Academic keynote speaker

Affirmational and Transformational Doctor Who Fan Videos

Karen Hellekson

The 2005 Doctor Who reboot brought a whole new audience to the beloved family show, now a British cultural institution, and resulted in a resurgence of interest in what is now known as the classic series. Fan expressions of Doctor Who are too many and varied to enumerate here, but among the myriad ways fans engage with the show are fan-created videos. I discuss two sorts of videos in relationship to their canonicity and their expression of fandom: affirmational and transformational. (These two sorts of fans were explicated in a 2009 Dreamwidth blog post by Obsession_Inc.) Affirmational fans, who are usually male, seek to restate the source material and to affirm the creator or producer, who may actually sanction the fan artwork. Transformative fans, on the other hand, are usually female; they seek to transform the source material, and they are usually not interested in the creator or producer, at least in terms of their artwork creation.

I will show fan-created videos to illustrate the differences between the two sorts of fans and to highlight their commonalities. For the affirmational fans, I will show clips from several examples of Doctor Who recons (reconstructions). Between 1967 and 1978, the BBC destroyed archived videotape for Doctor Who. Although some footage has been recovered, many episodes remain partially or fully missing. Fans, taking advantage of the fact that audio exists for all the broadcast episodes, have created videos of the missing episodes by stringing together stills from the show or by creating cartoons, and playing the images over the soundtrack. In contrast, transformational fans do not seek to create a text that evokes canon. I will show several fan-created videos, including song/music vids, which splice together clips that, read along with the music, tell a new story, with a focus on post-2005 Doctor Who.

I examine the fan impulse to create a text in terms of transformation and canonicity. For recons, fans creatively attempt to use transformation and alteration to attain textual fidelity. Complete faithfulness to the lost original is not possible with existing technology, but practical and symbolic selection of images to fit the story and mood is possible, thus rendering recons a form of artwork rather than a literal reconstruction. Transformational fandom, which has received far more critical attention, works against the grain of the source text to critique the show or an element of our culture, to posit a preferred fan meaning (such as a relationship between characters), or to fill in perceived gaps in canon. Both kinds of fans rely on fellow fans and the community they create to support them and to provide an audience.

Bio: Karen Hellekson is founding coeditor of the fan studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures. She entered fandom as a teen in 1982 via Doctor Who. She studied English at the University of Kansas, where she worked with James Gunn and the Institute for the Study of Science Fiction. She has published in the fields of science fiction and fan studies.