Who is for Everyone

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Guest contributor Mike Falino on the “Britishness” of Doctor Who.

I love Doctor Who. It is the television program I anticipate more than any other. I greatly enjoy immersing myself in the show, its history, and its philosophy. I also happen to be American.

The-Impossible-Astronaut-Cast-Promos-(4)Why does that last bit matter, you ask? Because lately I’ve come across a sentiment of discrimination towards American fans of Doctor Who, stemming from, as far as I can tell, the notion that the show is for British audiences only, as well as that the show is becoming too “Americanized”.

One of the most ridiculous comments I’ve seen on the subject stated that “the show shouldn’t be catered to people who shouldn’t be Whovians anyway!” When I read this comment I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It is obvious this person hasn’t learned anything from our beloved cosmic hobo, specifically, the pettiness of discrimination.

I first came across Doctor Who in his fourth incarnation back in the 80’s when re-runs aired on PBS (the Public Broadcasting Station) here in America. I was instantly captivated by the character, as well as the show. It wasn’t until its revival in 2005 that my passion for Doctor Who was rekindled, and it has only grown deeper in the years since. I’ve also been able to view nearly all available Classic Who, as well as enjoy a great many of the audio dramas, which only deepened my passion and respect for Doctor Who.

The idea that Doctor Who is “intended” for British audiences is a gravely mistaken and fallacious argument. The show “happens” to be British. I don’t recall seeing a disclaimer during the opening credits that states “FOR BRITISH AUDIENCES ONLY!” That is has gained such worldwide acceptance is a testament to the show, not a sign that it is under threat or in some way compromised.

One argument I’ve come across is that the show has lost its quintessential “Britishness”. This makes no sense to me, and not because I, being American, couldn’t possibly pick up on every subtle British nuance. The show is what the show is, a constantly evolving science fiction adventure show. If it feels more or less British it isn’t because it is being tailored to a wider audience than “originally intended”, it is because that happens to be the nature of the show.

When the format of the show changed as Jon Pertwee took over as the third Doctor, did fans of the show abandon it because it was re-tooled due to budget cuts, as well as to mirror the popular “spy-style” programs of the time? The continued success of the show after such drastic changes just goes to show the unique elasticity of the program. The show has never been compromised to cater to a particular audience. It simply changed and thrived in the wake of change, just as it has grown exponentially in recent years.

Those of you who are afraid and disgruntled over what they perceive as the “Americanization” of the show, does it upset you that the first Doctor episode The Gunfighters took place in America? Did A Town Called Mercy offend you? Do those episodes in some way diminish Doctor Who because the stories involved something non-British?

The show is still run and written by British producers and writers. It is produced by the BBC, and aired first and foremost in the U.K. I shudder to imagine the backlash if a non-British writer was ever asked to pen an episode. Would the outcry be so great that British fans boycotted the show? I certainly hope not. If there is anything to be learned from the show, and primarily from the Doctor himself, it is that discrimination is just plain ignorant. This is especially true when airing whatever frustrations you may have about the shows direction or content. Please come up with a more cogent argument than that.

It could be said that in light of the BBC’s track record the only thing keeping the show alive is the broadening of its fan base, and its venture into newer markets. The format may change from time to time, but Doctor Who is still what it always has been; a show about the Doctor, his companions, and their adventures in time and space.