Should Doctor Who Abandon Continuity?

There’s a documentary on the Day of the Daleks Special Edition that you really ought to see. It’s Toby Hadoke explaining the inconsistencies of UNIT dating. In a nutshell, it’s all going fine – just about – until Mawdryn Undead, which establishes the UNIT stories as taking place before the 1980 that Sarah Jane talks so frequently. “The real question,” Toby suggests, “is does it matter?” before adding “OF COURSE IT DOES!”

He’s joking. But he’s onto something. Ultimately if you take this stuff too seriously it destroys you. Continuity never used to exist in Doctor Who (Terrance Dicks has said on more than one occasion that ‘History is what you can remember’). And then it did, and it’s impossible to really maintain it properly – but it still seems to matter, and as a result many fans are obsessive about seeing patterns in things that aren’t there. That’s why there are arguments about whether Clara’s grandmother is actually an elderly Amy (despite being too short, the wrong nationality, and about twenty years too young) or whether the Curator is actually a future Doctor or simply a gap in the fourth wall. Perhaps it’s all about making sense of an increasingly senseless world. Or perhaps we’re just bored these days. The internet has made the information available; why not use it? What else is it for, if not uploading videos of your cat?

Even if the writers haven’t and are unlikely to abandon the concept of continuity, we need to stop being quite so precious about it.

There’s the question of age. Two Pertwee stories (The Silurians and Mind of Evil) both establish that the Doctor has lived for “several thousand years” – although that’s generally interpreted, I’m informed, to mean that he has seen things in several different millennia of times on Earth. But the retconning of the Doctor’s age in 2005 has nothing to do with his actual age (are we really going to ignore the six hundred years he spent on Orbis?) and is simply Russell T Davies picking a number out of the air. That’s his prerogative. I’m all for trying to make some sort of sense out of these things, but the people who try and produce accurate timelines of the Doctor’s lifespan – and then state that X couldn’t possibly have happened because it contradicts Y – are like the fundamentalists who try and date the world based on a literal reading of the Biblical timeline. It’s quite fun to watch, as long as you keep your head down during the ensuing fireworks.

Mind of Evil

The truth is that Doctor Who can be whatever the chief writer wants it to be, because it’s transcended continuity. There are certain fundamental ground rules – no true love, no kissing, no beards – but that’s it. We’ve spent years shoehorning and explaining and reconciling continuity, and I sometimes wonder why. For example, Tegan’s appearance in A Fix With Sontarans is “non-canon”, because the story is “non-canon” – and the subsequent fan fiction attempts to reconcile Tegan with the Sixth Doctor, while undoubtedly well-meant, were frankly silly.

That’s all fine when we’re talking about fan fiction. It’s when it bleeds into the show that we all start to suffer. Attack of the Cybermen is a good story, but it suffers from needless references to previous adventures that are there purely to maintain continuity. I could put that down as anomalous, but it doesn’t stop with the eighties. Everything that Moffat’s done in the past couple of years has, it seems, been about maintaining continuity under the guise of revising it. He’s shoehorned in as many Important Changes as he can. We’ve seen the Doctor grow into the character we recognised through stories that are new to us. Origins have been rewritten (twice) at the hands of a companion that Moffat created. We’re even told that the Twelfth Doctor’s face matters; that it’s somehow significant (because casting a previously used actor in the title role is something that’s never been done before, honest). It’s been labelled as genius; personally I call it territory marking.

We’re even told that the Twelfth Doctor’s face matters; that it’s somehow significant… It’s been labelled as genius; personally I call it territory marking.

So I have a proposal. I’d like to suggest that Doctor Who more or less abandons the concept of continuity completely. I’d like to suggest that we don’t need it. I’d like to suggest that we ditch the idea of canonicity. It opens the door to a multitude of possibilities. It works for James Bond – where certain recurring themes, motifs and characters are just about the only thing connecting a group of completely different stories populated by completely different people, rendered in completely different styles. It works in the DC universe, whereupon the one constant throughout the myriad different versions of Batman that we’ve seen over the years is that he doesn’t kill (and even that’s occasionally up for grabs). We accept that Batman never ages because he’s Batman and because it’s a comic, but the Doctor’s ability to regenerate has saddled him with a millstone of continuity that I don’t think serves any particular purpose.

So why not abandon it? Why not have the Doctor fall readily in and out of love, go through periods of murderous rage, or even die? Why not have Dalek stories that contradict each other without having to retcon or justify your creative decisions? Why not have alternative origin stories, where the Doctor meets companions in different places, and says goodbye to them under different circumstances – and have them take place not in ‘parallel universes’, but in this one? Why not have writers who are allowed to place their own stamp on the show with more or less complete creative control, on the understanding that it doesn’t matter, because the next writer will also do their own thing? Why not start each series from scratch, and see where we go?

Doomsday 2

Arguably, you do need what we’ll refer to as ‘local continuity’ (not my phrase, but I’m pinching it). A story probably shouldn’t contradict everything that happened last week. If you’re going to have a Doctor that’s thoroughly unpredictable every episode – that’s unpredictable in an unpredictable kind of sense, rather than an ‘abandon everyone on the moon and leave them to solve their own problems’ kind of sense – you stand to lose half your audience. If your companion is borderline schizophrenic people are going to become alienated unless you make it clear where you’re going. There’s a stark difference between development and plain inconsistency. Even the multi-faceted Claras that populated series seven weren’t so different from each other.

Still, even local continuity needn’t be a barrier. A competent writer might easily create an entire series full of stories that expressly contradict one another, as part of a wider mystery. By ‘wider mystery’ I don’t mean that the Doctor erroneously left his jacket on because of a production cock-up and the writers decided to turn it into a moment of great importance. I mean stories in which everything is purposely different, only for this to mean something – something that’s important, without actually overshadowing the narrative and merit of each individual story.

In the absence of that, I’d like to propose that even if the writers haven’t and are unlikely to abandon the concept of continuity, we need to stop being quite so precious about it. The word ‘we’ in this instance does not mean all of us. There are plenty of people I’ve spoken to who don’t give a damn about the contradictions. But lots of people do, both inside the business and out of it, and I wonder if perhaps the Whoniverse is suffering from people desperate to tie up every loose end, however much the picture is obscured as a result. And when that happens – when writers and fans alike are more concerned with what’s come before than what’s in front – we have a show and a fanbase that are knowledgeable and watertight, but ultimately full of nothing but hot air.

I don’t think that’s my kind of show. Is it yours?

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  1. Chris Browning says:

    the series has always had a very cavalier relationship with continuity, which to be honest is one of the things i love about it most. it’s got none of that slightly prissy, obsessive devotion to it’s own history that other shows have and as such is liable to make things up on the fly… which is why i think it’s lasted so long. i really hate hang ups about continuity… it holds things back and usually ends up with stuff like “attack of the cybermen” which sings to a choir of about five fans and forsakes invention and ideas to coasting on history. it’s a slippery slope, but that’s where i think continuity takes us in the end…

    • James McLean says:

      I have to just mention that I think Attack of the Cybermen gets an unfair attack unto itself. The continuity isn’t the issue with that story. If there had been no continuity, just a suggested backplot within the story of a previous tale, it wouldn’t have made the story any better or worse.
      Ultimately I think continuity is handled well. A show that is about the high science of temporal physics means stuff can be malleable (like UNIT) without fans having to get too uptight. When fans do get stressed it is because they won’t accept continuity in Who is fluid and look for a rigid set of cause and effect that the show’s concept suggests is actually impossible.
      So I agree with the spirit of the article; we shouldn’t get hung up on continuity, enjoy it for the light framework of narrative history it occasionally suggests!

  2. Peter Webb says:

    Doctor Who has been one ongoing narrative for over 50 years. I wouldn’t want to break that, just acknowledge that everything doesn’t need to line up perfectly and that nothing is set in stone.

  3. Guest says:

    SHUT UP YOU IDIOT!

    • Doctor Moo says:

      That’s a tad harsh and is unwarranted. If you think his suggestion makes him an idiot then at least suggest why that is and open yourself up to debate. At least try to be polite. 🙂

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      The vast majority of people commenting here agree that doing away with continuity would be an idiotic thing to do. Nobody, apart from yourself, have stooped to callin the writer of the article an idiot (and also don’t have their Caps Lock on when commenting). If you disagree with the writers views then instead of telling him to shut up at least present a constructive and appreciated case for your own personal views like the rest of us. Oh, and turn your Caps Lock off 🙂

  4. Doctor Moo says:

    …erm… No. Continuity in this series is loose and contradicted often but that makes it fun. There’s still a certain level of consistency and we should maintain it. Don’t be stupid.

  5. Supreme Dalek says:

    I’ve always asumed that the young Doctor wants people to believe he’s older than he is, and the old Doctor wants to be younger, just like many humans do.

  6. nparkern says:

    Any contradictions I see, I try to make up an explanation. If I can’t think of one, I just assume one is out there, but it doesn’t matter what. I think not having a concept of what is Canon or not suits Doctor Who, a show about time travel! I just accept everything, whether I’ve seen, heard or read it or not, and while continuity hang ups are really fun to figure out, they really don’t matter in my eyes. There’s always some reason that does not need to be explained for the discrepancies!

  7. Dannie Madsen says:

    We should NOT give up on continuity! That is just plain stupid. And the thing about UNIT… I just think that people don’t want to use their brains and that’s why they can’t figure it out. I’d say that all in all there are no dating controversies, only people without enough understanding of how it works. About the Doctor’s age… He has said thousands of times that he can’t remember it himself, sometimes even stopping to think about it. He cannot remember quite so well, however the 10th and 11th Doctor (in the beginning) were in his 900s and Eleven later got in his 1000s and Twelve is safe-to-say over 2000 years. I just think some people are just too stupid or in denial to understand the Whoniverse properly. Remember to tie it all together there is a need of everything Who (not just the TV series) to make it complete. But for God’s sake! We need continuity, because that makes a brilliant show. You can’t just have one thing happen in episode 1, and then pretend in episode 2 that none of it happened, and start all over.

    • Pablo Martin Podhorzer says:

      The Eight Doctor spent 600 years in Orbis. But that means nothing, he could be 6000 for what I care about that bit of continuity.

      • bar says:

        Continuity and timeline issues with the Eighth Doctor are an obscure branch of Bistromathics, and should not be attempted by amateurs, even with a safety net and several bottles of muscle relaxant.

        • Pablo Martin Podhorzer says:

          EDA is like reading “Don Quixote”.

          • Dannie Madsen says:

            In fact it can all be same continuity. You must remember that any amount of time can have passed between stories. ANY amount. From the Tenth Doctor’s point of view only 1 year had passed between “Voyage of the Damned” and “The Day of the Doctor”, while between “The Day of the Doctor” and “The End of Time” two years had passed. So in fact it can all add up in one continuity if you’re able to figure it out.

        • TheLazyWomble says:

          Time is an illusion: lunchtime doubly so?

        • Doctor Moo says:

          My theory on the 8th Doctor continuity issues is that there are several parallel timelines (Why? That’s a whole other issue in itself so I won’t go there!) which allows for the contradictions and whatnot. It also explains how we can have alternate successors to that incarnation (Atkinson, Grant, Hurt) which lets “The Curse of Fatal Death” and “Scream of the Shalka” become canon, in a convoluted way, if you want them to be.

    • Tomer Feiner says:

      The Seventh Doctor was stated to be 953 years old in “Time and the Rani”…

      • Dannie Madsen says:

        Yes, and before that he was also suggested to have been over a 1000 years old. This only shows that even other Time Lords and Time Ladies are unable to keep up with his age.

  8. TimeChaser says:

    Considering that the show often plays fast and loose with continuity, often rewriting things for a later audience that may not be aware of what came before, the fact that we have any sort of continuity at all is a miracle. But sometimes in the name of telling a story, writers and producers/showrunners have run with an idea that contradicts previous continuity in a very jarring way – such as Kill the Moon – and that is messing with continuity in a way I don’t like and have a very hard time rationalizing.

    • theprisoner6 says:

      Kill the Moon does have some issues. I really would love some retconning there…might be an interesting story somewhere in between the inconsistency. Doctor Who is often at its best when it tries to explain things like that.

      • Mr McJohnson says:

        “Kill the Moon does have some issues.”
        Understatement, no?

        • theprisoner6 says:

          Indeed. I loved the drama, and I appreciate that sometimes the drama pushes the science into the backseat. I just wonder if it can’t be used to support a larger story arc or at least one-off story with some explanation of what the hell happened!

          So, yeah, I’m all about continuity and retconning. I loved the Cybermen timelines from the old series! Made my eyes goes crazy.

          • Mr McJohnson says:

            With you on the Cybermen timeline.
            I thought that Kill the Mo(r)on was utter garbage (to put it politely) and I’d be happy if they just brushed that one under the rug and never mentioned it again!

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Couldn’t agree with you more on that Mr Mc, it was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Bad enough to rival “Love & Monsters” and “Time & The Rani” for the title of Worst Doctor Who Ever.

          • Pablo Martin Podhorzer says:

            I like Love&Monsters. But I like nerd stories and such.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            “…I like Love&Monsters…” Sorry but those words don’t make sense in any language I know! The worst forty-five minutes of television ever made.

          • Pablo Martin Podhorzer says:

            I guess I watch a lot more TV than you do then… Is this hate for L&M due to the fact that is Moffat (was Moffat?) telling fans that they are ugly nerds or what?

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Don’t get me started on it, seriously! It’s not just what you’ve said, it’s everything else in there too… and a joke about oral sex to top it all off… there’s the Abzorbaloff… it’s an insult to everything it stands for including its viewers.

            I do not wish to discuss this further as just thinking about that episode is beginning to push my temper and restraint, I JUST HATE IT SO MUCH!!! I cannot conceive of how anyone with even a slight appreciation of Dr Who can stand it.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            It’s an insult to everything it touches. Be it the fans, the main cast, even the show itself… I cannot conceive of how anyone can even put up with it, let alone like it! This is my favourite show but that’s one episode I like to pretend didn’t happen; it makes even Time & The Rani look oscarworthy by comparison!

            If you wish to discuss this further do not hesitate to reply but I should probably warn you that when I discuss that episode I can get quite rude quite quickly as even so much as thinking about it makes me lose my temper.

          • bar says:

            The nicest interpretation of L&M I use on a good day is that the Absorbalof is the anally retentive humourless obsessive fan who will only allow others to be a fan like him or not at all, and the group (linda was it?) represent normal fans whose creativity and friendship goes way beyond the starting point of the show that brings them together.
            like Kasterborous.
            So if you feel deeply insulted by L&M, you’re probably a bit too absorbaloffish and have forgotten how much fun normal fans can be, however nerdish or socially less confident.
            But i still wouldn’t choose to rewatch it!

  9. Videonitekatt says:

    The UNIT dating error was sloppy script editing for a rewritten story that original featured Ian Chesterton! Just like sloppy script editing by the same script editor caused the whole 2nd Doctor working for the time-lords in “The Two Doctors”!

  10. James O'Neill says:

    Trying to tie up the loose end of every thread in this show is to lose sight of the beauty of the tapestry!
    I’m good with it being “wibbly wobbly, timey whimey!” Let effect precede cause, I’ll assume that slap in the face is for something I haven’t done yet! That ” time can be rewritten” and all the other loopholes that really, make “continuity” moot!

  11. Carl Pickles says:

    Two words: Time. War. Broken cause and effect due to the damage on the timestream and the vortex from Time Lord and Dalek weapons. There. All concerns fixed. You’re welcome.

  12. Thomas Rynehart says:

    The Jacket bit was a bit unfair. That was one of the cleverest parts of the series of the cleverest arc of all Doctor Who. And seeing as you only hate on Moffatt confusing you you must have loved the times when Russell T Davies really dumbed it down.

    • James McLean says:

      There’s nothing in that statement about “dumbing it down”. I don’t think you can take a righteous stand on someone being critical about one writer and counter it by being very critical on another. Yes both writers did reteroactively work items into their arcs, the article here is questioning with the revisionism to continuity is a good thing or not, using Moffat’s era (being the contemporary one), as a base to launch this critique. Shouldn’t become a war on who is best! 🙂

  13. Mr McJohnson says:

    Should Doctor Who abandon continuity? No it should not. Next question?

  14. Tony Jones says:

    James,

    Excellent post and a great conversation in the comments. I must steal a link from my blog!

  15. Mrs Fingerbottom says:

    Article was published April 26th. 25 days late?

  16. Henry Foley says:

    There are ways in which the contradictions of continuity could be make continuity. A good move I think was the Doctor rebooting the universe in The Big Bang. It acts as a reset switch in some ways.

    There’s also a potential storyline episode out there, where the doctor arrives somewhere like Pompii on volcano day and realizes he’s been there twice before in two incarnations/ previous existing universes. An episode where he balances up the futility of having to repeat adventures over again (Human Natures another good example) against his raison d’étre would be workable. Dealt with in the correct way, it’d be a great ep and it would open up the larger narrative to canonical discontinuity, but in a way that should keep both sides happy

    I think continuity and contradictions to that continuity are unavoidable if the show continues and continues.

    • Castellan Spandrel says:

      “A good move I think was the Doctor rebooting the universe in The Big Bang. It acts as a reset switch in some ways.”

      -A good move as a sort of catch-all broken continuity fixer, perhaps, but I’m not sure such a device is needed, and worse still, it made the Doctor into God: as powerful as – or more powerful than – the Guardians, as opposed to the wanderer in time and space.

      • Henry Foley says:

        It’s not the first time the Doctor’s been cast in that likeness, but it’s quite a funny reading, god was just a chap messing around who recreated the universe by accident trying to get himself out of a jam rather than the messiah like figure he was at the end of series three. Another problem that story created was the timey-wimey reset button suddenly became an option and was used to both poor (Wedding of River Song) and good (The Name of the Doctor) effect.

        Ultimately I agree that the doctor should just be a wanderer and bit by bit seems Moffat is trying to do that.

        • Castellan Spandrel says:

          Yes, I suppose Moffat has to do that, as once you’ve rebooted the entire universe, you can’t go much bigger.

          • James McLean says:

            I never see the reboot as game changer, even if it was meant to be one. It always struck me as too magical for me to imagine even someone like a Doctor rebooting with anymore than the equivilent of pressing a reset button. Anything more does make him a good. If it reboots, should be the same as before, surely.

          • Henry Foley says:

            I think The Big Bang actually walks a fine line between the Deus Ex Machina approach of RTD and a well resolved plot, without ever falling off the tightrope. The explanation is Doctor’s to Rory (“The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and… ridiculous and sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles, and… that’s a theory. Nine hundred years, never seen one yet, but this would do me.”) is actually a good bridge for alot of continuity issues, in that it points out that usually unexplained things are given terms such as miracles because we don’t understand them. Of course this doesn’t excuse everything, just some things.

  17. Ranger says:

    Of course a certain amount of continuity is necessary for sane story telling. But I have no problems at all with inconsistencies or even flat contradictions of canon. This is a part of what makes DW fun… speculating over UNIT history, coming up with bizarre theories for the Doctor’s fluctuating age, etc. It all adds up to make DW a rich and fascinating tapestry that draws people in. Imagine if it was all spelled out for us without room for our own interpretations. Boring! It’s like life – it’s all based on your own viewpoint and because DW has been going so long, it allows the same analysis. Thank heaven for the inconsistencies, it enriches both DW and us.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Exactly. Well put. Some narrow-minded people have given the Moff grief for making the show ‘too complicated’ during his tenure or accused him of ‘plot holes’. Firstly, the show is not too complicated, it is asking people to think and use their minds a little more than RTD or previous show runners did. Secondly, there are very few stories from the show’s 50 year history that have NO plot holes. At least with Moff these are more often than not plot ommisions – not holes – and are intentional so as to again make the viewer speculate and draw their own conlusions if they so wish. Which is also the reason he leaves huge gaps in the Doctor’s life – so that fans and future writers can make up their own stories set in these gaps. For a good example just look at the collection of stories that were published during the Doctor’s years spent on Trenzalore Love it.

      • Ranger says:

        Well, I would temper the too complicated argument a bit. And this is where is gets a bit difficult for writers, DW’s audience is made up of both adults and children. It’s difficult to balance to include the two audiences. Mostly DW does this, but I do think that Moffatt got a bit too ambitious with series 6(?), my children didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but I put that down to them being so young; I did my best too explain, but I must admit I got a bit confused too! I also had older children tell me that it was too complicated and that they were going off the programme. Now, I’m not one for dumbing down: my response to the demands to use “plain English” is to say “get a dictionary and learn”. I think that a lot of the national curriculum does not stretch children and makes them intellectually lazy. But it’s because of this that they won’t stick with programmes that make them think. And that is a damn shame. I guess what I’m saying is that to me complicated in DW is good, but that Moffatt and co need to be aware in case they start losing the children who will ensure the longevity of DW.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          I’m afraid I have had the exact opposite reaction – especially to season 6. My own daughter (who was seven at the time) and her friends had absolutely no problem following events. I’m ashamed to say that they were actually keeping ME up-to-speed with what was going on. I’m not saying they understood everything (I certainly still don’t) but they enjoyed it and knew what the deal was. Another telling factor is that I have only ever heard adults complain about the ‘too complicated’ issue. The argument doesn’t seem to hold much water with the kids – well, at least all those I have been around who watch the show. And certainly none of them were put off the show because of such a thing. And I don’t see why it is such a hard job to cater to both demographics as writers have been doing so successfully for more than 50 years.

          • Ranger says:

            I really hope that your experience is the widespread reaction and that my doom-laden views of today’s yoof are wrong. But I suppose each generation has worried about the next!

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            It is our job as the last generation to worry about the next. From my experiences though, I am hopeful and quietly optimistic (not just talking about Doctor Who here, but about life in general). And like I said, if the ‘yoof’ can continue to keep me up to speed on things I will be eternally grateful haha 🙂

        • Tomer Feiner says:

          I think that the reason for series 6 being so convoluted was that Moffat was so busy looking for some shocking plot twist that he got himself in a knot – The big revelation ended up being that Amy has given birth to River Song, and that River was part of a plot to kill the Doctor, a plot that has been in existence for pretty much the entirety of history.
          Yet this plot was unknown to us and didn’t matter to us at all until then, and the Doctor got over it with little trouble anyway, so what was the point of it?
          Even worse, this plot thread was left hanging loose (and still is hanging), and was sort-of closed in The Time of the Doctor, but in a really weird and unusual way, by having, somehow, a lot of the Doctor’s enemies who I have not the slightest idea how they managed to get together all to the exact same planet, without a massive infight erupting between all of them. The only slight attempt for explanation given was the Papal Mainframe, which became the Church of the Silence – two names which mean precisely nothing, apart from the fact that the latter name implies that it was that order that tried to prevent the Doctor from dying all along (by killing him?). So how did all that actually happen, and what is its effect?
          Nevermind…at least we know that Robin Hood was real and that the Sheriff of Nottingham and his cronies were actually robots, and that the Earth’s moon is actually the egg of a giant space dinosaur dragon thingy, and that the Master has regenerated into a woman who has managed to create an army of Cybermen from all of Earth’s dead humans but isn’t really successful in making them actually do what she intends to do with them… Very useful info, thank you very much, Steven, and all the other writers…

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Kovarian and the Siletnt’s trying to kill the Doctor were a splinter cell and had no connection to the Papal Mainframe or the Silent’s within.
            100% agree with you about the Master’s sex change. Still hoping for a sane explaination like he had to somehow steal a random body (Tremas-style) and unfortunately the only one available at the time was a female body!
            I’ve no problem wih suspending belief enough to accept that maybe Robin Hood was real. The egg thing though, I do have a problem with that. Only the irst half of the episode allows me to let that slide. And let’s face it, the Cybermen haven’t been on top form since Earthshock so I just assume now that any story that features them is going to be below-par and a huge let down.
            Besides, anything you don’t like then just disregard it in your head or try reconciling it in your head.
            If it is all too much for you then feel free to stop watching. I believe there lots of shows on nickelodeon that don’t challenge the viewer so much which might be more suited to you 🙂

      • James McLean says:

        It is too complicated IF the complications make it accessible for its target audience which isn’t Doctor Who fans. If the twists and turns (and there have been many, many of which were done retrospectively to sort out lost plot lines and undeveloped story threads) make the sure less accessible – or less enjoyable to wider audiences, there is a mandate it becomes too complicated. That mandate would be based on show criteria rather than what we fans think.

        I should say that I’m not offering emperical evidence it IS too complicated, but there is a legitimate argument as to who and how the show offers its stories.
        If I was being qualiative, personally speaking, I’m a fairly smart and open-minded guy (if I do say so myself :-)) – I don’t think its about intelligence or using your brain. I have no issue with complex storylines or temporal twists, I do think there’s a risk things can look patchy or messy or even interfere with the flow of a story (or story arc) if they are overtly complicated. Everything is about balance. A great guitarist’s solo is only as good as his ability to find balance with the rest of the band. Being complicated doesn’t always denote quality – in any era of any show.

        • Ranger says:

          Good points James.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          Firstly, a guitar solo doesn’t invlove the other members of a band very much – look up the word ‘solo’ 🙂
          But anyway, like I mention above, purely from my personal experiences the show is NOT too complicated. The only people I hear saying such things are adults – not children. Kids have an amazing capacity for watching something, making sense of it, and rationalising things – much more than us adults. And secondly, kids are a LOT more honest and brutal in there views about things. If Doctor Who was soooooooooo complicated that they couldn’t understand or relate to it then they wouldn’t be watching it anymoe. They still tune in. The point of the argument is therfore moot.

          • James McLean says:

            🙂 Having played in bands for several years, I’ve seen a LOT of lead guitars who are so focused on their own technical genius they lose their way in a band because they aren’t listening to the ensemble. Fantastic guitars who are lousy in a band because they don’t listen beyond their own ego. Brian May is a poor example Dr Moo, as he did listen and compliment the rest of the dynamic. 🙂 It’s not about a soloist work being crap or no good, its about being a strong component in a team is only as useful as his ability to work in a team. Same goes with sport. Technical skill in your striker is only as good as his ability to work with his team teamates.

          • TheLazyWomble says:

            Good point, James. Not sure it came across right when first made. The disciplines for soloists are different to those for band members. And you are right: it applies on many other areas too. It is not “can you do it well?”; it is “can you work with the rest of the group?”

        • Doctor Moo says:

          “A great guitarist’s solo is only as good as … the rest of the band” To that I say Brighton Rock by Queen.

  18. Cryer says:

    Some people enjoy tying up all the loose ands and figuring out how it could all fit together. That is part of the fun of it for many people. Who are you to say that their way of enjoying the show is wrong?
    Doctor Who continuity can easily work with explanations around the inconsistencies. If some people want to enjoy the show that way then let them. Many people need continuity, otherwise it feels like everything that has happened in the past is pretty much pointless. Doctor Who has had a wonderful on-going narrative for years and years and there is no reason to completely abandon that. It would only weaken the show in my opinion. You can makes sense of everything with the use of just a little imagination.

  19. Castellan Spandrel says:

    I think several of the continuity inconsistencies add to the colour of the mythos and make for fun speculation and theory – I’m looking at you, Second Dr and Jamie working for the Time Lords in The Two Doctors and leading to the Season 6B theory, and you, pre-Hartnell incarnations of the Doctor as seen in that mind-bending duel vs Morbius.

    Actually, the latter could be seen as the authentic continuity, depending on your point of view, with later Doctor counts such as ‘There are five of me now’ being the spanners in the works.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      I absolutely LOVE the season 6B theory. Just look at the imagination and creativity it has produced. And best of all, it all makes complete sense! Obviously it was not planned at the time but that matters not one bit!

      • Doctor Moo says:

        Similar to Season 6B we have the photos Clive has of the Ninth Doctor that don’t fit in with his travels with Rose. They can’t come before because we see him examine himself in her mirror indicating he’s freshly regenerated. I like to think they happened during those few seconds before saying it’s also a time machine.
        And then there’s The Face of Evil being partly set during Robot.

        There’s lots of moments like that we can play around with and that’s all part of the fun we Who fans can have that other franchises don’t lend themselves to.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          Ah yes, I loved the Face Of Evil/Robot thing too. An early example of the Doctor’s travels coming back to bite him on the ass one day! But as for the 9th Doctor being freshly regenerated in Rose, who is to say he just hadn’t looked in a mirror in a long time. If you are the Doctor you probably have better things to do than admire your reflection all the time and it isn’t like the 9th needed a mirror to comb his hair 🙂

          • Doctor Moo says:

            The thing with Evil/Robot is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of being too in your face with it but is instead done as an aside to the fans who would remember it or as a brief mention of a past adventure to people who are not. I saw Robot after TFOE and saw it as the latter on first viewing but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Same with Attack of the Cybermen and The Tenth Planet.

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            RTD stated in the recent DWM feature on ‘Rose’ that he never intended the Dr’s comments about his ears to indicate he’s just regenerated.

            Again, though, it’s up to the viewer how they want to interpret it.

    • Doctor Moo says:

      The ‘Morbius’ Doctors I always saw as being Morbius, not the Doctor. Unless you want to call them the Other and subscribe to the Cartmel Masterplan.

      • Mr McJohnson says:

        I thought Cartmel’s Masterplan had been made redundant ever since the show got revived?

        • Doctor Moo says:

          It’s total bunkum. But if you accept it (as some still do, remarkably) then it provides you with a convenient get out for Morbius.

          • James McLean says:

            Not sure how in any way Cartmel’s Masterplan has been particularly debunked. Like all Doctor Who, and this is the point of the whole article, nothing is fixed, so nothing is debunked. Not the Masterplan, not the Doctor being half-human, not the Doctor once having one heart, not the Doctor having killed all his people. All is fluid, all is interpretative, all in essense can be recounciled by the individual. As it was once said, stories centralise around the reader, not the author; how you hold the narrative web is more important than one any author intends.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Time Lords as children, seen in The Day of the Doctor and to a lesser extent in The Sound of Drums and Listen, referenced in A Good Man Goes to War.

          • James McLean says:

            Doesn’t negate it, anymore than McGann’s movie no longer exists because he’s not half human. That’s really the point; everything is still canon and interwoven (largely because there is no canon). Whether you decide Lungbarrow never happened now, or happened slightly differently than suggested, or whether temporal beings can enjoy more than one timeline of continuity, or even the Other (which was the focus of the masterplan and not definitively tied into looms bar in Lungbarrow) is still a conceptual past of a backstory, is up to the reader. I personally see Gallifrey as open to flux as the rest of continuity in light of the Time War. All is relevant, all is negotiable.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Indeed, what I gave above was just my interpretation of things! Sorry if that was unclear.
            I like to allow for multiple continuities parallel to each other; I recall your comments on Big Finish a few podKasts ago.

          • kwijino says:

            I personally think the book Lungbarrow never happened. If it wasn’t on-screen, then it’s fan-fiction. Time Lords can have sex, they are not Kryptonians from the Man of Steel mythology.

          • James McLean says:

            Lungbarrow was as canon as television. The New Adventures were billed as the official continuation of the television show. Whether or not it holds strength now is the same question for the Doctor once having one heart or the Doctor being half human. So personal perspective is fine, but emperically, it was canon – at the time.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Well that’s the thing: it’s canon until some other writer shows up and produces ‘evidence’ to the contrary.

          • kwijino says:

            At the time. I can also remember in 1991 when Heir to the Empire was the official continuation of the Star Wars universe, because there were never ever ever ever going to be any more Star Wars films. That got jettisoned the moment SW was sold to Disney, and similarly, I would think the NA books official status got jettisoned the moment RTD was offered the new show. But I agree, it’s whatever works for you.

            For me, the idea of looms was anorak fan fiction from the get go, but that’s just me. =)

        • kwijino says:

          And just to point something out, Andrew was at Gally this year, and he is personally horrified by the term “Cartnell Masterplan.” He says he never had one, he feels that particular name would be self-aggrandizing. He just wanted the show to head in a direction, but he didn’t have it all mapped out.

      • Castellan Spandrel says:

        Yes, I think of them as Morbiuses (Morbii?) too as it makes life easier, and you can interpret it that way as it’s not too explicitly stated in the script that it’s earlier Drs (apart from Morbius’s line about pushing the Doctor back to his beginning, but even that can be got around).

        There’s no doubt that the production team intended them to be Doctors, however.

  20. FrancoPabloDiablo says:

    Thanks James for an interesting article. However I think your idea of doing away with continuity is, basically, absolute poppycock! I love the continuity. I love the inconsistencies and contradictions. I also love imagining in my own mind how to resolve such things. If it can make people use their own imagination then that can certainly not be a bad thing. Also, mentioning Attack Of The Cybermen (you could also throw Warriors Of The Deep in there) is only showing the most extreme example of the spectrum (thanks Mr Levine). What about the little things like the appearance of the Macra in Gridlock? That in no way alienated the casual viewers but was a loving nod to the past on RTD’s part that long-time viewers and fans appreciated and no harm was done. Plus, as someone else mentioned, the Time War and the Doctor’s general travels and interferences can explain a lot of things away that don’t marry up with later stories. And you really can’t compare Doctor Who with any other show or film franchise because admit it, Doctor Who is unique. James Bond is a completely different – and inferior – franchise.

    • Mr McJohnson says:

      I guess because both characters of the Doctor and 007 have had multiple actors play them it makes people compare the two?
      (Did you know that Ed Milliband supports a female Bond?)

      • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

        Lots of characters in soap operas have been recast – sometimes numerous times but you would never compare Eastenders or Neighbours to Doctor Who, that would just be ridiculous! Regeneration is an intregal part of the show which has in no small way led to it’s longevity.
        And as for Mr Miliband, his comments are just one more reason not to let him loose on the country – but let’s not make this politcal eh 🙂

        • Doctor Moo says:

          Agreed on Miliband but let’s not go there!
          Where soaps recast characters Doctor Who gives them a total overhaul! Pure genius. Regeneration is possibly the cleverest plot device ever conceived of by TV producers and is the reason the show can go on today.
          I have seen people comparing the Clara/Danny and Ponds/River relationships to something out of a soap but I think that’s very unfair.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Pure genius would be apt if it was not for the fact that originally regeneration was serendipitously created more out of necessity due to Hartnell’s failing health rather than an inspired creative desicion. But totally agree, if it wasn’t for that happenstance then we wouldn’t be enjoying the show all these years later.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Pure genius it is though. Someone had to come up with it when he had to stop as a means to keep going. Rather than recast, as would surely have been expected, they completely changed it and the rest is history.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            OK, agreed. I’m just saying that whoever made that decicion, as brilliant as it was, could not have forseen the show still going strong 50 years later because of it – another few years was probably as far as they envisioned, and only if the general public accepted it.

        • Castellan Spandrel says:

          “but let’s not make this politcal eh :)” – Yes, let’s not, as there are other party leaders who probably don’t support the idea of a female Bond, and I wouldn’t want them let loose on the country either!

          (The Bond ‘change of actor’ can be got around with the theory that ‘James Bond 007’ is a code name that’s been used by several British intelligence agents, as are ‘Q’, ‘M’, ‘Moneypenny’, ‘FrancoPabloDiablo’, etc. But as I agree with you that Bond is inferior to Who, and as this is a thread about Who, I’ve put it in brackets and hope no one notices it.)

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Don’t think I’d trust any of them to be honest. What we really need right now is the Doctor to whisper in some aide’s ear that they all look a little bit tired 🙂
            (wait, are you trying to tell me there is a FrancoPabloDiablo in James Bond? I shall sue)!!! 🙂

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            Quite. I’m at the dithering stage re: my vote.

            (No, there isn’t. I was trying to buff up your ego AND get cheap laughs by suggesting you might have another life as an international man of mystery.)

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Maybe he does… !!!

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            “My name is Pussy Galore.”

            -“Yeah, yeah. What did you think of ‘Kill the Moon?'”

          • Ranger says:

            I miss Screaming Lord Sutch.

            Diablo is an international man of mystery. Do not destroy my image of him!

  21. Humans naturally like connecting dots. Even with James Bond, we try and find a continuity that isn’t there (well at least I do).

  22. theprisoner6 says:

    I love the retconning and in many ways, Doctor Who was one of the first shows doing it before it was cool (like bowties). I can’t think of an episode where continuity issues destroyed its main plot. Some might argue that Attack of the Cybermen is only interesting because of its canon references.

    I’d rather a show throw us crazy curves with a wink to the past than a show that largely ignored it. Doctor Who is about time travel after all and we abandon all continuity, I don’t know why fans would stay with the show at all.

  23. Rick714 says:

    Keep it loose but structured and maybe ignore JNT and you’re golden. Timey Wimey explains away a lot and with DW, there always a million possibilities.

    • Doctor Moo says:

      Ignore JNT’s era??? I don’t think so!

      • Mr McJohnson says:

        Quite right! He gets a lot of stick for some poor creative decisions but overall his era has far more good than bad!

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Ignore Full Circle, Kinda, Earthsock, Snakedance, The Caves Of Androzani, Vengeance On Varos, Revelation Of The Daleks, Remembrance Of The Daleks and the whole of season 26? As with Doctor Moo, I don’t think so!

      • Doctor Moo says:

        I’d also give shoutouts to Arc of Infinity, Mindwarp, The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis, Happiness Patrol, The Five Doctors, Warriors’ Gate and Enlightenment.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          I’d also have mentioned Warrior’s Gate, The Keeper Of Traken and Enlightenment but was trying to limit my selection. But what the heck, I also want to mention The Visitation, Dragonfire (shoot me – if you can honestly champion Arc Of Infinity then I’m damn well going to do the same for Dargonfire) and The Greatest Show In The Galaxy.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            I honestly can. I can even provide a defence of Paradise Towers and if you’re going to put Dragonfire out there then I’ll throw that one in too!

          • James McLean says:

            We’ve just tried Time and the Rani on this week’s podkast (just finished recording). I was struggling.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Apart from Kate’s impersonation of Bonnie (which always raises a smile) there is little else there to keep you awake really!

          • Doctor Moo says:

            How will that podKast go?

            Christian: Did any of us watch the whole thing?
            Brian: No.
            James: …….No.
            Christian: Let’s discuss The Invasion instead!

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            More likely it will go thusly:
            Christian: here we are watching Time And The Rani.
            Brian: Oh, look, Kate O’Mara is pretending to be Mel.
            James: Zzzzzzzzz
            Christian: Zzzzzzzz
            Brian: Zzzzzzzzz
            Etc…

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Go ahead, I like Paradise Towers too. Great script and premise only let down by an obviously studio-bound production and a hugely miscast Pex – who was the exact opposite of what the script required and needed (no offense to the actor who did his best)

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Paradise Towers is the story where McCoy defines his Doctor. It’s the one that shows his ability at physical comedy can work as opposed to being painful to watch as it had been before. We see his darker side too, scheming and manipulating everyone around him. And there’s a small level of pathos in a few scenes, such as after the death of Pex.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Also worthy of note is the scene where he uses the caretakers’ book against them to escape. The incidental music doesn’t really help but regardless it is the first sign of Doc 7 being the darker manipulator he eventually becomes. And as I have mentioned before in this post, the casting of Pex was greatly inappropriate for what the story and the script asked for. The fact sympathy was felt at Pex’s sacrifice speaks volumes about the actor who played him despite being wrongly cast in the role.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Pex was the true hero of Paradise Towers. He was, when it came down to it, the only one prepared to stand with the Doctor at the end and ultimately the cost was his life. (Also he saved Mel a few times but we can’t hold that against him!)

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Very true, but if you are familiar with the character’s original outline he was intended to be a ‘Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger action-hero type’ character reinforcing the absolute absurdity of his presence in the first place and to let his excuses and cowardice ultimately redeem him in the end. True, he was redeemed but the character we saw on screen was criminally different from what was intended and sadly something was lost because of that..

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Yeah, but still a good character anyway even if not reaching his full potential due to miscasting. Plus he gives me one of my all-time favourite pieces of TV dialogue: Are these old ladies bothering you? Are you bothering these old ladies?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            But imagine the character as originally envisioned delivering those lines. It would have served the script and the story so much more due to the intended point. As I have previously stated, the guy who played Pex did a great job considering how wrong he was for the part..

          • Doctor Moo says:

            “Hail Pex. Hail the unalive who gave his life for the Tower. In life he was not a Kang, but in death he was brave and bold as a Kang should be.”

            PEX LIVES!

        • Castellan Spandrel says:

          You hate The Shakespeare Code but you’re giving shoutouts to Arc of Infinity and Paradise Towers?

          I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, Dr Baa!

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Neither. I’m allowed a little inconsistencies in my standards.

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            Nicely done.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            I know. :p

            I judge by the criteria of
            1- Does it hold my interest?
            2- Can I still enjoy it on repeated viewing?
            3- Do I care about what happens to these characters?

            If I can say yes to all three to some degree then it’s a pass in my book. For instance, my worst ever is Love & Monsters which fails massively on all counts. My favourites include Listen, Caves and HN/TFOB which all succeed in all of these areas.

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            Arc falls flat for me, every time I watch it.

            You mention two of my most favourite stories there: Caves and HN/TFOB, both in my top three, minimum.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            What can I say? I liked Arc. Thought it was good fun, plus Colin Baker’s awesome. It’s also a rarity in giving Nyssa something to do, I guess because it’s mostly just her without Teabag or a random male third wheel non-Adric. Omega’s a good villain too. The final chase scene and the inexplicable chicken monsters let it down but it’s largely a success in my opinion. Very underrated.

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            It’s deservedly underrated. The following list is by no means exhaustive:

            Squeaky-squawky music. Gallifrey as a salon. Really, really dull and characterless Gallifreyans (‘Damon’, indeed. My, how alien!) – except, yes, for Mr Baker, who brings a welcome touch of amusing campness. The pointless return of Omega – in an inferior mask and cloak combo. The biggest coincidence in the universe ever – Teabag, in Amsterdam, becomes implicated in a plot involving the Doctor, who’s in a completely different part of the universe (the writer must have been smoking something Dutch). The Time Lords sentence the Doctor to death (again) – no wonder he doesn’t go back home very often. Crossroads acting; Robin Stuart, dude, what’s with your voice?

            What really rankles is the opening, which doesn’t even bother to establish for the casual viewer that this is Gallifrey, planet of the Time Lords. It’s basically Deadly Assassin, especially the scenes where the ‘disguised’ Hedin meets with the mysterious Renegade in a corner of Gallifreyan Costas for a cosy chat; it’s the Master and Goth all over again.

            Judging from episode 4, the data protection in Dutch hostels/hotels really left a lot to be desired, too.

            Good bit where the kid smiles at Omega, though, and as was typical of this era, excellent location filming.

            I liked it without being bowled over by it at the time; I was 14 and thought that nostalgia/lots of continuity references was the way to go. I even voted it as the best story in the DWM season poll (which took place before The Five Doctors was shown). I was wrong. These days I prefer Mawdryn, Snakedance and Enlightenment.

            One good thing about Arc is that it isn’t Terminus.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Fair points. Like yourself, I liked it but wasn’t exactly going to start campaigning for it to become the new Blink or Caves. As for best of the season it’s in… Enlightenment wins that every time. Arc of Infinity comes second for me, or third depending on whether we put The Five Doctors in that season or as a standalone. Snakedance comes next. I wasn’t especially impressed by Mawdryn Undead, thought it was a bit ‘meh’. The King’s Demons is iffy, style over substance. Terminus is just dull.

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            Agree 100% on Terminus. Good, creepy first 10-15 minutes and then becomes another dull, plodding exercise in ‘science’.

            Kings Demons – nice idea, could’ve been an 80s Time Meddler, falls apart in the second episode, where characters’ loyalties and motivations become increasingly confused and confusing, swamped under a daft runaround.

            Snakedance and Enlightenment – both stories I didn’t appreciate at the time but certainly do now. They’re not pacy action stories, but rely on intelligence and character, and as a 14-year-old viewer back then, I found them stodgy, and S20 on the whole felt dull. Consequently, The Five Doctors felt like a welcome return to ‘old school’ Who, just as Earthshock had the previous season.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Arc of Infinity is better than its reputation would have you believe. Great location filming. Good supporting cast (admittedly with some notable exceptions). Nyssa is not useless (!?!?!?). Lots to like here. 7/10

            Snakedance I was unsure about at first but repeat viewings have benefitted it. I’d like the Mara to come back sometime. 7/10

            Mawdryn Undead has a nice concept and introduces the wonderful Turlough and the Brig’s back! But does it hold up as a four-parter? It doesn’t and so it often drags. 5/10

            Terminus could have been better because the idea, at least on paper, was good. Shame about the execution. Nyssa gets a decent exit at least, if only she’d put her clothes back on. Worst of season by quite some way. 1/10

            Enlightenment is unique and quite unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. It’s not just the best of season, it’s among the best of the show as a whole. Also among the most underrated. Turlough’s at his best and Mark Strickson steals the show (which is saying a lot on this story). The Eternals are brilliant and I’d like them to return. 9/10

            The King’s Demons is entertaining yet lacking. Kamelion’s a bit rubbish, as if he’s a failed attempt at “K9 for the 80s”, and only serves to emphasise the story’s limitations. Anthony Ainley’s good in it at least, proving that Time-Flight was not his fault. At least it’s not too long or I may think it worse than I do now. 4/10

            The Five Doctors is a decent effort at a celebration of twenty years in the TARDIS. It doesn’t hold a candle to the tenth or fiftieth anniversaries, mind you it’s better than the thirtieth and fortieth. It opens up the continuity issues of Season 6B which I love. Hurndall’s no Hartnell but he does the job. Shame about Baker. The companions are underused. Sladen, Courtney and Troughton steal the show but that’s hardly a surprise. As a celebratory bit of harmless fun it works perfectly. 8/10

            Season 20 average: 6/10, 60%, C, good.

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            ” The Eternals are brilliant and I’d like them to return.” – Yes, I’ve thought the same for a long time.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Imagine seeing them with Capaldi… There’s no excuse for not making that. Even less of an excuse for getting it wrong.

          • bar says:

            Hi fury and derision of them for toying with ‘lower’ beings would be a joy to behold.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            YES YES YES!!!!!!!! I can see it now. He’ll be on at them like Nine and a Dalek.

          • Ranger says:

            The inexplicable chicken monster is great! It makes me giggle every time. The prolonged chase at the end is what annoys me – like City of Death “look we’re in Amsterdam/Paris!” Needs to be edited and tightened up.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            True. But when has Doctor Who ever been particularly good at chase scenes? This one just sticks out because it’s not in a corridor.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Maybe you just disliked Arc of Infinity because of what happened to one of your fellow Catellans who debuted in that story? Your successor even, Spandrel! http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Castellan_(Arc_of_Infinity)

          • Castellan Spandrel says:

            Ah, Castellan No-Name. He was *such* a div!

      • Mr McJohnson says:

        No to Kinda and to Snakedance but the rest of them I agree.

      • Rick714 says:

        I *meant* ignore JNT’s dumb decisions of the era including the weird UNIT dating thing in Mawdryn Undead. You obviously can’t ignore the entire era. As horrible as it was, you’d get 4 innocent Doctors and 9 seasons thrown out with the bathwater!

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          As somebody said elsewhere in this post, Mawdryn Undead was originally scripted with Ian in mind. Last minute rewrites are the probable reason for the descrepancies (probably the most obvious being The Brig suddenly becoming a teacher). And a lot of JNT’s bad decisions can be atttributed to his one, single worst decision during his reign – his appointment of Ian Levine as ‘unofficial continuity advisor’. If ever there was a post more undeserving then that was it. Note how season 26 is almost universally praised just a couple of seasons after Levine’s involvement. (they obviously needed the interim seasons to get the show back on track – which Cartmel should be greatly thanked for)

          • Rick714 says:

            Yeah, JNT was in over his head as a producer–as soon as it was apparent that William Russell was unavailable, they should have made sweeping changes to the script. Just a lot of bad decisions over the course of a decade. Season 26 was a step up but that’s not saying a whole lot compared to the previous 3 seasons. It was just an unfortunate time.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            They should have let him go when they did Colin and got, say, Cartmel and Aaronovitch to share responsibility. That was a big mistake.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            They definitely should have let him go, especially as he WANTED to go – and had wanted to for quite some time. But let us not forget that they wouldn’t let him, and if he had resigned then the show would have finished a lot sooner than it actually did. People should remember that little fact. We can only enjoy stories such as Remembrance Of The Daleks, The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, Ghost Light, The Curse Of Fenric and Survival because of his dedication and love for the show.

          • James McLean says:

            As I recall, and I don’t know how accurate this is, but JNT wanted to go, but was very much under the impression as soon as he left the BBC would shut the show down, so he stayed.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            He’s definitely THE unsung hero of Who. (you can use that anywhere you like)

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            It’s easy for some people to pick on and blame someone who is no longer here to defend themselves. It is equally easy for those same people to ignore everything he did for the show. He was in no way perfect and made mistakes – name one producer/show-runner that hasn’t made mistakes or flaws?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Remembrance Of The Daleks and The Greatest Show In The Galaxy from the previous season greatly showed what improvement had been made. Even The Happiness Patrol was a good story that suffered greatly from being studio-bound. And apart from Time And The Rani (which is basicall a throwback to C Baker’s time) there is something positive to be said about the remaining three stories from season 24. Paradise towers (also a C Baker throwback) had a brilliant and intriguing script, let down only by poor production and the hugely miscast Pex. Delta And The Bannermen was a good light-hearted story that I think is underrated. Dragonfire was also a good script, again let down by poor production, a dodgy cliffhanger and McCoy prat-slipping about the place on the ice (he was, after all, still finding his feet regarding playing the part). Hell, It even managed to make Mel’s departure emotional and introduced us to probably the best companion since Sarah Jane. And even Trial Of A Timelord had it’s moments.

        • James McLean says:

          As I recall, from Lance Parkin’s work on analysing the UNIT era, Mawdryn aside, and its a big issue, there are very small issues even without it. Personally, time is constantly in flux, dates can change. I’m good with that. I think JNT gets some bad flack really, some great stories, and yes, some Time and the Rani, but a lot of good, and he did work hard with Who, and worked hard to protect it from the BBC. Please don’t counter with Dimensions in Time – I have little to defend against that. 🙂

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Just like JNT, Letts and Dicks also had some good stories. But they also had Colony In Space, The Mutants, The Time Monster, Monster Of Peladon. Do they get the same sh*t? No. They also had the advantage of having more episodes/stories per season. They also had a BBC who (although were even back then not very generous in their budget allocations) were still a hell of a lot more supportive than during JNT’s era.

  24. J.M. says:

    I think a one-time, massive, show-altering continuity reset is going to be necessary at some point, or else new fans will be shut out because they don’t have 50 years of memories (or even 10 years, just using the new show’s time period).

    The thing is, “Doctor Who” missed its best chance to reset its continuity with “The Big Bang” in which the Doctor literally reset the universe (a point raised by Henry Foley in these comments previously, but he did not go far enough). The potential stories of having everything The Doctor *thinks* he knows about the universe being incorrect, being the only one who remembers the universe as it was before he reset it … a lost opportunity. The Doctor would have to reply on his companions more than ever, since they would remember things as they are, not as they were. It also would have been able to reset the universe to include Time Lords and Daleks and Cybermen before “power creep” had turned them all into almost-gods againt whom ordinary people stand no chance. Rose could come back/never left this universe. Donna could come back without having her brain fried. River might not have to die in her future.

    As I said, a lost opportunity.

  25. J.M. says:

    Also, I did like the throwaway bit in the “Good Night” mini-episode in which people remembering things that never happened are actually things that did happen but got changed by the timeline and now didn’t happen the way you remember them.
    You know what? That didn’t make any sense. Here. Go watch it.

    Yes, I know it’s just a throwaway bit and might not be canon, but it made me feel better about contintuity in “Doctor Who”.

  26. SherieMikenaj Lehman says:

    The largest problem with abandoning continuity is that there has always been strong threads of continuity within this program. I know of many who live for the next series just to have some of their answers to the gaps that the previous series’ have provided, and it is very wise of the beeb to understand what marketing potential this has always had. I remember many a day when I wished I had known what happened between Doctor Baker’s season’s when he went from a devil may care, alienish, one-upping his companions at every turn, to the sullen and surly solitary Doctor. Even as the show began with Doctor Hartwell and Susan there were gaps and unexplained threads that we all felt the need to know more. I enjoy the what nots and what ifs and I truly hope they always exist.

  27. chcurtis says:

    Without some attempt at continuity, you do not have a real story. You have isolated incidents meant to amuse in a defined universe. You have, in a word, fanfic. I think Doctor Who would lose a great deal of its appeal if you dismissed continuity completely.
    It is true that many get overly concerned with continuity. Considering the number of times the Who universe has been rebooted, and considering that time travel inevitably itself introduces discontinuities, it makes no sense to obsess over them. But there needs to be an overarching narrative that incorporates even the discontinuities, or else you are left with simply a nice concept.

  28. Brian Combe says:

    So much of the show and it’s spin offs derive great story moments by attempting to reconcile continuity fluffs. Jettisoning continuity on a show that’s spent over half a century growing would be insane. Nostalgia (both personal and cross generational) is a big part of what makes the show work if you had a JJ Abrams style Doctor Who reboot you will kill the show dead. You might as well start a new show or revive Crime Traveler.

  29. TheLazyWomble says:

    “And when that happens – when writers and fans alike are more concerned with what’s come before than what’s in front – we have a show and a fanbase that are knowledgeable and watertight, but ultimately full of nothing but hot air.” Not sure this is the best way to keep the readers on board!

    Seriously though, we cannot just abandon “continuity”. Continuity exists. What we can, and should do is decide how much weight we give to, how much reliance we place on established lore. I would suggest that, where possible, the production team should seek to stick with what has gone before. However, and to paraphrase Uncle Terrance, never let continuity get in the way of a good story. If the demands of a story line go against what has been previously understood, then change it: but make sure that what is put in its place is worth having.
    Stick to established lore: but do not be enslaved by it.

  30. IsaacCrawford says:

    Moffat has already addressed this. “Amy, time and space will never make any sense…”

    http://youtu.be/R58Xj1oR-cQ

    If you haven’t seen that clip before, the Doctor explains to Amy how timelines get screwed up and why there are inconsistencies.

    Honestly, reading “The Book of the War” was the best thing that I ever did when it comes to enjoying Doctor Who. It’s a Faction Paradox (from the 8th Doctor adventure books) book and it does an incredible job of showing the ramifications of time travel. Plus, it ends up making sense of a lot of the things in the background of the show like the true nature of Time Lords, how Time Lords interact with specific time streams, and what is at stake when it comes to history. I can’t recommend Faction Paradox highly enough for any fan of Docor Who.

    Incidentally, Faction Paradox has embraced what the author of this article suggests and the results are liberating. Canon and continuity are limiting, not worrying about them results in a vastly larger space you call tell stories in. Good stuff.

  31. Thomas Paul Martin says:

    Character arcs are possible without continuity, but they are so much richer with it. It’s the character arcs which attracted me to Doctor Who (quite literally at the Eleventh Hour) and make it the sophisticated storytelling machine it is today. It’s no coincidence that the most continuity-dependent shows of the last decade – Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Wire – have been the most critically-adored commercial successes.

    Now, if we could have a continuity that wasn’t quite so convoluted and confused, on the other hand…

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Maybe Doctor Who’s continuity is more ‘convoluted and confused’ as you put it because Doctor Who has more than 50 years of history and mythology behind it. How long have the shows you mentioned been on air? Even combine their total years on air if that will somehow help your argument.

      • Thomas Paul Martin says:

        Not really the point of my post. I love continuity (ergo my defence of it above) and most of my favourite episodes are the ones which hark back to previous episodes/series. To take a recent example, the River Song plot (which was my favourite in series 4 and 5) ended up a mess, in my opinion. That has little to do with ‘continuity vs no continuity’ or the history of the show; it’s just lacklustre writing.

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          No disrespect intended. It was your last sentence I had issue with: “Now, if we could have a continuity that wasn’t quite so convoluted and confused”. And as I explained, I thought clearly, that the reason Doctor Who’s continuity is so “convoluted and confused” using your own phrasing is because it has more than 50 years worth of history and mythology witch doesn’t always marry up because it was never planned. The shows you give as examples are extremely more recent and set out from the beginning with continuity and arcs in mind. Doctor Who was lucky to get past the 13 episode stage with no such intentions!

  32. Namnoot says:

    You can’t abandon continuity, otherwise there is no point in doing a series because the characters will never develop and each episode will be a reboot and anyone can come in willy-nilly and do whatever they like without any concern for what came before. Yes, there have been continuity issues in Doctor Who, but frankly there is not a single one that a creative writer could not work around if the opportunity presented itself. For example, IDW Comics resolved the whole “Doctor is half human” thing years ago. And the show itself has adopted the mandate “time can be rewritten”, so pretty much anything goes. I am not contradicting myself in my opposition to a reboot movie here, though, because a reboot would start from scratch and ignore everything. I don’t want that. The details may change here and there but as far as I’m concerned the Doctor we see on TV today is the same individual who decided to take an evening stroll down Totter’s Lane and must always be. Of all the franchises in existence, Doctor Who is the best equipped to deal with the occasional continuity glitch. (Star Trek isn’t; it’s been close to 20 years since an episode of DS9 accidentally added 100 years to the date of the Eugenics Wars – originally established by TOS as taking place in the 1990s – and I don’t think they ever managed a workaround for that.)

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Don’t care about Star Trek inconsistencies (anything after The Next Generation is void to me – again though that is my choice). Actually, i’m contradicting myself because I did enjoy some DS9 and VOY episodes – but they were so hit-and-miss! Enterprise = tripe! The death knell for the TV show!

      More importantly though; NO DOCTOR WHO MOVIE!!!

  33. The_Eternal_Dalek says:

    Steven Moffat commented on this matter a while back as I remember, his attitude towards it was that continuity is a nice thing, but should never drag down a story.
    So this matches your “local continuity” idea, besides we are talking about a show with time travel, history gets changed all the time.

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      Dicks had previously given a similar sentiment regarding continuity – and rightly so. If nothing else, rationalising these things gives us fans something to do in our free time 🙂

    • Tomer Feiner says:

      The funny thing is that much of Moffat’s storytelling in the show while he’s been running it was based on continuity that he created – Who are they? How did the know about the Doctor? How did that happen? How is all this relevant to us? etc. – and just leaving these threads open.
      I might’ve tried to figure out what the answers to these are myself, if I know what exactly is their relevance to the series.

      • The_Eternal_Dalek says:

        That’s in no way contradictory to what he said though, continuity is fine so long as it doesn’t damage the story. If you’ve got a good story, but it’s going to contradict the third episode of The Sensorites, go for the good story. That doesn’t mean you can’t do the opposite, if it is a good story.

  34. bar says:

    Easy answer; Doctor Who continuity is dimensionally transcendental.

  35. Cynical Classicist says:

    Don’t really agree with this. I feel there should be an attempt at continuity (though contradict Virgin and 8 books all u want). If there are too many contradictions people will become confused. They may not care about what happens. Continuity will become a laughing stock. Though if it is recorded history, like the Dalek origins or Gallifreyan history u can put it down to inaccurate records. Also, don’t want another Death Comes to Time, which feels like a different show.

    • Cynical Classicist says:

      I would say TV Series has continuity priority. However NSAs and Big Finish come after. As for The Kingmaker… that remains in a grey area.

      • James McLean says:

        I would say your continuity is only as necessary as the memory of your audience. Your wide audience for New Adventures of BF is continuity focused Doctor Who fans. For the television show, its a more genreal relaxed attitude, so the products to some degree reflect their mandate I guess.

  36. Janice Thorn says:

    Your points are salient. But, drop all continuity and the some evil head writer down the way will turn the show into a horrendous shadow of it’s former glory, made of Glee, Top Gear and Strictly Come Dancing with a side order of Gracepointe and Barney the Dinosaur, instead of the show it is supposed to be, say, Teletubbies meets Broadchurch with a side of Death to Smoochie and the first Heavy Metal. and I say supposed to be because the SPIRIT of the show must remain the same, regardless of the head writer. change the spirit, and then you’re dealing with Evil Alchemy! WE don’t want Wrath from Fullmetal Alchemist on our hands, do we?
    😉

  37. TheLazyWomble says:

    Actually, the issue I have with Mawdryn Undead is not how it fits into the UNIT timeline: that can be resolve/retconned fairly easily. But, is it a good story? On balance, I would say that it is. I certainly enjoyed it on first transmission. So established lore, at least for the duration of that story, can go on the back burner.
    If, while I was watching it, I was seething with impotent fury at the wrong dates, then that would suggest that the story telling was not up to scratch. And, had that been the case, no amount of adherence to continuity (or, better, established lore) would have saved it.

    • TheLazyWomble says:

      The incidental music was too intrusive and insufficiently “incidental”- but that is my only real beef with it.

      • Doctor Moo says:

        Agreed. Also the Black Guardian is, well, a bit rubbish frankly.

      • Doc7 says:

        Yeah but the Brig and Turlough are awesome.

        • TheLazyWomble says:

          They were. And Ibbotson.

          • Ranger says:

            Come on Hippo!

            I love Mawdryn. It’s where I suspend all analysis and just completely revert back to a child and enjoy. The same with Remembrance, Fenric, Caves and the 5 Docs. I am vaguely aware that there are issues, I just choose to ignore them.

          • Doctor Moo says:

            Mawdryn Undead is great because it gives us the UNIT dating issue, introduces Vislor Turlough and brings back Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. I wasn’t so sure about the rest of it myself; it’s still decent but I personally wouldn’t dream of comparing it to Remebrance, Caves or Fenric.

  38. Joe Siegler says:

    I could write a lot here, but my answer can be summed up this way to the question posed in the title.

    No.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      Best comment I’ve seen here yet.

    • bar says:

      Watched Mindwarp for the first time yesterday and thought of this discussion. As well as all the meta stuff about messing about with canon/matrix, you’ve got the baddie saying:
      SIL: ‘I endeavour to maintain a certain continuity. ‘

      and then you get a choice of what happens to Peri.
      So playing with continuity is canon…

  39. whoman69 says:

    The reason there can be little continuity in James Bond is because each new actor has to make the show reach a new generation. Also how could you explain that James began his time as a 00 agent in 1962 and still looks young with a completely different face and even hair color in 2015? I think getting rid of continuity is lazy. It totally disrespects the work that came before it. In essence you are saying it doesn’t even matter. I hated the reboot of Star Trek, especially now that it seems they can only rewrite old stuff. As was stated in the Five Doctors, “A man is the sum of his memories, a Time Lord even more so.”

  40. Abstract says:

    Late to the party but here it goes:
    We actually did a broad panel on this last year, and it was such a success that we have a continuing panel this year that focuses on only the Doctor’s timeline. In essence, time is not linear progression, and it is in fact, as David Tennant put it, a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey – stuff. The article could have and should have been very short and to the point. Doctor Who is not about continuity, it never has and never should be. However, the current fan base goes apeshit over things they can’t piece together. Which brings me to the photo for this article of Tom Baker and David Tennant. There is no “continuity” as we look for it, because once an event takes place in the past, it changes things in the future – even things the Doctor has already done. Continuity exists everywhere and along every timeline and everyone has multiple timelines, the one you are living in now as you see it, is the only one you can conceive. However, all your decisions, indecisions, actions and inactions have their own timeline. Think of time as a piece of string for every person and every event tied neatly together in a cable – like fiber optics. Once a fiber or thread is disturbed, it changes events, or information, among the other fibers/threads. Continuity exists in those changes. So while we know that Tom Baker regenerated into Peter Davison, with absolutely no mention of of being Curator, it is not outside the realm of possibility within the Whoniverse or notwithstanding continuity, for a fiber of Tom Baker’s timeline to ultimately land him to the time of being Curator, and in old age. Continuity is there, just not how we are searching for it. It is just more apparent these days than the old serials as the stories now are told in series and not at all in 2, 3 or even 4 part episodes that don’t mesh with the previous serial.

    • Dr. Moo says:

      That’s very neatly put, it’s a shame you had to get here so late that very few of us will see your comment. I’m reminded of the (abandoned) plot of Into The Dark Dimension with an older 4th Doctor breaking off from the established timeline by not regenerating when he should have done.

      I like to think that the concept of parallel and/or alternate timelines covers continuity issue rather nicely; it lets you make The Curse Of Fatal Death and Scream Of The Shalka canon, it accounts for the Curator, it’s the only way for the whole Trenzalore arc at the end of Smith’s era to make any sense at all, it gets around UNIT dating, it even allows Doctor Who Unbound and various other novels, audios, etc. to become sort-of-canon.

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