When I first became a fan of Doctor Who, no one else I knew liked it, or had even heard of it for the most part. I was having a great time watching the series, but I longed for a way to share this Who-Love with others. Being a nerd, I went to the Internets. A little earlier than that, I’d started listening to podcasts about things I enjoyed, so I decided to find out of there was a podcast for Whovians such as myself.
I was overwhelmed. The podcast page for Doctor Who on iTunes was packed with all manner of titles, most of them I’d only recognize as references to the show once I was further steeped in the history of the program. There were far more podcasts than I expected there would be. Now, only 18 months later, there are close to 100 fan-operated Doctor Who-related podcasts focusing on every facet of fandom imaginable. There are so many podcasts, in fact, that there is now a “Doctor Who Podcast Alliance.” What is it about the show that lends itself to podcasting? When I was at the Gallifrey One convention last month, I had the opportunity to speak to a number of Doctor Who podcasters and discuss with them the draw, fun, and potential pitfalls of podcasting in the Doctor Who world.
Doctor Who podcasting began in 2005, around the time the new series began. Five years later, “Doctor Who: Podshock” is the longest running Doctor Who podcast. Hosts Louis Trapani and Ken Deep from the US and James Naughton from the UK were at first unsure they could find enough to discuss on a weekly show. Says Deep, “We thought, ‘How are we gonna fill half an hour talking about Doctor Who?’ No single show has been under two hours, because there’s so much to say about it.” Podshock’s format is that of a news magazine, discussing the news of the week before going into the main discussion topic, a style which has proved to be popular among most DW podcasts that followed. Adds Deep, “You want to sound like a group of friends getting together chatting about the episode you watch, what makes it good, what makes it bad, and that’s really the birth of it.”
From there, slowly but steadily, more podcasts began to arise. Another heavyweight in the game is run by “three jaunty fellows from Canada.” Steven Schapansky, Warren Frey, and Chris Burgess, each from different provinces, host “Radio Free Skaro” (RFS), a magazine-formatted podcast wherein the three spend as much time celebrating Doctor Who and its many spinoff material as they do lampooning it, all cleverly and with much love. RFS has become one of the most highly respected of the podcast range due in no small part to the interviews with various Doctor Who personnel they’ve gotten since going to Gallifrey One in 2009. Schapansky says, “When we do interviews, the sort of non-podcast listening public are drawn in by interviews with people they know. They can hear three nerds talking about Doctor Who any time; they don’t necessarily hear them talking to [producer] Phil Collinson, or [director] Graeme Harper.” If you’d like to hear their interview skills with the likes of Chris Hardwick and myself, check out episode 240.
The interesting thing about DW podcasts is that, as time has gone on, people have started branching out and carving their own niche by doing what interests them. “2 Minute Time Lord” (2MTL) has sought to change the approach set out by “Podshock,” “Radio Free Skaro,” and the other magazines. The podcaster known only as Chip takes two-ish minutes to give a thoughtful editorial about a specific piece of Doctor Who minutia. “I like polishing my thoughts, I like trying to write and craft something, and it’s easier to do with something short. And I wanted to do something that would be easy for people who were already listening to “Radio Free Skaro” and “Podshock” to sort of slip me in there because I don’t really ask a lot of my listeners,” says Chip. His reviews tend to be positive in nature, a quality few podcasts seem to embrace fully. “There’s a lot of ranting in the podcasts out there. In general there seems to be a lot more energy devoted to criticizing things that cheese you off instead of thoughtfully celebrating the whole thing.”
A relatively new podcast that shares Chip’s penchant for positivity is “The Ood Cast” from the United Kingdom. Unlike the purely opinion-based casts, “Ood Cast” not only discusses the show, they also write and perform comedy sketches and do humorous song parodies to accentuate the topic that week. The aim is to not just to critique but to create. Says Chris “Sigma” Mead, sitting next to fiancee and co-host Laura Simpson, “We felt really strongly, with two more of our friends, that we could create a podcast that really showed the joy of being a Doctor Who fan and that since it’s such an inspiring show, let’s show some of the creativity that it inspired.” Adds Laura, “What I think Doctor Who does a lot of the time is that it sort of takes fear and makes it manageable; it shows you a way around the fear. What we’re trying to do is take fear and make it funny.” Inspired by the likes of Monty Python and Spaced, the Oods hope to one day put out an album of original comedic and musical material not directly related to Doctor Who.
Doctor Who has fans all over the world, and what’s so great and interesting about the podcasts is that, even though the fans might live in various parts of the world, they can still get together to discuss the show via new technology. One Doctor Who podcast, the aptly titled “The Doctor Who Podcast” (The DWP), features James Rockliffe and Tom Attah, who live in England, and Trevor Gensch, who lives on the other side of the world in Australia. Naturally, the distance has its disadvantages when scheduling is concerned. James notes, “Trev’s got up at half-past 3 in the morning to interview people in the UK using Skype and other times because I can’t make it or Tom can’t make it at a normal time. We’ve always done recording at really unsocial hours and received extremely odd comments from wives and partners.” Trevor adds, “My wife’s used to it now; She sort of sees me get up in the middle of the night, 2 o’clock in the morning: ‘Oh, you’re off to record, are you?’” A fun tidbit for this podcast: despite having been podcast colleagues for a few years and becoming good friends, last month’s Gallifrey One convention is the very first time James and Trev met in person. Such is the power of podcasting
Variety is indeed a spice of the Doctor Who podcasting life and it seems to be a podcast for every kind of DW fan there is. By and large, the podcasters themselves seem pleased with the assortment while marveling at the growing number. Ken Deep of “Podshock” says, “It was very difficult, and it still is difficult, to pinpoint what it is you’re going to talk about. There’s so much to cover and the nice thing about what’s happened with podcasts is that it’s started to specialize.” Adds Chip of 2MTL, “People want to participate and get their opinions out there, and it’s exploded, but it’s not all cookie-cutter.” There are now podcasts devoted to discussing books, audio dramas, costuming, music, and literally every aspect of the show and its spinoffs, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Chris Burgess of RFS suggests that the world of podcasting is open to all sorts of fans. “It’s a fun and exciting world of which to be a part,” he says, “both as content producer as well as content consumer, with amazing people involved, both people who know the show inside and out and those who are just discovering it.”
However, what stands out the most about all these incredibly different podcasts is that it doesn’t seem to be about the content, necessarily. These are all people who enjoy a particular, tiny corner of popular culture and part of the fun for them is sharing it with people who think the same way they do. It’s about creating a community and a rapport not only with each other but with the listeners. James from the DWP offers, “The success of podcasting is not what you talk about but more about the dynamic you create,” and, Trevor agrees, saying, when it comes to content versus relationships, “I really think people tune in for the latter.”
Doctor Who podcasting, an outlet for various types of fandom, has itself become a type of fandom. The podcasters themselves seem to be part of a club, one that is growing steadily with every passing week. But it is, it should be noted, not an exclusive club. Any rivalry between these people is, from what I’ve seen, purely superficial and largely invented for a laugh. Podcasters will guest on each other’s shows and the entire cadre seems to rotate depending on what’s happening that week. “Podcasting is pretty darn democratic,” says Chip, “and we listen to each other’s stuff when we can.” Adds Chris Sigma, “Since I started listening, a whole bunch of new ones popped up and there are LOADS out there who are doing brilliant things.” And, quips Laura, “they’re a really, really great bunch and I haven’t met anybody I’ve disliked at all.”
So what is the future of podcasting in a Doctor Who world? That point appears up for debate, but slowly they’re starting to gather notice in the greater DW fan world. “Not to toot our own horn,” says Schapansky from RFS, “but the mention of us and “Podshock” in Doctor Who Magazine (issue 430) as podcasts to follow on Twitter, for me, that was the moment of, like, ‘Wow, podcasts have sort of arrived.’” In fact, “Podshock” has, just last week, been nominated for an SFX Blog Award. It seems the years of work and play are paying off. Ken Deep of “Podshock” feels good about his place in the scheme of things, and adds, “I hope these other podcasts are getting the same good feelings because if they have what I feel, they’ll want to do it for a really long time.”
I want to thank the podcasters of Radio Free Skaro, Two-Minute Time Lord, The Doctor Who Podcast, The Ood Cast, and Doctor Who Podshock for taking the time to talk to me and for being genuinely lovely, generous people. But these are just a handful of the many great Doctor Who podcasts out there. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other excellent podcasts with whom I had a great deal of fun at Gallifrey One, including The Pharos Project, Doctor Who: Mostly Harmless Cutaway, TARDIS Tavern, Bridging the Rift, The Doctor Who Book Club, Staggering Stories, The Happiness Patrol, and Mutter’s Spiral. If you’re curious about any of these podcasts, or just Doctor Who podcasting in general, I urge you to search for them in iTunes or visit The Doctor Who Podcast Alliance.