new beaus, or indeed anyone else for that matter, for fear of ridicule. Throughout the book the trio mourn Terry Nation’s death, Jackie laments that she never attended the Longleat celebration in 1983, works on her Missing Adventures novel and the ultimate question is asked: is Doctor Who actually any good?
It was a surprise to discover that it might not actually be real and that Jackie might be a fictional character (rumoured to be Doctor Who Magazine regular Vanessa Bishop). ‘Jackie Jenkins’ does sound like a pseudonym and some pieces seem a bit overwritten for comedic effect. One of my favourite moments, for example, is when Jackie asks both Chas and Nigel to pretend to be her absent boyfriend Patrick for a party at different times. Both turn up and pretend to be regenerations of Patrick and launch into dialogue from The Three Doctors. In any case, who’s to say that even if the character is fake, the conversations and situations weren’t grounded in reality? Also, if she is fake, I really want to know who actually signed my book. Nevertheless, the book still paints a portrait of life as a Doctor Who fan in the late 1990s and Jackie Jenkins, contender for the title of Pertwee Jacket Knower 1997, explores it wonderfully.
No matter how we are able to devour Doctor Who in the future, be it by book, CD, DVD or 3D holo-cube there will always be fans chewing over the minutiae whether it’s over the airwaves, via download, on the TV or sitting in a dingy pub debating the finer points of The Horns of Nimon, the best could-have-been companions or which Doctor would be which Spice Girl.