Once Upon A Time Lord
January 4, 2009 5:14 AM   Subscribe

It's easy to take for granted in today's data-drenched world. But time was, if you wanted to see Doctor Who and you had the misfortune of being an American. You have very few options, you could hope to connect to someone across the world via a BBS once the 80's rolled around and FidoNet mail someone who may be able and/or willing to send you NTSC VHS copies from their own collection, taking the generational hit in quality as penance for your copyright crime. Or you could phone your local PBS station and beg them to show the Tom Baker era episodes that proved popular with the more imaginative kids (or poor kids, depending on whether or not you had CATV) .

Imagine the frustration of being an American fan in the 70's and 80's. Only seeing the show as "movies" presented late night UHF or PBS. Although the legendary theme kept kids as enthralled as ever, abitrary order of serial trasmission and the lack of the cliffhanger effect effectively neutered much of the appeal of the program. When watching a 30 minute program, shoddy sets are easy to take. When viewing it in "movie" format, it seems just like that.. a really, really cheap movie. So Americans never came to fully embrace the program. In the late 80's however, there was a Doctor Who convention tour was mounted in an attempt to rouse American interest in the show again, which ultimately failed. As the Doctors died the non regenerative death of actors, little notice was ever taken in America.

Even the infamous attempt at an American continuation/semi-reboot of the series had a larger audience in Britain then America. It wasn't until the 2005's kickstart and it's subsequent appearance on file sharing networks that the show began to have a sizable American audience. Though in true American form, the darker (if shallower), and sexier (if pointlessly so) spinoff Torchwood has been moreso popular with Americans.

With Doctor Who being such a uniquely British program, with British themes and quirks and cultural references however. Can it ever truly be a popular program with Americans? Can a show that happily straddles the line between stupid and clever, childish and dramatic, family and adult, that never overly concerns itself with continuity despite having a mess of it be popular with American audiences who want dark gritty continuity heavy sci-fi?
posted by mediocre (64 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I know this is the second Doctor Who post in 24 hours.. but that last one was NewsFilter. And I've been wanting to have a post with the wealth of YouTube videos I've found of 80's footage of Doctor Who fandom.
posted by mediocre at 5:15 AM on January 4, 2009


If you wanted to see Doctor Who and you had the misfortune of being an American

What?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:24 AM on January 4, 2009


American here.

My whole family has been Dr Who fans for years.

My son owns a whole dvd set of the Tom Baker years-which I used to watch years ago on PBS (I think.)

The later episodes come on here at 11 pm on Saturdays and my husband and daughter watch faithfully. (Again, PBS.)

Of course for those with satellite tv there's BBC America, and those have the newest episodes.

We love us some DR Who over here.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:26 AM on January 4, 2009


That's right, take one part out of context and get offended. Clearly it reads "If you had the misfortune of being an American you had very few options", as in, it was unfortunate you did not have many options. This is a post about the classic series and its popularity and lack thereof in America, not the modern one.
posted by mediocre at 5:32 AM on January 4, 2009


I've never seen America[n] twelve times in a post before. That's all.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:37 AM on January 4, 2009


The narrative of the post is a question of Americans reactions to the classic series, it's bound to refer to America.

PS - It says right on my bio that I'm from Oregon, yo. Just because it's as big as Britain doesn't mean it's Britain.
posted by mediocre at 5:42 AM on January 4, 2009


I grew up in Canada. Dr. Who was being broadcast on our version of a Public Broadcasting Station, all the time, seemingly in random order. Meanwhile, we also received an American border PBS station that also broadcast Dr. Who. Sometimes and often, there were different Dr. Whos on, being broadcast in the same early evening. Far from being a deterrent, as I child, I thought the crazy out--of-order schedule meant there was some puzzle in the the television show that I had yet to solve. I tried to track the episodes by day or by companion or some continuation of story. Anyway, I never found any pattern because of the haphazard way of broadcast. I still have notebooks from when I was 9 with little charts and such conclusions as, "Time travellers can also change their scarves."

That same year, I also tracked the sponsor letters and numbers from the end of Sesame Street for a month or two. Same deal. It was on several stations. My 9 year old self found a a satisfying pattern there. The vowels inevitably got used more, as well as the letters you'd expect, t,s, etc. I still have my notebook with all the dates and numbers. I had drawn a Cookie Monster on the cover with an intense accusatory finger-arrow pointing at the title bar where I wrote, "Sesame Street REPEATS!!" Luckily, the next year, my parents put me in some programs to keep me busy.
posted by typewriter at 5:50 AM on January 4, 2009 [31 favorites]


I had a high school friend who had every single episode ever broadcast, many by camera copies which he updated as it became possible. He had an entire room full of VHS videotapes which were all destroyed by hurricane Katrina.
posted by localroger at 5:59 AM on January 4, 2009


I think part of why I was originally interested in Dr. Who was because it was so odd, so hard to get a hold of...so foreign. Our local PBS showed them at midnight on Saturdays...usually 2 or 3 at a time and in no particular order.

I love that there are references and things I don't get in British shows. Keeps the world from seeming totally homogenized.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:13 AM on January 4, 2009


Though in true American form, the darker (if shallower), and sexier (if pointlessly so) spinoff Torchwood has been moreso popular with Americans.

Reference?

With Doctor Who being such a uniquely British program, with British themes and quirks and cultural references however. Can it ever truly be a popular program with Americans? Can a show that happily straddles the line between stupid and clever, childish and dramatic, family and adult, that never overly concerns itself with continuity despite having a mess of it be popular with American audiences who want dark gritty continuity heavy sci-fi?

Yes, yes, and why are we imagining that Americans love gritty SF more than fantastical SF?
posted by TypographicalError at 6:15 AM on January 4, 2009


a post about the classic series and its popularity and lack thereof in America

Lack thereof? Hardly. The BBC had a licensing deal with various PBS affiliates and would air episodes regularly--a heck of a lot more regularly than the current series gets aired on non-cable television. In Florida during the late 70s and early 80s we were a couple of seasons off schedule from the Beeb.

And there were conventions. Tons of conventions. The Doctor Who Fan Club of America had thousands of members, ran conventions ("CONs" they call them now) and brought over everyone working on the series at some point. I personally met every doctor but Tom Baker (he had completely disavowed Dr. Who at that point) and William Hartnel (because he was dead). Patrick Troughton used to love the conventions—even during his last years when his health was failing, he still used to make it out across the Atlantic to the conventions.

Then of course there were all the monthly magazines, locally produced fan-zines, etc. And all the stuff in England was available here, it just took an extra couple of months. I wouldn't be surprised if there were actually more Who fans in the U.S. in the early 80s as there were in England.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:16 AM on January 4, 2009


Also...

I had a high school friend who had every single episode ever broadcast, many by camera copies which he updated as it became possible.

We did this at my house. My parents still have a giant chest of VHS (and Betamax!) tapes of every locally aired episode, neatly organized and in series-order (3rd Doctor -> 7th Doctor).

These days, thanks to file sharing and the internet, you can download every single episode that's ever been aired with a click (well, a click, half a terabyte of HD space, and approximately 20 weeks of non-stop downloading on a standard high speed connection). You can find these things in the usual places.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:24 AM on January 4, 2009


They run regularly on BBCAmerica, available on many cable/satellite systems. My kids are growing up on it and The Simpsons. I hope this works out OK.
posted by cogneuro at 6:30 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


When it comes to the "legendary theme," I really rather like this clip a current fan has made, combining all of the opening credit sequences and themes that have ever been, from the beginning of the series up to today. (He does jigger with the visuals a bit, for the sake of visual consistency, to put a "portrait" of each Doctor in the "credits" the way they did in the Tom Baker era.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This works both ways. We never got *any* Hee Haw here in the UK. I'll happily trade from my collection of Black and White Minstrel Shows for any old Hee Haw episodes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:02 AM on January 4, 2009


That's right, take one part out of context and get offended. Clearly it reads "If you had the misfortune of being an American you had very few options", as in, it was unfortunate you did not have many options.

Actually....it doesn 't. The exact quote, copied-and-pasted from above:

"But time was , if you wanted to see Doctor Who and you had the misfortune of being an American. You have very few options, ..."

The fact that there's a full-stop after "American," rather than a comma, may be throwing people. Punctuation can be a harsh mistress sometimes, that's all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:10 AM on January 4, 2009


[few comments removed - take UK vs US stuff to MeTa if it's going to invade all threads, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:11 AM on January 4, 2009


Doctor Who?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:18 AM on January 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area of the US where there were two PBS affiliates that we could receive by antenna. One showed Doctor Who in a linear format, one showed seemingly random episodes. I watched them both, and I was too young to really follow the arc plot anyway so both were satisfying.

The best part was that when my mother declared the word "retard" verboten, we just swiched to referring to people as "tardis" and said "it's okay, Mom. It's from Doctor Who."
posted by Willy Wombat at 7:30 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doctor Who has been a part of my telly-watching for 30 years. It was Sonterans that had me behind a sofa as a girl. I got to see as much of the Doctor as I cared to as a child. My town's PBS showed the lot from Troughton to McCoy, if a couple years off, and I had friends with VCRs and tapes. I'm a huge Anglophile anyway, so.

However, I think I can say without fear of contradiction, what it boils down to for USians is that Doctor Who has always been a bit panto.

Americans don't do panto.
posted by droplet at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2009


When I was 13, I had to spend one summer in a teeny North Carolina town (so my dad could pose for a fresco of the Last Supper in a Episcopal church whose priest was later accused of molesting children) where our tv could only get a scratchy PBS station. I had no friends and wasn't allowed to leave our apartment, which was located in a converted strip mall. But in the afternoon, I could watch Doctor Who, followed by the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and that was the only tolerable part of my day. The whole experience solidified my anglophilia, and the theme song still makes me giddy.

That little emo kid better not fuck it up.
posted by bibliowench at 8:08 AM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen more than 1 or 2 episodes ever, and that was 20 years ago, so I consider myself in for a treat some day. I hope the series is aging well.
posted by crapmatic at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2009


But time was , if you wanted to see Doctor Who and you had the misfortune of being an American.

Good post, not a sentence.
posted by kbanas at 8:29 AM on January 4, 2009


Back in my high school days in the 1980s, I remember when the hard core Doctor Who geeks would not refer to the actors by name but by number, as in their numbering in the order of who played Dr. Who. I think there were fights about whether Number Three (John Pertwee) or Number Four (Tom Baker) was better. Now that's some geek fights old school!
posted by jonp72 at 8:42 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Iowa Public TV has been showing old episodes on Saturday nights at midnight for quite awhile - we are up to the Seventh Doctor by now. This has been a joy for me, as an American teenager who probably would not have been able to see quite as many of the first seven Doctors without PBS. I'm not sure what will happen once they reach Survival, though!
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2009


And...case in point, jonp72!
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 8:44 AM on January 4, 2009


With Doctor Who being such a uniquely British program, with British themes and quirks and cultural references however. Can it ever truly be a popular program with Americans?

I think that depends on what you mean by "truly" popular. I mean, this is something that's been on American TV in one form or another since the late '70s, so it obviously has its fans. And its US cult has expanded greatly since the reboot; while I have no way of measuring this, my guess is that its American popularity is probably higher than it's ever been (or at least as high as it ever was). Which has less to do with the show itself than with the increased viability of nichier shows (with the Sci-Fi Channel, internet downloading, etc.). I don't think it'll ever reach epic top-of-the-Nielsen-ratings popularity in America...but y'know, most shows don't (and that one has is rarely an indication of its quality).

I do wonder, though, whether the show might find a bigger audience in the US if it were, let's say, on NBC, rather than its Sci-Fi Channel subsidiary. It might very possibly sink like a rock, but is that a sure thing? For the last several years, it seems the major networks have sent their less traditional shows to their respective cable outlets, figuring they could do better in less competitive arenas. So you end up with the best-reviewed dramatic series NBC has produced in a decade buried on Friday nights on the Sci-Fi Channel ("Battlestar Galactica"), the best-reviewed show on television buried on a network that specializes in showing old movies ("Mad Men"), last year's CBS sleeper hit just a censored version of a Showtime drama ("Dexter"), and the major networks themselves stuck with the funeral dirge of "ER," the stunning shittiness of "Heroes," and the looming spectre of five prime-time hours of Jay Leno a week. (And that's just NBC.) Not taking chances has made the major networks increasingly irrelevant. I'm not saying they'd necessarily make a fortune putting this show out there where mainstream America can see it, but that they maybe they don't have that much to lose.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:46 AM on January 4, 2009


I remember watching a Tom Baker episode while on a visit to the USA in the mid 80s. The plot had something to do with Herbs - and some careful overdubber had been in there taking off the leading "H" of each "herb" so that the local audience (and any stray French I guess) would know what the hell he was going on about.
posted by rongorongo at 9:06 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tom Baker is Doctor Who. Full stop.

If you have any interest in the various pretenders who have since appeared on television using that name, there's a new "Guns 'N Roses" record out you might enjoy.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I believe I couldn't have been older than 8 when I blundered across Tom Baker on PBS - and immediately dismissed it as nonsense. The sets moved! The monsters were made of bubble wrap! And I was reared on American TV, which trained me that QUALITY television had big budgets and production values. I suspect someone used to those lower production values would have embraced it, just as generations of Brit kids did, but I was not that person.

It was many years later when a girlfriend reintroduced me to the series with her tapes of Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, and from there I went backwards and forwards watching every single episode, or at least the reconstructions. As an adult I could see the strengths without being distracted by cardboard sets. I think the strength of the modern show is that even if the stories vary from excellent to weak (just as the original did,) they are allowed to stand on their own without such interference - and I know plenty of Americans, and American children, who have embraced it.

There will be one hell of a lot of Americans who will be watching this show in 2030 telling their kids how THEIR Doctor was David Tennant.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:17 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


jonp72 - sometimes I have that fight with myself. ;)

My love of Dr. Who comes from late Saturday nights watching episodes movie-style thanks to New Jersey public television. Made it all the way through the fourth doctor and most of the fifth before they decided not to show it anymore. Imagine my family's delight when we moved to Maryland and found out the public television people there were not so foolish.

Although actually - I've heard that public television isn't supposed to show it anymore? Anyone know about this?
posted by shaun uh at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2009


I guess I was fortunate that one of our local PBS stations aired Dr. Who in the '80s. My mother in law is a fan and my Dad, of all people, actually used to watch it every Saturday night (you'd have to know my dad to understand). Watching Dr. Who at my friend Kevin's was one of the few exceptions my Dad would issue to his rather draconian curfew. So, thanks for that Doctor. Oh, and Tom Baker is Dr. Who much like Basil Rathbone is Sherlock Holmes.
posted by MikeMc at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


bibliowench, I've been to that town and seen that fresco, and I feel your pain.

I could only get Doctor Who at my grandmother's house from UNC-TV over the air, and it would only play in the middle of the day Saturday and Sunday. All the sofas were against the wall, so I had to hide behind Grandpa's recliner. Once I was in such a hurry from the Baddie of the Week that I knocked over his coffee can that he used as a spittoon... yecch.

Sadly between then and now I seem to have grown out of the TARDIS.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:23 AM on January 4, 2009


Oh, and Tom Baker is Dr. Who

If you think the character is named "Dr. Who", then you're not allowed to have an opinion :-p
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you think the character is named "Dr. Who", then you're not allowed to have an opinion :-p

Ha! My arthritis prevents me from typing the word "Doctor" (except that time) ;)
posted by MikeMc at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2009


Ha! My arthritis prevents me from typing the word "Doctor" (except that time) ;)

If you think the character is named "Doctor Who", then you're ALSO not allowed to have an opinion!
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:37 AM on January 4, 2009


Having watched the episodes with the old, grandfatherly doctor some years ago, and then nothing else until the current show on BBC America, I occasionally think I must be missing a fair amount of backstory.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2009




mediocre, you left out the secret option for Americans: Live near the border. TVOntario for the win! They were usually a couple of seasons ahead of the PBS stations.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 9:51 AM on January 4, 2009


If you think the character is named "Doctor Who", then you're ALSO not allowed to have an opinion!

How about I call "him" the Doctor and the show Doctor Who? Or, I could just watch Little Britain with Tom Baker doing the narration. Close enough I'm thinking.
posted by MikeMc at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2009


Well I DID say ":-p".

;-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:08 AM on January 4, 2009


One way to tell Old School fans from New School fans is by the way they refer to the Doctors. Old School: First Doctor, Second Doctor, etc. New School: One, Two, Three, etc.
posted by bentley at 10:21 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I loved Dr. Who and I grew up watching it on PBS; it aired everywhere we moved up and down the east coast, which, for a child who moved every 18 months or so, was some good continuity. No, I never managed to follow a plot arc all the way through - a lot of the time it seemed like there was just some random episode on - but I didn't care. I was in love with Tom Baker and his scarf and I adored the monsters made of bubble wrap, tin foil and gum. Then I became a teenager and discovered pot and the show got even better, since the lack of plot was moot at that point. Really it's surprising I'm not even more of an Anglophile than I am - we watched Monty Python's Flying Circus and Dr. Who and Fawlty Towers and even the Goodies, brought to us courtesy of public television and it was all good. Except I still don't understand Benny Hill.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:32 AM on January 4, 2009


This is one of those things that I think I would like, but haven't attempted to get in to because it seems far too big, dense (in a good way) and unwieldily to find my way in to, with there being decades of different shows with multiple actors and offshoots and such. In fact, I dont even think I could say what the general story of Doctor Who is. There just seems to be too much of it to find a good footing or "starter point."
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:57 AM on January 4, 2009


One way to tell Old School fans from New School fans is by the way they refer to the Doctors. Old School: First Doctor, Second Doctor, etc. New School: One, Two, Three, etc.

Weirdly, I tend to call them "First Doctor, etc" up until Baker, then "Five, Six, etc." past that point.

No idea why.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:57 AM on January 4, 2009


That was BTW my totally ass way of asking for suggestions...
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2009


Senor Cardgage, if the new show interests you? Start with 2005's "Rose". The perfect jump in point. If you like it and want to go back to the originals later (And i recommend you do), you have tons of options.

Or you could follow this advice by some lunatic.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2009


Except I still don't understand Benny Hill.

What's to understand? Boobs (a local UHF station left the bare boobs in the for a while), bawdy songs and slapping Jackie Wright on the head, that's pretty much all there was to it. I loved that show.
posted by MikeMc at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2009


I had a high school friend who had every single episode ever broadcast...

This would be impossible as the first B&W episodes have been lost for many, many years.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:06 PM on January 4, 2009


Our PBS is still carrying the series one episodes, though I keep seeing only the same 3 or 4, so I'm a bit lost. Do like Eccleston in them, though. Never watched the originals, I'll be honest, because of bad sets and lack of female leads. Still no women Doctors which is just odd in terms of the actual preferences of an intergalatic regenerating creature who presumably is not so hung up on such things...any DW fans care to offer an explanation (other than plain ol boyzone stuff) for that?
posted by emjaybee at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2009


stinkycheese, of course he didn't have the lost episodes, although as soon as they were rediscovered he had them. He literally had people in the UK aiming a NTSC TV camera at a PAL TV and sending him the result in the post. I think his collection really was complete starting with the second Doctor.
posted by localroger at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2009


any DW fans care to offer an explanation (other than plain ol boyzone stuff) for that?

To me, it just seems wrong. Not in a sexist way - I'm quite pleased to see the Doctor being one-upped by Rose and Martha and Donna and Sarah Jane in this modern version of the show - but this guy, well, he's a guy. And a Father. And a Grandfather. I just don't see gender as mutable as race or height or age or accent or hair color or even personality (since at the core, he's always loosely the same personality - with different emphasises. Emphases? Is that a word?)

I dunno. I hope this doesn't come across wrongly, but if say, Romana showed up as a black woman, I'd think nothing of it, but if a big burly bearded guy showed up and said "Hi, grandfather, it's me, Susan" I would NOT buy it.

This is just me, I guess.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 12:29 PM on January 4, 2009


I could swear the Tom Baker years were shown on Channel 28 in Los Angeles on Sunday mornings in the early 90s, during my nascent fan years, when I was first attending conventions and obsessively reading Starlog and secondhand paperbacks about 70s fan culture (oh Star Trek Lives, you gave me such optimism for what was such a pathetic existence...).

I remember occasionally flipping past one, and going "Hmm. Doctor Who. Eh, whatever. Where's my Next Gen tape?"

I did watch the TV movie, and tried to get excited, but, again, it left me a bit cold.

Then I married a Doctor Who fan. And moved to the UK. And then the BBC brought it back.

And, lo and behold, I was hooked.

(Although a little less so, now. I suppose they're right -- the first Doctor you watch is always your Doctor, so the Ninth will always be the one in my heart...)
posted by Katemonkey at 12:51 PM on January 4, 2009


I was a Doctor Who fan in the eighties in the states, but I never saw the fandom situation as quite so dire.

I think being plugged into comic book fandom made a difference. I first read about the show in an article in Comics Collector magazine. My local PBS station aired the John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and Colin Baker episodes without my having to ask. They never aired the ones starring Sylvester McCoy, just a half hour long interview with the man around the time he got the gig. To this day, I don't think I've seen an entire McCoy, Troughton, or Hartnell episode.

That Comics Collector article contained a complete (to date) episode guide and I referred to it so often that the magazine started falling apart. I knew that, at the point I began watching, they were well into the Tom Baker's second season. So, for twenty bucks, (quite an investment at that time) I bought a VHS tape of Tom's first four stories (or sixteen episodes, if you prefer) from another local fan. And of course I taped the shows whenever I could. It was quite a challenge, as they varied in length. The standard four episode story took up between 75 and ninety minutes, but a two episode story only consumed forty five minutes and six episode stories required over two hours. Of course, I had to learn all this the hard way.

I recorded in Long or Extended Play format. It would have been do-able, except that I was also trying to record every episode of Michael Mann's series Crime Story. Plus, I had to buy all my own tapes with the money I earned working when I wasn't in school, so I had to squeeze out of them every second of recording time I could. Factor in my father's refusal to get cable and the typical dinginess of a PBS broadcast, and you can imagine the picture quality of some of my highly-prized recordings.

And, of course, tape capacity was a constant headache. I was always miscalculating my remaining recording time or having to make an emergency-room decision about whether to record over program A in order to preserve for posterity Program B. The first fifty minutes of a DW story might reside at the end of one tape, recorded in Long Play format while the remainder (minus the precious minutes I missed while changing the tapes) would end up in the middle of another tape, recorded in Extended Play. I remember, once, splurging and recording a segment of one show in Slow Play. For some reason, that day's broadcast came in clearer than normal (they were into Peter Davison episodes at this point and I think the Beeb may have transitioned to better quality materials in that era or maybe the local PBSers had done some upgrading) and the resulting picture seemed to me like a fantasy come true. We're talking, probably, quality equal to a clean VHS recording of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode; a wonder to behold.

Eventually, my obsessiveness paid off in geek dividends. In either 87 or 88, John Nathan-Turner (the god of Doctor Who; at that time, I think, the show's executive producer) appeared at a comic book convention in Atlanta. I got to ask him a bunch of questions and, I think, annoy the other Whovians present. True, Nathan-Turner's turnout was anemic compared to Stan Lee's, but the fact that he was on the bill at all seemed to me an indication that we were in pretty good shape.

Then, a few years later, my local PBS station stopped carrying re-runs. Around the same time, I read in the comic-book fan press that the BBC had canceled the series. Only then did I feel we'd been left to twist slowly in the wind.
posted by Clay201 at 12:54 PM on January 4, 2009


This seems like a decent enough place to show off the awesome Lego Dalek my girlfriend's 9-yr-old made the other day.
posted by brundlefly at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2009


stinkycheese, of course he didn't have the lost episodes, although as soon as they were rediscovered he had them. He literally had people in the UK aiming a NTSC TV camera at a PAL TV and sending him the result in the post. I think his collection really was complete starting with the second Doctor.

Sorry to nitpick, and I understand what you are saying, but actually the second Doctor is the one with the most missing episodes (article on missing episodes here). Which is a tragedy, since I quite like the surviving stories of his. I would dearly loved to have seen The Macra Terror, but alas I wouldn't even be conceived until two months after the story aired. I was disproportionally gleeful when they made an appearance in Gridlock during Series Three.
posted by Lokheed at 2:09 PM on January 4, 2009


I think that depends on what you mean by "truly" popular. I mean, this is something that's been on American TV in one form or another since the late '70s, so it obviously has its fans. And its US cult has expanded greatly since the reboot; while I have no way of measuring this, my guess is that its American popularity is probably higher than it's ever been (or at least as high as it ever was).

Ya.. but no. There is no question that at its height Dr. Who was more universally appreciated in the UK than in the US. A City of Death episode reached 16.1 million UK viewers, which is somewhere around 30% of the population at that time. Further, I guess it is a fare point that you could probably count more US fans than UK fans, even at that time, simply on the basis of more population. However, it is ridiculous to suggest that the new show has a larger following than the Tom Baker era, in the US or in the UK.
posted by Chuckles at 2:14 PM on January 4, 2009


Tom Baker is Doctor Who. Full stop.

Only for people too young to remember William Hartnoll.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:02 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


American and a Doctor Who addict. There are rather a lot of us, actually. Especially, it seems, on the east coast. And my favorite Doctor was Patrick Troughton, although I'm not sure why.
posted by Grod at 3:06 PM on January 4, 2009


However, it is ridiculous to suggest that the new show has a larger following than the Tom Baker era, in the US or in the UK.

I can't say re: the UK, but I do know the show is on commercial television in America now, which was pretty much undreamed of during the original run. Now, part of that is almost certainly because there are just more commercial TV outlets in America now than there were twenty-thirty years ago. But it does seem that there are more American Who fans now than I at least remember back when it was a PBS thing in the States -- based on nothing more than my own anecdotal experience of, you know, talking to people and stuff. My guess is a combination of (way) better production values and a zeitgeist that's much friendlier to fantasy TV has made the current show mainstream to Americans in a way that the original program was not. Which isn't to say it's mainstream, per se, just...more so.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:23 PM on January 4, 2009


American here, love Doctor Who and Red Dwarf and any non-brain-dead comedy.
posted by parallax7d at 4:28 PM on January 4, 2009


I grew up with Baker and Davison, so I'm partial to their opening credit sequences. The addition of the closing "thooom" sound effect to, I believe, Davison's sequence was a particular favorite moment. Watching that compilation of all the sequences posted by EmpressCallypgos leads me to believe they screwed it up pretty badly for a while, with dodgy instrumentation and graphics, but that the latest is pretty damn good.

The latest logo treatment, however, is totally stupid. They need to go words only or bring back the funky diamond.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2009


For a while in Los Angeles after I got out of college, a UHF station with an absurdly high number showed Doctor Who episodes with Pertwee and Baker Monday-Friday at 6PM (right when I got home from work), the only bright spot of a schedule of about 5 hours of cartoon and black-and-white sitcom reruns (I believe it aired after "McHale's Navy") before the station ran the scrambled signal of a second-tier pay TV service (after 11PM there were some semi-scrambled naked lady sightings but I was rarely bored enough to care). They were so hard up for content, they even filled the minute or two between shows with a static slide of the station logo while playing the same Mantovani song every time. It was a hopelessly unprofessional operation (out of Corona in the Inland Valley), and Doctor Who deserved better, but still, it was a great way to get into the Doctor, because they ran the shows in correct order and with so few commercials they never needed to edit anything.
posted by wendell at 8:21 PM on January 4, 2009


Are we actually allowed to argue about the title sequences and logos here instead of just the Doctors? Because if so, geek on.

For me there is only One True Logo, and that's the diamond badge. I have to say that despite being a true Fourth Doctor fanboy, I never liked the disembodied head thing they did with the titles for his later series and I think all of the Fifth's. Just came off a bit odd, that. The neon-sign logo was a bit Fifties Diner for me, too. The new show has a nice enough opening, but I've never liked that vaguely coffee-shop logo (even if the Tenth Doctor does like a nice little shop). I do like the three-dimensionally timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly course of the Tardis, though.

the lack of the cliffhanger effect effectively neutered much of the appeal of the program

Fie on that. Never stopped me or any of the fans I knew. Frankly, I'm not sure I could -- even in that much less info-loaded era -- have possibly shown up for a half hour every night of the week, or whatever was necessary. It was hard enough to make every Sunday at 11pm, or whatnot.

Similarly, I have read through entire comic book series (Cerebus, Watchmen) and comic-strip collections (Steve Canyon, Doonesbury) without really missing the day-by-day pause, either. I think it's something that the human brain can supply to the experience as required.

Really, so your entire point is that Doctor Who never had half the US watching at once? You certainly don't seem to have any sense of what Who fandom was like in the US at the time. I'll take ten devoted quote-any-show-on-the-spot fans over one hundred or one thousand bored "viewers" any day.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on January 4, 2009


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