Doctor Who: Becoming a Fan Without the Fandom

I watch Doctor Who now.  If I’m being honest, I watch Doctor Who a lot.  If I’m being really honest, I am absolutely in love with this show (and I may have developed a bit of a binge-watching problem).  I began watching it at the start of the school year and fell in love immediately.  Soon words like “TARDIS,” “Time Lord,” “sonic screwdriver,” “psychic paper,” “Daleks,” and “Cybermen” had become a regular part of my vocabulary.  However, this isn’t a piece about Doctor Who so much as it’s a reflection on falling in love with a show in isolation, completely removed from whatever fandom exists for the brilliant, beautiful world of the Doctor.

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The Doctor and Rose Tyler. / Photo Credit – Doctor Who

Doctor Who was always a glaring gap in my pop culture experience – like The Walking Dead used to be and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (regrettably) still is.  It was this huge show with a massive following stretching back to it’s original first season in 1963…and I knew nothing about it.  I was always intrigued but also intimidated about jumping in.  I mean, that’s a lot of history to get caught up on.  But my intimidation didn’t keep me away forever.  Theresa (who’s one of my very best friends (and who I teach the science and religion course with)) loves the show and the ability to be able to geek out about it with her coupled with my longtime curiosity finally overcame my trepidation.  I was starting Doctor Who.  Now I’d finally see what I was missing out on and learn what the heck that blue phone booth thingie was.

I began with the modern Season One from 2005, with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper (who I’d only known from Penny Dreadful (which I love (and I think may be the most intelligent show I’ve ever seen on television (and is something I don’t think I’ll ever tire of re-watching))) as Rose.  I rolled right into David Tennant’s three seasons as the Tenth Doctor – dealt with the unexpectedly heavy emotional fallout which broke my heart a little when he left the show – and then jumped into Matt Smith’s three seasons as the Eleventh Doctor.  There I got to meet Karen Gillan’s Amy and Arthur Darvill’s Rory too!  Aaaaahhh…SO MANY FEELS.  Anyway, so that brings us up to the present.  I’ve got a few episodes and then two specials with Matt Smith left and then I’ll be starting Peter Capaldi’s run as the Twelfth Doctor.

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Amy Pond, the Doctor, and Rory Williams…saving the day and whatnot.  This show has also taught me that “Bow ties are cool.” / Photo Credit – Doctor Who

All this is to say, I’ve spent a lot of time with this show over the last five months.  I am so into Doctor Who I’ve still only seen two episodes of Stranger Things 2 (okay, okay, I know…I KNOW) and I’ve only watched one or two episodes of The Punisher.  I can’t even begin to think about starting Black Mirror yet, even though several people have told me I’d love it and I know the fourth season just came out.  The reason I can’t watch anything else is, quite simply, I’ve come to love Doctor Who so much that anytime I have a free moment to watch something on TV, nothing is as appealing as spending more time with the Doctor.

As I’ve been learning all about the Doctor, the TARDIS, the Doctor’s companions, Gallifrey, Daleks and Cybermen and Silurians and the Ood and Sontarans and the Weeping Angels and the Silence and all these wonderful alien races I realized I’d been doing so pretty much in a vacuum.  I mean, this is 2018 right?  We live in the Internet Age and that means we also live in the Age of Spoilers (both intentional and accidental).  In an effort to avoid accidentally spoiling anything for myself, I’ve read nothing about Doctor Who online.  In fact, outside of googling a viewing order to make certain I was watching the Christmas specials at the right place in the seasons, I had never typed “Doctor Who” into Google before this post when I wanted to double check my spelling of the alien races listed above.

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The Daleks…man, these little garbage can things cause WAY MORE TROUBLE than I would have guessed at first sight. / Photo Credit – Doctor Who

I watch the show via Amazon (which, if you don’t have Amazon Prime but are considering getting it, let me tell you it’s totally worth it for Doctor Who alone) and talk about it all the time with Theresa at work.  Kalie and Jeff have heard (a lot) about my love of this show.  Kalie’s watched a few episodes with me too!  I also talk about it with the family and a few other close friends.  Outside of that – there’s nothing.  It’s just me and this show.

I had no other intention in avoiding Doctor Who­-related articles or videos or Twitter conversations outside of keeping myself spoiler-free as I watched this series the first time.  However, it’s yielded far more than a simple spoiler-free experience.  I’ve found a sort of pure joy in falling in love with a show like this.  It takes me back to my youth.  When I started watching He-Man or the Ninja Turtles or Ghostbusters or Star Wars or MacGyver or reading about Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and the X-Men the only way I could learn more about their worlds was a) reading/watching more and b) having conversations with family and friends who liked it too.  There was no internet, no Twitter, no message boards, no comment sections.  It was a completely organic relationship, learning more about the characters as their stories unfolded before me, forming my opinions as I went.  I’d forgotten what this was like!

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Don’t worry gang, I still love your show too!  I just need some time. / Photo Credit – Stranger Things

When I first watched Stranger Things (the first season (because, yes, I still haven’t finished the second season (because I’m only two episodes in (I know I’ve had plenty of time (but C’MON there are so many Doctor Who episodes waiting for me!!! (so I’m not even sorry or sad about it (Stranger Things 2 will be there once I’m done getting caught up with the Time Lord))))))) I obviously went in spoiler-free.  But I’d still read several blog posts about it beforehand and I knew it was this mash-up of 1980’s fantasy/horror/sci-fi/adventure films and had this super cool nostalgic feel.  I knew loads of people were loving it.  I watched those eight episodes and then started reading articles, analyses, and fan theories about it.  I followed the actors and the Duffer Brothers on Twitter.  I immersed myself in the larger world around Stranger Things because that’s what you do right?

But with Doctor Who – with eleven whole seasons just in the modern run and many specials to get caught up on – I’ve spent months with the show without reading anything about it.  I’m watching it whenever I can.  I’m talking about all my thoughts and feels with Theresa.  I’m thinking and theorizing and speculating and just daydreaming about it on my own.  Once you have the TARDIS on the brain, it’s hard to think of anything else :).  It’s been so much fun!

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Rose and the Doctor inside the TARDIS. / Photo Credit – Doctor Who

With the internet, we have the potential to connect with so many people in an instant and we have so much information at our fingertips.  It’s a powerful tool.  But, as is often the case, our technology has progressed faster than our emotional maturity to handle it has developed.  This leads to the toxic experience of fandom.  To be clear about my terms, for me, I see a big difference between fans (the people who love something) and fandom (the amorphous entity of people who like to do battle online over their opinions as though they were the keys to heaven and judge who’s experiences in regard to whatever show/movie/comic/book/etc. is being discussed are “right” and “wrong”).

All this, the toxicity of fandom, takes the fun out of being a fan and falling in love with fictional characters and their worlds.  The Last Jedi came out twenty-five days ago and people are still arguing about whether it’s “good” or “bad.”  I’m not talking about fun debates about what we liked or didn’t.  I’m talking hateful bullying paired with a side of the worst sort of zealotry.  When I returned to reading comic books I found this sort of thing to be a cancer spreading on letter pages and all places where people discuss comics and comic characters across the internet too.  Of course not everyone is like this.  Thank God!  There are plenty of passionate and wonderful fans out there.  They are, thankfully, the majority.  They don’t all agree on everything either but they know how to behave and accept one another’s opinions.  But these fandom things?  No thank you.

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River Song and the Doctor who, incidentally, also taught me that “fezzes are cool.”  I’ve learned so much from this show! / Photo Credit – Doctor Who

I get exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed by Star Wars fans, Marvel fans, Ghostbuster fans, and so many others online too.  I don’t care about the arguments.  I don’t care about the zealotry.  I don’t care to get involved in all the fighting.  But knowing it’s happening still makes my heart hurt a little bit.  I love Star Wars.  I love Marvel Comics.  I love Ghostbusters.  And knowing some “fans” will treat others with such toxicity in the name of loving Star Wars or Marvel or Ghostbusters or whatever, makes me sad.  I don’t like when something I love is used by others in exclusionary and/or hurtful ways.  That’s not love either.  If you’re bullying and excluding and yelling and judging someone over something you supposedly love, you don’t love it.  Those actions aren’t born of love.  They are born of the dangerous delusions of possession and ownership and they’re the mark of an unhealthy relationship.

With Doctor Who, to be sure I’ve found no accidental spoilers (just as River Song would want it!), I haven’t seen how Whovians behave online.  If this sort of discord is out there, I haven’t seen it.  Conversely, they may all be wonderful people!  As I said, I’ve no way of knowing :).  Either way, I’ve been completely disconnected from anything in the world surrounding Doctor Who.  My whole experience is made up of my watching the show and talking about it with Theresa, Kalie, Jeff, and a few other close friends and family.  I’ve gotten all the joy of falling in love with this show without the anxiety and sadness that fandoms cause.  Watching Doctor Who has reminded me of something I’d forgotten, something that was once so natural and now is so rare.  Being a fan means loving something and sharing that love with others.  There’s no place for those who want to hate, judge, and fight.  Our mutual loves used to bond us, not give us another avenue for discord.  With Doctor Who I’ve found that most beautiful and organic of joys once again.  I’ve become a fan devoid of any fandoms.

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I have SO MANY MORE exciting episodes ahead of me!  Yay! / Photo Credit – Doctor Who

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24 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Becoming a Fan Without the Fandom

  1. Reading this post reminds me of my own heady first days with Doctor Who. It was about five years ago. I had just moved to Roanoke, and I was lonely, feeling as though I had lost all my friends. Then I randomly watched The Next Doctor because we had that one special sitting around in the family DVD collection for some reason. It was kinda confusing because I knew nothing about Doctor Who going in. But The Doctor seemed to be feeling all the lose and loneliness I was feeling in my first few weeks in a new city, and it was as if he formed an emotional connection with me. Enough of a connection for me to get Series 1 from the library system. Then Series 2. Soon my brother began to watch with me. Then in Series 5, my Mom began to watch as well. Finally, my Dad joined in late in Series 6. It probably took me a year and a half to catch up to everyone else, and I had to be very careful to avoid spoilers. But I was figuratively in love. I had not found a story that captured my heart and mind like this since I watched Star Wars when I was 13.

    Doctor Who is one of those stories which manages to capture everything I wish my life could be, with everything I want and admire all wrapped up in a single package. It’s inspired me to write a bit of fanfiction. I’ve had the pleasure of successfully introducing at least five people to the show. And it lead to me eventually discovering the local Doctor Who fan group which meets in Roanoke. The people in the group were very welcoming to me, and it gave me a chance to make a few new friends. Doctor Who FANS are wonderful people, generally. There’s few things better than being approached by a random stranger who saw my Doctor Who t-shirt and decided to start up a conversation with me because of it.

    Sadly, the Doctor Who FANDOM can be almost as toxic as the Star Wars or Ghostbusters fandoms. The “True Fan” problem rages on. Some people declare True Fans only like Doctor Who made before 2005. Or True Fans only like The Doctor when he’s not played by a younger actor. Some think Moffat is the best thing to happen to the show in a long time, while others think he is everything wrong with the franchise, and a few argue he is a sexist, homophobic idiot. Then there’s the huge and sometimes quite ugly debate over the idea of a female Doctor, which has been going on for a long time, with both sides slinging mud and being rude and mean.

    Fortunately, over the years I understood more and more about how a fandom could ruin my own experience. To the point I do not engage with a fandom until I have finished all the materiel from a particular franchise.

    A random side note, I think the way Milo Murphy’s Law has been handling its portrayal of modern fandoms, (particularly Doctor Who because of the context of the show,) is pretty great. It both acknowledges how wonderful it is to share something you love, but also shows how it can descend from that to people putting others down because they know less, or have different ideas, and how it can become a matter of one-upmanship rather than a fun camaraderie.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Is it weird that I’m both saddened (to know it’s there) and a little relieved (to know it’s not just Star Wars people who are jerks) that there’s toxicity in the Doctor Who fandom too? It’s funny you mention the female Doctor because she was another reason I wanted to start watching! I thought it was exciting they were doing something so new with a show that’s been running since the ’60s and I wanted to be a part of that, to be able to appreciate it.

      Thank you for sharing the story of your connection to this show and this character too. It’s clear the show means a great deal to you and I appreciate your sharing that love and that bond. As I read your comment I thought of the shows I’ve shared with my family too. That’s such a fun, special sort of bond :).

      I can’t believe how rich and layered the Doctor’s character is! Often I’ve found characters on long running shows become a bit cliche, playing to their “trademark” trait. But the Doctor seems to carry the weight of the 50+ years of this show mindfully and continue to evolve. I told my friend Theresa I couldn’t believe how fresh and new it always feels, even as it’s been on for decades.

      I think your plan on not engaging with any fandom until you’ve taken all the material in yourself first is wise. If nothing else, the realization that led to this piece was a feeling I want to keep chasing. It’s great to just *be* a fan and not worry about anything other than enjoying the show. I think we’d all agree, in theory, fun camaraderie and bonding over shared love is more fun than arguing and trying to one-up each other. The trick is in everyone remembering this all the time…

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  2. Welcome to the Whovian world!!

    I started watching it about ten years ago and I will never regret it!!

    The spin-offs are also nice shows: Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures and The Class. They are not in the same level, but worthy.

    I watched the very first season several years ago. I wanted to keep watching the Classic Doctors, but the sound quiality is horrible and I don’t understand most of it 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard about Torchwood but I didn’t know there were other spin-offs too! Oooo, thanks for letting me know. I’m excited! I’ll have to check those all out too!

      And thank you for the warm welcome to the Whovian world too :). I’m soooo happy to finally be here! Now that I know how great the show is, I can’t believe I was missing out on it for so long!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched the most recent Christmas special with my brother-in-law since he is a big fan. As I haven’t watched any episodes in YEARS, it was a good introduction to new watchers if they are unfamiliar with the series. Despite liking it, I don’t have the time to devote to a new fandom. I’m behind on Star Trek Discovery episodes already, and I’m already a big fan of ST. Enjoy watching the remaining episodes & the lack of drama!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will, thank you! It’s been so wonderful. I think of you whenever I see an ad for Star Trek Discovery. They often pop up on Amazon so I think of you Trekkin’ as I’m off to spend time with the Doctor. Once I’m through with the remaining episodes, I’m going to go back and start the whole thing all over again! There’s so much to explore and take in!

      Let me know if you ever do decide to jump in and watch the whole thing. I could simultaneously do the same with Star Trek and we could race to see who finishes their show first :).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s just it! I can’t believe how much the show incorporates! It’s not afraid to be campy or cheesy or goofy but at the same time it can be heartbreaking or heartwarming or heart-stopping. And it explores every genre from sci-fi to fantasy to westerns to horror to mystery to EVERYTHING. The show fully embraces it all and, in so doing, does it all perfectly! There’s such sincerity and such heart to everything they do. You’re right; I’ve never seen anything like it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You dare insult the bravery of our forefathers with a reference to a fictional war! The Red Coats sought to control us, to subjugate their own people with an iron fist! Nay, we said! Nay!!!!! We shallnt be ruled by any Crown, but will see fit to determine our own fate, taking into our hands, with God’s grace, an act of revolution! You, sir, are no better than a Tory, a DocTory Who sympathizes with the Crown! Shame, I say!!!! SHAME SHAME SHAME!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. First, “DocTory” is brilliant. I’m giving you all the points there. But second, I seem to remember a certain someone in this comment thread (who shall remain nameless) recently writing a brilliant post (https://imperialtalker.com/2018/01/09/luke-skywalker-a-farewell-to-arms/) about the importance of Luke Skywalker throwing away his lightsaber. It seems the author’s implying a true hero would choose a sonic screwdriver over a lightsaber each and every time. Perhaps we’re not so different, you and I. The big blue box is calling for you Jeff. Won’t you answer? I think you’ll find, if you look, your heart’s bigger on the inside than you may think with plenty of room for Doctors and companions.

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  4. Hi Michael, that’s brilliant you’re into Doctor Who, and you made a great choice by starting with the 2005 episodes. Eccleston is one of my fave Doctors and that series was so meaningful to me after many years of the show being stuck in the wilderness – barring the 90s US produced movie with Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor in the role. Now just wait till you start ‘rewinding’ back to the originals from the 80s, 70s and 60s 🙂 Old Who is charming and definitely slow, low-budget and creaky compared to the newer Who, but well worth watching some to get a flavour of its past.
    I was an active member of a DW forum and didn’t really come across that much hostility. To be honest I was more there from the toy angle as I have a ton of DW toys, and it was mostly just a bunch of us showing off our Daleks 🙂 On my site I have many DW ads and toy features if you ever want some eye candy.
    I hope you enjoy Capaldi’s run as the Doctor. For me he was superb in the role. I haven’t seen his final season yet and like you have been avoiding spoilers as much as poss. Keep on enjoying the show, hopefully with a cup of tea and a slice of cake, or a bag of jelly babies, or fish fingers and custard. Or even a banana. But not pears 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha, that’s wonderful :). You can rest assured I’ll absolutely take your spot-on suggestions when it comes to snacking.

      I’m excited to go back and find some old Doctor Who stuff on your site too! I’m especially excited to the vintage Doctor Who stuff from way back. This is a whole new facet of your site that I can enjoy! As will come as no surprise as I’m such a newbie, I’ve hardly any exposure to the world of Doctor Who toys but I can only imagine how much is out there!

      You’ve made me even more intrigued in the original run of Doctor Who as well. It’s so rare to have a show with so rich a history and you make the old school episodes – with their “slow, low-budget, and creaky” charm – sound even more endearing. I’m excited to get there.

      You enjoy Peter Capaldi’s final season when you get to it too!

      Like

  5. I just clicked on this article because I’m a huge Doctor Who fan since… maybe one or two years? I’m pretty new, I would say and still kinda old.

    As you, I started with the modern series of Doctor Who, although I still want to watch the old ones. It’s just that I haven’t got as much time for such things as I want to and therefore a lot of other series are on my list too and aren’t as long as Classic Who.

    I was talked into that by a friend of mine after I thought it would be nonsense for almost a whole year. I called the TARDIS ‘blue box’ and didn’t know what’s a sonic screwdriver. By now, I already know all those words perfectly and talked almost my entire family into watching this beautiful show. Actually, it’s the time where my mother and I spend together alone, watching the show and just enjoying it. The little problem is just that I watch it with my mother in German (since I’m actually German) but I do watch series just in English by now. And every time I want to explain something to her, I can’t quite remember the German words xD

    Nevertheless, I fell in love with this show and I can’t imagine stopping loving it in my entire life. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have always been envious of people who can speak/read multiple languages. I’ve tried but it is a MAJOR area I struggle with. So the idea of watching a show in something other than your native language and then helping others understand it sounds a) CRAZY IMPRESSIVE and b) really fascinating.

      But what a great experience to share with your mom! There is something special about this show that seems to invite bonding between people as they step into the world of the Doctor.

      Personally, I also think it’s kind of cool how your journey with the Doctor is so similar to mine! We both started with the modern run of ‘Doctor Who.’ We both got into it because of a good friend. But you’ve gotten your family to watch it too! I’m still trying to do that myself :).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, thanks. 🙂 Now I’m feeling so special. 😂 I always loved the English language. I’m thinking abozt studying in Great Britain and actually wanna travel far in the world, so to have a language almost everyone understands at least a bit is very helpful. And I have to admit that I just couldn’t bear the voice of some voice actors anymore, I prefer the voice of the real actors and actresses. XD

        Oh, it has. I’ve got some new great friends because of this show, even my relationship started with Doctor Who!

        Don’t give up. You never will convince everyone. And it also took me a long time before they where willing to watch it with me. It’s always worth a try.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I won’t give up! I figure it took me seven years of having a best friend who loves the show before I started watching it so I can be patient as I try and talk others into starting it too :).

        I think it’s so cool that your relationship began with Doctor Who too! That’s so cool!

        And you SHOULD feel special! Like I said, I’ve always been envious of people who can learn languages. I wish you luck in your studies and travels too. I spent two weeks in England years ago and I really enjoyed it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Same in my case when it comes to all the other people I still haven’t convinced to watch it yet. XD

        Thank you really much. Until now I just spend like eight days in England, during holidays. But I loved it. Although I forgot sometimes the words – but that was before I started to really start using the English language on a daily basis like I now do.

        Like

  6. Currently making my way through the peter capaldi episodes. So far,so good. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid in the early 80s. They’d show a new one and an old one on our local pbs station on Saturday nights. Tom Baker was and still is my favorite doctor. I wanted my own k-9.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only ever met K-9 when he showed up in those episodes with David Tennant, since I haven’t gotten to the older ones yet. But I can totally see that! I’d love my own K-9 too. The idea of seeing a new and old one every Saturday sounds awesome. Yay for PBS!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, it’s about time! 😉
    Glad to see u getting acquainted w this quintessentially English SF institution, and enjoying it!
    As u probably know, I grew up w th 4th and 5th Doctors. Usually during Winter I watch some of those classic era stories; while NuWho has superior production values, Classic Who had better scripts.
    Was tempted to blog about that era; maybe I could give u a guide about which Tom Baker stories to watch? 🙂
    “Would u like a jelly baby?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AAAAAAHHHH!!!! YES!!! You should absolutely do a post like that! I’ve been looking around at the classic stuff they have on Amazon for once I finish Peter Capaldi’s run. I would love to have some Bradtastic reference points for the Classic Who Era.

      Liked by 1 person

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