Matthew Jacobs isn’t a name held in particularly high regard in Doctor Who fandom. As the scriptwriter of the ill-fated, dead-on-arrival 1996 transatlantic TV movie starring Paul McGann, he dared to suggest that the Time Lord was “half-human on his mother’s side” and allowed the Doctor his first passionate kiss. Fans’ brows were fevered for months as they struggled to accustom themselves to these fundamental changes to the character they had worshipped for years as a beneficent alien with no interest in all that sloppy lovey-dovey stuff. Although the film was a success in the UK - usefully reminding the BBC that there was still some untapped potential in the character - it sank without trace in the States and the good Doctor lay fallow for a few more years. Matthew Jacobs himself moved on with his life but never made peace with the Doctor or its more vociferous, possessive fans. In this rather charming new film, Matthew’s friend, filmmaker Vanessa Yuille, persuades him to show his face above the parapets and embrace Doctor Who fandom not only at convention events but by visiting some American fans in their own homes…
Doctor Who Am I actually uses its format not just to share Matthew’s own experiences in the belly of the beast but also as a sensitive and considered exploration of how Doctor Who fan culture - in America, at least, where it’s rather less absurdly vitriolic than the UK – can bring people together as they share their love and devotion for a fictional character with a real, unfettered sense of joy and creative freedom. These are people who have found their 'tribe'; for a while, they are with their own kind, they can share their passions free from the disdain and ridicule of non-believers and they are happy to wear makeshift outlandish costumes and participate in ‘best costume’ competitions at conventions with an unbridled gusto and fearless enthusiasm. There’s no selfish backbiting and #notmydoctor nonsense here (nor, interestingly, any mention of Jodie Whittaker so this may well be a project that’s enjoyed a very lengthy gestation), just an uncritical portrayal of like-minded souls happily sharing their appreciation of an indestructible TV legend.
Matthew Jacobs himself is an interesting presence. He’s not sure if he’ll be welcomed by those who have vilified him for over twenty years, he’s not sure he wants to embrace this alien culture. His own childhood is brought into focus; his mother took her own life when he was very young, and his father (actor Anthony Jacobs who actually appeared in Doctor Who in 1966 - Matthew himself vividly recalls visiting the set) suffered with his own mental health, and there’s a sense that returning to the Doctor Who fold is as much a painful experience as it is cathartic. Occasionally reluctant to participate - at one point he’d clearly rather do anything else than provide a convention commentary on his father’s Doctor Who serial (The Gunfighters) – he eventually, and rather poignantly, realises that his own childhood makes him a part of the American Doctor Who ethos far more than he might have realised. During his journey back into the world of Doctor Who Jacobs meets up with some old friends – the TV movie’s tireless producer Philip Segal (now a major purveyor of American reality TV), Eighth Doctor Paul McGann, his TV movie companion Daphne Ashbrook and even Eric Roberts, who portrayed the movie’s flamboyant incarnation of the Master, always dressed for the occasion.
Doctor Who Am I is a fascinating sideways look at Doctor Who through the eyes of one of its lesser-celebrated lights. It’s moving, sometimes quite emotional and even a little thought-provoking. Mercifully free of the wild-eyed ravings of many UK fans, it’s a welcome and timelessly reminder that Doctor Who can unite people in very special ways and create bonds and friendships that can last a lifetime and, in the case of Matthew Jacobs, that its fandom can sometimes forgive and forget and embrace even the most outside of outsiders. Genuinely lovely stuff.
Doctor Who Am I makes its world premiere at the Sci-Fi London event (the London International Festival of Science-Fiction and Fantastic Film) at the Stratford Picturehouse on May 21st.