Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Hypertime, Continuity, Doctor Who, The Prismatic Age Etc. (Prelude – On The Subject Of Canon)

Posted in comics, Doctor Who by Andrew Hickey on August 23, 2009

A revised and improved version of this essay is in my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! – hardback, paperback, PDF Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), all other ebook formats

The Linear Men, from The Kingdom issue 1

The Linear Men, from The Kingdom issue 1

You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been noticeably quiet about both comics and Doctor Who recently. That’s because I’ve been thinking about stuff – there’s a whole series of connected essays I’ve been working on in the back of my mind for quite a while. I’ve had to revise some of them a bit recently as well – some of what Andrew Rilstone did in Who Sent The Sentinels? is very close to my original plans for this, but done better (seriously, if you haven’t yet read it, do – everyone liked this thing. Jog thinks it’s great, Eddie Campbell says it’s the best thing he’s ever read on Watchmen, the Mindless Ones linked to it…

What I’m planning – and hoping to do over the next week or so – is to do a massive set of semi-connected essays. The subjects on which I’ll be writing will be:

The Kingdom – a mid-90s DC comics series by Mark Waid and various artists
Seven Soldiers – a DC comics series from a few years ago that I’ve written a lot about already, by Grant Morrison and various artists
52 – another DC comics series from a few years ago, by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Keith Giffen and various artists
Spiral Scratch – a Doctor Who novel by Gary Russel
The End Of Time – a non-fiction book by physicist Julian Barbour in which he tries to show that time is an illusion.
Melmoth by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Deadline, a Doctor Who Unbound audio story by Big Finish

Possibly also I’ll bring in Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?, the Doctor Who audio stories Masters Of War and Jubilee (I plan to write about MoW at some point anyway), All-Star Superman, Miracleman and Alan Moore’s work on Captain Britain and his Doctor Who Magazine strips. If it gets silly I may write about The End Of Eternity by Isaac Asimov and the About Time series of Doctor Who guidebooks…

This series might well not come off – when I try these things, they often go off in totally different directions from what I originally intended – but that’s the plan at the moment. If it doesn’t come off, just think of this and be glad – I’ve actually considered committing fanfic. I actually have a Doctor Who/DC Universe crossover fanfic novel planned out in my head as a result of this. Seriously. I could write it right now. I came *this* close to just doing it and sticking it up here. But I will spare you and do the essays.

This series of posts started out as being about the idea of ‘canon’, but has been sidetracked and then sidetracked from the sidetracking. It was originally in response to Dan Howells, who asked me to do a post about “things that have never been mentioned in Doctor Who canon, but which you consider canonical anyway” – my response to that is actually this:

Graph of Doctor Who Canon

Graph of Doctor Who Canon

That image comes from this great post about how there is no Doctor Who ‘canon’ (interestingly Dan, who asked me that question, replied to that post saying “Can’t wait to discuss this with my NuWho denier friends…” while I see that argument, which I’d made many times myself, as perfect justification for me choosing to ignore the Welsh series altogether).

However, before going into my extended series of posts, I’ll answer Dan’s question on the terms he asked it – here are five things that are ‘true’ in the Doctor Who that’s in my head, but have never been referenced – or have been directly contradicted – on TV:

1) The explanation of the TARDIS’ workings and ‘artron energy’ in About Time 1, where Miles and Wood suggest that the TARDIS is powered by energy from the collapse of quantum waveforms, and the difference between potential and actuality. Wonderful gibberish that’s *just* on the cusp of making some kind of sense.

2) Daleks have no letter J in their alphabet. Terry Nation said so. (Neither do the Welsh, by the way. Coincidence? I think not…)

3) The Fifth Doctor had a huge series of adventures with Peri, many involving the Pharaoh Erimem as well, and at the same time regenerated within a couple of days of meeting her. He can do that kind of thing.

4) The Doctor is an agnostic. He’s seen too much to be certain either way about anything, and considers that stating that anything is absolutely true is tantamount to saying you have a perfect, complete working model of the universe in your head, which he doesn’t.

5) The Eighth Doctor existed but the TV Movie never happened. The Ninth Doctor was very like the one on TV, but no RTD-era story ever happened, and there is no Tenth Doctor. The Time War happened, but the Welsh series bears as much resemblance to what ‘really’ happened to the Doctor afterward as Blackadder II does to the real court of Elizabeth I.

But that’s only the story I tell myself. In my personal ‘canon’, the most important stories are the Baker and Davison audios made while Gary Russell was head of Big Finish (plus The Kingmaker), followed by the Alan Moore and Grant Morrison comics, followed by the original TV show, followed by the rest of the audios except Flip-Flop, Master and The Rapture, followed by the Target novelisations, followed by those of the original novels I’ve read… yours could instead count Scream Of The Shalka, Dimensions In Time, the two Peter Cushing films, the adverts Tom Baker and Lalla Ward made for Prime Computers in 1979, Torchwood, the unofficial Ten Doctors webcomic and the role-playing game, and I bet you could tell yourself some interesting stories with that as the basis, too.

Because continuity and ‘canon’ only have any worth at all – are only not actively pernicious concepts – when they’re a springboard for telling more stories – either the stories told by the author, or the stories we tell ourselves. Those stories can be as simple as us reading between the lines – or a three-year-old pretending a cardboard box is her TARDIS or shouting “I AM A DA-LEK!” – or as complex as fanfic. But the second they become strictures on storytelling, instead of an inspiration for it, something is very wrong. Stories should never become dogma.

More tomorrow.

15 Responses

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  1. Oliver Townshend said, on August 23, 2009 at 3:29 am

    A Canon is clearly a very personal thing. My wife’s Star Trek Canon includes Star Trek and no other series (hence no reason to use crap terms like ‘classic’ or ‘TOS’), and all of the books relating to that published by Pocketbooks. This excludes tedious ‘next gen’ series and related spin offs which I’m assured ‘eventually become interesting’, but actually take the dullest part of Gene Rodenberry’s vision and made it into a very boring television show where nothing happens without due process and discussion.

    My comics canon excludes the boring bits of various runs, so as to avoid the desire to buy every issue, no matter how bad (Spiderman basicaly finishes with Steve Ditko, and the FF with Jack Kirby with a handful of issues after that of some interest, but doomed to be discarded sooner or later). Another revision happening this weekend I think, otherwise they’ll grow like the building in Ronin and eat the neighbourhood.

    You are certainly playing mind games with my Dr Who Canon. No Doctor Who 8th Movie. Good idea.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on August 23, 2009 at 9:50 am

      Nah, the later series actually get *less* interesting. Next Generation has its moments, and Voyager can actually be quite good at times, but instead of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilisations, and boldly going where no man/one has gone before, most of Next Gen and *all* of DS9 are instead devoted to tedious ‘story arcs’ about characters’ feelings and the dull details of negotiations about Cardassian/Bajoran border disputes. They’re either soap opera on the one hand, or the kind of thing that should be in an RPG sourcebook rather than an actual TV show on the other.

      I don’t have a comics ‘canon’ at all, because if I were to start one, the first two or three things I’d put in there would cause a massive continuity error just on their own. But I’m jumping ahead there…

  2. Zom said, on August 23, 2009 at 7:11 am

    I’m trying and failing to come up with any rock solid canons that I adhere to.

    Maybe the first two Starwars films… actually, probably not even those

  3. Holly said, on August 23, 2009 at 8:29 am

    “The Welsh series”! Oh I love you. Are people going to have to sing a silly rhyme and poke each other in the eye now when they say “NuWho,” as with The Scottish Play?

    This made me smile a lot, and I will do everything I can to make you write about all those other things, because I want to read about them.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on August 23, 2009 at 9:52 am

      AAH!
      Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends!

  4. pillock said, on August 23, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Can’t wait! Brilliant “Who Timeline Graphic”, damn it!.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on August 23, 2009 at 10:24 am

      Thanks, but it’s not my graphic – you should read the linked article…

      • pillock said, on August 23, 2009 at 11:01 am

        Yikes, started reading it a couple days ago…but got called away.

        Will restart!

  5. Terence Eden said, on August 23, 2009 at 10:19 am

    All canon is, essentially, a theological argument. And is equally pointless. No ineffable being exists to have created a single body work.

    What it comes down to is what we can trick our brain into accepting and rejecting.

    I’d like to tell you why you’re wrong about Nu-Who – and show you what it bring to the canon.

    I think many people see only the Fairy Tail and not the Moral.

    Take, say, Hansel and Grettle. Living in crushing poverty, the parents attempt infanticide. It goes horribly wrong and the kids are abducted. The abductor abuses them – physically and mentally. Eventually she tries to kill them and eat them. If memory serves, she try to get Grettle to commit fratricide. So the children murder their abuser.

    The children then return to their abusive parents where, no doubt, the cycle of violence continues.

    That is one messed up story. Must most people only remember the breadcrumbs and gingerbread cottage.

    The story of Doctor Who is of a man who abducts young people (usually women), infiltrates their minds, consistently puts them in harms way while pretending he doesn’t know the way home.

    Nu-Who makes this more explicit. Sure, it wraps it up with lots of eye candy, school-yard humour and twee resolutions. That’s what a lot of people focus on – but they’re missing the forest for the trees.

    There are a lot of negative comments about the reliance on the companions’ families. This ignores the missing part of the canon – what happens to Tegan, Sarah Jane, Leela also happens to their families. If their families aren’t affected by their disappearance, why should we be affected by their impending death?

    What happens to Tegan once she runs away from the Doctor? Mentally scared, alone is a world that she doesn’t recognise, no friends, no family and unable to talk about her PTSD without being sectioned.

    That’s what Nu-Who adds to the canon. It shows the aftermath. Classic Who stories end with our heroes dematerilaising – Nu Who shows the horrors faced by those left to clean up the mess.

    IMHO

    • Andrew Hickey said, on August 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

      See, I’m fine with that – though Big Finish and I believe many of the novels do the same kind of thing – my problems with the Welsh series come down to three things:

      First, and most important, the character of the Doctor is simply nothing like the character as ever portrayed before the new series. I found the character of the Doctor interesting and entertaining, the new character is a tedious little tit.

      Secondly, there’s a sneering, contemptuous attitude to much of the Welsh show which I just don’t like and find it impossible to get past.

      Thirdly, while the good series had its plot holes, and plenty of them, half the new series episodes I’ve seen don’t even gesture at any kind of plot logic – things don’t happen for any comprehensible reason, they just happen at random.

      Fourth, there’s a huge lack of imagination in the new series – Davies in particular seems to think that all history was just a dress rehearsal for the present day, which is the peak of all possible cultures, and even if you wait twenty billion years people will still be listening to Britney Spears and watching reality TV.

      Fifth, the show has no moral centre – the ‘Doctor’ falling in love with Madam du Pompadour, one of the most disgusting human beings ever to have lived. And I heard that in an episode I didn’t watch, the ‘Doctor’ points out that his companion, while complaining about slavery, wears clothes made by slaves – but then immediately backs down when told it’s not fair.

      And sixth, I find the obsession with Special People Who Are Born Special And So Don’t Have To Do Anything Special Because They Just *ARE* Special, OK? to be absolutely repugnant.

      The proper series veered between fairly poor and extremely good, but I find the new series horribly, *horribly* offensive, on both an aesthetic and a moral level.

      • Andrew Hickey said, on August 23, 2009 at 11:00 am

        Where three = six, obviously…

    • pillock said, on August 23, 2009 at 11:00 am

      Hmm…sounds a touch “realistic” for my liking…

      • Holly said, on August 23, 2009 at 11:28 am

        That’s what I was thinking too. A bit grim and gritty?

  6. [...] 5 posts for the price of one! Andrew Hickey’s hyperpost continues apace. The topics, which he’s attacking from multiple and [...]

  7. You And Me And CoIE « A Trout In The Milk said, on September 1, 2009 at 9:57 am

    [...] Andrew wading into his massive Hyperpost Canon Cycle (hooray, Andrew!), the idea was bound to come up eventually: that Marv Wolfman’s 1986 [...]


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