The Keys to SuperWhoLock
The internet comes up with hybrid names at the drop of a hat. Hybrids refer to when fans combine the names of characters, films, and TV shows to express multi-fandom approval. “SuperWhoLock” refers to what is arguably the greatest of these hybrids: BBC’s Sherlock, Supernatural, and Doctor Who.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who refers to the British science fiction series that originally aired from 1963-1989 but was rebooted in 2005. It features a quirky time-and-space-travelling alien (“The Doctor”) and his human companion as they (repeatedly) save the universe.
Sherlock, on the other hand, is another British production, but is a 21st century re envisioning of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sherlock and John (Watson) still face off against dangerous criminal masterminds, but do so brandishing iPhones and GPS.
Supernatural is an American production that, like the rebooted Doctor Who, originally aired in 2005. The plot follows two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, as they cross the country in their trademark 1967 Chevy Impala, all while battling demons, ghosts, and spirits.
The devotion that fans feel toward the SuperWhoLock triad is zealous. There is a vast amount of fan-art, fan fiction, cosplay, and a range of other art forms inspired by this triad, ranging from casual doodles to professional level artwork.
The mystery of SuperWhoLock is why these three shows in particular should have become the mother of all fan bases. Doctor Who and Sherlock originally aired in Britain (although both have large followings in the U.S.), while Supernatural is originally American. Doctor Who and Supernatural are fantasy/sci-fi, while Sherlock is a mystery drama. Doctor Who is kid-friendly, while Supernatural tends to appeal to older teenage audiences. To understand the reason behind the origin of SuperWhoLock, one must take a look at why certain fans might gravitate toward more than one of these three shows.
The links between Doctor Who and Sherlock are easy to trace. They lie in the writers of both series, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Both began writing for Doctor Who in 2005, soon after it began airing in Britain. The reboot of Doctor Who, according to executive producer Russell T. Davies, was intended to bring an old series into the present day as well as appeal to a younger audience. Rather than attempt to appeal to the camp aspects and nostalgia that might have drawn in fans of the original show, the new Doctor Who is based in present-day Britain and does not shy away from modern-day concerns like global terrorism or artificial intelligence. Moffat in particular has become notorious for his complicated plot points and his addition of a darker edge to the story. Despite its PG rating, his Doctor Who addresses joys and fears that would resonate with a 21st century young person.
Very much like Doctor Who, Sherlock brought a classic into the present. Both shows are irreverent and witty, with more than a touch of dark humor. Unsurprisingly, fans of Doctor Who were and are also drawn to Sherlock, as they share both writers and a similar sense of adventure. In addition, both series share a certain intellectualism. Doctor Who, in particular, appeals to specific demographic of viewer; it is aimed at younger audiences, but contains few of the tropes that are common in shows aimed at younger viewers. It is not an animation, a high-school drama, or any of the other common themes in pre-teen television. As a sci-fi program that appeals to a wide range of age groups, it can be assumed that the younger viewers that the show attracts also tend to be interested in the science aspect as well as the adventure. This audience is also an audience that is likely to enjoy Sherlock‘s intellectual humor and mind-knotting mysteries. This a group that is also likely to spend time online reading, writing, creating, and discussing, fueling both shows’ prominent internet fan presence.
In this case, it is Supernatural that presents a mystery. While it initially attracted viewers, Supernatural was not a smash success in numbers. Instead, it carved a niche for itself by having a relatively small, but fervent, fan base. While in the UK Doctor Who had more mainstream appeal, in the US Doctor Who and Supernatural fans filled similar roles — as small but enthusiastic fan bases made up of young people with an interest in science fiction and fantasy. These niches coexisted peacefully, but did not have much crossover. Without a bridge to connect them, Doctor Who and Supernatural fans remained within their own small fan communities.
The arrival of Sherlock in 2010 provided that bridge. Sherlock contained elements that appealed to both Doctor Who and Supernatural fans. Supernatural does not channel the uniquely British appeal of Doctor Who; in fact, according to creator Eric Kripke, the show was intended to chronicle the ghost stories and mythology of the United States. He says,
We have a folklore in mythology that is as rich and developed as any world culture’s and as uniquely American as baseball…I landed on this idea to have this mythic road trip across the country, and it became the best vehicle to tell these [ghost] stories because it’s pure, stripped down and uniquely American.
Supernatural crosses crosses into the horror genre at times — it showcases a particularly bloody and eerie side of Americana. However, fans that enjoy these elements might also be expected to enjoy the grittier aspects of Sherlock‘s mysteries. Both series contain a grounded sense of place, whether it is the recognizably creepy, abandoned (and probably haunted) midwestern highways of Supernatural or the alleys and dark corners of Sherlock‘s London Underground. Both shows, in essence, explore a semi-fantastic reality behind the everyday. Sherlock uncovers incredible criminal networks and masterminds on the streets of London, while the Winchesters root out ghosts and demons lurking in what appear to be ordinary American landscapes.
The arrival of Sherlock completed what would quickly become the SuperWhoLock triad. Via word of mouth and the internet, those who might not have tried Supernatural, Sherlock, or Doctor Who on their own were introduced through their friends or Tumblr network. One cohesive fan base sprouted from interaction between three devoted groups.
There are undoubtedly more subtleties to the popularity of SuperWhoLock, and definitely an entire world of fan creations to explore. However, the evolution of the SuperWhoLock community appears to be a combination of shared interest and an active internet community. The creation of the SuperWhoLock phenomenon was born from those who shared their love of a particular show with others.
Fernandez, Maria Elena. “On the road trip from hell.” TheAge.com. 5 January 2006. http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv–radio/on-the-road-trip-from-hell/2006/01/03/1136050443994.html?page=2
McLean, Gareth. “Doctoring the Tardis.” The Guardian. 6 March 2005. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2005/mar/07/mondaymediasection
McLean, Gareth. “Steven Moffat: The man with a monster of a job.” The Guardian. 22 March 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/mar/22/stephen-moffat-doctor-who
Thorpe, Vanessa. “Sherlock Holmes is back…sending texts and using nicotine patches.” The Guardian. 17 July 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2010/jul/18/sherlock-holmes-is-back-bbc
Ulaby, Neda. “The Few, The Fervent: Fans of ‘Supernatural’ Redefine TV Success.” NPR.org. 15 January 2014. http://www.npr.org/2014/01/15/262092791/the-few-the-fervent-fans-of-supernatural-redefine-tv-success
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