6:00 pm EDT, August 12, 2013

What’s a ‘real’ Whovian? Female ‘Doctor Who’ fans speak

Since Doctor Who chose Peter Capaldi as its 12th Doctor, online debates have raged about whether fans who care about the Doctor’s looks can call themselves “real” Whovians.

The crux of the debate rests on the idea that fans who watch Doctor Who for the attractiveness of the Doctor are not worthy of the title. We disagree.

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Since the beginning of the Modern Era of Doctor Who, the Doctor has been relatively young. Christopher Eccleston was 41 when he debuted as the Ninth Doctor, David Tennant was 34 when he regenerated into the Tenth Doctor, and Matt Smith was a youthful 27 when he took the helm as the Eleventh Doctor.

Newly cast Peter Capaldi is 55, significantly older than the Time Lord’s other recent portrayers. As a result, a segment of fandom has expressed the view that other fans, namely young women who watch because Matt Smith is cute, will be tuning out now that the Doctor is older.

These fans seem to see this as an improvement, dismissing these young women as “fangirls” and thus not “real” fans.

Sci-fi legend and self-proclaimed nerd Wil Wheaton has spoken out about what it means to be a nerd in today’s culture, stating, “So, there’s going to be a thing in your life that you love. I don’t know what that’s going to be, and it doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes you a nerd.”

In Wheaton’s view, it matters not whether you are a guy or a girl. If you love something, then you love it your way. His view seems highly relevant to the issue at hand, especially because he first expressed it when advising a new mother on what she should tell her baby daughter about being a nerd.

It shouldn’t matter why you love Doctor Who. The simple fact that you love it should bind all fans together. But it would seem that there are those out there who think the reason they enjoy the show is the only legitimate reason to watch the show.

This goes against the very core of geek culture, which is supposed to be a safe space for people to express their love of fandom. The view being expressed by this subset of fandom jeopardizes that safety, especially for women.

We’re two grown women with full-time jobs, apartments and multiple advanced and professional degrees between us. We both think that some of the actors who have portrayed the Doctor are attractive, and we’re also eagerly awaiting Capaldi’s run on the show.

We’re complicated like that, because we’re human beings, just like everyone else. We’re excited because Capaldi is a life-long Doctor Who fan and will treat the material with respect. We’re excited because Capaldi is a widely admired veteran actor who has proven his skill at both comedy and drama (just watch Torchwood: Children of Earth or one of Malcolm Tucker’s profanity-laden rants in The Thick of It).

And no, the fact that we have also been known to geek out a bit over David Tennant doesn’t make us any less “Real Whovians” than you.

Undoubtedly, someone will argue that we are not the type of “fangirl” they meant when discussing the “inferior” fans that they’re happy to be rid of. We don’t, for instance, maintain a Tumblr of David Tennant or Matt Smith photos.

But that shouldn’t matter. Everyone’s expression of enthusiasm about the thing they love should be accepted in geek culture. The Tumblr of photos is just as valid a way to express love of fandom as recitation of fandom trivia.

After all, there are bound to be male fans out there who would be equally as drawn to the casting of a particularly pretty companion. And yet, their status as a “fan” would not be similarly diminished or questioned. Enthusiasm is what makes a “real” fan (if there is such a thing), not the particular way in which that enthusiasm is expressed.

For all those who still believe their brand of fandom is the only way, take a minute and really ponder Wil Wheaton’s words. Think about how you would feel if someone told you the way you engaged with the Whoniverse wasn’t valid. That is not what Doctor Who is all about, and it is not what geek culture is about.

Many of us are drawn to geek culture because the way we love the fandoms we love makes us feel a bit like outsiders in the “real” world. Don’t take away the safe haven people have found within fandom.

For more of our thoughts on Doctor Who and other shows, check out our website More TV Please.

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