So I've Loved Doctor Who For Almost Thirty Years Now

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I just purchased tickets to see Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary Special in 3D, at my local theater.  This proves the future is wilder than I can imagine, for as a teenaged boy I never could have envisioned Doctor Who being popular.
When I was fifteen, as a young American boy, almost nobody knew who Doctor Who was.  You couldn’t download the episodes, or even buy them, for nobody thought Doctor Who was big enough to be worth selling.  No, the only way you could actually watch Doctor Who was to pray that your local PBS affiliate would give you a handful of Tom Bakers during their semiannual fund drive, and even then they made you pay for it – you’d be barraged with reminders that the only reason they put Doctor Who on was because you, the fans, said you wanted it, and oh, we argued with our bosses to slot this in between operas and wholesome kids’ shows, and I guess if we don’t make this next hour’s pledge target you may never see Doctor Who again.
You had to wrap your life around being a fan, then.  You scheduled days off to catch the few marathons.  And if you were lucky – very lucky – you had a friend like Mark Goldstein, who was obsessive and had taped every episode individually on a VHS tape, with neatly-marked pen letters, and he would lend them to you if you promised to treat them well.  Watching him open that drawer full of tapes underneath his parents’ TV was like seeing the Ark of the Covenant yawning wide – that realization that you could watch all the Who you wanted.
Yet even then, Doctor Who was dwarfed by Star Trek and other wonders.  You could dress as the Doctor and most people wouldn’t even know who you were.  Those who did clasped you to their breasts, but in America?  There were no toys.  If you wanted a Sonic Screwdriver, you either ordered it from England and paid hideous shipping prices, or you built your own.
There was no Internet, or even BBSes.  I remember signing up for Xeroxed newsletters, mailed to me monthly for a small fee by crazy fans trying to cover costs, these typewritten sheets with blurred photographs taped to them – the Gallifrey One, the TARDIS Timesheet – each with little 300-word essays and blurbs on what companion Jamie was doing now, and rumors of the next Doctor.
I remember the wait.  It was almost two years after Colin Baker became Doctor before I got to see an episode.  I had the synopses of what the episodes were like, filtered through some English back-channel, but to see it with my own eyes?  A marvel.  And the whole time, PBS reminded me that they didn’t have to do this, this was very special, it’s a favor.  Send money.
And now Doctor Who is as mainstream as any fandom gets.  You can buy Doctor Who toys in any comics shop, buy the DVDs at Best Buy, and now the anniversary is something so big that we’re all going to go the theater to celebrate.
It feels strange.  I’m not upset.  Even though I don’t particularly like Matt Smith’s Doctor, it’s just so strange to see something that was once so small and huddled and flickering that it was a near-shameful fandom, something so rare that when you met another Whovian you immediately clasped hands and bore a deep friendship, because this fandom cost you.  You couldn’t stumble over it.  You had to go digging deep, to hunt for your love, to track it like a wild deer across thickets of static-filled broadcasts and poorly-spelled newsletters.
Now it’s everywhere.  Which is glorious.  But to me, I’m forever amazed that Doctor Who is common.  One of the big fandoms, maybe even eclipsing Star Trek.  And I look around and wonder what happened, because in my heart I truly feel that it is only me and one or two Companions, travelling in this tiny thing that’s much bigger on the inside, on adventures that no one else manages to notice.
God bless.

1 Comment

  1. KTC
    Oct 27, 2013

    It’s great reading the words of another long time fan. I literally used to climb out of my crib to watch Doctor Who when I was less than two years old. I’m now 32 years old and my love for the show has only grown.
    I agree, it does feel strange seeing so many people loving the show, but I too am glad of it.
    Great post and great blog. Thanks for writing. 🙂

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