Canonicity: give up now

Mr Mark Wilkinson tried to goad me recently. He quoted Paul Cornell for one thing. Never a good plan, particularly after he himself had posted a link to this Lawrence Miles interview that ‘confirmed’ everyone’s worst fears about PC (how apt those initials).

Cornell, it seems, wants to talk about canonicity in Doctor Who. The problem with Who is that nothing matches up. Stories contradict each other. Then there are the comics, the audio plays, the novels, fan fic and so on. How to make it all fit together?

Some people care. Some people can be very imaginative with canonicity. How come KITT in Knight Rider exists yet is so clearly impossible with 1980s technology? Because he’s made from the crashed parts of a Cylon raider from Galactica 80, of course. Didn’t the red light at the front give the game away? It did to a whole load of fans which is why this particular theory is now “fan canon” or “fanon”.

Now, if there’s a canonicity problem, I for one simply point in the direction of Toby at Inner Toob and say if anyone can sort out this tangled mess, he can. He, after all, has a grand project to make all TV shows fit together into one canonical whole. So the whole goading thing doesn’t work. My faith in Toby is great. He will sort things out.

I’d also point out that the nature of Doctor Who is such that we could have a story in the next series of the show that said the Tom Baker era never happened and because it’s about time travel, it would be true. That would be that. It happened but it didn’t. It really doesn’t matter if anything contradicts anything else because it can all be rewritten at a moment’s notice. So lie back and enjoy the fun. Read a book, listen to the play. It happened. It didn’t happen. It’s quantum mechanics in merchandising format (do you Copenhagen or do you multi-world at WH Smith’s?).

But I’ve noticed something new is happening that makes canonicity harder and even more brain-warping.

We’re all aware of DVDs that have “deleted scenes” – scenes that never made it to the final episode but were filmed all the same. I imagine working out if they’re canonical or not is a whole load of weirdness. Plus, it’s relatively easy to discount them because they’re optional. You don’t have to watch the deleted scenes. They’re not in the episode itself. Easy.

But what of Battlestar Galactica? For the last two episodes, the producers have included a deleted scene (aka ‘bonus’ scene. You can view them on the web site, too) just before the end titles. Now it’s on television, you have no choice to watch it and it usually directly contradicts what you’ve just seen in the episode itself. How does it all fit in?

My mind hurts. I suspect that canonicity is broken, that the existence of Paul Cornell contradicts itself and he has become a figment of everyone’s imagination. But I might have forgotten to carry the 1.

Toby: save me. Save us all.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.