LAST UPDATED – APRIL 9th 2016
Follow these links to pages from my old website listing where Whopix reckons the Big Finish Audios 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 and will be updated as 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 some thoughts on the issue of Canon.
CHRONOLOGY, CONTINUITY & CANON – THE WHOPIX VIEW
First thing to say is that I don’t take a Unified Approach to chronology, by which I mean that I do not, and never have, viewed every TV story as taking place in the same universe and as part of one 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 get 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, particularly when the evidence was on screen to support my take on things.
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 continuity, canon & chronology can now mean whatever the hell you want them to. Which they always did, only now the show itself had given us permission to interpret it the way we wanted to.
The thorny question of Canon is one fandom has grappled with for years. Canon, understood 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. We agonise over the contradictions and inconsistencies that various production teams of television professionals, who don’t love the show half as much as we do, 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? Anyone would think they were only interested in producing a telly programme…
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 it’s all about, right? Doctor Who is, after all, just a TV Show, albeit a bloody brilliant one that makes us happy. So what’s wrong with having an approach to interpreting the texts of that show that also makes you happy? Not a lot as far as I can see, and I think a Unified Approach, but one applied only to any one given medium, is a better way to go than trying to say everything all takes place together when it clearly doesn’t…
So here’s where I come from. The TV stories are one universe, the novels 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. Now, if you want to put a Comics Universe story into a TV Universe timeline and say they both happened, go ahead, knock yourself out. You could certainly justify your reasoning by saying that the comic strip stories are adaptations of “Lost” TV stories [like the US comic version of the first Peter Cushing film], of course you could. Go ahead if that’s what you want to do.
But bear in mind that one comic strip universe – DWM – has already retconned another comic strip universe – TV Comic – as just the Doctor’s dreams in the wonderful The Land of Happy Endings. Does that mean that retcon is now “official”? I think the only answer is that if that retcon works for you, then yes it is. Otherwise you’ve got a real job on your hands reconciling the TV Comic Doctor with the 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. As for 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? Sixtieth Anniversary maybe?
Similarly, the novels, both BBC Books and 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 certainly takes place in the Books Universe, whether it takes place in the TV Universe is up to you. I think it does, I see no reason why it shouldn’t, to my mind it’s no different from one of the Hartnell or Troughton stories that have missing episodes.
What about audios? Again, the Audio Universe contains 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.
And not only that, not all the TV stories exist as TV stories, some only exist as soundtrack recordings so straight away, even with the Prime Universe, if you like, of TV Doctor Who, there is a legitimate justification for including audio adventures, or at least audio versions of TV adventures within not only the “official” canon but also within you own personal interpretation of it. We’ll come back to that in a moment…
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 Approach. If anything I reckon that it’s the right way to go, and there are two pieces of evidence I will point to in my defence.
If it may please the court, the defence would like to enter into evidence item #1 – The Night of The Doctor. If this minisode is to be believed, and there’s no reason to dissent from it being just as canonical as any TV episode, then the Big Finish Audios are canon. The dying Eighth Doctor name-checks his former companions, all 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 those Eighth Doctor audios happened 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 TV story. So the central conceit seems to be that The Audio Adventures of the Eighth Doctor are to be regarded as the equivalent of off-air soundtracks of adventures that happened to the TV Doctor, on TV, but which we only have the soundtracks of.
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!
Which brings me to item #2, the second piece of supportive evidence for a Multiverse Approach to Who – The Five Doctors. I don’t care what you say, I’m sorry but Richard Hurndall is 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 we can draw from that, looking solely at what we see on screen is 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.
I don’t see how you can justify that within a Unified Timeline Approach. And before you say it, putting a clip of Hartnell at the start of the show is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Not to me it isn’t anyway. If we’re going to give a knowing wink to the audience when it suits us then why are we wasting our time attempting to treat Doctor Who with any kind of realistic consistency at all? Yes, we know it’s not real, it’s just a TV Show, but one of the things that we enjoy about it is pretending that it is real and wondering what it would be like to be part of a world like that. You can’t just go jumping the shark like that by breaking the internal reality of the show we love and expect us to go along with it. Well, maybe you can. But I can’t.
So, for me, the on screen evidence is conclusive that Hurndall is NOT Hartnell, there’s no explanation and nobody bats an eyelid. So, the simplest interpretation of the televisual evidence is that the First Doctor in The Five Doctors is NOT the same First Doctor we met in An Unearthly Child. Which, by extension means that The Five Doctors takes place in a different universe to any TV story that features the Hartnell Doctor.
The Richard Hurndall Doctor is NOT the William Hartnell Doctor.
Therefore: The Five Doctors is Doctor Who in a different universe from An Unearthly Child. Which I would suggest is clear evidence that everything else produced by JNT is also Doctor Who in a different universe.
If Hurndall pretending to be Hartnell is okay for you, if you’re cool with that, if you are prepared to look the other way, or if you want to come up with some convoluted explanation for how Hartnell starts off looking like Hartnell, suddenly looks like Hurndall for one story, then goes back to looking like Hartnell until he regenerates into Patrick Troughton, if that’s what makes you happy then you go ahead and fill your boots. But count me out. It’s undeniable to me that the show itself has given us clear, irrefutable evidence that not every TV story takes place in the same universe. Feel free to disagree if that makes you happy, but I still think you’re wrong to do so.
So how does Whopix view TV Who? As seven 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!
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 done that, 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. Questions Mark shirt collars. The aforementioned The Five Doctors. The Two Doctors. Davros. Omega. etc etc
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
God Bless Philip Segal for getting the bloody thing made in the first place. And thank God 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 audience for the show was still there. Stands on its own for fairly obvious reasons.
TV Universe #7 – The New Series
Which brings us up to date with – almost – everything that RTD and The Moff have given us since 2005. Still not sure about Time Crash…
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.