My favorite video of all time regarding Doctor Who isn’t a clip of the show. It isn’t even one of those fan-made compilations, although if you want to see a really good one I’ve been playing on a loop, it’s this one, “Just See Me.” No, it’s the one linked in the above photo credit, a compilation of fan reactions to one of the most iconic moments in the revived series, when the 13 Doctors all return to save their home planet of Gallifrey. I am thoroughly addicted to these kinds of videos.
Reaction videos are sort of a hard thing to explain, really. Why would you watch other people watching a thing you’re actually watching yourself or have already watched? What is even the point?
I would argue that it’s the same reason people will go see a movie that they’ve already seen before in the theater. It’s why you sit someone down and make him or her watch just one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s why you carefully curate the DVDs you want to share with your kids.
Fandom is like religion. Jesus might have asked us to pray in a closet, but most of us like to feel things in a group. Not to mention convert others to make the group larger. God knows I’ve spent a fair amount of the Houston Press’s money trying my damnedest to bring Doctor Who to more people.
What I like about reaction videos is the fervor, the exultation. I get that it’s fandom as performance art, and Rassilon knows Doctor Who is up there with Harry Potter and Supernatural in the sadness-porn genre of pop culture. Some people simply enjoy being emotionally destroyed by the art they love. I even wrote a bit on Life Is Strange exactly about this phenomenon.
That aside, we live in a post-South Park world, where caring is considered worthy of mockery. It’s a world where even Captain Freakin’ Kirk, of all people, can accuse people of being social-justice warriors as an insult. It’s a world where the highest virtue, from the egg account on Twitter to the President of the United States, seems to be as disconnected from empathy as possible.
So, when I see people in these reaction videos, I see people who have let their guard down. They allow moments in a stupid television program to flow through them hard enough to make them cry, gasp or scream in absolute happiness. It’s wrinkles in time when love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow are allowed out into a society that represses emotions as a matter of course.
All fandom is memetic. There is really no difference between, say, ancient depictions of Greek myths and modern shares of a wands up GIF. Both cases are ideas based on stories that have stuck in the human head.
It’s hardly surprising that things in Whovian fandom like “I don’t want to go” and “One day, I shall come back” have achieved that level of meme. Blasted across millions of minds, they are bound to stick, and now, reacting to those ideas is its own form of entertainment. Feeling, as exhibition, is legitimized as a way to legitimize our own exploration of what art does to us. When it’s good, we hurt, and we heal stronger.
A final thought…
I have a specific memory of the fourth grade, when we were doing a classroom read of The Bridge to Terabithia. I was way further ahead in the book than the rest of my classmates, and I got to THAT part. I started sobbing, uncontrollably, in the middle of class. I’d never read anything like it, and it was like a bullet to my soul. Other kids asked me what was wrong, and I just said, “You’ll get there.” One by one they did, and, one by one they looked at me with this knowing gaze.
It’s better to feel than to not. That’s why I love Doctor Who reaction videos. I plan to make one myself this Christmas, when Twelve leaves us and Thirteen comes to take us on new adventures.