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When did Doctor Who fandom start to turn so cultish?

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Tanmann

Tanmann
Something I've been thinking about recently. But it seems to me that by the time the 2005 revival happened, fandom had already become something of a cult in the most sinister senses of the word.

Their deity was whoever brought the show back (even if they dumbed it down and made it so conform to the trashy mainstream that it defeated the point of doing so), they all seemed to quickly read from the same sycophantic hymn sheet about what the show needed to be to get the popular audience back, performed all kind of dissociative mental gymnastics to convince themselves and others that there was a 'genius' and 'imagination' to what RTD was doing, and proscribed a pre-prepared list of the supposed underlying personality defects in those other fans who were more critical.

Often there was a cultish hypocrisy to those sycophants too. They would operate like a cultish lynch mob, and yet accuse those critical fans of somehow missing the point of the show's message of 'tolerance'.

That last bit is significant because it suggests that they didn't think of Doctor Who as just an entertainment show, but as some kind of religious moral mantra.

So when and why did this start? When did Doctor who stop being merely a selection of entertaining stories to fans, and become a kind of religious cult?

iank

iank
I don't know. What always baffled me most was the sycophantic fawning to New Who, and the apparent blindness to its faults, from people who in the 90s seemed to be spot on in identifying the strengths of the original show. And yet, despite New Who almost immediately flying in the face of that wisdom, they all went along with it.
I think it was just "money talks" myself. Coupled with, in the RTD years at least, a desperate belief that being a Who fan was now "cool" even though the show had had to compromise almost everything they supposedly valued it for in order to achieve that.

Tanmann

Tanmann
@iank wrote:What always baffled me most was the sycophantic fawning to New Who, and the apparent blindness to its faults, from people who in the 90s seemed to be spot on in identifying the strengths of the original show. And yet, despite New Who almost immediately flying in the face of that wisdom, they all went along with it.

I've wondered that a lot myself, and I think ultimately the fact that they gained a spokesperson role and kudos in fandom for their ability to articulate an eloquent defense of the classic show's merits against the changing times of the zeitgeist..... I think the arrogance of that elite role went to their heads, and the elite environment they were now in developed its own cultish party line that perhaps they just felt it natural to fall in synch with.

And of course they probably understood the 'spokesperson' role gave them a responsibility to be cheerleaders of a revival so that they helped fandom look the 'hip', 'fashionable' way they wanted it to.

I could understand someone like that going along with the praise and promise up until the first ten minutes of Aliens of London. But I think it would take an act of willful blindness to emerge from the rest of that two-parter without experiencing some kind of a sinking feeling.

And sure some might rationalize it that every era has always had its occasional duds, but this was being decided by the head writer as the moronic direction going forward. A determination to not even challenge the audience. And I just don't understand how those seemingly smart fans could swallow that crap without feeling utterly unstimulated and condescended to.

I just don't think I'll ever understand how they think.

Indrid Mercury

Indrid Mercury
I agree with you both. Whilst I don't hate the RTD era as much as other members (I just tolerate it as dodgy fanfiction for the most part) the fans who claimed it was on par with the Hinchcliffe era and shouted down anyone who disagreed with them had always frustrated me and were a major factor of my frustration with the NS.

I also found it odd that folks like Levine and Bowlestrek who hate the Chibnall era (rightly so) praised both RTD and Moffat to the skies.

Tanmann

Tanmann
To be honest, I've never really thought Levine would know good writing if it bit him.

Bernard Marx


I’m not sure when myself, although as alluded to by Ian, it’s difficult to assume that fandom became cultish and sheeplike in the 90s due to their generally intelligent takes on the Classic series. I’ll presume it happened once NuWho was announced, to be honest- as stated above, the show became extroverted, mainstream pandering and ultimately dumbed down, which perhaps made said fans feel all the more cool when praising and advocating the series’ return as their potentially introverted qualities would have been excused by the extroverted media community in their eyes through doing so.

Although to refer back to a point brought up by Mercury- it isn’t just those fans who insisted that the RTD era was on par with the Hinchcliffe era, but the general public too, hence why Tennant is so often found at the top of ‘Best Doctor’ polls. This has always completely baffled me personally in the long term, but I guess pandering to popularist mainstream media granted the era a superficial fix within its zeitgeist.

Bernard Marx


I’ve also been wondering of late: Could NuWho’s handling of the Doctor’s character and other elements have contributed to said cultishness? A stereotype seems to persist in certain corners of the internet, that being the notion that particular Who fans perceive the character and programme as a religion to blindly follow. Given that Tennant’s Doctor was often written as a self-pitying and self-absorbed individual, who was often treated with sychophancy by the script and characters even when behaving in a hypocritical manner (with The Waters of Mars being a brief critique of such traits by its conclusion, before the conclusion of The End Of Time embraced such self-pitying aspects of the character again), could these characteristics have existed as a fundamental philosophy of the NuWho writers? And could this have translated to fandom’s inner psyche?

This seems to be the case with Moffat too, who claims that the character ‘roared from the cloisters’ (paraphrased) to conquer evil in the universe akin to a deity based superhero, in spite of Hartnell’s Doctor originally being a mere explorer with a colder exterior. The hero aspects of the character only developed later, yet the character never truly relished in the superhero archetype, instead often parting with few words and with understatement. Yet NuWho often glorifies trivialises the character into a generic superhero, relishing in bombastic speeches and rhetoric, serving as an overpowered Godlike caricature of the character from the Classic Series (McCoy may have dabbled with Gods, but the stories didn’t constantly trivialise or glorify his character and approach, instead often opting for moral ambiguity as opposed to passive hero worship). Perhaps this depiction of the character subconsciously influenced the less analytical aspects of Who fandom and played a part in their cultish tendencies?

Tanmann

Tanmann
I think the Doctor started to be seen as a more saintly figure in fandom during the Pertwee era, and by the 80's, his era seemed to be the most deified as the model for the show at its best, and fan influence on the show with the likes of Ian Levine (who had his own personality cult following in fandom), seemed to be pushing the show in the Davison era to try to recreate a misremembered, and I would say more cultish and hypocritical version of that saintly Doctor against the same foes and moral dilemmas of Pertwee's time.

There was an about-turn when Colin Baker came onboard with his own ideas as a fan that the show's hero should get back more to Hartnell, but I'd say by the 90's, although there was a Cornell-led backlash against the Pertwee era, the fanbase (and particularly Moffat) had come to grow up on and deify Davison's Doctor instead as being an even more apparently saintly version of Pertwee's Doctor.

The Davison era I think was already quite cultish, but I think it was drawn on even more because amidst the cancellation and the media mockery of the show, the fans like Cornell had to draw on something that made the show virtuous and worthy enough to treasure and bring back, and so they drew on the extremities of the saintly morality (from this of course ossified the view that when the show lost that sainthood in Colin's time, it paid the price with a downturn in popularity and cancellation).

The New Who Doctors are basically just Davison with superpowers, written by fans doing fanfiction odes to the Doctor they grew up on.

Tanmann

Tanmann
Another thought just came to mind.

On the point of the fanbase looking to the show's cultish moral mantras and virtues, I think come the 2005 revival, this was exasperated by the mood of the time when we were in the middle of the Iraq invasion, the War on Terror, and the Bush Presidency neo-con resurgency.

It seems to me that a lot of RTD's era seemed to be backlashing against that with a kind of naive and cultish humanism of the sacredness of life, but gone to confused extremities. Which in a way was an extrapolation of the fact the anti-war movement in actuality genuinely was cultish, contrary and morally confused, as I remember being in it and being unsure if I really believed their utopian convictions. There wasn't even the allowance of the pressing question of what the West was meant to do about Saddam and Al-Qaeda instead, and it's like the movement would rather pretend they didn't exist.

Hence Eccleston letting the Daleks live and win at the end of Parting of the Ways, and Tennant's Doctor being willing to try everything to save the Master and weeping in his arms as he dies..... whilst at the same time you would never catch the show advocating the same kind of sentimental desperation to 'save' and 'redeem' an easy target like Tony Blair the same way.

I think indeed fandom wanted to believe the show was saying something crucial against Bush and Blair's war machine about life being sacred, and they just wilfully accepted all the cultish contradictions as though it was the only popular/effective opposition in town. Even I did to a degree.

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