Documentary - Doctor Who Am I

In cinemas from today and on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from 28th November, Tony Cross watched the documentary Doctor Who Am I...

Doctor Who Am I is directed by Matthew Jacobs and Vanessa Yuille. Matthew Jacobs wrote the screenplay for the 1996 Doctor Who film, starring Paul McGann as the Doctor. He has avoided involvement with the fan community since because his perception is that Doctor Who fans hated him because his screenplay does two things: it makes the Doctor half-human and the Doctor kisses a woman! Shock and, indeed, horror.

Now he’s decided to go to some conventions, make a little money and try to find out what it is about Doctor Who and its fans. Now, the documentary is pretty much entirely focused on American fandom*, which I think is different to UK fandom. I think less so now than it used to be. I think the main difference between the two is at the older end of fandom, but that’s a subject for a whole other documentary.

You get the impression at the beginning that Matthew Jacobs is very cynical (and slightly defensive) about the whole thing. But the more fans he talks to and the more actors he talks to about fans the more he starts to see and understand fandom a little more. This is complicated by the fact that Matthew’s father, the actor Anthony Jacobs, appeared as Doc Holliday in the William Hartnell story, The Gunfighters. Matthew was taken on set and saw some of the filming. So, Matthew’s feelings about Doctor Who are connected with his feeling about his father and mother. I won’t go into details but it sounds like Matthew’s childhood was a difficult one. And the film explores his own life almost as it does fandom.

As time goes on Matthew spots two things: a lot of fans found Doctor Who as an escape from trauma of one degree or another. That it was a comfort and that the Doctor gave hope to people in the real world as much as they do in fiction. He also realised that the most important thing was the community and family aspect of fandom, which often gets overlooked when it is easier to make joke at the expense of the more intense or silly aspects of fandom. People outside fandom often miss the fact that Doctor Who fans make better jokes about the flaws of Doctor Who than non-fans. We’re perfectly aware of its limitations, but we don’t care.

I also think Matthew either deliberately – to suit a narrative – or accidentally – because he doesn’t know – has missed that The TV Movie is viewed a lot more affectionately than it used to be. Partly I think because thanks to Big Finish Paul McGann is loved by fandom. You only have to watch reaction videos to The Power of the Doctor to see the joy which his brief appearances are greeted. Plus now the Doctors kiss people on a semi-regular basis these days that part seems less bothersome than it did at the time. And everyone just chose to politely ignore the half-human thing. So, Matthew if you read this review I think you can be pleased with a job well done.

There are moments where my fan hackles rose at Matthew’s cynicism at the beginning, but then I realised that fandom must be strange when you’re outside it. One really strong part of it is Paul McGann’s contributions. McGann is an intelligent man and I’d love to see him interviewed at length about how the Doctor Who fan experience seems to him.

In the end though this is a film that does slightly more than I expected. It turns out to be not just an exploration of fandom but Matthew Jacobs dealing with some of his own past. It is surprisingly moving at points. And he does a fair shot of trying to get to the centre of what Doctor Who means to fans, particularly North American ones.

As a fan I found myself seen, but also a little bit judged. Neither of which is a unique experience. Go see it.

PS The star of the film, after Matthew himself is a little baby called Piper.

* North American fandom actually because apart from the one Canadian fan making clear he is Canadian I noticed Steven Schapansky, of the excellent Radio Free Skaro podcast, pop up a couple of times in his role as host of a couple of panels. Steven is very much of a Canadian persuasion.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

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