In dark times, Doctor Who fans are proving the power of pop-culture community
From organised watch-alongs to virtual conventions, Whovians are leading the way when it comes to positive responses to the coronavirus pandemic
"This country has been sick. This country needs healing. This country needs medicine. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that what this country really needs right now… is a Doctor."
These lines from Doctor Who, spoken by John Simm’s Master in a 2007 episode of the BBC sci-fi drama, feel oddly prescient today as the UK enters a lockdown, just the latest stage of social distancing caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But in these dark times, surprisingly, the Doctor is actually helping people. Over the past week, across the internet Doctor Who fans have been responding to the trials of social distancing, self-isolation or full-blown quarantine with positivity and community spirit, organising online events and generally lifting spirits.
On a personal level, I’ve found it quite moving. Day to day, the state of online fandom can often seem toxic, divisive and needlessly aggressive, especially when it comes to people’s different Doctor Who opinions, but the swell of love and support for this weird, brilliant time-travel series has been a real tonic (and crucially, distraction) while the world seemingly tips into a new status quo.
As we all stare down the barrel of a difficult few weeks and months, for a lot of Doctor Who fans this coming-together will have been a lifeline, a way to still connect and enjoy themselves even if they’re physically apart in difficult circumstances. And while plenty of other fandoms and groups are also doing a lot to cheer their members up, the soft online power and organisation of Whovians has stood out from the pack.
On Saturday 21st March, Doctor Who Magazine’s Emily Cook coralled fans into a mass rewatch of 2013 anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, which ended up trending on Twitter above Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, coaxed ex-showrunner Steven Moffat back onto Twitter (he’s since left again) to provide behind-the-scenes commentary and even spurred a new introduction scene to be released online.
"I wanted to find a positive way of using the power of Doctor Who to keep fans interacting," Cook told RadioTimes.com at the time – and already more “simulcasts” are planned in the weeks ahead, with Russell T Davies signing up to livetweet Rose on March 26th as well as release new content related to the episode.
But screenings aren’t the only way Who fans are keeping themselves connected. On March 28th, a Doctor Who convention called Time Space Visualiser will be reborn as a day-long online event, featuring live and prerecorded interviews with former series stars like Mark Gatiss, Nicola Bryant, Katy Manning and Ian Hallard among others, as well as "some specially commissioned and performed short stories," archive panels and "a couple of surprises" according to organiser Fantom Events.
"It is important to stay together and socialise as a community – and this platform will allow us to come together and experience rarely seen and new material, interacting with each other through live hosted segments," Fantom company director Dexter O’Neill said.
And this is just scratching the surface. Elsewhere, fans continue to discuss episodes online, famed trivia night The Quiz of Rassilon has continued its regular watch-alongs and branched out into live online programming, and generally speaking more and more Doctor Who fans are finding new ways to cope through the difficult days we’re currently living in.
Maybe there’s something in the nature of the show – a principled person working hard to save the universe – that appeals at the moment, maybe it’s just light enough to keep dark moods at bay or maybe it’s just the outsize influence Doctor Who has on pop culture anyway, but for whatever reason this 57-year-old sci-fi drama seems to be genuinely helping people keep cheerful and connected.
For our part, here at RadioTimes.com we’re certainly going to keep talking about Doctor Who, teasing what’s to come for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, following all the chat around the fan-led screenings and even getting you involved in our own community projects (speaking of which, there’s still plenty of time to vote for your favourite modern series…) over the coming weeks.
I just hope that when this is all over, we can remember what good the Doctor Who fandom can do when we all put our minds to it, and use a little of that power for positive gain – even if that does mean we have a little less time to spend arguing about canon.
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks comes to BBC One in late 2020/early 2021