For many British Doctor Who fans, when considering America’s relationship with our favourite programme it’s the 1980’s which immediately springs to mind. That was the decade in which the show exploded in popularity across the US (in relative terms anyway) and whilst British fandom was beginning to turn on itself, becoming increasingly bitter and negative, in America there appeared to be only single-minded love for this newly discovered programme.
There was plenty of money too, as the stars of the programme quickly discovered. The leap from the fledgling and low-scale British convention circuit to the all-expenses paid, air-conditioned hotel experience of the American dream wasn’t lost on anybody. This helps to explain why just about anybody who was anybody in the Who world elected to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the programme at a massive American convention.
As Gary Russell explains in his brief, but amusing forward, this was one of the reasons why British fans regarded their American counterparts with jaundiced eyes. The fact that they also got The Five Doctors two days earlier than us simply rubbed salt into already bitter wounds. And then there’s the term Whovian ….
If you want to irritate an old-school British Doctor Who fan, just refer to them as a Whovian. It works every time. Coined by American fans back in the eighties, the new series has now brought this unlovely term back into common usage (something which continually irks me I have to admit, but then I’m an old-school British Doctor Who fan).
However, the story of Doctor Who in America began well before the 1980’s and continues right up to the current day, meaning that this mammoth book (704 pages, including 130 pages of appendixes) doesn’t leave any stones unturned in order to present us with the full picture.
I’ve had the chance to peruse several sample chapters from the book and what I’ve read has impressed me. For example, whilst it’s fairly common knowledge that Doctor Who debuted on American television in the early 1970’s (with a package of Jon Pertwee stories) I wasn’t aware that the first faint flickers of interest in the series had occurred long before that.
In the mid 1960’s these mainly consisted of newspaper reports which took an amused look back over the pond during the period when Britain was gripped by Dalekmania. For some American commentators there was plainly the fear that the Daleks might, following the Beatles, be the spearhead of another British invasion (something which filled certain writers with dread!) An enthusiastic, if somewhat inaccurate, article from Famous Monsters of Filmland from 1965 is another early example of Doctor Who reporting in the US (these early chapters feature a plethora of fascinating press clippings and promotional material – both for the Dalek movies and the early television sales – which adds considerable extra value to the insightful text).
Chapter Eight – Love and Monsters – covers the PSB pledge drives as well as demonstrating early examples of fan-power. This is another interesting topic for non-Americans – most of us have probably seen footage from various pledge drives over the years, but exactly how they worked (and the likelihood that money pledged for Doctor Who might not even go towards purchasing that series) was again another revelation. I also loved Gail Bennett’s remembrance of John Nathan-Turner. In the early eighties JN-T was, even in the UK, very much a fan’s producer, but it seems that he found greater acceptance in the US. The notion of JN-T “holding court” at a convention with a group of fans in a hot tub sounds typical of the man, for good or for ill.
Chapter Ten – Doctor Who in Bits – discusses the way that American fans took to the brave new world of the internet whilst Chapter Fourteen – Creativity: Trippingly on the Tongue – exhumes another half-forgotten relic from the history of American Who. John Ostrander’s stage-play The Inheritors of Time created a certain amount of interest in the mid eighties (not least for the fact that an American Doctor had been cast) but due to a lack of funds it was never mounted. Ostrander teases the reader with a few hints about what the play contained, although he remains tight-lipped about many of the details (even after all these years it appears he hasn’t given up hope of resurrecting it).
Towards the end of the book, Chapter Twenty – It Couldn’t Have Happened to a More Deserving Fellow – examines the way that the series, in the Matt Smith era, really began to find a foothold in the public consciousness. Which was a far cry from 2005, when American fans were frustrated that no broadcaster had picked up the Christopher Eccleston series.
Other chapters promise to cover Doctor Who’s first successful invasion, thanks to Tom Baker and Howard Da Silva (although possibly Da Silva’s help – via a series of narrations, designed to educate the American viewer about the series – was more of a hindrance). As might be expected, the fan experience – via conventions and creative works – also looks to be covered in depth.
The sample chapters suggests that Red, White and Who will be the last word on this topic. Although the list of authors – Steven Warren Hill, Jennifer Adams Kelley, Nicholas Seidler, Robert Warnock, Janine Fennick and John Lavalie – is a lengthy one, their voices seem to blend together seamlessly.
It’s available for pre-order here and whilst it isn’t cheap at $49.99, it does run to a hefty 704 pages and contains 600 images. So whilst it’s true that the cost may be a little off-putting for some, what I’ve seen of it so far indicates that it’s no cheap cash in. This looks to be something crafted with love and appreciation and should certainly be worth your consideration.