The Doctor’s worst enemy has been with him since near the very start. Eventually, they evolved into a terrifying force, one that ultimately helped bring down the Time Lord, driven by unchecked rage and an inability to comprehend simple human emotions.
That’s right: fandom.
Shrill, blinkered and unhelpful, Doctor Who fans at their worst have done more damage to the show than any revelations of half-humanity, burping wheelie-bins or complex series-arcs.
Recently, we managed to surpass ourselves by hurling abuse at Fern Britton for simply not liking science fiction. Her comments on the long-running BBC show Room 101 were staggeringly ill informed if you’re us, but most people wouldn’t entirely disagree with her. However, on prime time BBC One, Britton was held to account by Robert Webb and Frank Skinner. In no way did she look good as a result. Justice was served.
Fern Britton immediately trended on Twitter. Apparently, there are more sci-fi fans on the Internet than there are Fern Britton fans. I can’t even be bothered to be sarcastic about that. The clear majority of tweets showed that the way to celebrate an enjoyment of genre fiction was to mock someone about their weight. Social networking allows people to hurl abuse at strangers, providing a hard copy of thoughtless cruelty that can spiral into a national news story that dominates the week.
This means that Jeremy Clarkson can make a bad joke – of the kind that Jeremy Clarkson specialises in – on television and sit back as his pre-Christmas book sales increase. So, primed with the news that Fern Britton was going to insult us, we made sure we watched the first episode of a new series. It’s easy to be cynical. There’s a reason for that. The mobs are depressingly predictable.
The reaction to Britton saying ignorant things on television wasn’t a case of “And another reason sci-fi is brilliant is because…” but instead a series of fat jokes. Where previously only Fern Britton looked bad, now most geeks look like petty, vindictive, joyless hacks. After the broadcast of A Good Man Goes To War, Steve Moffat, Doctor Who show-runner, tweeted the following:
“Only one death threat, two demands for my immediate resignation, and two for my suicide. IT’S A HIT!!”
So boo Fern Britton! She’s slagging off our favourite shows! That’s our job. And if we see fit to send death threats to the writer, it’s only because we love it so much. It’s easy to mock. I know because I’ve watched Warriors Of The Deep. There is such a thing as mocking with affection and in well-informed groups, and too much of fandom is free of warmth towards the programme they claim is their favourite.
At the Edinburgh Festival this year, a comedian on a Richard Herring podcast boasted about calling Sylvester McCoy “a c**t” at the Fringe a few years back, a mere 20 years after the actor had regularly appeared in the show. I felt ashamed to be associated with him via fandom, to be lumped in with someone who would happily insult a stranger minding his own business over a two-decade old animosity and think it something deserving of praise.
Maybe it’s the underlying bitterness within fandom of their precious show not staying the same, not remaining as it was during their childhood, which leads to sociopathic acts such as this being deemed laudable. The alternative is that some people are just miserable and can turn someone else’s positive into a negative.
The downturn in fortunes for the show in the 80s coincided with the rise of fandom as an organised entity, and yet the best of fandom is in groups who bond and share other interests through the show, leading to friendships and relationships that last lifetimes. I wouldn’t be a member of CAMRA if I weren’t a Doctor Who fan, for example. Things spiral wonderfully out of control.
However, 80s producer John Nathan-Turner courted fandom, using the convention circuit to build the show’s profile abroad at the expense of paying attention to things back in London. He unequivocally loved the show, but fans are fickle, and when the stories veered from the sublime to the ridiculous, the latter caused organised fandom to attack the show via newsletters, fanzines and the occasional hate-mail. Organisation meant an outlet for anger, and the show’s past suffered a backlash.
When the show was put on hiatus in 1985, fandom tried to help. It bombarded newspapers with letters, and the papers realised they were onto a good thing by campaigning on their behalf. Michael Grade was also bombarded with letters containing such hatred that it’s amazing the show ever reappeared.
Certainly, they were in no way helpful to the show’s cause, and neither was the appearance of some fans to discuss Time And The Rani on Open Air. They were, in their minds, trying to help. Trying to be light-hearted can go wrong too. Karen Gillan’s long-term relationship ended, and the response from fans on Twitter was at best an attempt at levity, and at worst a portrayal of male fans as insensitive and lecherous stalkers.
Received fan wisdom, which has undergone more revisionism than the history of Russia, is thankfully contained on the internet. We are living in a golden age where Doctor Who Magazine can be brandished in public with no great loss of social status, but on forums, huge great wedges of the curmudgeonly are enveloping new fans daily, destroying any chance of merely watching and enjoying a telly programme they might once have had. New series fans hate old series fans. Any woman who likes the Tenth Doctor is just a Tennant fangirl. Steve Moffat is sexist. Amy Pond is just a pout on legs. Anything fast-paced is dumbed down nonsense.
The arguments repeat themselves and repeat themselves like people wish the Hinchcliffe era had. Over on the DVD sections, the team who painstakingly restore episodes to broadcast quality are pilloried for the slightest mistake, and the slightest drop in quality of DVD extras is received with the kind of ire you’d expect to be reserved for murderers. Forums have closed due to the bitterness of arguments between fans, such is the misdirection of our passion.
This is the problem. It’s not that we don’t love the show. John Nathan-Turner loved the show. He still made mistakes, even if they were well intentioned. Doctor Who now is not made for us anyway. We enjoy it because it is a continuation of the show we loved as children, and allowances are made for us because the show is inclusive, and yet we tear it apart. Why can’t we, as fans, manage to enjoy it on our own terms irrespective of the opinions of others?
If Fern Britton doesn’t like sci-fi, that’s her loss. We do enjoy it, and our world is all the richer for that. Someone on a forum once asked for advice when they were being bullied for liking Sylvester McCoy. My advice was to ignore them. Watch Ghostlight and enjoy it, because you can and they cannot. This is how you win. Their world is limited in comparison to yours.
If you love a TV show, show it by watching it and enjoying it and sharing that enjoyment with others, because insulting people who disagree with you on the internet is so far yet to solve anything.