Doctor Who Am I is a quirky documentary about fandom, although its ‘found family’ message isn’t quite as poignant or developed as it could be.
‘Fandom’ is a loaded word. For some, it’s a means of escaping the humdrums or the difficulties of reality, a way of expressing creativity and sharing the joy of something that they hold so dear. But for others, it’s weird – perhaps even creepy – to be so invested in something fictional, which often sits at the fringes of mainstream pop culture, that it borders on obsession. Doctor Who Am I is a documentary directed by Vanessa Yuille and Matthew Jacobs, exploring this phenomenon through the eyes of someone that is simultaneously intimate with the source material – in this case, cult British sci-fi series Doctor Who – and at something of a remove from its fan following.
Jacobs is a screenwriter, and contributed to Whoviancanon – although that might well be up for debate – with the 1996 made-for-television film Doctor Who. It received a mixed reception from fans, who either appreciated the attempt to revive their beloved show or despised the changes made to their hero’s origin story. The documentary sees Jacobs attending, for the first time, a number of small conventions held across the United States, interviewing devoted fans and organisers, as well as people involved in the film itself like Paul McGann who played the Doctor, Eric Roberts as his formidable foe The Master, and Daphne Ashbrook as his companion Grace.
While predominantly a film about the inclusiveness of fandom, Doctor Who Am I also examines Jacobs’ disillusionment with the whole thing, his complicated relationship with the show and his role in its history. It isn’t attempting to vilify those who love the series, who dress up, collect memorabilia and devote extensive time and money to expressing their admiration for one of the biggest sci-fi series’ of all time. But it also isn’t romanticising them either. Some fans are quite rude to Jacobs as they proclaim everything wrong with his work, but others are really respectful and seem happy to have him sign their posters in exchange for $15. Yuille and Jacobs understand that these conventions are not necessarily about the show, its plots or its characters, but are instead about the community that exists around it.
For a lot of people, there’s a direct correlation between a difficult time in their life and the media that helped them through it. Whether it’s Jacobs’ memories of watching his father star in an episode of Doctor Who – series three, episode seven ‘The Gunfighters’ – in 1966, or the respite from grief the revival in 2005 held for a fan after the passing of their husband, the film understands that it’s more than a series for them. But it also doesn’t quite manage to properly convey the poignancy of that idea outside of a few emotional talking head interviews. It feels more concerned with letting Jacobs’ come to terms with the impact the show has had on his role as a father, but hasn’t really established enough of a connection with Jacobs for that to really land.
Despite that, Doctor Who Am I is quirky and entertaining, giving us a look at the smaller, less flashier conventions that take place throughout the United States every year from a group of extremely dedicated Doctor Who fans. It allows them the chance to express what the show means for them, but doesn’t make any particularly lasting impressions on the nature of fandom itself. It’s a Thoughtful And Reflective Dive Into Sentimentality that doesn’t go as deep as it perhaps could have, but is a fun look into the world of Whovian celebrations nonetheless.
Doctor Who Am I will be released in UK cinemas from 27 October, and on Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital from 28th November, 2022.