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Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans

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Knock, knock.

Who's there?

The doctor.

Doctor who?

The fifth Doctor Who, this week, anyway.

If you're still confused, stay tuned. The monthly meeting of the Blue Box Companions, also known as the Dr. Who Fan Club, will convene shortly and the Whoovian truth will be revealed.

Once a month, at the Hoover (Whoover?) Public Library, a group of 50 or so people from all walks of life and many age groups gather to watch, discuss, dissect, honor and enjoy "Dr. Who."

Ask not who is Dr. Who, for you will surely show your ignorance.

"Dr. Who" is a what — a British televison series running since Nov. 23, 1963, about a Time Lord, known by his friends, companions and enemies as "the Doctor." (It is re-aired in America on public television stations. Alabama Public Television stations air "Dr. Who" at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.)

If you ask, "Who is this Doctor?" the Whoovians, as "Dr. Who" fans like to call themselves, will patiently, lovingly tell you about their hero. The Doctor is one of the ageless guardians of peace in the galaxy. (Just swallow that premise whole. There's more weirdness to come.)

He has two hearts, maintains a body temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and has lived more than 750 years. His mission, self-appointed after he became bored with life on his planet, Gallifrey, is to help restore order in troubled worlds and vanquish an endless stream of monsters and wierd aliens.

He travels the galaxy in a stolen TARDIS (that's Time And Relative Dimensions in Space) that looks like a police call box. A call box, for the non-Anglophiles out there, is an alert system that notifies British bobbies of emergencies, or did before the British suspended their use in an attempt to modernize. Anyone familiar with "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" has to wonder if its creators weren't fans of the Doctor, and. hence the excellent dudes' phone booth travel conveyance.

ASIDE FROM time and space travel, the Doctor also has the ability to regenerate himself, Whoovians explain. Handy for the lead character in a show running for 28 years. So far, he's regenerated seven times, but here in Alabama, we're only on No. 5. That's another thing we can add to the "behind on" list.

If you are thinking that any group of people who would sit around once a month for three hours or so talking about a science-fiction television show must be a bunch of kooks, you're right, says the group's vice president, Paula Woodall.

Mrs. Woodall, a computer programmer and part-time teacher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, does not sound so strange. She is the mother of two, wife of a musical instrument salesman, card-carrying kook. She probably knows more about the Doctor in all his regenerations than she does about the goings-on of her teen-age daughters.

You may know a Trekkie or two. "Star Trek" fans sometimes come to the Hoover-Whoovian gathering, but are less cultish, Mrs. Woodall says. On first impression, most members are normal folks. The president. Bill Street. has a mail order business, the secretary is really a librarian. There are computer personnel, engineers, medical personnel, a CPA, and students from grade school through college. One member owns a comic book and game store, the Lion and Unicorn.

"It's kind of a joke that nobody can be an officer who works at a 7-Eleven." says Mrs. Woodall.

"I would classify most as kooks," Mrs. Woodall says, regular vocations nowithstanding. But, she is quick to point out that the group doesn't go in for the occult. Some of its members may do so on the side, she admits, but not at meetings.

"DR. WHO" HAS aired on APT since September 1985. Before then, as early as the late '70s, British television groupies met in Allan Hammack's Lion and Unicorn. Some of those original members still belong to the fan club, Mrs. Woodall says.

"I've only been active in fandom for several years," she says, "but most members have been active fans for the majority of their lives." She says she has seen past leaders whose "total validity of their whole existence" is "Dr. Who" fandom.

It's not that "Dr. Who" fans are all that weird, she says. although she admits her husband calls her weird; they're different and may not have other concerns. Most are single or at least not parents and "not wildly successful in business and don't have other things to do."

Besides, fandom is fun.

The first-Saturday-of-the-month meetings feature an entire "Dr. Who" story, some business such as collection of the $12 annual dues and discussion of upcoming conventions or what's new with production in England. (The series has been on hiatus since 1988, but production is expected to resume in 1992. Sometimes there will be another British short feature, such as "Red Dwarf" or "The Prisoner." There is also a question and answer period about the series and Doctor history. And the group has a newsletter.

THE HOOVER GROUP also belongs to a network of Whoovians who exchange videotapes of episodes or stories. In England, "Dr. Who" is shown in 30-minute segments. There are 159 stories, each made up of two to 12 of those 30-minute episodes. Usually APT airs entire stories, except when they run more than two or more hours. Then they are serialized.

Mrs. Woodall says many of the original "Dr. Who" stories were lost because the BBC reused the tapes or threw them out when storage ran short. Today the BBC does not show reruns. It sometimes airs "Dr. Who" specials, but the old shows are only available in England for VCR owners. That has contributed to an international trading network where original episodes are collectors' items and copied videotapes are costly (British video recordings can't be played directly on American VCRs).

What makes "Dr. Who" fans so stuck on their hero? It is certainly not the special effects, which are cavemanesque when compared to "Terminator II" or "Star Trek." The appeal lies in the character development and the twists and turns of the plot.

"It's never been about 'Star Trek,' Club secretary Laurine Walker says of special effects. "The goofy monsters are part of the charm. It's about plot and character."

You have to accept the inconsistencies in the plot on faith, say Mrs. Woodall and Gadsden member Jerry Bard. Take for instance the call box. About the size of a phone booth on the outside, it's bigger on the inside, or in Whoovian terms, "dimensionally transcendental."

The plots of each story are "bigger on the inside," too. The Doctor isn't into fantasic gadgets. Simpler things, like his trusty cosmic screwdriver, and his intense curiousity get the Doctor out of trouble, in whichever regeneration he may be.

Peter Davison, APT's current Doctor, is familiar to "Mystery" fans as "Albert Campion." He is the youngest Doctor and bears absolutely no resemblence to his predecessor Tom Baker, the dark, tousle-haired Doctor familiar for his long, entanglng scarves and big-pocketed coat.

"Theoretically," Mrs. Woodall says, "when he regenerates himself, it's like a dice roll and he gets whatever age comes up."

Bard enjoys the fan club because he likes the differences in the original episodes and newer stories. "You can see a lot of differences in the first episodes and the current season with Sylvestor McCoy (the seventh Doctor) who's in his 40s. It could've been worse — I could've said 950s."

If you're interested in suspending belief once a month and attending the monthly Dr. Who Fan Club, write: Paula Woodall, 1316 Turf Drive, Birmingham 35216


Spelling correction: Sylvester McCoy

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Downing, Catherine (1991-08-29). Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans. The Anniston Star p. 1B.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Downing, Catherine. "Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans." The Anniston Star [add city] 1991-08-29, 1B. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Downing, Catherine. "Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans." The Anniston Star, edition, sec., 1991-08-29
  • Turabian: Downing, Catherine. "Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans." The Anniston Star, 1991-08-29, section, 1B edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dr._Who_invades_U.S._air,_captures_cult_fans | work=The Anniston Star | pages=1B | date=1991-08-29 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=6 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dr. Who invades U.S. air, captures cult fans | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dr._Who_invades_U.S._air,_captures_cult_fans | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=6 December 2019}}</ref>