Thoughts on the psychology of Doctor Who fans

Following the most excellent debut of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, it seems (and there are exceptions) fandom is rather more uniformly positive than might have been expected from the original furore last summer when the current Doctor was first revealed. (And it feels great writing current Doctor in this context!)

I’ve an interest in psychology, and it occurred to me there’s a perspective on people’s reaction to the show worth exploring. I’m not saying fans have a particular psychology (I’m sure others might so do), but reactions are influenced by many factors, and fans inevitably react differently to more casual viewers. I’m going to talk in general terms about how the mind works, and give a view on why fandom is so positive. As it’s a blog post I’ll also cover my bases by looking at the future and worrying about it all going wrong down the line, which I do not at all think it will. You don’t make three seasons of Broadchurch without knowing what you’re doing!

How do people react to events, and what do fans bring to the table?

It’s all about context. Who were are, what we expect, what happens on the day, how we feel and myriads of other factors. Maybe the move to Sunday night has a more relaxed audience? Maybe the long wait being over was reason to celebrate? As fans of the show we have context of familiarity with the subject. Doctor Who for all its glory is a massive beast. For everyone watching the show as a recent viewer or modern fan, there’s somebody on a forum or social media feed putting their case based on their experience of 100s of episodes on TV, audio, books, comics and whatever else they might count in their own personal view of canon (a topic for another day).

We’re very good it forming beliefs based on small amounts of evidence. We’re very good at ignoring contrary evidence and exaggerating the relevance of supporting evidence (Confirmation Bias). Previous arguments on the quality of writing / acting / producing.. fell very much into this trap, and it would have been easy to highlight small points and use those to support incoming negative opinions. Luckily (in the main) this didn’t happen.

An aside on the them of familiarity. When watching The Woman Who Fell to Earth we all wanted to connect to what has gone before. Are the scenes of a city in rain with aerial views and lots of darkness just part of the particular episode or a nod back to Torchwood (my own immediate reaction)? Was the setup a bit like the Sarah Jane Adventures with a female lead and her sidekicks? Was the sudden burst of horror in the reveal of Tim Shaw’s face a bit like Class? You could say all these and more, but be careful. Sometimes a few dots look like they lie on a straight line by chance. Don’t over analyse, try to be objective (whatever that means). Above all sit back and enjoy!

And why is everyone generally so positive?

It helps that The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a strong episode, well-produced, and Jodie Whittaker looks made for the role. It helps the others also work well, and I think Bradley Walsh could be a real asset. It’s well filmed though feels different, the music has been popular and even if the episode wasn’t perfect, it ticked a good number of boxes and in some ways made fans proud again (whether they’d say that or not I don’t know – it felt right when I wrote it). I think it also helps we had a long time between the announcement of Jodie Whittaker and the new series. All the vitriol, spite, bile and polarisation has happened. People have had months and months to get used to the idea, and a lot of the heat has gone out of the argument. I’m sure some will disagree, but I’ve seen staunch nay-sayers turn round and admit they were wrong to be so prejudiced. All good stuff.

And here’s the thing: regardless of our tribalisms we generally love our show and want it to do well. It may not always go the way we expect or think we want, but it’s like being a parent. Sometimes you have to let go and let your children do things their way for their reasons.

Could it all go wrong?

It rather depends on the rest of the series. If there’s a run of weak episodes, falling ratings and dropping viewing figures, expect a backlash. So far viewing numbers look strong, and even though they will drop that’s OK. There will no doubt be some missteps along the way to season’s end, but I as I said at the start, you don’t produce Broadchurch if you don’t know your stuff. Worst case expect a wave of disappointment, finger pointing and the end of the world. Oh, hang on, it’s just a TV show! I enjoy The Woman Who Fell to Earth and I hope you did to. More I hope we all enjoy more of the rest of the series. I hope you agree.

2 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.