Travelling through time with fans

8-1956-6-22-O1-2 - Police restraining fans outside a movie theatre during the 1956 Berlin International Film Festival © akg-images / Gert Schütz
8-1956-6-22-O1-2 – Police restraining fans outside a movie theatre during the 1956 Berlin International Film Festival © akg-images / Gert Schütz

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a special screening at the BFI Southbank of Remembrance of the Daleks, four episodes of the television series Doctor Who first broadcast in 1988. This was part of a celebration at the BFI leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the first episode of the TV series with a special event each month focussing in turn on one of the eleven incarnations of the Doctor from the first Doctor William Hartnell in 1953 right up to the current Timelord, Matt Smith.

On Sunday night the BBC devoted half an hour of primetime television to teasing the identity of the twelfth actor to play the Doctor, before finally revealing Peter Capaldi as the man into whom Matt Smith will regenerate at Christmas. In the brief interview that followed, Capaldi was quick to point out that he, too, is a Doctor Who fan and a letter published when Capaldi was fifteen praising the Radio Times for its Doctor Who coverage was flashed up on screen as proof of his fandom.

7IT-E2-AA324170 Excited spectators at the Beatles concert held at the Velodromo Vigorelli. Milan, 24 June 1965 © akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio
7IT-E2-AA324170 Excited spectators at the Beatles concert held at the Velodromo Vigorelli. Milan, 24 June 1965 © akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio

It is incredible to think that Doctor Who is such an important part of the BBC schedule that a television programme was secretly planned (under the codename Houdini) and inserted into the TV listings at the last moment, especially when you consider that, one year after Doctor Who‘s twenty-fifth anniversary in Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988, the on-going series disappeared from TV screens (ironically after a serial entitled Survival), until it was resurrected in 2005. (There was also a one-off TV movie in 1996 with Paul McGann as the Doctor.)

The Remembrance of the Daleks event at the BFI included interviews with a number of members of the 1988 cast and crew including a Q&A with Sylvester McCoy who played the seventh Doctor and Sophie Aldred who played his companion Ace (who was always a particular favourite of mien). Both actors were gracious in thanking the fans (McCoy joked that, in the intervening years, the fan base has become noticeably younger and more female). A television programme which, in the late 1980s, seemed forever to be fighting against being axed from the schedules has now become a cultural behemoth and that is in no small part due to the fans who continued to love the show, even in the years it was off the air, discussing it, passing round VHS copies of the episodes, writing their own fanzines and, I dare say, petitioning the BBC to recommission it.

Fandom is not exclusively a Doctor Who phenomenon, nor is it a phenomenon restricted to science fiction. Living in London, you see autograph hunters hanging round the back doors of the theatres in the centre of town, more often than not in the pouring rain, waiting for a famous face to make their way in or out. There are a surprising number of photographs in the akg archive where our photographers have turned their cameras to the fans and captured them waiting, screaming or being forcibly restrained by the police!

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