Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon: Part 9: Belgium
Guest contributors from the “Belgian Whovians United Club” team up to conclude the second series.
It has never been more obvious that Doctor Who is most definitely a Global Phenomenon, and to celebrate we’ve pulled together yet another group or Whovians from different corners of the globe to show how Doctor Who is received in their own home country. Part Eight is…
Doctor Who in Belgium!
Belgium: a small country, home of beer and chocolate, sits at the heart of Western Europe. A country that houses, perhaps surprisingly, a small but dedicated following of Whovians.
Doctor Who is not very well-known in Belgium. There are quite a few people from older generations that are familiar with the Classic series (those who grew up in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s), but the majority of the population (especially the younger crowd) are oblivious to the show’s existence. In 2005 it looked like this would change, as the national TV channel did broadcast the full first season of the revival, but sadly then decided to cancel further broadcasts because they did not achieve the desired viewing figures. Luckily this did not happen to The Sarah Jane Adventures, which was broadcast in its entirety on the children’s channel ‘Ketnet’.
Because of the relative obscurity of Doctor Who in Belgium most Belgian Whovians were left to their own devices, tormenting their non-Whovian friends and relatives with quotes, interesting facts and pleas to watch episodes with them. In some cases this resulted in the conversion of said friend or relative, giving that particular Whovian someone (new) to commiserate with. This gave rise to the existence of lots of small groups of Whovians, all of which were under the impression that they were one of the few in this little country that knew of the Doctor and his travels.
In January 2012, Joren Martens had an idea… an idea that prompted a reaction he never expected. Martens used a Facebook group to bring these groups together, and for the first time ever in Belgium, Doctor Who appeared to be more popular here than anyone had ever known.
Currently with 1459 members and counting, Belgian Whovians United has since grown from a small presence on social media into a full-fledged fan club. Enthusiasts can join the Facebook page which serves a variety of purposes. It hosts links to articles and news stories pertaining to Doctor Who and the affiliated actors (past and present). It is a place where members can post projects, fan art and the like that they wish to share with the rest of the fan base. Questions about details and potential plot holes are asked and answered by members and meet-ups are organised. Of course there is also room for those who wish to discuss episodes, characters and the pros and cons of different writers. The admins help facilitate those discussions and make sure that everyone can express their opinions freely and respectfully.
Further online options for news are the Twitter feed (@BelgianWhovians) and of course the website, which features blog entries by several Belgian Whovians who wished to contribute. The entries are either in Dutch or English and vary from articles discussing the season 8 rumours to episode reviews and testimonials from Doctor Who related events. Though 1459 members may not seem like much, the number grows on a daily basis and does not include the fans that might not have a vested interest in the kind of interaction that BWU offers.
Because we feel that there can never be too many Belgium Whovians, BWU tries to promote the show and the group by attending nearby conventions, such as “FACTS’ and “Antwerp Con.” There we have a stand with our own TARDIS, where fans are encouraged to have their picture taken and the attending members are available to answer questions about the group and the show. There are also multiple “gadgets” on display there, some of which can be borrowed for a photo op.
This year we had the immense good fortune to meet Colin Baker at “Antwerp Con”. He was so eager and kind to come visit our stand and allow us the opportunity to take a few group pictures with him. He then delighted us even further by signing the inside of our TARDIS, starting a tradition that we fully intend to keep going, in the hope that we will be able to collect the autographs of every remaining Doctor. Next on the list is Sylvester McCoy, who will be attending “FACTS” in October.
To further promote interaction between the members, BWU also organizes meets where all are welcome to gather and discuss the show and its affiliates. This has proved to be a very successful measure, as several members have taken it upon themselves to organize what they call “mini-meets” in their hometowns, which they promote by posting notices on the Facebook page.
Belgian Whovians United is not the only force currently trying to bring Doctor Who to the attention of the Belgian public. Two Belgian celebrities who are fans of the show actively promote it (and on occasion the BWU) on TV and on their podcasts. This, in combination with the growing popularity of the show around the world help grow the awareness of the show in Belgium.
The 50th Anniversary entailed a major flooding of the BWU Facebook wall. True to their name, the Belgian Whovians were uniting! People were inviting others to come and watch the episode at their homes. Many of these “home viewings” went a step further and preceded the 50th anniversary screening with Who-marathons lasting a full day or more. The spontaneous move towards getting together to share the experience was overwhelming.
A few members managed to get tickets to the Doctor Who Anniversary Convention in London, so a group trip was organized for those lucky enough to get their hands on them. They joined their British counterparts in the theatre in London and regaled the others with stories about the convention and the theatre experience on Social Media afterwards.
The episode itself was well received and the overall verdict was one of approval. The references to the Classic series were met with joy (and started several discussions as to who spotted most of them), the return of Ten was almost universally applauded (as was his interaction with both Eleven and the War Doctor) and Twelve’s cameo had the whole group going out of their minds with excitement. Everybody was thrilled and relieved that the episode had managed to live up to the hype.
Ultimately the 50th anniversary was a reason for the Belgian Whovians to reach out and share their love for the show with one another. It also managed to lead several Whovians, who were hereto unaware of its existence, to the BWU.
Belgium in Doctor Who
Several references to Belgium have been made on the show, though mostly only in the last few years of Doctor Who, on television as well as in audio and in print. If we stick to what has been shown and referred to on screen, Belgium is mentioned four times. Three times in Doctor Who itself and once in Torchwood. All four instances were during the Tenth Doctor’s “reign”.
The first mention of Belgium on screen happened during the 2006 episode ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’, when Ten’s psychic paper identifies him as the king of Belgium to a guard. The next mention is in the 2006 Torchwood episode ‘Random Shoes’, which alerts us to the popularity of Dogon eyes on the alien artefact market, especially in Belgium.
In 2007 the Fifth and Tenth Doctor’s TARDISes collided and nearly blew a hole in the space-time continuum the exact size of Belgium, which was found to be rather anti-climactic by the Fifth Doctor. The last mention of Belgium happened in 2008 in ‘The Unicorn And The Wasp’, when the Tenth Doctor reminisces about his time in the Belgian forests when he ended up looking for the kidnapped Charlemagne. This adventure is explored brilliantly in the web prose ‘The Lonely Computer’
If we add audio and print to the mix, the occurrences double. Again it’s mostly the Tenth Doctor that visits Belgium, with two separate visits to the battlefields of the First World War during the comic “Warfreakz!” and the short story “Deep And Dreamless Sleep”
The Sixth Doctor and Peri have an encounter in Ostend in the audio adventure “The Year Of The Pig” and the Eight Doctor and his companions were swept up in the Battle Of The Bulge in the Second World War during the novel “Autumn Mist”.
Possible stories in Belgium
From noted authors such as Dickens and Shakespeare, to the world’s most beloved painter Van Gogh and political figures of great importance like Churchill, the writers of Doctor Who have drawn inspiration from famous historical figures throughout the show’s existence. It goes without saying that Belgium, due to its rich and varied history, has a lot more to offer in this category than the First and Second World War.
The home of the bravest of all Gauls has a myriad of important historical figures and/or events that could be used for the Doctor’s adventures. Starting back in Roman times, where an encounter between the Roman forces and Ambiorix (chieftain of the Gallic tribe “The Belgians”) could be an excellent backdrop for a historical tale.
Another opportunity for an intriguing adventure could be found in a chance meeting with 16th century cartographer Mercator or perhaps the recently sainted Father Damian, who inspired the world with his work for people suffering from leprosy on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. It would be interesting to have the TARDIS land on this exotic island and seeing the Doctor, who promised his companion(s) a relaxing getaway, faced with the tragic situation on the quarantined piece of land.
The 1815 Battle of Waterloo, marking the end of Napoleon’s reign as emperor of the French, would also make for marvellous television showing an important event in overall European history.
Or maybe the Doctor would prefer to hang out with one of the many famous painters that Belgium has cause to boast about? A trip back in time to meet one of them, from Rubens or Van Dyck (in his pre-England years) to 20th century surrealist René Margritte, could be a great opportunity to add to the historical part of the Doctor’s travels.
He could also happen upon a Belgian music star like Jacques Brel or jazz legends such as Django Reinhart, Toots Tielemans or Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone.
Finally, taking our cue from ‘The Unicorn And The Wasp’ and ‘The Shakespeare Code’, we would like to nominate a new mystery for the Doctor to solve: the disappearance of ‘The Just Judges’, the lower left panel of Van Eyck’s Ghent altar piece, which was stolen in 1934 in what is arguably one of the most puzzling art thefts in history. It would be great to see the Doctor uncover what actually happened to the piece, just as he discovered the truth behind the disappearance of Agatha Christie and the real reason “Love Labours Won” was never performed.
Even without considering the many tales that Belgium’s past has to offer, the country is a goldmine of beautiful film sets. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the BBC either, as they partly filmed ‘The White Queen’ in the Belgian cities Ghent, Bruges and Ypres because of the great historical backdrops. Overall, Belgium is getting increasingly popular as a filming destination for international productions, because of the variety of historical and contemporary set possibilities. Right now the Brussels area is being used as a shooting location for Rupert Grint’s new project ‘Moonwalkers’ and in the last few years Belgium has welcomed the productions of ‘The Fifth Estate’ and ‘Parade’s End’ (both starring Benedict Cumberbatch), the European series ‘The Team’ (starring Lars Mikkelsen) which will be broadcasted in 2015, and the American production ‘The Kidnapping of Freddy Heineken’ (starring Anthony Hopkins).
As you can see there is certainly a case to be made for the future inclusion of Belgium in Doctor Who. It would certainly delight the fans here to see their country represented in the show that they love, not to mention if the production team decides to use a few Belgian locations for filming.
Due to the rising popularity we are confident that the Belgian fan base will keep on growing in the future. Especially if, as we hope, the writers decide to base a story here or the production team decides to take advantage of our many historical sites. Hopefully, the rise in popularity will also lead to a reconsideration of the broadcast of Doctor Who on the national TV channel. As for the BWU itself, we hope to be able to reach out to the BBC so that we will be able to organize special broadcasts like we unfortunately weren’t able to do for the 50th anniversary special.
Valeria Massaro, Ingo Meulepas, Dieter Michielsen and Anke Wauters – Belgium Whovians United.
Reputation Rating: 8/10
Prominence Rating: 7/10
To read the first 8 articles in the series, simply click on the links below!
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 1: Australia
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 2: Canada
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 3: South Africa
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 4: UK
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 5: An Unexpected Journey
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 6: New Zealand
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 7: Finland
- Doctor Who – A Global Phenomenon Part 8: Emerald Isle
That concludes the second series of Doctor Who: A Global Phenomenon! We’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed our journeys so far, and have a few more stamps on your passports! Finally if your country has been left out why not let us know by commenting in the comment section below! (Series 3 Anyone?!) If you’ve missed any of the other parts in the series, click on the links below. It’s been a blast!