Grumpy Fans – Now Available in Multiple Flavors!


I’ve started seeing something in the ranks of Doctor Who fandom. It’s probably not anything new, but it’s something I’ve noticed, or noticed more, recently. And by “noticed” I mean “let get under my skin”. This blog post is a rather selfish attempt to work through this, understand it a bit more, and maybe even make myself feel better. If the phenomenon I’m about to describe has been bothering you too, then maybe we can help each other. And if you notice a bit of yourself in this, perhaps you’ll think twice about how you interact with other fans. (Or both! Being bothered and being a culprit are not mutually exclusive.)

For a long time, I’ve had a picture in my mind of the stereotypical “grumpy fan”*: a person who once liked Doctor Who and just can’t get over the fact that it’s not the same as it was in 1977, and why can’t I have my show back the way it was and rant rant rant.

Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it covers what I mean. As a podcast listener, I find myself shying away from ‘casts where the hosts are consistently dour about Doctor Who. It’s valid to dislike something, but acting like it’s a personal affront that the current show doesn’t conform to one’s individual tastes? That just rubs me the wrong way. It’s whiny and entitled. And continuing to put yourself through watching the show just so you can complain strikes me as sadomasochistic—masochistic to keep watching, sadistic to inflict that bile on everyone around you.

I don’t think that description will sound unfamiliar to many folks who’ve dipped their toes into the wave-pool that is fandom. But lately, I’ve noticed a very different (but not very different) type of grump. In fact, this grump is grumpy for almost the opposite reason—because other people don’t like Doctor Who enough. I’ve found this crops up more for certain episodes than others. (I’m looking at you, “Listen”.) It seems to me, the episodes that are the most-strongly beloved are the ones most apt to bring this insidious ugliness out.

Here’s where it gets personal: I have a podcast on which I review Doctor Who every week. I’ve found myself feeling anxious and hesitant to record when I’m not fond of an episode. Yes, it’s true I’m usually bummed in a general sense when I don’t totally dig on an ep of Who, but this particular feeling of anxiety comes from the anticipation of the backlash** that’ll come after it drops.***

After the last Verity! recording, I felt bad. I thought I was the wet blanket of the group because I didn’t care for “Robot of Sherwood”. A wise friend reminded me that as a reviewer, it’s my job and my responsibility to be honest about what I feel. And that as long as I’m not harshly judging others’ reactions (and, in fact, am happy to find out other folks enjoyed it), then I shouldn’t feel like I’m letting anyone down.

Let’s compare a couple reactions: I used to have trouble ignoring the negativity when I loved an episode. Sometimes the old-style grumps try to make people feel bad for liking Doctor Who. I no longer fall for that nonsense. I’ve now come to a place where I just feel sorry for people like that. It didn’t even take me very long to get here.

On the other hand, it’s much harder to ignore the people who seemingly try to make me feel bad for not liking some eps of Doctor Who. Now I think about it, I realize that’s because I so badly want to like every episode. I already feel like I’ve failed myself when something doesn’t hit me right. So when other people pile on (even in a very mild fashion), it’s prodding a splinter that’s already there.

So my new quest is to start ignoring the people who get judgey about negative reactions. Not everyone is going to like the same things. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s good! Can you imagine how boring life would be if we all liked exactly the same things? I will also take a good close look at myself and try to make sure I’m practicing what I preach. So here’s my pledge:

When I adore something and a fellow fan doesn’t, I’m going to be extra careful to make sure my comments and communication about it highlight what I liked about it. And no more. I will recognize that other people might dislike it for the exact reasons I enjoy it. And I will accept the fact of our disagreement without actively trying to change their mind.

If elucidating the bits I love happens to turn someone around on an ep, that’s great! But nothing is going to alienate folks faster than trying to tell them they “should” like it “because X.” Yech.

I can’t even be all that judgey at the people who do the judging,  because I see seeds of this in myself. I’ve said many times I view Doctor Who as a part of my family. Thus when people don’t like the things I am so in love with, it kinda hurts a little. That’s something I need to get over, and I’ve come a long way towards doing so.° I well-understand the instinct to lash out when people are critical of something beloved. It’s all too easy to intimate there’s something wrong with not sharing the same love,°° but I manage to avoid it…most of the time.°°°

Okay. Now that I think about it, this really isn’t anything new. People have been defensive about TV shows for a long time. I guess it just finally hit a critical mass in my timeline. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end of the scowly tweets and comments lately. Either way, the fact that it’s not new doesn’t mean we should just accept it mildly. No! We can do better!

Having different opinions is okay! If I don’t like something you love, it doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and it shouldn’t make any difference to your enjoyment of said thing! There’s no need for hurt feelings! I don’t see anything wrong with being honest about our opinions, as long as we’re all kind about it.

Thank you for coming along on this little examination with me. I think I’ve identified two truths as I’ve puzzled this all out:

  1. Disliking Doctor Who doesn’t automatically make you a grump.
  2. Liking Doctor Who doesn’t automatically exempt you from being a grump.

We must all be vigilant against our inner grumps, whatever our stance on Doctor Who. We’re already a great fandom. We can be an even better one.





*Note that here I’m talking about Doctor Who specifically, but I suspect it holds true for most (if not all) fandoms.

**I should point out that by “backlash” I usually mean a mere handful of tweets. It’s not a big thing, but it only takes one to make someone feel bad, and I’m not the only person at whom these things are aimed. Often they’re subtweeted at the world, and I happen to catch them like an arrow to the chest. And yes, I’m working on thickening my skin, but just like different reactions to Doctor Who are perfectly valid, so are emotional reactions to random tweets. I’m only human, after all.

***Yes. After it drops. Meaning, I do not fear this from my podcast cohosts who are awesome and never make me feel bad for holding a different opinion than they do.

°Podcasting with wonderful people you care about, who happen to have wildly differing opinions really helps with that!

°°FYI, expressing bewilderment that others don’t share your opinion makes you look like a jerk. It might not feel like “lashing out”, but you hit the mark nonetheless. As I’ve said before, intent only goes so far.

°°°Yeah, I’m not perfect either. So feel free to (kindly) call me on it when I slip up!

20 thoughts on “Grumpy Fans – Now Available in Multiple Flavors!

  1. Thanks for writing this — I fully agree that the grump goes both ways and can be just as depressing. My own pet peeve is the type of “criticism” that includes the phrase “if X didn’t make you cry, you have no soul” or “if you didn’t agree that Y, you just weren’t paying attention.” It’s supposed to be critical hyperbole, I guess, but you don’t need it for the people who agree with you, and you can only offend the people who don’t, so why even go there?

    I have a theory about why Doctor Who fans might disagree more often and more vehemently than fans of other shows, and I plan to write it up someday soon.

  2. Thank you for sharing these thoughts! We can all do with a reminder that a) we can like each other and disagree and b) it’s okay to disagree as long as we do so kindly and respectfully. I also shy away from podcasts that seem more about being grumpy than anything else. All of you at Verity model the correct way to talk shop with other fans. It’s one of the main reasons that it became a must-listen for me after the first episode. :-)

  3. rhianonjameson says:

    I agree completely. It’s one thing to dislike a particular episode (or companion, or Doctor, or even an era of the show, I suppose), and another thing entirely to continually harp on the negatives. After too much grumpiness from a viewer, I have to wonder why he or she claims to be a fan. I see that in a number of self-proclaimed fans who, for example, enjoy complaining about plot holes. If you like rigorously-plotted shows, Doctor Who is not for you – either accept it or find another show.

    In contrast, I really enjoy hearing from people who like different aspects of the show, or different Doctors/companions/eras, and who explain what they *like* about a facet of Doctor Who that, until then, I had not appreciated as much.

  4. Karen O. says:

    As someone who has been interacting with Doctor Who fans online practically since there has been an Internet, let me say that this might feel new, but it isn’t. The fans of the show can be amazing, and they can also be the opposite. We’ve just been fans for such wildly differing amounts of time, and have come to the show during the time of different Doctors and showrunners, and think that the era we fell in love with the show is how it’s supposed to be. Hang in there – the critics will either mellow with age or give up and go away.

  5. I pop ineffective DW episodes into my mental craft cupboard. Eventually I pull them out just because I’ve seen the others so much. And while I’m enjoying the simple novelty of the experience I invariably find lots more to like and, one day, the thing settles nicely into my mental quilt o’ canon.

  6. Sometimes it feels like other people can read my thought bubbles. Very recently I’ve been starting to think to myself: “Self, why do these people who claim to be Doctor Who fans seem to love to hate Doctor Who?” Sometimes I think I should stop reading forums (but not quite to the level of cutting out podcasts) because all anyone ever seems to want to express is what they didn’t like!

    Erika, two of your recent Verity! podcasts struck a chord with me: the one where you defended Clara’s reaction to the regeneration (which I felt the need to immediately applaud on Twitter) had me thinking “yes, this is what those grumpy fans need to understand! Don’t just complain it doesn’t make sense; really think it through from the character’s perspective”; and the Robot of Sherwood one. In the latter, I initially thought “oh, normally I agree with Erika but here I don’t” but then you said “but not every Doctor Who is for me, and that’s okay” – a piece of simple wisdom that made me smile.

    Conclusion? Not every fan forum is for me, and that’s okay. I just need to stick with the ones I like and ditch those I find toxic. Plenty enough for everyone!

  7. Level Whimsicality says:

    Don’t let anyone tell you that you didn’t enjoy an episode (of Doctor Who or anything else).

  8. Gavin (@Kidfla5h68) says:

    Unfortunately I’ve noticed that I’m suffering from this “reverse crankiness” myself of late. Weirdly enough though, it seems mainly to be directed at one particular person (nobody at Verity! I assure you). I won’t mention this person’s name or the podcast he’s on, but he is a fellow Australian and seems to be in the “Doctor Who now isn’t the same as my Doctor Who” camp. Fine, I understand that. There is no correct way to like Doctor Who. Everybody has their own way of appreciating Doctor Who (or any other fandom). I myself have been slowly buying DVD’s and have become addicted to the little Character Options Mini Figures (I have a small army Eleventh Doctor mini figures).
    But anyway, this person has for some reason been particularly grating on my nerves so much so that I have considered unsubscribing from that podcast, which is a shame because I genuinely like the other hosts, even when their views differ with mine. I’ll probably stick with them, as they were the first podcast I started listening to. I will just have to remember that not every podcaster is for me and that’s OK.

  9. temporalparadox says:

    Back in 2011, I was all caught up with the reboot and watching new episodes for the first time, and I picked out two Doctor Who podcasts to listen to for reviews. One was RFS, and one other pretty prominent one that I won’t name. The one that wasn’t RFS ostensibly had at least three hosts, but two of them were never on in the entire time I was listening, and the remaining one usually had a guest from another show on to discuss with.

    The regular was pretty consistently complaining about the show, and I finally quit listening to that podcast when he didn’t have his guest for Doctor/Widow/Wardrobe and it was just the full runtime of the episode of him listing every way the episode demonstrated what was wrong with the current state of Doctor Who. That was over six months I put up with that show, and I vowed never to stick with such a negative program again.

  10. Michele Simmons says:


    You are the absolute model of how to critique an episode, even one you didn’t like, with class, grace, and compassion. I tuned in to Verity this last week particularly curious about what you would make of Robot. At first I was sad (but not angry or grumpy or judgmental) to hear you didn’t enjoy the episode. But, as always, I found your insights considered, careful and thought-provoking. In fact, the very things that bothered you most about the story also bothered me, though for me they didn’t overcome the aspects that I loved. The important point is that your comments are always offered with a generous spirit that is a somewhat rare and precious thing for a reviewer. Carry on shining the light!

    And Gavin, it’s pure coincidence that I’ve just read your preceding comment. I have a hunch I may have some insights of my own into your hypothetical podcast with a grumpy Aussie. I find that having a (usually) contrary opinion can force me to think more deeply about my own perspective — and to acknowledge and honor the perspectives of others. Sometimes this leads a conversation to depths it would never have gone to otherwise. I love the Capaldi Doctor including his grumpiness because I am convinced there is a “good man” at his core. If I were in fact to have regular interactions with a grumpy Aussie, I submit that I would love him too, for the same reason, and for the way he might make me challenge my own assumptions. ;-)

    Michele from the DWP

  11. Mike Huberty says:

    Well, it’s been a few years now of the Moffat backlash (especially on io9, sometimes I don’t think they’re even watching the same show, but what do we expect from a click-baiting Gawker blog, really?) and this is the backlash to the backlash. It seems online that there’s been a general dislike of Moffat’s showrunning since Series 6 (which I loved by the way, but I like River, so…) and now that he came back with a arguably stone cold Doctor Who classic, the defenders are acting extremely sensitively when they think they’ve got the proof that the man can still write great Doctor Who.

    It seems that the general consensus is that we haven’t had a Moffat masterpiece since “Eleventh Hour” (I’d argue that “Time of the Angels” and “The Pandorica Opens” are a lot better, but I might be alone there.) Fans of the Moffat-era are feeling like they’ve been eating shit since the 6th series and now they’re not letting anyone get in the way of feeling vindicated. Don’t rain on our parade! And some of his defenders are reacting harshly because it feels like we’re watching a different show than everyone else. Christ, I’ve seen people defend “The End of Time” online. For real.

    This is the kind of Doctor Who that makes me feel like it’s 1977 again. Peter Capaldi has been my perfect idea of the Doctor and I even liked “Robot of Sherwood” (until the ending at least.) “Listen” is my favorite story in a long time and it might be favorite ever (there was no monster, the real villian is our fears, that’s the point, right?) So to anyone that doesn’t think that it was awesome, I think it’s a reaction to those years of taking guff from people who missed the heroic romance of David Tennant.

    Doctor Who has always been the bitchiest of fandoms and this is the episode that Moffat fans are using to fight back.

    I remember being on Ain’t It Cool 8 years ago and there was a UK fan who came in to talk about “The Empty Child” after it showed in the US on Sci-Fi. He just posted something in the vein of, “So now you’ve seen it, Yanks, what did you think?” And it was kind of him saying, “I know that the first episodes were kind of rough, but this is good, right? Now you know what I’m talking about!” It’s the same thing, Moffat fans are hoping for a comeuppance to all the negativity that’s been going on since 2011.

    tl;dr I admire your positivity challenge, but I think that Doctor Who fans just love to fight. I like those disagreements, even if I think other people are crazy. But we just have to learn to be respectful about other people’s opinions. Sometimes that passion turns people into dicks, but it’s that same passion that keeps this thing going 51 years later. Grumpy fans are good and bad, but the dehumanization of communicating in ones and zeroes makes it easy to treat people poorly and that’s something we should think about when we craft our responses to people whose opinions are completely wrong, I mean that we respectfully disagree with.

  12. […] Ensign discusses the different type of grumpy Doctor Who fans. A worthwhile read, to remind yourself that while some people love something that others hate, we […]

  13. […] Bonus links: Doctor Who Legacy Mary Sue Erika on Grumpy Listen Fans […]

  14. kaboobie71 says:

    Thanks for writing this, Erika. I don’t often seek out other fans’ opinions outside of a handful of podcasts, but I agree that fans can go a bit far in expressing their like/dislike of an episode/season/producer, to the point of, “You’re dumb if you don’t see things my way,” and that’s never pleasant.

    I’m glad that none of your fellow Verities make you feel that you are wrong for your opinions. Unfortunately, though I’m sure it’s all in fun, that’s exactly the way Liz comes off sometimes. I trust you to judge the dynamic of the recording sessions and your relationships with each other better than I can as a listener. I just get awfully weary of hearing her say, “You’re wrong!”

  15. Thanks for writing such a great article. Verity! quickly became one of my favorite podcasts due to it excellent discussions and varied opinions. There are a fair number of grumpy podcasters that turn me off from their shows. The entitled fan thing really gets to me. I pretty much enjoy all the episodes with only one or two a series letting me down but I still watch all of them again and again. I have a seven year old daughter who has seen all for the reboot and her first full story was ‘The Green Death’. She had a Doctor Who birthday party and went as River Song last Halloween. She loves ‘Fear Her’ and ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ who am I to tell her she is wrong? She likes it so I have learned to like it.

  16. Elisabeth says:

    It definitely hurts when someone hates something you love, or even if they just don’t like it or don’t care. It feels like a personal rejection. I have to remind myself that a) it isn’t, and b) some things (well, most things) are not for everyone. Lots of people have lots of hate for things I adore: ‘Love and Monsters,’ for example, or ‘The End of Time.’ All I can do is shrug; it’s their loss more than mine.

    Same thing if someone else loves something I don’t get. ‘Outlander,’ or ‘Twilight’ for example. Or basketball. It’s not for me, but if other people get value out of it, good for them. Some of my friends have tried to argue that sports or romance fans are somehow lesser people to sci fi fans, in the same way that some DW fans will argue that people who like Moffat or RTD are lesser to those who like the other. It’s silly, but people do it. All I can do is shrug. Their loss.

    By the way, your less-than-adoring response to a couple of recent episodes brings a great balance to the Verity! podcast, leading to great discussions and ideas I would never have thought of otherwise. So thanks for that!

  17. Koa says:

    Thanks Erika for this post. I think you’ve outlined a good behavioural model that I will try to follow!

    Your reviews on Verity are always so well thought-out, I always find that you have made me think more about the episode, which is terrific. Obviously, I don’t always agree with your opinion (or that of any of the other Verities), but what I love about the podcast is that everyone’s opinions get heard, and often you have to agree to disagree. But all of you love the show, and that makes me happy.

    I feel privileged to have entered Doctor Who fandom via listening to Verity and Splendid Chaps. This means I have been sheltered from the nastiness that I understand can be out there in the broader DW fandom. And I think the Splendid Chaps motto sums it up: there is no wrong way to love Doctor Who!

  18. James C says:

    We watch TV so differently these days. The anticipate/watch/feedback/respond/anticipate cycle is so intense. As a consumer I experience only a little bit of the angst that Erika has described here. Reasoned criticism is great: at the moment Verity, 2MTL and Lee Zachariah writing on Junkee are my top picks, but kneejerk commentary does noone any good.

    Something to think about: this season runs for more than 3 months. That is a long time to spend caught up in the cycle, so maybe one useful approach would be to step away from it all for a week here or there. Not to suggest that we shouldn’t watch an ep, or even enjoy our favourite reviews. But all of the rest can go hang. I had an insanely busy week last week, which required me to step back. It cleared my head, and enabled me to enjoy the next episode that much more. If that was good for me, how much better for all of our marvellous podcasters and writers, who have to create content also?

    It also makes for a better podcast, for me at least. I am not interested to hear a podcast that discusses online reaction in those first few days (or even hours) after broadcast as it’s pretty much the same thing each time. I want to hear what the podcasters think about the show. Discussing fan responses is fine, but it’s a theme for another time.

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