Fandom is a curious thing. On one hand, fandom is all about showing how much you love something. A series of books, a sports team, a TV show, a film, or even just a certain personality for whatever reason.
But life can be messy and those books won’t always land. That sports team won’t always win. The TV shows and movies go in new directions. And that personality? There’s probably a scandal just around the corner.
And what do we, as fans, do? We react. We “tell it like it is”. We say things aren’t as good as the old days. We make lists of all the reasons why something “sucks”. Or on the flipside of the coin, we take down anyone who criticises our favourite thing. We create narratives about the kind of people who disagree with us without knowing anything about them. After all, we tell ourselves, if fans aren’t in the best position to think critically and give some opinions on a particular topic, who actually is? I know many fans – and I’d consider myself one – who would feel fraudulent to not be truthful about their feelings on the thing they love. This is what fandom does to some, or even many, of us.
Like many genre fandoms, Doctor Who went through – and some would argue is still going through – a rough time since the departure of Peter Capaldi and the arrival of Jodie Whittaker. And while much of this debate is dumbed down to hell on social media as a group of people on one side who thought casting a woman was a bad idea and the show was ruined, and a group of people who thought Jodie’s arrival was the second coming of Christ and she could never put a foot wrong… the reality – as you would expect from real life – is much more gray and nuanced.
Since I got into Doctor Who fandom in the 1980s, I’ve come to see that everyone has their personal ‘line in the sand’. That moment when a performance, a storyline, a prop, a casting, a comment in an interview… anything… tips over from being something you’ll defend to your last fan breath, to something you’re a bit ‘meh’ about. Or from something you’re a bit ‘meh’ about, to something you want to slam outright. Repeatedly.
Once in awhile, however, something will drop that causes Doctor Who fans – regardless of age, sex, location on the globe or any other criteria you can think of – to stop what they’re doing, nod, smile and basically acknowledge the magic of the series. The 50th anniversary special was a great example of this. Yes, some stuff niggled at people. “This War Doctor’s stuffed our numbering system for the Doctors!” or “Paul McGann should have been the War Doctor!” But, broadly speaking, by the time all 12 Doctors zoomed towards Gallifrey in their individual TARDISes to save the day, fandom was smiling. And, good gravy, by the time Tom Baker hobbled on, his blue eyes still bright and his voice still strong, fandom was crying tears of joy. Our show had done right by us. Agreed?
Well, I think our show’s done right again. For the Children in Need appeal that happened overnight in the UK, an onstage appearance from Jodie Whittaker, Mandeep Gill and Tosin Cole has writ large what Doctor Who can mean to a fan and, in turn, surely what the series means to all of us. Whether we picked up the series in the past year or decades ago it just doesn’t matter. Look at the young girl’s face. She (presumably!) isn’t thinking how Mandeep was under-utilised in Series 11, whether Jodie’s costume needs some work, or whether The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos was a pretentious-as-hell name for an episode. She just doesn’t care. She loves Doctor Who, and her heroes are onstage. Job done.
None of this will change how our broader fandom works, of course. To be brutal, nothing ever will. But when there are times like these that unite more than they divide, I think they should always be called out.