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Steel City Fans of Doctor Who

on Mon, 11/18/2013 - 00:00

The science fiction epic Doctor Who premiered on November 23, 1963, and remained a regular feature on the BBC for an astonishing 26 consecutive television seasons. The adventures of a time traveling alien and his numerous human companions not only became a huge sensation in England but transformed the Doctor of the narrative into a British Institution that arguable rivals Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and even the Queen herself. When the series was relaunched in 2005, it not only equaled the success of its predecessor but became a pop culture phenomenon across the Atlantic Ocean as well. The reach of Doctor Who now extends from London and Liverpool to New York and Los Angeles and everywhere in between—including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Doctor Who is a rare show for many reasons,” Steel City native Will Rutherford explains. “It has an enormous history which, while fictional, connects and intertwines with our own in such a way that we still feel very connected to it. Also, it has more than enough enthusiastic fans who are more than willing to chronicle that history and see that it endures. The show itself has something for everyone. Finally, the show is set up in such a way that the cast, the writers, the scenery and even the tone of the show can change to suit the needs of the audience. It’s a cultural shapeshifter.”

Although there are a small handful of Doctor Who “meet up” groups in the Pittsburgh area, no formal fan club exists in the same way as such other science fiction classics as Firefly, Star Trek and Star Wars, but Steel City fans of the Doctor can be found in the region just the same. “They’re everywhere if you know where to look,” Rutherford says. “All you have to do is keep an eye out for a little blue box on someone’s desk or a picture of a British man with floppy hair and bow tie, and if you see those, you know you’ve found a friend.”

Will Rutherford is relatively new to Doctor Who, having watched his first episode in September 2011, and his “conversion to Whovianism” mirrors that of many other Pittsburgh residents. “I haven’t been a Doctor Who fan for that long,” Anthony “Chachi” Walker explains. “It was something I finally broke down and watched, then couldn’t stop watching. I used to make fun of Doctor Who all the time because I had friends that were addicted to it. Finally, after a random day on Netflix, I put on the new series and to no surprise, I was hooked. I flew through six seasons in three weeks or so. Needless to say I heard ‘we told you so’ for a while.”

Holly Bowan had a slightly different yet similar experience. “I used to watch with my mom as a kid,” she said in November 2013. “I started watching myself earlier this year. I watched Doctors Nine through Eleven in about three weeks! I have always been one of those people who hate jumping on bandwagons—I gave in this time.”

Stu Neft, meanwhile, was first exposed to Doctor Who during the 1980s and continues to be a fan to this day. “I was working at a comic’s dealer while I was in college, and we would travel to conventions every weekend, whether they were comics-related or science fiction ones,” he remembers. “At one of the first ones, someone mentioned that I resembled Doctor Who, and I had no idea who they were talking about. Since I was at a sci-fi convention, they seemed very surprised by this. I was told I needed to check it out so when I got back to school, I started watching it on a local PBS station in Atlanta, and was instantly hooked.”

Although Holly Bowan, Stu Neft, Will Rutherford and Anthony Walker first experienced Doctor Who at different times and under different circumstances, they are all pretty much in agreement as to the reasons for the widespread appeal of the series. “It combines so many of the things that I enjoy,” Neft begins. “Science fiction, comedy, suspension of belief, romance, double entendres, inside jokes, intrigue, suspense and clever writing. It’s like the ultimate buddy comedy.”

Will Rutherford agrees. “Doctor Who is a rare kind of show that covers all the bases of what I consider to be good television,” he says. “Sci-fi, comedy, action, adventure—it’s all there and it ticks all those boxes while never losing sight of the humanity behind the whole thing. It’s really a difficult thing done beautifully.” For Holly Bowan, meanwhile, it’s the “compelling storylines” that the writing staff and producers of the show have been able to consistently craft. “They don’t play the viewer as a simpleton,” she elaborates. “There is no talking down to us. It’s very intellectual without being too heavy.”

“The concept is what did it for me,” Anthony Walker adds. “Here you have a species of alien who just has this underlying curiosity and willingness to help. Then you add the fact that he doesn’t die yet regenerates into a completely new version, and there’s the hook.” Stu Neft concurs with Walker’s assessment as well. “It’s kind of like how James Bond has been played by so many different actors, except that the show’s writers came up with the plausible explanation of why the actor portraying him keeps changing,” he says. “It allows the show to stay in touch with the current audience that is watching the show.”

Just like any city in Great Britain or the United States, Steel City fans of Doctor Who each have their own favorite Doctor. “Ten,” Holly Bowan answers when asked, referring to the David Tennant version. “He’s amazing. Phenomenal actor—totally believable.” Anthony Walker agrees with the choice. “His version of the Doctor was the most entertaining for me,” he says. “His demeanor and quirkiness locked it for him.”

“I started watching when Matt Smith had the role of Eleven, so by default he is my favorite,” Will Rutherford counters. “You always remember your first Doctor. That being said, many of the other Doctors have grown on me. The unpredictable madness of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, the sass of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and even the already doomed sensibility of Paul McGann’s short lived Eighth Doctor. And of course you can’t help but love David Tennant. It’s just a law of the universe.” Stu Neft likewise considers the first Doctor he was exposed to as a personal favorite, which in his case was Tom Baker. “At the time, I was told I looked a bit like him, so much so that I went out and acquired his trademark, rainbow-colored scarf and wore it around for a while,” he says. “That might have explained the lack of girlfriends at the time.”

Regardless of the actor portraying the lead character, however, it is the series itself that most connects with the audience. “Doctor Who has endured for a reason,” Will Rutherford explains. “It can make you laugh, cry, and hide behind your couch all in one episode. It hasn’t endured for fifty years of the ever-changing and fickle landscape of television on accident. It’s a rare and beautiful thing and a random that I am proud to be part of.”

The same can be said for Holly Bowan, Stu Neft and Anthony Walker, as well as thousands of other Pittsburgh residents who consider themselves fans of Doctor Who.

Anthony Letizia

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