Opinion no image

Published on March 5th, 2006 | by Brian A Terranova

Canonicity


Canon – n 1: a rule or especially body of rules or principles generally established as valid and fundamental in a field or art or philosophy.

Doctor Who fandom is a strange thing, that’s true with most fandom, but Doctor Who fans in particular seem to have a lot more to argue about.

First there is the “Canonical Fan” – If it happened on our TV screens then it is true. But even this group has at least three factions.

Canonical Fan:

    Faction one: All TV Who is Canon

    Faction two: Only the original series is Canon

    Faction three: Only the new Series is Canon

And then there are those who are still up in the air about the TV movie and it’s placement in Canon, but none that rely on that as a Canon Faction of it’s own.

From this point fans will argue on the streets, in pubs, in the class rooms, at work, but most importantly “the land with no faces”, the Internet.

It is on the Internet that people can say what they like act as big as they like and cause as much trouble as they want, knowing full well that they will never see the face on the other end of the conversation and that they can, in a sense, get away with murder.

People will bash Christopher Eccleston for his decision to leave the series after just one series and are not shy about their words, and in return those who are sad to see him go are also not shy about their words when they respond to the bashing posts.

The Internet is also the “Land of Misinformation” and for a fan this could be a deadly thing. Take for example the above mention exit of Mr. Eccleston, the news was leaked and spread just after episode one, and many were upset as they thought it was new news. We have since learned that it is old news and set in stone from day one. But do all the Fans realize this? No they don’t, you need only to check any Doctor Who forum to see that there are a great many misinformed people out there who still think that he left because of this or that.

And why are so many misinformed? Because when one fan posts a question 10 people will answer and for the most part you will get 9 misinformed answers and one truth, but how do you know what to believe? Researching your answers is the only way, double the work maybe, but it’s still they only way.

Secondly we have the “New Adventure Fans” who have relied on the books for so long that they know no other canon for the show. These people are so into the continuity created by the books that they believe the destruction of Gallifrey in the new series is the same destruction of Gallifrey in the books.

This is not the case and that is easy to see when watching the new series and hearing Russell T. Davies’s words about writing for the series. Why did he not go with Paul McGann? Why did he not fill the scripts with continuity?

Because having done that he would have lost over half of the target audience. Instead he has kept the show as the same old show, but with more flavor to the mix. He has created back-stories for everyone and even created a puzzle that needs to be fitted together with each new episode that will create one grand story by itself. A puzzle known as “Bad Wolf”.

If he were to have taken the story of Gallifrey’s destruction from the books then why should anyone familiar with the story want to watch the show? But does that stop the people on the Internet from thinking it’s the same war and same story? No.

This creates a new problem for new and old fans. Those who are of the “Canonical Fan” groups are now interested in learning more, likewise so are the new fans so when they post a question online to try and understand a moment they witnessed or heard in the new series they get stuck with answers from the books that don’t apply or help their understanding. In a sense they have been derailed from their original question and sent in a new direction that leads nowhere.

For all of the hard work that Mr. Davies and his team have put into the show they have met their fair share of major obstacles. One Canadian fan could not let the world wait in anticipation and leaked a test copy of Rose to the world just a couple of weeks before the episode was set to air. As Nick Briggs points out in his “Dalek Diary” in DWM, the Dalek picture leaked by the Sun was taken only the day before he saw it in the paper.

Fans within the BBC leaked the news of Christopher leaving us, and Fans world over were responsible for spoiler pictures all over the Internet revealing the Doctor’s new look among many other things. There have been many such incidents that sadly have taken away the impact of certain moments in the show. The end of the season has now been spoiled as well – had the news of Mr. Eccleston’s leaving never come out, Episode 13 would have been a major shock to all fans – but now it’s no different than watching a movie version of your favorite book.

It could be said that there is a subsection to the “New Adventure Fans” and this would be the comic strips. While they may not actually have anything to do with each other story or continuity-wise, they are still a print form of Doctor Who. And while I think you would be hard pressed to find someone offering up explanations of why things happened based on what they read in a comic strip, it still has its followers who like to believe in their own bit of Comic Canon.

Next we have the “Big Finish Fans”, to this group the books are nothing but a footnote and the Audio Adventures are “real Doctor Who”. This group believes that every thing that happens on screen is canon, but they also feel that the Audios are just an extension of the show, as they have the real TV actors involved, and are therefore canon as well.

It’s no secret that I am a fan of the Audio Dramas, and I want to write as objectively as I can so believe me when I say that this next sentence is not a one-sided view. I have noticed that in the Internet world the “New Adventure Fans” are happy to explain away things in the new series with something that they read in the books, while “Big Finish Fans” only offer up things that they understood, or speculated about, from the episode in question.

This could be because the New Adventure novels had originally been spawned from Doctor Who but they seem to have taken a new direction and a life of their own since their birth. They created situations that we have never seen, nor would have ever envisioned, the Doctor and friends to be in. They have also created a back-story for the Doctor that people either love or hate.

The original TV series never touched on the Doctor’s past with anything but mystery, hence the “Who” in the title. There is a reason why they never talked about his name or family before, people like a mystery, but then I guess some fan would prefer to know.

The Big Finish plays decided to take another direction, they tell stories that could fit seamlessly into the actually history of the show, new adventures that perhaps sometime stretch the confines of the show, while at the same time never introducing a continuity point that will separate them from the real show.

That said both books and audios have their place in fandom and I wouldn’t want to change a thing. After all it is widely believed that Doctor Who might not be back on our screens had the books not kept the faith alive, as it were, for all those years.

However for all the books efforts and fans devotion the new series has already made it clear to me that they do not believe in the book continuity, even though a few of the new writers were originally the writers of the same books. The reason I feel this way is due to the fact that Russell T. Davies has destroyed Gallifrey but he didn’t use the books version of events. That to me says that that book can no longer be held as a canonical story. So far the Audios are safe but as I write this there are still 4 more episodes to air and even the Christmas special and now season 2 so anything goes I’m afraid.

It seems that fans everywhere may have to start thinking about where they belong in the grand scheme of things.

It is a fact that every new story of Doctor Who, in whatever format, is someone’s first. So for every new story of Doctor Who, be it TV, audio, books, or comic strip, there is a new fan for one or all of the above. They will seek out more information and get confused along the way but hopefully in the end feel the same way we do about a show we have admired for so long.

So as a plea I would ask that when chatting about Who on the Internet let’s try to make sure that we post not just what our beliefs of the situation are, but also an explanation of how we came to those conclusions.

The main thing to remember is this: Whatever faction of fandom you belong to, when it all comes down to it, subcategories aside, we all share one interest in common, we love this character called the Doctor, with his not so perfect Time Machine, and their adventures.

Graphic Art supplied by Simon Holub

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About the Author

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Doctor Who and me go way back. I first discovered it on my local PBS Station WHYY in the suburbs outside Philadelphia when I was a young kid; though I am uncertain of the exact age.




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