Doctor Who: Riding the Wave of Popularity

It was only a few months ago that I wrote about how Doctor Who found its geek niche among American viewers.  I say American because, in the UK, Doctor Who has always been something of an institution – as is evidenced by the TARDIS noise and, supposedly, visuals that weren’t caught on camera, during the Opening Ceremonies for the London Olympics.  However, now I’m wondering if I should revise my statement – if Doctor Who is already crossing the bridge between “hit cult show” and “mainstream cable success.”

What prompted these feelings?  In a word, a water bottle.  See, as many of you know, I can be something of a hermit, even when it comes to pursuing my own geek passions.  I didn’t grow up with a lot of extra cash to spend, so it’s just not in my nature to be a collector and keep tabs on available merchandise.  I will plan my day – my week – around a new episode of Who, but a few t-shirts and a Sonic are about the extent of the public declarations of my love.

That being said, I’ve tried to keep an eye open where appropriate.  When I visited the Doctor Who Experience last summer, I was thrilled with the idea of a Doctor Who gift shop, and determined to find something good… but most of the toys there were aimed at children, or focused on Tom Baker, who’s actually not my favorite Classic Doctor.  I was a little disappointed, but figured this was no big surprise; Doctor Who just isn’t merch-heavy.

Or so I thought.

Just one year later, in America, I stepped inside a comic/geek store, and was blown away by the extensive Doctor Who selection.  I’m not talking about the stuff I was already familiar with; I mean lunchboxes!  Stuffed Daleks!  Cardboard cutouts of the Doctor, Amy and River alongside characters from Twilight and Justin Bieber!  And, somehow the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, one of those aluminum water bottles with a TARDIS design.  How did I miss all this?!  When did this become normal!?

It’s not just the merchandise, either.  Matt Smith and the TARDIS shared the cover of Entertainment Weekly a few weeks ago.  Oh, and then there’s Pinterest.  You know, the one that, for the last year or more, has usually been used to share overpriced products, DIY tips and inspirational messages?   It’s been slowly taken over by the Doctor.  Give it a try – the “geeky” category is generally flooded with tumblr-style images pertaining to Who, but now there’s usually one or two at any time on the “most popular” page (as I’m typing there’s one that combines David Tennant, the Doctor and Harry Potter quotes).  And it might be worth mentioning that Pinterest is, by and large, used by women 30 – 45 (though the demographic is growing, both amongst men and younger users).   Not exactly the typical geek demo, yet the popularity of the Doctor is undeniable.

So, do we declare Doctor Who a mainstream hit?  Well, it’s so tough to say, because it’s still on a cable network.  Not everyone has BBCAmerica.  And I don’t recall the ratings blowing everyone out of the water (though I do recall something that said the iTunes downloads were strong).  I guess the coming season will tell the tale.  In the meantime, I’m comfortable stacking it against any genre cable hit, like True Blood or Game of Thrones, and maybe even my first fandom, The X-Files.

Speaking of personal fandoms, I’ve spoken at length about my ongoing struggle with my hipster tendencies, curling up my lip when something becomes popular.  So, how am I feeling about Doctor Who‘s apparent surge in popularity?

I’m just going to ride the wave.  And I’m totally going back to buy one of those water bottles.

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