“Do you want illegal downloads, because that's how you get illegal downloads.”
This past weekend saw the release of a new addition to the Doctor Who franchise and new members of the Whovian family. From what I have heard and read it's a show with solid characters, and excellent potential. Normally in this space, I would write my own thoughts and comments on such an august event. This time however, I can't. You see, dear reader, I am an American. While the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other places received Class on the same day, the American Whovians have been relegated to waiting until 2017 for our BBCA broadcasts.
As a Whovian-American, I am, quite honestly, a bit cross. American Whovians have been loyal fans, with our hearts-on-our-sleeves approach to the stories shared with us by our British cousins. We have been bold and outspoken in our support of the franchise, even and especially when Doctor Who was the least-cool thing in the nascent 80's-geekdoms. BBC America was one of the main sources of funding for Class. That being that case, it makes me wonder why the BBC and BBC Three would opt to cut one of the strongest segments of the fanbase out of being able to enjoy the new series, especially in a year when the parent show is on hiatus.
As someone who has spent the last several years observing fandoms, I can say that this kind of thing never ends well. About a year ago, my own “other” fandom had a similar situation. In that instance, it was an American show so American fans were the ones who got to see it first while the non-US fans were left waiting to find if the show would come to their countries. This decision to delay transmission in other countries or to deny transmission entirely had a disastrous impact on the fandom and the success of the show.
First, separate transmission dates divided the fandom. Not only were the fans who got the show later quite rightfully angry, they began to ask if the network cared about them as fans. Many felt like second-class fans just because of where they lived. By the time most of them were able to see the show for themselves, so many spoilers had been posted that there was no point in watching. Second, and perhaps more damaging were the illegal downloads which cut in to the numbers that the show would have had in international views. Adding further to the division of fandom, there have been cases of those who have not yet been able to see the show in question becoming very upset with those who had because of the above-mentioned spoilers being posted in groups.
I am already seeing some of this beginning to happen with Class. Many who have seen the first two episodes are posting comments and photos on their own social media. Other fan groups are also posting reviews and recaps of the first two episodes and will continue to do so as long as the show airs. While most groups have a twenty-four hour spoiler ban, that doesn't do the fans who won't get the show until Christmas or next year any good. Best case scenario, there will have been so much discussion already that there will be no enjoyment of the show when it does arrive in America. Worst case, the mixed reviews that Class has been getting, along with the story lines and even full scenes being spoiled will have fans asking if the show is even worth watching.
Some people will say “just stay off the internet, stay off the fan groups and avoid the spoilers.” This seems like a simple solution. Groups that are solely Class-related can be left, and hashtags can be blocked from one's social media. There are, however, multiple other groups related to Doctor Who in general that post Class-related material, often without spoiler warnings. In order to avoid spoilers completely, one would have to leave every internet group they are in, and probably break ties with their “friends” or “followers” (depending on their social media platform of choice), at least until next year. This, of course, means that they would also not be interacting with the Doctor Who end of the fandom, which would deeply affect Doctor Who itself. At the same time, it is unfair for Americans and others who do not have access to Class to expect their fellow Whovians to not discuss the show or post anything about it.
It is not our fellow fans' fault that transmission is delayed; that fault lies in the corporate boardrooms and relationships among the various networks. On some levels, that is comforting—knowing that fellow Whovians are not responsible for preventing others from access to the show (and in many cases, it's exactly the opposite). On other levels, it's frustrating: though the networks may say that they are doing the right thing by the show itself, the overall impact on both the fans who get the first transmissions and those who are dependent on the delayed transmission dates is an overall negative impact on show and fandom.