Frock coats, yo-yos and a chair with a panda on it : nostalgia for the future in the life of a 'Doctor Who' fan
The scene revealed by a London policeman’s torch in the low-key opening moments of a new television series on the evening of Saturday 23rd November 1963 now seems emblematic. Doctor Who began in a junkyard and the secret of its success – in particular, the subtle, complex, distinctive essence of its relationship with its fans across half a century – is perhaps symbolized in the clutter of cultural fragments within which the TARDIS and its owner were first discovered. The BBC’s cancellation of the series in 1989 has often been blamed on its increasing orientation towards a diminishing hardcore of fans during the preceding decade. A perception that the show had become self-parodying and excessively reliant its own history is not without justification. The proposed paper argues, however, that this particular aspect of the decline was more intricate: the power of the Doctor Who format was, from the start, contingent on a singular sense of nostalgia, but under John Nathan-Turner this had become a narrow, self-referential nostalgia rather than a general, culturally alert one. Doctor Who’s intertextual, genre-crossing format allowed eccentric fantasy to co-exist with a unique accessibility and imitability of characters, costumes, props and monsters: children could make a TARDIS out of a cardboard box, they could be a Dalek with an egg whisk and a sink plunger, they could knit a long scarf, they could offer jelly babies from a paper bag… Encouraging cosplay before cosplay existed, embodying steampunk before the term was coined, Doctor Who made nostalgia futuristic. Tellingly, its triumphant revival since 2005, for all its bigger budgets and digital effects, has rejoiced in the ‘wobbly set’ legacy. Adult viewers feel a continuation of childhood obsessions, thrills and reassurances, while their children have an enthusiasm that they feel ownership of but can also share with parents. In this sense, new Who, like old Who, taps into the richly nostalgic ideals of family television.