Fandom 250: How Doctor Who’s fandom continues to surprise a fan from the Wilderness Years

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 07: Fans dressed as Doctor Who characters pose during BBC America’s Doctor Who Global Premiere at New York Comic Con on October 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for BBC America)

Doctor Who scored a respectable position in the Fandom 250 this year. So why does the fandom’s love and passion for the series continue to surprise me?

Yesterday, FanSided released this year’s Fandom 250 – a ranking of 250 fandoms, ranging from sports to movies to celebrities to, of course, television series.

Where did Doctor Who rank this year? At number forty-two, at least overall. Because, while it might not sound greatly impressive at first, it’s actually at number two in television, just behind Game of Thrones. That’s incredibly impressive when you consider it’s considerably ahead of several other shows with major fandoms, including Stranger Things and The Walking Dead.

I’m sure some of us will be disappointed that it wasn’t much higher in the listing. When it came at number forty-six last year, and three out of all TV series, my predecessor felt very strongly that it should’ve ranked much higher.

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And I certainly couldn’t blame her. To many of us, Doctor Who has been and always will be the greatest television series of all time. Whether we enjoy the current iteration or not, somehow, that fact will never change for us.

But how do I feel whenever I see rankings like this? Surprise, mainly. Mostly, that it ranks so high, particularly in the television category.

That almost makes it sound like I don’t have faith in the show, which is far from the case. But one thing you should understand is that I lived through the Wilderness Years. Or as I like to call them, the “Dark Times”. (Don’t worry, Doctor Who has its “Dark Times” references, particularly in The Five Doctors. It’s not just a Star Wars thing, after all.)

I didn’t just go through the Wilderness Years, either. Ironically, I actually grew up as a Whovian during this time.

During the long years Doctor Who was off the screen, the only break we had during that time in the Nineties was the TV movie.
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC.
Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

Growing up in the Wilderness Years

Having just missed the Classic Series, at least back when it was new, I grew up on repeats of Jon Pertwee episodes. (There were three things I especially enjoyed about watching his episodes: his hair, the cloak, and that amazing theme tune.)

When Doctor Who all too briefly came back with McGann’s Doctor in 1996, it’s what made me a fan for life. While The TV Movie is far from a popular story, it introduced me to many key concepts I hadn’t seen in the series before, including regeneration and the TARDIS being bigger on the inside. (The TARDIS wasn’t quite as important back in Three’s era due to his exile on Earth.) I became obsessed with the show afterwards.

However, to say that Doctor Who was “unfashionable” at the time is an understatement. At school, it was thought of as little more than a joke, and I’d be lucky to find anyone else interested in the show. And keep in mind, I grew up in Britain! After many years getting used to it, I calmly accepted that Doctor Who was never going to be anything big. At least, not during my lifetime.

When everything changed

And then 2003 came along. Not just the year of its fortieth anniversary, but also the year they announced that it was coming back.

Over time, the general attitude towards Doctor Who gradually started to change. Not right away, and not in a big way, but bit by bit. People started to take an interest as more details were announced.

Particularly when both Chrisopher Eccleston and Billie Piper were announced as being the new Doctor and companion. The former was a highly respected actor who had starred in a number of major TV series, including Our Friends in the North and Cracker.

The latter, however, was more of a shock, as she was mainly recognized as a former teen pop star. So there was some skepticism of that particular casting choice, at least pre-broadcast.

Then Rose finally aired and, well, you all know what happened next.

When Doctor Who came back in 2005, it suddenly had a huge surge in popularity, a level that’s been maintained for over a decade.
(Image credit: Doctor Who/BBC. Image obtained from: official Doctor Who website.)

Back from the dead

In the UK, Doctor Who became a huge success overnight, and was once more a national institution. It took a long while to catch on elsewhere, but now, even in the US, it has found itself a huge cult following.

And despite the number of changes that have caused some fans to say, “The BBC is killing Doctor Who!”, that’s not the case. At least, not if the number of times I’ve read that very sentence over the past decade is anything to go by. And I continue to chat about the show with many friends, some of whom are already ranking Jodie Whittaker as one of their favorite Doctors.

But still, despite the years it’s been on, despite how widely watched it is, and despite the worldwide fandom, the fact that Doctor Who is considered remotely cool, even within the sci-fi community, still continues to surprise me. Because I still remember the times when it wasn’t.

Still, perhaps it’s the Wilderness Years that are actually the best indication of just how strong the Doctor Who fandom is. Because even when it wasn’t on television, even when it had lost so much credibility, fans still continued to enjoy brand new stories. Whether it was through books, comics or audios, fans ensured that Doctor Who continued to survive, in some shape or form.

And that’s the key thing. That’s what makes the Doctor Who fandom the best. Because even when you take the show away from us, even when we don’t even like how the series is now, we still continue to enjoy it somehow.

Whether it’s through watching or re-watching old stories, or sticking on a brand new audio release, we’ll continue to enjoy Doctor Who in any way we can. And that’s why the Doctor Who fandom is so special.

Do you agree on my reasons why the Doctor Who fandom is the best? Are you pleased with the show’s ranking in the Fandom 250? Do you remember the Wilderness Years? Let us know in the comments below.