Thursday, 23 July 2009

Canon and Sheep Shit: Why We Fight.

I hate the Doctor Who canon like Dawkins hates God.

Like him, I'm convinced the target of my animus doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop me spending half my life writing about how dreadful it is.

There's a bit of a difference though; the existence or otherwise of God is fundamentally irresolvable within the bounds of human knowledge, while the non-existence of a Doctor Who canon is bloody obvious to anyone with half a brain. After all, I know loads of people who reckon they've met God, and hardly any who reckon they've met Dawkins, so from where I'm sitting then his existence sounds on shakier grounds (There's a book I keep seeing in Christian bookshops called The Dawkins Delusion. I bet it's a crap set of 'proofs' of God, but I'd buy a copy tomorrow if I thought its authors were wheeling out some kind of Baudrillard logic to disprove the reality of Richard Dawkins).

But a Doctor Who canon? There's demonstrably no such thing.

Canon isn't "what most people think is canon" (otherwise the Buffy comics, unheard of by most of the millions who watched the show, couldn't be Buffyverse canon. Which they are) .

Canon isn't "what the majority of the fanbase would prefer was canon" (otherwise Han shot first).

Canon is what the people running the franchise tell you it is. It's not a democratic thing. Star Trek fans didn't have the option of outvoting Gene Roddenbury when he wanted something stricken from the record.

Of course, people are, in these free-spirited and post-structuralist times, quite capable of thinking for themselves and saying, "Well The Animated Series is certainly part of my Star Trek", but what they're doing there isn't changing the canon, or establishing a new and individual canon; It's a rejection of the idea of canon itself. A denial of the franchise owner's authority to tell you how to conceptualise the components of that franchise.

But there isn't a canon to reject or deny in Doctor Who. In some ways that's a shame, as I'd enjoy rejecting and denying one if there was, but nobody with the authority to define a Doctor Who canon has ever done so, so I'm cruelly denied that anarchic thrill.

Here's what the BBC had to say about Doctor Who canon during the lifespan of the English Series...

*Insert Echoing Sound Effect Evocative Of Infinite Hollow Nothingness Here. The Silence Beyond Silence of a Thought Never Formed*

That's right. Not a whisper.

If that seems suprising to you, that's because you're assuming a British mass-audience show from 1963 would work like American cult-audience show from the Nineties. Nobody at the BBC back then would have had a concept of canon in its modern, fannish sense.

So they never defined one. So one never existed. And the television show just chugged along fine without one, merrily incorporating information from the comics, the novelisations and even the Find Your Fate game books as they went along.

Here's what Russell T. Davies had to say about Doctor Who canon during his time as showrunner.

That canon "is a word which has never been used in the production office, not once, not ever" (DWM #356).

That he was "usually happy for old and new fans to invent the Complete History of the Doctor in their heads, completely free of the production team's hot and heavy hands." (DWM #356)

That thinking of the audios as being 'non-canonical' is boring and idiotic. (The Writer's Tale)

That "I'm just the writer [...] I've got no more authority over the text than you!" (DWM #388)

We've moved from a canon which didn't exist because nobody got round to establishing one, to a canon which doesn't exist because the only person who could establish one himself rejects both the idea and the very logic of writerly authority on which it stands.

While this is going on, the TV series itself is making direct and explict reference to events, concepts, continuity points, planets, companies and foodstuffs from the novels and comics while establishing that Time is in flux (The Unquiet Dead) and that stable facts aren't meant to exist (Utopia). Which means that if there was a Doctor Who canon (and assuming the Welsh Series was part of it) then it would paradoxically include the fact that there was no Doctor Who canon.

Which brings us to Steven Moffat, the new showrunner and so the only person who could now be plausibly considered to have the authority to rule on what is and isn't canonical. Will he do so?

No, he won't.

"It is impossible for a show about a dimension-hopping time traveller to have a canon."
- Steven Moffat, San Diego, 2008.

So, in summary...

Canon is a matter of authority.

At first the guys in charge didn't define a canon because it didn't occur to anyone back then that that was the sort of thing programme-makers did.

Then the guy in charge didn't define a canon because he believes that it's up to us to use our own imaginations.

Now the current guy in charge believes that a Doctor Who canon is actually an imposibility.

At no point has there ever been a Doctor Who canon. Anyone who thinks there is has got 'canon' mixed up with something else...maybe with 'Consensus', with 'Majority Opinion', with 'The Stuff I Personally Count', with 'The Condition of Being On Telly', with 'That Which has Been Offically Licensed', or with half a dozen other things that don't mean 'canon'.

So, back to the introspection, why does 'Doctor Who canon' bother me so much? Why do I get drawn into, and fascinated by, debates over this non-existent thingy? Why don't I just roll my eyes, post something like this, roll my eyes and go find some nice sensible flame war about the merits of Grant Morrison's writing or something like that instead?

Those who assume there's a Who canon are wrong, but what's so wrong with them being wrong that it gets on my tits to the extent that it does? Where did I pick up this Dawkins-esque zeal to spread the joyous news of the non-existence of something, like a Bizzaro evangelist? I shall now shut myself in a floatation tank and instruct my staff not to release me until I've either worked out what it is that bugs me so much or until I'm so thickly encrusted with salt that I could be sold at Pizza Hut.

Ah. That's better.

Right then. Make a cup of tea. Put a record on. Scroll down to 'It's Evil' if you're getting bored.

Here's why I hate canon so much.

It's Frustrating.

See all the above. It's the ultimate Someone Is Wrong On The Internet.

As Paul Cornell says...

"I can’t think of any other fandom that assumes they have a canon when nobody has ever told them that they do. Especially since our show itself declares that it doesn’t now have, and probably never did have, a canon."

Many, probably most, people who find their way to Doctor Who fandom are convinced that its continuity is regulated by something that doesn't exist. For those invested in sanity, such widespread and overwhelming wrongness is annoying.

It's Just So Common.

Look, just because every other geektext has a canon, doesn't mean ours needs one.

It's so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

It's Not Very Doctor Who-ish.

Stability, certainty, order, the exclusion of difficult twiddly bits. These are the virtues of a canon.

Do they sound much like virtues the Doctor would be keen to champion?

Paul Magrs puts this very well in his afterword to Time and Relative Dissertations in Space...

So...this is important: Doctor Who is never complete.

It is about a lack. A need. A hunger.

And it is unending. There's that old cliche about the elasticity and infinitude of its format. which is kind of true, but its truer that its consumers don't half enjoy repetition and recurrent patterns. Like the Arabian Nights. Arabesques of infintie variety. Fulfillment of the design being infinitely deferred. Stories opening out into other, further stories... The nights of prevarication and story telling go on and on and on. Just as the Doctor always finds a new companion, a new incarnation, a new adventure to have.

But as we go on, the audience, the reader, the fan-consumer is always aware that we are missing something. We all always vaguely remember that there was an old Doctor. Now he's long gone. And there were others before him. They're all in our memories like family members who died or went abroad when we were small. And one day, maybe, they will come back...


Some of the fans want to complete the narrative. They construct continuity guides and canons. They want to plug the gaps. The completist wants to collect, restore, arbitrate on hefty canonical debates. They catalogue things, rather like Time Lords.

No, my impulse is always to further complicate matters.

The idea of 'completism' terrifies me. What happens when its all complete? What goes on then? Where do you go? It sounds a bit dull to me. (Remember when the Doctor eventually got to The Eye of Orion? His much-vaunted 'most peaceful place in the universe'? It was rubbish. It was boring and you could tell he was only pretending to enjoy it. It was wet and there was sheep shit everywhere.)


Its a curious irony, I think, in a series with a rabble rouser as a hero, and in a narrative about multiverses, alternities and possibilities, that the fans of this very show want to close possibilities down. Sometimes its as if fans want reality dictated to them- definitively. Canonically. They want parameters setting and concretising around them. Maybe they want a stable universe after all...

Well, they can't have one. They've got Doctor Who and they can bloody well learn to like it.

He was there, just ahead of her. Half clambered on a unicorn, clinging to its mane to keep from falling any further off. That mad coat flapping behind him. She could see his eyes ablaze with the fun of it all. Not just being swept along by the Hunt, but riding with it, leading it, celebrating it.

She kept her eyes locked on him. It was hard to focus - he was a dazzling blur. Where he was, even his face and body, nothing stayed fixed long enough for her to be sure of it. The possibilities and details of his past thrashing around like mad, shifting and overlapping. He was every single Doctor you could ever imagine at once.

But he was still there. Even without a fixed face or name or body, even if his past contradicted itself from moment to moment, that didn't matter. There was still something there, not just un-pinned-down but impossible to pin down. Something that even revelled in the fact that he couldn't be easily understood. That said more things were possible than a simple explaination would allow.

Something laughing.

- Unnatural History, Jon Blum and Kate Orman.


Some made-up stories are realer than other ones? Get away with you.

In a ideal world, every series' canon would have died of embarassment after the first panel of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

It Sounds Like A Lot Of Work.

46 years in, and Doctor Who seems to be surviving without one, doesn't it?

Unless you reckon it'd never have gone off the air in 1989 if only we'd had a definative statement on the status of Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma and on whether or not Disney Time is an official lead-in to Terror of the Zygons.

Other fandoms seem to think we have a hard old time of it... listen to what The Transformers Wikia reckons...

The BBC, owners of Doctor Who, have no canon policy. Indeed so little attention is paid to it that the franchise is riddled with countless irreconcilable continuity clashes despite being presented as a single continuous story, even in the TV movie and continuing television series that were made many years after the original series was cancelled.

Irreconcilable? Back over to the Moff to reconcile the lot of them in eighteen words...

"The audience just hasn't seen the adventure when the Doctor goes back in time and changes that detail."
- Steven Moffat, San Deigo, 2008.

That certainly sounds more elegant to me than, well, than this sort of thing...

G-canon is absolute canon; the movies (their most recent release), the scripts, the novelizations of the movies, the radio plays, and any statements by George Lucas himself. G-canon overrides the lower levels of canon when there is a contradiction. Within G-canon, many fans follow an unofficial progression of canonicity where the movies are the highest canon, followed by the scripts, the novelizations, and then the radio plays.
T-canon refers to the canon level comprising only the two television shows: Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the Star Wars live-action TV series. Its precedence over C-Level canon was confirmed by Chee.
C-canon is primarily composed of elements from the Expanded Universe including books, comics, and games bearing the label of Star Wars. Games and RPG sourcebooks are a special case; the stories and general background information are themselves fully C-canon, but the other elements such as character/item statistics and gameplay are, with few exceptions, N-canon.
S-canon is secondary canon; the story itself is considered non-continuity, but the non-contradicting elements are still a canon part of the Star Wars universe. This includes things like the online roleplaying game Star Wars: Galaxies and certain elements of a few N-canon stories.
N-canon is non-canon. "What-if" stories (such as stories published under the Star Wars: Infinities label), crossover appearances (such as the Star Wars character appearances in Soulcalibur IV), game statistics, and anything else directly contradicted by higher canon ends up here. N-canon is the only level that is not considered official canon by Lucasfilm. A significant amount of material that was previously C-canon was rendered N-canon by the release of Episodes I-III.
- Wikipedia on Star Wars canon.

It Frightens Me!

Look, I'm a child of the Great Who Diaspora of the 1990s. I came into the full bloom of my fandom during the New Adventures years. If there ever was a Doctor Who canon then... well, then a lot of the Doctor Who stories I care about deeply probably wouldn't make it in.

Had Davies ever been the one to issue a canon then, going on things like his Meet the Doctor article and his desire to have had the Eight-to-Nine regeneration in the DWM comic strip, we might imagine that the novels, audios, comics...all that sort of thing would have made it in. Though we'd probably have been, based on the fact that he was issuing a canon at all, more interested in who was holding a gun to his head.

But even then, even with a very broad canon, it'd still leave something out. Something that matters to someone would now OFFICIALLY NOT COUNT. And that'd be both sad and pointless.


Over in Batman right now, we're in the late stages of a big five-volume serialised 'novel' that Grant Morrison's been writing since 2006. It's been mentioned occasionally on this blog.

Very early in the run, it had a LOST-style flashforward to a gloomy future. Since then almost every significant piece of information revealed in that story has played out in the present of the narative. With two exceptions - the death of Dick Grayson and the damnation of Damien Wayne.

As the story creeps forwards, the presence of that flashforward works as a device to make us anxious about Dick's life and Damien's soul. It's supposed to make us worry, "Hang on...if all that other stuff happened, does that mean...?"

So anyway, the other day I was chatting away about all this when someone took me by surprise by saying that the flashforward issue (#666) had nothing to do with the current storyline.

I explained how it worked. I quoted Grant Morrison explaining how it worked. I invented an entire 20 volume swords'n'sorcery Fantasy Epic in order to draw out a complex analogy which would explain how it worked.... I'm not sure how I could have been more helpful.

But to each of my points the guy kept coming back with, "Batman #666 isn't canon."

And over
And over

Which is, as it happens, perfectly true. The DC universe has a canon and Batman #666 isn't in it.
But that's got nothing to do with the fact that it's part of the story and the way the story's being told. Because stories work by allusion, and reference, and intertextuality and all sorts of other sexy things that're the antithesis of fencing off fictions into approved lists of things that matter.

This particular Someone Wrong On The Internet had been locked into a real rigidity of thought by the importance he placed on canon. Because that's all canon is - an obstacle to understanding stories.

It's Evil.

Here's what prompted this article.

Last week Bleeding Cool reported that Tom Baker is returning to Doctor Who to play the Doctor for the first time since he left (other than hissing some nonsense into a microphone for a link sequence in Dimensions in Time).

Tom Baker. Playing the Doctor. In FIVE new plays.

The third post in the coments section was to say that, no he's not. This doesn't count because it's not canonical.

Posts follow saying that even though they're not canon, the audios are still pretty good. Or that people shouldn't worry too much about canon. Or that they can be thought of as canon until the TV series contradicts them.

These are all reasonable responses, but they miss the rather crucial fact that this whole "They're not canon" business is just something the third poster made up.

Fair enough he's not interested in them. Fair enough they're not part of 'his Doctor Who'. But not canonical?

Well, he's right. Of course they're not. They can't be. There's no canon so they can't be canonical.

Gridlock isn't canonical.
The Doctor Dances isn't canonical.
The Chimes of Midnight isn't canonical.
Lungbarrow isn't canonical.
Once Upon a Time Lord isn't canonical.
Kinda isn't canonical.
These five new Tom Baker plays aren't canonical.
Carnival of Monsters isn't canonical.
The War Games isn't canonical.
An Unearthly Child isn't canonical (neither version).

This is where Cornell's right that 'canon' is just a bullying word.

Because when you say ‘the books just aren’t “canon!”’ or ‘the books “happened” and the TV show can’t ignore them!’ you’re not saying something like ‘for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction’, you’re saying something like ‘the South will never surrender’. You’re yelling a battle cry, not stating the truth. Because there is no truth here to find. There was never and now cannot be any authority to rule on matters of canonicity in a tale that has allowed, or at the very least accepted, the rewriting of its own continuity. And you’re using the fact that discussions of canonicity are all about authority to try to assume an authority that you do not have.

In the end, you’re just bullying people.
- Cornell. This blog.

But it's one that bullies people who fall into using it as much as those it's directed at. The poor chap on that Bleeding Cool thread was just trying to say he didn't personally count non-tellybox Who (an entirely reasonable thing to do). He didn't seem to be in persuit of any power that would set him up amongst the gods - observe his IMHO and his awareness that others will think differently - but using the 'c' word puts him into exactly that position of assuming authority he doesn't have.

It is not a good word.

I Know I'm Lying.

Oh, alright then. There is a Doctor Who canon.

The Doctor defined it in The Gallifrey Chronicles...

"Sherlock Holmes solved the case before I could, as I recall."

"Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character," Trix pointed out.

The Doctor grinned. "My dear, one of the things you'll learn is that it's all real. Every word of every novel is real, every frame of every movie, every panel of every comic strip."

"But that's just not possible. I mean some books contradict other ones and -"

The Doctor was ignoring her.

Lance Parkin, The Gallifrey Chronicles.

He later refined it in The Unicorn and the Wasp when he told Donna that there is no Noddy.

So Doctor Who canon looks like this...

My daughter grasped this the other day in a conversation we had on the bus. She said, "There's three ways of getting to all the different lands. The Faraway Tree, whirlwinds, and Doctor Who's little house."


  1. I felt so bad for you arguing with the guy who couldn't grasp Batman #666 as anything but a break from the ongoing storyline. There are so many examples of exactly what's going on there in other media....but what would the point have been of bringing them up? It just would have led to the same circular argument he was throwing out there.

    I like the idea that Doctor Who is an exercise in stories to infinity. Although it'll probably never happen I'd love to see the Welsh series do an episode sort of like DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations" where the new Doctor is having an adventure...and in the background running around are perhaps one or two other Doctors having their own completely independant adventures. No crossover, no implicit mention. He's just everywhere doing whatever he happened to have been doing at the time.

  2. Oh, don't feel bad. My only regret is that he dropped it before I'd got round to actually WRITING the entire Bloodwhiskers Cycle.

    Thought it's not quite what you're imagining, since the stories do connect, I think you'd LOVE the novel 'Festival of Death' in which the Fourth Doctor, K-9 and Romana materialise aboard a spaceship where, just down the corridor and out of sight, a *later* Fourth Doctor, K-9 and Romana are in the middle of an adventure. It's a hoot, and probably the closest thing we've got to "Trials and Tribble-ations"

    And, yeah..."stories to infinity." That's what it's all about. The early Sixties was the dawn of the Imaginauts. :)

  3. So, when were the UNIT stories set? *shields face from pelted tomatoes*

    Excellent blog, and it's sort of helped to get my head around the idea of Doctor Who sidestepping the canon issue.

    It's no surprise really that Paul Cornell has much to say on the matter with the Human Nature novel and, many years later, Human Nature and Family of Blood. I enjoyed the book immensely, and was looking forward to seeing it on screen. Instantly the whole arguement about canon seemed to sputter and die. Because both the book and TV versions are excellent. Different Doctors, slight differences in story, but was just rollicking.

    Forgive me, I can't quite remember who said it, but I read this quote in Doctor Who Magazine a long, long time ago about getting bogged down in the Doctor's past and continuity: "We want Narnia, not the wardrobe."


  4. This is one of the most beautiful blogposts i've read recently. Thank you.

  5. "People don't understand Time... it's not what you think it is.

    [It's] complicated. *Very* complicated.

    People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, when actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey... stuff."

    That's Steven Moffat having the Doctor explain, in-story, how Time in the Whoniverse works. Sounds remarkably like how one should approach the collected body of all things Doctor Who... complicated, mutable, contradictory, and difficult for even a self-appointed authority on the topic (for such is what Time Lords are (were? will be?)) to describe coherently.

    It's just like the Doctor, and Doctor Who to simply ignore the contradictions and dismiss complaints with a waive of the hand and a "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey."

  6. This was linked to from a DW community on LJ, and I'm so glad of it, it was a brilliant read.

    I completely agree with you on just about every point.

    And thanks for making me laugh with the Noddy bit!

  7. I never thought of it this way, but now you point it out, this makes perfect sense for Who. Pantheistic solipsism trumps canon.

  8. This post sums up everything I think, and would have thought if I was cleverer, about the alleged 'canon' and was too incoherent to articulate. I'm just going to link to here instead now. Applause!

  9. I love you.

    This just made my day in a million differnt ways... the only thing better was a sort of summery that the person who sent me a link to this said:

    The Doctor remembers every Doctor Who story ever told. Every episode, target book, comic strip and every game of companions and TARDISes that you played as a kid. The universe he lives in has no record of it, because of paradoxes and divergent dimensions and the Time War have reset things... but the Doctor remembers and sometimes when he is sad it's because you've stopped being 8 years old and he can't run around the school playground with you anymore.

  10. Bravo. I've maintained for years that no fiction has canon. You've come close to that (though not continued with the next logical step) by alluding to Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, with the statement in the introductory narration that "no ... story is more or less imaginary than any other". I've taken to calling that the Moore Axiom.

  11. The way I look at it, it's all cannon, and none of it is. Doctor Who sort of transcends cannon by its very nature.

    Whenever anyone throws cannon at me again, I am linking to this blog. Thank you for framing things so well!

  12. Maybe it is just that Doctor Who fans aren't quite as anal and without a life as Star Trek fan...

    OK, nothing is and isn't real, it is all constructed anyway. And I love the idea of a Baudrillardian Puff of Logic to dispel anyone.

  13. 'But to each of my points the guy kept coming back with, "Batman #666 isn't canon."'

    (to the guy) Jeezus H. Geronimo, it's issue #666 RTFN!

  14. The first SF show I ever heard had an official Cannon was ST:TNG. It's really quite a recent thing.

    And I remember thinking at the time: "Bloody cheek. Who are they to tell me what's official story and what's not?"

  15. I liked the bit with your daughter. Why isn't that obvious to the Batman 666 guy? Why wouldn't he want it to be? Very good post!

  16. Somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, there's work to do.

    Wonderful article, I take my hat off to you. Can't wait to discuss this with my NuWho denier friends...

  17. So... erh.... Do John and Gillian, the Doctor's grandchildren from the 60's comic books exist or not then....?

  18. yes i to have so very long just really despised and loathe doctor who conon and have been sriving for the lonest ti e to get something going that is complelty uncaon doctor who!

    but just about everyone out there that i run into tells me just about to shut up and stop bithing about bbc canon doctor who and that that is the only way it can ever be!

    utter rubbish i continue to fight to get completly uncanon doctor who going it is utter nonsense that you can not do naythinga t all that is not bbc doctor who!

    i have many ideas on completly uncanon doctor who stuff but am not getting ahraly nay real support at all for my continued effrots to promote it!

    please let me know if and when you just might want to know what i do ahve in mind for this!

    I am at

    please do contact me straight away and i will be gald to let you know what i do have in mi

  19. We discussed this on Bridging the Rift podcast episodes 7 and 9 :)

  20. I was but buting until I got to the I'm Lying section. because that is it exactly. The canon is that it is all encompassing- even when it doesn't make sense or contradicts itself.

    Your Graph is awesome.

    This also implies that it makes perfect sense for the Doctor to appear in our other fandoms according to the way the Doctor Who universe is. :D :D :D If you'll pardon me, time to look for a little blue box. . . ;)

    also, side note, your daughter has more sense than many 40 year olds I know.

  21. There is a Doctor Who canon. It's just bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

  22. I'm putting together a book based on some of my blog posts, and in one of them I linked to this post and included your image as part of a discussion of 'canon'. Would it be OK if I included that image in the book - with full credit, of course?

  23. Dude, there is no difference between Dr Who 'canon' and history. Why the angst, Djellyman?

  24. I beg to differ on the remark made by your daughter. There is exactly one way to get to all of the lands: Doctor Who's little house.

    Besides, whirlwind schedules are notoriously unreliable and trees can get lost in a forest.

  25. I do beg to differ on your point about canon being what they tell us it is. That's what they want, but eventually, all things must someday end up in public domain. It may not happen in our lifetimes, but it will happen someday.

    I strongly recommend checking out the book "Textual Poachers" by Henry Jenkins. It's a bit out of date now, since it was released in the mid-90s, and fandom made some significant cultural leaps with the internet, but the basic concepts addressed remain the same.

  26. Interesting post but one addition:
    "He later refined it in The Unicorn and the Wasp when he told Donna that there is no Noddy."

    "Rule One: The Doctor Lies" - The Doctor

    There is SO a Noddy.

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    1. Great article. Just seen it. If there's one thing I hate more than "canon" though, it's the so-called "Doctor Who Universe". What the &^#@ is that supposed to be? People say things like "this is a wonderful addition to the Doctor Who Universe" or "this new writer will be stepping into the Doctor Who Universe". But no one has ever actually given a proper description of what or where this alleged "universe" supposedly is! Then some self-declared authority will state that such-and-such a book or audio "is not part of the Doctor Who Universe". When one points out the lack of a clear canon, the response is that "the Doctor Who Universe is not equivalent to the terms 'canon' or 'continuity'" But NEVER what the term is actually supposed to mean. Sadly the term is used quite a lot today, often in what appears to be totally different ways. Yet, if you ever ask anyone to give you a straight definition of what it is, they will only be able to give very vague and yet totally contradictory answers.

  28. I have a consistant canon statement across all franchises and all media. If it appeared on screen, it's canon. If it didn't, it's not. Simple.

  29. So who shot first, Han or Greedo?

  30. I think "canon" is the wrong word here. As far as I'm concerned, if it's official, licensed Doctor Who it is canon. Thus, every tv episode, book, comic, audio, information on action figure packaging is canon(ical). However, the real issue, is 'Is it all part of a single continuity?' Here the answer is undoubtedly "No". Not just because stuff like the Cushing movies or the Big Finish Unbound don't fit into the tv continuity, but even because, as one example, the Virgin Books and Big Finish Audios don't fit into the same continuity. As was said above there is NO "Doctor Who Universe" in the sense that many people mistakenly use the term today. If it's licensed Doctor Who, then it's part of THE Doctor Who Universe, and it's ALL canon. However, it's not all part of the same continuity.

    1. Tell that to Lance Parkin...

    2. What Parkin does may be done out of a genuine sense of passion, but it is misguided. AHistory chooses to omit various stories because they don't fit into his(their? what about Lars?) idea of the 'Doctor Who Universe'. Excluding things like the Unbound Audios from this "Universe" may be understandable. However, what is certainly true is that things like the TV Comic/Countdown strips, Dimensions in Time were always meant to be the same Doctor, the same TARDIS as the tv show. Who is Parkin to exclude those because of 'continuity issues', while retaining things certain Virgin Novels, with their looms and Pythians? In fact, even the Cushing movies were, at the time, not explicitly stated to be extra-continuity. Various people, including Cushing himself, were able to easily fit them into the television continuity.

      However, the real point here is this: As stated before, any and all officially licensed Doctor Who is canon. And it's ALL part of the Doctor Who Universe, using the proper meaning of the term. Once you use the term "Doctor Who Universe" in the Lance Parkin way, you are effectively stating that there is A(singular) "Universe" where the tv stories, various comics, novels, audios, short stories occur. And you will be making a personal judgement on which officially licensed stories DON'T fit into this "Doctor Who Universe". Or, more simply, you are for all intents and purposes making a canon pronouncement...."This is part of the Doctor Who Universe. That is not part of the Doctor Who Universe", "If this is part of the Doctor Who Universe, then that can't be part of the Doctor Who Universe" etc. Sound familiar? And really it's ridiculous when people who made officially licensed Doctor Who stories that were always supposed to be the same Doctor, same TARDIS, same "Universe", to have someone decades later remove them from this "Universe" because of something written in a book released decades AFTER the story that has now been removed.

      Sorry this is so long but

      a)If it's officially licensed Doctor Who it is canon. And it is part of the Doctor Who Universe.

      b)The definition of the "Doctor Who Universe" used by certain authors and websites is simply the whole canon thing with a different name.

    3. If it's officially licensed Doctor Who it is canon. And it is part of the Doctor Who Universe.

      Amusingly, this would actually exclude the TV series, since it is produced in-house by the BBC rather than licensed to a third party.

    4. Nobody has ever disputed the status of the TV Series though. It's the one thing everyone agrees on as being "canon(ical)". The question is more about whether the various novels, novellas, short stories, audios, audiobooks, webcasts, comics, comic strips, stage plays, movies, videos etc. are "canon(ical)".

      So, the only thing that is amusing is your inability to actually understand what was being said. But then you're in some pretty well-known company there, when it comes to Who fans who've got the wrong end of the stick....

  31. Forgive me, but aren't you referring to 'consistency' rather than 'canon'? Canon is what has occurred in the official story but it doesn't follow that canon has to be consistent if the story allows for inconsistencies.

  32. The problem with discussing "Doctor Who canon" is that there is never even an understanding that the people in the discussion are talking about the same thing in the first place. There have been multiple articles about "Doctor Who canon" where the person spends paragraphs tearing strawmen to shreds, without ever addressing any actual issues. If you were to ask five people to describe just exactly how they understand the term "Canon" you will get five very different answers. And that is long before you even ask any of them what is or is not "Canon".

    Until there is a clear understanding of what exactly the term "Canon" even means, we can not realistically say what or is or is not canon.

    1. The original post clearly defines what canon means in the context of Doctor Who.

    2. Yup. The definition of 'canon' "according to the person who made the original post". If you asked someone else for the definition of "canon in the context of Doctor Who", you'd likely get a very different description. So the original post writes a well-written and interesting piece "According to their perspective". Which is not necessarily the perspective of anyone else.

      According to MY perspective, "canon" means anything that was written by legitimate authority. Thus, ANYTHING that was written where all the proper legal contracts, copyrights etc. were properly sorted out is canon. The Cushing Dalek movies are canon. The Doctor Who Unbounds are canon. Death Comes Time Time is canon. Dimensions In Time is canon. Scream Of The Shalka is canon. The Curse Of Fatal Death is canon. The TV Comics are canon. The FASA Doctor Who Role Playing Game is canon. The World Distributors Annuals are canon.

      But is it all part of the same continuity? THAT is another whole question...

    3. *sigh*
      Your definition of canon, however, is wrong. You're not the 'pope' of Doctor Who. That would be Steven Moffat. He says there is no such thing as canon, so their isn't.

      So until you either rewrite the dictionary, or become showrunner and announce a canon, you're wrong.

    4. Well, Moffat isn't the "pope" of Doctor Who either. And if he says there is no canon, then his word doesn't count either. Which is just as well, as 'Listen' was rubbish, and I can choose not to include it in any canon. And I can't be wrong.

  33. Actually there is a Doctor Who canon. It is the Eleventh Doctor Adventure Games. And nothing else.

  34. I like canons when they are properly thought about in terms or priority. People attempting to codify and define things understand part of what the function of a canon is, but the other part is the speculative triggers it generates.

    For example, if I start trying to map the Doctor's travel through time against his previous incarnations, or determine the current historical timeline of the Daleks, etc, I am demonstrating my own engagement with the texts I explore. I may miss something, I may get something wrong or make an arguable suggestion and that generates debate about my subject with others who are similarly interested.

    The minute I try to use my knowledge to insist on a conclusion being definitive is the minute I lose sight of the thing that brought me to this work in the first place, namely the love of the subject, not a desire for completeness. To make a glib conclusion, the journey is the important thing.

    Writers can make use of canons if they use them carefully. Not to define and explain everything in their world/worlds, but to encourage the imagination of others. When other people start talking about your stories and your characters, you have done something special. When they start filling in the gaps, you have done something even more special.

    So, here's a vote for canons in fiction and more power to the Doctor Who fan speculators working on them, so long as they don't get all 'I know best'.

    1. Your confusing continuity, consistency and care for canon.

      Canon is basically a tool from an IP owner to suprress the creative expression of others.

    2. I think some sort of "canon" is required. Not the "Canon" of 'these stories count, those stories don't count', but a basic canon of what characters are, how they behave etc.

      The Doctor should not start killing people etc. The real 'canon' issue with things like the Virgin new Adventures was not because they were "just books" or that people had to pay money to get them. It was because everything, from the character of the Doctor, the origin of the Doctor, the way other characters behaved, the various 'origin' stories etc. was so hopelessly at odds with everything that we had been repeatedly told on the television show, in the other novels, in the audios, in the comics etc.

      The idea that one medium should be excluded, the idea that there is some sort of "pope" etc. isn't really of any interest to me. But I do want consistency.

  35. I'm not confusing the terms thanks, Slightly ironic to reduce the discussion to word definition.

    1. The thing is, and this was stated elsewhere on this very page by someone else, no Doctor Who debate about 'canon' will ever be properly resolved.

      Because before THAT discussion can even begin, there is the first problem of no two Doctor Who fans even agreeing on what the word 'canon' specifically means when referring to Doctor Who in the first place.

  36. The terms 'Doctor Who' and 'canon' were never used in the same sentence until the 1990's and the Virgin new Adventures.

    It was the Virgin Books(not only the Adventures but also the various Virgin-published Guide Books) that told us how various stories were nightmares, only existed in the Land of Fiction, or simply didn't "count". The Virgin New Adventures also frequently contradicted things that had been established in other media, and then the Virgin Guide Books told us how the New Adventures version of events was the "real" or "correct" one, and anything else "cannot be accurate".

    One Virgin Guide even contained a list of stories of "dubious canonicity".

    Many people however far preferred these "non-canonical" stories to the Looms, taste of semen, STDs, Time's Champion, Mortimus, Pythians, and every companion ever having been gay all along.

    Subsequent stories in other media(such as the DWM Comics, BBC Books and Big Finish Audios) chose to do stories that were consistent with each other and the television series. This however meant doing stories that were irreconcilable with the Virgin Books, as the Virgin continuity had been so distorted and mutated that it got to the point that the Virgin Books and the Television Series could not possibly exist in the same universe.

    There were several attempts(such as Dead Romance, Interference, Zagreus, The Glorious Dead and the unofficial novel Campaign) to state that everything was 'canon', it just wasn't all taking place in the same universe. However it was, surprise surprise, the New Adventures crowd who insisted that there had to be a "canon" where all the "proper" stuff took place, and anything and everything else was "not part of the Doctor Who Universe".

    And this creates the mess today, where some people dismiss entire ranges as "not canon". But the idea of a 'Doctor Who canon' is a 1990's creation, created by the Virgin authors. Some people are even worse, and claim that there's no canon, but then still speak of a 'Doctor Who Universe'(singular) an anything that doesn't fit THEIR description of this 'Doctor Who Universe' is dismissed. How is that different to making pronouncements on "canon"?

  37. I've changed my stance. There IS a Doctor Who canon, and Dark Water IS NOT CANON.

  38. The BBC said there is a canon, therefore canon empirically exists. Therefore you are full of shit, just like always.

    1. It is a common factor among Doctor Who fans that no matter what is stated, and how unambiguous it may be, they will choose to ignore it, and spin lengthy essays out of nothing to state their fan fiction as fact.

      Read for examples, The Discontinuity Guide, Preddle's Time Link, Sandifer's smug self-satisfied columns and books, or the entirety of the infamous Tardis Wiki/Data Core. It's a all a lot of badly written fan rubbish, which chooses to ignore facts and figures, and uses tortuous "logic" to weave nonsensical and self-contradictory nonsense into something that has little to do with the actual subject matter.

      Sadly however, many people read these essays/columns/articles, and then use them as a starting point. Anyone who actually goes by what the BBC themselves, or Doctor Who itself says, is insulted, because who cares what the BBC Charter says, or Verity Lambert said, or what the Doctor said in an episode......some middle-aged loser who still lives with his parents wrote an unofficial opinion piece, and surely that carries more weight than anything the BBC themselves said or did?

  39. The simple fact that everyone seems to ignore is that a BBC producer(or for that matter a freelance writer...) has NO say whatsoever over canonicity. or continuity A Producer of a BBC Drama programme(eg. Doctor Who) is NOTHING at all like the producer of an American franchise such as Star Trek or Star Wars or Buffy.

    The BBC only exists thanks to a Charter granted by the British Government. The entire BBC is funded by public tax manner(in the manner of a television licence). EVERYONE at the BBC from the tippy top bosses right down to the women who work in the canteen or the janitors ONLY have a job at all because of the BBC Charter. And Drama Producers(such as the Producers of Doctor Who) are BBC employees, nothing more. They have NO say over canonicity or continuity or anything else. They are hired workers, hired to do a job., same thing as the script editors or actors or lighting crew etc.

    ALL originally produced BBC Drama does and must adhere to what is says in the BBC Charter. And that is that all originally produced BBC Drama does and must have a self-contained continuity, and that viewers must be able to follow the entire story by just watching the programmes that air on regular terrestrial BBC television channels. ANYTHING else featuring the characters, concepts etc.can in no way be considered part of the same continuity, nor have any significance to what is shown on television.

    And the Producers(like RTD) are no different from other BBC employees, such as the make-up crew, or the janitors, in that they are BBC employees. Simply IT DOESN"T MATTER what anyone or anything other than the BBC Charter says about canonicity and continuity of original BBC Drama programming.

  40. I find it odd that Cornell of all people says that some people are trying to bully others when it comes to matters of canonicity and continuity in Doctor Who. Pot---Kettle---Black.

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  42. This is still my go-to resource for arguments about canon online. Thanks, TTB!

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