by Catriona Mills

Please Stop Questioning My Fandom

Posted 29 September 2008 in by Catriona

In honour of the controversial ending to season four of Doctor Who, I want to run through, in a diffuse and undirected fashion, something that’s been bothering me for a while.

I want people to stop telling me what criteria I need to meet before I can call myself a Doctor Who fan.

Sure, no one’s actually telling me this in person, but I’m seeing blanket statements more and more often, and they’re frustrating me.

I was surfing around the other day, looking for a version of Tim Bisley’s rant about The Phantom Menace from Spaced so I could quote it in a comment thread, and I came across another version of this statement on a blog I’d never visited before.

I’m not going to link to the blog, because that’s not important: the author is entitled to their opinion (which is, in a nutshell, what this post is about), and it was just one more iteration of the comment that’s been bothering me.

And that comment, paraphrased, is this: You’re not a fan of Doctor Who unless you get all gushy about the Doctor’s relationship with Rose.

Well, I don’t get particularly gushy over the relationship, but I see no reason why my fandom should be constrained or questioned as a result.

Why am I not particularly invested in that relationship? Many reasons.

Partly, it has to do with the fact that I found Rose thoroughly whiny at the end of season four, and lost much of the sympathy I’d previously had for her as a result.

But partly it has to do with the fact that Rose’s relationship with the Doctor opened up the subsequent unrequited-love angle for Martha and the argument, which I still see posted on various sites, that obviously Donna is in love with the Doctor: everyone is in love with the Doctor.

This argument, to me, has shades of another old chestnut that I despise: Men and women can’t ever really be friends, because sex keeps getting in the way.

I can’t count the number of ways in which that statement frustrates me, but here are a few:

  • it’s patronising: not everyone is locked into a mode of thought where a sexual relationship is the only possible relationship.
  • it’s deeply heternormative: what if one member of the pairing is gay? What if both are? And what on earth does this suggest about our friendships with people who aren’t heterosexual?
  • it suggests we should live in a climate of trepidation, suspecting that everyone we meet wants something from us that they’re hiding behind a facade of friendship, and if we ever acknowledge that facade, the whole friendship will crumble.
  • where do married couples or couples in other forms of long-term committed relationships fit in here?

It seems to me that Rose’s relationship with the Doctor has opened Doctor Who up to this type of reading. I can’t fathom how it is possible to read Donna as in love with the Doctor, but no text is translucent, so presumably people are pulling something out of it that I’m not seeing.

But this is only my personal problem with the programme. When I watched it as a child, there was no suggestion of this in my mind. (With the possible exception of Romana.) The Doctor has companions, and they travelled the galaxy together, and we all wished we could travel in the TARDIS one day. If anything else was going on, it was going on behind closed doors, and I, for one, never thought about it.

Looking back, I think that was one reason why I liked the show: it was one of the few shows out there that didn’t subscribe to the “men and women can’t be friends” mentality.

Well, those days are over, as far a large proportion of Doctor Who fandom is concerned.

And that’s not the issue with which I have a problem.

I’m not attempting to assert that my view of the programme is the only true and right one.

Fandom is not monolithic.

There are as many different ways of being a fan as there are different ways to read a text, and there are as many ways of reading a text as there are readers (provided the text is of sufficient complexity. I don’t know how many ways there are to read Spot books—though I did once have students demonstrate a brilliant reading of a Spot pop-up book through the conventions of Gothic literature, so maybe I shouldn’t be so restrictive.)

You experience great joy out of being a Rose-Doctor ‘shipper? Great! ‘Ship away!

But don’t dare tell me that if I don’t subscribe to your view of the text then I’m not a fan.

I’m a fan of Doctor Who.

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who my entire life: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t watch this programme, growing up in the household of parents who started watching the programme in 1963.

I was an open fan of the programme back when Doctor Who fans were unilaterally perceived as anorak-wearing weirdos (though I ascribe no particular virtue to this on my part: I never have been cool).

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: Doctor Who is blood and bone to me, the only television programme that I’ve ever felt exists under my very skin.

So I don’t gush over the Doctor’s relationship with a recent companion.

Why should I feel compelled to abandon a life-long fandom on those grounds?

Share your thoughts [15]


Wendy wrote at Sep 29, 09:04 am

I guess I’m not a fan either…because frankly the whole Rose-Doctor thing was one disappointing aspect of the program for me.

Also, I’m a recent convert to Dr Who…for although watching it as a child, I found it horrendously scary and thus it didn’t become a favourite until I reached the maturity of adulthood and realised that it was indeed fiction…and I didn’t need to cover my eyes with my hands (although I have still wanted to do this on occasion).

Fandom is not monolithic as you say…it can develop at all ages and stages of life, ebb, flow and wane…that’s what so fantastic (haha) about it.


Catriona wrote at Sep 29, 09:17 am

Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat would be thrilled to know that you found it so scary, Wendy, as would the great writers of that era, like Robert Holmes: it’s fact universally acknowledged that a British childhood in front of the television meant always watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa.

(Plus, I did this in Australia and Nick did it in New Zealand; it just seems to be more of a running joke in English culture.)

The fact that this re-visioning of Doctor Who, which feels, in so many ways, so like the original, has brought a whole new raft of fans to the show is brilliant.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like it the way they like it.


Leigh wrote at Sep 29, 09:53 pm

Yep, not a fan here !!! I’ve only been watching it since birth, as my parents (like yours) started watching it before i was born.

I’m ‘not a fan’ because i dont break it down. Love watching other people talk in detail that i have never thought of but its not my character … or my skill set. Generally i watch i enjoy i turn off and dont think about it again until next Saturday. Except for recently when i devour the live blog comments.

So i am ‘not a fan’ and happy to be so :)

I have to say though i get the same feeling on some of the forums i go onto, i think you are often expected to conform to their exact beliefs ….. its the cyberspace way, you can say whatever you want and never have to look anyone in the eye


Catriona wrote at Sep 29, 10:27 pm

As per forums, it’s often John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory as laid out in Penny Arcade (I can’t find the original, and this site didn’t use a stable link, but here’s the comic.)

I suspect all forums end up that way, though I’ve never really been involved in any.

I do know, though, that Nick’s recently stopped visiting a Doctor Who forum that he used to patronise quick often, because he says it’s now entirely occupied by a particularly hysterical breed of Rose ‘shippers.

That’s all I really object to: the constraint of the varieties of fandom in favour of your one particular outlook.

(I wonder, too, if this has something to do with the show’s popularity in the U. S. Most of the forums and blogs I’m seeing these comments on are from the States and, while I know it was screened there and some of these fans watched it, as we did, as children, I don’t think it ever had the same saturation there as it did in Australia, what with the PBS/cable dichotomy.


Matthew Smith wrote at Sep 30, 12:01 am

I hope I haven’t been kicked off the blog for dissing the Doc. I’ve watched Doctor Who since I was a kid but I never collected any of the video tapes, books or DVDs and probably won’t. I did however make a cardboard K9 who walked around school with me on the end of a piece of string.


Catriona wrote at Sep 30, 12:14 am

See, making a cardboard K9 and taking it to school is waaaay geekier than buying the DVDs.

I did start buying some on video once I got my first job: they weren’t on telly any more, and I collected half a dozen or so. Never really took off as a collector of videos, because I always felt vaguely guilty about buying them. (For non-fan related reasons.)

We don’t yet own season three on DVD, but we will. And I’m keen to buy “The Key to Time” set, but it’s so pricey.

Nick, of course, has books, DVDs, videos, T-shirts, oven gloves—although most of the memorabilia has been gifts from other people. He doesn’t buy much of that himself.

And I’m not kicking anyone off the blog for having an opinion that differs from mine. That would be monstrous.

(I haven’t set any house rules, but if I did, I suppose it would boil down to this: I try hard not to actually abuse people on the blog. Criticise, yes. Abuse, no. I don’t know that I always succeed, but I do try. That would probably be my only rule. Fair criticism of perceived flaws in a body of work? Fine. Unsubstantiated, general, and/or personal abuse? Not fine. But no one does that here, anyway.)


Drew wrote at Sep 30, 10:23 am

Hmmm, Fandom is an odd social construction. I have been a member of its ranks my entire life I think but it was only in the last 10 years or so that I realised that I wasn’t just in a subculture of one. I don’t know what you have been reading but I wouldn’t give it much attention. There will always be subcultures among subcultures and people who want to coopt the general interpretation of any series to suit their own desires. I’ve always been a Who fan, I would own all the dvds if I could afford them and am fairly unique among fans in not having a favourite Doctor and not for a moment would I be listening to someone who was incapable of acknowledging multiple interpretations of the show.


Nick Caldwell wrote at Sep 30, 01:02 pm

Indeed, Drew. More than just about any other telefantasy text, Doctor Who is about change and diversity. Many fans who have come to the show recently and are uncertain or hostile to the latest changes have to realise that they just need to wait a few years and there’ll be something new to complain about or praise. A few iterations of that process and they’ll be complaining that nothing was as good as The Deadly Assassin, just like the rest of us. Or something.


Catriona wrote at Sep 30, 11:06 pm

Nothing was as good as “The Deadly Assassin,” Nicholas? Methinks someone hasn’t been watching “City of Death” often enough . . .

No, I’m not allowing this to stop me thinking of myself as a fan, but it is bothering me. Because I’m not just seeing it in one place. The same idea is being repeated over and over again.

I suspect it’s a function of a few things:

The season four finale has everyone thinking about the Doctor and Rose again, so the idea that being deeply committed to their relationship is central to enjoying the programme is being revived.

The Internet means we’re all linking to each other, so different people all adopting the same subset of the fandom who, when I was watching the original series, would probably never have met each other are now all hyperlinked.

And, at the risk of being accused of being biased again, I do think some of this comes from an American approach to the show, because, as I said above, I don’t think it had anywhere near the same saturation there in its original form as it did here, so I suspect many of the commenters throwing the “not a fan” comment around aren’t thinking that they might be (hypothetically) disenfranchising people with up to forty years’ investment in the show.

(At least I didn’t write a blog post on the other comment that annoyed me: I came across one, I can’t remember where but it was an American site, talking about the popularity of the show on the Sci-Fi Channel, and saying that the BBC should be grateful, because the show was more likely to be renewed if it was selling well in the U. S. I said to Nick, “I don’t think the BBC cares.” He said, “The BBC isn’t allowed to care.” It’s so easy to think of television programmes as monolithic—in their appeal, the sub-texts, their audience—so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when people think of television programming as monolithic.)


Drew wrote at Oct 1, 08:36 am

lol, I like that, that the BBC should be happy if it sells well in the US. I suppose someone in the Beeb is happy about that fact but I doubt it’s high on the list of determining factors about the future of the series. There was more I wanted to add in my original posting but I decided in favour of brevity; I will make a few notes here though if I may.

1/ one of the appeals to me about the Whoverse is that it’s based on a concept of anarchy, that is one character doing pretty much whatever they want according to their own personal moral code. In contrast to the US versions of SF – Trek and SW mainly come to mind, I find Doctor Who extremely refreshing and more optimistic than US sci-fi which seems to have colonialism at its very centre.

2/ I had never thought about it before but you are right, DW does promote relationships between men and women that are just friendships pure and simple.

/3 my own (originally optimistic) views about the possibility of male/female friendships have been severely damaged by my life experiences and while I’d like to believe that it is indeed possible, I am very wary now of the many social barriers that exist to prevent such relationships. I am little surprised that shippers see romance wherever they turn their eyes, it seems to me that is how almost everyone thinks in RL as well. Bit depressing that last bit, sorry. :)


Catriona wrote at Oct 1, 09:13 am

According to Nick, who knows these things, the BBC is forbidden by its charter to take commercial success into account when determining the future of a series. So it’s not just a matter of interest; it’s at the heart of the way the BBC operates.

(Of course, I also have a number of thoughts about the intrinsically British nature of Doctor Who and the open arms with which its return has been greeted in the U. K., but I don’t want to sound nationalistic. I’m thrilled the programme is generating such fandom worldwide. I’ve derived such joy from my Doctor Who fandom that I want everyone to enjoy it.)

I’d never really thought about the anarchy of the Whoverse, but you’re right—especially in the new series, with Gallifrey gone. In the original series, the Doctor was constrained, unwillingly, by the Time Lord code of practice (witness the forced regeneration of the second Doctor, the repatriation of Zoe and Jamie, and the earth-locked TARDIS in the third Doctor’s time).

But part of that anarchy is that the Doctor’s cruising for a fall—and I want to see that. He’s becoming too anarchic. Sometimes it works (as in “The Runaway Bride,” when it was devastating but plausible) but sometimes it’s inconsistent and verging on the sociopathic (as in “The Doctor’s Daughter,” when he veers from furious anger at the waste of life to grinning at the excitement in the spate of a single scene).

But then “Midnight” redressed some of that—and it was both hard to watch and wonderful to see.

I do find the final comment a little depressing—and it’s doubly sad because I’ve not found that. Maybe I have a naturally repelling personality? (That’s “repelling,” not “repellant.”)


Lisa wrote at Oct 3, 04:18 am

Drew, I think that another way to look at that scene with Davros showing the Doctor all the people who have been willing to “kill” for him is to read against Davros’s interpretation and see it as all of the people who have been willing to die for him.

This fits a reading in Dr Who of a different type of love between the Doctor and his companions where it is a love born of respect and inspiration (the better life that we’ve been talking about over on Memes of Production I’m not about to say that it precludes other forms of relationship as well, but that I think it is evident in the relationships of the new series (with the possible exception of Martha because she was so focused on the romantic).

To give an example from another favourite, and following on from a discussion that John and I were having in relation to this the other night: One might follow Aragorn into battle, but one is unlikely to follow Legolas or Boromir (though some may follow Faramir). The character Aragorn inspires that kind of love. It becomes complicated for some female characters (think Eowyn) where traditional role models and romantic expectations get in the way, but I think the inspiring leader has an equally long narrative heritage and can be applied to Dr Who.


Catriona wrote at Oct 3, 05:18 am

Lisa, I’m going to disagree with one point here: men do follow Boromir into battle, by the thousands. I agree that people won’t follow Legolas, but Boromir, before the One Ring corrupts him, is a leader of men.

In fact, though he’s an arrogant man, certainly, he’s the leader of men until Aragorn resurfaces. But it’s true that the Fellowship would never follow Boromir and that the presence of Aragorn would divide even some of the Gondorians who have loved and followed Boromir in the past.

Perhaps, if we can push this metaphor further, Boromir is the Master to Aragorn’s Doctor?

Otherwise, I like this analysis: it’s elegant, and an angle that I hadn’t considered.

I still object to the romantic bias that the relationship with Rose established, but then, as I’ve said here, my objections to that are really about how it’s been constructed outside the show rather than inside it, and the show can’t be held responsible for that.


Lisa wrote at Oct 3, 05:47 am

Yes, Treena, you are of course quite right – people do follow Boromir into battle. I should have been more clear. I think that the book positions the reader so that they feel Aragorn is the one that could inspire people to go into battle with him, even though within the world of the book clearly people do follow Boromir and others into battle.

I think the metaphor probably can be pushed to some extent. Mass brainwashing aside, people voted for Saxon and there were individuals quite willing to follow him.

The romantic aspect with Rose really only happened after the regeneration and perhaps that was when the Doctor realised that she had given him meaning again after the trauma of the time war. Probably the fact that she was so young and lively helped, if my reading of the plot line here has any validity. Maybe Rose also brought with her the closest that he had to extended family, which the other companions couldn’t just by the way their family relationships were constructed. I think that there’s sufficient evidence within the show that she is special to the Doctor, but probably not enough for the full-blown romantic reading that you suggest is happening elsewhere.


Catriona wrote at Oct 3, 06:13 am

I think, too, that Boromir could have been Aragorn (leaving aside the royal line and the Numenorian angle for the time being) if he hadn’t been corruptible. They were not quite mirror images of one another, but rather two similar men—both brave, both warriors, both leaders of men—who diverged widely after a key choice.

But then I am biased towards Boromir (and not just for the obvious reasons); the book, being focalised through Frodo, didn’t entirely do him justice, I think. After all, while Denethor is corrupted, Faramir is the other great hero of the book, and he loved Boromir unreservedly (and vice versa). Boromir can’t have been all bad, and his corruption did stem from a desire to save his people.

I’ve heard Billie Piper say that the point where the Doctor grabs her hand in the first episode and tells her to run is the point at which they just fall in love with one another. But that might have been an actor’s interpretation, rather than the script writer/director’s intention.

There is evidence in the show that she’s special to the Doctor—though there’s also evidence that, for example, Sarah Jane is special, too. I’m not going to argue with that. But I’m still frustrated, and it is down to the ‘shippers, not the show.

(Plus, she really annoyed me in the two-part finale to season four. She’d never annoyed me like that, and I do see a/. where it was coming from and b/. where it was leading to. It still annoyed me.)

It might also be a matter of taste, which is unsupportable but immoveable. I like Rose. I like the way she interacted with the Doctor (especially, for example, in the hands of Steven Moffat, in “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances”). But I’ve seen many companions come and go and, the show’s inarguable emphasis on her importance aside, she’s just not on my fave companions list.

Don’t know why, but there it is.

(She’s on the Doctor’s fave companions list, and that’s the main thing!)

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