The Doctor and Sarah travel back to stop Chris Chibnall, Steven Moffat, and Paul Cornell from ever meeting up.
In the last article we looked at how a particular fandom incrowd was able to take over the Doctor Who franchise when it was at its most vulnerable, the Fitzroy Crowd (who were named as such because they all used to congregate at the Fitzroy pub in the 90s.)
The Fitzroy Crowd included the likes of Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat, Chris Chibnall Paul Cornell, Gareth Roberts, Nicholas Briggs, Mark Gatiss, etc.
The Fitzroy Crowd, apart from a few exceptions in my opinion never really cared much for the Classic era. They generally tended to use the show to launch their own projects such as Torchwood instead.
We also examined how the Fitzroy Crowd were able to play on Doctor Who fans collective self loathing, and insecurity of the show not succeeding after the cancellation crisis, to bully fandom into accepting the mantras “Doctor Who is all about change”, “Doctor Who has no canon,” and “all change is good.”
In this article I am going to thoroughly debunk the Doctor Who is all about change mantra once and for all and run through why it has been so poisonous for the franchise.
Why Doctor Who is all about change and has no canon are so damaging.
Whenever anyone criticises anything about the new Doctor Who, the first thing its fans will say is either “Well Doctor Who has always been about change. Oh you are the type of people who would have criticised William Hartnell changing into Patrick Troughton.”
Or “Doctor Who has no canon, what about the three sinkings of Atlantis, or the UNIT dating controversy. There are no constants in Doctor Who. It can change its continuity all the time.”
Sadly despite being demonstrably not true, this line of thinking has become the official mantra of the show, with the BBC themselves even using it to justify Jodie’s casting.
These quotes from Paul Cornell, a writer of the 21st century version of Doctor Who and various pieces of spin off material sum up the attitudes of both the makers of New Who and its fans.
To be a good writer, you have to smash things up. To make great Doctor Who, especially, you have to destroy something someone values with every step. Those footsteps of destruction will, in a few years, be cast in bronze and put on a plinth for the next great story to destroy.
Because when you say ‘the books just aren’t “canon!”’ or ‘the books “happened” and the TV show can’t ignore them!’ you’re not saying something like ‘for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction’, you’re saying something like ‘the South will never surrender’. You’re yelling a battle cry, not stating the truth. Because there is no truth here to find. There was never and now cannot be any authority to rule on matters of canonicity in a tale that has allowed, or at the very least accepted, the rewriting of its own continuity. And you’re using the fact that discussions of canonicity are all about authority to try to assume an authority that you do not have.
In the end, you’re just bullying people.
Because in Doctor Who there is no such thing as ‘canon’.
Leaving aside how ridiculous it is that Paul Cornell would complain about bullying. This is a man who regularly smears people as sexists, who called all critics of Missy people who would throw their relatives out onto the street for being trans, and who retweeted a cartoon where critics of Jodie where depicted as wife beaters, whose wives ran away with Jodie fans. (Presumably representing him.)
Remember its not bullying to call people wife beaters, and make jokes about shagging their wives over a difference of opinion over a tv show. It is however bullying when you point out plot holes in their stories.
To start with the all about change idea, is a terrible argument overall not just in regards to Doctor Who. It basically means that a writer dosen’t have to justify any creative decisions on their own merits.
“Someone did something back in 1966, so that means I can do anything I want to now.”
That’s basically Paul Cornell’s argument. By that logic I could have the Doctor morph into a big yellow Dinosaur that shoots eye beams and justify it with, “well William Hartnell changed into Patrick Troughton. That was a change and so is this, so it must be exactly the same. Also Doctor Who has no continuity, so this makes perfect sense.”
Each creative decision has to be justified on it’s own creative merits. There is no one size fit’s all method. No one is saying all change is bad, but you have to take change on a case, by case basis. The concept of regeneration and introducing the Time Lord’s were not even comparable to one another, never mind regeneration and the Timeless Child.
Trying to lump every change together under the umbrella of they are all the same, so every chang is good, is every bit as bad as saying nothing can ever change. Both are extremes with no room for leeway or debate.
Furthermore limitations are not a bad thing by definition. Paul Cornell likes to paint them as being limits to his creativity, but in actual fact limitations are what define a character, or franchise and give it it’s own identity.
Take a look at another long running character like say Batman for example. Batman has been around longer than Doctor Who, and has gone through arguably more changes. Even just in terms of adaptations Batman has been a comedy character with Adam West, a dark, gothic character with Tim Burton, a sci fi hero with the DCAU, and a gritty crime fighter with Christian Bale.
Throughout all of these adaptations however, Batman has always retained a number of traditions and characteristics that have helped to define him.
Adam West, Michael Keaton, Kevin Conroy and Christian Bale’s versions of Batman are all ordinary humans with no super powers, their civilian identities are all Bruce Wayne, they are all motivated to fight crime by the tragic murder of their parents which they all witness as children. They all even have similar costumes, a bat shaped cowl with pointy ears, a long flowing cape, a bat symbol on the chest, bat gloves, a utility belt etc. They all have the same gadgets, batarangs, bat ropes, gas bombs. They all have a Batcave, a Batmobile, a Bat bike, a Bat aerial means of transport. They also all have a butler named Alfred, work with Commisioner Gordon, are summoned by the Bat Signal. They also all fight at least some of Batman’s colourful enemies, the Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin etc.
All of these things define Batman as a character and it’s the job of a particular writer to do something new within those limitations. Limitations are not a bad thing. They define a character.
For instance everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes is asexual. That’s a limitation of the character, that Holmes cares more about his work than any kind of personal life. Without that limitation, he wouldn’t be Holmes anymore.
Similarly everyone knows that Batman is a brooding character, tormented by his parents death. Even in Adam West’s time, whilst he is comical, he is still nevertheless in his own way very serious.
You can throw away some limitations of a character its true, but utlimately you cannot throw them all away. It’s okay to have a Batman who might be a bit less tormented, or even a Sherlock Holmes who lives in modern day. They still have to have some limitations that the others had, like being asexual, fighting the Joker, living in Gotham, etc. If you were to throw away all of those limitations, then we wouldn’t have Batman, or Sherlock Holmes at all, so why bother adapting them and not doing something new? Surely creating a new character is the most creative thing you can do?
Also bare in mind that some limitations are stronger than others. Like Batman and Sherlock Holmes both have to be ordinary men without superpowers, above all else.
With this in mind, why should the Doctor as a character, or Doctor Who be any different? It’s demonstrably not true to say that as a franchise, Doctor Who doesn’t have a number of constants that have helped give it a unique identity.
Why has the TARDIS remained a blue police box for over 50 years? Why has the show kept the same theme for over 50 years? Okay there have been different variations, but it is the same basic piece of music.
Why has the Doctor continued to fight the Daleks in every incarnation? Why do the Daleks have the same design? Why do the Daleks have the same voices? Why do the Daleks have the same motivation to exterminate all non Dalek life forms? Why has Davros continued to reappear? Why have the Cybermen continued to return to face almost every Doctor? Why have other villains and characters and staples like the Master, the Ice Warriors, The Brigadier, UNIT etc all spanned multiple Doctors?
If what Paul Cornell said is true that in order to write good Doctor Who you have to smash everything that came before, shouldn’t all these old 60s, 70s monsters and characters have been jettisoned a long time ago?
Why do we not know the Doctors name? Why does the Doctor still have a Sonic Screwdriver?
All of these things are limitations, constants that give Doctor Who it’s identity. If you smash them up, then you don’t have Doctor Who anymore, which is why people like Paul Cornell are so harmful to the franchise. They not only want to smash up the show and characters defining traits, but tar anyone who doesn’t as a bully!
“Oh but the Doctor regenerates, so he can be anyone.”
Again however this argument doesn’t hold much water.
In Classic Who, all of the different Doctors were meant to be the same person. Regeneration was simply an advanced form of healing.
Basically a Time Lord, or Lady’s body broke down, and then it repaired itself, but in doing so changed appearance. As a result of the change, their outer personality might be given a shake up.
Ultimately however a Time Lord, or Lady’s consciousness, memories, morals and core personality remained the same throughout all of their lives. If not then the Doctor wouldn’t exist as a character. He’d be a title handed down to several, totally unrelated characters.
Regeneration was created in order for the character of the Doctor to endure beyond any one actor. It wasn’t just a simple way of replacing the lead. Back in 1966, since we knew nothing of the Doctors people, the writers could have just as easily revealed that the Doctor was a title handed down to various members of his race, and had the Hartnell version die, only to be replaced by a new Doctor.
Instead however they came up with the best of all worlds. The Doctor could change, meaning they didn’t have to throw out everything from Hartnell’s Doctor (like his history with the Daleks.) Yet at the same time, not only could a new actor play him, but he could in some ways make the role his own, whilst still being believable as the same character.
In Classic Who it was all about finding the right balance when casting and writing the Doctor. You needed someone who would bring something new to the role, but who would not be totally unbelievable as still being William Hartnell under his new face.
Any of the 6 classic Doctors after Hartnell fit that description. Jon Pertwee for instance, brought something new to the role by being more of an action hero, yet he was still an old, grandfatherly scientist like Hartnell. He still had the same motivations as Hartnell, to explore the universe, the same moral code, the same asexual nature etc.
This isn’t just my interpretation. In the series itself the Doctor never treats regeneration as death. He always treats it as a way of escaping death.
See these quotes from Classic Who stories.
The War Games.
TIME LORD: You will be sent to Earth in the twentieth century, and will remain there for as long as we deem proper, and for that period the secret of the Tardis will be taken from you.
DOCTOR: But you, you can’t condemn me to exile on one primitive planet in one century in time! Besides, I’m known on the Earth. It might be very awkward for me.
TIME LORD: Your appearance has changed before, it will change again. That is part of the sentence.
DOCTOR: You can’t just change what I look like without consulting me!
TIME LORD: You will have an opportunity to choose your appearance.
DOCTOR: Oh, well, that’s not so bad. But I warn you, I’m very particular.
If each Doctor were a different person, why would the Second Doctor say its not so bad if he gets to choose his new face? He’d be dead either way. He’s choosing someone else’s face!
Similarly why does the Third Doctor refer to the Second Doctor as I on many occassions?
DOCTOR: That was my business.
JO: What about stealing the Tardis?
DOCTOR: I didn’t steal it. I just borrowed it. I fully intended to return it, I assure you. Anyway, she wasn’t exactly the latest model, poor old thing.
JO: You can say that again.
DOCTOR: I’ll tell you, I made a complete fool of that prosecuting council, though. I ridiculed his every argument. Yes, and I told him that I had the complete answer to every one his charges against me.
(And behind his back, the Doctor is using his steel wire on a hinge of the cage door.)
JO: And then what happened?
DOCTOR: Then what happened. Well, they found me guilty, changed my appearance and exiled me to Earth.
JO: And that’s where you met me.
All of this clearly shows that the writers and producers intended Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell to be the same man.
Furthermore, in the Deadly Assassin, a Time Lord makes a distinction between regeneration and death.
DOCTOR: Yes. He was evil, cunning and resourceful. Highly developed powers of ESP and a formidable hypnotist. And the more I think about it, the less likely it seems.
DOCTOR: Well, that the Master would meekly accept the end of his regeneration cycle. It’s not his style at all.
ENGIN: But that’s something we must all accept, Doctor.
(Engin hands the Doctor a drink.)
DOCTOR: Thank you. Not the Master. No, he had some sort of plan. That’s why he came here, Engin.
ENGIN: After the twelfth regeneration, there is no plan that will postpone death.
Also the Master who plans to steal other regenerations because he is afraid of death’s motivation makes 0 sense if each incarnation of a Time Lord is a different person. He’ll die as soon as he changes anyway.
The Fifth Doctor also makes a distinction between regeneration and death in his last story.
PERI: There must be something I can do. Tell me!
DOCTOR: Too late, Peri. Going soon. Time to say goodbye.
PERI: Don’t give up. You can’t leave me now!
DOCTOR: I might regenerate. I don’t know.
(She lays his head down on the floor.)
DOCTOR: Feels different this time.
The hallucinations of the Doctors companions telling him not to die make 0 sense if the 5th Doctor is actually dying.
Finally in The Twin Dilemma, the poison that killed the 5th Doctor is meant to have damaged the 6th Doctors mind, making him more unstable than previous incarnations. As a result the 6th Doctor starts doing things the Doctor would never do. After his violent attack on Peri he is horrified and states firmly that he is never violent unless in self defence.
Again this makes no sense if all the Doctors are different people? How does the 6th Doctor know that he would never harm anyone if he isn’t provoked? If everything about a Time Lord changes, maybe 6 is just a psychopath. He is basing his behaviour entirely on his previous selves. Similarly why hasn’t one version of the Master ever been a good guy? Why do they all have the same motivation and opinion of the Doctor?
Furthermore its not just that this is how regneration is portrayed in the show itself. All of Classic Who’s most prominent writers, producers and all 6 actors who played the role after regeneration was introduced hold the same opinion.
Patrick Troughton said in an interview collected for the 10th anniversary in the Radio Times, that the key to Doctor Who’s success was that he, William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee were playing different sides of the same character, rather than three different characters.
Jon Pertwee meanwhile was adamant about the Doctor remaining asexual like his predecessors, whilst Tom Baker also said in an interview collected for the 1977 Docu “Whose Doctor Who” that the Doctor was the single most limited role he had ever played. Baker said there were so many things he couldn’t do or else he wouldn’t be the Doctor anymore.
Terrance Dicks the shows longest serving script editor, (and author of more Doctor Who books than is seemingly possible) meanwhile said in this interview conducted in 2013, that the single most important thing is to not change the Doctors character too much.
Robert Holmes and Terry Nation, the two most prolific writers of the original series have both said that they always viewed the Doctor collectively as one character. They both said that they wrote the Doctor as the same character and simply allowed the actor to say the lines in their own way. Both Holmes and Nation argued that from their perspective as writers, the Doctor hadn’t changed. Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker had the same motivations, the same moral code fundamentally, the same attitude to humans and the Daleks, etc. It was up to the actor to make the Doctors outer persona different.
Pertwee would play the role completely seriously, Tom Baker might bring a more bohemian quality, Hartnell would be grumpy and difficult, Davison more youthful, energetic and vulnerable etc.
Point is however it was the same person underneath.
Here are is a quote from Robert Holmes, taken from his biography.
“I wrote the fifth Doctor in very much the same way as his predecessors. After all, the Doctor is always the same character. His body changes, his manner and idosyncrancies alter, but at the bottom he remains the same person.”
Finally John Nathan Turner was also adamant about making the Doctor seem like the same person, hence his famous no hanky panky in the TARDIS policy. JNT even forced his actors who played the role to all grow their hair out, as he said short back and sides were not the Doctors style.
None of the most prominent people involed in the original 26 years of Doctor Who, ever had the attitude of Paul Cornell. Whilst its true what Cornell said that Doctor Who was not the work of one person like Sherlock Holmes, and therefore it’s canon was not set down officially. Ultimately all of the most prominent people who worked on the original still followed an accepted template for the Doctor, based on what had come before.
Its also worth mentioning that many of the people who worked on Classic Who, who helped shape its lore, would be involved throughout most of its history. Terrance Dicks wrote from the third to the 5th Doctors.
Robert Holmes wrote from the 2nd to the 6th Doctors, whilst Terry Nation not only wrote for three Doctors, but also had final say over every single Dalek story until the very end. Even John Nathan Turner had worked on the show in some capacity since the Troughton era.
Barry Letts meanwhile who co-created the Master, helped to reintroduce the character in the Anthony Ainley era, and filled John Nathan Turner in on his backstory, character (even on the aborted idea that the Master was really the Doctors brother, which nearly re-appeared in Planet of Fire.)
Paul Cornell is talking nonsense when he says that the original creative team had no contact with each other, and all worked independently.
The changes behind the scenes were gradual, there was a definite idea of who the Doctor was, and many of the people who helped create and shape the lore were there in some capacity, from Terry Nation to Barry Letts right the way through.
“But the Doctor changed into Patrick Troughton, and in the Hartnell era he wasn’t established as a Time Lord. So that proves the show should rewrite itself.”
No it doesn’t.
To start with these changes that are always cited as proof that all changes work, like the introduction of Time Lords, and regeneration, where introduced when the show was still young and was more of a blank slate. They are not comparable to the Timeless Child that comes after 60 plus years of established history.
When Hartnell morphed into Troughton, we knew nothing about the Doctors race. We didn’t even know what they were called. Revealing that they had the power to renew themselves didn’t contradict anything that had come before. It was still a convenient asspull, but it wasn’t actually contradictory. We already knew that the Doctors people lived for a long time, so the idea that it was because they could renew their bodies, fitted in well.
Similarly in the War Games revealing that the Doctors people were the Time Lords, that he had ran away from them to explore the universe, was not a change. It was filling a gap in. We had never seen his people before the War Games, we had never known why he had ran away so it wasn’t a change. Furthermore it was one that fitted in with what we had seen before.
We knew his people were highly advanced, we knew that the Doctor was a scientist who wanted to explore new worlds above all else (to the point where as Hartnell he risked his friends and families lives at the prospect of exploring a new city.) Finally we also knew he could never go back and was in exile.
The Time Lord explanation fitted into all of that. It tied in with the fact that he couldn’t go back, that he was a renegade, and his status as a scientist who wanted to live by his own rules.
Similarly revealing that Time Lords could regenerate only 12 times wasn’t a contradiction either. It was filling a gap in. Prior to the Deadly Assassin, the Doctors changes of appearance had been very vague. We didn’t know the process in detail, the Deadly Assassin simply told us.
Notice that once these gaps were filled in, they were never contradicted.
After the Doctors people are revealed to be the Time Lords, then that’s it. There is no story that reveals “actually his people are Venusians, and they are giant shapeshifting monsters, with the Doctor just having assumed a human form.” If what Paul Cornell said is true that you “have to smash up what a previous writer created.” Why did everybody from Barry Letts to John Nathan Turner stick to the Doctor’s people being the Time Lord’s after The War Games?
Similarly once the limit for the Time Lord’s lives has been given as 13, that’s it. The Keeper of Traken, Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors, The Twin Dilemma, all stick to that rule as contrary to what Cornell said, it clearly was set in stone at that point for future writers.
Again let’s compare this to another character like Batman. Originally Batman was just a generic crime fighter, but then it was revealed that he fought crime because his parents were killed by a mugger. Once that was revealed, that was it. His origin always had to stay that way. Another writer 20 years later couldn’t come along and say “Batman’s parents are alive, and it was his brother that was killed. If you object to this you are the type of person who would have objected to Batman’s parents being killed in the first place, because that was technically a change and so is this etc.”
Too much time has passed with the knowledge that Batman’s parents are dead. From an in universe perspective it would require a retcon that would stretch credibility, and from a real world perspective audiences wouldn’t accept it. Audiences all over the world recognise the death of Batman’s parents as being a key ingredient of his character. Even in a remake, or adaptation, his parents still have to die. The only time you can not have Thomas and Martha Wayne die, is if it’s meant to be a weird alternate universe version of Batman that is supposed to have a different history.
The Doctor is the same. The Doctor has been set in people’s minds as a Time Lord for over 50 years now. Similarly for over 40 years it has been set that Time Lords have 13 lives. Trying to compare getting rid of, or changing that, to a change that came in after 6 years when the character was more of a blank slate is totally dishonest and harmful to the character. It now means that not only is his past identity that generations have come to love unsafe, but it also means that he can never have an identity again. If the Doctor can say be a Venusian one episode and then a Time Lord the next, then he ceases to exist as a character. Unlike Batman who we know always lives in Gotham, or the Doctor of Classic Who who we knew was a Time Lord, had a TARDIS, hated weapons etc, a character written under the all change is good formula will be nothing more than an incoherent mess.
“What about the three different endings for Atlantis, doesn’t that show the Classic series never cared about continuity.”
No it doesn’t. The three sinkings of Atlantis to start with are a minor part of the show’s lore. Second of all they are an honest continuity mistake.
You can’t bring up examples of the writers making honest mistakes, and use that to justify smashing essential parts of something.
Every single show makes continuity blips now and again. Frasier has about 6 different dates for his birthday. Curb Your Enthusiasm, another classic American comedy series makes a big mistake in series 6. The character of Marty Funkhouser states very clearly in series 4 that his mother has been dead for decades, whilst an episode in series 6 revolves around his mothers recent death.
Again this is a minor blip. It doesn’t then mean that a later writer can come along and smash up the entire story of Curb Your Enthusiasm (by changing it one week that say Larry was always married to Susie Green rather than Cheryl for instance.)
Also I feel that the likes of Cornell often leave out the dozens more examples of really tight continuity from the Classic era.
Look at the Cybermen’s history for instance.
In The Tenth Planet it is said that the Cybermen come from Mondas. After Mondas is destroyed, the Cybermen are driven to near extinction. In their next story, The Moonbase the Cybermen are said to be desperate after losing their home planet.
In Tomb of the Cybermen meanwhile they state that they moved to Telos to survive after their failed invasion of the Moonbase, and the destruction of Mondas.
DOCTOR: We’ll play for time. Wait our chance. Leave it to me. Excuse me. May I ask a question? Why did you submit yourself to freezing? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.
CONTROLLER: To survive. Our history computer has full details of you.
DOCTOR: Oh? How?
CONTROLLER: We know of your intelligence.
DOCTOR: Oh, thank you very much. Ah, yes. The lunar surface.
CONTROLLER: Our machinery had stopped and our supply of replacements been depleted.
DOCTOR: So that’s why you attacked the Moonbase.
CONTROLLER: You had destroyed our first planet and we were becoming extinct.
In The Wheel in Space meanwhile the Cybermen are again depicted as being desperate. Mondas isn’t mentioned in The Invasion, but there is nothing to contradict it either. (Contrary to popular belief that story does not state that the Cybermen come from Planet 14, simply that they met the Doctor there.)
In Revenge of the Cybermen meanwhile the Cybermen again mention their home planet being destroyed, or rather the Doctor does.
“You’ve no home planet, no influence, nothing!”
Mondas is mentioned in Earthshock too, whilst Attack of the Cybermen shows the monsters attempt to prevent it’s destruction. Finally Silver Nemesis shows the Cybermen attempt to make Earth the New Mondas.
So from the first to last appearance, over 20 years, the show kept to the idea that the Cybermen came from Mondas and as a result of it’s destruction, they were desperate.
Similarly the Daleks home planet is established as Skaro in their first story, and it remains that way right the way through to Remembrance. The Chase meanwhile is a sequel to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. In The Chase, the Daleks explicitly mention wanting to destroy the Doctor for foiling their invasion of earth.
The Daleks Masterplan meanwhile depicts the monsters as having time travel, because they were shown to have invented it in The Chase. Many Dalek stories set after, such as Day of the Daleks, Ressurection and Remembrance also carry on this plot thread too.
Planet of the Daleks also mentions the events of the first Dalek story too, whilst Resurrection follows on from Destiny. It not only continues the Movellan/Dalek war story, but also follows on from Davros being frozen at the end of Destiny. Likewise Revelation follows on from Resurrection by showing Davros being on bad terms with the Daleks after betraying them.
Similarly the Master, from The Deadly Assassin onwards it is established has lost his ability to regenerate. The Keeper of Traken shows he learned the ability to transfer his mind into new bodies and both of these plot threads are kept up afterwards, even to the 96 movie.
At no point is the Master suddenly shown to be able to regenerate without explanation, post The Deadly Assassin. If it is brought up, he will mention having no lives, and being forced to steal more bodies.
Furthermore the Brigadier’s story is overall consistent as well. Whilst they may get the dates of the stories wrong, the Brigadier always mentions having first met the Doctor when they faced the Yeti in the London Underground, having worked with Sergent Benton, Jo Grant, faced the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master etc whenever his past is alluded to.
The Doctor’s exile to earth is another example of tight continuity too. In The War Games the Time Lord’s state that they will not only exile him to earth, but remove the knowledge on how to pilot the TARDIS from his mind.
Throughout the Pertwee era his is shown to struggle with fixing the TARDIS, because of the blocks around his memory.
In The Three Doctors the Time Lord’s return the missing piece of the TARDIS to the Doctor, and the Doctor mentions his memory of how to work the machine being restored.
See for yourself.
The War Games
TIME LORD: You will be sent to Earth in the twentieth century, and will remain there for as long as we deem proper, and for that period the secret of the Tardis will be taken from you.
The Three Doctors
DOCTOR: The Time Lords! Look, they’ve sent me a new dematerialisation circuit. And my knowledge of time travel law and all the dematerialisation codes, they’ve all come back. They’ve forgiven me. They’ve given me back my freedom.
Furthermore many stories in the Classic era served as sequels to previous adventures.
The Web of Fear is a sequel to The Abominable Snowman, whilst The Invasion is a sequel to The Web of Fear. The Curse and Monster of Peladon are also connected too, whilst Metebelis 3 is mentioned in various stories before showing up in Pertwee’s last adventure.
The Web of Fear
TRAVERS: Who are you?
JAMIE: I’d like to ask you the same question.
VICTORIA: Wait a minute, Jamie! I’m Victoria Waterfield. And that’s Jamie McCrimmon!
TRAVERS: But it can’t be. Why, that’s over forty years ago.
JAMIE: What’s going on here?
VICTORIA: Oh Jamie, don’t you recognise him? It’s Professor Travers.
JAMIE: So it is! Professor Travers! Here, hasn’t he got old? Oh, but we’re very pleased to see you, Professor. Very pleased.
TRAVERS: The time machine. It was all true then?
JAMIE: The Tardis you mean? Aye, of course it’s true. Hey, do you know what’s happened to the Doctor?
VICTORIA: Oh, is he safe?
TRAVERS: Isn’t he with you?
ANNE: No, he’s in the tunnels. Arnold’s gone to look for him. Father, what is going on?
TRAVERS: Oh dear, I do hope he’s all right. Come on, Jamie. Let’s go and find out if he’s got back yet.
TRAVERS: Eh? Victoria, try and explain to Anne, will you? It’s all right, Victoria. You were born. I mean. She was born years before I was!
(Travers and Jamie leave.)
ANNE: A time machine.
VICTORIA: Oh, dear.
BRIGADIER: How nice to see you again, Doctor.
DOCTOR: It’s Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart!
BRIGADIER: Ah, Brigadier now. I’ve gone on up in the world.
JAMIE: Oh course, the Yetis. We met you in the
BRIGADIER: That’s right, McCrimmon, in the underground. Must be four years ago now.
JAMIE: That long. It only seems about a couple of weeks ago, doesn’t it.
DOCTOR: I’ve told you over and over again, Jamie. Time is relative.
BRIGADIER: Are you still making a nonsense of it. Doctor, in your, what was it called? Tardis?
DOCTOR: Yes, we’re still travelling. Yes.
BRIGADIER: Yes, Mister Travers told me all about it. It’s er, well it’s, to say the least, an unbelievable machine.
DOCTOR: Any more unbelievable than the Yetis?
BRIGADIER: No, true. I’m not quite so much of a sceptic as I was since that little escapade.
With this in mind, how can anyone say that continuity didn’t matter in Classic Who? For the most part it was kept up. Even as far back as the Hartnell era, continuity was deemed important by the producers.
William Hartnell’s widow states in this very interview that the producers kept notes on the show’s lore to make sure that new writers wouldn’t mess things up.
Jump to round about 8 mins in to see Heather talk about how new writers had to adhere to a very strict formula when writing the Doctor.
You can see when you watch the Hartnell era itself, (which again I’m not sure that the Fitzroy Crowd have in decades) It’s continuity overall is surprisingly tight. For instance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth it is established that the Daleks invaded and conquered humanity in the 22nd century. Vicki who is from a later date in human history is therefore familiar with the Daleks, as are other humans from the future, such as Steven, and the colonists in the Ark.
[Museum Exhibit room]
IAN: It can’t be!
(The adults recoil at the sight of a large pepperpot with a bad disposition, but it is only an exhibit labelled Dalek, Planet Skaro.)
VICKI: So that’s what a Dalek looks like.
DOCTOR: Don’t touch, child.
BARBARA: What do you know about them, Vicki?
VICKI: Only what I’ve read in history books. That they invaded Earth about three hundred years ago, was it?
IAN: We were there, Vicki. That was one of the periods we visited.
DOCTOR: I don’t mind admitting, my boy, that that thing gave me a start. Coming face to face to it again.
VICKI: It’s not a bit the way I imagined it. Oh, I mean, the books describe them all right but well, this one looks quite friendly.
IAN: You wouldn’t say that, young lady, if ever we meet them again. Which to say the least is very unlikely. I hope.
Furthermore the Monk is left stranded on earth at the end of the The Time Meddler, and in his next appearance he mentions this to the Doctor, and vows revenge as a result.
DOCTOR: Ah, tut, tut, tut, my dear Monk. Now don’t be so ridiculous. Put that down at once.
MONK: Well, hello, Doctor. Keeping well?
DOCTOR: Oh, no complaints, no. And you?
MONK: Oh, so so, you know, just so so.
SARA: Who is it?
MONK: Delighted to see you again, young man.
STEVEN: Thanks. I wish I could say the same for you.
DOCTOR: I suppose congratulations for your escape are quite in order.
MONK: Oh, thank you. Most kind of you, Doctor. Yes, it took a bit of time, but I finally managed to bypass the dimensional controller.
DOCTOR: Yes, a very interesting solution, yes, I’m sure, though I think it would make for rather an uncomfortable ride. However, I don’t suppose it affected you very much, being an amateur.
MONK: Yes, it was rather uncomfortable, but then, we can’t have everything, can we? As for being an amateur, we shall see. Anyway, it was better than 1066.
DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose so.
SARA: What’s he talking about, 1066?
STEVEN: It’s all right. We’ve met the Monk once before. I’ll explain later.
DOCTOR: And you returned here for one obvious reason, did you not?
MONK: I’m afraid so, Doctor. Revenge is a strange thing, isn’t it?
DOCTOR: Yes, yes, quite, quite. Tell me, any plans?
MONK: And all carried out as well. Oh, ho. Doctor, you remember you left me in 1066?
In the 80s meanwhile Ian Levine was called in by John Nathan Turner as a continuity advisor. Whilst some think that Turner went too far with continuity references, personally I think this has been exaggerated somewhat.
The fact is there were references to previous stories before John Nathan Turner’s era. I feel this point get’s exaggerated as a way of justifying the show’s cancellation. Obviously too many references to the past is a bad thing, as it can alienate new viewers. I think you should only reference the past if you are following a previous story. If you are setting a story on an entirely new planet and time, then there is no need to comment on the past.
Still it’s worth baring in mind these references from the Pre JNT years.
DOCTOR: Ever since man began? Exactly. But why? All right, Captain Yates, the curtains. Now creatures like those have been seen over and over again throughout the history of man, and man has turned them into myths, gods or devils, but they’re neither. They are, in fact, creatures from another world.
BENTON: Do you mean like the Axons and the Cybermen?
DOCTOR: Precisely, only far, far older and immeasurably more dangerous.
Pyramids of Mars
SARAH: Hey, Doctor. Doctor, look what I’ve found.
DOCTOR: Hello, Vicky.
DOCTOR: Hmm? Where did you get that dress?
SARAH: I just told you. I found it back there in the wardrobe. Why, don’t you like it?
DOCTOR: Yes. Yes, I always did. Victoria wore it. She travelled with me for a time
Spearhead from Space
BRIGADIER: Since UNIT was formed, there’ve been two attempts to invade this planet.
BRIGADIER: We were lucky enough to be able to stop them. There was a policy decision not to inform the public.
LIZ: Do you seriously expect me to believe that
BRIGADIER: It’s not my habit to tell lies, Miss Shaw.
LIZ: I’m sorry, but it is a fantastic story.
BRIGADIER: We were very lucky on both occasions. We had help from a scientist with a great experience of other life forms.
LIZ: Really Who was this genius
BRIGADIER: Well, it’s all rather difficult to explain. We used to call him the Doctor.
(A phone buzzes.)
The War Games
TIME LORD: You have heard the charge against you, that you have repeatedly broken our most important law of non-interference in the affairs of other planets. What have you to say? Do you admit these actions?
DOCTOR: I not only admit them, I am proud of them. While you have been content merely to observe the evil in the galaxy, I have been fighting against it.
TIME LORD 3: It is not we who are on trial here, Doctor, it is you.
DOCTOR: No, no, of course, you’re above criticism, aren’t you.
TIME LORD: Do you admit that these actions were justified?
DOCTOR: Yes, of course, I do. Give me a thought channel and I’ll show you some of the evils I’ve been fighting against.
(The Time Lords nod to each other.)
DOCTOR: The Quarks, deadly robot servants of the cruel Dominators, they tried to enslave a peace loving race. Then there were the Yeti, more robot killers, instruments of an alien intelligence trying to take over the planet Earth.
TIME LORD 3: All this is entirely irrelevant.
DOCTOR: You asked me to justify my actions, I am doing so. Let me show you the Ice Warriors, cruel Martian invaders, they tried to conquer the Earth too. So did the Cybermen, half creature, half machine. But worst of all were the Daleks, a pitiless race of conquerors exterminating all who came up against them. All these evils I have fought while you have done nothing but observe. True, I am guilty of interference, just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!
TIME LORD: Is that all you have to say?
DOCTOR: Well, isn’t it enough?
TIME LORD: Your defence has been heard and will be carefully considered, but you have raised difficult issues. We require time to think about them. You will be recalled when we have made our decision.
The Curse of Peladon
(There are footsteps so they duck back behind the tapestry as a familiar scaly-armoured green figure hisses its way past. They follow it to a corner.)
JO: What was that
DOCTOR: That, Jo, was an Ice Warrior. A native of the planet Mars.
JO: You’ve seen them before
DOCTOR: Yes, indeed I have, and believe me, they’re not very pleasant company.
Ultimately Doctor Who as you can see did very much care about it’s continuity. To say that it didn’t just because of a few minor continuity blips, sprinkled throughout a 26 year history is once again dishonest and harmful.
Fandom seems to have it in their heads that continuity is something that only fans care about, and that it consists of just shoehorning in pointless references. It doesn’t.
Continuity is essentially just making sure a story stays consistent. For instance if you establish that a character like Buffy has super strength, but cannot survive bullet wounds, or conventional weapons then that becomes part of canon. A proper writer will therefore want to work within that, and not have Buffy survive a bullet wound to the head because of her powers. A lazy hack however will have Buffy get shot in the head with a shotgun and be perfectly fine, and justify it with “continuity is for nerds.”
Similarly if a character’s story has been built up for years by other writers, then it won’t just be die hards that care about it being followed up on. If you bring the character back without explanation after being killed off, people will feel cheated. (In all fairness Classic Who was guilty of this with The Master after his supposed death in Planet of Fire. However that was rightfully criticised at the time. It makes no sense to use a bad example of something from Classic Who as a template whilst ignoring all of the good.) Similarly if you undo years of development and don’t explain why, even casual viewers will feel cheated.
Trying to turn continuity into something that must be ignored is a terrible idea, as essentially it is telling viewers “nothing matters. We are too lazy to try and remain consistent to any degree about characters, histories, powers, or anything like that.”
It also means you can’t develop a character properly. After all if their entire history can be just tossed aside (because continuity is for nerds.) How can you possibly develop them over a long period? An example of this from New Who was the development of Missy into a more heroic character that was quickly dropped without explanation when the Master returned in the Chibnall era.
“What about the two different origins for the Daleks in Genesis and the first Dalek story, and what about the Time Lord’s being presented completely differently. That proves Doctor Who constantly rewrote itself as those are large parts of the lore, not just minor blips.”
No it doesn’t. To start with those changes are nowhere near as big as they have been made out to be. (Often by people like Paul Cornell.) Second of all those changes were still carefully done. Again I am not saying you can’t ever have any retcon’s or changes, but even with a retcon it still has to fit in with what came before to a reasonable extent.
In the first Dalek story we learn that the Daleks were once humanoid creatures called the Dals who engaged the Thals in an atomic war which destroyed the surface of Skaro. Both species were mutated as a result, and whilst the Thals mutation cycle eventually came full circle, the Dals mutated into the Daleks, and housed themselves inside metallic casings.
In Genesis of the Daleks, we find out that the Daleks humanoid ancestors were called Kaleds instead. Like the Dals, the Kaleds engaged the Thals in an atomic war that destroyed the surface of Skaro. Both species slowly began to mutate, but in Genesis it is revealed that the Kaleds leading scientist Davros, accelerated the Kaleds mutation cycle (as well as tampered with their minds for his own ends) before placing the mutants inside metal casings, creating the Daleks in the process.
At a glance these two origins stories are deeply contradictory, but Terry Nation (who wrote both stories.) Insisted that they weren’t.
Nation argued that in the first Dalek story we only heard a vague, second hand account about the Daleks origins written thousands of years later from the Thals history records. In Genesis we see a first hand account meanwhile. Therefore the first Dalek story’s origin can be dismissed as just simply the Thals (who were a primitive society at that time) getting their history wrong.
He says as such in this interview at roughly 9 mins 50 seconds.
Personally I think this is a fair enough answer. As Nation himself has pointed out there often many contradictory historical records of different events and important figures.
The point is that Genesis shows us a first hand account, and so after Genesis there is no third origin story for the Daleks. There’s no wiggle room left after Genesis.
Similarly in The Deadly Assassin, Robert Holmes never set out to destroy canon, or smash things up as Paul Cornell said.
The Deadly Assassin was controversial, because prior to The Deadly Assassin the Time Lords had seemingly been portrayed in a sympathetic light, whilst The Deadly Assassin portrayed them as being somewhat corrupt.
Holmes was able to defend the story however, by stating that as far as he was concerned the Time Lords had always had a dark side.
He argued that they had a death penalty (as seen in The War Games) which meant that they were not total pacifists. He also argued that they had produced a number of renegades which suggested that their society was entirely peaceful. (The Meddling Monk, The War Chief, The Master, Omega and Morbius, all of whom were created by other writers. Morbius was introduced in a story Holmes had script edited, but the character was still the creation of Terrance Dicks.)
Holmes also argued that the Time Lords had punished the Doctor in a severe way by exiling him, and that they had been depicted as unfair and unjust in Jon Pertwee’s time in their treatment of the Doctor.
See here for Holmes words on the subject.
I looked at all that was known about Gallifrey, and it was very litte. The only occasion when more than one Time Lord had been seen in the programme was at the end of The War Games, when a group of them condemned Patrick Troughton to exile on earth for interfering in the affais of other races.
Hang on! Wasn’t it usually a Time Lord who was seen dispatching the Doctor on some important mission? And didn’t this normally result in a bit of some distant planet being blown up? In this case wasn’t it grossly hypocritical to punish Troughton by turning him into Jon Pertwee?
This new hypothesis seemed to fit better than the old belief that Time Lords were lofty minded, cosmic Buddhists. It explained why the Doctor never went near Gallifrey; why in The Brain of Morbius he flew into a rage over their interference and used the telling phrase “won’t soil their lily white hands; and why Morbius himself called them “pallid, devious worms”. It also, I thought explained the disproportionately high number of villainous megalomaniacs emanating from Gallifrey. The Meddlesome Monk, The Master, Omega, The War Chief and Morbius.
I have therefore decided to depict the Time Lords as an inward looking oilgarchy, involved in constant political intrique within their own version of the Palace of Westminster. This interpretation seems fully defensible in the light of the known facts..
Of course we had often been told what splendid chaps they were, interested solely in the welfare of the universe, but it was usually a Time Lord who told us this anyway, it could be dismissed as taradiddle.”
You can see with this in mind that Robert Holmes certainly didn’t have the Paul Cornell mindset of “I can do anything I want.” If he were going to reveal something new or provide a new interpretation of an old character, he would still try and make it fit with what came before.
That’s what any writer should do when trying to rewrite, or reinterpret something that has been established. They find a loop hole, or a way to make their retcon still fit somewhat.
Even outside of Doctor Who you can see that the most successful retcons have worked this way.
In Batman The Killing Joke, Alan Moore added a whole new backstory to the Joker, but again Moore made it fit with established DC continuity. Prior to this adventure, the only thing we knew about the Jokers past was that he had once been a criminal known as the Red Hood, who had fallen into a vat of chemicals. The chemicals bleached his skin white and drove him insane, resulting in the birth of the Joker.
Moore still kept those elements of the Jokers origins intact, but again used the wiggle room that was there to show us who the Joker was before donning the Red Hood persona. (Which had never been revealed before.)
“The Joker has a kind of muddy kind of origin. They’d said that he’d been the leader of a criminal gang called the Red Hood Mob and that while trying to escape from Batman he’d swum across this river of chemicals…That was about it and this was from a story from like the late 50s or something, and so I thought “Okay I won’t contradict that,” because I kind of believe in working by the rules of the material as it already exists but I can put a lot of spin on that.”
This is how you build on established characters backstories. You fill in any gaps there are, see what wiggle room is still left for you to play around with, try and do something new with them in the present.
If you take the Paul Cornell/Fitzroy approach of just trampling over all established aspects of an established character however, very soon you won’t have anything left of said character, or any kind of consistent universe or mythology or franchise.
This is what has happened to Doctor Who and in the next article we will examine just how the revival smashed the core identity of the Doctor to pieces.
We will be examining how from even the Eccelston era, the revival did not stay true to the Doctors character, and also how this changed the direction of the series and it’s audience as a result.
To Be Continued