You Were Expecting Someone Else II (1966 Annual, The Dalek Book, Dalek World)
|The thing in front is not David the|
Gnome. It’s the Doctor. Or did you mean
You Were Expecting Someone Else is a recurring feature covering non-televised Doctor Who from classic eras, generally more or less in the period where they came out. Today we look at the 1966 Doctor Who Annual (published in late 1965), The Dalek Book, and The Dalek World, the three earliest examples of Doctor Who spin-off fiction.
So, I’m getting a late start to the blog entry today, kind of have a sinus/allergy headache, and am in a strangely bad mood. Let’s dive right in and tackle the question of canonicity and Doctor Who, shall we? (What? I mean, what do you do when you have a headache?)
I mean, it’s not actually that tough a topic. The sadly defunct blog Teatime Brutality sorted out all the possible issues in Doctor Who canon over here. The piece is as good a take on the matter as I could possibly do, and reveals the rather surprising truth that the single most important episode of Doctor Who in explaining its canon is Gareth Roberts’s The Unicorn and the Wasp. From this data, he works up the extremely handy map of Doctor Who continuity you see somewhere on the right side of your screen.
But a broader question is what that means. I mean, it’s all well and good to do some hand waving and proclaim that Doctor Who has no canon and all works of fiction are equally valid in the Doctor Who mythos, but it comes awfully close to the literary criticism equivalent of technobabble. I mean, yes, it’s trivial to show that Doctor Who does not have a canon in the traditional Star Wars tiered sense of things. (Though it’s worth doing so, as Teatime Brutality demonstrates. If only so you can quote that hilarious line from the Transformers Wiki, “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.” If only for the hilarious implication that we poor Doctor Who fans are somehow living with a terrible affliction in this regard. Hey Transformers fans. We just have a lack of canon. You have two Michael Bay movies. We win.)
So let’s look at it with some historical perspective. Such as via these three books, the earliest instances of something that may or may not be Doctor Who canon. First off, what are they? Well, they’re three books, each about 100 pages. The Dalek books are a mixture of four color comics and prose stories with single color illustrations (red, as it happens), published by Panther Books. The annual is all prose stories with four color illustrations published by World Distributors. And, as I said above, they’re more or less the first published Doctor Who fiction. (There were some comic strips in a book called TV Action. I haven’t been able to locate any of them. If I ever do, believe me, even if I’m off in the Sylvester McCoy era, I’ll go back and do a post on them. Also the three early Doctor Who novels – adaptations of The Daleks, The Web Planet, and The Crusade.)
Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood, in About Time, make great snide references to the entire body of non-televised Doctor Who as “professional fan fiction,” which is perhaps true, and in any case surely needs to be taken in context given that Lawrence Miles has written reams of the stuff. But calling this fan fiction would be wrong. The Dalek books are written by Terry Nation and David Whitaker. The annual has no listed author, but it’s well known that Whitaker ghost wrote most of this stuff. So these are people with tremendous real involvement on the show – easy contenders for any top ten list of the series most influential writers.
But it’s equally clear that this is not straightforwardly part of the series. I mean, the Dalek books seem to have Skaro as part of our solar system, and to assume that the bulk of planets in our solar system are habitable. And the annual features the return of that character so popular from the movies, Dr. Who. Neither of these hypotheses bear much fruit in the remainder of the series.
On the other hand, watch The Dalek Invasion of Earth immediately followed by Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, or, better, by Doomsday. You’ll immediately notice something about the Daleks in the two stories. The Daleks of the Russell T. Davies era fly around, have massive spaceships, and there are oodles of them. For obvious reasons, in The Dalek Invasion of Earth there are five of them, they wobble around, and they are very, very terrestrially inclined. And that gets lampshaded in The Chase. (Which also has a great shot where a Dalek clips the side of a door and the suit visibly bounces open.) There’s a bit of a disparity here between the Daleks we see on TV and the Daleks we imagine.
That disparity came from the spin-off fiction. Because things like these Dalek books were the first time we saw massive armies of Daleks swooping around and conquering things. They were the first time we saw an Emperor Dalek. I mean, yes, he looks absolutely ridiculous, butt hat’s hardly the point. It’s the Emperor of the Daleks. You see that and the first thing you imagine is the Doctor facing that thing down.
But, of course, the nature of television is that you’re never going to get the massive field of swooping Daleks. At least, not when these books were coming out. And so the books are providing a genuinely important service to the show in that they’re providing context for the episodes. Once we see the Emperor Dalek in a comic, he’s always there. Even if we don’t see him on television, we can imagine the Daleks we see as a tiny subset of a much larger set. Doctor Who uses this kind of approach all the time. It’s absolutely crucial to modern Doctor Who. Look at The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End for a brilliant example. Throw in two or three CGI shots of a Dalek fleet and you can get away with having the entire rest of the episode be the Doctor and Davros chinwagging at each other and still have it feel epic. Or The Web Planet, which introduced the Atmospheric Density Jackets (mentioned twice in the Annual) just in order to have the Doctor and Ian in white to make the special effects shot of the massive stone edifice work. Because once you see the massive stone edifice, you can get by just showing some men in silly ant costumes for the rest of the story.
And so these books did a tremendous amount of work filling in the possibility of a larger context for the series. By giving us a glimpse of what existed beyond the episodes, the episodes became better. Likewise, every story in the Doctor Who Annual takes place on other planets. Basically, in terms of sheer strangeness, they start where The Web Planet left off, all of them featuring hard-to-televize monsters and massive set pieces. Which, again, once you can regularly see the Doctor engaging in that sort of adventure, ironically, the restrictions of television become easier to accept.
But there’s a flip side to this. As the argument is coming perilously close to suggesting that Doctor Who might be better as comics or prose pieces. The fact of the matter is, these three books are slogs. It’s really, really tough to get too excited about them. They feel appallingly rushed, and any quality they have is clearly due to the fact that Whitaker has a refreshingly high minimum quality he achieves. Perhaps the high point comes in “The Lost Ones,” when on page 46 it is clearly stated that the Doctor is “prevaricating, because, of course, he did not come from Earth,” but then two pages later it’s established that he doesn’t want to let a spaceship go to Earth because “To send it back to modern Earth would condemn his world to destruction or slavery.” I’d say the copy-editor should be exterminated for this, but the fact of the matter is, there probably wasn’t one. The Dalek books, on the other hand, mostly feel like characters so two-dimensional even Isaac Asimov rejected them acting out Dick and Jane Get Exterminated. (See Jane scream. Scream, Jane, Scream!)
On top of that, the books have dated in a way that the show hasn’t. It’s not just the depiction of Venus as lush and teeming with life, or “The Crab People,” a truly horrifying piece of work in which the Doctor is implored by a dying civilization that has nearly destroyed itself with genetic engineering to take 100 test tube babies from the civilization to safety. When the embryos die in transit, the Doctor writes it off with a shrug and a comment about how it served them right for tinkering with genetics and making things like test tube babies in the first place. Easy to write 12 years before Louise Brown. Tough to read 33 years after her. It’s the fact that the books are visibly not trying to be anything better than average quality pulp science fiction for the time, such that even when they do have the odd moment of ambition (the central image of “The Crab People,” a civilization that has gone so far with genetic engineering that they cannot hold their own form and transform into unspeakable and unfathomable horrors in the grand Lovecraftian tradition, is great) it just highlights how lazy the whole thing is. (Another corker is the use of screencaps from The Daleks to tell a completely different story.) The fact of the matter is, these books do nothing so much as make one want to watch the much better TV series.
There is something – and we’ll deal with this much more when we get to the 90s and Doctor Who is a book series – special about television. Doctor Who, for some reason, works better there. And these annuals aren’t portraying a new vision of Doctor Who. They’re portraying the fringes of the existing vision.
So are they canon? On one level, the answer is clearly no. Nobody would complain if the Doctor visited the Crab Nebula and it wasn’t like it was described in The Crab People. People do, on the other hand, complain when a new series episode like School Reunion directly contradicts a classic series episode like The Five Doctors. Then again, the more important thing to take away from that may be that the series is perfectly willing to contradict itself.
On another level, the answer is clearly yes. The Dalek Emperor makes his way to the TV show. As does the basic vision of Daleks on offer here. In the Annual, you can see several wild ideas that, years later, the show would finally tackle. (Giant spider, anyone?) These stories are part of the cultural memory of Doctor Who, and influence the show. If canon is the established body of literature the show can draw on, these are canon.
I prefer that definition, by and large, because it seems to perform the useful function of actually having canon work more or less the way the writers treat it as working. Canon is the menu of things you can reference. And so the Dalek annuals, with their gleaming space maurauders of Daleks, are canon because it’s screamingly obvious that’s where Russell T. Davies got his images of Daleks. Because the alternative, as we’ll talk about way down the line, is to argue that the fact that the Virgin New Adventures aren’t canon. These, of course, are the books that were so important to Doctor Who’s development that Davies went and commissioned Paul Cornell to rewrite his book Human Nature as a TV story. Which is, of course, used as evidence that the book version can’t count. This is canonicity at its most perverse – books that are so important to Doctor Who that they can’t be canon.
So, by way of wrapping up, let’s tackle one more chestnut, since both this entry and the last make it relevant. Dr. Who. Is it his name? Clearly not, right? I mean, one of the fundamental points of Doctor Who fandom, the basic question one that separates the anoraks from the wannabes (Or, more usually, the dontwannabes), is what is his name, and the answer is the Doctor. All the occasions where he’s referred to as Doctor Who are errors.
Except that both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat slip and call him Doctor Who in interviews from time to time. Real interviews, with Doctor Who Confidential. So it’s not that they’re pandering to the ignorant, and they’re clearly not ignorant. And anyway, maybe, just maybe, it’s not a great idea for Doctor Who fans to set up a booby trap to humiliate people with only a casual interest in the show.
Thankfully, our understanding of canon helps us a lot here. Is his name Doctor Who? Not usually… but in the vast gestalt of things that make up the cultural context of the show… yeah. In some places he is. Being Doctor Who is a part of the character. A real part of it. Not a major part of it… but a part of it. And not an error or a wrong part. Just… a part.
Oh good. My headache’s cleared up. I think I’ll talk about television again on Friday.
March 18, 2011 @ 8:14 am
The thing is, if you throw away realism, then canon has no meaning anyway correct? The only reason why the concept of canon exists is for fans to construct a consistent reality in which the characters operate. If the Web Planet is a theatrical representation of what 'really' happened (rather than a fly on the wall), then if he is called "Doctor Who" or not is merely a device to fit the presentation and may or may not represent reality.
While I'm by no means an expert, I prefer to define canon as the largest possible set of literature that is consistent and includes every broadcast BBC show (with preference given to other things coming from the producers/writers/etc.). I think it's completely reasonable for writers to be inspired by non-canon sources. Thus Davies commissioning Human Nature as an episode does not canonize that series or even that book itself.
Certainly Dr. Who runs into problems with the wikipedia definition of canon since the fan fiction writers became writers for the show. Of course the TV show isn't self-consistent anyways, so there's that.
Incidentally, although I'm not much of a stickler for canon, I had skipped over "Dr. Who and the Daleks" on my first pass since it was non-canon in my view. I watched it before I read your previous post and what struck me was how content the Doctor was to dismiss the Thals' pacifist convictions as silly.
April 5, 2011 @ 8:32 pm
I'm new to Who, having only been introduced to the series last summer and so far not having had time to watch any of the episodes from the show's original run, so I'm really not in any position to make a truly well-informed opinion regarding the issue of canon in the show. That said, it seems to me that Doctor Who has less of a canon than a mythology: to ask whether a particular story is "canon" seems akin to asking whether various stories regarding the birth of Aphrodite are part of the "canon" of Greek mythology, or whether Tolkien's Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun should be canonized or considered "mythological fan fiction." The Doctor is the stuff of Legend, of Fairy Tale (River's "Aren't we all?" is remarkably telling); his history is not a coherent narrative, but a multi-faceted mythos.
August 22, 2011 @ 2:35 am
The problem only comes when people confuse 'canon' and 'continuity'.
Of course Doctor Who has a canon: it's all the things that are officially licensed by the BBC. That is the only way to take the concept of a 'canon' (in the senses it's used in 'The Shakespeare canon' or 'The canon of Romantic Poetry') and use it in the same sentence as Doctor Who.
So yes, the books are clearly part of the Doctor Who canon.
This is not problematic. It only becomes problematic when people expect 'canon' to mean 'the set of things which actually happened in the fictional universe'. But this is trying to take a non-diegetic concept and drag it into some kind of diegetic state, which is madness. Yes, the books are canon. Does this mean that the 'really happened' to the Doctor? Of course not, or no more than any of the many mutually contradictory versions of the twenty-first century 'really happened'.
Doctor Who canon is established and simple. It's Doctor Who continuity that doesn't exist, and anyone who doesn't understand this — who thinks that, 'Is it canon?' is a question even tangentially related to what they really mean, which is, 'Did this really happen in the fictional history of the fictional character Doctor Who?' just doesn't understand what a canon is.
August 22, 2011 @ 5:09 am
On the contrary, canon is a pretty widely-used synonym for continuity in that sense. In my opinion, you're just nitpicking semantics without any real reason to do so.
August 22, 2011 @ 7:42 am
It's a widely-used in that way by ignorant people. Are you ignorant, m'boy? Hm? Hm?
August 22, 2011 @ 12:47 pm
"M'boy"? Could you please refrain from mocking me with colloquial diminutives? In any case, denying the validity of a common usage by claiming that anyone who uses it is "ignorant," without any explanation (etymological, structural, or otherwise) of why your usage is more correct, is simply absurd.
Suppose, however, that you're right, and that "canon" is the wrong word. Why does this matter? It is irrelevant whether we call it "canon" or "continuity;" it should be obvious that Mr. Sandifer's analysis of the subject is relevant regardless of terminology.
August 22, 2011 @ 12:49 pm
Not to weigh in onto an amusing argument, but I would point out that the "m'boy? Hm? Hm?" was almost certainly meant as a pastiche of William Hartnell dialogue and not as actual mockery, and that SK's comment seemed to me wholly in good humor. 🙂
August 22, 2011 @ 2:03 pm
Oh. Well, that makes sense, then, and I am significantly less insulted. Still, unsupported accusations of ignorance are not typically something I take lightly.
August 23, 2011 @ 1:47 am
Exactly, Batfield. I mean Chesterman. And it matters because whether his analysis of the subject is relevant depends on what the subject is. If the subject is continuity, the analysis is relevant. If the subject is canon, that analysis is not relevant at all.
And that matters from both directions. It matters from the canon side because there is a canon and there is a difference in what you study. Note that this very website subscribes to the canon in that it considers only official Doctor Who stories. The author discusses TV stories, movies, novels, annuals, and may go on to discuss audio plays… but does not discuss fan fiction, whether on the internet or in print, and I assume that if, say, the Stranger or the Dominie are mentioned it will either be in passing or in as one of those 'also at the time' articles.
The one exception to this, the article on Campaign, goes out of its way to establish that though it was published unofficially, its official credentials are such that it really counts. Kinda. What is that but tacit acknowledgement of the different status of official and non-official media?Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non
August 23, 2011 @ 1:48 am
And from the continuity side, every time someone tries to claim that there is no continuity in Doctor Who because there is no agreement over which stories over 'canonical', they implicitly are saying that if there were a canon then we could make a single consistent history of the Doctor and the Universe. In other words by making the terms interchangeable, they imply that the two problems, of continuity and canonicity, are identical.
But this is a simplistic and utterly wrong view. It rests on the premise that a canon cannot contradict itself, so if Doctor Who contradicts itself, it cannot have a canon. But in fact Doctor Who has a canon — that canon contradicts itself. And as this website continually points out, to miss this point is to misunderstand the nature of a weekly serial from the sixties where no one would remember than the year before they had visited this same year and it looked totally different. The simplistic view that equates canon and continuity (and that using the terms interchangeably implicitly supports) says that if two stories contradict each other, it must be because one, or both, are 'not canonical' (and the 'canon doesn't exist' solution is to say that the solution is that both are not canonical because nothing is canonical).
But this is fundamentally indicative of a mindset that flees contradiction — that sees paradox as something to be avoided. That says that if you can't make two things consistent within the same system, the thing to do is abandon the idea of the system.
Whereas the correct thing to do is not abandon the system, but revise your idea of the system to be one that can incorporate contradiction. Six irreconcilable versions of the twenty-first century? Saying 'oh well then there must be no canon' is the reaction of a mind that can't cope with just saying 'okay, so the canon contains contradictions, and that's okay'.
August 23, 2011 @ 1:48 am
Moffat's reaction particularly annoys me: to blame it all on time travel is again buying into the idea that the diegetic universe should be consistent, unless there's a diegetic reason why it isn't. Which again is the same lack of simply accepting that the diegetic universe contains contradictions. (Now, Moffat's smart, especially about stories, and I know that when he says this he knows he's pandering — he might even be sniggering behind his hand at the kind of people who need this diegetic mental crutch. But I wish he wouldn't, because it makes him seem either a panderer or a supercilious panderer.)
So, yes, canon and continuity are different things, and it matters that they are different things and it matters why they are different things, because otherwise we don't understand Doctor Who.
(Though I guess you could ask how much, in the wider scheme of things, it matters that we understand Doctor Who. But that's a question I try to stay away from, for I fear the answer is not one that would make my life seem terribly worthwhile.)
August 27, 2011 @ 4:34 pm
Moffat's answer doesn't bother me in that it is not like he actually thinks they should go back and make episodes to show the Doctor fiddling those bits. So I take it as "a fictional universe can either embrace coherence or time travel, and Doctor Who made its choice in November of 1963." Which is basically accurate.
August 28, 2011 @ 8:53 am
(I was beginning to think the internet wasn't working right! Four days without anyone arguing with me is not natural.)
No, because again, that sees coherence and time travel as related — whereas in fact they are totally separate. A series can embrace coherence or not embrace coherence totally apart from whether it contains time travel: there are any number of series not involving time travel at all which have contradicted themselves perfectly willingly on the grounds that nobody will remember the previous story well enough, or will care if they do.
And similarly a series can embrace time travel and still be coherent: Babylon 5 manages it. It takes a lot of planning, but it's perfectly possible.
The fundamental problem is that still this is buying into the idea that a fictional universe ought to be coherent — that any inconsistency is a flaw, unless explained diegetically (and the invocation of time travel counts as such a diegetic explanation, whether or not it's ever seen). But in fact there is no moral or aesthetic reason that this is so, in the general case (obviously certain styles of storytelling work better with a consistent universe, while certain ones don't).
We laugh at the cartoon fans who are told that, 'A wizard did it,' is the answer to all their questions — not because that's a reasonable answer, but because we realise that they are asking the wrong questions, and to even try to answer diegetically is to buy into their delusion that consistency and coherence is even what the series in question might have been aiming for.
Doctor Who actually made its choice in November of 1964, when it was decided that the Daleks were coming back, regardless of the fact that it made no sense in the context of a coherent fictional universe. At that point it was decided that telling the story of the moment was more important than consistency. That had nothing to do with time travel, and everything to do with extra-diegetic decisions about priorities.
To try to insist that the diegetic universe of Doctor Who should be consistent (and the invocation of time travel is a concession to such an insistence, by blaming any inconsistencies on a diegetic factor) is to miss what Doctor Who is trying to be. Consistency and coherence were never the aim. The diegetic universe is inconsistent, and it would have been just as inconsistent if Doctor Who had been an adventure serial with no time travel — the production team of a time-travel-less Doctor Who in 1968 would certainly not have considered themselves bound by what had been on screen five years previously — and, crucially, that would not have been a flaw but simply a consequence of the mode of storytelling adopted.
Basically: even to admit that the inconsistency needs an explanation, and especially a diegetic one, is to admit that there is a problem that needs to be solved. There isn't a problem, so no solution should be offered.