The Decline of Doctor Who Fanzines

Once upon a time, there were loads of Doctor Who fanzines and even when the Internet arrived they thrived for a while because they tended to go into more depth than was generally acceptable on websites or blogs. Yet now the generational shift means that younger fans don’t really know paper fanzines because they are growing up with the brevity and instant opinion that current social media, blogs and forums tend to suit. Why bother constructing an elaborate argument when you can Tweet your opinion in a handful of words and an emoji to a greater audience than most fanzines ever achieved?

The word `fanzine` is a simply an amalgam of `fan magazine` and was first coined as far back as 1940 by someone called Russ Chauvenet. Prior to this amateur magazines were called fanmags or letterzines and the earliest recorded example is believed to be `The Comet`, a science fiction zine that appeared in 1930 in Chicago. The first Doctor Who fanzine was probably `Tardis` edited by Andrew Johnson from the mid -1970s though the BBC recognised Doctor Who Fan Club did have a monthly newsletter which might be considered a fanzine of sorts. The boom really began with the formation of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (or DWAS) in 1976. This itself was partly brought together by `Tardis` readers and contributors as it became the Society fanzine. 

Doctor Who zines were often named after a planet (Gallifrey, Telos, Peladon, Mondas, Androzani, Skaro, Shada) or a character from the show (Auton, Aggedor, Black & White Guardian) and would usually average 36 photocopied pages. Editors had to use lashings of glue to assemble each issue and Letraset- sort of letter transfers- to create the article titles. Articles would often be submitted to them in longhand and they would use old style typewriters to transcribe them. This meant that liquid paper (of which Tippex was the most popular) was the 70s fanzine editor’s best friend because the luxuries of undo, insert, copy and delete where a good quarter of a century away! Most editors did not even have access to a word processor until the 1980s. 
The two staples of early zines were reviews of the latest episodes and Target books as well as interviews with cast or crew usually from previous eras. There was usually some fiction in which Daleks, Cybermen and Zarbi teamed up or else a former companion died in a tragic buffalo accident. Writing styles were fairly basic with little of the journalistic or literary flourishes that would start to appear in the 1990s. Due to the fact that photocopying tended to turn photos into black splodges as well as unclear copyright laws, fan drawn artwork was the main pictorial content. Yet these zines were alive in a way that reflected the isolated nature of their production; editors would often never meet their writers corresponding by post alone. Many fans started zines to try and contact other fans.
As zines started to sell more- some would shift several hundred copies- so they became more influential over the way fandom was perceived as thinking. This first showed up in the general `Tom Baker must go` mood in a lot of late 1970s zines. `Tardis` meanwhile had nearly 1,000 readers and its annual season poll became the definitive view of each year’s stories. Fanzines also brought people together at conventions where they would enjoy healthy sales on stalls at events.

Doctor Who fanzines soon became known for speaking their mind and therefore enjoyed a wobbly relationship with the show they celebrated. While some of these were simply reviews criticising the Nucleus of the Swarm (and who wouldn’t?) and others drew social or political themes that the series writers may (or may not) have intended, there were wider debates too.
Producers Philip Hinchcliffe and subsequently Graham Williams were aware of fanzines but kept a distance- its notable they only ever contributed to the `official` DWAS’ zines. John Nathan Turner was more involved in Doctor Who fan culture and therefore more likely to read fanzines so their influence began to seep into the production office. In 1982, the DWAS gave him a special award, dubbing him the `Fan’s Producer` reflecting the overwhelmingly positive reviews of his stories that appeared in popular fanzines.

Inevitably this would all sour when the producer stayed far longer than anticipated and his later work on the series was not well received by fans. This awkward relationship would reach a significant fork in the road when independent news fanzine Doctor Who Bulletin (known to all as DWB) became the standard bearer of the large tranche of fandom that wanted rid of JNT by the time of the 1985 cancellation crisis, a stand that would appear to have been at least partially influenced by personal enmity. DWB introduced something new to Doctor Who fanzines- the tabloid approach -and it was a million miles from even the more caustic reviews of old. DWB actually went as far as actively campaigning for JNT to be removed and was such a huge success it influenced a generation of `issue` zines that would approach the programme from a particular angle and use a bluntness that earlier zines never resorted to.
The top zines of the late 70s/ early80s were in retrospect remarkably simple both in look and content. As many of the fans involved moved into professional magazine publishing so those high street titles started to take on fanzine style. Silly or sarcastic captions under photos is perhaps the most visible manifestation of a trend while magazines started that seemed to have grown directly out of fanzine culture notably SFX. With more access to behind the scenes information and interviews, these mags began to push fanzines to one side. The boom in professional merchandising in the 1980s also made fanzines looking decidedly amateurish.

There was a second wave of Doctor Who fanzines in the early 1990s; this is when zines took on the professionals at their own game and began to look increasingly slick compared to their counterparts of a decade earlier. Yet as the programme was no longer on, many of these titles contained non Doctor Who content whilst others sought to re-arrange established consensus; examples included the rubbishing of the Third Doctor era and veneration of the Andrew Cartmel `masterplan`.
Yet as the decade progressed technology began to eat away at the idea of paper publishing as a medium. News was starting to appear online where the advantage of being able to comment and respond instantly meant that the letters pages- once the centrepiece of fanzine debate- became redundant. Then there was the fact that websites, blogs etc are technically free though of course you do pay to go online but as printing costs increased online became a more viable alternative. Given the choice between writing a cheque, posting it with an SAE and waiting a week for the issue to arrive, who would not prefer the option to view things immediately? 

Which is not to say fanzines have vanished altogether. Rather like the resurgence of vinyl, there are still printed fanzines though these tend to be more lavish, irregularly produced titles that burrow deep into factual information too detailed even for DWM. The standard of articles has also risen considerably and there is no way some of the famous titles of yesteryear would be acceptable today. The famous `Shada` intention to “review everything” would not be enough now.  At least these days the likes of ebay and Pay Pal has reduced the hassle of buying a fanzine (what would today’s kids think of postal orders?!).

The word `fanzine` has also evolved as a result ; now it refers to anything that celebrates something so there have even been tv programmes described as fanzines. Like any art form that is superceded some will mourn its passing, others will think what we have now is far better. We definitely have lost something – not least the skills of editing and coherent argument- but we have also gained the ease with which your views can reach a much larger number of people. In a sense the playing field has been levelled so everyone can create their own platform and somewhere in there is the ethos that inspired fanzines in the first place.

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