Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon: Part 2 Canada

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Guest contributor Clara Laurinda shares her journey as a Canadian Whovian in Part 2.

It has never been more obvious that Doctor Who is most definitely a Global Phenomenon, and in the lead up to the 50th Anniversary we’ve pulled together four Whovians from different corners of the globe to show how Doctor Who is received in their own home country. Part Two is…

Doctor Who in Canada


Indira: Craft size, approximately 10 million square kilometres.
The Doctor: A ship the size of Canada coming at Earth very fast.

Canada IS a huge country, as the Eleventh Doctor observes in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Sometimes it feels like you need a TARDIS to travel within Canada alone just to keep in touch with all the events and activities and sheer devotion of the many fans of Doctor Who, spread across millions of kilometres and over almost 5 decades in time.

Being a Whovian is a special thing no matter where you live. I have met people from across Canada and all over the world through the internet (our 21st century TARDIS substitute) without having to step out my front door, and they are amongst the brightest and most creative people I have ever encountered!

An Unearthly Canadian

william-hartnell-first-doctorI am one of the original Canadian Whovians who saw the first episodes on a black-and-white television screen in January of 1965, when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC) first aired the show and we watched from coast-to-coast as William Hartnell’s Doctor space-and-time-napped two teachers, Barbara and Ian, sweeping them into a universe of adventures in time and space, along with his teenage granddaughter Susan.

It was impossible not to embrace the sheer strangeness of travel through space and time in a dark blue wooden phone box without wings or rockets: HOW could it possibly DO that? Never mind that it was bigger-on-the-inside! How did it TRAVEL so FAR and so FAST? And how could such a gentlemanly old man be so crafty and cunning?

It was the winter of 1965: The Beatles had already come to Canada once and were due again, as were The Rolling Stones. It was the peak of the so-called “British Invasion” of North America, encompassing music and fashion and movies, and a television show seemingly targeted for children, but loved by teens and adults alike. Watching Doctor Who meant we experienced another invasion: The Daleks came into our lives screeching EXTER-MI-NATE in their unnervingly grating voices, scaring even the loudest shrieking Beatles fans into silence (not me, of course: I never screamed, at least not at Beatles concerts! At the Daleks…well maybe just a little)!

I am sure many of the first Canadian Who fans from 1965 are still around (and I would love to hear from any and all of them, please!), who, along with millions of other more recent admirers of Doctor Who over five decades, are celebrating its 50th Anniversary on November the 23rd by watching it on TV or in a cinema in one of 9 cities from coast-to-coast, and on Monday Nov. 25th in another 60 plus theatres from coast-to-coast across Canada’s 10 provinces: from British Columbia through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Sadly, no mention of screenings in any of the three Territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) which is why I cannot say coast-to-coast-to-coast! But I KNOW there are Whovians out there and I would love to hear from you!

It hasn’t always been easy being a Whovian in Canada, especially when the CBC cancelled its broadcasts of the show after the very first season and after being the only place in North America you could watch it. So from that time onward until 2005, fans had to watch elsewhere, first on the American public broadcasting network, PBS, which didn’t begin carrying it until 1972, and then on Ontario’s educational channel, TVO, from 1976 to 1990. In 2005, the CBC picked up the baton once again, becoming the first North American broadcaster to carry the newly reborn series and, in Series 2, received an on-screen end-of-episode “thank you” which, in Series 3 was replaced with the credit of “in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Since 2009, the cable specialty channel SPACE has been our source of on-air (and now also online) showings of Doctor Who, and we now see new episodes of the show on the same day they air in the UK. It does come as a surprise to those who watch Doctor Who on the BBC, that in Canada and the United States (and elsewhere around the world), we have to adapt to the intrusion of ads inserted throughout the show, but such is the nature of commercial television throughout the world! Of course we can watch each show without interruptions on DVD!

Whovian Culture

Aside from the large number of personal, Who-related blogs, Canada’s organized fandom has been in place in Canada at the very least since 1980 with the founding of the Doctor Who Information Network (formerly a chapter of the British-based Doctor Who Appreciation Society) which was one of the first such Who-based groups in North America and is now the longest-running, as it celebrates its 33rd year in 2013, and now has a strong online presence which includes the bimonthly fanzine, Enlightenment. And The Whostorian Quarterly emerged out of the As Yet Unnamed Doctor Who Fan Club of Newfoundland (AYUDWFCON) and, although no longer published, has led to internationally enjoyed weekly podcasts by Stylin’ Steve Nolan the quarterly’s co-founder.

The Doctor Who Society of Canada

There is also The Doctor Who Society of Canada which fosters a sense of community through both online forums and regular social gatherings of Canadian Whovians of all ages and which launched its own Doctor Who Festival in 2012, called Regeneration. The internationally renowned weekly online podcasts of Radio Free Skaro originate from Vancouver and Edmonton, and are hosted by the self-designated The Three Who Rule (Warren Frey, Steven Schapansky and Chris Burgess). I KNOW I have left out those many other groups who should be acknowledged but of which I might not be aware (so please let me know, politely)! When all of these are combined with internationally based websites like DWTV, Canadian Whovians of the 21st century are linked and sharing with each other and with everyone else interested in Who, all around the world.

Record Breaking!

Even before the actual special on November 23rd, Canadians, like so many other Whovians worldwide, have been celebrating the 50th anniversary for much of 2013.

160 of them EXTER-MI-NATED their way into The Guinness Book of World Records after the largest number of Daleks gathered in one place and one time during this past summer’s annual Fan Expo Canada (the equivalent of San Diego’s Comic Con). And yes, Canada is still standing–these Daleks were not only stylishly attired but were well-behaved as befits our Canadian image: we are legendary for saying “Sorry!” even when we DON’T bump into someone. I know, because I said it 4 times yesterday during rush hour in a busy city and it was said to me at least twice, always after a near miss!

There were many cosplaying Doctors and Amys and Claras at Fan Expo as well, watching in awe as Colin Baker, shook the walls of Toronto’s Convention Centre with his impassioned Sixth Doctor reading of the Eleventh Doctor’s “Take It All, Baby” speech from The Rings of Akhaten, an impromptu, fan-requested performance that subsequently spread like wildfire on You Tube.

A Canadian tribute

As I end this look at Doctor Who in Canada, I wish to visit page one.

the-bells-of-saint-john-pics-batch-(7)As Canadians, our link to Doctor Who is deeper than many of us realize and that connection is being paid tribute to both in The Bells of Saint John and in the celebratory Doctor Who Fiftieth Anniversary trailer released in late October in which a large red maple leaf floats near a breathtaking image of Clara. In Bells, a large maple leaf figures prominently when the Doctor, after placing the sleeping Clara on her bed and leaving a snack of Jammie Dodgers and water on a table nearby, “discovers” (the nosey Doctor!) a large red leaf tucked inside the front of Clara’s book, 101 Places to See, and holds it up high for a sniff, a lick and a quizzical look.

As the episode ends, the Doctor asks, “Clara, in your book, there was a leaf. Why?” And she responds, “That wasn’t a leaf. It was page one.” Later we would learn that this leaf signifies Clara’s origins, her beginning, when her parents first met. But there is another beginning, another page one being referred to!

Much has been made of “Clara’s Leaf” in online discussions, especially since it appears to change shape in between it’s first appearance in Bells and it’s reappearance in the trailer, having morphed into a Basswood leaf in The Rings of Akhaten when she offers it to the parasitic planet/Grandfather.

WHY it first appears as a red maple leaf that is so prominently held centre-screen in the course of two lengthy shots (that almost suggest a Canadian flag with its red maple leaf in the centre) has become less of a mystery to me since I learned that this was a tribute to the contributions of a Canadian, Sydney Newman.

As the newly appointed Head of Drama at the BBC in 1962, Newman is credited with originating the plan to make a science fiction show for children and teens, and was the man who recruited a young Verity Lambert to produce the series, originated the name, the Doctor, for its central character, and oversaw its first few episodes before turning it over to a trusted production team.

So NOW, when I see the leaf in the trailer and in my favourite two scenes from Bells of Saint John, all I see is our proud Canadian connection to Page One in the life of Doctor Who!

Prominence rating: 8
Reputation rating: 8