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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

12 Comments

  1. SK
    March 17, 2016 @ 11:48 pm

    I can't think of a single other large-scale, ostensibly corporate controlled populist mass media franchise that has ever, or indeed would ever, come out and explicitly say this about itself

    Well, there's Doctor Who, at least twice. And haven't various superhero comic book worlds also done something very similar?

    And of course two years after this episode it would be the entire premise of Sliders, but I'll grant you that was never 'large-scale'.

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  2. Froborr
    March 18, 2016 @ 3:47 am

    Both Marvel and DC have in fact done the opposite: introduced numbered, finite alternities. Crisis on Infinite Earths is pretty much the anti-"Parallels," a devouring of possibilities, reducing all of them down to a singular continuity.

    And Doctor Who is owned by the British government, not corporate-controlled.

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  3. SK
    March 18, 2016 @ 4:00 am

    Both Marvel and DC have in fact done the opposite: introduced numbered, finite alternities

    I don't follow superhero comics much, on account of them being shite, but I'm sure I read about something… ah yes:

    'The basic premise of the idea was summed up by writer Mark Waid as "It's all true." It presumes that all of the stories ever told about a character are equally valid stories'
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertime

    And Doctor Who is owned by the British government, not corporate-controlled.

    It's actually owned by the British Broadcast Corporation, which is (a) independent of the government, and (b) a, um, corporation (clue's in the name).

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  4. SK
    March 18, 2016 @ 4:00 am

    British Broadcasting Corporation, of course. Apologies.

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  5. Sean Dillon
    March 18, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    I think the recent Secret Wars made the multiverse pretty much as finite as Franklin Richard's imagination, which is infinite, and Hypertime is one of the interesting concepts that Grant Morrison has come up with, and will thus be ignored by the writers and fans just like Peter Parker coming to terms with his part in Uncle Ben's death or Batman being anything other than a brooding loner who broods.

    But yeah, Parallels was fun.

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  6. Ross
    March 18, 2016 @ 9:51 am

    As I recall it, DC bounced around with "There are infinitely many universe" to "There is exactly one universe because it's somehow easier that way" to "It's Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey" and finally settled on "There are exactly ten universes."

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  7. Ross
    March 18, 2016 @ 10:01 am

    I can't think of a single other large-scale, ostensibly corporate controlled populist mass media franchise that has ever, or indeed would ever, come out and explicitly say this about itself

    Well there's an episode of Stargate SG-1 which is pretty much an exact copy of this one.

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  8. Matt Largo
    March 18, 2016 @ 11:26 am

    Long-time reader. Love the blog, enjoyed this post. It's kind of a sad irony that this would come up in the schedule the very week that CBS/Paramount brought the hammer down on those Axanar guys in court

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  9. librarian-bot
    March 18, 2016 @ 12:20 pm

    As above, long-time reader though I fear my livejournal name is getting in the way of posting comments so apologies for anything that fills up the spam filters.

    The thing that makes Parallels stand out for me is the use of the near-identity of the alternatives, which is something that almost never comes up in parallel universe stories (at that level of subtlety, anyway) and the level of validity it grants to the alternatives. I'm not sure it strikes the same chord about blowing canon wide open/up but from what I remember, I didn't get the sense that these were 'cannon fodder' alternatives as per the usual invocation of the multiverse in, say, mainstream comicbooks (DC is particularly pathological in its apparent desire to obliterate all possible divergence; Marvel at least allows [or did] for an infinite series). All those Enterprises passing in the night, converging for just a brief moment before going on their way – perhaps it's the sense of their journeys intersecting rather than tripping over or slamming into each other that makes it seem more palatable than the usual 'worlds collide!!' approach.

    Certainly other shows use alternatives but I'm struggling to think of one that has come up with an image to match all those ships spiraling around for conveying the sheer scale a multiverse offers and, strangely enough, for giving them equal weight. The eye cannot pick out the canon-favoured vessel so for an instant at least, all are legitimate and equally valid.

    Even Doctor Who, placed as it is to embrace a canon so wide open that it is meaningless, falters a little on that score. The effect of the lunatics taking over the asylum has been to allow concerted efforts to legitimise all the contradictory and separate ephemera that have existed since the first Doctor Who comic strip flatly contradicted what was onscreen, yet there remains a strain of line-drawing and favoritism. It generally seems to prefer folding everything into one canon over allowing multiplicity. Not a bad thing, per se, but not necessarily the best of all possible options.

    Or do I mean worlds?

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  10. Ross
    March 18, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

    The effect of the lunatics taking over the asylum has been to allow concerted efforts to legitimise all the contradictory and separate ephemera that have existed since the first Doctor Who comic strip flatly contradicted what was onscreen, yet there remains a strain of line-drawing and favoritism. It generally seems to prefer folding everything into one canon over allowing multiplicity.

    There is a plot-arc in the Doctor Who novels around the fact that it is absolutely impossible for parallel universes to exist, conveniently ignoring the episode based explicitly on them.

    There is also a plot arc where they go all Crisis on Infinite Earths and have the bad guy destroy all but one possible universe.

    (And all that is to say nothing of the universe where Gillian Anderson played the eleventh Doctor.)

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  11. Robert Hutchinson
    March 18, 2016 @ 6:10 pm

    I like Worf more here and in future episodes this season, and I think it's largely because, in interacting more with Deanna, the writers were pretty much forced to stop making him such an asshole.

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  12. Daru
    April 8, 2016 @ 2:19 am

    "The point is, “Parallels” tells us Star Trek can be anything we want it to be. Anything. It canonizes the franchise's status as a living modern oral tradition by abolishing the idea of canon"

    Absolutely one of my total favourite episodes too. Anything within a show that cracks the egg of corporate ownership over stories and ideas themselves is important in my book. And especially as you say above, any story that opens up our connection the the oral traditions and completely gives that permission for new stories back to us isn't just special, it's as far as I am concerned vital for the spiritual wellbeing of our communities.

    Wonderful piece Josh.

    Reply

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