The first time I visited Who North America was quite a shock. As a lifelong fan of the British science fiction series Doctor Who (a 'Whovian', as we like to be called), I'd always had to rely on online dealers and specialty shops to find merchandise. I never imagined that there would be a store dedicated almost exclusively to Doctor Who right here in Indianapolis.
A longtime cult hit in the States, Doctor Who tells the low budget adventures of an alien known only as 'The Doctor' who travels through time and space in a blue police box called the TARDIS. The show was first introduced to Americans as an import on PBS in the 1970s, but it's never quite achieved the stature of sci-fi properties like Star Trek and Star Wars. In the UK, however, where the show originally ran from 1963 to 1989, Doctor Who is an institution.
The BBC revived and retooled the series for modern audiences in 2005 and, with the rise of BBC America and availability on Netflix and iTunes, Doctor Who has steadily gained popularity with an American audience. It's this audience that Who North America caters to. Filled with Doctor Who action figures, books, DVDs and more, the large warehouse on the southwest side is a fan's dream come true.
I spoke with Keith Bradbury, the owner of Who North America, who told me the genesis of the store is informed by his own experiences as a Whovian. "I actually began as a fan back in the eighties, I was watching it on PBS stations," Bradbury said. "You really couldn't find any Doctor Who products. You could go to conventions but it really cost a lot of money to get a hold of Doctor Who items. In the late nineties, when the Internet came along, I started researching companies in the UK, finding out who was making Doctor Who items, and I learned that they really had no one representing them in the United States."
Bradbury saw an opportunity and began selling the items himself. When Doctor Who returned to the airwaves in 2005, Who North America was well positioned to address the growing demand for merchandise in the U.S. "We just kind of exploded from that point." With 2013 being the show's fiftieth anniversary, Who North America is especially busy. "For us it's been big with so much product coming out, there's so many exciting things to see."
But Who North America is more than just another store. It's also a Doctor Who museum filled with memorabilia from the show's fifty year history. "I wanted it to be a fan experience," Bradbury explained. "You can play on the Doctor Who pinball machine for free, you can see all kinds of items that aren't for sale that actually go all the way back to 1965. There's all kinds of things you can do while you're here to enjoy the experience."
Who North America is open, by appointment, Monday through Friday (you can find contact information on the company website, whona.com). Once a month, usually on a Saturday, its doors open to the public. It is these open houses that Bradbury hopes will bring Whovians together to share their love of the series.
"Our idea is that we open up and lots of Doctor Who fans can come here at the same time and meet each other," he told me. "They can talk about the show. They can dress up, which is really cool when we get people showing up in costume." Bradbury noted that visitors are of "all different ages" and represent fans of both the current show and 'Classic Who' (the 1963-1989 incarnation of the series). The store also attracts families. "A lot of them are cross generational. They watched it when they were younger, and now they've had children and they watch the new series with their kids." Bradbury can relate; Who North America is a family owned business. "I'm actually the big Doctor Who fan," he confessed. "When my wife and I got married I started out by showing her every single classic episode of Doctor Who I had in my possession on VHS."
Who North America also holds monthly screenings of Doctor Who episodes. The screenings are hosted by Tilt Entertainment in the Circle Center Mall and provide an opportunity for Whovians to meet. They are free to attend and occur on the last Saturday of the month, starting at 2 p.m. Information about screenings, open houses, and other Who North America events can be found on the company's Facebook page.
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