When I talk with my friends about Doctor Who, some of them have trouble getting into it. Sometimes, it's just a matter of size. There's so much Doctor Who out there, they don't really know the best place to start.
We in the Netflix generation are accustomed to starting a whole show from scratch, which for Doctor Who is horribly imposing and practically impossible. The show ends and reboots its storylines every few years anyway, so I just tell them to start with the latest Doctor’s premiere, then explore the past eras however they wish later.
There's a more cutting critique, though, from my friend BS. One of the regular commenters at TARDIS Eruditorum made the same point in the post on Time of the Doctor, and it angered me so much that I was actually rather rude to him. Not by internet standards, but more than I later felt was right.
This critique is that Doctor Who can't sustain the drama of its own storylines because there isn't consistency between seasons. When you go back to the old days in the 20th century, there isn't even consistency between stories a lot of the time.
But because the past is constantly overwritten, there can be no true drama, as the action of one storyline has no consequences on future continuity.
For example, Listen was a fantastic story, especially its emotional climax when Clara discovers that Orson Pink is likely her great-grandchild. But when Danny dies in Death in Heaven, that renders Listen nonsensical, meaningless, worthless because that discovery has been negated.
Changing its own past makes Doctor Who a show with no consequences, no stakes. But this isn't actually a criticism of Doctor Who itself, or a sign that Doctor Who is somehow a lesser show. It's a failure to understand the kind of creativity that fuels Doctor Who. Because it isn't usually strung by its massive continuity, it's actually able to expand infinitely.
Without the constraint of having to conform to previous story developments, Doctor Who can just keep telling stories. Otherwise, the show would have gotten too top-heavy decades ago and had to shut down.
You have to think about drama differently than you might be accustomed if you want to explore all that Doctor Who can do. That’s what I like about the show: it makes you think differently, so that it can open you to its potential.
So Steven Moffat likes to scrawl on all the continuity of Doctor Who. He remixes it, he reinterprets it, he outright ignores and overwrites it. This is part of the fun of Doctor Who: your own attempts to make sense of its continuity stretches it into such strange shapes that they make their own weird little stories.
The creativity of fanfic is essential to engaging with it yourself. You follow it by writing your own canon, taking part in the massive collective authorship of Doctor Who more than any other pop culture mythology.
The whole point of twisting continuity to pieces and dancing on the fragments is to make new spaces to tell stories. Doctor Who is a totally additive project. A new story takes elements from the history of the show, combines them with a writer's own interests and approaches, and creates novelty. It discourages resolution and ending, and instead encourages departures and continuation.
You open up a little crack in the continuity of Doctor Who, and you can inflate it to a whole other universe of possibility. Hell Bent did it literally, in its own story.
|Doctor Who is an extremely|
Deleuzian TV show.
Clara’s death in Face the Raven was a set event in the Doctor’s life at the beginning of that episode. The Doctor even witnessed it himself. Now look at what happened in Hell Bent.
The Doctor and the Time Lords literally open a crack in that exact moment of time, and haul a living Clara through it. By the end of the story, Clara now occupies her own narrative universe. The end of Hell Bent is a pitch for the Clara and Me Big Finish audio series, an extra bit of cash for Jenna Coleman and Maisie Williams.
The story of Face the Raven still exists, both as an episode of television and as a dramatic story in itself.* It’s now had the potential for a huge number of new, different stories jammed into it.
* Here’s another example, one that I also heard from Sandifer. An interviewer asks Alan Moore how he feels about all those terrible Hollywood adaptations of his books ruining the comics. Moore responds, “They aren't ruined. There they are on my shelf, and I can read them whenever I want, just as I wrote them.”
That’s how Doctor Who grows. Find a crack, a slippage, some moment of uncertainty or potential. Blow it up as big as you can and start expanding on it as long as you can or want. The new arises from everywhere.
So does consistency matter for drama in this case? It’s actually the opposite of Doctor Who’s entire creative impulse (the show and the character). To add. To expand. To create. To explore.
• • •
This is also how I think of my Alice stories. Right now, I'm developing one, but I've thought of several in many different contexts and settings. While they have the same underlying ideas, they aren't supposed to make a single story, or even be mutually consistent.
Alice is a fictional expression of a set of philosophical ethical ideas that are very important to me. All that needs to be consistent are the governing concepts of the character and how she operates in stories. What matters are the individual stories themselves, and what I want to use them, and the Alice character, to say.