'Doctor Who' turns 50
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on Thu Nov 21 15:10:00 2013
'Doctor Who' turns 50 and fans' lives will never be the same
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iReport CNN iReport
By Henry Hanks, CNN
updated 3:50 PM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
(CNN) -- In 1996, John Reid Adams received a phone call that changed
His oldest brother wanted him to record the movie that was airing on
Fox one Tuesday night.
"I just did it to avoid a beating," Adams admitted.
As the eighth-grader surfed the Internet, he continued to get
distracted by the movie unfolding on TV. He saw a British police box
from the 1950s -- actually a disguised spaceship known as a "TARDIS" --
on the screen.
"This blue box was bigger on the inside! This had to be the maddest
thing I've ever seen."
Soon, Adams was hooked on "Doctor Who."
Seventeen years later, he has become a writer and actor with two
"Doctor Who" fan films on his resume. He credits the show for many of
his friendships and his marriage.
All of this because of a show about an alien with two hearts who
travels through space and time, keeping the universe safe.
Ever since the BBC first aired this little science fiction series for
families on November 23, 1963, it's gained a fan base - often called
"Whovians" - that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years,
especially in the U.S.
"It's certainly a broader base now, that's certainly true," said Peter
Davison, who portrayed the Fifth Doctor in the early 1980s. There have
been 11 Doctors in all, with a 12th on the way next month -- though
they're all the same character, much like James Bond, but not exactly.
People will tell Adams "how important the program was to them. Perhaps
they saw it at a very difficult time in their life and they could
identify with the Doctor or the companions in some way, and it became
very important to them. And I don't think I've done another program
where anyone's said that to me before."
The show is celebrating its 50th anniversary (with the worldwide
simulcast of a special anniversary episode, including BBC and BBC
America on Saturday), a rare feat for anything on TV, and has shaped
the lives of generations of fans. It holds the Guinness Book world
record for longest running science fiction television program.
A shared love of 'Who'
Caitlin Beerer's life was affected quite quickly after being introduced
to "Doctor Who" in 2011. The Cleveland student was a fan of the show,
but that fandom turned into something bigger when she saw that same
1996 Fox TV movie starring Paul McGann (the only episode of "Doctor
Who" where he was the star up until very recently).
"The Eighth Doctor is completely wonderful and terribly underrated,"
she said. "I quickly fell in love with him."
She joined Tumblr and dived into the Eighth Doctor community there,
soon coming upon a photo of a man named Owen Rickard, portraying the
character. Her message to him: "Marry me. Please."
The two soon began a long-distance relationship driven by "Doctor Who"
(Rickard lives in London).
"It's been a wonderful journey through time and space, and it certainly
didn't take long for us to figure out that we had found soul mates in
each other, even though we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic."
Jared Claxon, who goes to fan conventions dressed as the Third Doctor,
has a similar story.
His future wife saw him in costume at the 2010 EXPcon in St. Augustine,
Florida, and wanted a photo with him.
"Throughout the rest of the day we just talked about our mutual love of
'Doctor Who' and science fiction," he said.
"'Doctor Who' has a magical quality about it that it can instantly
break barriers and give someone hours and hours of conversation. Two
weeks later we were dating and we haven't looked back ever since!"
Bonding over 'the Doctor'
Just as "Doctor Who" has brought people together, it has also kept them
from drifting apart.
"Because of my job, we have had to move a couple of times," said Mark
"All of them have been hard moves for the kids, particularly with my
daughter Bailey. As she constantly had to say goodbye to her friends,
her and I became best friends. 'Doctor Who' became the show that really
cemented our relationship through our love of the characters that
shared a lot of the same stories of travel and loss that we did."
Tuttle spent months writing a 68 page eBook called "Bailey and the
Doctor" which he gave his daughter for Christmas in 2010.
"There is the lesson that there are those in your life that you'll
leave, that will leave you, that will be taken from you and that will
just fade away," he said.
"But they live in your heart and no one can ever take that from you.
Essentially, I was able to use the Doctor to tell her what I as her
They even went to San Diego Comic-Con this year in costume and waited
six hours in line to see the "Doctor Who" 50th anniversary panel.
"We were in the last 100 people to get into the 6,500 person audience
and were the first in the world to see the trailer for the 50th
A fandom that has stood the test of time
So what is it that has drawn fans to this quirky show over so many
"It transcends genre," according to Marcus Hearn, author of "Doctor
Who: The Vault: Treasures from the First 50 Years."
"It has certainly been a science fiction show in its time, but it's
also been a horror show, a comedy, a historical adventure ... even a
Western," he said.
"It's an institution -- part of the fabric our popular culture."
John Rabon, a fan from Easley, South Carolina, has noticed an increase
in the show's popularity lately.
"I've always considered myself a geek and felt the things I liked were
pretty exclusive to like-minded people," said Rabon, who often portrays
the Ninth Doctor in costume.
"However, it feels like in the last few years, the show's exposure led
to this massive increase of mainstream popularity."
He says there is a big difference between the small but devoted fan
base who watched the show in the 1960s, '70s and '80s and the current,
broader fandom that was introduced to the show by the rebooted series
Some of it could be attributable to the Internet where "Doctor Who"
memes abound on social media sites like Tumblr. The likable, youthful
portrayals of the Doctor, especially by David Tennant and Matt Smith
could also explain its appeal to those in their teens and 20s, who may
have considered it a "kids show" in the past.
"I often hear stories about how 'Doctor Who' has really reminded people
to embrace learning and creativity again," said author and iReporter
Alan Kistler ("Doctor Who: A History" is his latest book).
"It's great to see a hero who gets so excited by scientific progress
and society rising above things like hatred and petty rivalry. It
reminds the rest of us what's supposed to matter."
He said the show's family-friendly nature doesn't hurt either, as it
can get passed down from generation to generation.
The Doctor's lesson plan
To that end, Sarah Townsend, a high school teacher in Hope Mills, North
Carolina, incorporates "Doctor Who" into her classes.
Townsend has been a life-long sci-fi fan, with fond memories of "Star
Trek," but she discovered "Doctor Who" over the past few years.
"As a teacher, I take this idea of sharing the wonders the world has to
offer and bring it to my classroom," she said.
"To me, the story of the Doctor embodies many wonderful things we wish
to strive for: being a hero, fighting for what is right, making the
best out of bad situations, and most importantly, teaching others how
to appreciate the wonders that surround us. We are able to take in the
wonders and the excitement of the universe."
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