There is a universal phenomenon in fandom. It is generically called retroactive continuity, but it has many names. It is the effort to make sense of a story or plot point so that it will fit existing continuity. It is an odd phenomenon, because it compels fans to find some way to save their favorite show from plot holes you could fly a starship through. In Doctor Who fandom, I call it, the Rose Colored Glasses of Rassilon, and it is in full force when fans review The Doctor Who television movie from 1996.
Recently, I experienced this phenomenon while recording a podcast for The Articles of the Shadow Proclamation. Over its nearly 50 year history, Doctor Who has never been absolutely faithful to continuity. Just ask a long term fan how many origins there have been for the Loch Ness Monster or when exactly the UNIT stories took place. So why does the 8th Doctor movie cause so many headaches? I think it is because, for the longest time, this was the entire run for this Doctor, and as such people looked very closely at the movie trying to figure out all they could about this regeneration, and where the show might have gone had the movie spun off into a new series. The show had been cancelled, or on a protracted hiatus for quite some time, and fans really hoped this movie meant the show was coming back.
I should probably take a moment here and declare that I really like this movie, especially Paul McGann’s 8th Doctor. Oh and don’t get me started on how cool the console room is. That said it is hard to ignore some of the film’s oddities, like The Doctor being half human, or The Master turning into some sort of snake. So like any good fan, I try and focus on the good things, and try my best to make sense of everything else.
The thing that struck me though is that over time, the cannon of Doctor Who has found a way to absorb some of those ’96 television movie oddities. For example, the gold pixie dust energy which revived Grace appeared to come from nowhere. The TARDIS can choose to bring people back from the dead? in 1996 this was wacky but here in 2012 we have countless examples of similar gold energy being used by the TARDIS to do all sorts of things, including giving a monster a second chance at life. Oh and all of a sudden being half human is not so crazy. After all, a half human Doctor does exist with Rose in another dimension.
Maybe it’s those rose colored glasses I am wearing or maybe in an appropriately Timey-Wimey way, the cannon of Doctor Who is healing itself. The Doctor’s Wife episode was a much better explanation as to The TARDIS’s sentience, and therefore it is so much easier to think that perhaps Idris was behind the odd resurrections. As time goes by, the wacky aspects of the 1996 television movie seem less and less wacky.
Okay, this is not a perfect process. Where was that semi truck full of chickens going in San Francisco at that time of night? At least Doctor Who Cannon seems to weather curve balls better than other shows. If only us Highlander fans could be so lucky.