Home : Archive : TSV 51-60 : TSV 54 : Feature

To Be or Not to Be a Fan

By Gillian Hart

For want of something better to do on the anniversary day of Doctor Who, 23 November (1997), I tried my hand at converting a pair of nice non-fans into Who fans. These non-fans were both male and in their mid-teens and were, I thought, quite eager to see some Who. I was surprised at just how difficult 'selling' the series to them turned out to be. They were not silent and engrossed, they were not on the edge of their seats and they were not left dying to borrow my books.

I think that part of the problem lies in today's usual television viewing habits. Every TV set has a remote control which enables people to effortlessly 'channel-surf'. Teenagers like myself will simply watch the most interesting programme on because then they don't have to move. This means that while someone may watch the same show every week without fail, this is not because they are in any way a fan of the show; there is just nothing better to do that doesn't involve getting up from that nice comfortable couch.

Back to my two non-fans. From my rather small video collection I showed the movie version of The Brain of Morbius (which they enjoyed despite feeling it was a long way from being original), The Happiness Patrol (which they loved), Earthshock (which they found a bit slow and boring, although they were amused by Beryl Reid's performance) and Remembrance of the Daleks (which they thought was brilliant except for the plasma globe - er, Super-Duper Incredibly Advanced Time Controller). After that I couldn't persuade them to watch any more. They left, after deciding that Doctor Who must have had something to do with Kennedy's death, promising to return the next weekend to celebrate Who being 34 years and one week old (which they failed to do). They certainly aren't die-hard fans yet, which I don't understand.

I don't understand how people can fail to see that Doctor Who is the greatest TV show ever. When I started watching Doctor Who at age 7, I was hooked from the first episode I saw. When I first saw Blake's 7 at age 14 I was hooked. I always believed that if you showed an intelligent person a good series that would appeal to their taste, you would be at least half way to making a true fan out of them. I guess not. Damn that "reality" everyone keeps talking about. It just isn't fair. I've made casual fans out of these two, and if there was a repeat series screening here they would probably watch it, but I doubt they will make the effort to see more of the series on their own.

Perhaps the problem is age. Maybe if I had tried with one of those annoying people who watched it as kids and then forgot about it, or with someone too young to remember the series at all, I would have got somewhere. Then again, take four young siblings who all watched Doctor Who from the first episode in England all those years ago - despite my best efforts, only one is still watching occasionally and that is only because she happened to have a daughter (me) who turned into a rabid fan. Another possibility is that I made a mistake in showing whole stories. When the series ran it was on once a week, at least supposedly, and ended with (usually) a pretty decent cliff-hanger. Perhaps the key to introducing new viewers to Who is to recreate the show as a weekly serial and not a lot of self-contained stories on video tapes in nice covers with BBC logos that don't line up on your shelf.

Recently on the Internet people have been discussing whether or not their spouses are fans, and generally it seems as if progress is slow even when converting someone who is married to you. Why is this? It seems to be easy enough to get your friends to play the same war game you do, or listen to the same music or drink the same sort of coffee - why is it so difficult to get them to watch and enjoy a TV programme that was regularly watched by millions of people in 60 countries only a little while ago? I can find nowhere to lay the blame - sure, often the special effects in Doctor Who aren't up to Jurassic Park standards, but neither are those in Red Dwarf. Red Dwarf gets a large audience. Sure, sometimes (and only sometimes) the acting isn't too hot, but the same can easily be said for Baywatch and Shortland Street, both of which attract lots of viewers. I wonder if maybe the scripts are simply too good in Who? Perhaps in this day and age people feel threatened by anything that requires them to think even a little about what is going on. Or maybe it's the lack of a joke every other minute, plastic lifeguards, hospitals or American accented gun or sword wielding beautiful people that does it. I can deal with anything, provided I can see it. And I can't see the problem.

I'm beginning to wonder if it's even a good thing to be a 'fan' of a particular TV show or movie or music group or whatever. One of my neighbours once commented that he is glad not to be "as deep into anything" as I am. I suppose it could be better not to want to keep spending money on things like videos and books that I will probably keep for the rest of my life. It could be good to be able to hear people attack science fiction or tell me how infinitely superior Star Trek is to Who without taking it all personally and getting into long arguments. I guess it's the people with the personality types prone to addiction against the rest. Or perhaps it's the old-fashioned people who become loyal to things they like, unlike the casual fans of the 'MTV generation' who are motivated by the desire not to have to make any great effort for anything.

At this rate, I wonder just how long the memory of Doctor Who can survive. With all the choice of video tapes available to day it seems unlikely to me that many people will just happen to pick up and buy a Who tape and fall in love with the series, it seems to me to be very difficult to convert people regardless of how willing they are, and the show seems destined to remain screening only on cable or satellite stations or the odd PBS channel and always in countries other than New Zealand. Perhaps getting people reading the books first might help, as the Target novels are really quite fun and the New Adventures - canon or otherwise - are stories without the limitation of a BBC budget.

However, even if finding or creating new fans was not such a problem, the future of Who doesn't look too bright. I'm still waiting to be convinced that a brilliant TV show which grew from a not too promising start back in 1963 into a whole universe with a cult following can overcome the general disinterest and apathy that pervades the consciousness of the public in the 1990s. Just to prove me wrong, has anyone ever been highly successful in trying to interest non-fans in the show? There must be someone out there who's managed to spread the Doctor Who bug, and I'd love to hear how it should really be done.

It's funny what depressing thoughts 23 November can bring, eh?

This item appeared in TSV 54 (March 1998).