Doctor Who reactors and the reactions they create are a key part of the modern fan experience. But how did it get started, and who are some of the best ones to watch?
Fandom and how fans relate to Doctor Who and the other shows, films, and books they love is forever evolving. In the six decades since ‘An Unearthly Child’ first aired, the concept of comic conventions have grown and mutated to be huge international events, and cosplay has risen to be a major part of the fan experience. Often these changing ways to engage with Doctor Who go hand-in-hand with developments in technology.
When once the Target novelisations and the dash home to catch what might be your only chance to see a given episode were universal experiences, now most episodes can be summoned up on demand, and even long lost stories are being brought back to life with animation.
The creation of YouTube, with its great democratisation of fandom, allowing anyone and everyone to share their view with hundreds of thousands of others, was a key milestone. In 2006, the first ‘YouTube reaction’ videos began to appear. These often involved one person showing another a funny or scary YouTube video they themselves had already enjoyed, and filming their friends’ reactions to it before uploading that reaction to YouTube. This planted the seeds of what was to become a whole new lifestyle for Doctor Who reactors.
The popularity of TV reaction videos arrived at just the right time to create a small army of Doctor Who reactors for Matt Smith’s debut
By 2011, people had begun making reaction videos of themselves watching entire episodes of television shows and uploading the highlights. In a way, this became the reincarnation of the old fashioned ‘water cooler moment’ with people logging into YouTube the day after a particularly shocking plot twist or spectacular event to see others’ responses to it.
By 2013, even television itself had realised the potential in the format, with Channel 4 launching the popular Gogglebox show, effectively the YouTube reaction format repackaged for television audiences.
Doctor Who, along with Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, was one of the first shows to become deeply embedded in reactor culture. Matt Smith’s era hit our screens with perfect timing to be swept up in the trend of Doctor Who reactors, and many channels begin with ‘The Eleventh Hour.’ And as part of the back and forth between YouTube reactors and their subscribers, Doctor Who regularly topped lists of the shows fans wanted reactors to start to watch.
This in turn meant that Doctor Who reactors starting at ‘Rose’ had several seasons to catch up on, giving them reliable, consistent, weekly content to help build their own fanbase and relationship with the show. And, better yet, some Doctor Who reactors who have caught up with the show’s present have gone back to explore the 26 seasons of the classic era.
It’s a treatment which Doctor Who seems perfect for. After all, even the ‘Time Team’ feature that began in Doctor Who Magazine in 1999 foreshadowed it, with four fans watching Doctor Who while their comments were written and transcribed for their readers to enjoy.
Sesskasays – embracing both modern and classic Who – is one of the most popular Doctor Who reactors on YouTube
One of the most popular Doctor Who reactors is Jess with her channel Sesskasays. Jess began her Doctor Who journey in 2015, after repeated recommendations by the viewers of her other videos. Starting with ‘Rose,’ hers is one of the sweetest journeys among Doctor Who reactors, as she slowly moves over the seasons from deep scepticism, to grudging admiration, to head-over-heels love for the show.
In many ways the ideal Doctor Who reactor, Jess mixes incisive commentary about what worked or didn’t work in a given episode with a heartfelt, pure, emotional reaction to events onscreen. In fact, her reaction to Amy and Rory’s departure in ‘Angels Take Manhattan’ might just break your heart. And since catching up on the Thirteenth Doctor’s adventures, Jess has also started a marathon of classic Doctor Who and is currently reacting to the Jon Pertwee era, gasping in awe of Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell’s return in ‘The Three Doctors,’ and laughing at the sheer number of different jail cells the Doctor and Jo get put in over the course of ‘Frontier in Space.’
Gallifrey Gals features one fan and one ‘noob’ exploring the show together with fresh eyes
Gallifrey Gals is another justifiably popular Doctor Who reaction channel. The Doctor Who reactors themselves are Katrina Alysha and Paula Deming. Originally put together by the ‘Fan Theory’ channel before declaring independence, their reactions have the unique twist of mixing one fan (Katrina) introducing one ‘noob’ (Paula) to Doctor Who for the first time.
Currently as far as Series Ten, their reactions are marked out by passion and honesty, and the witty, endearing banter between the two that starts each video.
And like the best critics, these Doctor Who reactors argue their points with such intelligence and feeling that – agree with them or not – you’re always enlightened by their point of view.
Recently, they too have expanded into classic eras, this time watching the all-time greats like ‘City of Death’ and ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth,’ as voted for by their Patreon subscribers.
Meanwhile, their reactions to Star Trek: The Next Generation flip the format; it being one of Paula’s all time favourite shows and one Katrina hadn’t seen before.
Originally filming together, the pandemic has meant these Doctor Who reactors now converse via split-screen zoom calls. But fortunately, the format works surprising well. And the remote working also has the added benefit of letting their respective adorable cats (like Camo and Shepherd) do their best to steal the show for themselves.
JustSoShayla is an explosion of joy among the negativity of social media
Among the whole universe of Doctor Who reactors, JustSoShayla is a supernova of positivity and joy. While all the reactors listed here show a real affection for watching Doctor Who and take a real pride and pleasure in their channels, Shayla is the one who feels like she’d be sharing her love and passion for Doctor Who with any passing stranger who’d listen – even if YouTube never existed!
Shayla doesn’t go in for tailored graphics, and her intros and outros are famously, iconically shambolic, but the direct sincerity and fun she brings to her reactions is worth so much more. She’s guaranteed to make you feel more positive about even episodes that might have left you cold.
Blind Wave smoothly recreates the experience of sitting around watching Doctor Who with your friends
Blind Wave, as a channel, is a veritable reaction machine. Consisting of a core group of four friends, Eric, Rick, Calvin, and Aaron, and regular contributors like Aaron’s wife Melanie, they started out making hugely impressive lightsabre duel videos. Now they react to dozens of TV shows, and can often release half a dozen new reactions in a single day. They’ve even managed to make two different strands of Doctor Who reactions, with Aaron and Melanie (who were already established fans) catching up on the latest episodes, and the larger group going back to 2005’s Series One to watch the show from the start, only recently catching up with current Who.
Understandably, considering the sheer amount of TV they watch, Blind Wave’s trademark among Doctor Who reactors are their big notebooks full of copious notes to help them keep track of events from episode to episode. Their ’round table’ format also means there’s plenty of room for in-depth discussions about the episode they just watched, with the discussion sometimes longer than the episode itself.
The characters of the four Doctor Who reactors, including the laconic Rick and the effusive Eric, create a fun feeling of hanging and chatting with friends – something we’ve probably all needed the past couple of years.
FailWhale34, with deft editing and wicked humour, is one of the most entertaining Doctor Who reactors
Canadian reactor FailWhale34 is another Doctor Who reactor creating top tier Doctor Who reactions. As with Sesskasays, FailWhale was already reacting to multiple TV shows before his fans lobbied him to add Doctor Who to the roster. His Doctor Who reactions are marked out by his sense of humour, continuous attempts to guess what’s happening next, and ability to keep up a steady line of chat while, somehow, never missing a beat of the action in front of him. Witty editing of sound effects, cut aways and graphics also add to the fun, like a second layer of jokes and observations on top of the first.
But these are just a few highlights among the dozens of Doctor Who reactors creating their own videos. More are joining the community all the time, with the trend for YouTube reactions showing no signs of stopping. It’s a form of appreciation for the show that’s a perfectly natural fact of life for a whole generation of Doctor Who fans, and a way of engaging with the show unlike anything fans in earlier eras could have imagined.
Who are your favourite Doctor Who reactors? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.
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