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Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor'

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  • Publication: Daily Herald
  • Date: 1983-05-06
  • Author: Gordon Walek
  • Page: sec. 6, p. 1
  • Language: English
  • Notes: A different version of this article is here.

It's one of those late winter days in Chicago when the snow is gone, the ground is brown and the whipping wind is full of grit that gets under your fingernails and into your hair

West Belmont Avenue is particularly nondescript at this time of year with Saturday morning shoppers hurrying from one discount store to another and an anemic sun piercing a sky more gray then blue

So on such a despicable day, what's this throng of young people doing stretched six-deep down the sidewalk and around the block?

They've been waiting a long tune in front of The New Fantasy Shop to see the object of their desire and they will, if necessary wait a lot longer

The science fiction memorabilia shop is not the sort of place that draws a crowd. On the day however, ensconced on an old couch in a cluttered back room is one Peter Davison a proper and modest British fellow who under normal circumstances could walk down Belmont Avenue or even Michigan Avenue without attracting attention.

However Davison probably best known to American television audiences as one of the veterinarians on the PBS series "All Creatures Great and Small", the reason for the folks outside. They couldn't care less about "All Creatures They want to see 'Doctor Who.

Two years ago. Davison replaced the venerable Tom Baker as the fifth actor to portray 'Doctor who' in the 20-year-old British Broadcasting Corp science-fiction television series Chicago's WTTW Channel 11 has carried the show since 1975, when Jon Pertwee portrayed a good-natured fellow who traveled through time and space in a police call box.

Back then not many Chicagoans had heard of Doctor Who but in the late 1970s with Tom Baker in the leading role the program began to build a faithful cult-like audience. WTTW estimates 250,000 viewers tune in the show at 11 pm on Sunday, even for reruns.

No matter that on this day none of the "Doctor Who" fans who had sat through Tom Baker reruns had any idea of when or where they might see the Doctor Who baton passed to the gentlemanly Davison Channel 11 after all, already had paid for the rights to another 18 months of Tom Baker reruns and even though the BBC was making the newer Davison episodes available for American distribution it wasn't known when they might air in Chicago, or whether WTTW would shell out the bucks for more shows.

No matter that Davison and his lovely wife Sandra were delayed in making their appearance at The New Fantasy Shop. No matter that cold grit was blowing into the faces of everyone waiting in that line. These folks were ready for the new Doctor Who

Most television luminaries and Davison who stars in two other comedy series in England in addition to his Doctor Who chores is a luminary — travel in style when they are beating the drum for their show. They usually don't make appearances at places like The New Fantasy Shop on West Belmont Avenue.

But there Davison was his wife beside him sitting in the back room of a store that was furnished in contemporary Amvets giving interviews as though he were in the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles Some junket this.

Davison in fact was on a vacation — his bloody vacation for God's sake -- and stopped at the store only at the urging of owner George Breo.

Brea might be described as your ultimate Doctor Who fan and for good reason. He makes money by selling Doctor Who related merchandise which is available in abundance at his store. He negotiated with Davison's agent for more than a year to get the doctor here and this blustery day was his reward.

BUT MORE about Breo later. Davison is the man of the hour. That he was chosen to play the good doctor by executive producer John Nathan Turner makes sense. He has watched the show sine a he was 12.

It was a very extraordinary idea for me when they suggested I do this Davison said looking more like the vet in All Creatures in his tweeds and saddle oxfords than his Doctor Who characterization in long coat and cricket garb.

It terrified me but it is not an opportunity you can turn down because it terrifies you. A great part of the show's popularity is that the device of changing actors has been managed and that has enabled it to go on for 20 years. It couldn't have done that with just one actor. But the show also has something of everything in it. It is an adventure, it's humorous and it's a great opportunity to do different sorts of stories And the character is endearing"

While Chicago audiences are just beginning to get a look at Davison's "Doctor Who" the busy actor is undecided about how many years he will toil in the science-fiction format.

'I'm doing next year which will be my third," he said, and after that, I don't know.'

The four previous Doctor Whos left the show of their own volition. By American standards, that there have been five succeeding stars in a continuing series is remarkable. As you may have noticed, most prime-time network shows don't last anything close to 20 years.

"I'M SURE that if 'Doctor Who' would have started on American television it would have been canceled here after three episodes, Davison said "Lots and lots of the best series need nurturing and I think that's the great advantage British television has over American.'

Davison sees his interpretation of the doctor as a unique one.

I wasn't cast because I could do a pale imitation of Tom Baker," he said. "I've tried to take characteristics from the other doctors because I had to start somewhere. But I am slightly more naive than Tom and a bit more vulnerable."

One hopes Chicago's "Doctor Who fans appreciate the vulnerability because they screamed to get it. Even to the point of boycotting Channel 11's March fund-raising drive because they suspected the station was balking on buying the Davison episodes.

BREO EVEN organized the United Doctor Who Network of Chicago. an umbrella organization of local "Doctor Who" fan clubs including the Celestial Intervention Agency, Emissaries of the White Guardian and Eyes of Harmony to pressure WTTW into buying the new shows. Breo figures he spoke for about 1,000 "Doctor Who' fans in the area.

Anyway Breo and his pals penned a critical letter to WTTW programming director Richard Bowman in early March accusing the station of dragging its feet in coming up with the new episodes and saying "Doctor Who" fans would boycott the pledge activities, from which WTTW derives most of its operating revenue It should be noted that during the past two years "Doctor Who fans. many gearing the flowing scarves that Baker fancied helped answer WTTW telephones on Sunday nights during the fund-raising drives.

Bowman fired off a response denying most of the allegations, but that did little to lessen the outcry.

"The thing that bothered most of us fans," Breo said "is that Channel 11 was very noncommittal about everything. They said they were negotiating but didn't say when things would cement. I think basically the only reason they did decide to buy them was because of the action of the fans."

A LOT OF "Doctor Who" fans called the station to complain, charging WTTW could have obtained the episodes a long time ago

Breo acknowledges that assertion was inaccurate because the company that syndicates the series was releasing it in America on a market-by-market basis and wasn't ready to negotiate with Chicago until March 1.

Not surprisingly, the price for the new "Dr. Who segments" was considerably more than the Baker episodes because of the show's increased popularity. But before the end of the month, Channel 11 had come to terms with the syndicator, and the Davison series was ready to roll.

Turner agreed that "Doctor Who" had evolved into a hit for his station, although he said it is not the blockbuster some of the fans say it is. The program draws fewer viewers than "Sneak Previews" and less than half of the audience that tunes in for, say, National Geographic specials.

THE FIRST Davison episode aired on April 24 and will continue on Sundays through June 11 when the station will rerun some old shows starring Jon Pertwee as "Doctor Who." The Pertwee shows will conclude In September and be followed by Tom Baker reruns through July 1984, when a new set of Davison episodes will be available.

All's well that ends well, the saying goes. But some "Dr Who" fans aren't so sure. Breo, just back from England where he was working out a merchandising agreement with the BBC for "Doctor Who" items ("we're keeping a hand on the fan pulse"), is pleased the new shows are available, but he isn't sure the hard feelings have been smoothed.

Fan club members will be back at WTTW for the next pledge period, if they are welcome, he said.

"I may be talking through my hat because they may be very happy to have our support," he said. But there may be a few ill feelings down there."

Caption: The mild-mannered fellow above is Peter Davison. better known as "Doctor Who," the hero of a British science-fiction TV show who travels through time and space by means of a telephone booth. Cult-like fans, such as the youngster at left, and a block-long Chicago crowd waited for hours to meet him.

Herald photos by Scott Sanders

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

  • APA 6th ed.: Walek, Gordon (1983-05-06). Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor'. Daily Herald p. sec. 6, p. 1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Walek, Gordon. "Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor'." Daily Herald [add city] 1983-05-06, sec. 6, p. 1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Walek, Gordon. "Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor'." Daily Herald, edition, sec., 1983-05-06
  • Turabian: Walek, Gordon. "Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor'." Daily Herald, 1983-05-06, section, sec. 6, p. 1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor' | url= | work=Daily Herald | pages=sec. 6, p. 1 | date=1983-05-06 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Fans who are in the know crowd store to see 'Doctor' | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 April 2024}}</ref>