Dr Who: I don't get it
December 26, 2009 3:45 AM   Subscribe

Why is Dr Who so popular with adult American audiences?

Dr Who is considered a children's TV programme here in the UK (although the beeb have tried to market it more toward family-viewing in recent years) so it seems quite strange to me just how popular it is amongst the 'geek community'. Particularly considering the current golden age of American sci fi TV.

I am not criticising the show itself, I'll leave that to the critics. But surely the scripts or the supplementary programming are clues to its intended audience.

Perhaps by asking this question I'm revealing an ugly snobbish side of myself when I should just be leaving people to enjoy what they want to watch. If I regularly watched Dr Who I'm sure I would feel the same intellectual juvenilisation guilt that my adult friends who read Harry Potter admit to. However, I'm genuinely interested in why the show is so popular. My original theory was that the number of anglophiles in that same geek community skewed the rest somehow.
posted by northerner to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the UK, and to be honest, I disagree with your opening assumption. It's family-friendly, sure, but it's not a children's programme in the way that a CBBC or CITV show would be.
posted by Magnakai at 3:55 AM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: When I was in high school (around 10 years ago), Dr. Who was always on at relatively late night on our public broadcasting channel. 11 or 11:30ish. Which I think would preclude it from really being oriented towards children here. Perhaps some of the people who watched the current Doctor watched it while teens late at night while I did. I never watched any of the current series myself.
posted by that girl at 3:56 AM on December 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

Agree with Magnakai. (adult UK-based Doctor Who fan here)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:08 AM on December 26, 2009

My husband is a Doctor Who fan so I've seen it a lot. As an American parent, I wouldn't let my kid watch it. It's too scary. Some of the creatures are weird and, in my opinion, frightening. Some of them freaked me out a bit (those stupid daleks still give me goosebumps). I don't know how young the kids in the UK are watching it, but I wouldn't let my kids see it until they were in middle school or older.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:14 AM on December 26, 2009

Seconding that girl. My friends and I watched it late at night on PBS in the early 90s as teens in South Texas. It, along with Star Trek: The Next Generation, appealed to a segment of self-identified nerds.
posted by vincele at 4:46 AM on December 26, 2009

It's relatively well written, entertaining, explores some interesting moral questions, 'the good guys' tend to end up ahead, and if you don't over-analyze and let yourself enjoy, you come out of most episodes/arc feeling pretty good. Why shouldn't adults enjoy it?

Honestly, since the 'rebirth' with Russel T Davies and such, I would hesitate to call it a 'children's' program at all.
posted by pupdog at 5:10 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The new series of Dr. Who is not intended for children or even new audiences as such as it is so steeped in the lore of a show that has been going on for decades that it requires the viewer to be in their 20's or older to have a framework for the show.

I didn't grow up in the UK, but lived there for several years in my early twenties. Lots of people tried converting me into a Dr. Who fan but, rather than finding it childish per se, I found it somewhat impenetrable and reliant on nostalgia. Look at the new series: the 'big reveals' of old enemies from the old shows are completely without impact if you have no clue as to what a Dalek is and what they represent in the Dr. Who universe. They do lip-service in the new series to introducing the concepts, but it assumes pretty heavily that the people watching know what is going on from past experience.

On a more general note, one of the defining features of this decade has been re-selling people's youths back to them. Look at an American show like Robot Chicken: the entire shows is based on pop-culture references to 80's kids' shows. The 'reimagining' of Dr. Who is really aimed at a similar market, but with the chance of pulling in a new generation of audiences.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:26 AM on December 26, 2009

Best answer: While the monsters on Doctor Who often look like they were designed specifically to be made into action figures, the show itself takes on plots and themes that are going to resonate more with adults than with children. It may not tackle them with the same gravitas as Battlestar Galactica, but there is a degree of emotional nuance going on at the same time as the whizz-bang stuff.

Take an episode like "Father's Day." It's ostensibly about a time-travel paradox that leads to aliens materializing out of thin air and eating children off of swing-sets. But the episode is really about the love between parents and children, the disillusionment that comes with recognizing your parents are human and flawed, and the heroism and bravery that can flower even from flawed people. There's a moment where the father realizes that he can end the crisis by sacrificing himself, but he also has the opportunity to wait passively and no one would fault him for it. You see his realization, fear, and decision all from a single, silent shot of him looking out a window. It's a nice bit of acting that operates on a level beyond that of the sub-10-year-old set.

The shows are also loaded with references that kids aren't likely to get (the Agatha Christie episode was a mess of in-jokes), and it casts guest stars that are more likely to interest adults (John Simm, Derek Jacobi, etc). And let's not forget that one of the most popular secondary characters on the show is the omnisexual Capt. Jack Harkness, who is fondly known for sleeping with anything that moves and got his own sexy spin-off show for adult audiences on another channel. Surely a non-trivial chunk of those adults followed him over after watching him on Doctor Who?
posted by brookedel at 6:13 AM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

According to the BBC's history of the show, the treatment of Doctor Who as a family show (IE, a show that adults can enjoy watching with kids) is hardly new; it was part of the show's conception from the very beginning:
The series was originally conceived as something to bridge the afternoon sports coverage on Saturday afternoons with the evening family viewing (which at the time included a pop music show called Juke Box Jury). Sydney Newman, head of Drama Serials at BBC Television, commissioned a group of writers to come up with a series that would combine drama with education, suitable for a family audience...

To promote an air of family acceptability, the production team assembled a cast of characters that included the Doctor's 15-year-old granddaughter Susan (played by 23-year-old Carole-Ann Ford), schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (played by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill) and the Doctor himself....
More recently, an episode of the revived Doctor Who was the second-most-watched TV show of 2007, which suggests that the Doctor Who-loving grownups posting in this thread are in the majority rather than the minority.
posted by yankeefog at 6:47 AM on December 26, 2009

It's not the main reason I'm a fan, but the supplementary reason I watch is because I am shamelessly enamored of David Tennant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on December 26, 2009 [8 favorites]

Actually, let me be more serious about this --

* There is some beautiful writing on that show concerning the inherant nobility and potential for humanity. As he is presented now -- I don't know if this was so much the case in the earlier incarnation of the show -- The Doctor is someone who is completely in love with the human species precisely because he finds us all capable of such noble and wonderful things. And I saw bits of that as far back as the Christopher Eccleston era -- this is a Doctor who believes humanity is inherantly good, we just need to be woken up to our potential. Those are some heady, inspirational thoughts -- ones that tend to fly over kids' heads for the most part, but for adults who need inspiring, who need their faith in humanity restored, they resonate.

Now throw in the fact that the relaunch of Dr. Who came along in the post-9/11 world, at a time when a lot of the United States was reeling from exposure to the worse devils of human nature, and in some cases some of our lesser angels were taking over the country and directing the response. For a lot of us, hearing reminders of the GOOD that humanity was capable of was tremendously comforting when we had Security Code Orange and Dubya outside our windows.

* Okay, yeah, David Tennant is gorgeous -- but the biggest appeal of his performance for me is the extra undercurrent of the fact that he is as much of a geeked-out fanboy as any of the rest of us. He was one of the little kids who watched the original show, and the entire reason he became an actor is because when he was in short trousers he thought "hey, if I become an actor, maybe I can have a part on Dr. Who someday and that would be AWESOME!"

And then fate did him one better -- instead of just being on the show, he went on to play The Doctor himself. And you can tell throughout his entire run that at the very, very back corner of his mind, whenever he is doing a scene as The Doctor, he's got an inner seven-year-old who is jumping up and down in utter glee and shouting, "OMIGOD I ACTUALLY GET TO PLAY THE DOCTOR AND IT'S JUST THE COOLEST THING EVER!!!" (I heard an interview once where he discussed doing an episode with the original Sarah Jane -- and he said that at the first table reading, when Sarah Jane called him "Doctor", he almost had a little meltdown because "suddenly I was back on the schoolyard and playing 'Doctor Who', only Sarah Jane was talking to ME!")

That utter, hands-down joy is tremendously attractive and endearing, and I think a lot of people get drawn in by that as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on December 26, 2009 [22 favorites]

The question seems to under-estimate the change that occurred around the re-launch in 2005.

I remember Doctor Who from my childhood in the 80s - it was on TV on the weekdays after school, in the childrens-programming slots. It was low budget, with too much dialogue and not enough actual action, and a bit creepy. I found it pretty boring. Everyone knew about the Doctor, the Daleks, the maybe the Master and the Cybermen. But not many people seemed to actually watch the show. I think the 'brand awareness' just came from it being on TV for so long, rather than from it having a big following. I mostly knew about the Doctor from hearing loads of bad 'knock knock' jokes in the playground, and I think the Daleks were mostly well-known for being crappy low budget pepperpots with funny voices. I never watched the show or talked about what was happening in it with my friends. But I knew what a Dalek was.

Since 2005, its been big budget, Saturday-night prime-time family viewing with some of the UKs most talented writers and actors being bought onto the project. You don't really need to watched any of the old ones to understand the new ones. OK, they make a big deal about the famous enemies of old - the Daleks, Cybermen and the Master, but apart from that any references back to the old shows are for the fanboys only.

Here in the UK at the moment, although it is partially marketed towards kids, its marketed towards everyone else as well. The Christmas special that was on yesterday was probably watched by 10 to 13 million people in the UK - thats about 1/5th to 1/6th of the population. You only have to watch a couple of episodes to understand that the scripts are written with a broad demographic in mind. Its a 21st century mix of drama, sci-fi ideas and comedy with a distinctly British sense of its own absurdity.
posted by memebake at 7:45 AM on December 26, 2009

I'm not a Dr. Who fan, but I have a general answer to your question:

I was born in 1965, and throughout my life (not just recently) I've seen a blurring between so-called children's entertainment and so-called adult entertainment. (Perhaps this trend is stronger in the US than in the UK.)

There's a small set of traits that (most people agree) mark a show as being for children. They are the sorts of things that appeal to very young children and that adults tend to find annoying: a sing-song narrative voice, tons of repetition, etc. Think Teletubbies.

Children's works also tend to be more didactic than adult works, because many adults think children should be learning lessons all the time, not because kids particularly like being preached to.

Beyond that, what's a children's story? A story in which the main characters are children? A melodrama? Simple prose or dialogue? (See Raymond Carver.)

The real answer is marketing. A children's story is a story that, regardless of its content, is marketed to children. Publishers and broadcasters want people to read and watch their stuff. So they market towards the demographic they think most likely to do so.

If the difference is just marketing, why wouldn't adults read and watch such stories? Not because of the content. Either because they are suckered by the marketing, meaning that they wrongly assume the content won't interest them. Or because they think other people will be suckered by the marketing -- their friends will BELIEVE that "children's books" are for children and will laugh at them for reading something so immature. As I said above, fewer and fewer adults are suckered these ways.

Many authors have thought they were writing adult novels, only to find their books shelved in the "young adult" section. Some books have been marketed to juvenile and grown-up audiences, with different covers.

The grownups I know are aware of this. They regularly watch "children's shows" and read "children's books," because many of them are good shows and good books.

Once you get over the word "birthday" in "birthday cake," you realize that cake is cake and that you can eat it any time you want!
posted by grumblebee at 7:50 AM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have spent some time living in the UK and also in the American South. (But I grew up in the American North). In my experience, both the UK and the South are more traditional than the North in their views of children. In the North, the distinction between children and adults is blurring almost as much as the distinction between juvenile and adult entertainment. In the South, kids are kids and adults are adults. Kids watch kid stuff; adults watch adult stuff.

I am generalizing and stereotyping. Please forgive me for that and know that I'm (a) only speaking from my experience and (b) aware that there are plenty of exceptions.

When I was hanging out with people in the UK and in the South, I was surprised by how often children were sent away to play while the adults talked about "serious things." That didn't happen in my Northern childhood, where kids and adults mingled together in the same room. (And, due to that, were exposed to each-other's entertainments.)

In the South and UK, I also heard WAY more conversations about disciplining children than I ever heard in the North. When I visit my wife's southern relatives, I'm always stunned by the way that they seem to enjoy bonding over discussions of "kids being bad" and they best way to handle them. To my sensibilities, it sounds as if they are discussing kids as if they are a different species. As if they are dog trainers talking shop.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that outside of the North, the attitude is that children should be seen and not heard, but there does seem to be a whiff of that attitude still floating about. As well as a desire by adults to define themselves as not-kids.
posted by grumblebee at 8:02 AM on December 26, 2009

I don't much care for it myself, but I have seen it since they show it all. the. time. on PBS here. It doesn't seem like a show for children at all, rather, it seems like a show for teens and above.

I do recall thinking the special effects were pretty bad.

When I was hanging out with people in the UK and in the South, I was surprised by how often children were sent away to play while the adults talked about "serious things." That didn't happen in my Northern childhood, where kids and adults mingled together in the same room. (And, due to that, were exposed to each-other's entertainments.)

This didn't happen in my southern childhood either. My parents are pretty traditional and my grandparents (who I spent tons of time with since I lived five minutes away) are very traditional southerner-types and I was never sent away while they talked about serious things.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say the popularity of Doctor Who among US adults doesn't have anything to do with a US north-south dichotomy.
posted by ishotjr at 8:26 AM on December 26, 2009

American adult fan here. Honestly, it just doesn't seem like a kids' show at all, and it never has, not even the old series. I was a serious sci-fi fan as a teenager in the 80s, and i even watched The Tomorrow People (vintage British sci-fi for kids) on Nickelodeon. I vaguely remember Doctor Who coming on a few times, and I just wasn't interested.

If you look at the differences between American kids' shows and American adults' shows, you'll see that Doctor Who comes across as the latter:

Kids' shows don't have monsters that are truly terrifying.
Kids' shows don't usually have an evolving mythology that develops over the course of years, let alone generations.
Kids' shows don't grapple with morally complex questions such as whether it's okay to leave a small group of innocent people to die in a firey explosion if their deaths will benefit humanity as a whole. (The Waters Of Mars)
Kids shows usually have a child, or a child-like adult, as the main character.

About that last point... if we take the obvious epitome of American sci fi stories about adults that are actually "for children," that is, Star Wars, then we've got a hero, Luke, who is a boy-man. He is technically an adult, but he hasn't really had the chance to act like one. His whole character arc is coming-of-age. In short, the character arc that children in the audience see for themselves in the near future.

Doctor Who is completely different. The main character is not only an adult; he is more of an adult than actual adults in real life. He's lived longer, he's accumulated more knowledge, gained more skills and experience... but most of all, he has made horrible mistakes, over and over. The Doctor has been indirectly responsible for the deaths of many people (and the bizarre non-death fates of many others). He has angst. He wants to protect humanity from itself. He's really much more of a parent than a child.

Yes, he has a cool time machine, but it's just not enough... or rather, it's not for an American kid. I mean, a "police box"? I've actually done a bunch of reading about what exactly that means, and it still strikes me as strange and unfamiliar. And, for a kid, at least an American kid, a wooden rectangle used by cops of a bygone era is just not cool.

Take by contrast a show like Knight Rider. The main character is an adult, and, like Doctor Who, he even has a mysterious past, a new face, and a name that says more about his function than his origins. He also has a cool machine to ride around in, and his cool machine is also sort of alive, and they have a symbiotic relationship... (hmmm......) But the difference is that Michael Knight, despite being in his 20s, is basically a big kid, and KITT, despite being the first sentient machine, is basically a cool toy. He is the futuristic, gadget-loaded car that twelve year-olds imagine that they'll have for themselves in a few years. American kids want cars, not vintage police boxes.

And this may lead to a greater issue about the American vs. English attitudes toward the Old and the New. The police box, the centuries-old hero, his fascination with visiting famous historical places and events: the London of Dickens, the London of Shakespeare, Pompeii just before the volcano... honestly, as a kid, shows like that struck me as preachy and pedagogical. Was I in school, or was I at home, watching science fiction? It seemed to me impossible that the two could overlap.

As an adult, I feel differently. I've gotten over my disdain for old things. I wish I knew more about the places and times visited by The Doctor. And I hope, as I become older, to become a man like him: wise, but with an unbroken spirit, despite all that I've seen and done.
posted by bingo at 8:46 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Addendum to my comment above: The next actor to play The Doctor is in his mid-20s (the youngest ever) and the current character arc seems to be focusing on the current Doctor getting too big for his britches... there is the feeling right now of him being a petulant child about to get spanked.* So the paradigm may change.

*Don't spank your kids.
posted by bingo at 8:50 AM on December 26, 2009

Looking at the old Dr. Who stuff, it was fun because it didn't take itself terribly seriously. What Bingo says about Knight Rider is part of it, but there's also the fact that Knight Rider took itself as seriously as a heart attack. Hell, I can't even take elevators that want to tell me which floor I'm on seriously.

When Dr. Who was serious it rubbed up against the kind of comedy that the, "Here's a knocking indeed!" bit in MacBeth embraces. "Knock, knock! Who's there, in the other devil's name?" It's virtually slapstick. Then the Cybermen and Daleks fight and lots of innocents are caught in the middle.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:40 AM on December 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments, I may have to give the current series another chance.

By describing it as a children's show I don't mean to equate it to The Teletubbies, I am just putting it with the broad genre of TV aimed at children and early teens. I think the idea that children can't deal with the kind of issues dealt with in Dr Who is quite patronising. The 70s show Children of the Stones is a good example of how children's TV was dealing with philosophical subjects a few decades ago in a way young people could understand, Dr Who is just continuing this tradition, which to some people makes it unsuitable for kids.

grumblebee: I agree with your point on 'young adult' novels, classifying any art form for children is difficult, there are no clear dividing lines. For example, if I were a book shop owner I would have no problem putting The Catcher in the Rye in the young adults section, but personally I think people of all ages could get something out of reading it. Have I just answered my own question there?
posted by northerner at 9:44 AM on December 26, 2009

Yes, some of the revival episodes have some disturbing implications. At least one theme that ventures into dead-horse territory is whether immortality is worth the emotional and moral sacrifices. And we are talking about a hero who is quite willing watch thousands die as acceptable under his pragmatic moral calculus.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:49 AM on December 26, 2009

Why is Dr Who so popular with adult American audiences?

Because it's awesome?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:03 AM on December 26, 2009 [17 favorites]

At least one of the things that changed how I view the series in the revival was the alternate interpretation that The Doctor is an asshole who consciously or unconsciously grooms his favorite pet monkeys into fighting in his battles. He's a good guy only to the extent that he's willing to let humanity develop while he goes on safari.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:03 AM on December 26, 2009

As someone born in the UK that grew up with Dr. Who as a well-loved TV show (I was 10 years old when it debuted in 1963 on the BBC), I would say that it definitely originated as a kids show. My parents and none of my friends parents would ever dream of watching it with us, it was something that 10 year olds watched avidly and replayed in their games.

I would offer that it was this way through at least the third doctor, by which time kids that had started with it would then be in their early 20's and as they were starting their own families they would be more inclined to watch it as adults.

FWIW, I am still an avid fan and respect the new storylines and the more adult oriented material it deals with, but with all due respect to U.S. audiences watching it now on BBC America and PBS, they have absolutely no idea of the origins of the show and how childlike and amateurish it was back in its black and white TV days of the 60's and early 70's.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 11:03 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I guess I'm an adult (mid-20s)? I never knew about the show until the revival, and now it's my favorite thing ever. So I'm part of that audience you're talking about, and I love it for all kinds of reasons: the ones EmpressCallipygos mentioned, sure. And I think it's one of the few shows that's about how wonderful the universe is, and people are, without resorting to religion. The Doctor certainly has some neat technology and biology, but he mostly goes around having the most wonderful adventures and getting out of scrapes based solely on his intelligence and resourcefulness. I think that's a great message to be sending, so I'll stick with it when it's occasionally childish or overly dramatic (I'm looking at you, Davies).

If you're interested in giving it a second shot, I'd suggest watching the Moffat episodes (he's taking over next season), which I think are the most adult and subtle. If you have the time, he explains in this interview what he loves so much about the series, and I think he says it much better than I do.

We've been debating on our site endlessly: Is Doctor Who a kids' program?
Yes. Debate over. It's good to fix those things quickly.
Even though it has a huge adult following? It's not aimed at both?
It's aimed at kids and adults. And why should anyone care about this? If you watch it, then it's for you. It shouldn't matter. I mean the specific thing about it being a children's program, is that it follows the imperatives and narrative rules and the joy of children's fiction. If you watch Doctor Who at 9 pm at night [as you do in the United States] it's going to seem a bit odd. It's energetic. The Doctor walks straight out of the TARDIS and into trouble, and you accept it. The Master becomes Prime Minister of Britain, and you accept it. It's got all the brio and vigor of Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars. That doesn't mean it doesn't appeal to adults. Star Wars, the most successful film franchise ever, is explicitly for children, but adults love it. Doctor Who is my favorite thing in the world. If you're in Britain, we'll show you the sticker books [and] the lunchboxes. In the schoolyard on Monday, they're all talking about Doctor Who. That doesn't mean it's childish. It's very sophisticated.
And of course England has a tradition of children's literature that's quite nasty, like Roald Dahl.
It's naughty... It's all fear. death and screaming women. It's innocent people being melted in the first 5 minutes of every episode. Why should there be a debate? If they watch it, it's their program. We're very happy they watch it [but] every single one of them would enjoy it more if they watched it with an eight-year-old. You really see it then... Literally, the whole family sits down to watch Doctor Who: mum and dad, granddad, the two kids... Mum's fancying David Tennant, dad's thinking the spaceships are really cool, the granddad is saying it was better when it was William Hartnell.... and they're all thinking it's aimed at them. [...] The misconception about children's ficition is that it's lightweight or fluffy. It's about really big and important things. It's adults who like light and fluffy. Everything is big and important to a child, so their stories are about big and important events.

posted by you're a kitty! at 11:20 AM on December 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

metafilter's own cstrossdidn't like the End of Time episode. I have to say that I agree -- the sharks were clearly airborne early in the show.
posted by autopilot at 11:40 AM on December 26, 2009

I think the idea that children can't deal with the kind of issues dealt with in Dr Who is quite patronising.

Just FYI, I don't think anybody said that. Your question was about why American adults like the show. In the U.S., it isn't seen (or marketed) as a kids' show. My answer above was meant to explain why that is.
posted by bingo at 1:49 PM on December 26, 2009

I specifically sought out Dr. Who as an adult for nostalgia reasons (I watched it as a child on public TV and again as a teen when I was living in the UK in the early 1980s), but I wouldn't continue to watch it if it weren't interesting enough to watch as an ongoing series. My favorite episodes from the original series tend to be from the Hinchcliffe years, when Tom Baker's Doctor was involved in a series of adventures that felt as much like Hammer horror films, and my favorite shows from the new series have generally been the Moffat-written stories that come closest to those stories in feel. I'm not surprised that the season-ender turns out to be weak, either. I've found them much weaker than the main-season stories.

I've also watched Sarah Jane Adventures, which I find to be much more childlike than Doctor Who in exactly the way you describe, and Torchwood, which was unpleasant enough in S1 that I passed on S2. And I have read Harry Potter; the first few books were OK but they feel apart for me as the heroes started to age and she had to get them to the destined ending.

(Demographically otherwise: geek female, raised Southern, with neither strong nor weak adult-child subject demarcations.)
posted by immlass at 2:25 PM on December 26, 2009

And I'll just add that the new show is often truly scary. I was absolutely freaked out by Blink- my 12 year old could definitely not have been any younger than that when she watched it or she would have lost her shit. Several friends have kids with recurring nightmares about some episodes. It's not adult in the same unrelentingly grim way that BSG is, but I definitely don't thin of the new incarnation as a kids' show.
posted by purenitrous at 3:29 PM on December 26, 2009

Because ScyFy network shows wrestling.
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:59 PM on December 26, 2009

FWIW, I am still an avid fan and respect the new storylines and the more adult oriented material it deals with, but with all due respect to U.S. audiences watching it now on BBC America and PBS, they have absolutely no idea of the origins of the show and how childlike and amateurish it was back in its black and white TV days of the 60's and early 70's.

If by "no idea" you mean that Doctor Who reruns have been airing for decades, and all 26 seasons of the original series are out on DVD in full or part -- well, then you'd be right!

I actually don't disagree that the average audience age was meant to be a bit younger back in 1963 than now, but it's still obvious that BBC was targeting a fairly broad age range: Susan for the kiddies, Ian for the young men and teens, Barbara for the young women and teens, and the Doctor for the parents. To me the biggest difference between oldest Who and new Who, though, isn't viewing age but sophistication. Anyone working on TV shows today has nearly 50 more years of collective experience to draw on than the people working on Doctor Who in 1963. Sarah Jane Adventures, the modern children's show spinoff of Doctor Who, is actually more complex -- visually, narratively -- than the oldest episodes of the first iteration, but it's still a kid's show.
posted by bettafish at 7:50 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a family friendly show now, it's got elements that appeal to both adults and children, part of a tradition in literature that goes back through the folk and fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. I'm not sure there are episodes that have elements that appeal to just one demographic.

The appeal in the US to adult audiences may come from the fact that we really don't have a strong tradition of shows that explicitly are marketed to both adults and children, and that when it was on through the classic run, PBS stations packaged the show in blocks, and aimed their advertising at adults who could pay for memberships.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:03 AM on December 27, 2009

FWIW, I am still an avid fan and respect the new storylines and the more adult oriented material it deals with, but with all due respect to U.S. audiences watching it now on BBC America and PBS, they have absolutely no idea of the origins of the show and how childlike and amateurish it was back in its black and white TV days of the 60's and early 70's.

Yes, speaking of "patronizing"--if you'd like to correct this to "the audiences discovering it for the first time," I'd agree with you, but plenty of US fans have seen every incarnation of the Doctor so far, and enjoyed the originals for their both their kitsch and their heart factor, the same way some people like, I don't know, Kikaida. My husband watched the old shows as a kid with his parents in Arkansas, admittedly years after the original airing, and has yet to see any of the new series.

To the laundry list of great reasons so far, I'd just add that everything seems a little more interesting and sophisticated when it comes from outside your area, and without the [APPROVED FOR XYZ AGE/GENDER GROUP] stamp of social norms on it--the both internal (written into the show using cultural cues) and external (social behavior) pressures aren't there, so people can respond to it as they like. Witness the amusement and disbelief of your Japanese friends if you ever tell them the titles of Japanese animated series and comic books that are enjoyed by adult men and women in Europe and North America. They'll be cackling for days.
posted by wintersweet at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

metafilter's own cstross™ didn't like the End of Time episode. I have to say that I agree -- the sharks were clearly airborne early in the show.

Two things: reviewing part one of a two-part story is like reviewing the first act of a play AND reading a review by someone who normally doesn't watch the show is, as far as I'm concerned, pointless.

That said, yes it had too much Russell T Davies camp, but it was the Christmas Special, so it was unlikely to be too dramatic or particularly subtle. I expect Part 2 to be much different.
posted by crossoverman at 4:04 PM on December 27, 2009

Every year at least one episode of Doctor Who gets nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Doctor Who won for 2006, 2007, and 2008. When it's cheesy and campy, it is very cheesy and very campy. But when it is good, it is very, very, good. Anyone who can sit through the Human Nature/Family of Blood two parter without tearing up even a little is just not human. It's nuanced, entertaining Sci Fi with an amazing amount of emotional impact.
posted by hindmost at 6:54 PM on December 27, 2009

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