Design by Michelle Kim

“I’m writing a piece about Superwholock.”

My roommate’s eyes fill with maternal disappointment after I tell her my weekend plans. “That is,” she struggles for the words, “that is the last thing I wanted to hear.” I see a glint of hope in her eye — hope that I’m joking, that this all a nightmare, but I only nod with a feeble attempt to fight back a smile.

Maddie.

My roommate is desperate now, pleading, but not even she cannot stop the oncoming storm. My hubris is immeasurable and my work indispensable — I must memorialize Superwholock. Even if I must burn bridges in the process. 

I’ll concede, my roommate and I were only ten years old when Superwholock invaded Tumblr in 2011, but we’ve both been haunted by it for the last ten years. Superwholock, for those who are blissfully unaware of this pop culture phenomenon, is the name of the fictional alternate universe in which the characters and plots of the television shows “Supernatural,” “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” inhabit the same universe. If you had really never heard of this before I fed you from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, your follow-up question might be, “How did this happen?”

 “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” shared production teams under the BBC and had similar mainstream appeal in the U.K. The crossing over truly began in the U.S. as “‘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.” The “Doctor Who” reboot began the same year that “Supernatural” premiered — 2005 — but these fandoms didn’t experience much interaction in the States, so “Sherlock” had to act as the proverbial bridge between the two. “Sherlock” was already inherently tied to “Doctor Who,” but the show’s ability to employ a fantastical grittiness was what drew “Supernatural” fans into the triad. 

These common threads helped all three shows enjoy simultaneous and meteoric rises to pop culture stardom in the early 2010s. Each show spawned avid fandoms that eventually joined together to create a conglomerate fandom, dubbing themselves as “Superwholockians.” The Superwholock universe is wide and complex; the main characters from all three shows coexist and go on any number of adventures together — sometimes Sherlock and the Doctor are lovers, and other times “Sherlock and the Doctor occasionally switch trenchcoats and imitate each other just to mess with Sam and Dean.” It’s difficult to trace the exact origins of Superwholock, as some believe it first appeared in January of 2012 while other sources claim the trend started as early as 2010. But, it is generally believed that Superwholock originated in 2011 since the first-ever, now deleted, post under the Superwholock tag on Tumblr dates back to August of 2011. 

For the next three years, Superwholock continued to explode in popularity, and this rampant proliferation of the fandom was due to a number of elements. In the “Doctor Who” universe, fan-favorite David Tennant had bowed out of the role of the Doctor in 2009 and was replaced by new fan-favorite Matt Smith in 2010. The BBC’s “Sherlock” had finished its first season in the winter of 2010 and was between seasons, and “Supernatural” had wrapped up its sixth season only a few months prior and was still coming down from its Apocalypse storyline. Tumblr had “emerged as one of the fastest-growing consumer-oriented Internet sites … with its audience surging from 4.2 million visitors in July 2010 to 13.4 million visitors in July 2011,” while popular fanfiction website Wattpad reached a milestone of 1,000,000 users in the same year. Fans were left with their three favorite shows in states of limbo and newly popularized social media sites made for creating and sharing original content, so it’s no wonder that Superwholock exploded onto the digital scene in 2011. 

The peak of Superwholock’s popularity lasted for approximately four years, but its aftershocks are still felt a decade later in the way my roommate groans when I say the phrase within ten feet of her. “It was the most ambitious crossover event in history,” she relented after I convinced her that this article was a good idea. “It was a cultural reset.” She’s right — it’s difficult to emphasize the impact Superwholock had on online fandoms, and its ability to exist solely on the internet was what made it so unique. All three fan groups involved had survived offline; “Doctor Who” premiered 30 years before the internet was made available to the public, so the crossover was exclusive to the web and, more specifically, Tumblr. For one of the most popular social media sites of my time, Tumblr is as disorganized as they come — it is built to largely promote single paragraph blog posts, small collections of images, stream-of-consciousness content and does not allow for blogs to combine into larger groups. I opened my now-defunct Tumblr account to test just how disorderly my dashboard could possibly be and, I was right. I could feel a headache forming after approximately two minutes of scrolling. 

With this in mind, it seems to me that the miracle of Superwholock is that it was ever organized in the first place. The mega-fandom was based almost entirely in online interaction on one of the messiest social media platforms we use, and yet it formed and grew at a dazzling pace. Suddenly, you couldn’t spend more than a few minutes on Tumblr without being bombarded by “Supernatural” GIFs or seeing absolutely outlandish usernames like tardis-in-the-impala-at-221B. Currently, on Wattpad, searching Superwholock yields 43,700 results. 43,700 fanfictions, one shots and AUs written over the last decade dedicated to one mega-fandom. Superwholock even marked the advent of similar conglomerate fandoms like Rise of the Brave Tangled Dragons or Bee Shrek Test in the House.

If Superwholock proved nothing beyond its sheer size and power, it proved that fandoms, whether mega or micro, could organize and move in less than ideal circumstances, and all online. Superwholock was one of the first fan-made and controlled crossovers of its size, and it did it without traditional media, further evidencing that these groups could and would learn how to exist online if measly barriers, like the cannon of the individual shows involved, stood in the way. With internet fandom culture still fresh in the early 2010s, this completely changed how fandoms operated because, once fan groups learned to organize and manipulate social media to their will, there was nothing they couldn’t do and nothing they needed permission for. Fans connected across borders of any kind to bond over this behemoth that they created and nurtured. Superwholock meant so much to its fans because it was a fandom of their own creation, and they broke molds by showing the world how they could create trends, memes and art all their own, without ever meeting or engaging in more traditional forms of fandom.  

Strangely, it was in-person interaction that seemingly killed Superwholock in 2014. DashCon, a fan convention organized by Tumblr users and aimed largely at fandoms like Superwholock, occurred in the summer of 2014. Plagued by shady funding, poor organizing and mistreatment of panel guests, DashCon was Tumblr’s Fyre Festival. After the convention’s failure, Superwholock utterly disappeared, perhaps from the embarrassment Tumblr fandom culture sustained in the aftermath of DashCon. When assembled in real life, Superwholock crumbled and cemented that the organization of its fans, like other fandom crossovers after it, could only be sustained online where it was born and raised. And it was sustained.

When I recently checked the Superwholock tag on Tumblr, I spent about 20 minutes scrolling through posts and still only made it to March of this year. Superwholock has carried on for a decade despite its failures, and I see no evidence of the original mega-fandom truly dying any time soon. 

Superwholock was, for lack of a better word, a god of its time, and in calling it as such, I also admit that I feel like a minor prophet writing this article — a mortal hearing the word of the divine and putting it down for the masses to receive. This feels like a call back to a time when I was most deeply entrenched in the Superwholock fandom, but I could never look back on that period of my life with a spirit of animosity. Rather I see myself, aged 13 or 14, sitting in front of a school-administered iPad happily devouring any fanfiction or GIF sets that interlocked my three favorite universes. I respect this as a time of real growth for me. Superwholock gave me and thousands of others a chance to grow into an admittedly very nerdy side of ourselves that would not have been fostered as safely in any environment other than online fan communities — because if you think I didn’t refer to myself as a “high functioning sociopath” and didn’t get bullied for it at least once in middle school, then I am here to tell you that you are dead wrong. Ultimately, though, I often feel a deep-rooted nostalgia for those years that cannot be replicated. 

The fact that today, as a junior in college, I can make Superwholock jokes with my roommate and even pitch this article should prove the longevity of Superwholock not only in my life but in the life of the internet as well. Superwholock’s popularity may have peaked long ago, but we all know nothing can ever really be deleted online; it is still worth praising how the fandom has persisted all these years. The shows at the foundation of this trend have weathered immense changes — “Supernatural” has ended, “Doctor Who” has cycled through two more Doctors and “Sherlock” has not released any new content since 2017. The fandom has changed too, as its members age and enter new phases of life, but that is to be expected when they created this universe a decade ago. The sheer gravity of a decade, ten years, is in itself an ode to the passion of fandoms that really love what they create. Superwholock was a god. Today it is a house of memories built with love and care, its doors open to generations to come for several more decades.

Daily Arts Writer Maddie Agne can be reached at maagne@umich.edu.