Does Doctor Who belong to you?

Do you remember last August when Yetis in the London Underground and Doctor Who doubles were just an implausible rumour? Do you remember when fans worldwide tuned into “Doctor Who Live” when Peter Capaldi was addressing the Whovians? They hung on his every word as he made a somewhat unusual decree: “Doctor Who belongs to all of us!” But is there any dispute on the matter? Surely fandom is a uniform group, Ood-like, all singing from the same song sheet, loving, sharing and respecting each other’s views in one big happy Whovian family? Oh dear, I can’t see any eyepatches round here, I’ve got the wrong dimension! In this one, alas, the answer is a resounding “No!” A wide range of often opposing groups all lay claim to the Doctor and the show. Some might be doodling Tardises on their school books, dreaming of the Doctor but of Justin Bieber too. Others however might be hankering after Hamble or Jemima for that matter. Let’s start off in their honour and take a look through the “roundel-shaped” window!

Old school fans have been in existence since the sixties and seventies. They were the ones who formed the original fan groups and wrote the first newsletters. These fans were the first to read the Doctor Who strip in “TV Comic” and buy the first ever “Doctor Who Weekly”. They would drag their parents to the Longleat and Blackpool Doctor Who exhibitions. They would religiously buy “Doctor Who Annuals” and the latest Target novelisations. They would correspond with the show’s producer and secretary, receiving titbits of information about the upcoming stories. Peter Capaldi himself corresponded with Barry Lett’s production office in the early seventies. Over time fans started to hold sway. At conventions both in the UK and US they would hero-worship the makers of the show. Initially JNT reciprocated the love. He would bring back monsters from the show’s history just to please fans. Stories became self-referential and obsessed with canon, alienating the general viewing public. When in the late eighties fandom started to openly criticise JNT and the show itself, he gently mocked and parodied them in the highly entertaining and original story “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”. He even nicknamed some of them “barkers”. Fans produced the “Doctor in Distress” record to protest against the 1985 hiatus and organised a “Day of Action” on 30.11.1990 to block the BBC switchboards, in the hope that the show would be brought back. Maybe these fans thought that the show belonged to them. It quite probably did, as unfortunately neither the Beeb nor the general public wanted anything to do with Doctor Who any more. 

What about today’s whippersnapping Whovians? Those who only count Doctor Who from 2005 onwards. The ones who drool over heart-throbs Tennant and Smith? The Internet generation who hammer away at their keyboards as they delight and despair over Doctor Who? The ones who organise Whovian flash mobs and indulge in Cosplay? Does Who belong to them? I would say that they most certainly fall into the BBC’s key demographic. Having such a powerful medium as the Internet at their disposal coupled with their youthful verve and vitality, they are a force to be reckoned with. They are the future. Doctor Who indeed belongs to them. Who knows, somewhere out there, one of their number, a unsuspecting Whovian-to-be may start off watching Capaldi at the console and end up writing the show! 

We also have fans who fall between the categories. The Whovian faithful who continued to love the show all the way from post-cancellation oblivion right through to the success of today. Some of these fans watched as kids and have now become the movers and shakers in Doctor Who. Take RTD, Moffat and Gatiss, Tennant and Capaldi. Let’s not forget the fans who became writers, actors and producers themselves and kept Who alive with the “New Adventure” novels and “Big Finish” audios. The show belongs to them too.

What about the BBC itself? In a strictly legal sense, Doctor Who belongs to them. Back in the nineties FOX held some rights after jointly producing the TV movie. This initially caused a few hiccups when the BBC tried to bring the show back in 2005.  Interestingly the BBC owns the rights to the image of a police box, after winning a court battle in 2002 against the Metropolitan Police Force. 

Doctor Who belongs to its show runner. They decide on the day to day running of Doctor Who and the adventures the Doctor will have. RTD was extremely significant as he was the one who brought the show back from the dead. In the sixties top executive Sydney Newman and producer Verity Lambert created the show. They can certainly claim ownership of it. But what about Anthony Coburn, the writer of the first ever story? Back in March this year Whovian Jason Onion discovered manuscripts in the attic of Coburn’s old house in Herne Bay. He said: “You can see that the template for the Daleks came from Anthony. You can see in his episodes a device to unlock Tardis, which became the sonic screwdriver, and the science and regeneration and renewal of the body, which were all created in Anthony’s mind. This find completes the genesis of Doctor Who from Anthony Coburn’s imagination. The drafts explain the mystery of Doctor Who, his origins, his people and all the background.” Wikipedia states that Coburn made Susan the Doctor’s granddaughter to explain the oddity of why an old man should be travelling in space and time with a teenager. I wonder if Moffat will have sleepless nights over Capaldi and Coleman too. Anthony Coburn apparently also had the idea for the police box shape of the Tardis after seeing one on his way to work. So does Doctor Who belong to Anthony Coburn?

Let’s take a look at the general public. The average viewer might feel that Doctor Who belongs to them. Even if they are not fans, everyone has an opinion about the show. Everyone has their favourite Doctor, usually the one they grew up with. Everyone still makes jokes about Daleks not being able to go up stairs. Everyone has told “that” knock knock joke. In our newspapers we read both articles about the show and frequent references to it. An average Brit would know what “Dalek-voiced” or “Tardis-like” means. Doctor Who belongs to our culture. 

Thanks to massive international sales, the show now boasts fandom all over the world. Doctor Who fan groups exist in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and in non-English speaking countries too. As the Internet makes abundantly clear, language specific groups are looking at the show from their own countries’ individual perspective. Are the Italians comparing Salamander to Berlusconi? Do the French cry “Au revoir Duggan!” in front of the Eiffel Tower? Do Croatian fans go to Trogir on a Matt Smith pilgrimage, after two Series 5 episodes were filmed there? The show now also belongs to them.

Who else does Doctor Who belong to? Many episodes used to belong to a BBC skip, before daring duo Ian Levine and Phillip Morris rediscovered them. Doctor Who is theirs. Terry Nation created the Daleks. Without him the show would never have taken off, so Who belongs to him too. The list is endless. If we think of everyone involved in making the show and all the fans worldwide, we can see that Doctor Who belongs to quite a lot of people. So does Doctor Who belong to you? Of course it does. Peter Capaldi is right. Doctor Who belongs to all of us. And what’s more, from 25th December it will most definitely belong to him too!

2 thoughts on “Does Doctor Who belong to you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s