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Doctor Who? Timeless business in Camby specializes in The Doctor

Keith Bradbury, owner of Who North America, poses in front of a life-sized TARDIS on May 14, 2024. Bradbury has been a Doctor Who fan since it first aired in the U.S. in the early 1980s. (Provided Photo/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

(MIRROR INDY) — Just across the Marion County Line on the far southwest side, there’s a business called Who North America that’s painted in a deep blue hue with white trim that’s easy to miss. 

But if you stop to take a closer look, you just may find yourself thinking it’s a lot bigger on the inside.

Who North America in Camby, Ind., seen here May 14, 2024. (Provided Photo/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

Who North America, located along Kentucky Avenue in Camby, is a combination store and museum dedicated to the British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who, a series which follows the adventures of a time-hopping alien. The show’s original run aired between 1963 and 1989 and is recognized as the longest running TV sci-fi series. The newest season of its current run, which began in 2005, features the first Black and LGTBQ+ actor to play Doctor Who: Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa. Not counting the mysterious Fugitive Doctor, of course. 

It debuted in the U.S. on Disney+ on May 10

Who North America claims to be the largest store dedicated to Doctor Who in the U.S., and according to store owner Keith Bradbury, it’s in the running for the largest in the world.

Bradbury — we promise not to make any Fahrenheit 451 puns — started the store online in the late 1990s as a way to make the show’s hard-to-find British merchandise available to Americans.

The store’s success eventually convinced him to aim high and build a brick and mortar location for Whovians of all ages to dive deep into their favorite show without having to travel across the Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s everything I wanted to find as a kid that I couldn’t,” Bradbury told Mirror Indy. “To me, it’s like an always-open mini convention dedicated to Doctor Who where you can immerse yourself in the show in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

Something for every Whovian

A lifesize cyberman from the original run of Doctor Who on May 14, 2024, at Who North America. (Photo Provided/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

As soon as visitors walk through the front door of Who North America, they’re greeted by a life-size, homemade Dalek screaming “Exterminate!” 

But don’t blink, because there’s also a full-size TARDIS, a Cyberman, weeping angels, K9 the robot dog and a Lady Cassandra display. 

“It’s what I wanted as a kid, because I would have loved to have walked into a place like this,” Bradbury said. “It’s a store that’s just dedicated to your fandom and doesn’t overly dilute itself with other stuff you’re not interested in. It really makes it an experience.”

Who North America has decades of Doctor Who memorabilia on display — hundreds of items such as action figures, pinball machines, bubble baths, jigsaw puzzles, pup tents, cardboard cutouts and even jelly babies. There are also free activities, including a game room with a Doctor Who pinball machine and a Doctor Who viewing room that plays episodes from the show.

“We want people to come here and spend time here,” Bradbury said. “You’re walking into a world that’s all Doctor Who. Whether you’re a fan of the classic series or the new series, you should be able to come in here, enjoy yourself, and feel like this is your happy space, your home away from home.”

That’s exactly what it is for Eulides Pagán, Jr., who makes the trek to the store from his home in Hobart in Lake County in northwest Indiana several times a year to check out the latest merchandise.

Pagán, 52, was introduced to the show by his father, a steel mill worker, who would let him stay up late to watch it on their local PBS station. Later, when the station began airing the show at 5:30 p.m., the elder Pagán would hurry home to watch the episodes with his son.

“We would lay on the floor, and I would sit and lean back against him watching Doctor Who,” he remembered. “This was pretty much an almost daily thing for quite a few years.”

Pagán’s father died in a car crash when he was 9 years old, and the show remained a connection to his father. 

For decades, Pagán had a difficult time trying to find Doctor Who merchandise, and so he’s thrilled to make the drive here.

“I had never seen so much Doctor Who merchandise in one location,” he said. “It probably took a good two and a half hours to walk through it. I had to look in there and touch almost everything.”

Discovering the Doctor

Like Pagán, Bradbury, 56, has always been a sci-fi fan. 

As a teen growing up in 1970s Danville, Illinois, he began consuming all the sci-fi available to him, including old Star Trek reruns, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

By the time he was in middle school, he soon faced the problem a lot of kids with limited means faced in pre-internet days — he ran out of stuff to watch. 

That’s about the time his local PBS station began airing episodes of Doctor Who. The show had already been on for 16 years, but Bradbury didn’t know that.

“This was something new, and that was kind of what was exciting to me,” Bradbury said. “The interesting thing was that the more you watched it, the more you realized you hadn’t seen it all because there was so much to it. You didn’t realize how much history there was behind the show.”

Bradbury was soon hooked. He loved watching the eccentric adventures of the fourth incarnation of the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, known for his fedora and long, multicolored scarf. To this day, the fourth Doctor remains Bradbury’s favorite.

But as the show was British, it was difficult to get any show merchandise to play with.

“You could get all the Star Wars Kenner toys you wanted, and you could get toys from other series, but you couldn’t get any Doctor Who toys,” he remembered. “So, if I wanted to play as Doctor Who, I had to get creative and build a TARDIS out of Legos or I had to create something somehow.”

The lack of merchandise continued for decades. It was a problem that didn’t make sense to him, considering the large fanbase in the U.S., and, like the Eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith, he decided to poke the problem with a stick.

From E-Space to e-commerce

By the late 1990s, Bradbury was married and working as a church pastor, but his love for the show continued. He started the Who North America website in 1998, which, in its early days, was dedicated to talking about the show.

“I started not only just researching the show and all that was going on, but also started looking into, ‘Hey, can I get Doctor Who products from the U.K., now that we have the internet?’ Because that was new,” Bradbury said.

In 1998, Amazon had only recently begun selling items other than books and eBay was in its infancy. He couldn’t find much in the U.S., so he reached out to a company in the United Kingdom called Dapol, which made Doctor Who action figures until 2002. The company told Bradbury that they wouldn’t be able to send him anything unless he made a $1,000 order.

Bradbury talked it over with his wife. They decided he would place the order, keep some of the figures for himself, and sell the rest.

“We were really tight on funds, but she said, ‘OK, go ahead and give it a go,’” he remembered. “But the funny thing is, within a week of getting them, they all sold out just like that.”

The Bradburys began contacting comic shops to see if they had any Doctor Who merchandise and began buying up their inventory to sell through their website. They found other U.K. companies that sold other Doctor Who products, including watches, audio books, and CDs.

“Within a short time, we were just kind of snowballing because everything we got in was going out almost as quickly as we got it in,” Bradbury said.

They were able to make it their full-time job, and when the show returned in 2005, the Bradburys were well positioned to help their customers get their fix.

A new generation of Doctor Who fans

Vintage ads for British Doctor Who toys and a weeping angel display at Who North America in Camby, Ind., May ‎14, ‎2024. (Provided Photo/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

In March 2005, the series returned to TV with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth incarnation of the Doctor. The series premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel in the U.S. and quickly entered the mainstream.

“There were a lot of people early on who knew what the series was and were excited for a comeback, but then it opened up into a lot of new people who had never seen Doctor Who before,” Bradbury said. 

That’s when Pagán introduced his son, Eulides Pagán III, to the show. Pagán had put on the first episode of the new series and his 3-year old son had come in to watch the show with him.

“That’s when I realized I was laying on the floor exactly like my father did, and my kid’s right up against me the exact same way I did to my father,” Pagán said. “I realized that and started crying right then and there.”

More fans would need more merchandise, Bradbury knew. Who North America grew so much that the store had to move several times to have enough space for its merchandise. In 2016, the Bradburys acquired the site of a former fur coat business where they remain today. The business has a Camby address, but it’s actually just over the border into Hendricks County.

The business is now part store and part museum that attracts people from all over the world. Fans have helped make it so by donating unique items for people to enjoy at Who North America. An Ohio engineer built the Dalek at the front door and donated it to the museum for display. Other fans, like Pagán, have donated things like action figures and other memorabilia collected over decades for other people to enjoy.

Bradbury also organizes a yearly Doctor Who-themed festival called Doctorberfest that is staffed mainly by volunteers, many of whom are Whovians. Last year’s festival included a visit from Sophie Aldred, the actor who played the seventh Doctor’s companion, Ace, in the final season of the show’s first run in 1989.

Ace made a comeback in 2022 for some closure with The Doctor. 

“I like to see people smile, enjoy themselves and have fun,” Bradbury said. “It’s kind of like sharing my childhood. That’s what keeps me going.”

[Fourth graders taught us how to be happy. Sadly, Dr. Who didn’t make the cut.]

Location and Hours

Who North America in Camby, Ind., seen here May 14, 2024. (Provided Photo/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

Who North America is located at 8901 S. State Road 67, Camby. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Mirror Indy reporter Enrique Saenz covers west Indianapolis. Contact him at 317-983-4203 or Follow him on X @heyEnriqueSaenz.