Dreams of Doctor Who and Star Trek Fans vs. the Realities of Their LivesS

A few weeks ago, we asked you to take a survey about whether Star Trek or Doctor Who had molded your brain. We wanted to know whether there was any connection between being a fan of one of these shows and what your career aspirations might be - as well as what career you wind up having. Over 1600 people responded, and it turns out Doctor Who and Star Trek fans aren't very differently-brained. Both shows inspire fans to have similar dream jobs, though not all of them manage to get those jobs when they grow up. We also learned what fans want most from the shows. Find out more, and check out our amazing data charts, below.

Dreams of Doctor Who and Star Trek Fans vs. the Realities of Their LivesS

Overall Mindsets
The spread of occupations and aspirations for both Doctor Who and Star Trek fans is near-identical; what differs, in fact, is the occupations and the aspirations themselves.

The number one dream of approximately 29% of the 1,648 survey respondents is to work in science. Visual and Performing Arts takes a close second, with 14% of respondents wishing to work in that area. After that, 11% of respondents declared "Other," and while most of those were either unsure of their careers or unwilling to place their jobs in one of the broader categories, the most outspoken contingent in the "Other" group announced their childhood wishes to be astronauts. Both Star Trek and Doctor Who, then, breed aspiring stargazers, intellectuals, artists, actors, and people with careers too varied to define.

Where the lives of fans actually end up is a slightly different matter. 23% of respondents work in Computers & Mathematics, even though less than 7% aspired to that career. Students are next — perhaps those 17% of respondents are all budding scientists and thespians, though the majority suggests otherwise. 9% of respondents qualified their careers as Education, Museum Work, and Library Science; only 5% wanted to work in that area as children. Just under half of the aspiring visual and performing artists achieved their dream, and only 2% work in the nerd-kid-favorite career of Science.

While this is as much influenced by teachers, parents, mentors, locations, and salaries as it is any television show, the crevasse between childhood aspirations and eventual careers is a telling look at how the needs of the world transform the dreams of individuals.

"They are both studies of humanity: Star Trek is more about putting people into abstract situations and seeing what humanity emerges, while Doctor Who tends toward deciding what humanity should be inserted into an abstract situation."

"I'm a fan of Star Trek for its optimism. I like the idea that science and engineering can be applied to solve our problems. I like Doctor Who for its sense of wonder at the universe's complexity."

"Star Trek represents a structured authority in exploration, while Doctor Who favors the "mad genius inventor," an individual exploring on their own. ... Doctor Who does a better job of depicting what it is to be truly alien. Star Trek does a good job of examining what it means to be truly human."


Dreams of Doctor Who and Star Trek Fans vs. the Realities of Their LivesS
Age and Discovery
In the 13-19 and 30-39 age groups, Doctor Who takes the lead — in 20-29, 40-49, and 50-59, Star Trek wins by a large margin. Over half of respondents in the latter three age groups are Star Trek fans, while in its arenas Doctor Who scrapes by with an average of 52%. Of course, 77% of survey respondents are from the United States, which means that older fans would faced the difficult task of watching overseas television to be Whovians.

New fans are arriving by the moment, however, to change those numbers. 28% of Doctor Who fans discovered the show less than 5 years ago; these fresh recruits no doubt owe their fandom to the revived New Who. Star Trek's fan base, according to these survey respondents, has grown only 2% in the last 5 years, so it looks like Enterprise didn't help much.

Either way, don't let these results depress you. I doubt the devoted fanbase — the 64% of 15-plus-year Doctor Who fans and 81% of those near-lifetime Star Trek fans — is going anywhere anytime soon.

"I was drawn to the Doctor because he always resolved conflicts using is head and relied little on brute force and violence. I love the cerebral nature of it!"

"What draws me to Star Trek is Roddenberry's vision of a universe where the definition of what it means to be human is constantly changing so that it's more inclusive. ... I have major problems with the Doctor as a character, because he's fundamentally undemocratic — this guy just goes around killing aliens on my behalf, but I have no say in it."

"Star Trek ... imagines a scientific, scholarly existence in a future where (generally) people are nice to each other; it scratches (sorta) my hard sci-fi itch. [Doctor Who is] lots of fun following the adventures of a charismatic, brilliant eccentric in a crazy world; it scratches my Douglas Adams-ish fantastic sci-fi itch."

"Trek tells the story of events that happen to people, but not so much what happens between people."


Dreams of Doctor Who and Star Trek Fans vs. the Realities of Their LivesS
Watching the Shows
The Star Trek fanbase sure is a law-abiding bunch: Of the 992 people who are fans of Star Trek (217 of them also fans of Doctor Who), 81% watch the show when it airs and only 8% snag it from the web. Meanwhile, 48% of the 873 who watch Doctor Who (including, again, the 217 who also love Star Trek) download their episodes from the internet — compare that to the 46% who watch it on television. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that Doctor Who's overwhelming US fanbase doesn't feel like waiting for BBC America to show episodes nearly a year old. Regardless, there's got to be something here about the average Star Trek fan's respect for the directives of the government — and the Doctor Who fan's love of defiant adventure.

Star Trek, however, does have more appeal across the globe, suggesting either greater exposure for American television or greater appeal to people in varied societies. Star Trek's fans hail from 33 countries, while Doctor Who's live in 22. There are fans of both shows in 12 apparently sci-fi-friendly countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Austrlia, New Zealand, China, Brazil, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Trinidad & Tobago.

By the way, judging from plentiful reader comments, Star Trek takes the cake for special effects, while Doctor Who garnered the most praise for its acting. Food for thought — and evidence, perhaps, that David Tennant's Doctor ought to face down Patrick Stewart's Captain in a special crossover episode of doom. (Or perhaps they should just have a torrid affair: More than one reader expressed disappointment in Star Trek's record on homosexuality.)

"I was attracted to the misanthropic anti-establishment character of the Doctor, and the unique odds of his adventures — a single person pitting wits against brawn, whereas Trek was always about the establishment, not the underdog."

"The beauty of Star Trek is the betterment of humans through the unquenchable need to know more. [The Doctor] is a renegade, cruising around, finding problems and making them right with his vast knowledge and skills."

Final Comments
There were quite a few problems with my survey, and you all pointed them out when you took it. A few examples: my categories for occupations and aspirations were too broad, birthplace might not be the most accurate indicator of a person's national identity, and it's impossible to quantify moral attitudes and opinions on the world simply by asking about career aspirations. The list goes on. I urge you to download my data sheet, conduct your own research, and draw your own conclusions. As a science fiction fan, you should be well-suited to the task!

In conclusion, I have to leave you with these two stories. Someone out there has the most awesome husband ever, and someone else should feel free to claim the most awesome parents.

"When I first met my husband and asked for his number, he said he'd give it to me if I knew who Davros was. I explained all about the Daleks to him, he gave me his number, and, well, now we are married. I guess I owe finding true love to Doctor Who."

"My parents met because of Original Star Trek. I was saturated with it since before I was born. I grew up being dragged to conventions and fan club meetings, and learned an awful lot about life through my mom's secret stash of fanfiction. Although it's not my favorite show, I have a tremendous respect for it, because it really did made me into someone confident in her 'geekiness.'"

Charts by Stephanie Fox.

If you want to see all our data, you can download this PDF.