LATEST UPDATE – DECEMBER 3rd 2020
[Dr 4 & Dr 8]
Doctor Who started off as a TV Show in 1963, and only became a series of Big Finish Audios in 1999. This chronology limits itself to only integrating the two, for all sorts of reasons. But mainly because Whopix has little or no interest in stories in other media.
And so this is how Whopix reckons the Big Finish Audios, and others, fit in with the TV stories, based only on the contents of the audios themselves to determine where they take place. This chronology is very much a work in progress, it’s not exhaustive and will be updated as time allows and new audios are released. Any thoughts on alternative placements are welcomed, as many of these are inevitably arbitrary and there may well be something I’ve missed.
See below the links for how Whopix navigates the minefield that is Canon.
CHRONOLOGY, CONTINUITY & CANON – THE WHOPIX VIEW
First thing to say is that I don’t take a Unified Approach to canon & chronology, by which I mean that I do not, and never have, viewed every TV story as all taking place in the same universe and as part of one long linear timeline. I’ve always taken a Multiverse Approach to Who stories, in all media, as I always found it a much simpler path to tread rather than getting yourself all tied up in knots trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.
Don’t get me wrong, I have huge admiration for the Continuity Cops and kudos to them for their dedication and ingenuity but that approach was never for me. So I never stressed out too much when the inevitable arguments about canon would arise with fellow fans. I had my take, they had theirs, which is just as it should be. And then RTD came along with his genius idea of The Time War, meaning all bets were off and the show itself had given us permission to interpret it any way we wanted to.
The thorny question of Canon is one fandom has grappled with for years. Dr Who Canon, defined at its simplest level, is all the TV episodes produced by the BBC from 1963 til now, whenever now is when you’re reading this. Canon is Telly. Simple. Only it isn’t really. Mostly because the TV Episodes don’t agree with themselves.
As fans, we want the show to be consistent and internally coherent. So when it isn’t we agonise over the contradictions and inconsistencies that various production teams of television professionals have left us with over the years through their lack of due care and attention to what was established before they came along. I mean, don’t they understand that now we have to find a way to reconcile three different versions of the destruction of Atlantis? Don’t they care? Don’t they love the show as much as we do? Anyone would think they were only interested in producing a telly programme…
Atlantis neatly brings us to the question of headcanon, the way an individual fan interprets and enjoys the show. There are, famously, three different versions of the destruction of Atlantis. In The Underwater Menace, Zaroff says Atlantis was submerged during Noah’s Flood. The Time Monster says Kronos the chronovore was responsible and in The Daemons Azal says Atlantis was a failed experiment of theirs and so they kyboshed it. How do you reconcile them?
Well, the first question would be do you really have to reconcile them? You can try and say that the Daemons released Kronos at the time of the Flood, but for me that doesn’t really hang together. That’s the Reconciliation approach. Alternatively, you could go down the Exclusionist route, which is to pick one and ignore the others. Taking this approach would mean that, for example, The Daemons and The Underwater Menace would stay and The Time Monster would go. So in that version of Who, The Time Monster never happened, you just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, which wouldn’t be a great loss when you think about it. People only remember it for “the daisiest daisy” scene anyway.
If you’re an Exclusionist, then you can pick and choose which Dr Who stories are in your own personal headcanon, in the same way that Whopix stops with Twice Upon A Time. After that, you must admit there’s a helluva lot to ignore and pretend never happened! But whether you’re a Reconciliator or an Exclusionist, you still have to deal with the thorny problem of those stories you simply can’t ignore but wish you could. Unless you’re a Retconner or a Revisionist, that is.
There are some Dr Who stories that are, shall we say, essential and can’t really be ignored unless, like that idiot Chibnall, you want to rewrite history. As an example, let’s look at the Hartnell Doctor, the original Doctor, the Doctor Who who, in my headcanon, is and always will be the original Doctor, not some alien diversity child…
There are two Hartnell stories you really can’t ignore: An Unearthly Child and The Tenth Planet. The same goes for any Doctor, you can’t ignore their first or last stories unless you’re a Retconner or a Revisionist. If you’re a Fan Editor, you can at least make them less bad, but you can’t ignore them. The same goes for companions, you can’t really ignore either the story where they arrive or the story where they leave. Otherwise they just turn up and disappear without any explanation. And fans do like their explanations…
In the Essentialist take on the show, admittedly you do occasionally need to tweak things, such as losing the coda at the end of the first Dalek story to lose the lead-in to Edge of Destruction. Nevertheless, if you can’t really ignore Entrances and Exits, but everything else is up for grabs, then, for the Hartnell Doctor, what you get is something like this:
These stories are, if you like, The Essential William Hartnell. The stories you can’t really ignore, even if you’d really like to. What happens between those stories in your own personal headcanon is up to you…
The way we engage with stories is to pretend that they are real. In a novel that’s easy, as you “see” it in your mind’s eye and can imagine the voice of the actors saying the dialogue. On telly, however, there’s plenty of on screen evidence to remind you that Doctor Who isn’t real, just look at all those TV cameras and boom microphones that appear in shot, never mind the continuity errors. No matter how realistically we may like to treat Doctor Who in our enjoyment of it, and part of its appeal is the “What if…” of it being real, it’s not. It’s just TV.
In the end, there is no “right” or “wrong” approach to the canon conundrum, there’s only the one that you think works, which is what being a fan is all about, right? And when it came to the fan rite of passage that was compiling The Chronology List, I always took a Multiple Universe Approach to Doctor Who, which meant that I could take things one medium at a time. That was a lot more enjoyable, and it’s how I came to limit myself to just TV and Big Finish.
So here’s where Whopix comes from. The TV stories are one universe, the novels (and novelisations) are another, the comic strips are another, and the audios are another. Now that doesn’t have to mean they’re mutually exclusive, it just means that where they do cross over a slightly different version of any given story takes place in each universe.
For instance, the comic strip The Iron Legion isn’t a TV story, it’s a comic strip. And that’s all it was until Big Finish did their recent audio adaptation of it. So for me, before that version came along, it only happened in the Comics Universe version of Doctor Who. Now, it also exists in the Audio Universe, the universe where every Doctor Who story only happens on audio.
If you want to put a Comics Universe/Audio Universe story into a TV Universe timeline and say they both happened, go ahead, knock yourself out. Nobody can say you’re wrong. Go ahead if that’s what you want to do and it’s what makes your Inner Fan happy.
But here’s a question for you. What about The Land of Happy Endings? With that story one comic strip universe – DWM – has retconned another comic strip universe – TV Comic – as just the Doctor’s dreams. So does that mean that the retcon of TLOHE is now “official”? I think the only answer is that if it works for you, then yes it is. Otherwise you’ve got a real job on your hands reconciling the TV Comic Doctor with the BBC TV Doctor and convincing me they’re the same person!
Personally I agree with that retcon. It makes perfect sense and still allows us to enjoy those comics if we want to and doesn’t dismiss them entirely, so everybody’s happy. And since we’re talking about the DWM comic strips, for me The Iron Legion takes place in a Comics Universe where there’s a comic strip version of The Deadly Assassin that comes just before it. And just as a Fan, I’d love to see some of the TV stories adapted as comic strips, wouldn’t you?
Similarly, the novels, both the BBC Books Eighth & Past Doctor novels and the Virgin New & Missing Adventures, all take place in the same universe as the Target Novelisations of the TV stories. So in the Books Universe there is no story called The Iron Legion but if someone novelised it then there would be. Similarly, Shada takes place in both the Books Universe, the Audio Universe and the TV Universe. Whether both the Tom Baker and Paul McGann versions co-exist is up to you…
And so what about audios? Again, the Audio Universe would contain not only Big Finish but also the Tom Baker Hornet’s Nest/Serpent Crest/Demon Quest audios as well as The Pescatons, which also takes place in the Books Universe. You can include both the Audiobooks of the Target Novelisations and/or the Narrated Soundtracks in this universe too, if you wish. Or even split them off into two mini parallel universes of their own. Again, stories that exist in two different textual forms – such as Shada or Nightshade or The Iron Legion– would exist in those different versions in more than one storytelling universe.
So, returning to our earlier example of The Iron Legion, that story would exist in two different versions in two different universes, One version, the original, in the Comics Universe. where Doctor Who is a comic strip, and the other, the Big Finish adaptation, in the Audio Universe.
If The Night of The Doctor is to be believed, then the Big Finish Audios are canon. The dying Eighth Doctor name-checks his former companions, or at least the ones he’d had when TNOTD was made, from the Big Finish audios – “Charley, C’rizz, Lucie, Tamsin, Molly” – and not only that, he does it in the order he met them.
So that means that all the Eighth Doctor audios happen in the same universe as the TV show, since Night of the Doctor serves as a prologue for Day of the Doctor, and nobody would dispute the canonicity of that story. So the central conceit seems to be that The Audio Adventures of the Eighth Doctor are to be regarded as the equivalent of Graham Strong’s recordings, off-air soundtracks of imaginary adventures that happened to the Eighth Doctor on TV.
So the TV Universe seems to include at least certain parts of the Audio Universe, or maybe there are three universes all co-existing – TV, Audio, TV + Audio. Either way, its already clear that there is more than one way of organising canon. And there’s no right or wrong way to do that.
As for TV Doctor Who, as I said at the start, Whopix doesn’t view everything from An Unearthly Child to Twice Upon A Time as all being part of the same narrative universe, but as different versions of the same thing. Speaking of which…
…brings me to The Five Doctors. I watched it as it went out back in 1983 and it was clear to me that Richard Hurndall was NOT William Hartnell. Yet nobody, not Susan or any of the other Doctors [Two, Three or Five] remarks that he’s NOT the First Doctor. So the only conclusion I could draw from that, looking solely at what I saw on screen, was that, within the fiction of the story, he IS the First Doctor. Which means the First Doctor IS Richard Hurndall in the universe that The Five Doctors takes place in, which cannot be the same universe as the one where An Unearthly Child takes place, or at least the version that we saw on TV in 1963.
So, for me, the First Doctor in The Five Doctors wasn’t the same First Doctor we met in An Unearthly Child. Which, by extension meant that The Five Doctors takes place in a different universe to any TV story that features the Hartnell Doctor. The Five Doctors is Doctor Who in a different storytelling universe from that of An Unearthly Child. Which in turn suggested that everything else produced by JNT was also Doctor Who in a different universe to everything produced by his predecessors. Or it did to me, but then I took all that continuity stuff a lot more seriously back then than I do now…
And speaking of now, as if Hurndall wasn’t bad enough, we’ve also got the David Bradley faux First Doctor as well. At least TUAT had the good sense to acknowledge Doctor Who is only a TV Show from the off. And why does Winston Churchill look like Ian McNiece in the dreadful Victory of the Daleks only to then look like Churchill from “our” universe in The Lie of the Land? Answer? They’re all different versions of the same thing. That approach might not work for you but it works for me.
So how does Whopix view TV Who? As separate universes, all distinct from each other, and differentiated by the differences between them and all the others. Here they are:
TV Universe #1 – In Black & White
Everything from An Unearthly Child all the way up to The War Games takes place in the same universe. To my mind, there’s a narrative consistency that runs all the way through, with variations for sure as time goes on, but it’s so different from everything else that comes after it that I view it as a universe all on its own. And not just because its in B&W and everything else is in colour! [See Dalek6388’s video for an alternate, equally justified viewpoint]
TV Universe #2 – The Golden Age
Everything from Spearhead From Space all the way up to The Talons of Weng Chiang. The B&W Doctor never had two hearts for a start but these Doctors do. Two dresses slightly differently from the way he did in the B&W universe stories when he turns up in The Three Doctors so clearly his adventures happened in a slightly different way in this universe. That’s just two quick examples of how the two differ and there are plenty of others. However, moving on, next up we have…
TV Universe #3 – The Tom Baker Show
So different in tone and style from what we had before that I simply can’t reconcile them as being the same but different, whereas the tonal shift from Letts/Dicks to Hinchcliffe/Holmes I can. Silly and witty instead of serious and dramatic and not all Graham Williams’ fault. Paved the way for Red Dwarf. In fact, I can just imagine this Doctor in Red Dwarf…
TV Universe #4 – JNT
The Counter Revolution, where JNT changed everything with no onscreen explanation. If only he had got Shada finished, and introduced his changes gradually instead of all at once. This universe runs all the way from The Leisure Hive to The Trial of a Time Lord.
TV Universe #5 – The Cartmel Masterplan
By this time JNT is completely drained and the creative powerhouse is now Cartmel, who turns the show into a live action comic strip. Covers everything from Time And The Rani to Survival.
TV Universe #6 – The TV Movie
Enemy Within, as Philip Segal says we can call it. We’re grateful he got it made but equally grateful it never led to anything. But it did two very important things – it gave the whole concept a shot in the arm and showed the Beeb that the audience for the show was still there. Stands on its own for fairly obvious reasons.
TV Universe #7 – The New Series, first iteration
Everything that RTD and The Moff have given us since 2005 from Rose to The Day of the Doctor.
TV Universe #8 – The New Series, second iteration
Everything that The Moff has given us since The Time of the Doctor to Twice Upon A Time, but this is a universe where David Bradley is the First Doctor, not William Hartnell or Richard Hurndall, and Winston Churchill looks like Winston Churchill and not Ian McNiece!
As for whatever comes after Twice Upon A Time, as far as Whopix is concerned that’s not a version of Doctor Who that he wants to watch. And so, whatever happens in the future with Big Finish’s contracted Doctors, this chronology will stop with Capaldi. I’ll leave it to others to carry on with whatever adventures take place after TUAT.
Now, if you think all this “individual universes for stories originating in different media” stuff isn’t nearly as much fun as putting everything all together in one big timeline, then feel free to disagree with me all you like. If you have a Unified Approach you go ahead and have fun with it. I’ll be over here having just as much fun with my Multiverse take on things.
So there you are. That’s how Whopix navigates the narrative minefield that is canonicity. Doubtless you have your own take on things but that’s mine. We’re both right.