A Doctor Who society was founded at Oxford University in the late 1970s, but little is known about it here and it is not believed to have survived the decade. There were several years of informal private meetings between students involved in nascent Doctor Who fandom in the 1980s, but the origins of the present society lie in conversations and meetings in late 1988 and early 1989 between Doctor Who fans of a generation whose childhood was marked by the highs of the Tom Baker era, their early teens by the giddy celebrations of the twentieth anniversary, and their late teens by the mockery and public marginalization of Doctor Who following the cancellation crisis of 1985. The increasing availability of video recordings of old Doctor Who – mainly the so-called ‘pirate video network’ – was also a factor.
The society launched in Hilary Term 1989 with a joint meeting with the long-established but now defunct Oxford University Sherlock Holmes Society, the theme being Tom Baker’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Regular meetings began the next term and the society has existed continuously since then. Its magazine, The Tides of Time, began in Hilary Term 1990 and is now one of the oldest-established (if irregular) Doctor Who publications.
The society met for several years in Christ Church Lecture Room Two before embarking on a peregrination around the university’s colleges, including St Peter’s, Mansfield, Keble, Hertford, Wadham, Christ Church again, Balliol (Holywell Manor), St John’s, Magdalen, Christ Church yet again, St Peter’s for a second time, Corpus Christi, and now again Mansfield. In its early years, the society had to source its own television and video recorder (jointly owning a VCR with the Star Trek Society for a few years) but college provision caught up by the end of the twentieth century.
Events over the years have included visits from Doctor Who contributors including writers Andrew Smith, Robert Shearman and Matt Fitton, and in the distant past, writer and script editor Terrance Dicks, and actors such as Lalla Ward, John Leeson and famously Sophie Aldred. In the late 1990s, trips to Doctor Who locations became features of Trinity Term, with Aldbourne (The Daemons), East Hagbourne (The Android Invasion) and the Rollright Stones (The Stones of Blood) all being within easy reach. More recently, there have been expeditions to Cardiff to visit the Doctor Who Experience and locations including Bad Wolf Bay itself.
The society was known as the Oxford University Doctor Who Society from 1990 until 2005, when a temporarily low number of student members forced it out of registration with the university proctors. Though a rise of interest following the revival of the series enabled it to be returned to university registration, we’ve never restored the “University” label.
Members have gone on to contribute towards Doctor Who books, magazines and audio productions, as well as working in careers as varied as the church, opera, accountancy, medicine, teaching, anthropology, baking, law, theatre, artificial intelligence, software development, navigation science, and chemistry.
For more on the history of the society, see two articles from 2019: