Monthly Archives: August 2013

Head Cannon

Headcanon: An idea, belief, or aspect of a story that is not mentioned in the media itself, but is accepted by either the reader themselves or the fandom in general. If it is confirmed by the author of the story, it becomes canon.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=headcanon

Yes, I know, I misspelled “canon” in the title

But it’s okay, because there are exactly two times when it’s acceptable to use the spelling “cannon.” The first is, of course, when you’re talking about a “cannon.” The second is when you like the metaphor that’s created by the incorrect spelling. The image of a “head cannon” carries a bigger, more immediate punch than the fuzzy idea of creating fictional realities in your head that clarify and expand upon someone else’s fictional creation.

Actually, that fuzzy idea carries quite a punch, but come on… head cannon!

And it works metaphorically, because it describes what it sometimes feels like to suddenly be hit with an idea about a character or story or relationship that fits so perfectly with the fictional world that you and the writer have been co-creating in your mind; like a booming cannon has just gone off in your head.

It’s amazing how headcanons can result in two people experiencing two remarkably different stories.

As a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, I’ve developed a consistent image of the Doctor as being a largely unknowable, alien, asexual being. This completely flies in the face of how the character is often presented in New Who. Many (probably most) fans are watching a show that is all about how much the Doctor loves and longs to be with Rose, and how much the Doctor loves River, and they’re developing headcanons about how Rose and the Doctor’s clone are living happily ever after and making babies in an alternate universe, or how River and the Doctor are sharing deeply intimate and passionate moments off-camera.

I, on the other hand, am full of headcanons about how the Doctor is so alien and so irrevocably separate and distant from humanity that the concept of romantic love forever eludes him. He is hesitant to express feelings of romantic love because he doesn’t actually feel them. He pretends, he plays, he goes through the motions, he lies to others, and he lies to himself. He does these things because it suits his present purposes, because he’s sad, because it’s fun, because it’s sometimes easier, because he’s often a childish vagabond, and because he does, after all, care about his companions and friends. He just doesn’t love them.

Head cannon: A metaphorical cannon that blasts away at a story’s flaws to make a great story even better.


My First (and probably only) Piece of Fan Fiction

Settled

Though the sky was streaked with clouds, Bad Wolf Bay was bright with the sun. Rose Tyler was cold. A chill wind was blowing in from the endless, desolate waves of the sea, but the cold Rose felt was the numbing iciness of her soul sinking and her heart breaking. Again.

She had been aglow with warmth and hope and love and triumph. She had used the broken, jagged pieces of her spirit to fuel her indomitable fire, to persevere against all obstacles and all impossibilities, and to win her way back to her Doctor. No power in all the multiple universes could stop her from being reunited forever with her soul mate, but somehow, again, she was losing him. Her mind clawed and grasped for any shred of hope, tore and screamed against the futility of it all

The Doctor’s other self, his copy, his shadow, his newly born human form, leaned into her, his soft mouth pressing so slightly against her ear. Shivers ran down her neck at the sensation of his sweet, tickling breath, and he whispered those never heard words that had haunted her dreams for a seeming eternity.

“Rose Tyler. I love you.”

Her soul mate. A different vessel, perhaps, but the same memories, the same feelings, the same desires. The same soul. He would love her forever, grow old with her, and they would be happy until their dying breaths. And he needed her. He needed her to mend his broken psyche, to make him a better man. It would do. It would more than do.

*     *     *     *     *     *

He lay on his back, the firmness of the grass and earth a comforting but cold cradle as he gazed up at the stars. There were a few differences between these points of light and those he knew from the parallel universe he originated from, but the similarities were numerous enough to serve as constant reminders of his travels and adventures through all of space and time. These travels and adventures were not his own, but those of his other, true self. They belonged to the last of the Time Lords; to the Doctor. But he remembered them all as though the time had been his own. His enemies, his friends, the wondrous worlds and universes and times he had moved through like a mote of dust that left ever-expanding ripples in its wake. These moments burned in him like raging stars, like sharp points of light that eternally adorned the dark vastness of his essential self.

But that had been years ago. Years that felt like a blink to his centuries old mind housed in a frighteningly mortal and decaying body, but years none-the-less.

Her voice called to him from the front door, lilting, as usual, with flirty playfulness.

“You comin’ in, Mr. Smith? Mum’s got supper on.”

Within an imperceptible instant, with the reflexive ease of constant practice, his memories flashed back, rewinding in a blur through the days, nights and years of his time spent with Rose Tyler on this alternate Earth. Their freelance work with Torchwood and U.N.I.T., her happiness when he accepted his teaching job, the melancholy pleasure of helping his students strive toward their dreams, laughing and playing with Jackie’s child, the hours spent entwined within Rose’s limbs and kisses, always feeding her undying passion for him. And then, finally, that moment on the shore of Bad Wolf Bay.

*     *     *     *     *     *

He had known the Doctor’s thoughts as clearly as if they were being spoken aloud. He had known what the Doctor was asking of him through the communication of a single glance. He and the Doctor were, after all, nearly the same person.

Travelling with Rose had been a balm to his loneliness and guilt. She was brave, and young, and fun, and she had allowed him to sometimes forget the weight of his past. She had made it easy for him to sometimes pretend that he was carefree and happy, and he had missed that when she was gone, and he had felt guilty about losing her, and truly happy at finding her again.

But standing at Bad Wolf Bay, seeing her pain and her hurt, he acutely felt and understood the terrible damage he had done to her. While he had been playing at forgetting, she had been falling in love. He had, of course, always known this, but he had also believed she would eventually come to her senses and move on. Yet here she was, willing to kick a hole through the universes to be with him. She would break before allowing herself to truly say goodbye. She was too far gone to survive this and maintain any sense of true happiness, and she did, at the very least, deserve to be happy.

So the Doctor had asked his human self to make a sacrifice for the sake of poor, sweet, simple, lovesick Rose. The Doctor had caused such damage to his friends over the centuries, but at least the Doctor’s human self was in a unique position to mend some of the damage he had caused this one.

*     *     *     *     *     *

His fleeting reverie ended. He pleasantly and lovingly called back to her.

“Be right there, luv.”

Where he should have felt the warm beating of his second heart, he felt instead a cold emptiness. The stars would never again be his. He would forever deny himself access to the threads of time and the fabric of space. It was a small sacrifice to make. This life, after all, would be over in a blink. The number of beats remaining to his single, human heart was mercifully few.

She called again from the front door.

“I love you, you know. Don’t want you ever forgetting.”

“And I love you, Rose Tyler.”

The lie always came easily. He did, after all, have centuries of practice.


The Sum of Its Parts

Doctor Who is truly a remarkable thing. Any science fiction or fantasy fan who has not had the pleasure of watching Doctor Who owes it to themselves to at least dip a toe here or there to get a feel for what they’re missing.

Doctor Who is also a truly strange thing.

Doctor Who is often not very good. When you watch Doctor Who regularly, you are constantly on the verge of witnessing the show take a precipitous dive in quality. Sometimes these falls seem to take an endless amount of time before hitting bottom and bouncing back, but it always bounces back hard enough to become something worth watching again.

There is absolutely no consensus among the fans on which parts are worth watching and which parts are not.

Doctor Who is always worth watching.

There is a seemingly endless amount of minutia one needs to learn in order to fully understand Doctor Who:

  • He is called “the Doctor,” not “Doctor Who.”
  • The Doctor is a Time Lord who hails from the planet Gallifrey.
  • All Time Lords are Gallifreyans, but apparently not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords.
  • Gallifreyans have two hearts.
  • Time Lords can cheat death through a process called regeneration, which triggers a complete change in appearance and personality.
  • Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times, meaning that Time Lords have thirteen lives.
  • The Doctor has regenerated several times and been played by several actors.
  • The Doctor is hundreds of years old.
  • Time Lords are observers, with laws, rules, and customs that prohibit and limit interfering with other worlds and the threads of time.
  • The Time Lords are all dead.
  • The Doctor is something of a rebel who fled Gallifrey hundreds of years ago.
  • The Doctor travels through space in time in a machine called the TARDIS.
  • Thanks to a faulty “chameleon circuit,” the TARDIS is permanently disguised as a 1950’s London Police Box.
  • TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.

And on and on and on and on. A list of everything you need to know in order to understand Doctor Who could span several pages. At least.

But forget most of that stuff. Once such a list becomes too detailed, half the items would start contradicting the other half anyway. The only thing you need to know to truly understand Doctor Who, to comprehend Doctor Who, to grok Doctor Who at its most base level, to slip your mind sideways into a mode that understands why Doctor Who is remarkable at its core, is that the Doctor’s space/time ship, the TARDIS, is bigger on the inside than the outside. Small blue box the size of a phone booth on the outside; big space/time machine inside. And not just big. Huge. Vast. Infinite. If not actually infinite, then capable of infinite combinations and variations.

It is this simple conceit of a space/time machine that’s bigger on the inside that makes Doctor Who remarkable. Not because this is a fun idea, which it is, but because it’s a perfect metaphor.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for stories and books, which can take you anywhere and anywhen, and which are “bigger on the inside,” because they are only made of words, but open up into images, ideas, worlds, and lives.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for the mind, which is housed in the all-too mortal meat of the brain, but which holds the sweeping vastness of the imagination.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for the heart.

The TARDIS is a metaphor for love.

But these metaphors are not what makes Doctor Who remarkable or special. It’s this. The TARDIS is a metaphor for Doctor Who itself. What makes Doctor Who strike into and become permanently embedded in the heart of a die-hard, lifelong fan, is that the show itself is also bigger on the inside. Doctor Who and its central image of the TARDIS are representations of the same idea; “bigger on the inside.” They orbit each other and resonate, each amplifying the other to create a show that is the most perfect celebration of the imagination in the history of genre television.

Any movie or television show can be said to be “bigger on the inside,” but Doctor Who is different. Doctor Who is a show that demands the active participation of your imagination. You cannot passively consume Doctor Who and take what you see at face value. It won’t hold together. Its continuity will eventually stretch beyond the breaking point. Its moments of contradiction, ill-defined plotting, bad melodrama, shoddy characterization, cheesy effects, tonal shifts, and meta storytelling will eventually shake the strongest, most rigid suspension of disbelief. You either choose to simply not care about these “problems,” or you imagine your own explanations and images that make the show bigger and better than it sometimes actually is.

The notoriously cheap and shoddy effects (even for their time) of Doctor Who from 1963 to 1989 are a perfect example. You can’t be engaged in or scared of stories with poorly blue-screened rubber monsters if some part of your imagination doesn’t turn them into something “real.” I don’t love those classic episodes in spite of their cheap effects, but usually because of them.

And how do you explain multiple accounts of the destruction of Atlantis without concocting some explanation involving time travel and alternate timelines or dimensions?

Things get very interesting when you begin to notice all the “gaps” that are peppered throughout the show’s long history. Those moments that are between stories and off-screen where the Doctor and his companions could be experiencing countless adventures. If the show was cancelled tomorrow, never to return, the framework that already exists from first episode to last holds within it infinite story possibilities.

This is why I love Doctor Who. Greater than the sum of its parts. Bigger on the inside.

Doctor Who is not simply a story. Doctor Who is its own storytelling medium.


Neverending

I have favorite book series that I’ve never finished reading, entire seasons of favorite television shows I have yet to watch, and favorite writers whose body of work I’ve only partly explored.

Sometimes I leave something unfinished because its quality has devolved and degraded so much that I can’t be bothered with it anymore. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books are a perfect example.

Sometimes I simply “outgrow” something. I’ll probably never read another Piers Anthony book, because I’m not a 12 year old boy anymore.

Sometimes I just don’t have the time to get to all the entertainment I want to consume. I’ve only watched the first season of Breaking Bad because I can’t watch it when the kids are around, and because I’m also trying to catch up on dozens of other shows and movies.

But there are those special occasions when something is so good, or I’m enjoying something so much, that I stop. I could have long since devoured every single Ray Bradbury story, but then I’d be sad that I’d never be able to read a new Ray Bradbury story.

When I finally got around to watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, I stopped halfway through the first season. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever seen, but I was impressed that an American animated series was telling an unabashed fantasy story via a limited, cohesive narrative with beginning, middle, and end. And it was doing such a damned good job of it that I didn’t want to burn through all three seasons. I wanted to be able to savor and look forward to continuing the story.

The worst that could happen is that I never get around to finishing it, but that just means that it gets to live as an endless story in my imagination.

This must be why ambiguous and open endings usually don’t bother me too much. It’s certainly one of the reasons why Doctor Who appeals to me like no other franchise. The older I get, the more I realize the truth of the adage “it’s not the destination that’s important, but the journey.”

At the very least, it’s a mindset that helps numb the sting of premature cancellations a bit. A little bit.

One day I’m sure I’ll turn the page on my last Ray Bradbury story, enjoying the sense of satisfying melancholy that always accompanies such moments, but I’m not in any hurry.


The Gateway

image

What was your gateway to science fiction and fantasy? What key turned in what lock that opened that specific door that you couldn’t help but step through, that lead you along a path that crossed in and out of worlds and stories that somehow seemed more real and vital to you than any others you had encountered?

I can’t be sure of this, but I believe my gateway was the original Star Trek.

My tastes have always, for as long or even longer than I can remember, leaned strongly towards science fiction and fantasy stories of any medium. If it was fantastical, chances are I would be interested. In elementary school, visits to the school library always resulted in me scrounging for anything with spaceships, monsters, wizards, warriors, or aliens.

Was I hardwired this way, or had my one year old brain been warped by sitting on my mother’s lap, raptly watching reruns of the entirety of the original Star Trek? Would I have grown into a “normal” kid and teenager if images of Spock’s pointy ears and green blood, stars streaking by at warp speed, shimmering transporter pads, and colorful, dreamy landscapes hadn’t been sparking synaptic connections and pathways that would become comfortingly hardened by habitual consumption of more and more imaginative and fantastic stories? If my mother’s choice of television at that specific point in my life had been Days of Our Lives or Bonanzaor Dallas, maybe I would have been playing football in high school rather than playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Or maybe not.  I was kind of a scrawny kid.

I like to believe that it was something specific about Star Trek that informed my desire for science fiction and fantasy stories. It is, after all, made up of elements that are common among many of my favorite stories, and across certain types of science fiction and fantasy stories in general. I’m specifically referring to its constant and blatant use of imagery and plot devices that are both literal and symbolic representations of doorways to other worlds and to adventure. The Enterprise is not just a ship, but a wondrous vessel that delivers the heroes to new worlds. The transporter is a magical portal that shifts them from the familiar to the unknown. The most famous and critically lauded episode is about a literal gateway that opens to countless times and places across the universe. Even the iconic, pneumatic hiss of the sliding doors can trigger an almost Pavlovian response in the hearts and minds of the most casual Star Trek fan. When you hear that door swish open, you know that it’s triggering a passage from one plot point to the next; it’s one of Star Trek‘s signatures that punctuates its familiar beats and rhythms as it regales us with tales of new worlds and civilizations.

I don’t at all remember this early exposure to Trek, but my mother assures me that I watched every episode, front to back, with nary a peep. And true or not, I like the story that Star Trek was my gateway, so I believe that it’s true. As all fans know, any story that personally speaks to us, real or not, is the truth.

Thanks, Mom.


Labels and Lists

Science fiction and fantasy fans love their labels.

And lists.  Boy do we love lists.

We use labels and lists to define ourselves, to specify what kind of fan we are, to get a bead on what kind of fan that other fan is, to gauge the value that we place on this franchise or that franchise, or this character as opposed to that character…  As long as we don’t use these labels and lists as fodder for our geeky but overly vicious fan wars, or as fuel for dismissing someone as “one of those fans,” our labels and lists can be a useful tool for sparking and guiding discussion, organizing our thoughts, making connections, avoiding pitfalls, and even getting a general, albeit vague, ambiguous, and probably mostly inaccurate idea of what another person is like. It’s the whole “Elvis or the Beatles” question. One type of person likes Elvis, another the Beatles.  Overly simplistic to the point of being useless? Probably, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a grain of truth there.  And don’t we love to proudly proclaim to other fans and geeks that we’re a “Whovian,” or a “Trekker” or a “Whedonite?”

So here’ my list, presented with the understanding that such lists are constantly changing depending on current mood or obsession, and that this list is hardly definitive.  It’s simply a list of certain favorites that leaped off the tip of my brain, that contains picks that are (with one possible exception) strictly science fiction or fantasy, and that is deliberately kept short (10 items max per category) for the sake of brevity.

_____

Childhood Books

The books that most heavily impacted my first decade of life and left a lasting impact.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

The Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher

_____

Fantasy Authors

George R.R. Martin

Stephen R. Donaldson

Glen Cook

Fritz Leiber

Robin Hobb

Neil Gaiman

Tad Williams

Peter S. Beagle

Mervyn Peake

Michael Moorcock

_____

Science Fiction Authors

Harlan Ellison

Ray Bradbury

Stanislaw Lem

Isaac Asimov

Neal Stephenson

Walter Jon Williams

Douglas Adams

Frank Herbert

Larry Niven

Jerry Pournelle

_____

Television

The Twilight Zone

Doctor Who

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2003)

Farscape

Star Trek

V: The Original Miniseries

The Walking Dead

Game of Thrones

_____

Fantasy Movies

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Labyrinth

The Dark Crystal

Legend

The Lord of the Rings

Pan’s Labyrinth

Time Bandits

The Beastmaster

Spirited Away

The Princess Bride

_____

Science Fiction Movies

2001: A Space Odyssey

Planet of the Apes (1968)

The Matrix

12 Monkeys

Brazil

Alien

Blade Runner

Dark City

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

Star Wars (original trilogy)

_____

Comics

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian

ElfQuest

Cerebus

Akiko

Bone

Poison Elves

Transmetropolitan

The Invisibles

Grendel

Preacher

_____

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Rankings

These always seem to be the greatest points of contention when discussions about “what’s the best” come up.  Maybe it’s because the following three franchises are the most iconic out there with the most material to argue about.

Classic Doctor Who > New Doctor Who

Tom Baker, Patrick Troughton, and Matt Smith > William Hartnell > Sylvester McCoy > Colin Baker > John Pertwee > Peter Davison > Christopher Eccleston > Paul McGann > David Tennant

Deep Space Nine > The Original Series > The Next Generation > Enterprise and Voyager

The Empire Strikes Back > A New Hope > Return of the Jedi > The Prequels

_____

And that’s what kind of fan I am.


Thanks and Blame

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cause of my finally jumping onto the blog craze years late.  I won’t mention any individuals, or even the online community that we have in common, because I don’t know how much any of them would appreciate me slapping their names around on the internet.  Suffice it to say, the Doctor Who discussion forum that I sometimes frequent is populated by some passionate, intelligent, opinionated people of all types and ages, and even though I don’t always agree with many of them, I admire and respect the passion and graciousness that most of them display, even when they’re getting frustrated and snarky.  Brief conversations that I’ve had with some of them, as well as other conversations I’ve only lurked on, have reminded me of how much fun it is to write about the entertainment I love rather than simply consume it.

So thank you, fellow Whovians.  I blame this all on you.


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