The Question Isn’t Where, But Why?

A while back I commented on how Travis Richey, who played “Inspector Spacetime” on a 20-second spoof of Doctor Who that appeared on Community was looking to extend his “fame” by Kickstarting a web series of the fake show. The Kickstarter made its goal and the series has now been completed. You can watch the whole thing here: Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time.

The first episode got a lot of attention, being linked on Huffington Post, io9, Slashfilm, Splitsider, The AV Club, and a ton of other places. After that initial linkblitz, I didn’t really hear much of anything about it, but I dutifully watched every episode.

The whole thing fascinates me, but neither in a good way nor a car crash way, more like a, “what’s that weird looking bug?” way. I followed along with the thing because of the unique opportunity it provided.

Back in 1996, Lucasfilm unveiled Shadows of the Empire, a “multi-media project” that asked the question, “Can we sell shit for a Star Wars movie without going through the trouble and expense of actually making a movie?” In a similar way, “Inspector Spacetime” gave people the chance to be “fans” of a TV show that didn’t actually exist, and they were happy to do so.

I’ve argued before that although they will complain forever about the cancellation of a beloved TV show, nerds actually are thrilled by such a thing, because it protects the show from the clumsy man-hands of “suits” who will never appreciate the characters and universe the way the adorer does. It seems to me that this mindset has only gotten worse; the way that I see fans respond to Doctor Who indicates to me that the actual events on the show don’t really matter as much as thinking about the (often invented) romantic/sexual lives of the characters and “meme-ing” a single funny line or scene from an episode. Doctor Who could stop producing anything more than a handful of still images and witty lines each season and it seems as though a large group of fans would never notice.

“Inspector Spacetime” — and I mean the initial concept as limited to the original 20-second parody — was a godsend to this sort of fan. They were given little more than a title and a concept and they rolled with it. It was the ultimate exercise in “being a fan of being a fan” because nothing existed to be a fan of except the fandom itself. It was the apotheosis of the nerd experience, a shedding of the material world to enter a spiritual realm of pure, undistilled fandom.

But then a serpent entered paradise, and I was curious as to how he would be received. Travis Richey, who played Inspector Spacetime, unveiled his Kickstarter, and now nerds were tempted: do you give up your by-fans, for-fans Nerdvana for the satisfaction of having a thing you can watch, quote, and buy? How would this be received by the true fans?

Over 600 folks pledged, and $25,000 was raised. And now the results are in.

“Untitled Webseries” is…well, I’m afraid it’s not particularly good. It has a number of problems, but I think chief among them is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. As a parody of Doctor Who it kind of fails, as the only things especially Whoian about it are the search-and-replace elements in the first episode (“Circuit chaps” instead of “Cybermen”, “Optic pocketknife” instead of “sonic screwdriver”, etc.) There are some sort of references — a “no spoilers” sign, the companion’s name, possibly the fact that episode five consists primarily of running through corridors — but they don’t really do much of anything except be references. Beyond those, it just sort of sits there, blinking and stammering. The “original content” isn’t very original, and it also isn’t much content: each episode is only about two minutes long, which at least helps it from being tedious. Aspiring to be something other than a boilerplate Doctor Who parody would be noble, except that there’s nothing else there. There’s no “its own thing” to be. So it’s stuck with just being a poor parody of the show, evidence that maybe the joke shouldn’t have been extended.

(The IMDB page for “Untitled Webseries” is astounding, especially once you’ve watched the whole thing. Fifteen minutes of material, which largely consisted of three actors talking in one location, required an incredible crew (and twenty-five grand). Compare to “The Variants”, which raised only $13,000 in its Kickstarter, yet is producing ten episodes that are about eight minutes long each, and has a half-dozen main characters, plus a bunch of others as well, and is doing something original. I admit, I’m friends with a lot of the Variants folks, but I still think it’s a good comparison.)

So how has “Inspector Spacetime” fandom reacted to “Untitled Webseries”? From what I can tell, and I haven’t dug too deep because the abyss gazes also, they haven’t much reacted to it. The Inspector Spacetime Wiki doesn’t mention it, nor does TV Tropes (warning, that is a link to TV Tropes). “Inspector Spacetime Confessions” is largely mum about it, and even the “inspector spacetime” tag on Tumblr — that most fanwanky zone of fandom — doesn’t mention the webseries that much. (The comments on the AV Club’s link to the first episode weren’t particularly kind, either.)

Unfortunately for Richey, it seems like most “Inspector Spacetime” fans are happy without an actual show, or at least the actual show that he offers. Why bother with “Boyish the Extraordinary” when you can get lolz from changing “BAD WOLF” into “GOOD LAMB”? Who needs a show when you have a shirt? The reaction has confirmed what I suspected: the most powerful and popular fandom is fandom of fandom itself.

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