TV Reviews

Lockdown: The Doctor Who Fans’ Survival Guide – DVD Review

In Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness would proclaim to just about anyone who would listen to him that the 21st Century was when everything changes, and that we would have to be ready. You might think, then, that he would have given us all a tip-off about there being an imminent global pandemic en route. Bloody Torchwood.

In 2020, everything definitely changed, as Coronavirus took hold around the world, and some words and phrases entered our everyday vocabularies, like ‘social distancing’, ‘furlough’, and ‘lockdown’ – the last one in particular has proven to be a source of some considerable controversy, with protests and uproar in some quarters from people claiming the effects of staying at home may be as harmful in their own ways as the virus we were all trying to avoid.

It would certainly be true to say that the enforced periods of isolation during lockdowns have been a significant strain on mental health, with concerns about the impact it might have on people both in the short and long term. In order to try and protect our wellbeing, everyone has needed to find their own personal coping mechanisms and strategies, no matter what form they may take – subscriptions to streaming and ‘video on demand’ (VOD) services have soared during the course of the pandemic, for one thing.

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For some, it was an opportunity to try out new skills, such as learning a different language, or taking up baking. For those people with an existing hobby, however, they already had an ideal outlet for a bit of escapism, to try and take their minds off what was going on outside. Take fans of Doctor Who, for example: they have almost six decades’ worth of material to revisit. However, lockdown life proved to be a particularly – and unexpectedly – fruitful time for brand new stuff to end up being produced.

Take an emergency transmission from Jodie Whittaker – in character as the Doctor – helping younger viewers to process what was going on, and know it was okay to be a little scared. What began on Twitter as a one-off tweetalong ended up as a regular lockdown fixture, generating a selection of original linked content in the process, from videos to short stories by writers from the programme – the latter even ended up with a compilation being published, with proceeds from it going to Children In Need.

Fans can be an inventive, indomitable species, and nowhere is this perhaps better reflected in the new DVD release from Reeltime Pictures, in association with SAM Films, giving us an insight into what Doctor Who fans did to not just survive, but also thrive, during the pandemic. Lockdown: The Doctor Who Fans’ Survival Guide features video contributions from members of the international fan community, showing just what they got up to while stuck indoors, as well as how their beloved series helped them to get through.

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Fandom can get a raw deal at times, occasionally deservedly so when looking at all the negativity associated with parts of movements like #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, with some reports of death threats being sent to creatives and studio bosses. In amongst all this, we never seem to have positive, good news stories of all the great things that being part of a community of like-minded individuals can bring; thankfully, Lockdown helps to redress that balance.

Hosted by Sophie Aldred, whose association with the series goes back to 1987, the linking material for the main feature was filmed at the Museum of Classic Sci-Fi up in Allendale, Northumberland. The museum’s curator, Neil Cole, is one of those fans who turned lockdown into an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, in this case to refresh the exhibits. As such, it seems only right and proper that Cole’s exhibition should serve as being the location for Lockdown’s backdrop, as well as adding a little visual sparkle.

It would be easy for devotees of the programme to have just sat back and watched (or rewatched) all the DVDs and Blu-rays of old episodes, but for those fans featured here, they found new ways to express their affection for Doctor Who, some of which were especially creative, like producing their own merchandise, writing songs, making videos, and a host of other outlets. It would seem the Doctor – rather than the Devil – actually makes work for idle hands, and what a good job they have done.

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Some of the contributions here are genuinely touching and inspiring, such as disabled fan Adam Cripps, who managed to overcome his various challenges to build – and play – his very own TARDIS-styled guitar from scratch. Another video – filmed to raise both public awareness and funding for the Down’s Syndrome Association – gives a salutary reminder of how the pandemic has affected people in different ways, all according to their own personal circumstances.

As if to reinforce this, Reeltime will be donating 10% of the profits from its sales of Lockdown to charities connected to relief efforts. As well as being for a worthy cause, Lockdown also offers a peek behind the veil of the wonderfully diverse, imaginative, artistic, and just plain brilliantly bonkers world of fandom and fan culture.  The Doctor has two hearts, so it may just be why the love of the Time Lord’s followers is both felt and returned so strongly.

Lockdown: The Doctor Who Fans’ Survival Guide is out now on DVD.

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