Doctor Who: Is It Our Programme Any More?

It can’t be news that the last series of Doctor Who was not universally loved. I do not visit other Doctor Who sites and can only go by what I read here. Most areas of the programme, at best, split opinion – chiefly the writing but also the acting, the Doctor, and as for the TARDIS interior…

Speaking for myself, I am finding it hard to be a fan of the show at the moment. I also struggled with Series 9 (and still do). But this time I don’t feel like I am alone.

Yesterday, I was forced to examine my thoughts. I was speaking to my Pastor. He has three daughters and a son aged between 6 and 14 (ish). They watched Series 11 over the course of a week having never watched the programme before. It has turned them into fans. Not “fans” fans (bear with me: I will explain), but fans nonetheless. They love Jodie’s Doctor. They love the episodes. It has set them watching the Nu-Who episodes. There is one Doctor on whom they are not so keen. But they love Doctor Who.

It got me thinking. First, I am pleased that a new generation are discovering and enjoying the programme. Secondly, there seems to be a broadly age-based difference of opinions. Adult friends tend to range from having reservations to loathing the show at the moment. Children seem to generally like it.

Fandom tends to act the way it always has. It is in the nature of “fans” fans to be extreme and to be proprietorial. This goes back at least to the late 1970s. Until then, there had been fans. I myself started watching around 1965. The story I can definitely remember watching is The Highlanders, but without a co-ordinating focus, fans tended to be isolated. With the arrival of John Nathan-Turner and the opening up of communication between fans and the production office; JN-T went out of his way to court fans – with mixed results. With the formation of DWAS. With a growing awareness of the programme in the USA. All these contributed to fandom as we know it. This is when the term “Whovian” was coined (a term I loathe with a vengeance). I am not a vacuum cleaner!

With this came criticism. This ranged from polite and considered criticism to vituperation. At its extreme, fans seized ownership and became vocally offended with decisions they did not like. Tom Baker was doing similar things with the programme itself and this led to creative conflicts and ultimately a new Doctor.

Fandom wasn’t necessarily a comfortable place to be during those days. While the majority kept a sense of perspective, there were those who became angry at anything they did not like. There were very public slagging matches.

We had taken ownership of the programme. Then it was cancelled.

When it ultimately came back, it was being made by fans. And it showed. There was a genuine love for the show. For the die-hards, it could be a difficult time. There were massive stylistic changes. There was a feeling in some quarters that we had lost our show. Sound familiar?

Here is my question: Did we lose our show? I would suggest that the answer is “no”. It was never our show. Well, it was in the sense that we love it and invest a lot of emotional and nervous energy in it. But it has never been made for us. Nor should it have been.

In 2005, Russell T Davies’ approach was that fans would watch anyway and that he had to attract new audiences. And he was completely right. He started off with a few nods to the past, but not many. These came later. Mr Moff was more fan-centric and brought back more of the past.

Ironically, Fish ( n Chibs) – or Chris Chibnall, for the uninitiated – took the RTD approach and made the programme for a new younger audience. And there is some evidence that he is succeeding. Maybe not much but I am thinking of the YouTube clip showing a young girl watching the reveal of the new Doctor then turning and with a beam on her face saying “The Doctor’s a GIRL!” He is not making the programme for us. But that’s okay: the JN-T years were far from flawless. I like ’80s Who but it is arguable that the obsession with pleasing fans alienated casual viewers and sewed the seeds of the eventual cancellation.

Let me nail my colours to the mast. I dislike the programme at the moment. It is unevenly – not to say poorly – written. Fish seems to lack an overall vision (or at least the ability to communicate it). Jodie does not convince me as the Doctor. There are too many quirks and not enough real character.

But I am a 57 year old who has been watching since 1965. There are viewers out there who love the programme…

Let the debate commence. But please leave the torches and pitchforks outside.