So popular is a relative thing, of course: Doctor Who still gets far few viewers in the U.S. than it does in the U.K., even though the U.S. has something like five times the population. But there’s no doubt that the show is far more popular now than it was back in the 80s and early 90s, when it aired in reruns on different schedules in different cities to tiny cult audiences on PBS. The minor frenzy the show stirred up when shooting in New York last week is just one indication that the fandom for the show has changed since the reboot.
Gwynn Compton at Whatculture! has a few ideas about the surge in the show’s U.S. popularity:
Doctor Who has been making something of a conscious attempt to cement itself a solid and vocal fan-base in the rebel colonies. From casting John Barrowman as Jack Harkness to the last Dalek in existence being stored underground in Utah. From New New York to the Daleks invading Manhattan (maybe the Daleks are the ones invading…). From the Doctor dying at Lake Silencio to the teaser we’ve seen of the Doctor in a western frontier town. They all point to one thing to me.
It’s Doctor Who saying to their US audience “We’re not just a British show”.
I’m not sure that makes much sense. Where a film or TV show is shot has little bearing on its attitude and tone. Certainly shooting a few episodes of Doctor Who in the U.S. doesn’t alter the fact one bit that it is hugely, fundamental British. (The classic series occasionally shot outside the U.K.: Paris, Amsterdam, and Lanzarote jump immediately to mind. That didn’t make the show French, Dutch, or Spanish.) And I suspect that the utter disaster that was Torchwood: Miracle Day demonstrates that no one wants an American Doctor Who. I think those Americans who have fallen in love with DW did so precisely because it is not American.
This makes a little more sense:
[G]iven that the BBC can’t make money off advertising revenue in the UK, this push to convert the sizable science fiction audience of the US into Doctor Who fans who are willing to pay money for episodes [on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video], is pure business genius.
That’s certainly true, but no amount of promotion and marketing — which is clearly directed and concerted in a way that it wasn’t in the past — can make anyone become a fan of anything. It might make folks tune in for a taste, but they’re not sticking around because BBC America has ads for Doctor Who on the sides of buses in New York. And the fact remains that when the show rebooted, there was no promotion of it in the U.S. It didn’t even air in the U.S. till a full year later.
So something else is going on. Is it the Internet making it easier for existing fans to share their passion, and hence grow the fandom? Or is there something inherent in the new Doctor Who that is suddenly appealing to more Americans? What do you think?
(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)