Textual Echoes: Theory

Whodology: Encountering Doctor Who fan fiction through the portals of play studies and ludology

Charles William Hoge

University of Denver, Denver, Colorado, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The fan fiction that is inspired by the textual world of both the original and new series of Doctor Who seems to provide a paratextual world of its own that produces a fascinatingly multidirectional relationship with the narratives that inspire it. Specifically, an interrogation of the intersections of these two worlds yields compelling evidence that the textual world of the new incarnation of the television series is aware of the concerns that tend to be generated by the writers of fan fiction and has adapted its own world to accommodate, or at least acknowledge, many of those concerns. If the writing of Doctor Who fan fiction can be productively read as play and as a creative, ludic engagement, how might the heuristic of ludology be employed as a means to encounter these texts and the playful relationship they create with the textual world from which their content is inspired?

[0.2] Keywords—Magic circle; Narrative; Paratext; Play

Hoge, Charles William. 2011. "Whodology: Encountering Doctor Who Fan Fiction through the Portals of Play Studies and Ludology." In "Textual Echoes," edited by Cyber Echoes, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 8. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0262.

1. Introduction

[1.1] One of the most compelling allures of fan fiction for this researcher is the fact that it is a playful invitation: it encourages the fan/reader to become a writer to participate in the "magic circle" world of the text, and collapses the barrier that has long held the reader at arm's length from the text itself. In the form of fan fiction, criticism of a textual world may now transgress creatively into a new space to express itself. The meanings generated from such an invitation are explored here, especially as they manifest from within the textual world of both the original and new Doctor Who (1963–89, 2005–) television series; beyond this, a critical eye is brought to a consideration of the production of compelling new voices into that world, whose creative exercise can be seen to repair entrenched textual elements that viewers/writers have deemed faulty or lacking. The generation of fan fiction is here a creatively powerful act that extends beyond the screens of its considerable body of readership, but in fact is found to influence in a fairly direct manner the narrative landscape of the traditional text of the current Doctor Who television series itself.

[1.2] For the purpose of this project, I use the term "textual world" to refer to the canon, or the television series itself, as the scaffolding around which the fan fiction borrows and maintains at least rudimentary structures. The fan fiction, or the fanon, is accordingly designated with a concept borrowed from Gerard Genette as belonging to the paratextual world, weaving within, without, and alongside the textual world with a conditional narrative freedom. I use these terms to enhance the claim that fan fiction truly accompanies, or travels alongside, the television series in which it involves itself and does not reside in a state perceptibly outside of the series. It is not the intention of this project to privilege the textual world over the paratextual, only to situate an awareness of a structure of narrative context in which the rules established by the television series provide a framework within which fan fiction must work. Doctor Who, along with science fiction in general, is alive with impossibilities, including monsters and time travel, that create a textual universe in which all boundaries are vulnerable to acts of transgression. With this in mind, we need not look so deeply into the matter to see that material travels with freedom back and forth between the textual world and the paratextual world. Obviously, the textual world maps out the parameters of what a Doctor Who narrative can be, informing the criteria around which fan fiction can construct itself, but we can trace meaningful contact between these spheres in the opposite direction as well; Matt Smith, the actor portraying the current (11th) Doctor, revealed that he wrote his own fan fiction to prepare for the role because "I wanted to feel like Doctor Who, understand where he'd come from" (Johanson 2010). When the actor playing the titular role acknowledges the potential and importance of the paratextual world as a means to access connectivity with the textual world, the two-way nature of this relationship is illuminated beautifully.

[1.3] The new series episode "Love and Monsters" (2006) also appears to work within its story line with the notion of a fan community, as it concocts a story in which fans of the Doctor, regular people who have had encounters with him, create an organization devoted to investigating these sightings. While not necessarily producing fan fiction, as the Doctor is not actually a fictive character within this story and does in fact make an appearance toward the end of the episode, this community does seem fannish. (From outside the textual world, of course, the viewer is aware that both the Doctor and this fan community are united in their fictiveness.) This story also seems to acknowledge the ubiquitous fan concerns about the lack of conventional romantic plotlines in the textual world, in that it produces a romantic relationship between two of its members, Elton Pope and Ursula Blake; this union is somewhat comically rendered and doomed, as Ursula is absorbed by a monster (initially disguised as an intruder into the fan community), and the subplot here does not directly involve the Doctor himself. Nonetheless, it does seem to offer a space within the textual world for a fairly easily interpretable version of a fan community. In a less pronounced manner, the character of Larry Nightingale in "Blink" (2007) has fannishly collected on video a series of bizarre half-conversations the Doctor has, on screen, with an unseen conversant as well as photographs revealing the Doctor's presence during specific catastrophic moments throughout human history. These documents are not seen as souvenirs of a television program as much as they are evidence of something unusual transpiring in the real world. Such textually mandated interactions with fan communities illustrate that the presence of fan fiction appears to have much to offer the textual world, in that the creative forum it provides for the expression of fan concerns is hardly a dead end as far as the textual world is concerned. This evidence suggests that the presence and creations of the Doctor Who fan community echo into the textual world itself.

[1.4] The principles of play and ludology, the study of games, may be applied here to provide a compelling heuristic through which to encounter Doctor Who fan fiction in a multidirectional fashion, through both the act of writing and the content of the fan fiction itself. As a game in which the player/author actively takes on an existing narrative in order to contribute to it, fan fiction functions definitionally as a game, and consequently, because this game is entirely involved in the construction of narratives, it appears to defy or at least complicate ludologist Markku Eskelinen's claim in "Towards Computer Game Studies" (2001), and game studies and cybertextualist scholar Espen Aarseth's claim in "Quest Games as Post-narrative Discourse" (2004), that a game cannot necessarily be understood to exist as a narrative. "If I throw a ball at you," Eskelinen claims, "I don't expect you to drop it and wait until it starts telling stories" (2001, 175). This example underscores the profound differences between a game that is entirely physical in its expression and one that, like fan fiction writing, involves a much higher degree of cerebral participation and a foundation based, in ways that other games are not, in the productive deployment of the player/writer's creativity. The act of play in fan fiction writing involves the generation of a new narrative, organized around the fan writer's creative interaction with the textual world around which the writing is based. The game, in a way, is the narrative. To extend Eskelinen's non-storytelling-ball analogy to fan fiction, it is true that the ball is never going to tell stories, but the player is. Perhaps we may see the ball as the textual world; in receiving it, the writer/player takes it on, and the narrative she produces from that prompt marks her engagement with the game. It is perhaps more productive to see the relationship between game and narrative as more of a fusion and less of a categorical compartmentalization; particularly helpful is Marie-Laure Ryan's suggestion that a useful approach could be made "by connecting the strategic dimension of gameplay to the imaginative experience of a fictional world" (2006, 203).

[1.5] Furthermore, the ludologist claim that the rules of a game are a significantly more important defining point than that game's narrative concerns (Ryan 2006, 184) is also complicated by fan fiction, in that the rules, in many cases, are so inextricably intertwined with concerns about narratives, defining their context, possibilities, and boundaries, that they would have no reason to exist if the narratives they delineated were not absolutely central to the game of fan fiction writing. However, to see that the game and narrative cooperate in this manner, wrapped together by their rules, is not merely fuel for an apparent complication of the ludological claim that the two must be critically considered as mutually exclusive: as a classifactorily transgressive hybrid, it is actually productive. Accordingly, an exploration of the Doctor Who fan fiction universe in which it is regarded as the cumulative acceptance of the invitation to play the game of contributing paratext to the textual world must begin by recognizing the importance of the space that is created when the aspiring, inspired fan fiction writer steps into the magic circle of the game.

2. The magic circle of Doctor Who

[2.1] Doctor Who fan fiction, like all fan fiction, is subject to a series of specific rules set forth within the narrative parameters of its textual world; in other words, there are rules that must be adhered to for the fan fiction to participate productively in the paratextual world. In this way, the production of fan fiction evokes the creation of the magic circle, Johan Huizinga's (1992) oft-cited notion of the semisacred space in which the game takes place. The magic circle requires that its participants believe in the integrity of the space in which the game is being played; if this belief falters, the circle breaks and the game falls apart. So long as the fan fiction writer remains in the magic circle, contributing text to it, that writer is charged to adhere to the rules that hold the circle together. It is productive, within this context, to be able to conceptualize fan fiction authors as players in this space. With this in mind, the question should be asked: in what ways can the writing of Doctor Who fan fiction be read as an act of stepping into the magic circle?

[2.2] It may be argued that science fiction in general is essentially, among other things, about the navigation of transgressions. The Doctor Who textual world is rife with such violations of conventional expectation. Here we encounter the Doctor himself, a Time Lord who is capable of violating the line between life and death by regenerating his body and persona when he needs to, as well as violating the linear nature of time by traveling in his TARDIS. The TARDIS itself violates our understanding of how space works, in that it is tremendously larger on the inside than it is on the outside. (It is virtually impossible for a new character, either in the textual world or the paratextual world of fan fiction, not to react to this spatial anomaly the first time she or he encounters it.) Beyond these features, many of the monsters violate our understanding of what we know can and cannot exist, and even within this, they violate established, discrete boundaries of classification. The Cybermen, as a classic example whose presence echoes through both iterations of the television series and across the fan fiction universe, are essentially humans who have either chosen or been forced to become mechanical creatures: they are people and robots at the same time. For this array of transgressive notions to survive the viewing and reading experience, they must be accepted within the textual and paratextual worlds; disbelief must be suspended. The threadbare budget for special effects and costumes in the original series called for a similar suspension of skepticism on the part of the viewer, but the survivability in fan fiction of, for example, the Yeti and some of the other less-convincing monsters seems to indicate that this viewer cooperation was maintained, fueling the translation of these monsters into the paratextual world. Acknowledgment of the legitimacy of these transgressions must be given by the viewer, the visual participants in the magic circle of the textual world, for it to function. If, at any point, we cry out, "That rickety old police box can't travel in time!" we have sullied the magic circle with skepticism by denying its properties, and we subsequently break the world of the presented narrative.

[2.3] However, the magic circle, even if it is challenging in its irrationality, is also fun, and it draws in potential players with this allure. According to Huizinga, although this attribute is easy to recognize, it is difficult to define: "The fun of playing resists all analysis, all logical interpretation. As a concept, it cannot be reduced to any other mental category" (1992, 3). However, the appeal of the Doctor Who textual world seems to meet this criterion of bringing in players who are attracted to its paradoxical nature, and the fun attached to connecting with it is described well in the ebullient language of the new series creator and self-proclaimed fan of the original series, Russell T. Davies. He discusses his love of the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, arguably the most popular (or at least the most well-recognized) Doctor in the first incarnation of the television series: "I was a Tom Baker man, really. I was just the right age. I was 11, going into comprehensive school, and that's when I really, really fell in love with the show. That was the most extraordinary combination of an actor and a part coming together, in just absolute television magic. I loved that very much" (Parker 2009). Though it is important to stop short of making any universal statements regarding a community as diverse as that of Doctor Who fan writers, it seems fair to assume that a similar sense of magical attraction fueled for others the sense of fun needed to propel them into the magic circle of fan authorship. Reading through the introductory material for many fan fiction stories reveals extensive use of the word fun, frequently deployed in ways that seem to refer to the content of the story itself and the playful action undertaken by the writer to compose the story; fun seems to operate multivalently in many of these introductions. For example, at the beginning of the fan text "Life as It Happens" (2011), author Lilahkat reminds us of the playfulness the textual vocabulary of the Doctor Who textual universe allows: "Time flies when you're having fun." Significantly, too, "Amused" (2007), by Rosa Acicularis, invites readers to the piece with the claim that "sometimes you have to make your own fun," a statement applicable both to the entertaining nature of the story's content (this writer's story note amusingly cautions us that the piece "contains tomfoolery, silliness, and historical inaccuracies") as well, presumably, as the fun of the impulse that this writer feels to create and share work with a reading audience.

[2.4] The rules of the magic circle leak out of the textual world and take root in the paratextual world. The television series literally models the rules; through the narratives it presents, it clearly shows us what is acceptable and what is available for use within the field of play, and either through omission or direct refutation lets us know what is unacceptable. We can see in the textual world that the Doctor is troubled by killing and thus kills only as a last resort; we also do not see him killing other entities within the narratives supplied by the textual world. As a result, we know that a fan story in which the Doctor goes on a killing spree would be considered unacceptable and a violation of the rules—unless, of course, these actions could somehow be rationalized and reconciled to the rules. A fan writer may still produce work that contains violations of these rules; there is no gatekeeper to prevent such work from being brought into existence. However, the violations inherent in such work would preclude its inclusion in at least one significant fan fiction repository. The Doctor Who fan fiction archive A Teaspoon and an Open Mind (http://www.whofic.com/), in its submission guidelines, sets out some of the parameters that must be respected to enter the magic circle of the paratext and contribute to its fan fiction repository:

[2.5] We do not allow transcripts or stories which heavily feature song lyrics ("song-fics"). Nor do we allow stories that are about the actors rather than the characters (also known as RPF). We also ask that you don't make stories, or chapters of stories, out of inquiries, requests, rants, or other such discussion-type material. If you don't have a title for your story, or you really want someone to write a story about Rose's pet cat falling in love with K9, or you want to gripe about the plotline for "Keys of Marinus," there are more appropriate places online to do that. (http://www.whofic.com/guidelines.php)

[2.6] To be accepted and included within this fic archive's paratextual world, fan fiction must be narrative and not musical, must not violate the delineation that separates a character from its actress/actor, and cannot engage in a critique of the textual world that does not resolve itself into a relevant creative narrative. It is significant here that fan fiction is not to be a blatant sounding board: complaining about the plots offered up through the textual world, or the taking on of themes too peripheral to be taken on by fan fiction writers, is not acceptable. In fact, the presence of submission guidelines at all clues us into the notion that within the game of fan fiction writing, there are rules that must be respected if a writer intends to have her or his work included in this collection. Fan contributions are discarded, cast off from the possibility of inclusion within the paratextual world, if they violate these rules; they represent a threat to the integrity of the magic circle that negotiates fan fiction's relationship to its textual world.

[2.7] However, transgressing some of the minor rules that define the textual world presents itself frequently, and fan author The Chibi's Are Stalking Me sets this atmosphere for friendly narrative violation succinctly at the opening of "What If" (2007): "There's a lot of 'what if's in Dr. Who…Random Pairings, random settings, in short nothing is sacred. It's all mine for the warping. Enjoy." There are rules, but there is also a lot of room for creative flexibility within the allowances of the paratextual world. The rhetoric that the magic circle is a place of stagnant, unbending sacredness is certainly not universally embraced by all fan writers. A textual world immersed in time travel by its very definition seems to invite its fan writers to explore the spaces before the beginning and beyond the end of the parameters set for the textual world. These violations are fairly common. A good example is BlackPaperMoon15's "I Vow" (2011), which offers a glimpse of the ninth Doctor just before he meets Rose. Of course, his encounter with Rose literally opens the textual world of the new series (in 2005's "Rose"), but it also opens an opportunity for a fan writer to work outside of the temporal boundaries it inaugurates, which can be done, and is done by BlackPaperMoon15, all while staying within the rules of the magic circle. Similarly, the Teaspoon and an Open Mind repository lists an entire category of "missing scene" fan fiction pieces, which paratextually address moments before, after, or off-screen; thought but not spoken; or in any other way not included within the textual world. Typically these violations of the textual world involve the sexualization of characters who do not exhibit such desires or behaviors as defined components of their textual world personalities; these transgressions do not seem to threaten the status of fan fiction as material that is accepted as belonging within the magic circle. Though this lack of overt sexuality, which characterizes both iterations of the television series, is routinely and fascinatingly transgressed by pieces that fall under the categories of romance, slash, and femslash, other, more serious violations of the textual world's parameters are almost never depicted. For example, as I mention above, the Doctor is never portrayed as a serial killer, or as wildly incompetent in the face of danger, or as disinterested in what happens to the people and creatures around him—unless some explanation of the appearance of this transgressive behavior is forthcoming within the story itself and somehow serves a greater purpose of good.

[2.8] Furthermore, fan fiction is allowed to repair moments in the textual world that have failed to satisfy the requirements of its fan writers. As long as one stays within the rules that compose the magic circle, one can, for example, inaugurate a story, as does MissDoctorDonna at the beginning of "The Runaway Bride—Alternate Ending" (2010), with the claim, "I didn't think Donna would have let the Doctor go off all upset, so I've rewritten things the way I thought they should have gone." This notion that the fan fiction writers rewrite details to recuperate them with their conceptions of how they should have gone motivates much of the paratextual world, and it is productive to explore some of the possible sources of these dissatisfactions. The intertwining relationship that emerges between the paratextual and textual worlds is charged by some of the very impulses that inspire the contributions of MissDoctorDonna and others in the fan community.

3. Ludic potentials in Doctor Who fan fiction: Elements of the game

[3.1] When both the acts of the construction of Doctor Who fan fiction and the textual result of these constructive activities are transposed onto the critical taxonomy set forth by game and play theorist Roger Caillois, interesting connections take shape, and a productive exploration of this relationship reveals further support toward the intertwining relationship between these textual and paratextual worlds. Specifically, when Roger Caillois's requirements for games—agon, alea, mimicry, and illinx (2001)—are applied across the spectrum of Doctor Who fan fiction, the results are anything but straightforward. Agon, the element of competition between players, is Caillois's first characteristic of games, and it seems present in Doctor Who fan fiction, at least where the alignment of characters and traditional plot structures is concerned. Specifically, the Doctor must be placed in a good-versus-evil competition with an antagonistic agent. There is a large group from which to choose; fan writers who do not wish to invent their own adversaries can borrow from a corpus that includes the Master, Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, the Slitheen, and the Sea Devils, just to name a few of the more popular adversaries. There is clearly a win condition for this conflict, presented as a solution to the conflict stirred by the agon, and relevant to fan fiction: the machinations of evil must be overcome, usually by the evil force being outsmarted and destroyed, or at least defeated. Outside of the narrative trajectories of the fan fiction itself, competition may be evidenced in the form of popularity contests that pit the quality of one fan fiction story against others.

[3.2] The notion of alea, the element of chance, does not really factor into the process of Doctor Who fan fiction because the process is, like any form of writing, a deliberate act. While it may present deus ex machina sorts of structures, in which the element of chance within the story facilitates change or progress that otherwise would have been impossible, one feels uneasy making a claim that this is truly chance, rather than the textual results of conscious choices made by the writer. One can conceive, however, of how interactive forms of fan fiction, in which the reader would be able to select from a series of choices which path the story takes, might solidify the presence of alea here. This has already begun to be addressed in the Doctor Who fan community: Alden Bates's Confrontation on Zerron (2010) engages this aleaic possibility directly in its presentation of a "make your own adventure" interactive fan story in which the reader is prompted, at the end of each narrative section, to select an option that, depending on the reader's choice, takes the story along differing trajectories.

[3.3] Callois's notion of mimicry, however, is much easier to find here, as the construction of all fan fiction might be read as an act of mimicry. For example, Doctor Who fan fiction that violates the rules set forth within the textual world that create its magic circle would be excluded from the canon; too many deviations might remove it altogether from the "fan" position. A fan fiction piece that drifts too far from the parameters of the textual world runs the risk of losing its fan status altogether and becoming a satellite text, connected only in a distant and perhaps shallow way to the textual world that it has failed to mimic successfully enough to be brought into orbit around.

[3.4] Illinx is the most squirrelly of the components of play, but it still might be seen to manifest itself within the realm of Doctor Who fan fiction. It also allows a productive consideration of how ludology can be seen to offer a multidirectional relationship with fan fiction, as it becomes a visible element both in the act of constructing fan fiction and in the results of those acts of construction, the content of the fan fiction itself. Illinx involves games "based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness" (Caillois 2005, 138). While perhaps not directly applicable to the act of writing fan fiction, this type of sensory-wrecking stupefaction does seem to exist within the narrative content of both the textual world and its fan fiction. In particular, the Doctor's ability, as a Time Lord, to regenerate, dodging death by undergoing an increasingly spectacular and violent change of personality and appearance (thus allowing actors to depart the show and be replaced by new actors without losing the narrative continuity established for the textual world) certainly seems aligned to the process of illinx. Fan writers are attuned to this sense of wild disorientation that the textual world exudes, and they connect it to their own work. For example, fan writer Margaret Price, in her introduction to the fourth Doctor story "The Alliance of Death" (2005), offers a vivid description of postregeneration disorientation that sounds very much like illinx:

[3.5] Regeneration is an integral part of a Time Lord's life cycle. As one body becomes old and worn out, another takes its place. All perfectly natural.

[3.6] This was what the Doctor had been trying to convince himself of for the last few days, thinking it would be only a matter of time before his new persona finally established itself. After all, this was his third regeneration. He should have the hang of it by now…

[3.7] Unfortunately, this was precisely the problem. The Doctor was having quite a bit of trouble getting the hang of his most recent regeneration, which had been brought about to save his life. He was currently at an unstable stage and kept getting the strangest yearnings to do equally strange things; something he hoped was only temporary and not a permanent facet of his new, slowly forming personality.

[3.8] Illinx also involves games of metamorphosis and transgression, and both of these elements are active contributors to the Doctor Who textual and paratextual worlds: metamorphosis is clearly evident in the Doctor's regenerations, as well as being an ability of innumerable monsters within the textual world and its fan fiction iterations; and transgressions are evident everywhere. Perhaps these are most immediately visible in the power of the TARDIS itself, as the act of time traveling seems to fit within the parameters of this definition. Furthermore, the extradimensional nature of the TARDIS, which transgresses our understanding of space in that it is larger on the inside than the outside, may play into this notion as well. While illinx is typically unraveled by game theorists to describe amusement park rides and similar voluntary acts of whirling, disorienting, nonlethal violence to the body, this description seems to mirror the emotional and physical condition one exhibits when exposed to the TARDIS for the first time. Fan writers are aware of this notion and work with it. For example, writer Imorgen's The Emissary (2010) offers a finely understated acknowledgment of illinx, voiced through first-time TARDIS visitor Melissa: "'Your ship defies common sense,' she blurted, feeling a little dazed." This defiance of common sense is a unifying factor that holds the paratextual and textual worlds together.

4. An array of avatars: Playing with the Doctor Who cast

[4.1] For many fan writers, an appealing elements of the Doctor Who textual world may be this very relative interchangeability and expandability of the cast: the Doctor regenerates; companions come aboard, depart, and are replaced. All of this allows for a diverse cast from which a writer may choose. If we are to cast fan fiction ludologically as a game, we can see this attribute of the textual world as providing a large number of available avatars into which the fan fiction can immerse itself. There is also the option of grafting an entirely new character into the fan fiction, which is done frequently in pieces that introduce new companions into their stories for which there is no traceable precedent in the textual world. These characters are sometimes borrowed from other science fiction series (there is a strong tradition of crossover work, which intertwines Doctor Who with other science fiction or dramatic television series or movies), but they seem more frequently to be generated as fresh entities by the writers themselves. Interestingly, while the textual world would technically allow for fan fiction writers to craft a new incarnation for the Doctor, this seems to be done only rarely, as the element of presenting a central character who is recognizable from the textual world is apparently important to most writers. Certain characters within this field appear to be more popular than others: the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is utilized far more frequently than any other incarnation, with only the ninth Doctor (his immediate predecessor, Christopher Eccleston) also showing a significant level of creative fan interest.

[4.2] A Teaspoon and an Open Mind is an outstanding fan fiction archive. An August 10, 2011, visit to its clearly organized, open-entry catalog of material revealed that the tenth Doctor is by far the most popular, with 15,115 stories dedicated to his character; the ninth Doctor follows with 4,188 stories, then the fifth (Peter Davison) with 1,047; after this comes the fourth (Tom Baker) with 954, and the eighth (Sylvester McCoy) with 860. (The current Doctor, played by Matt Smith, is the subject of 1,264 entries, which, though he has only been a part of the textual world since 2009, still ranks his popularity higher than any of the Doctors from the original series. Such an attraction to the show's newest Doctor seems to indicate that fan writers are more drawn to the characters in the new iteration of the television series.) After this is a precipitous drop-off in the number of stories devoted to the remaining Doctors, which would seem to indicate that the earliest three incarnations (William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee, who appeared on the air between 1963 and 1974) are only infrequently used as the basis for fan fiction narratives. Why would the uneven levels of fan writers' interest in this vast textual world reflect a seeming lack of consideration for the show's roots? Why would only the most recent avatars, so to speak, receive the majority of the fan writers' creative attention? The BBC erased the master tapes of 108 episodes from the first and second Doctors' years (1963 to 1969); the lack of a viewable textual world around which to create fan texts might play into fan writers' lack of investment in these early periods; the slow pacing of the episodes that do survive, and simply the age of the material, might also fail to attract fan attention. Perhaps, though, the answer lies at least in part with the basic sex appeal, or lack thereof, of the titular character, especially within the distant, avuncular characters represented within these first three incarnations. Hartnell was depicted as a grandfather type (indeed, the first Doctor was literally so); Troughton played the role as a cosmic hobo; and Pertwee assumed the guise of an older Victorian dandy. Although likable, these characters never exuded a sexual presence, and the show itself did not explore themes of sexual tension within the Doctor and any of his companions—or anyone else, for that matter. The fan fiction that unravels from the corpus of the first three Doctors largely (but not exclusively) replicates the emphases that pervaded the televised textual world. In other words, the focus seems to be more on plot, monsters, and conflict than anything angling toward emotional relationships or romantic entanglements. The textual world did not provide for these as viable elements, and fan fiction writers, it seems, for the most part respected the emotion-thin parameters of this particular universe. The Doctors with the least fan fiction attention both occupied the role in the 1980s, much later than this formative era for the textual world. This seeming discrepancy may perhaps be explained if these Doctors can be read as reflections of, or throwbacks to, the earlier years of the television series: the sixth Doctor (Colin Baker, with 395 stories) possessed an acidic and domineering personality that seemed to resemble that of the first Doctor, and the seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy, with 526 stories) displayed a propensity for physical comedy and pratfalls, similar to those performed by the second Doctor. In other words, these traits may have served to render these incarnations of the Doctor less appealing for fan writers for some of the same reasons that the predecessors they evoked have been avoided.

[4.3] One of the primary themes that emerges in current Doctor Who fan fiction, and a possible motivating factor governing the writers' rationale for selecting specific avatars from within the textual world, is this very notion of frustrated romance. In fan fiction, this typically but not exclusively involves the Doctor (usually in his tenth incarnation) fighting his desire for Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, or even Jack Harkness—though occasionally the romantic interest comes from a character generated by the writer, or even a character from deeper back in the textual world's past. Many of these works take the tension and innuendo that exists in the actual series and push them further, satisfying the curiosity of a viewership who might wonder what might have happened if only…The fact that many companions depart the textual world when they fall in love with a secondary, nonrecurring character is significant. In many cases, nonrecurring characters are written into the textual world almost solely to serve the narrative purpose of generating a romantic subplot; the potential of romance for companions in the original series has to be written for them into the textual world from the outside. Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Leela (Louise Jameson), Romana (Lalla Ward), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) all departed the series in this manner.

[4.4] Romana, for example, departs the series at the conclusion of "Warrior's Gate" (1981); at the end of the episode, she confronts the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) with her decision at the door of the TARDIS, and he reacts, hurriedly, by handing her the robotic dog K-9, an exchange that stands in lieu of any physical contact between the two. The Doctor says, "I'll miss you," then shouts, as she walks away into the ether of the alternate universe in which she has chosen to stay, "You were the noblest Romana of them all!" The somewhat sterile nature of Romana's departure is problematized by the notion that she, like the Doctor, is a Time Lord, and a viewer might think that such a connection would warrant a bit more emotion. Perhaps the highly charged, tear-jerking departure of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) in "Army of Ghosts/Doomsday" (2006) in the second series, who also ended up trapped within an alternate universe, was meant as an emotional tourniquet for the textual world, which had left important situations bleeding during its first incarnation. Thus, this work of possible narrative reparation may be read as a response, at least indirectly, to fan concerns about the lack of emotional depth in the original series; it marks one moment in which the fans, who crafted similar responses within the fan fiction community, may have influenced developments within the textual world. The significant number of fan fiction texts that begin with the "what if?" structure provide a reminder that fan writers are frequently inspired to re-present material in the textual world that has dissatisfied them in some way. Certainly, precedent does exist for this intertwining, back-and-forth relationship between the textual and paratextual worlds of Doctor Who.

[4.5] Perhaps as a result of the early textual world's apparent dearth of emotional content, the Doctor's companions are frequently used by fan writers as a means to offer more productive territory for explorations of conventional romantic and sexual relationships. These characters thus become more attractive as avatars because more flexibility is allowed by the ground rules of the textual world for their romantic and sexual interaction. Vvj5's "Five Times Sarah Lied to the Doctor about Harry" (2010), for example, illustrates how companions can be centralized and provided a romantic tension that was entirely lacking in their presentation within the original textual world. Perhaps for fan writers such as Vvj5 the best way to embrace the classic Doctor Who with a romantic plotline is to bypass the nonsexualized main character altogether and focus on less defined characters whose sexuality has not been categorically wiped clean from the textual world in advance. The very notion intimated in this title, that romantic interest would have to be clandestinely kept from the Doctor, is a powerful hint that such themes were subversive within this version of the textual universe.

5. The new Who: Responding to the fan community?

[5.1] Perhaps this attachment to the companions as flexible, sexualizable avatars reveals the level to which fans were not enamored of these romance-thin plot tendencies within the textual world. Accordingly, the very nature of the show, in its earliest years, did not provide the groundwork for the type of material that fan fiction writers enjoy pursuing in new series-related work. Matt Hills's invaluable "The Dispersible Television Text: Theorising Moments of the New Doctor Who" cites the producer of the new series, Russell T. Davies, who agrees that emotional moments in the original series were few and far between but were memorable among the show's fan base.

[5.2] I can't think of any other programme where you'd consciously have to say, "Let's add some emotion in there," because most drama is already about emotions. Doctor Who really wasn't before…A lot of classic Doctor Who gets defined by little moments of emotion between the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, or by an event like Jo Grant's departure [which] are so memorable [to fans] simply because they are the only tiny emotional moments in the entire output. (Hills 2009, 28)

[5.3] Though this view of the emotional limitations of the classic series has created some controversy among its more dedicated devotees, I would like to add that one of my strongest memories of the era being described above was indeed the departure of Jo Grant from the textual world of the third Doctor; the moment in which she announced her intention to leave the Doctor, and placed her hand in the hand of the young man with whom she'd fallen in love, has stayed solidly within my memory much more strongly than the plotline of the episode ("The Green Death," 1972), which was in its own right memorable for its giant, green, irradiated maggots and huge murderous dragonfly. This touching but understated moment appears to be more recognizable as fan fiction than as an actual scene from the television show, and it is the very desires of many fans for this type of moment that seemed to have infused the writing of the new series, which perhaps repairs the emotional hollowness of the relationship between the third Doctor and Jo Grant with the much more emotionally, and sexually, charged relationship between Rose Tyler and the ninth and tenth Doctors.

[5.4] The new series may perhaps be read as a response to fan concerns that the original series failed to substantiate latent emotional themes that viewers were interested in seeing, and Hills suggests that the show itself is something of a fan response, maybe even the most direct actualization of the impulses that fan fiction put together:

[5.5] By contrast [with the original series], new Who regularly incorporates "character" or emotional moments into its adventure-oriented, up-tempo flexi-narratives. In one sense, this appears to involve "giving fans what they want," or reflecting a fan's way of experiencing the series (as made up of special moments) in the writing and production process. (2009, 29–30)

[5.6] Fan fiction becomes a creative representative of the voice of what fans want, and those responsible for the new series (many of them self-proclaimed fans themselves) are reading it, and responding productively by bringing this fan awareness into the textual world. This can be read from the new series in its narrative tendencies toward what Matt Hills calls "foregrounding special moments":

[5.7] New Who is also to an extent foregrounding its intertextual citations of past triumphs, monsters and fan memories, such as the Autons from Spearhead from Space (1970) appearing once more in "Rose" (2005). And some of its self-reflexive moments even go so far as to blur authorial, character and fan voices, such as Stephen Moffat's scripted "Time Crash" (shown in 2007 as part of the British Broadcasting Corporation's [BBC's] Children in Need telethon) featuring David Tennant's Doctor telling the former, fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) "you were my Doctor—all my love to long ago." (2009, 30)

[5.8] The voice of fan fiction, or at least strong evidence emanating from the paratextual world, may be found here, undisguised, within the textual world. Transplanting the fan voice, it seems, to the tenth Doctor, offers a vehicle for the fandom of the teleplay's writer, and the acknowledgment in this declaration of love that the fifth was "my Doctor" offers what might be an explanation as to which Doctors fan fiction writers choose to devote their stories. Perhaps this notion of having a specific Doctor belong to a fan writer as "mine" offers one possibility to explain upon which Doctor individual fan fiction writers tend to focus most of their creative energy. The tenth Doctor, David Tennant, admits to being a fan of the original series and offers a compelling explanation for the selection of "his" Doctor: "Tom Baker [the fourth] and Peter Davison [the fifth] were the two that I grew up with. I think there is something about it, like a chick hatching from an egg. Who you see first is who you imprint on. But, I've liked them all" (Parker 2009). One wonders if fan fiction writers would see their attachments to particular incarnations of the Doctor, as avatars to be, in the same manner. However, complicating this notion is the fact that many of the writers represented within the Teaspoon collection seem to work across the spectrum of the textual world, not only composing stories about more than one Doctor, but frequently addressing multiple incarnations of the Doctor within a single story. This tendency to align a single avatar with other versions of himself has been inaugurated by the textual world as being within the boundaries of the rules of the magic circle as early as "The Three Doctors," which aired in 1973.

6. Opportunities Doctor Who fan fiction brings to the table

[6.1] Though it is obvious to say this, it is nonetheless an important point to make: fan fiction writers are allowed a level of direct, extratextual communication with their readers, delivered frequently through the introductory paratext for their stories or within the comment sections following their work; that is a level of playing with the reader unreplicable by the writers responsible for generating stories for the textual world itself. One must admire the trailblazing rhetoric of many of these fan fiction writers, who bring to the paratextual world bold voices that a ratings-conscious television series would not be likely to emulate. SlasheTTe, for example, a writer who has a pair of Doctor Who stories collected on the FanFiction.net archive, cautions readers of her "The Master's Daughter" (2010), "If you are in any way against bisexuality do not read. Or get over it." This wonderfully confrontational engagement with the reader is of course a feature that the actual textual world simply cannot provide; the textual world can supply itself with potentially controversial characters, but it cannot directly warn the viewer that the diversity presented by these characters must be accepted. For example, the series' introduction of its first uncloseted recurring bisexual character, Jack Harkness, is not accompanied by any challenges to the reader that she or he can quit watching if his sexuality offends. Though this observation is obvious, it highlights the power of the fan fiction writer, who can create paratext to demand attention toward a character's attribute that may be read by some viewing audiences as controversial. In this sense, the use of fan fiction as a means for a writer to impose her own narrative, or at least a narrative she desires to contribute, onto a reader in ways that use the scaffolding of the textual world can be seen as an act of play, and an actively ludic opportunity for engagement that is not available to a fan who simply watches the textual world.

[6.2] The long run of the original television series, from 1963 to 1989, allows a considerable amount of diversity from which fan fiction may work, but the scope of the creative opportunity provided by this textual world is vastly enhanced by the fact that many episodes from the first and (especially) second Doctors' eras (1963–1969) are quite literally missing. The actual tapes of these episodes were erased by the BBC in the 1970s, and they now exist only fragmentarily: in written telescripts describing the action, dialogue, and stage directions; in still photographs taken during the filming process; and, as a result of the diligent work of the show's early fan community, in audio recordings captured by fans who held microphones up to their television screens when the episodes originally aired. The gaps these missing episodes present in the Doctor Who narrative create a fan void that ultimately compromises fans' attempts to familiarize themselves with the entirety of the textual world. As a result, some fans have responded by creating "recovery" versions of these missing episodes, many of which can be found on YouTube, in which still photos are displayed while fan-recorded audio track footage from erased episodes plays, or animated content fills in the blanks of the missing scenes, accompanied by the fan-recorded audio. Whether this material qualifies as fan fiction is debatable, as the creative act is different here: the fans' creativity in these projects involves the process of recovering existing photographic and soundtrack fragments from the missing episodes and using these to assemble, as coherently as possible, re-created iterations of the complete narrative content of the lost episodes. A new narrative is not created from scratch; rather, we see a version of an old, lost narrative constructed through these fan projects. However, the potential radiating from the fragments that survive from these missing episodes creates another possibility for the writers within the paratextual world.

[6.3] The original series' largely lost "Evil of the Daleks" (1967) provides the contextual entrance for Johne's "Samantha's Turn" fan fiction piece, archived at Teaspoon. The fan writer plays with both the presentational format of the original text and its actual content in the construction of her work. Not only does the writer incorporate the number of episodes in her story from those in the original narrative (seven, of which six are missing), but she also says in the story notes, "We can speculate endlessly about how Evil of the Daleks would have been different if Pauline Collins had stayed on as Samantha. It's quite possible that Victoria, or perhaps Mollie, would not have existed. In this version, though, I've kept them in" (Johne 2010). The missing episodes/text, within the established structure of the textual world, allows a space for speculation and play and subsequently opens the possibility for "this version" to present itself; even if teleplays exist for these missing episodes, the film does not, and a writer can, and in this case does, play within the territory that has been hollowed out in the textual world through the destruction of most of the relevant episodes.

[6.4] The notion of fan attention being given to "spaces between" in the textual world is expansive, and significantly, written fan fiction does not seem to be the only electronically disseminated iteration to address Doctor Who. Fans have created a tradition for recasting the textual world in the form of fan-generated "previews" for episodes that have already aired. This is a technique whose foundation is borrowed from the new series. As the credits roll at the end of each episode in the new Doctor Who series, a "Next Time" promotion is shown in which, as the theme music swells in the background, rapid-cut preview images of the next episode are shown, usually concluding with a cliffhanger image or line of dialogue. This feature has been adopted by the Doctor Who fan community, whose members play within the boundaries of this structure to create scores of fake "Next Time" trailers. These videos can be found across the YouTube landscape, many constructed around episodes from the original series, as well as for lost episodes for which these advertisements did not exist when they aired. These videos may be read as a sort of fan-generated folk art, artistic manipulations of the mass-disseminated raw material of the textual world that reveal the moments the fan artist finds most compelling. Although they add nothing new per se to the textual world, they arrange the preexisting content in such a way that a new iteration of the specific episode treated is created. A fundamentally new narrative does not emerge, but an expression and ordering of what fans believe to be the most important features of the narrative become apparent. Importantly, the rules of the textual world are maintained through this paratextuality, in that no new text is actually added; but the reorganization of this material seems clearly to be a ludic activity in its own right, in which the fan creator's favorite moments can be expressed through playful reassembly. As such, these fan-generated "Next Time" videos may also be seen as a possible subspecies of fan fiction.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] The critical framework that blossoms from a consideration of ludology provides a useful and productive framework through which the fan fiction paratext inspired by the textual world of Doctor Who can be investigated. These paratexts may be read as active engagements in the play offered by the textual world of the television series that supplies the magic circle around which they construct themselves. Furthermore, the opportunities that are created by the successful entry into and maintenance of the magic circle of Doctor Who appear to take the shape of a multidirectional conversation that unfolds across the textual and paratextual worlds. The result is, as might be expected within the wildly engaging universe of science fiction, an entertaining and fruitful exchange that negotiates an unstable relationship with the boundaries it is supposed to uphold, sometimes adhering to the rules of the textual world and sometimes straying beyond these into spaces fan writers feel the textual universe fails to reach.

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