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Doctor Who Am I review – a genial dive into the Whoniverse with one of its creators | Documentary films

When Matthew Jacobs’s name is first displayed on screen in this likable documentary, he is identified as a “mid-level screenwriter”; it’s more of a self-deprecating description than a diss given that he is one of the film’s co-directors (along with Vanessa Yuille) as well as the feature’s star subject. But his filmography is a mixed bag, and includes several things you may never have heard of (Bar America and the cartoon Justin and the Knights of Valour), little remembered reworkings of established works (a 1994 version of Lassie, Young Indiana Jones TV movies), the original story for one of Disney’s least popular works (The Emperor’s New Groove), the film adaptation for one stone-cold British cult classic (Paperhouse, 1988), and the script for 1996’s Doctor Who: The Movie.

That last title is the prompt for this doc in which Jacobs, with some initial trepidation, ventures into the tight-knit world of Doctor Who conventions and events. Jacobs’s leeriness of Whovians – who mostly come across here as cuddly, sweet-natured people, no weirder than Star Trek Trekkies or My Little Pony Bronies – stems from the fact that many have professed to hate Doctor Who: The Movie because in it the Doctor (Paul McGann) reveals that he’s half-human and at one point snogs his companion Grace (Daphne Ashbrook). These deviations from Whovian lore seem to trouble the fans less when they meet the gentle-natured Jacobs, an Englishman living in the US who has his own bone-deep ties to the Who franchise. Eventually, it’s revealed that not only did his actor father play a role in one of the oldest episodes, from 1966, but that Matthew visited the set as a little boy.

But that happy memory turns out to be one of the few peaks in what was otherwise a pretty miserable-sounding childhood, an upbringing marred by parental mental illness. That making this film provided Jacobs some kind of closure is nice, although as a movie it’s a little ramshackle and repetitive. A few of the interviewees try to define why Doctor Who means so much to them, and why departures from the canon mean so much, but the movie never quite wraps its arms around the whole phenomenon.

It’s also very skewed towards the costume-wearing US end of Whovian fandom: the cultural disconnect between them and British fans in the birthplace of the story might have added some ballast. Still, at least in one amusing aside, an interviewee notes that if you go to a Doctor Who event in the UK the attendees, given Brits’ reluctance to dress up in public, will look as if they were just rounded up at a bus stop.

Doctor Who Am I is in cinemas from 27 October.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash