As the longest running Speculative Fiction TV franchise in the world, Doctor Who has acquired a massive fan base and one that is multi-generational, especially with the revival. It is also a textbook case of the fans Running the Asylum.
Conventions and Cosplay were happening long before many such shows even began production, for a start. There have been many fanzines and Podcast stuff has emerged more recently. Fan Work was also a major feature, a number of official Big Finish audio plays having their origins as works from the fan Doctor Who Audio Visuals series. Mark Gatiss and a number of the below have also worked on semi-pro audio and visuals, not quite official and intended for a niche market, yet intended to make a profit. Pour through older issues of Doctor Who Magazine and you will see many familiar names in the letters columns and on the by-lines of articles and comics.
The following Promoted Fanboys contributed to officially licensed works, fanzines, amateur and semi-pro productions, before going on to the big time:
- Russell T Davies, who revived the show in the 21st century, previously wrote one novel, Damaged Goods, for the Doctor Who New Adventures. (As well as shoving blatant Doctor Who references into many of his earlier non-franchise works.)
- Nicholas Briggs, who has, in the past, done everything you can imagine in spin-off media, among other things running the Audio Visuals and playing the Doctor in those selfsame productions. He now voices the Daleks and currently runs Big Finish.
- The nearly as prolific Gary Russell, also connected with Audio Visuals. He used to run Big Finish and script-edited The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood and Doctor Who itself.
- Paul Cornell based his first novel, Timewyrm: Revelation in the Doctor Who New Adventures series, on early Fan Fic.
- Robert Shearman
- Matt Jones
- Mark Gatiss
- Gareth Roberts
- Matthew Waterhouse, who would a couple of years later go on to play Adric.
- Marc Platt, a Classic and Big Finish writer who contributed Fan Fic and/or nonfiction work to Fanzines before working on the actual series.
- Steven Moffat contributed a short story to one of the officially licensed Decalog short story collections (a spinoff of the Doctor Who New Adventures) in the 1990s, and also wrote a short story for Big Finish's spin-off book series featuring adventurer Bernice Summerfield, before beginning to write for the TV show proper, eventually becoming Davies' successor as showrunner.
- Peter Capaldi, who once tried to take over the Doctor Who Fan Club, wrote articles for fanzines (including a detailed examination of the show's title sequence), drew fan art for fanzines as well, and played the Twelfth Doctor from 2013 to 2017.
Others with less of a direct contribution include:
- David Tennant, who played the Tenth Doctor.
- Rona Munro
- Chris Chibnall, who succeeded Moffat as showrunner, once represented the Doctor Who Appreciation Society on TV.
The fans are interested in the Missing Episode area, with many such episodes being recovered from off-air audio recordings.
The show lacks an official fan club now and no longer has an official forum, although The Doctor Who Forum came close enough to get newspaper mentions.
Fans had to go through the 16-year hiatus until 2005, resulting in a large amount of creative work during this time and licenced Spin-Off media. Probably the key Spin-Off material that held the Expanded Universe - and the fans - together for so long, however, were the official spin-off novels produced by Virgin Publishing. The Doctor Who New Adventures series continued the adventures of the Seventh Doctor, the Doctor at the time of cancellation, and the Doctor Who Missing Adventures covered the previous six. Following the 1996 TV Movie, the BBC's own in-house publishing division took over (with two lines split between the adventures of the Eighth Doctor and the adventures of his predecessors). Themselves a progression from novelisations of the TV series, the novel ranges clearly took the Doctor into more adult waters as the writers, who were nearly all fans, thus making the lines in many ways examples of Officially Published Fan Fiction, began to explore him and his universe more closely. Many of the writers of the new series, including Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Russell T Davies, who eventually brought it back, wrote novels for the range.
The revival of the show brought an influx of new fans, including Shippers.
General characteristics of the fandom:
- Due to the show's abundant Parent Service, often prone to fanboy or fangirl-like behaviour, with frequent polls on "sexiest companion" and innuendo.
- Certain elements display a tendency to get a bit paranoid about the possibility of anything, whether elements of the series itself or the fan / public reaction to it, that might possibly lead to the intimation that there might be any suggestion of cancellation. This is likely because of the numerous elements and gradual sense of decay which led to the program's eventual hiatus in 1989 and the agonising 16 year wait until a full series was produced. This tends to lead to great overreactions whenever any missteps (or anything the over-reactor merely perceives as a misstep) occurs, however minor in nature. In an interview with Nerd³, Steven Moffat said that the reason the British media do so many scaremongering stories about the show's fate, at least at the time of his run as showrunner, is because they know the Doctor Who branding will sell more papers.
- Likewise, owing to the show's widely-held appeal to children, some fans may get a bit defensive (or confrontational) about any suggestion that the show is 'just for children'. This arguably led to the Darker and Edgier nature of the novels and other Spin-Off material produced between shows, and lengthy, somewhat pedantic debates about whether the show can be classified as a 'children's' show or a 'family' show are not unheard of.
- Don't call the main character 'Doctor Who' in front of one of them. Others really don't like the term "Whovian", which originated from the 1980s Doctor Who Fan Club of America.
- Even though the character was credited as "Doctor Who" on screen from 1963 to 1981, and again in 2005... Not to mention that a lot of members of the cast and crew will infrequently refer to the character as "Doctor Who," especially in more mainstream interviews, no doubt because of the fact that, without prior knowledge, "The Doctor" as a title is very generic.
- Fandom has calmed down a bit on this (well, a little) since Peter Capaldi became the Doctor, since he (being old school) insists of referring to the character as "Doctor Who".
- Likely to have parents or children (sometimes both) who are fans as well; Long Runner status and all.
- Until about 2010 tended to be Britons, Australians or New Zealanders - the show was far more mainstream there. American and Canadian fans were plentiful during the so-called Classic Era, but only from the late 1970s onwards once the show received wide exposure on PBS, but due to PBS in general being considered a niche channel, it was still not considered mainstream. note The revival of the series saw it become mainstream in Canada (where it initially aired on one of the major networks as a co-production), and it finally became mainstream in the late 2000s in the US once BBC America began airing it, and it also gained a larger worldwide audience; as such the stars of the show were mobbed by thousands in places like New York during publicity for the 2014 season, which included the cast going on a round-the-world tour that illustrated the international popularity of the show. The 50th anniversary special held a world record for two years as the most widely simulcast broadcast in history as it aired worldwide.
- Due to its sheer size and the diversity of opinion present, has a reputation for being incredibly fractious and unappeasable; anything that one fan loves is guaranteed to be detested with a white-hot passion by another, and no matter what the producers of any medium do, someone somewhere is guaranteed to start whining about it. This makes fan interaction... interesting. Part of the reason for this is the show's traditional wild tonal and stylistic shifts whenever a new creative team takes over, which mean that different eras appeal to very different kinds of fan, and that fans who really dislike an era are more likely to stay and hate-watch until a new creative team takes over.
- Due to the nature of the Doctor Who Expanded Universe and its Long Runner status, the subject of what is or is not canon is particularly tricky in this fandom, especially as the BBC has deliberately avoided giving anything a canon. Some have even extended this to say that Doctor Who doesn't strictly have a canon. It's usually (but not universallynote ) accepted that everything that has been made for television is canon; beyond that the argument rages, but the general moderate approach is that canon beyond this is a matter of personal choice.
- Has quite a large LGBTQ+ following, perhaps due in large part to the tendency of the classic series to avoid coding the Doctor as overtly heterosexual and instead treat him as a largely asexual intellectual hero who tended to form mainly non-romantic friendships with his female companions rather than attempt to seduce them (this also tended to result in a lot of Ho Yay, real or imagined, with male characters — see the Master for one example). The classic series also contains a lot of Camp elements which no doubt help here. The modern show's tendency to instead have the Doctor form overtly romantic heterosexual attachments with his female companions thus led to a lot of blowback from this segment of the fan base, as well as some asexual people who had viewed the character as a hero of their own kind.
Specific terms used:
- Base Under Siege: No, not the demographic base... This refers to a whole sub-class of stories which reached its peak during Season 5 (1967-68), in which an isolated military or scientific base came under attack by malevolent forces. Examples appear in almost every era of the show, and it is considered a "classic" story style.
- Casual viewer: See not-we. Often conceived of a fragile, easily upset creature who will turn off the TV or switch channels should they feel any one emotion to excess, in a manner comparable to Think of the Children!, in order to win fan arguments. Arguments range from Viewers Are Morons to Viewers Are Geniuses, they prefer Lighter and Fluffier stories, they prefer Darker and Edgier stories, they like Continuity, they hate it, etc. Everything except Viewers Are Goldfish, which would make the whole point moot. Because, you see, every true fan fears the ratings dipping and the BBC taking the series off-air, since the last time that happened it was under terrible circumstances and resulted in a 16-year hiatus.
- Celebrity historical: A story where the TARDIS crew goes to Earth's past and meets somebody famous. Almost always pseudo-historicals (see below) after the Hartnell era.
- Classic Who: The 1963-89 series. Generally also includes the 1996 made-for-TV movie, despite it being made by an American production company independent of the BBC. For merchandising, the term encompasses anything done prior to the revived series (i.e., 1963-2004) or anything from afterward that primarily involves Doctors prior to the Hurt and Eccleston incarnations, with The Night of the Doctor being the in-universe end of the "Classic" lineage. Some fans are touchy about this term as it can be interpreted as casting a negative light on the revival, plus it is sometimes used by those who don't consider anything from 2005 onwards to be canon.
- Gothic: Fandom uses the shorthand "Hammer Horror" or just "gothic" to describe a moody story dipping into Gothic Horror tropes in the way that they did during the reign of Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and his Story Editor Robert Holmes during the tenure of Tom Baker, which ran from Seasons 12-14. Specifically, they mean Seasons 13 and 14, over which they had full creative control.
- "Indefinable magic": Whatever makes Doctor Who special. As the term implies, no one can explain it. So overused that fans no longer use it, except ironically.
- Part of the Indefinable Magic is generally taken to be the "Infinitely Flexible Format", meaning that the show can be a western one week, hard sci-fi the next, fantasy the week after and historical the week after that.
- Not-we: Non-fans, a term taken from the Doctor Who story "Kinda" referring to people outside the Kinda tribe.
- New Who: The post-2005 revival. Alternately, nuWho (mostly by its detractors).
- The term "Modern Who" may also be used, particularly since about 2015 onwards, since the idea of describing something over ten years old as "New" may start to seem a bit silly. Tom Baker has used the term "the Modern Era" which has gained some cachet from those looking for something equal to "Classic Era".
- One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, (War), Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen: Where formerly fans would refer to, say, Peter Davison's Doctor as the Fifth Doctor, or, umm, "Peter Davison's Doctor", younger fans would tend to refer to him as 5, Five, or even Fivey. The same goes for the others. John Hurt's Doctor tends to switch between "8 1/2" and "War" to avoid any numbering confusion.
- Pantomime/Panto: Typically used by fans, particularly of the classic series, to describe when things are getting a bit silly (which, depending on the fan in question, may vary from "legitimately ridiculous" to "the makers don't seem to be treating the show as humourlessly as I do"). Often levelled at Season 24, which is not well-loved owing to a combination of low budget values (even for Doctor Who) and an often light-hearted and comedic tonenote , which at times made it seem like a sci-fi version of a traditional British pantomime.
- Pseudo-historical: A story set in the past that does feature science fictional elements - often, an alien in disguise is responsible for mayhem and the Doctor must stop them.
- Pure historical: A story set in the past that features no science-fictional elements other than the Doctor's presence. These almost never appear after William Hartnell's era, and the last one to date was Black Orchid (1982). They were unpopular with the production teams and garnered low ratings, but fans continue to clamour for their return.
- The Pure Historical episodes were (indirectly) the reason for the TARDIS' chameleon circuits getting stuck; originally, the ship would disguise itself as an appropriate object for each time period, but the budget didn't allow for constantly re-dressing the TARDIS prop every week or so
- Shipping: Since 2005 the series has been more open in suggesting romance between the Doctor and some of his companions. As such there are numerous shipping names that have been applied to some of the more longstanding ships. (Of course, every ship is controversial and debated, even if the show itself makes it explicitly canon). A few examples include TenRose (Tenth Doctor/Rose Tyler); Youzah (Eleventh Doctor/River Song); Whouffez or Whouffle (Eleventh Doctor/Clara Oswald); Whouffaldi (Twelfth Doctor/Clara Oswald). Of course, although there was less overt romanticism on-screen, there were well established ships in the old show, especially Doctor/Master (which 21st-century Who has made practically canon), Ian/Barbara (which is likewise assumed to be canon in much of the Expanded Universe), Two/Jamie, Three/Brigadier, Three/Jo, Four/Romana, Tegan/Nyssa, and others.