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British television invasion at VU

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In a classroom on campus, the phrase Bad Wolf is scrawled across the board. The professor, irritated that someone left something on the board from the class period before, wipes it away. Meanwhile, some of the kids in the class giggle or gasp in delight. What just happened?

Welcome to the strange and wild world of Doctor Who.

In November 1963, Doctor Who premiered on BBC television in Britain. Originally intended to be an educational family show that taught Britons about history, the show quickly evolved into something else.

That something else would be a television series about the adventures and shenanigans of a time-traveling alien who appears to be human, named The Doctor. His name prompts the question of Doctor Who? which leads to the title of the show. He travels through time and space in the TARDIS, his spaceship (Time and Relative Dimension in Space to be specific), which takes the shape of a blue British police telephone box. To give the show a connection to humanity, The Doctor takes with him British companions, usually women, as he fights evil monsters and rights various wrongs throughout time and space.

Despite the weird premise, Doctor Who is a unique television show in one other important way. The original show was on the air for an epic 26 seasons, from 1963 to 1989, with various actors in the role of The Doctor and his companions. Undoubtedly, some parents will remember the original seasons, made into a cult classic because of its terrible special effects. Although the show had some support in the United States, it never really caught on beyond the tolerant love of science fiction fans.

Fast forward to 2005, when the show was revived with new special effects and a younger cast. To fans delight, its quirky, weird spirit has remained the same.

And then something peculiar happened the show made the big jump across the Atlantic to the ravenous and loud American fan base. In fact, the last season of Doctor Who outsold both Glee and Modern Family on the U.S. iTunes store.

So why and how did this strange and very British show catch on in the U.S.? In an interview in 2007 with Radio Times, head writer of the new seasons, Steven Moffat, talked about the universal appeal of the show. Moffat said in the interview:

Doctor Who isn't a childish programme, but it is childlike: its a programme for children. And many, many adults who watch and love it watch it as that: as something like Harry Potter. They watch it in that frame of mind, Moffat said.

Many of the members of the Harry Potter generation have now grown up. Most of us are now in or just out of college, but some still seek the adventure and excitement of the unknown. And that is the niche market of Doctor Who. Doctor Who fans, who call themselves Whovians, can be found almost anywhere.

Unsurprisingly, Valparaiso University has caught the Doctor Who fever as well.

For many of the devoted Whovians on campus, Doctor Who runs in the family. Sophomore Taylor Katz recalls her first experience with the show.

I started watching Doctor Who when the new series just had come out in 2009. My mom . . . saw (that) Doctor Who (was on) and was very excited, as she was a fan back during the classic Who days. From then on, I watched with my mom every week, Katz said.

For Michael Mead, a junior, his first exposure came when he and his brother could not decide what kind of show they wanted to watch after they got home from school.

Most of the time our tastes drifted into the realm of the fantastic, so Doctor Who fit the bill, Mead said.

As for why the show has become so popular among college students, Katz offers an explanation.

I love Doctor Who because it's lighthearted and cheesy fun, but also has substance to it. You fall in love with characters, cry when they go, you work out puzzles and occasionally we get a villain and (they) keep us up at night. I would imagine it has caught on in the U.S. for these exact reasons it's family-friendly entertainment that every age can get something from, Katz said. As a student, I love the show because it's intelligent and fun.

Another reason for the success of the show is its new schedule on BBC America, which now coincides with the British airings. Now fans around the world can tweet and blog to their hearts content without having to wait months. VUs students gather together usually off campus (unfortunately, the universitys cable service does not carry BBC America) to watch the show together on Saturdays or reruns on Netflix.

The Whovians on campus recommend a few episodes to newcomers. Rose (Series 1, Episode 1) and The Eleventh Hour (Series 5, Episode 1) are commonly cited as good jumping-off points. Certain standalone episodes, such as Blink (Series 3, Episode 10), which won both a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award and a Hugo Award, are also a good way for new fans to experience a bit of the Doctor.

Doctor Who is a strange, whimsical and sometimes downright weird show, but it has found a home in the hearts and minds of VU students. It is not a show for everyone, but luckily for those seeking intergalactic and, in the words of the Doctor himself, wibby-wobbly-time-wimey adventures, then the Doctor might have just the right type of medicine for you.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch. Contact Hannah Scupham at torch@valpo.edu.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Scupham, Hannah (2012-09-07). British television invasion at VU. The Valparaiso Torch .
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=British television invasion at VU | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/British_television_invasion_at_VU | work=The Valparaiso Torch | pages= | date=2012-09-07 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2019 }}</ref>
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