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September 28, 2003

  • Fans of Losing
  • imageDoctor Who may be my favourite television programme in the whole wide world, but I promised myself on embarking on this little exercise in self-publishing that I wouldn’t talk about it in a column. There’s a fantastic little zine called Enlightenment, coincidentally edited by myself, for that sort of thing (you can learn more about it at www.dwin.org). Nonetheless, something wonderful happened this week that prompted me to write about Doctor Who, at least indirectly.

    Doctor Who is coming back to TV.

    The series has been off the air in Britain since 1989. There was a FOX TV movie back in ‘96—gorgeous to look at, and yet lacking wit and anything resembling a plot—but otherwise there has been no sign of the time-travelling Doctor on the small screen except for the odd charity sketch for almost fourteen years.

    Then in the wee hours of Friday morning came the announcement that the BBC were producing a new series of Doctor Who, written by Russell T Davies, the creator of Queer As Folk (the good, British version), which would air sometime in 2005.

    If my finances were slightly better I would have bought a magnum of champagne.

    It’s been a long fourteen years for fans of Doctor Who. There have been many moments of hope, disappointment, cynicism and outright despair during that time. And yet, isn’t that part of being a fan of, well, just about anything?

    Whether you’re a devotee of sports or science fiction, trains or television series, loss and losing is a central part of being a fan.

    In last week’s column, I described my ultimate disillusionment with one of my former favourite TV shows, NYPD Blue since creator David Milch left. (I watched the season premiere last week. I’m afraid I’m not going back.) But you can see signs of it all around. This week, fans of the Detroit Tigers get to see if their team beats the ‘62 Mets for having the worst season ever. On TV, fans of The West Wing are tuning into a very different, ER-looking, series following Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme’s departure. A new NHL season means another season for Toronto Maple Leafs fans to raise their hopes that, this year, the Leafs will hold the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967 … only to, yet again, be disappointed.

    Being a fan of anything means living with disappointment and loss. TV shows get cancelled or, worse, “Jump The Shark” and suffer a protracted death; sports teams change rosters and never win again; supreme musical groups break up and never produce a decent album again; train engines eventually get replaced; Kevin Costner films continue to never be as good as Dances With Wolves

    Change is inevitable. Market forces and the human condition determine these changes and, whatever they are, they are far and away out of the control of the average fan. Fans were powerless to prevent Doctor Who from being cancelled (they were probably the only people watching it by 1989!), just as fans were powerless to prevent Sting from making crappy MOR pap after 1992 and just as Montreal Canadiens fans—surely some of the most vociferous fans in Canada—were powerless to prevent their team from sucking so badly the past couple of years. If I had my way, we’d be still watching Quantum Leap and Family Guy and the Leafs would have never left Maple Leaf Gardens.

    As a result, and this is what is fascinating to me, fans are prone to seeming particularly masochistic. When I lived in Britain I knew a fan of the Manchester City football club. Not Manchester United, Manchester City. City not only doesn’t have the popularity of United, but it’s been middling in the second division for decades. To my mind, that’s devotion that borders on the perverse. (Curiously, this fan thought I was mad to be a fan of Doctor Who!) This past summer, at the Toronto Trek convention, the Doctor Who Information Network had a fan table next to the Save Farscape organization, who were organizing a campaign to pressure the Sci-Fi Network to bring back Farscape in some form. I was deeply impressed that they were so incredibly organized, devoted and, unusually, so non-freakish. Even so, I kept asking myself why these otherwise normal, sane people would vigourously rage against the machine—probably to futile ends.

    But then, I’m one to talk. I’m a Doctor Who fan.

    Over the past fourteen years Doctor Who fans have proved themselves to be almost as durable as the show they love—and it lasted twenty-six years on television. After some initial, disastrous, Farscape-styled campaigns, Doctor Who fans settled into a long period of exile. The numbers dwindled but a significant remnant still remained. We continued to buy the product—videos, books and, latterly, audio plays—not in huge numbers but enough to keep the “brand” alive. There were lots of promising signs and disappointments along the way: the TV movie in ‘96. A couple of attempts at a big-screen version of the series never materialized. A BBC Radio pilot failed, but became the BBC’s first webcast drama. We bided our time while Doctor Who kept topping mainstream poll after poll and while some of the best-known talent in Britain, who grew up as fans of the series, developed the clout to see a new series happen. A new series was inevitable. We just had to stick it out. We had hope. It was a hope that often seemed masochistic, but then hope often appears that way.

    Former Doctor Who Tom Baker is supremely mad but also supremely wise. Speaking about Doctor Who fans he talked about how their love was pure and honest, like the faith of a child. I think that’s true of any fan, no matter if their fans of Doctor Who, Farscape, the Habs, or Kylie Minogue. Being a fan means having an unrequited love for something. A TV show or a sports team will never love you back, but as a fan you believe in it all the same, no matter what disappointment comes your way.

    And that’s what makes fans special—in every sense of the word.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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