There, across the Infomart from the glittery excess of the “Finer Things in Life” weekend, they lurked. A strange assortment, these people dressed in outlandish costumes-velvet capes, long patchwork coats, seventeen-foot-long knitted scarves, bow ties. Many of them with digital watches.
Who are they? An apt question.
They are Whovians, fans and fanatics of the British sci-fi-series Doctor Who, which is aired in this country by-who else?-public television. They have come to meet a mentor: Jon Pertwee, the third of seven actors to play the Doctor, currently touring the country with a mobile Doctor Who exhibit.
The Dallas stop, which benefits Channel 13, attracts some 1,500 people, from barely pubescent computer nerds to blue-suited corporate types. The devotees walk through a trailer rig Filled with model monsters from the series, they listen to Pert-wee’s British Navy stories, they buy tacky Doctor Who merchandise.
Our Reporter, who admits to a slight affection for the series, is nonetheless baffled by this show of fanaticism. One adolescent fan has built a working model of K-9, a mechanical dog that accompanies the Doctor. Others carry handmade Doctor Who rag dolls, or have personalized “PRTWEE” license plates.
It’s difficult to explain the appeal of Doctor Who. What started as a children’s program has become an international phenomenon, with some one hundred million viewers in fifty-four countries. The BBC has been airing the show for an astounding twenty-four years. It tried to take it off the air once, but backed down because of protests from angry fans.
The premise behind Doctor Who is simple. The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels through time and space in a machine called the Tardis, conquering alien nasties with his bare wit. (Our favorite alien nasties are The Master, a Time Lord gone bad; and the Daleks, these sort of mechanical trashcans that roll around shouting “Exterminate! Exterminate!”) But the real charm of the Doctor Who series is its low tech special effects. Slapdash filmwork, blatantly bad models, and cheesy costumes give the series the spontaneity of a grade-school production propped with treasures from the attic.
“The whole thing with Doctor Who is that it’s good escapist fare, but it’s full of heart,” says Sandy Williams, former president of The Gallifrey Connection, the local Doctor Who fan club. “People care about each other in the show.”
But what about the costumes? “A lot of people have the attitude that people who get involved in science fiction are weird,” says Williams. “But it’s no different than Dallas Cowboys fans dressing up in Cowboys colors and going to a game. That’s sports, this is fiction. It’s just a different genre.”