Whilst watching youtube videos post-2014 Television BAFTAS, I came across the Radio Times Audience Award Winners one. Doctor Who won for the 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor. In the video, producer Marcus Wilson states “The show is now being made by fans”.
This sits awkwardly with me. I do consider myself a fan of the programme. I’ve watched every episode since the programme was brought back in 2005 except for the Series 6 episode Closing Time which I missed and never caught up on (mainly due to my dislike of James Corden and Matt Smith being my least favourite “new” Doctor). I’ve started watching episodes from the classic era of Doctor Who. I read threads on the Doctor Who forum on Digital Spy, I reblog Doctor Who related things on tumblr, I buy Doctor Who merchandise whilst meeting the actors at Cardiff Comic Con and so on.
However, through my university course, I have also approached the programme as a researcher. I have written assignments on the representation and production of the programme as well as dedicating my dissertation to it! Assuming an unbiased, academic perspective towards my work has made me realise the extent to which the fan is involved. I have been able to view the fandom from a distance and have felt that, at times, the fandom can be understood as a problematic concept.
I know myself and many others have been disappointed with the last series or so of Doctor Who. Whilst most blame the showrunner, I find myself wondering whether being immersed in this fandom and what it means to be fan is affecting my enjoyment of the programme. I think as fans we build up so much expectation that we’re almost always going to be disappointed by the programme. Fans can be passionate about different characters and subsequently imagine the way that they think their favourites should be developed and how they should be represented. Fans will analyse every single detail of a character and narrative to fit their own beliefs about how the programme should pan out. Such high expectation and investment will never be recognised within the programme itself and the fans lash out at the creators.
But if, as Marcus Wilson states, the programme is created by fans why is there a massive backlash? It is no secret that most involved in the production of Doctor Who are fans of the programme. Russell T Davies really fought to bring Doctor Who back because he was a fan and the latest Doctor, Peter Capaldi, has been a fan of the programme since childhood. Surely as fans themselves, they are entitled to their own interpretations of the programme. The difference between the creators of new Doctor Who and the fandom is that some fans have the opportunity and television experience to produce the programme! The backlash towards the fans who create the programme suggests that there is some form of fan hierarchy.
The other issue about the programme being made by fans is that I think there is now a disparity between audiences and fans. Doctor Who has always been targeted at a family audience since it began broadcasting in 1963. I would have comfortably fit in the target audience as a 12 year old watching with my parents when the series was brought back in 2005. The first few years when I wasn’t actively involved in the fandom but as a simple audience member who watched every Saturday teatime were the years I most enjoyed Doctor Who. Russell T Davies’ era, although I found the narratives quite predictable, had a clear sense of audience and the programme was very much a family-oriented drama. Perhaps growing older and being more aware of the fandom has altered my enjoyment of the programme as I am no longer the target audience and I have higher expectations and different ideas of what should be included as an active fan. I think the original revival audience have grown up and that this is causing problems for current showrunner Steven Moffat who is trying to appeal to both the target audience and the fans.
Although belonging to a television fandom can be a positive experience, there is a dark side too. It can cause conflict and spite fuelled by the leaders of the fan community. This can be problematic for television creators who aim to create programmes to appeal to these fans alongside attempting to reach a mass audience.