Myriad Universes: The Planet Of No Return (Gold Key)

One of the key points frequently brought up in fan discussions about the differences between Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who as large-scale science fiction franchises is that Star Trek supposedly has a hard and fast “canon”: A meticulously constructed and maintained Official History of stories that actually “happened” as opposed to ones that “don’t count”. For better or for worse, this is seen as a major point of contrast between the three franchises: Star Trek’s canon is supposedly absolute, whereas Star Wars’ is more fluid and the subject of much debate. Meanwhile, true Doctor Who fans will be quick to point out their show has no canon at all: Every single Doctor Who story that has ever been told both did and didn’t happen, depending on the perspective of the person making judgment calls about it.

I’ve never been especially fond of the idea of canon. Aside from the self-evidently rather silly notion of squabbling over which events did and didn’t happen in a fictional world, to me the concept grows out of a particularly exclusionary mindset and approach to genre fiction I pretty strongly disagree with. While the fundamental goal may be to pay respects to a work’s originator, and weigh their contributions to it accordingly, canon to me seems more typically used to lay down arbitrary and authoritarian rules as to who can and can’t contribute to a developing oeuvre. There’s a very good reason there’s no mythological canon: Myths and legends belong to an entire people and their whole existence is built around the expectation that stories and ideas will be shared and retold constantly, and that new ones will be continuously added to the pile. If Soda Pop Art is going to serve a similar role for Western cultures, building a big gate, locking the door and only giving a podium to the people already on the inside isn’t going to do anyone any good.

The first recorded use of the term “canon” (which is, of course, a word gleaned from Biblical studies) to refer to genre works is actually in a 1911 satirical essay by Ronald Knox, who was lampooning scholars interested in discerning a “historical Jesus” and sourcing the Synoptic Gospels by applying their methods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories (blog friend Andrew Hickey has more details in this excellent post). The problem is, as with most great satire, few actually got the joke and Sherlock Holmes fandom in fact latched onto the idea and attempted to construct a legitimate Sherlock Holmes Canon, which became no more and no less then every story Conan Doyle himself wrote, and set about trying to create a timeline to make it all fit together. It should go without saying this was expressly not Conan Doyle’s intention for his stories, which he turned out on a fairly regular schedule to keep up with massive demand for more Holmes mysteries and keep himself employed as a writer (his numerous attempts to either kill Holmes or end his adventures went over about as well as trying to kill off a massively popular franchise does today).…

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