Tuesday, November 26, 2013

OP: The Eight Race - The Canon War for the 8th Doctor's Timeline

Having been in this fandom for seven years, I've learned a lot about the Wilderness Years; especially the last eight years before the show returned from life support. While Christopher Eccleston's my first Doctor, Paul McGann is THE Doctor to me not just because of one TV Movie but the audios, comics, and the novels. Those three areas rescued McGann from being christened the George Lazenby/Alan Arkin (Arkin played Inspector Clouseau forty-five years ago in the film of the same name while Peter Sellars and Blake Edwards made The Party) of Doctor Who. I have to laugh at those who keep denying the Eighth Doctor's existance just because of one little line they go insane over more than Sarah Jane saying she's from 1980 when her hairstyle screams 1975. So, he said he's half human on his mother's side. SO WHAT?! It's not that serious anymore than the so called "Morbius Doctors" (that's one topic for another time) or the nickname Theta Sigma. But the time after the broadcast of the TV Movie has, to me, be the most turbulent time in the program's fifty year history and for fandom. While we've been told or implied that this Doctor fought in the Last Great Time War (before Steven Moffat buggered that detail up this year), there was already one between three genres for the role of primary Doctor Who.

The Gillatt edited DWM's giant raspberry to its open minded audience

This "Time War" began with Gary Gillatt's tenure as Editor at Doctor Who Magazine. It's no secret that he had/still has a huge disdain for the Virgin New Adventures and everything about it (including the long since revered Bernice Summerfield) so figure what way to make what he thought was "real Doctor Who" known than to kill off Ace with the aid of writer Scott Gray in the Seventh Doctor strip Ground Zero. Looking back on it, it was a very daft decision. It's like cutting your own limb off thinking you'd be better off yet there's nothing wrong with it. But it was only the beginning of the War for Canon supremacy. The Eight Doctor strips began with the Doctor returning to Stockbridge and saving it from the Celestial Toymaker with the aid of the village's resident UFO nut Max Edison and his young friend Izzy Sinclair who automatically became his new companion. The Byronic traveler and his Sci-Fi loving chum hit the ground running in their first batch of stories in the first year. While drawn by Martin Geraghty others McGann's likeness remains intact while Izzy visualization has undergone three faces over the last 16 years: in the beginning she first bore a resemblance to singer Louise Wener of the band Sleeper, then later the actress Luisa Bradshaw-White of This Life fame and most recent (via Big Finish Productions) actress Jemima Rooper. While the DWM ushered in its first Renaissance since the Sixth Doctor strips, on the prose front, things began to get ugly.

One of the three poisoned chalices from Terrence Dicks and John Peel

In 1997 (a year after the TV movie), the BBC stripped Virgin Publishing Ltd of its Who license and took it in house. For many who enjoyed the New Adventures (though Bernice Summerfield continued by until decade's end), it was a bitter blow and a mistake; a mistake still felt in the eight years since the show returned. Gone were the too broad, too deepness the NAs were known for and in its place was the chaotic period of the BBC Books Editorship of Nualla Buffini and later Stephen Cole. To start off the newly born Eighth Doctor Adventures, Buffini chose former script editor Terrence Dicks to kick it off with the most offensive book ever to be published in both his name and Doctor Who's: The Eight Doctors. Dicks was very bemused by how the TV Movie represented Who so instead of writing what should've been a new story much like his previous NA efforts, he went the opposite direction by writing the most poorly written, continuity drenched, multi-Doctor story ever completed with creating the doomed companion, the much maligned Samantha Jones. The book not only served as a grand example of why the BBC should take everything in-house but a black spot Terrence Dicks's cred with fandom. However, the arrival of the next book Vampire Science and the other two made up for it but the fifth one would cause a mighty uproar. Another writer who's cred got deep sixed because of his disdain for what he thought Who did wrong was John Peel. His two Dalek novels War of the Daleks and Legacy of the Daleks were and still are the most awful piece of prose ever written. War not only went out it way to devoid Eight and Sam of any personality but did a gruesome hatchet job on Dalek stories from Destiny to Remembrance (especially Skaro's destruction). Sometimes I wonder if not only did Terry Nation hated Remembrance but whether or not if he had a grudge against Douglas Adams. 

The turbulent period saw the return of "Mad Larry" himself Lawrence Miles with his fantastic Faction Paradox. His first three books in the range were the most spellbinding and above all revolutionary. These days, whenever you think of the Matt Smith's Doctor dying at Lake Silencio, it lifts from Alien Bodies. Its no secret some think Steven Moffat's ripping off the book and The Adventuress of Henrietta Street for his flimsy ideas and poor resolutions (I'm looking at you, River Song and The Name Of The Doctor!) and my god its showing! While, Eight and Sam dealt with the Faction and other baddies, they were joined by a male companion who is the most revered and loved after Benny: Fitz Kreiner. Another Miles book that turned Doctor Who inside out was the mammoth Interference that not only saw the exit of Sam and the arrival of Compassion but the retcon of the Third Doctor's regeneration (later restored) Before the recent John Hurt hoopla there was Three dying on Dust instead of at UNIT HQ. Of course continuity still reared its ugly head as if it became a burden to the audience, When the year 2000 rolled in, a drastic change was made: the destruction of Gallifrey. For those new to Who the fandom of old have huge yet bizarre bone of contention towards the Time Lords and have a defeatist logic that they're better off dead (including Romana!) and there's nothing interesting to be done with them. Big Finish begged to differ there but even that's fallen on deaf populist ears. Though the line got better with the Caught on Earth arc, Anji, Trix, and Sabbath.

This is where the lines were drawn....

Speaking of Big Finish, the company gained the license to make Doctor Who audios after the success of the first six Bernice Summerfield audio adaptations. In 2001, Paul McGann returned to the role for brand new audio adventures that have been ongoing for now thirteen years. For the first five to seven years, the Doctor was joined by self professed "Edwardian Adventuress Charley Pollard (India Fisher) and later the criminally maligned and underrated Eutermisan woobie C'rizz (Conrad Westmaas). The first two seasons centered around Charley and how the Doctor saving her from the R101 caused ripples to the Web of Time leading up the controversial 2003 audio Zagreus. For those who hate it, there's no love lost between jilted customers who were expecting a traditional multi-Doctor story and its co-author and former Big Finish Svengali Gary Russell deciding to segregate the 8th Doctor's timeline into three alternate timelines: separating the audios, the novels, and the DWM comic strips. For those who follow Russell's works over the years its no secret that he enjoys his alternate timeline ideas. Pity Jason Haigh-Ellery never pulled him to the side to tell him to leave it out.The so-called alternate timeline idea has been well abandoned in the years since Russell left his duties to Nicholas Briggs. From 2007 to now, Big Finish catapulted listeners to a later period of the Eighth Doctor's life which included the Blackpool native Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith), struggling actress Tamsin Drew (Niky Wardley), WW1 Voluntary Aid Detachment Molly O'Sullivan (Ruth Bradley) and soon joining the list next year Kaldor City native Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) from the Seventh Doctor audio Robophobia. The period also saw the return of his Grand-daughter Susan Campbell (nee' Foreman) and albeit brief, her son Alex (played by McGann's own son Jake). In the wake of the Briggs era ,The Bodysnatchers was referenced in Paul Magrs' 2008 audio The Zygon Who Fell to Earth and the following year 2009's The Company Of Friends (featuring Benny, Fitz, Izzy and Mary Shelley) officially put the last nail in the coffin for a long bitter war for what was Canon. Further, in 2012, Eight abandoned his Wild Bill Hycock attire for a dark blue naval leather jacket, denim jeans, brown boots, satchel, and a new steampunk Sonic Screwdriver for the finacially and critically successful Dark Eyes box set.

The return to TV came with a price.....

Of course the war actually ended with the return of the TV series in March 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the then new Ninth Doctor with Billie Piper in tow as Rose Tyler. The return saw a bad patch for all three spin-off medias: For BBC Books, they ceased publication of the EDAs and the PDAs in favor of tie-in novels to the New Series. However, there have been four new books since the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era that were right up EDA/PDA-ers' alley and a new eBook series in the works. Big Finish sales dipped briefly during the Russell-Briggs transition period in 2006-2007. The media most hit was Doctor Who Magazine who had plans to make a Ninth Doctor Year One arc with then Eighth Doctor Companion, the Oblivioner Destrii. Due to the BBC, RTD and Julie Gardener wanting Nine to only be seen with Rose, the Year One plan and the regeneration panel was scraped; the strips suffered for a time with mediocre stories only to gain its mojo again by the time David Tennant's tenure started and at rapid speed once Rose Tyler was gone.

And they would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those meddling kids (Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner)

There's a lot to be learned from this and there's a damn good reason why the BBC will never pull a Gene Roddenberry and decide what's canon and what isn't (The Adventure Games notwithstanding) though the recent minisode may have successfully tore down the proverbial iron curtain between TV only and everything else. Its up to you, the viewer, the listener, the reader to decided what you consider what happened and what didn't without treating your opinion as "facts". Otherwise, history would repeat itself. And no matter the direction, the Eighth Doctor is still the romantic, byronic traveler with a love for all life and did many impossible things for the greater good.

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