Short Film Review: Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was a celebratory event-fans throughout the world eagerly waited in anticipation for the 50th anniversary special, a slew of books, posters, and various other merchandise flooded the fanbase, and conventions throughout the world-both official and “unofficial” provided an avenue for fans to show their love for their favorite time lord. In all of the major celebrations and the deluge of official merchandise, it was easy to overlook some of the smaller yet still noteworthy celebrations of the show. One such gem is, the kickstarter funded project: Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 years of Fandom.

This short 42 minute film features numerous fans of the show including writer Robert Shearman who wrote the critically acclaimed and much loved episode, “Dalek” which reintroduced the Doctor’s old foe to the revived serious, and actress Louise Jameson who played Leela. And of course, “normal” fans were interviewed as well. John Paul Green, film lecturer at the University of Sunderland, (and extra in the episode, “Rise of the Cybermen”) explicates how the show influenced his career path. As a child/young teenager, he picked up the 1984 book, “Doctor Who: The Unfolding text” by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, simply because the cover art featured a TARDIS. But he quickly realized that this was an in-depth, academic study on Doctor who and although he didn’t understand everything he read, he found the book fascinating. It was the first time he realized that he could go beyond just watching Doctor who and deeply examine the show. He describes the book as his entry point into, “the world of academia.” He goes on to explicate, “…Doctor who kind of put me on a particular path. And I think doctor who fans themselves are quite academic in their approach to the program because they want to learn so much about the program, they research…I honestly think if it wasn’t for Doctor Who, I wouldn’t have done a media degree, and I wouldn’t have lectured in media all those years later. “

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Lecturer John Green as an extra in, Rise of the Cybermen

Lecturer John Green wasn’t the only one whose future career path was influenced by Doctor Who. Animator/student Robert Ritchie attributes his love of working in media production, animation, and special effects to the show as does Michelle Osorio, youtuber/film maker. Writer Robert Shearman, who lived every fan’s dream and wrote for the series discusses his love of the show and of attending conventions and meeting others who were as passionate about the show. He details how his involvement in the fandom community impacted his future career: “I know full well that the reason I became a writer in part was because meeting with other people who had a similar appreciation encouraged me to want to write something. So I was the writer who bought back the Daleks.”

But what is it about Doctor Who that inspires such a passionate response from its fanbase? I know that many of my friends and some of my professors attribute my excitement for the show to my obsessive personality. I am the type of person that, for example, if I love a particular sandwich, will eat that sandwich once a day for weeks or months. When I like something, I really like something. But personal quirks aside, Doctor Who has managed to attract an ardent audience, in fact it was through its zealous fanbase that the show was kept alive through novels, audiobooks, and comicbooks after it went off the air in the late 80s, and it was that fanbase that led to the show’s revival.

For me, the show came into my life during a particularly rough time. I was struggling with a failed internship, severe episodes of depression, and being back in an abusive home environment. It was truly a low point in my life and then one day a friend introduced me to the Doctor and I was hooked. Sure some of the special effects during the ninth doctor’s era was a bit cheesy, but I found myself falling in love with a show that was a bit silly and yet managed to explore some serious themes about politics, religion, and depression. The show provided me with an outlet of escape from a reality that was all too painful, but yet the show still managed to keep my mind engaged. Doctor Who has enough depth to it that one can use the show to examine and tackle the major themes of theology, death, and sorrow, and guilt. Even now as I face a situation that I am absolutely dreading, I am making sure I have enough Doctor Who books or audiobooks to get me through what might be a tough two weeks.

To be fair, there are plenty of shows with a rabid following. Project Runway last year had an episode dedicated to their super fans. Yet for many shows, the impact of the show is only felt as long as the show is on the air. And as mind numbingly entertaining as reality tv shows may be- let’s be honest, they rarely make a meaningful impact on the lives of the audience. Yet Doctor Who has inspired a generation of writers and film makers; parents and grandparents are sitting down with their children to watch a show that first aired during their youth. There are numerous academic books studying the show from a variety of disciplines: racial studies, queer studies, feminist studies, film studies, theology, etc. The show has managed to strike a chord amongst its viewers, and this short film, Celebrating 50 years of Fandom is a fun exploratory glance into the lives of some fans who have been impacted by the story of a daft old man traveling the universe in his blue box. For those who don’t watch the show or who are casual viewers, this intense passion for the show is puzzling (though intense devotion to a sport is viewed as more socially acceptable). Fans often have to find a way to succinctly answer, “why do you like Doctor Who so much” to people who just see a silly show, with sometimes cheesy effects and story lines.

I think Louise Jameson sums up the Doctor Who fandom and it’s fascination with the show perfectly: “I think Doctor who fans are different because they’ve been attracted to something they can identify with and because…the Doctor is very much an outsider. He is outside of his community…He’s a rebel, he’s an adventurer. He’s the good old fashioned story of good winning over evil. These stories are as old as the world…The doctor comes down hard on bullies, comes down hard on people who think that simply because somebody is different, they’re not to be included. He’s completely inclusive in his morality. And I think sometimes Doctor who fans have suffered-we all have at some stages suffered-from feeling like an outsider. And I think what Doctor Who does is put a huge hug around that fandom-going, ‘nope, you’re not. You’re not different.”

Rating: 4 stars. Price: reasonable available: dvd and download (I’m not sure if the DVD comes in american region one format, but I bought it and downloaded it(.

In other news, I have created a public fb profile if anyone wants to add me there: https://www.facebook.com/whovian.theology

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