The society gained recognition from the Doctor Who production office at the BBC in 1976, succeeding the Doctor Who Fan Club which had operated since the late 1960s. Whereas the earlier fan clubs had often had only a single organiser, the DWAS was headed by an executive committee.
Early activities included the establishment of a newsletter to promote fan communication through pen-pals and swaps, titled The Celestial Toyroom after the first episode of the story The Celestial Toymaker, and the establishment of a reference department to collate and circulate accurate information about the production and storyline of each Doctor Who episode, headed by Jeremy Bentham. Early recognition came when the second edition of The Making of Doctor Who (1976) acknowledged society president Jan Vincent-Rudzki and co-ordinator Stephen Payne "and members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society" for their help in writing the book.. 1977 saw members of the society help with the BBC documentary Whose Doctor Who?, and the society stage the first Doctor Who convention, held at Broomwood Church Hall, Broomwood Road, Battersea, London on 6 August, 1977.
During 1976 and 1977 membership of the society had been free of charge. Membership seems to have been loosely defined, and members and non-members paid to receive Tardis, The Celestial Toyroom (which was merged with Tardis for the duration of 1977) and other items such as the reference department's 'StInfos' without any of these charges being interpreted as society membership fees. However, anxieties expressed by the production office and the BBC's legal department about the reproduction of copyright material contributed towards the introduction of a membership fee with effect from January 1978. Restrictions on the exchange of copyrighted material such as off-air audio recordings through the society's publications were also introduced. A restyled Celestial Toyroom would be sent to all society members to carry news about the programme, associated merchandise, and the society, while members would continue to pay for Tardis, which moved from monthly to bi-monthly publication, and reference department items.
This set the pattern for the next few years. Late 1977 saw the emergence of the DWAS's fiction magazine, Cosmic Masque, edited initially by John Peel and Stephen Evans. In 1978 the convention was given the name Panopticon, named after both the ceremonial gathering-place on Gallifrey and the prison building designed by Jeremy Bentham, namesake and ancestor of the head of the society's reference department. The advent of Marvel's Doctor Who Weekly in October 1979 led to changes as Bentham became its principal feature writer, and resigned as head of the reference department. He was replaced by David J. Howe. During 1980 the remaining founders of the society resigned from the executive, president Jan Vincent-Rudzki departing in August.. Vincent-Rudzki went on to join Stephen Payne in founding the magazine publishing company Visual Imagination.
Challenges faced by the society in the early 1980s included tighter control of news by the production office; Vincent-Rudzki complained in his last president's column that independent fanzines were printing news about the forthcoming season which the production office had asked DWAS not to publicise. This would be an issue throughout the 1980s. Another issue was the growth of the society's local group network, which by October 1980 included seventeen groups, two of which were in North America. The society executive felt that they were unable to effectively supervise overseas groups, for whose actions they had legal responsibility, and withdrew recognition from them as DWAS local groups. The society continued to recognise an allied North American Doctor Who Appreciation Society until 1984, but the change encouraged the formation of the Doctor Who Information Network as a fully distinct society for Doctor Who fans in Canada.
New ideas introduced in the early 1980s included a fanzine poll and regular fanzine reviews in Celestial Toyroom. Smaller events such as Interfaces and DWASocials began, complementing Panopticon. The local group network continued to expand. While the executive never became an elected committee, executive members made visits to local groups and the DWASocials included panels where society members could express their views on society governance. Membership fell for a period in the early 1980s - recorded at 1820 in the August 1981 Celestial Toyroom, it had fallen to 1000 by November 1982 - but then began an upturn, reaching 1175 by March 1983, and 1550 by December. The rise was probably helped by the DWAS's presence at the BBC-run Doctor Who convention held at Longleat, Wiltshire, in March 1983.
During the early 1980s Celestial Toyroom remained a brief monthly newsletter, with Tardis (which moved to quarterly publication in 1983) being the main forum of articles and letters.
Developments in the late 1980s included a decline in membership, perhaps due to the evolution of Marvel's Doctor Who Magazine into a more fan-based publication. Rival services also appeared, such as DWB for monthly news, The Whonatics or the MLG for local gatherings, and Phoenix for conventions.
Failure to register for VAT led to a crisis in the Society's finances in the late 1980s, but the DWAS recovered from this to survive as the core grouping of Doctor Who fandom in the UK. A separate company, Space Rocket Ltd, now administers commercial affairs such as conventions and sales, on behalf of the DWAS.
In 1998, the Doctor Who Appreciation Society produced and sold a collection of Doctor Who audio adventures entitled Cosmic Fugue 2 with profits being donated to the charities HOPE for Romanian Orphans and The Meningitis Trust. The collection was presented by Louise Jameson and the individual stories were read by former Doctor Who stars with additional voices being provided by Nicola Quinn and Steven Wickham.
|The Lake of Possibilities||Nick Walters||Colin Baker||Sixth Doctor|
|The Doctor learns the origins of the Valeyard.|
|The Blinovitch Link||Barry Letts||Elisabeth Sladen||Sarah Jane Smith|
|Sarah receives a telephone call from the future.|
|Help At A Stroke||Steven Wickham||Colin Baker||Sixth Doctor||Georges-Pierre|
|The Doctor drinks wine with Georges-Pierre, a dour French artist, (implied to be Georges-Pierre Seurat), in a café in Paris.|
|The Rain Machine||Nick Walters||Caroline John||Liz Shaw|
|Liz Shaw investigates a scientist's rain machine, aided by the Brigadier.|
|Slings and Arrows||Colin Baker||Sixth Doctor|
|Hamlet, as written by William Shakespeare with help from the Doctor.|
|Zoe Does It||Crispin Brigham||Wendy Padbury||Zoe Herriot|
|Zoe searches for part of a crashed spaceship after the TARDIS receives a distress call.|
|Tomorrow's Times||Colin Baker|
|A report on the first Doctor Who Ball, attended by the likes of Meg Loss and Sir Vival.|
|Savage||Gary Russell||Louise Jameson||Leela|
|Leela struggles with life on Gallifrey after having left the Doctor.|