Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Suzanne says... canon or non-canon?


If you are an avid reader of those pieces (Hello, Suman!), you know that I already mentioned how difficult it may be for an aspiring Whovian to jump into that extended universe. 

Once all TV serials and the movie have been watched, Big Finish audiobooks seem to be the right place to continue your journey. And since you are at it, you start digging a bit further, before realising that there have been a lot of audiobooks or books recorded or published thorough the years and you start wondering: what is canon and what is non-canon?

First, let us clarify what canon means:
“In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Pretty easy, right? But let’s read a bit further down the definition:
“When there are multiple "official" works or original media, the question of what is and what is not canonical can be unclear.” (Source: Wikipedia)
As always, exceptions emerge from a straight forward definition, making the whole process a bit more complicated than expected. So, let’s take a closer look at the Whoniverse and let’s try to clarify things a bit. What do the show runners have to say about canon and non-canon?
“The makers of Doctor Who have generally avoided making pronouncements about canonicity, with Russell T Davies explaining that he does not think about the concept for the Doctor Who TV series or its spin-offs.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Now if you are a tiny bit like me, you will probably smile at this quote. I’m sorry, Mr. Davies, but I don’t buy it. In fact, I’m even tempted to say that while I can understand Doctor Who makers avoiding making pronouncements, I’m quite certain that canonicity was the main topic of a few formal meetings.

I sympathise with the difficulty Doctor Who makers are faced with, though. Doctor Who has always inspired a great deal of fan creation, some of which has been so good that those fans actually made it to work for the show. Think about Mark Gatiss for instance. Now, let’s twist the plot a little: if Mark Gatiss works for the show, then are his fanwork predating that time canon? Let’s imagine that the answer to this question is: “yes”. That would mean that any Doctor Who fiction (or art) made by an individual who has worked on or for the show is canon. You probably see it like me: it would be even more confusing. 

Let’s go back to our example. Mark Gatiss wrote stories that were published in the Virgin New Adventures collection and the question arose already: are the Virgin New Adventures books canon?
“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.” (Paul Cornell)
In an essay about canonicity in Doctor Who (which you can read here) Paul Cornell states that canonicity is probably best defined when there is only one author. Because Doctor Who is a cooperative work of sorts, unless there is an authority taking the stand and telling once and for all what is canon and what is not, there is no canon in Doctor Who. With that in mind, I can imagine that the meetings I was talking about earlier came to the same conclusion. Maybe those who attended said meetings never came to an agreement regarding canonicity and therefore the status quo would be “there is no canon in Doctor Who”. 

And while the BBC has clearly stated that fan works of any kind are strictly prohibited (just try to post an extract of a Who episode on Youtube adding the keywords BBC and Doctor Who to see it been suppressed in less than 2 seconds for copyrights reason!), therefore unofficially exposing its view on the matter, aka “from now on, what is not BBC approved is not canon”, there will always remain a reasonable doubt about earlier works. 

So while some may argue desperately about what is and isn't canon, it's probably easier just to admit that there is no canon in Doctor Who, if only to save us all the headache.