"When the new show comes out, there's almost this feeling of, 'We've contributed to the success of this,'" says Paul Booth, an assistant professor of new media and technology at DePaul University and the editor of Fan Phenomena: Doctor Who. "There's a co-production feeling to it that, without the fans, it wouldn't have come back.”
As the longest-running science fiction series ever, whose generation-spanning viewer base has often been named one of the most intense and devoted fandoms ever, Who offers an case study in the way that modern fandom has evolved. The fanzines where Capaldi and others got their start may have seen their numbers decline over the years, but their DNA is all over the modern fandom in a way that distinguishes it from other sci-fi fanzine communities like that of Star Trek. Doctor Who fanzines not only helped keep the fandom alive during its hiatus, they've been a long-standing venue for fans to debate and police the limits of the Doctor Who universe—and these debates have had a direct and noticeable influence on the show itself.
The golden age of Doctor Who fanzines, when the number of zines peaked in the hundreds and their most famous writers were most active, lasted from the mid-80s and into the ‘90s. The explosion was enabled in part by new technology: In addition to the advent of desktop publishing that made producing quality zines at home easier, the rise of VCRs and commercial video releases by the BBC allowed fans to rewatch and catch-up on episodes, facilitating detailed, in-depth discussions about the show, according to Matt Hills, a professor of film and TV studies at the University of Aberystwyth.
Those discussions were also enlivened, paradoxically, by the show’s struggle to survive. While Doctor Who's ratings were underwhelming in the years leading up to the show's 1989 cancellation, the fanzine community’s interest intensified and its publications flourished, which Hills says isn't unusual for a fandom that feels its favorite show or its fan identity is threatened. Once the BBC closed the book on Doctor Who, it also prompted more fans to take up fan fiction and articles that playfully tackled the “what-ifs” they might have refrained from if the show had continued.
These publications didn’t just thrive then, they also played a major role in getting the show back on the air. During the hiatus, some of the most prolific and well-known zine writers were hired to pen novelizations of the show, which pushed Doctor Who into new territory. "The stories were longer, they were more adult, they were expansive, and, certainly, right after the series ended, they fleshed out the mythology of the Doctor and the Time Lords very much," Booth says.
Screenwriter and television producer Russell T. Davies, who lobbied for and later led the 2005 reboot, authored some of these novelizations and paid close attention to the writing coming out of this period. "He was aware that Doctor Who was capable of handling more complex themes, capable of handling more than just adventure tales," Booth says. "The novels absolutely showed that Doctor Who was robust enough to handle the type of material needed to make it appeal to adult audiences." Paul Cornell, for example, adapted his 1995 novel Human Nature into two episodes in 2007 that were named by The Daily Telegraph, Doctor Who Magazine, and IGN as some of the best Who episodes ever for the way they humanized the Doctor, then played by David Tennant.