Doctor Who Am I review


Is that the question?

In this personal film Matthew Jacobs ventures into the heart of Doctor Who fandom which he initially imagines may not greet him with kindness. After all he was the writer of the 1996 TV Movie an attempt to relaunch the show - the name of this film comes from a melodramatic moment in that movie. However, the production failed to lead to a series and remained the only episode produced during a fifteen-year wilderness period. When he steps into the world of Doctor Who conventions what will he find and how will he be received? And, really, is that even what Doctor Who Am I is about?


The aftermath of the TV movie left its participants in a strange limbo- for example its Doctor Paul McGann remains a canonical incarnation despite about an hour’s worth of screen time. Yet his tenure as an audio Doctor in fan penned adventures has kept him ever present in their orbit.  Matthew Jacobs,  British born but now US resident, visited the set of the 1966 story `The Gunfighters` as a child and grew up a fan of the show. His actor father Anthony Jacobs appeared in the story as Doc Halliday. As neither that story nor his TV Movie are very fondly regarded by much of fandom, he anticipates a rough time when he attends conventions as a guest for the first time. Yet what he finds is unexpected.

The film follows him around several US events appearing on panels but also mingling with the audience, most of whom are dressed in appreciation of the series whether in T Shirts or costumes. As he observes, it is like entering an alternative world.  It’s surprising the candour with which these American fans will speak, not only about the series- engaging Jacobs in challenging debate over his own script- but also about their own lives. Would a fan stand up at a UK convention to talk about family trauma to a hall full of people?  Had Jacobs undertaken this exercise over here he might have found things a little different. He is surprised by the warmth and honesty of those he meets even those who take issue with his TV Movie script. He goes on to suggest that perhaps the sense of community in fandom is borne from these people using Doctor Who to escape the humdrum or unpleasant aspects of their own lives. They identify with the outsider that the Doctor represents and Jacobs' own less than happy childhood is referenced in this context.  In turn he identifies with fans even if he doesn’t always understand their fervour and detailed knowledge.

At times the film can feel aimless, straining to adequately fill its modest running time yet had it been less intent on quickly cutting from one thing to another might be more rewarding. Often it snaps out of discussions that would have been interesting to hear more of while some interviewees only get one sentence. Watching Jacobs observe and interact from a guest’s point of view is interesting and he seems slightly nonplussed at times. While there are long scarves aplenty you sense that it is the post 2005 series that really engages these fans personified by the sparsity of the audience who attend his panel where he reminisces about that `Gunfighters` set visit. 

The encounters with fellow 1996 TV movie veterans, including producer Philip Seagal and actors Eric Roberts and Daphne Ashbrook- are matey but not especially revealing. Paul McGann gets more screen time and even though he is a regular at these events does not seem to have got much more of a handle on what make fans tick as Jacobs has. Fandom is something that is difficult to quantify – McGann has a go but the essence is as slippery as quicksilver when it comes to defining it. Does it even need to be defined or understood? Ask anyone why they like something and they’ll not find it as easy to answer as they might think. Jacobs says its unlikely he’ll continue to attend these events despite the good time he’s had as he doesn’t want to circle his past forever. Whether it’s just a slightly mischievous twinkle he possesses when summing up his experiences or not I wonder if that will turn out to be the case.

As matters conclude I wonder if he had really wanted to make a deeper film about his father who is often mentioned and whether pinning it to Doctor Who to gain an audience limits the potential of the exercise.  Instead, Jacobs keeps it low key and only dips his toes into the deeper currents running beneath.



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