30 Years amongst the Spires – WhoSoc’s Highlights of the past 30 years

Image Credit: Oxford Doctor Who Society

Image Description: The attendees of the Thirtieth Anniversary Party

In an article three decades in the making, Peter Lewin-Jones reveals the favourites and highlights of the society from 1989 to the present day

At the 30th anniversary celebration of the Oxford Doctor Who Society, I asked current and returning members to write down memories of their time at the society. This was supplemented by the age old questions of what their favourite Doctor Who stories are, and who “their” Doctor is. I’ve collected these together, and so can now share the standout moments of the first 30 years of the society, as well as seeing how its opinion differs between the wilderness years and today.

The Episodes

Of course, ever since the society’s earliest days, episode watching has been an integral part, be that on physical copies or, more recently, certain streaming services. Certain stories stuck in the minds of members from all generations, be that well-respected classics like City of Death and The War Machines, or those with a certain ‘Je ne sais Quoi’ – The Horns of Nimon, for instance. For older members, there was a special quality associated with early serials such as Tomb of the Cybermen, watched in 1992 shortly after its recovery. Meanwhile. one long-standing fan described watching an nth generation black and white VHS copy of The Armageddon Factor, with the society getting stuck in its own time loop as the tape got stuck and looped! For newer members, the ability to watch classic Who was particularly valued, with one member having very fond memories of watching The Happiness Patrol with the society.

One activity unique to the recent generations of the society is the opportunity to watch brand new Doctor Who as it aired. Series 10, the society’s first attempt, was watched by a small but faithful group in Worcester College JCR, with one describing how, being on door duty, they always had to rush over at the last second and so missed a bit of the start. From this time standing out in the cold, they have come to the conclusion that Doctor Who belongs in the Spring! For series 11, having honed our promotional ability, we had much larger numbers joining us, with a viewing of The Woman Who Fell To Earth in Worcester JCR beingso crammed as to have, in the opinion of one member, probably broken fire regulations! After this squished start, we expanded to Mansfield Auditorium for the rest of the series, allowing us to watch with people who were equally excited in another great experience. 


But of these stories, which were the favourites? Members’ favourite stories were spread widely across all eras of the show, with many stories mentioned by just one person. Amongst the stories with several fans from the old era were the aforementioned City of Death, alongside Inferno, The Caves of Androzani and Genesis of the Daleks, with one member specifying the latter’s LP version in particular! There was even one mention of The Trial of a Time Lord, even if the memory specified that they regretted watching it the next day! Remembrance of the Daleks, meanwhile, was unique in having multiple fans across society eras.

For members joining after the launch of new Who, it is perhaps unsurprising that the most mentioned stories are from this era, including The Day of the Doctor, Heaven Sent, Blink and several stories from series 5. However, that’s not to say that Classic Who is excluded completely, with two classic stories with multiple new era fans are The War Games and Earthshock, both of which have been watched recently by the society. Finally, we must acknowledge the recently graduated member who listed the Ninth Doctor as their favourite, before revealing that  all five of the favourite stories from series 1.

Members across both eras also mentioned stories not broadcast on TV. Older members had a penchant for The Curse of Fatal Death, The Tides of Time (the comic, not this fanzine) and Apathy of the Daleks, a satirical story which is from this fanzine (#6, to be exact – Eds.). Newer members, meanwhile, had a tendency towards Big Finish and novels, including Scherzo, The Chimes of Midnight and The Holy Terror from the former, with the EDA The Crooked World representing the latter. The popularity of Big Finish amongst new members could be to do with the launch of the Big Who Listen (See Tides #41 for more – Eds.)

Aside from episodes, I also asked who the members considered to be “their” Doctor. This, unsurprisingly, gave the biggest divide between the two groups, with Tom Baker the most popular choice from the 90’s fans, while it was David Tennant and Matt Smith for newer fans. However, there was support for Doctors from the “other” era, with Eccleston, Tom Baker and Matt Smith having fans from across the divide. One new member pushed the bounds of the questions by mentioning the DoctorDonna as a candidate for their favourite!


From the old members, the events mentioned most often were the special guests in the early days on the society. Sophie Aldred was a surprise guest who appeared to a packed room early in the society’s life, and clearly left a big impression, with one member having their hand signed by her (See a retrospective in the Tides Summer Special 2019 – Eds.)! Also mentioned were John Leeson and Lalla Ward, with one member apparently remembering the latter as “being rude about Matthew Waterhouse”! Finally, there was a memory of Jeremy Bentham, one of the special guests at the 30th itself, bringing his slide projector for a much earlier talk!

The 90’s, it seems were ripe with anecdotes, including the controversial idea of deigning to watch things other than Doctor Who, such as Sapphire and Steel, Doomwatch, or The Prisoner. In order to watch these, there were significant logistics mentioned behind the scenes, including the difficulty in lugging an enormous TV set to meetings; the importance of getting the best seat in Christ Church’s Lecture Room 2 before it got busy (the window at the back, for any errant time travellers reading); and the production of membership cards, which required  the President’s signature before being covered in sticky back plastic, “the poor man’s lamination”. The Committee itself was involved in these shenanigans, be it thinking upamusing story descriptions for the term card; the “assassination” of the 4th President, or the posting of what, in the opinion of one member, was “really remarkably inappropriate publicity in every college”!

Fanzines also has a special place for older members, with members recalling the sharing of production gossip gleaned from various titles in the pre-internet days of fandom. Tides was also remembered from the early days, with one member mentioning their contributions to early issues, even if they were “reviews and piece of fiction they would probably disown now” if they still had copies! 

From the new era, there were several mentions lauding the committee, and as a former President, I wholeheartedly endorse this. There were memories of great, if uncontested, elections, hosting visitors as well as the weekly faithful, and the many trips to the pub that still form a crucial part of the society’s social life, though many members opt for non-alcoholic options now. Freshers Week also holds a special place for recent members of the society, whether it was the then President dressed as a Dalek, the worries about organising Freshers Drinks, and the subsequent pride of “our little society filling a room with fans”. There were memories of the puns in society emails, trips to destinations such as Cardiff, and chatting with the older members that were still around! 

Getting on with others

Relations with other societies were mentioned in different ways from both eras. In the early days, food took a big role, with one  group heading over from Taruithorn committee meetings often stopping at the “Carfax chippy for chips and a curry roll for dinner”, something new members can’t experience as  said Chippy is sadly no more. For others, it was the food after meetings, such as “veggie kebabs from the kebab van” outside Christ Church. More recently, members of the society fondly remember crewdates, regarded by one member as “the most inclusive” in Oxford. There have also been quizzes with groups both near and far, be that the Geek Quiz hosted by the society, or the joy of winning against Cambridge in the Varsity Quiz, which was “lots of fun”.

One peculiar tangent between eras has been anecdotes of being told to leave a venue after something was ejected through an opening. For older members, this was Matthew Peacock being thrown “through a window, and being banned from that college”! For newer members, this took place on one of the aforementioned crewdates, where the assembled members of WhoSoc and TrekSoc were asked to leave Wetherspoons after someone from a certain society forgot that beaming up didn’t apply to pints when they knocked a glass off the balcony… 

Overall, I got the impression that the society, though members may come and go, has not fundamentally changed over the eras. We continue to have a continuing eclectic mix of watching Doctor Who and related shows; going to pubs and quizzes; listening to superb guests; and discussing obscure trivia and opinions. But above all, there are the friendships, some that have endured for 30 years, and others which formed much more recently. The initial spirit of WhoSoc, it’s clear, lives on, and I look forward to the next 30 years!

The most frequently mentioned episodes in our members poll

1st. Heaven Sent  5
2nd. The War Games, Genesis of the Daleks, City of Death, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Day of the Doctor 4
3rd. Caves of Androzani, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, Blink 3
4th. The Mind Robber, Inferno, Pyramids of Mars, The Horns of Nimon, Earthshock, Human Nature (including the novel)/The Family of Blood, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Doctor’s Wife , A Good Man Goes to War, World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls 2

Tides 44 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

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