Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Continuity. It is both fantastic and a huge pain in the arse. It’s so bad that DC has had to reboot their universe several times in order to try and keep it straight. Continuity was the death of the TV Movie, and was no doubt one of the biggest fears when it came to ‘New Who’. But does continuity really matter? Or are we all making a big deal out of nothing? Well lets find out.
I’ve often summed up Doctor Who’s take on continuity as â€œDoctor Who: Perhaps the only show in history that uses universe-shaking events as background details to set up the plotâ€. Now there are a lot of examples I could give, but my favourite is Logopolis. In the Fourth Doctor’s final story the Master destroys a large section of the universe (including the planet of companion Nyssa). I mean a galaxy gets wiped out and… this is never brought up again. Despite how many beings the Master killed, it’s quickly forgotten about in the next episode and no one ever seems fit to mention how billions of beings were killed suddenly. The imminent death of the universe and the start of its destruction is nothing more than a footnote to help ramp up the tensions of the story. But if that’s a bit too grand, how about the fate of the Earth? It gets destroyed in the First Doctor story â€œThe Arcâ€… and destroyed again in the Ninth Doctor story â€œThe End of the Worldâ€… and moved to another part of the universe altogether in â€œThe Mysterious Planetâ€, a Sixth Doctor story. And that’s just three examples I can think of off the top of my head, there are no doubt even more ‘ends’ for this world in the expanded universe. So we have a show that seems to have no real consistent logic when it comes to these world changing events. Hell it keeps acting like a Cyberman invasion is a new thing, despite the fact it literally did the same thing twice within eight years. How did everyone seem to forget about it within those eight years (though to be fair, I’d be hard pressed to remember any major events that happened in 2006). Hell how many times have the Cybermen invaded Earth in general? The new season still does this. Take one of the latest episodes, In The Forest of the Night. Apparently a major forest appears and disappears over 24 hours… and this never gets brought up again for the rest of Doctor Who. No one seems to remember it. No one will talk about it. It’ll just be an episode that happened. In fact the most egregious example of Doctor Who ignoring continuity is, during the fourth season of Torchwood, no one could die for three months. Now granted this took place when the Doctor was travelling solo between the season six mid-break… But why haven’t any of the companions ever brought this up? Why did Clara never remark about that time no one could die for six months? Or even Amy and Rory, who lived through it and met the Doctor not much later. Why has this never been addressed, even though it takes place in the same universe?
So long story short, Doctor Who has had a real problem with continuity. Even the newest series, which has tried to keep a stronger force of continuity tying it together, still falls prey to this. But lets be honest: No one watches Doctor Who for continuity, and the last thing Doctor Who should worry about is whether their current story contradicts a story from twenty years ago (which they did during the Sixth Doctor’s run and, well, anyone that watches it knows why being a slave to continuity is a bad thing). The current story should focus on trying to be the best piece of Doctor Who ever made, even if it falls flat. Only the most obsessive fan cares that the latest episode of Doctor Who contradicts something from the Second Doctor’s run, and even then they only notice that if the episode is particularly bad. So continuity doesn’t really matter in Doctor Who. But what do we define as canon?
Now the Star Wars universe have several levels of canon, going from the movies all the way down to the more ‘out-there’ part of the expanded universe. I won’t bother to go into detail about it cos, well, I’m just lazy. But suffice it to say there are levels of what is more canon than something else. So what about Doctor Who? Well one would say the TV show is canon cos, well, that’s its primary medium. And the audio dramas got mentioned in the TV show and star the actors from the show, so that has to be canon as well. But the books have been referenced by some of the audio dramas, so they must then be canon. But what about the books that became audio dramas or even the basis of TV episodes? Is Human Nature or Love and War (no, not that one, the other one, the book and audio ones) both equally canon, even though they’re also slightly different? What about Lungbarrow, the novel that comes up with an extensive backstory for the Doctor, a backstory that never gets brought up again when the series came back? What about the whole ‘Other’ backstory, the idea that the Doctor was more than just another Time Lord, a plot thread that was never actually put on screen but rather hidden in the background? Is that canon? Well I can’t speak for everyone, but to me, canon is whatever you want it to be. You can have some books be canon, some not be. You can have some audio dramas be canon, some not be. Hell you could even exclude Doctors from your personal canon if you chose so (which would be a bit hard, but considering they managed to push a Doctor into the gap, choosing which ones you or don’t want to be canon is entirely up to you). At the end of the day, the ‘canon’ of Doctor Who isn’t the important part of the story. It doesn’t really matter. Doctor Who can play with continuity, but it is by no means a slave to it. At the end of the day, to blatantly steal from someone else who replied to my tweet, it really is â€œDoctor Whose Line Is It Anywayâ€.
So there you have it. A look at Doctor Who and continuity and whether the latter has a significant impact on the former. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.