Arrgh! I now have too much work. Or maybe just exactly the right amount of work. We're on the work meniscus. None of it can I talk about yet. And it's all lovely. And I wouldn't have it any other way. But all of it is to deadline. And so I can't sit around chatting, I have to get back to it. But I just felt self-defeatingly motivated to come here to tell you about it. Arrgh!

Pete Wisdom IMix and Oscar Bets

Issue three of my Marvel Comics mini-series Wisdom will be in the comic shops on Thursday (or Wednesday if you’re in the States). I’m very pleased with it, new regular artist Manuel Garcia being well up to the challenge of an issue that pits guest star Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, against a bunch of Welsh gangsters and your actual Dragon, all set in Cardiff. (My first splash page description began ‘it’s the most Welsh pub you’ve ever seen’, and this great artist, who lives in Spain, provided just that.) The story is called ‘Enter With Dragon’. Which fans of The Goodies may recognise. It also features what I think may well be Marvel’s first page- long sequence of… how can I put this?... Pete displaying skills which might lead you to believe he could make balloon animals with his tongue. Full advantage is taken of the Mature Readers imprint. And of Maureen. Ahem.

In search of added value as always, I've placed 'soundtrack' captions throughout the issue, referencing nine songs, all by Welsh artists (John Cale in the case of The Velvet Underground), the idea being that the music complements the action in the issue. I've created an IMix of all the songs, and it's available on ITunes here:

The IMix, it should be pointed out, is as Mature Readers as the comic is. By which I mean that Goldie Lookin’ Chain swear a lot. I hope you enjoy it, especially if you get to play it while reading.

I’ve just finished writing the concluding issue of Wisdom, for which Marvel were kind enough to offer me a couple of extra pages, and I can honestly say I’ve rarely felt so satisfied with an end product, and so pleased at the attention to detail of an editorial team. Having a conversation with editor Nick Lowe about the placing of an individual comma: that’s working with people who give a damn.

I popped into my new local comic shop for the first time today, the last one in Oxford having closed down (isn’t that incredible?) The new one is called, erm, Swin City. Because it’s in Swindon. But otherwise it’s the very model of a modern comic shop, clean and well laid-out, with a friendly chap behind the counter gently welcoming me and asking me what my tastes were. They’re about to open a coffee lounge for their customers, and the chap immediately knew the status of every title I asked about.

I think I'll be popping back on a regular basis. While I was there I put in an order for the lovely Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s Middleman:

Javier is doing well for himself in comics. His old school Battlestar Galactica miniseries, Cylon Apocalypse, just got a very good review in SFX Magazine, and Annihilation, for Marvel, was one of their most popular titles in a huge year for them. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Even if he did chicken out of playing Just A Minute against Colin Baker.

Now, I am a betting man when it comes to three things: cricket; politics and the Oscars. And while I have a pretty good record with the first two, when it comes to the statuettes I’m always vastly wrong. So with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you the only two Oscar wagers I’ve made this year. (Because I think the favourites, Mirren, Scorcese, etc., are mostly going to win at terrible odds.) I think Forest Whitaker deserves the award for his startling performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. It’s the man in full, a real person, but the part doesn’t shrink from his also being a monster. But I think the Academy, perverse as they can be, are actually going to give it to Peter O’Toole, who’s never won Best Actor. So that’s who I’ve bet on. I also think that in a wide open Best Supporting Actress market, someone whose odds are far too long is Rinko Kikuchi, who silently played the deaf mute teenager in Babel. Twelve to one against the sort of obvious subtlety that the Academy adores.

Oh, and New Zealand for the Cricket World Cup and Al Gore, thanks for asking. Anyhow, I have wasted too much of your time today, and must get back to wasting my own. Until next time, Cheerio.

A Doctor Who Song

In the Noel Coward style, from the wonderfully talented Luke Meredith, ladies and gentlemen. Click on 'Dr. Who Thing':

Just had to post it as soon as I heard it, before it's all over the net.

Gallifrey: Some Photos

We're back home now, and to my surprise we haven't been burgled by someone who reads this blog. 'We'll all be going away from this exact date to this exact date. We're definitely an entire ocean away now.' I may do less of that next time.

I have a few photos to share.

That's what 791 attendees looks like.

Caroline, Tara and Me.

The late Craig Hinton's Acolytes, note the t-shirts.

In the Green Room. Darin Henry, Ursula Burton, Tom MacRae and little Dash.

Me, Simon Guerrier and Dash. Aren't they silly men?

I really should have taken more, but I was too busy with the joy and all. Now I have novel and oddly-timed sleeping to do. Cheerio.

Gallifrey: Sunday

I’ve surely got this jetlag business the wrong way round. Now I feel terrible, just before I’m due to go back. Wait, that could be the beer last night. ‘I’ve lost my bag,’ I said, venturing back into the echoing emptiness of the Vault where a convention had been, far from the raucous gradual dwindling of the party in the bar up top. ‘Here’s your bag,’ said Tara when I got back, having asked the bar staff.

It’s not what was in the bag, it was the fact that it was given to me by the Gallifrey staff on the fifth anniversary of my starting to come to these things. I feel very protective of it. Gallfrey conventions are, for all of us I think, an index of how our lives are doing, particularly our professional lives, caught in time lapse, one image a year. This year I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m rather content. I didn’t spend my time hustling for anything, but rather just hung around and talked to my friends. Maybe that felt a bit too easy: the convention sped past and I wasn’t too taxed at any point.

Oh, but one challenge I set myself I completed. On a bet from some friends of mine, I mentioned at least one Pet Shop Boys song title on every panel I was on. Sometimes the panels caught on. ‘It’s all right,’ I said in response to Gary Russell naming his favourite Bernice book. ‘You’re so hard, Graeme,’ I said about Grey’s wavering Galactica defence, ‘you’ve no heart.’ Perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t get to use ‘How Do You Expect To Be Taken Seriously’, ‘I Don’t Know What It Is You Want But I Can’t Give It To You Any More’ or ‘The Boy who Couldn’t Keep his Clothes On’.

Best Panel of the Day (That I Was On): ‘I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing,’ I said at the start of the panel that remembered Craig Hinton. It turned out to be a funny ramble through Craig’s times, particularly the ancient fandom so many of us at this event shared.

Best Panel of the Day (That I Wasn’t): Mike Tucker’s visual effects talk and film. Mike recently won a Bafta Award for his work, and talked wittily as usual about what’s turned into the definitive modelwork and special effects career. Now people are turning back to physical effects, and know the boundaries of CGI, he’s ahead of the game.

There’s a wistful feel to the ending of a Galley. Folk do their live episode commentaries (Ben luxuriating in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’), then while we deprive the Green Room of its last baked goods, there’s the film of this year’s news clips and nostalgia moments, then we all get up onstage to say goodbye, then Shaun says off you go, and everyone rushes out of the hall, back into their lives, broken up for another year. And I went to the bar, and then got lost and wandery amongst the debris. This year’s event was the biggest ever in terms of numbers. And the best in sheer excellence of organisation. I’ll be back next year. Obviously.

The lovely Javier has blogged about our night out, with a couple of photos:

I’ll be putting up some of my own when I get home. See you back in the UK. And on a different sort of time. Cheerio.

Gallifrey: Saturday

Ah, now, there’s the jet lag. I held it off until half nine on the Saturday night, then fell asleep in the middle of a conversation (Simon Guerrier has plotted and cast a number of Muppet movies, including the Muppet Jane Eyre and Muppet Deliverance, ‘squeal, Piggy, squeal!’). No, no, he was fascinating.

It’s all going by much too fast. We still haven’t even got into the swimming pool.

Best Panel of the Day (That I Was On): it’s a tie between the Fifteen Years of Bernice panel, where Simon, Big Finish’s head of all things Bernice, showed a brilliant short documentary video about the making of the audios, and the Battlestar Galactica panel. Everyone on the panel, including Shaun Lyon, organiser of the convention and Geordie genre journo Keith Topping, loved the new Galactica with a passion. The audience, however, were slightly irked and set against it. And so we found ourselves speechifying, cajoling and convinving, and the audience, in the way they only do at American conventions, became a full part of the panel, speaking up and calling out. I love it. It’s like being in the Roman senate. Only about Battlestar Galactica.

Best Panel of the Day (That I Wasn’t): Ben Aaronovitch and his mates launching the new audio Blake’s 7, with another short documentary. I must admit I was sceptical, but hearing the dialogue and seeing the new cast going at it (Daniela Nardini is Servalan! Colin Salmon is Avon!) I was hooked. Ben, Marc Platt and Jim Swallow are doing the writing, and it sounds like they’re making all the right choices. They’ve even put an apostrophe in the title. Out of the blue, this looks suddenly great, and when I have a link I’ll share it with you.

Best Panel Heard Through a Wall: Moffat was next door during the Galactica panel, delivering his commentary on his ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ episode of Doctor Who. He ought to call it An Inconvenient Time Paradox. Through the brickwork he sounded like he was just saying ‘Hugo Hugo Hugo’.

Best Baked Goods: one of the loveliest bits of Gallifrey is just hanging out in the Green Room, where there are continual bowls of home-made produce and good coffee, and getting into the rambling conversations bunches of creative folk have when far from home. Watching Gary Russell’s nerves on being about to interview the actor Eric Roberts onstage was fun too.

Best Meal: we went for a meal with our friends the Henrys, Darin and his wife Ursula, who write for an appear in the sitcoms The War at Home and the American version of The Office respectively. They’re lovely, and they brought with them their baby son, who had his first piece of bread that night, and was so pleased with it he did a post-bread dance. (As much as someone who can’t walk yet can dance.) Today Darin is going to take him onto the panel about ‘the care and feeding of a young Doctor Who fan’. I fear he may have taken the panel title too literally. Though judging by the little chap's effect on the Green Room, nobody will mind.

Most Looking Forward to Today: A Tribute to the Fanwank God. It’s a panel devoted to Craig Hinton, who passed away last year. Craig was a reviewer, writer and unashamed fanboy, who liked to both create and consume texts that were heavy on the continuity, pleasing to the hardcore rather than the masses. (Hence ‘Fanwank God’.) We’re wearing badges at this convention saying ‘Fanwank Acolyte’, except when we step out of the hotel. (And I have my ‘Got Squee?’ badge on.) Hopefully the panel will be as funny and sharp as Craig could be.

Caroline’s doing better now, so hopefully we’ll get some serious hot tub time in today, and enjoy the mellow post-show feeling of the Sunday night. Let’s hope the weather holds for the cricket. Until tomorrow, Cheerio.

Gallifrey: Friday

No jet lag at all. Is it possible that one’s body can remember physical changes that happen only once a year, and decide that it’s fine that suddenly, every February, for five days, one is going to have one’s internal clock reset by eight hours and have three of one’s vital fluids replaced by beer, huge breakfast foods and good coffee?

The Gallifrey convention in L.A. this year is big. Bigger on the Friday night that we’ve seen on some of the Saturdays in the past. This is the tenth time I’ve been here, and the second time in this new hotel, with a vast underground Ballroom area in which the convention lives like its a post-apocalyptic city, with a sports bar and a Starbucks perched on the floor above like an apocalyptic sports bar and Starbucks.

Best Panel of the Day (That I Was On): the blogging panel. Me and salonista Tara O’Shea, plus Greg and Graham, old friends from a mailing list I used to be on, and an enthusiastic audience all hollering about adventures, good and bad, in the blogworld. Greg tells us that the city of Naples rose up against him when he blogged about what a bad time he was having there. Thanks to my blog, Gray would like to see Faringdon. Suggestion for a new civic motto: ‘It’s better than Naples’.

Best Panel of the Day (That I Wasn’t): the Big Finish audio dramas year in review panel. Me and Big Finish owner Jason Haigh-Ellery went and sat in the front row. No pressure.

Best Speech: Steven Moffat’s Hello and Thank You For Having Me onstage consisted of one word: ‘Hugo’.

Best Gameshow Like Totally Pwned By Colin Baker: I ran a version of Just A Minute live on stage, purely in order to give the comic writer Mark Waid nightmares, as he was the sole representative of the USA against Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, Davros actor Terry Malloy, and audio companion (and lovely, lovely grand and wise lady) Maggie Stables. Colin scored more points than everyone else on the panel put together. Mark got two. ‘They ought to have more games like that,’ said Colin afterwards.

Best Drinking: stayed out with Tara, Mark (who I met today, being as he’s one of Tara’s carefully-chosen network that only consists of witty creative dudes from vastly differing walks of life), Javier Grillo-Marxuach (the very funny writer from Lost who’s now on Medium) and a varying cast including the guys from the charity auction dinner.

Best Party: the Evil Geniuses Party on the first floor, with a room decked out in decadent splendour, champers on tap, and evil snacks (all blazing hot) in every corner.

Most Looking Forward to Today: the Fifteen Years of Bernice Summerfield panel and the animated Blake’s 7 preview with the gloriously cutting and jetlagged classic Who writer Ben Aaronovitch. Ben, so far at this convention, looks like a man who’s had his bicycle stolen. Or perhaps is trying to remember if he had one.

Best Panel Title Today: ‘The Coming of Torchwood’. Okay, it’s a narrow subject, but there’s lots to talk about. I shall have to take a stopwatch.

Caroline, the poor thing, has spent much of the time back in the room finishing up her thesis, which is due in a couple of weeks. She was so shell-shocked in the evening that I’m sure people must think I keep her chained in a cupboard. Hopefully she’ll be able to get out and about a bit more today. Until tomorrow then, cheerio.

One Hundred and Four Thousand Words

You remember I said that I thought Buffy fans had unanimously accepted the new Buffy comic as canonical?

I feel like I infected them with some terrible virus that causes rows about canonicity. Someone over there glanced at this blog, doubtless chuckled wryly (all Joss fans are wry) at our fandom’s internal strife over such matters, then turned to his neighbour (also wry) and said ‘goodness, it’s just as well we don’t have such canonicity conundrums within our own fandom!’ ‘Indeed,’ said his neighbour, wryly, ‘although… no, it’s nothing, forget I spoke. But, if you think about it…’

And now they’ve rowing about everything up to and including whether or not Pluto’s a planet. (No, don’t you lot join in.)

I’m really terribly sorry. And might I add that I’m going to be the first in line for said Buffy comic, because it’s going to be brilliant. (And probably quite wry.) And Pluto is not a planet.

Meanwhile, at an outpost of SF fandom…

There are no comments yet. It’s probably going to be fine. After all, there aren’t that many canonicity issues for those in mainstream SF to fight over. Apart from the ones concerning Frank Herbert. What? No, it’s nothing, forget I spoke.

It’s like I’m the Borg of anti-canonicity. I show up with a big sign saying ‘please don’t do this’. It turns out they never thought about doing it until I arrived with the sign. Although, that's not what the Borg do really. As I've said before, I'm not really a writer after a certain point in the afternoon.

If Legion of Superheroes or Casualty fans start getting involved, I’m going to just shut down the blog, sell my computer, and become a hermit on Rockall.

I popped in to blog mostly because I hit 104,000 words of the new novel today. I always said I was going to talk about it when I got to 100,000 (1MB of memory!) but when I got there, I found there wasn’t a lot to say. Yet I felt, two days later, that I should have marked the moment somehow. I have a superstitious dread of going on too much about the subject of a book before it’s finished. It’s like if I tell you that stuff here, I can’t tell it to you in the novel. I always thought to myself ‘no, there’ll be anecdotes, I won’t have to talk about the book itself.’ But as it turns out, I just wrote 2000 words a day for quite a long time and here we are. I know it sounds pretentious, but it’s been a bit tough on me emotionally. The subject is a very personal one: the horrors of bullying at school. I’ve become quite a lot harder to live with during the process. I really should make sure I get out of the house every day. Anyhow, I’ll let you know when I’m finished, which should be at around 140,000 words if I’ve paced the remainder of my plot right. You see? It’s not exciting. But it's pretty much my whole life at the moment.

I could definitely do with a few days in L.A.. Speaking of which:


ITEM!!! Simon Guerrier, the executive in charge of my character Bernice Summerfield at Big Finish Productions, passes this message on to me:

‘This weekend's Gallifrey convention will see the first celebrations of the Fifteenth anniversary of Bernice Summerfield’s first appearance. A special panel takes place at the convention on Saturday 17th February at 11 am, featuring Paul Cornell, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Steven Moffat, Gary Russell, Mike Tucker and, er, me. As well as discussing with them just why Benny is cool, I'll have some exciting gossip about things happening later this year. Bwah ha ha, etc.. Ben Aaronovitch will also be at Gallifrey, as will myriad other Benny folk. And you'll get to see me playing cricket for the first time since I was at school. There was a reason I used to get picked last. Do come and say hello. Well, maybe not right in the middle of batting.’

I’d add that, if we turn out to be on opposing teams in Monday’s cricket match, talking to Simon while he’s batting would really be fine.

ITEM!!! My friend and fellow Doctor Who fan Will Howells is, as we speak, on my television, on Channel 4’s teatime game show Countdown. If he wins, he’ll carry on appearing for several shows, all at 3.30pm. He’s already declared his love for cult TV: The West Wing; Blake’s 7, etc. and fended off Des O’Connor’s suggestion that that includes Red Dwarf, but he’s yet to use the DW words…

ITEM!!! We've all wanted to see the characters from the new Battlestar Galactica drawn as if they were in The Simpsons, haven't we? What I love about Dylan Meconis' versions is how characterful they are. I love the Chief!

Until I blog from the first day of Gallifrey, thanks for all the kind messages about the canonicity article, up and down the net, and Cheerio.

Canonicity in Doctor Who

It was Paul Castle who answered his own question on the Outpost Gallifrey forums: what’s most likely to set Doctor Who fans at each other’s throats? If anything can, ‘canon’ can.

It’s my belief, indeed, that that’s what ‘canon’ is for. That that’s all that it’s for. Because ‘canon’ is purely and simply about authority, real or assumed, and nothing else. Let me explain…

Back in the mists of time, the fans of Sherlock Holmes thought it would be funny to refer to those stories about Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as being ‘part of the Canon’. They were thinking of the books that had been officially declared to be part of the Bible. They thereby confused two things, and it’s their fault we’ve been in a linguistic twist about this ever since. The canon they referred to was decreed by authority, the theological authority of a group of high clerics concerning how much truth and how much fan fiction was contained in a particular proto-Gospel. The Canon of Sherlock Holmes stories, on the other hand, wasn’t decided by authority after the fact, but by authorial authority. If Conan Doyle wrote it, it was in. If he didn’t, it was out. Sherlock Holmes fans could have no debates about what was and wasn’t ‘canonical’. ‘Written by Conan Doyle’ was what their new version of ‘canonical’ meant.

That new definition of ‘canon’ works fine if you’re dealing with works by one author. It works not at all in any other frame of reference. Doctor Who was created by many people, over a long period of time, and they did not cooperate. There is no authorial authority, and, as I’ll get to in a moment, no council of Bishops.

The reason I’ve been putting ‘canon’ in quotes when I use it without a ‘the’ nicely gesturing towards it, is that Doctor Who fans (and probably others sorts of fans now) use the actual word in a way nobody else does. ‘Is it canon?’ is part of fan language, a grammatical adjustment that has brushed aside the words ‘canonical’ and ‘canonicity’. Indeed, that new foundation is being built on. The other day I heard a podcast presenter reach for ‘canon…ness’.

Here’s what I’m getting to: we also use the concept in a way that’s different to everyone else. 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.

Comics fans have the ‘shared universes’ of DC and Marvel Comics, and when something’s not part of that canon, they’re told so, in that such books are labeled ‘Elseworlds’ or ‘What Ifs’. Star Wars and Star Trek fans have official edicts about such matters from people employed to decide on them. You know, if you’re a Star Trek fan, that the animated series, in a hugely unfair way, considering some of the stuff that did get in, is definitively uncanonical. In these cases, ‘canon’ is not only about authority, but an authority exists that is interested in legislating about it.

That’s not the case in terms of Doctor Who. Nobody at the BBC has ever uttered a pronouncement about what is and isn’t canonical. (As I’m sure they’d put it, being such enthusiasts for good grammar.) Because there was never a Who product that the BBC made that got a producer’s goat enough for that to happen. And because canonicity takes some explaining to anyone raised outside of fandom (‘but… if it’s got Doctor Who on the cover… how can it not be Doctor Who?’) And because the continuity of Doctor Who was always so all over the place anyway that something in a new story not matching up with something from an earlier one was just the way things were, rather than an aberration that had to be corrected through canonical excommunication.

Not giving a toss about how it all fits together is one of Doctor Who’s oldest, proudest traditions, a strength of the series. (And a No Prize to the person who points out the first ever continuity error in the original series.) It’s allowed infinite change, and never left the show crunched into a corner after all the dramatic options had already been done. Terrible continuity equals infinitely flexible format. It’s indefinability that results in that old ‘indefinable magic’. Much in the same way that there’s no one definition of what a ‘Doctor Who companion’ is that includes all of them, and so a new one can be whatever works.

The fact that the BBC had never declared anything non-canonical is one of the reasons why canonicity is much fought over by Who fans. It’s not just about presumed authority (I’ll come to that), it’s about worth.

The idea that one could happily write, as many Star Trek and Star Wars writers happily write, official works that are definitely non-canonical, and everyone in that business accepts that, feels like poison to us Who fans. ‘Non-canonical’ is a term of abuse in Who circles. A threat. It’s the worst thing someone can say about a televised Who story, that they regard it as not having ‘happened’. ‘Fan fiction’ is also a term of abuse. Horribly. While collections of fan fiction have felt able (and felt the need) to try and elbow their way into ‘official’ guides. If the BBC aren’t going to legislate on canonicity, if it ends where payment ends is another hot topic.

That’s one sign that when people talk angrily about canonicity, what we’re seeing is nothing but the urge towards power. Let me now discuss the biggest subject of such debates.

The closest we ever got to a BBC pronouncement on canonicity was a couple of years after the end of the original series of Doctor Who. The show’s last production team declared that Virgin’s Doctor Who novels, the New Adventures, were an official continuation of the series, overseen by the last producer, John Nathan-Turner, with the last writing team onboard, heading towards the aims that that team had put in place.

For a lot of fandoms, that would be good enough for those books to be uncontroversially canonical. It’s enough for Buffy fans, for instance, who seem to unanimously agree with Joss Whedon’s declaration that the new comic continuation of the series is canonical. They’d probably say that’s because they have a single creator. He’s seen to have more authority than one of many production teams in a show created by committee. But that’s just the difference between current American and old British production models.

The canonicity debate you most often hear in Who circles is: ‘the New Adventures aren’t “canon”, we can’t be expected to accept works that were only read by a few thousand people, etc.’ To which fans of those books reply that an appeal to numbers has nothing to do with canonical acceptance. There were, after all, a lot of fans of several of those non-canonical gospels, and you could probably find a majority of Sherlock Holmes fans who’d like to include at least one thing not by Conan Doyle in the Canon. But they had to bite the bullet. Or fight long, bitter, religious wars. Or write angry letters to Holmes fanzines. Numbers had nothing to do with it. Authority had spoken.

This is what I’m saying. Those who argue against the canonicity of the New Adventures miss having an authority to declare or reinforce canonicity. They wish, having once had such an authority declare against them, that such an authority was now on their side. In its absence, they feel they should and can do the job of that authority. They have grabbed hold of what they think that authority should do and are doing it themselves. If an authority on canonicity is the law, they are a lynch mob. And judging from the passion they often show in abusing or looking down on the other sides of this so-called debate, they really enjoy the feeling of assumed power. (As if an appeal to numbers is something the Doctor himself would ever make. The gap between the Doctor’s own ethics and the ethics of us fans, there’s a subject for a future blog.)

Now, should you be in said mob, and now feeling slightly hot under the collar, keep reading, because I have some stern words for the other sides of this so-called debate too, and that may mollify you. A bit.

During the 1990s, when the New Adventures were such a source of friction, I kept saying, about my own work, since I was one of the authors, that there was ‘no such thing as “canon”’. The New Adventures were as ‘real’ as any other sort of Doctor Who. (That’s something else of a bullying nature that people on fan forums say. ‘None of it’s real, you know.’ Like the other person thought it was. They’re deliberately confusing the game of ‘it happened’ with the reality of something that actually did.) Now I want to say that again, when the boot is on the other foot. There is no such thing as ‘canon’.

Russell Davies probably could utter a pronouncement about canonicity that would be accepted. If he wanted to. He could declare that only the TV series was canonical, and that the books and audio plays were not. He’s come close, in that he’s said that only what the general TV audience remembers is important in terms of what’s referred to onscreen (I’m vastly paraphrasing here), and also that BBC television dramas must be whole unto themselves, and must not require extra purchases that ‘complete the story’, as per the BBC charter. (And how arcane a rule is that? But one that fan fora make as much ado out of… as probably the BBC themselves do.)

These are politenesses, niceties, and a mark of the kindness of the man. The first is a simple truth. You don’t make stories about decades-old continuity points and expect to keep eight million tuning in. (I think fandom offhandedly understands that.) But the second is a more interesting bit of give and take. It says the show won’t work out its continuity in other places, or finish off threads that were started in the old BBC Doctor Who novels or the Big Finish audio plays. But consider this. The easiest way to make that intention bulletproof would be a Star Trek like declaration of non-canonicity: ‘enjoy the books, we won’t be bound by them, we don’t regard them as having happened.’ Rather than what’s in place: ‘enjoy the books, we’re legally bound not to have any interaction with them, we won’t ever rule on that subject, oh is that the time?’

That’s a fine distinction, in every sense of the word ‘fine’.

To deal with that ‘won’t be bound by’ clause, Russell’s quietly invented something, and I have no idea as to whether or not he realised it could be used for this purpose. (I don’t think he sits up at night worrying about canonicity, except for the times when I’m pretty sure he does.) I’m talking about The Time War. As mentioned often by the Ninth Doctor. Probably between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and it probably ended with both sides being wiped out, probably that being a sacrifice made by the Doctor. (Like I have any idea, I’m just following the hints.) There’s a line in ‘The Unquiet Dead’ (I think) indicating that the War puts all historical events up for grabs. Nothing necessarily happened like we think it did.

Including previous Doctor Who.

Doctor Who fans, we like to think it all fits together. In our book about continuity, The Discontinuity Guide, me, Keith Topping and Martin Day suggested that, following the events of the story ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, a story where the Doctor is deliberately trying to change history, and says he succeeded in doing so, previous Dalek stories may not have happened, in the universe of Doctor Who, as they were seen onscreen. This theory has gained no ground at all. It was met with a resounding silence. Fans like to think that what they’ve seen remains ‘real’. (No abuse implied, I’m using ‘real’ in the way they’d intend.) Probably because if it doesn’t it makes fun with continuity that much more difficult. (But not impossible, and the game is surely worth it.)

But we’ve recently seen a much bigger example than that. The new series story ‘The End of the World’ absolutely contradicts the old series story ‘The Ark’. Both showed the destruction of Earth. In completely different ways. For completely different reasons. With the fate of remaining humanity being also completely different. (The earlier story is in black and white, which always seems to mean continuity points raised therein are easier to ignore.) Sure, you can come up with a complex theory to explain away the differences. But here it has to be so vastly complex that it would have to actually deny the authorial intent of both stories. We thought we, as viewers, had seen the definitive end of the world in Doctor Who. ‘The End of the World’ showed that we hadn’t. It had been changed. By the Time War.

Bitter debaters about canonicity often say ‘and don’t just say it was the Time War’. Because they know that would work and end their argument. It was the Time War. As Sebastian Brook recently suggested in his podcast conversation with Mike Maddox (see Announcements at the end), Torchwood didn’t exist in Doctor Who history until the Tenth Doctor went back and met Queen Victoria. That’s why we’ve never seen them before. (And Mike comes up with a brilliant one paragraph summation of all the debates I’ve been talking about here.)

So this is what those I yelled at above might get some comfort from. Those who say that because the New Adventures are canonical, therefore the TV series shouldn’t contradict them (and those people also are often inclined to abuse the opposition in search of false authority) are ignoring the fact that the TV series now has a licence to contradict itself, and has already used it, big time. (In the original series, it just did that without having any such device. Three different versions of the destruction of Atlantis, two of them irreconcilable. Perhaps simple time travel, rather than a Time War, is all it takes to make history, canonicity and continuity meaningless.)

That doesn’t mean we lose the lovely thought that Doctor Who is all one big story. It’s one big and very complex story, that rewrites and contradicts itself. That was always the case. Only now it does it with purpose, rather than by accident.

Don’t you think, for instance, there’s something rather tragic and romantic about the Doctor living through some of the same events in different ways, having lost chunks of his own past? That grandeur is touched on for a moment in ‘The Age of Steel’, where the Doctor is horrified to see the Cybermen being created… again. Like a curse or a cancer that can grow on any Earth. (Although that story turned out, in the end, not to be an actual rerun of the Big Finish audio ‘Spare Parts’.)

There is, of course, and I wouldn’t want to put a stop to this, an entirely benign sort of canonicity discussion, in which a writer, such as Lance Parkin, enters into a game of where and how everything might fit together, if it did. That’s just fun, and the authority assumed is only that of a stage magician, because the intention isn’t to hurt anyone. Also, recently, message board posters have tried to declare a truce by use of the term ‘personal canon’. That is to say, we all have our own version of ‘what happened’. That’s entirely lovely, to say that canonicity is ‘an ecumenical matter’. But I’d like us all to go that one step further.

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.

Because in Doctor Who there is no such thing as ‘canon’.


ITEM!!! For a trial period, I’ve switched off the need for Comments to be approved by me, because I think we’re past the problems that led me to switch it on. I’ll still zap anything downright rude, and won’t reply to anything I don’t want to.

ITEM!!! As you can see from the banner to the right, I’ve swapped the useless Amazon link to XTNCT for one that allows you to buy it straight for the publishers, Rebellion. XTNCT is the collection of strips concerning intelligent dinosaurs trying to wipe out the last few remnants of humanity that myself and genius artist D’Israeli created for the 2000AD Megazine. The collection is a lovely, inexpensive, annual-sized hardcover, with an introduction, notes and sketches. Jonathan Oliver, Rebellion’s graphic novel supremo, tells me that in the couple of weeks it’s been out, it’s already shifted (and I gather this is extraordinary for a hardcover), 915 of the 1500 copy first edition. So if you want one of those for your retirement, you may have to hurry.

ITEM!!! Nev Fountain points me in the direction of this YouTube clip, concerning Jon Pertwee, Liz Sladen and ‘the most powerful killing machine ever devised’:

ITEM!!! At the Gallifrey convention in L.A. next weekend, I’m going to be appearing on at least eight panels. And so I’ve taken up the challenge of a number of friends to come out with something from a particular set of familiar phrases or sayings during every one of those panels. A prize to anyone there who’s the first to work out what I’m doing (I mean in terms of the phrases). I’m also intending to blog offhandedly every day, more in the spirit of the Christmas blogs than of the epic above. I’m on holiday, after all.

ITEM!!! My ‘Circular Time’ co-author Mike Maddox recently appeared on the Whocast podcast, available from ITunes or here:

More apt discussion of canonicity ahoy. Although I’m still a Podshock boy at heart. I’ll be doing some comics-related podcasting myself shortly. I’ll let you know.

ITEM!!! I'm going to Eastercon in Chester, and there's now a link in the Conventions list. Looking forward to it.

ITEM!!! Phobic is a collection of new horror stories from Comma Press, which is out on March 1st. I’ve got a story in there, as have fellow Who alumni Paul Magrs and Rob Shearman. Do check it out:

I hope to see several of you at Gallifrey, but until then, be kind to each other, and Cheerio.

The Eagle Awards 2007

The Eagle Awards are Britain's most prestigious awards for comics. It's Eagle Award voting time again, and there's a handy online form:

You can either pick from the drop-down lists provided, or write-in your own nomination, which I think is a very fair system. Voting closes at the end of February. The winners will be announced at the Bristol Comics Expo on Saturday May 12th.

I'd like to advance the cause of a few fellow creators I've worked with, notably on Wisdom:

Favourite Comics Artist (pencils): I've written in Trev Hairsine (who I think deserves to be a drop down). I'll pimp for new Wisdom artist Manuel Garcia this time next year.

Favourite Comics Artist (inks): Paul Neary.

Favourite Comics Artist (fully painted artwork): D'Israeli.

Favourite Editor: Nick Lowe.

Favourite Colour Comic Book (American) and Favourite New Comicbook: if you put Wisdom for either of these (and to my joy it's in the drop down list for the latter) I'd love you forever (terms and conditions apply).

Favourite Comics Cover: Wisdom #1.

Apart from that, in my own nominations I've done my share of Gail Simone, Marks Waid and Millar, Albion, 52 and Marvel love.

Now, I have to be out the door to go and have lunch with Terrance and My Agent. At the same time. If anyone's at the Fitzroy Tavern tonight, corner me and I shall buy you beer. Cheerio!