Stop reading now if you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense, King Kong, The Amazing Spider-Man, Bambi, The Empire Strikes Back, Planet of the Apes or any of the Harry Potter films or books.
Don’t worry though, I won’t be spoiling anything that hasn’t aired yet. Well, one thing. But as you’ll see I really don’t think it can really be classified as a spoiler.
I was first introduced to the idea of spoilers back in High School. A friend of mine introduced me to two linked trilogies, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and as I reached the halfway mark of the first book decided that he would tell me how the last book ended. Now in 1993/4 I had no idea that the technical phrase for that was ‘being spoiled’, I just knew I was pretty damned annoyed. Having said that I still finished, and enjoyed, the books.
But from that early seed came an intense hatred of spoilers, one that lasts even to this day.
Which is why I was irked the other day when I was accused of spoiling someone’s viewing of Trial of a Time Lord by revealing that the Valeyard was a dark version of the Doctor. Oops I did it again.
Except that’s not a spoiler. Not in my view at any rate. The Trial of a Time Lord aired 25 years ago on the BBC, there has been a novelisation, a DVD release and the Valeyard has gone onto appear in various other guises in Doctor Who media. Most recently as the Dream Lord. It’s not a spoiler in the strictest sense. That’s not to say that I’m not sorry I ruined Trial for that individual, because I am, it’s just that I’m amazed he had got that far without knowing.
So when is a spoiler not a spoiler? Well, let’s start with a clear cut answer. If something hasn’t been aired publicly in a certain country, then that’s a spoiler. We’ll call that a Moffat-Spoiler.
When something has aired, but there’s a period of time immediately afterwards where not everyone might have seen it. The finale of Torchwood for example; we Brits have no idea what our colonial cousins will learn during their Friday evening viewing until next Thursday. This is a Courtesy-Spoiler (recently royally screwed up by the Telegraph website).
A conditional-spoiler is a much trickier beast. It’s when a friend hasn’t seen a program or read a book yet and they don’t want to know what happens. This is a bit of a gray area. I once sat in a cinema audience to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when the guy I was seeing it with turned round and asked “This is the one where Dumbledore dies, isn’t?” It was. His argument to this day was that since the book had been published several years earlier it wasn’t technically a spoiler, however the looks on the faces of the children and turned round and stared at us with wobbling lips made that technicality obsolete. The looks from their parents made it scary.
Finally we have the open-spoiler. These are fair game, these are the ones that everyone knows about. We all know that Vader is Luke’s Dad, Bambi’s Mum’ll end up hanging from a hunter’s wall, Bruce Willis is pretty dead, The Planet of the Apes is really earth and that things are never going to end well for a giant monkey roaming round America, regardless of which remake you watch.
Oh and things are not going to end well for Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben in the upcoming Amazing Spider-man either.
So, where does Doctor Who sit in terms of spoilers?
Everywhere. It’s been going for nearly half a century and if we treat every twist and turn as a spoiler then you might as well shut down the Who forums right now.