Overview and Classic Who:

History of Doctor Who

Doctor Who premiered on November 23, 1963, and has since become the longest-running TV show, gathering an enormous fan base over the course of 36 seasons. The show follows a Doctor and his companion who travels through space and time helping different planets and species. The show started it ran for 26 years, only to go on hiatus and then was brought back in 2005 when it gained even more popularity.  Through the 50 years Doctor Who has been running, it has been able to have 12 different doctors with a 13th coming in 2018 and has had countless different companions. Originally, it was a BBC television show that held a large mainstream viewing in British Culture as families viewed it week after week. It started as a family-oriented kid’s show, by having the first doctor be a grandfatherly figure in the series premiere. Slowly it transitioned to American viewership on PBS till 1987. This trend continued with BBC America when the reboot occurred. However, in American culture, it filled a more of a niche role in Cult television. The reboot of the series would fill a large section of the American market that needed a sci-fi show when many other Cult television shows had ended in the early 2000s. Even though there was a large name recognition of Doctor Who in Britain the fans have filled a role of those supported Cult Television shows in America (Hill, 2010). The Doctor Who fans affectionally acquired the name Whovian and hold much pride in their knowledge and engagement with the show and others Whovians.  

Whovians considered the original 7 doctors from the years 1963-1989 to be Classic Doctor Who. Within this time the show had 26 seasons. During the classic series, the doctors were all men of an older age. Though the role of companions was both male, female, and alien. In this part of the show, the companion was never a love interest, which should be taken notice of because that changed during the reboot (Who’s Changing, 2013). Having only male Doctors during this time period created the original fan base of white males. This engaged fan base wanted to create a space to interact and discuss the show, thus the first convention was created (Panopticon 1977). In 1989, The show was put on hiatus, but not ended because of low viewership and lost in production value.

 The Effect of the Lost Years:

Wartime movie poster. Wartime in large yellow letter with men in army gear looking in the distance

Wartime (1987) Reeltime Productions from Doctor Who Merchandise Guide

The lost years of Doctor Who were the years between the classic series and when the reboot series occurred in 2004. The decrease in viewership at the end of the classic series pushed Doctor Who to go from “mainstream” in British Culture to be a niche cult television show (Hill, 2010). Durning these years, Whovians on took many of the traits of a subculture and used them to keep the love of the show and its characters alive in the fan’s own universe. During the Lost Year, the production of participatory fandom commodities increased as there was movies, comics, radio, and clothing that came from a period where no new episodes of Doctor Who was released. 

The BBC owned the rights to Doctor Who, one of its many policies was that any character written by a writer belongs to whoever wrote the character. This allowed for these writers to take these smaller characters and continue to make shorts for fan-based literature to continue expanding the Doctor Who universe. Films such as Wartime were produced by Reeltime Productions in 1987, which used this policy to the fans advantage and took a minor character of the show for the main character in the movie (Dowd, 2013). Another thing that really contributed to the strength of the fandom was that conventions continue to grow to support the fans and created a very dedicated fan because of the show. During the ‘Lost Years’, the conventions that occurred smaller and on good year would be around 400 dedicated fans attending a convention (Booth, 2013).  These conventions made it possible for fans all over Britain and the world to connect, not just about the show, but to have one on one interactions and get to know one another. The conventions were not the only way fan stayed involved as there was plenty of comic books, novels, audio plays, and fanfiction. Along with that in 1996, there was a TV movie in which 8th Doctor was shown for the first and only time. The movie acted as a way to gauge interest and re-excite the fans during the hiatus. The movie was a large hit in Britain but did not have a strong viewership in America. If it had then it would have acted as a backdoor pilot to an earlier reboot then 2004. The most dedicated fans are the ones that most actively participated in the fandom by producing media or continuing to show support for the show its self. Without Whovians in high place then the show probably would have faded to the background (Hill, 2010).  The fans created in the ‘lost years of Doctor Who’ are those who most strongly identify as Whovians as they grew up and created a collective identity around the show. 


12 different men standing in profile lined up in order of appearence on the television show Doctor Who

The Reboot started in 2004 starting with the regeneration (creation of a new doctor) of the 9th doctor, actor Christopher Eccleston. The reboot has been going on now for 13 years with the doctor count being at 13 this coming winter. The actors who play the Doctor change from older men in the Classic Who to younger men in the Reboot. They have been for the most part younger and more attractive (Who’s Changing, 2013). This has caused a whole new group of female fans to be attracted to the series. Also, a younger doctor has allowed for companion-doctor relationships, which in turn have very much caused more of the fanfiction to be romantically based. This type of fanfiction has really engaged the female fan to not just be a viewer, but also to be a participant in the fandom as they have a place to put romantic notions of the Doctor in many aspects of the fandom (Hadas, 2009).  Not only has Doctor Who come back into the media, countless official spin-offs have too, show such as Torchwood, Class, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and K-9. Also, since the reboot, the ability for Doctor Who to have transmedia properties have increased through the internet’s ability to connect communities internationally. This wide variety of different media’s has allowed fans and the fandom to connect in ways that just was not possible when the show started in 1963 and the fandom had to communicate through letters.


5 different actors on the show Doctor Who speaking at the convention Comic Con

Panel of actors from Doctor Who at Comic Con

Conventions for Doctor Who started in Britain with small 200 person conventions. The first one was Panopticon in 1977 and was sponsored by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. These were intimate spaces where people could interact with writers and actors who would show up. Once it moved to America, the fandom created the name Whovian and gave the idea of cult TV. They also started the tradition of paying actors and writers for coming to the conventions, which was not accustomed to the original style of conventions in Britain (Who’s Changing, 2013). Americans treated actors and members of the show very differently. They sensationalized and became much more excited than British fans had ever been. Also, as time went on the demographics of the conventions changed. In the classic series fans was around 95% male, but as time went on the people who attended and the conventions themselves had some more focus on female attendees. The idea of conventions has expanded to large multi-universe, multiday events such as Comic-Con and Dragon Con. This doesn’t mean that the original convention idea of Whovians was lost as they still have their own convention called Gallifrey One (a reference to the Doctor’s home planet). Conventions are a place where people can interact with those who are in the Whovian subculture, as is a place to indulge in the consumption of the different type of fan-produced media in person. The ability to fulfill a qualification of a fandom is just that have space or the ability to relate to other fans (Gelder, 2007) This can include the comic books and novels that have been produced for years. Hardcore fans early in the Reboot years had trouble at the Conventions. There was a sense of us vs. them with New who vs. Classic who as those who had been supporting Doctor Who since the beginning saw a lack of authenticity of those who joined with the show was rebooted(Booth, 2013).


Three Women dressed up like Weeping Angles at a Convention (Fedcon 2013)

Cosplayers as Weeping Angel Characters

One of the key aspects of Conventions is the ability of those involved to dress up in costumes (cosplay) to portray characters of Doctor Who. When a fan costume plays (cosplay) that means that they are portraying a character in a book, movie, play, or television show. Cosplay originated with Japanese Fandoms (Winge, 2006). As time went on the fandom grew larger which in turn meant a larger number of people started to dress up as the characters from Doctor Who. Whovians who have the capability to dress up as characters show a great deal of dedication to engagement with shows material. Cosplay is more than just dressing up, a fan has the power to express themselves through a comfortable social outlet and expression art form (Winge, 2006). The ability for people to dress up as any character also allows for fans to have a deeper connection and individuality in the characters that they love.  Cosplay encourages fans to have live interactions with other cosplaying members this happens both conventions and other arranged events (Who’s Changing, 2013). Something interesting to point out within the show that each Doctor has their own style some of which show off other subcultures like punk or hippie. This individual style can allow any Whovian to find a character that speaks to them on a certain level, making the cosplay world very open to different types of people than just a typical white male. The ability to change and tweak characters can create a diversity of characters which allows anyone to participate. The ability to cosplay allows for people of all ages have confidence in themselves that maybe isn’t allowed to them in everyday life.



Within the Whovian subculture, men and women have an even representation. There are still quite a few different ways in which women are limited in their contribution. First, would come with the idea of Crossplay, which is like Cosplay but instead the person wearing a costume for a character of a different gender then they idenitfy with. For women, dressing up as a male character allows them to promote a powerful exterior (Booth, 2013). The main roles of Doctor Who have been male until this most recent regeneration that will happen in the new season in which the doctor will be a woman played by Jodie Whittaker. The change in gender will maybe encourage for men to also engage in crossplay without it being drag (Who’s Changing, 2013). With that being said, women still are seen as powerful within the show itself with characters such as River Song, Madame Vastra, Amy Pond, Ace. The list could go on and showcase the diversity of characters that have been on the show over the years. All these women are strong-willed and confident characters that challenge the Doctor in different fashions. Having the availability of women characters to be written about and even have their own spin-offs which fans can consume give a sense of equality within the fandom. However, many women joined Whovians when the Doctor became younger and could be fantasied about in a romantic fashion. This means that the Reboot carries a larger female audience than the Classic season ever held, but the Reboot has expanded womens roles too. 


Consumption of Media: Official and Unofficial

A magazine cover that says: The Day of the Doctor with the actors on the cover. One is in the foreground and two in the background.

Doctor Who Magazine from Doctor Who Online


There are many types of official media that produced that isn’t the show. The BBC has contracted with other writers to produce an official comics, novels, radio programs, video games, and movies. One of these items would be the Doctor Who Magazine, which is directly distributed by the BBC (Dowd, 2013). The BBC also works with authors which at one point may have written unofficial items, but have been given the chance to produce official goods to be consumed which give a product. Certain fan groups like Doctor Who Fan Club of American (DWFCA) and Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) are also supported by the BBC, which allows for knowledge to be given directly from production to fans through newsletters and merchandise that is licensed to these groups (McKee, 2004). Also during the lost years, the BBC regularly contracted a radio shows instead of the TV show, which was on Hiatus to continue the story in some ways. This contradicts some of the general principles of subculture consumption as these items are being made for profit other than others enjoyment and sharing of the culture. Though these fans get to have some credibility with these official publications. They still don’t have any say in the actual production of the show.  Fans at this point have produced, directed, and acted in Doctor Who, but overall the separation between the production world and the fan world still exists (Hill, 2010; McKee, 2004). This doesn’t mean that occasionally the show adds jokes that only dedicated fan would understand as a way to show appreciation.  


An animated fan fiction cover with three different characters( 2 males in nice clothing and one female in a red sweatshirt)

A Fan Fiction Cover with a new companion

There is also a whole world of online communication where fans can interact and share values and feeling of the show. This is where the culture and communication come from with these communities. The internet has really allowed for the community to grow that just wasn’t possible in the early days of the show in which everything was done through mail, DWAS newsletters, and conventions once they started. Whovians converse and interact are through online message boards and fan fiction. Online message boards like Teaspoon and an Open Mind are a place to communicate and share values and ideas. The fan fiction is a way to show creativity through themes, plots, and characters within the Doctor Who franchise by continuing character’s stories or altering it (Hadas, 2009). In fanfiction, many characters are be “shipped” in romantic relationships. When looking at the site the doctors with the most stories written about them are the younger, more attractive ones of the reboot era.  The act of writing, of fan fiction, does not specifically show a subculture, but the interaction around the stories do. Others read and comment on the stories that are written. This where language and understanding of the show play an important role. If one does not understand the lingo or the small details, then they are not seemed to be as good in Cosplay or writing in fanfiction leading to a certain hierarchy in the Whovian universe (Short, 2016). Those who are good at writing fanfiction are then promoted to the official category in which they are promoted by the BBC. The number of unofficial media doesn’t stop with the written story as fans have even created a style of music called Time Lord Rock or Trock. The founder of this music would be a band called the Chameleon Circuit as a reference to a part of the Tardis or spaceship the Doctor uses.

By: Natalie Niederman



An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)


A biographical telling of the early years of Doctor Who. Shows how the show came to be and how it gained popularity

Wartime Trailer (1987) – Reeltime Productions

A trailer for one of the many spin-off movies that were created during the lost years with fans enthusiasm.

Chameleon Circuit – The Doctor is Dying

An example of a music genre created by Doctor Who fans called Time Lord Rock (Trock)

First Episode Doctor Who: Unearthly Child (1963)

First Episode of Reboot: Rose (2005) 

The Viewership and fans engaged changed over time and that can be seen through the first episode of the Classic Series and the Reboot Series of Doctor Who.

Fan Websites:

Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS): The largest and one of the first Doctor Who Fan Clubs. They have membership fees and send out a monthly newsletter 

Doctor Who Information Network: This Fan Club is now the longest running one in N. America (Canada) after many folded in the late 1990’s

FanFiction: One of the many sites that has Doctor Who fanfiction was written on and shared. 

Teaspoon and an Open Mind: a solely Doctor Who fanfiction archive



 Fan Phenomena: Doctor Who by Paul Booth

This book looks at the fans over time and shares a compilation of different types of Whovians. 







Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers 

By: Tom Dowd, Michael Niederman, Michael Fry, and Josef Stieff

This book looks at both Doctor Who and Other Media entities in order to access their ability to be used in different transmedia purposes. The engagement of Whovians made it easy for Doctor Who to be a large transmedia property.





Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It

Editor: Lynne Thomas and Tara O’Shea

This book celebrates Doctor Who with a compilation of pieces written by women who are fans but have also had a role in Doctor Who’s making or popularity.





Journal Articles:

Booth, Paul and Peter Kelly. 2013. “The changing faces of Doctor Who fandom: New fans, new technologies, old practices?” Participations: Journal of audience and reception studies 10(1):56–72.

Britton, Piers and Barker, Simon. 2003. “WORLDS APART: Originality and Conservatism in the Imagery of Doctor Who.” Reading between Designs. University of Texas Press: pp. 131-195.

Gelder, Kevin. (2007). Subcultures: Cultural histories and social practice. Abingdon, Oxon:Routledge.

Short, Dean. 2016. “SuperWhoLock: An Analysis of Subculture in a Microblogging Setting.” Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 5117.

Hadas, Leora. 2009. ”The Web planet: How the changing Internet divided Doctor Who fan fiction writers”. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3.  http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0129.

Hills, Matt. 2010. “Doctor Who.” The Essential Cult TV Reader. University Press of Kentucky:97-103.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jj8f.17

Lopes, Paul, 2006 “Culture and Stigma: Popular Culture and the Case of Comic Books.” Sociological Forum, 21(3):387-414.

McKee, Alan. 2004. “How to Tell the Difference between Production and Consumption: A Case Study in Doctor Who Fandom.” Cult Television. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press: 167-186