Let’s talk about Canons.


By canon I don’t mean metal guns used to blast people into little pieces. I mean something official in a timeline of events. The phrase was first started by Christians who were trying to work out which books in the Bible were real and which were not.  Its modern day usage is normally in a fictional franchise to refer to which events happened and which are “what if” or “other world” stories. The first author to use the phrase Canon was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when lots of fan stories about his legendary character Sherlock Holmes were published alongside his own pieces of work.

Okay, what makes something canon? That’s easy, the answer is… ummmm… authorship? The Star Wars films episodes one, two, three, four, five and six are all canon because George Lucas wrote them. Likewise the Doctor Who TV series from the 2005 reboot are Canon because the showrunner Russell T Davies (2005 – 2010) and Steven Moffat (2010 –) wrote or had a hand in scripts.  But the Clone Wars TV series and Star Wars Rebels are also Canon even though George had little input in them. Likewise the showrunners of Doctor Who have little say in the stories published in novels or magazines.

Okay, it’s the medium they’re distributed in. The Star Wars films and TV shows are Canon because they’re on a screen. Certain mediums have higher authority over others, for example a TV series will always trump the series of books it was based on.  No, that’s not right either as the Doctor Who magazines, audio-books and novels tell us what happened before, in between and after televised stories. Same for Star Wars. Furthermore during the show’s hiatus the only official Doctor Who media was in the form of magazines and novels and they were considered Canon as they were the only medium in which Doctor Who was still running.

Perhaps the companies decide what is Canon? Star Wars is owned by Lucas arts and Doctor Who by the BBC so whatever they release relating to their separate franchises is considered Canon. No,  During the years 1989 and 2005 when Doctor Who wasn’t on TV the BBC gave publishing rights to Virgin Books and they published a collection of stories featuring the seventh Doctor which is referred to as the Virgin New Adventures. These stories are considered Canon by many, despite the fact that the BBC later published their own Doctor Who magazine alongside the Virgin New Adventures making both magazine series Canon even though they often contradicted each other.

Goddammit. Is it….up to the fans to decide what is and isn’t Canon? Yes… and no. Let me explain.

Luckily for us the definition of what is and isn’t Canon is explained on the Star Wars website.

Star Wars:

When it comes to absolute canon, the real story of Star Wars, you must turn to the films themselves—and only the films. Even novelizations are interpretations of the film, and while they are largely true to George Lucas’ vision (he works quite closely with the novel authors), the method in which they are written does allow for some minor differences. The novelizations are written concurrently with the film’s production, so variations in detail do creep in from time to time. Nonetheless, they should be regarded as very accurate depictions of the fictional Star Wars movies.

Many franchises have a reboot in order to draw more fans, boost sales costs and start a new timeline. By reboot I mean the universe is revamped and rebooted like opening a new Microsoft Word document. With the announcement of episode seven, Star Wars stated that everything that wasn’t film or part of the Clone Wars TV show or Star Wars Rebels was moved from Canon and into a new category called Legends. It still exists but it isn’t official anymore. To make it even more confusing the phrases “rebooting the universe”  and “erasing timelines” happen all the time and Doctor Who but doesn’t affect Canon.

The BBC have never said what is and isn’t Canon when referring to Doctor Who which leaves it up to the fans. This is considered Headcanon and is a lot simpler to understand, I promise. It’s a Canon that happens in someone’s head, what they choose to believe happened regardless of the evidence that says otherwise. Fans do this to make sense of plot holes, explain away bad writing or just believe their ideas are better. For example if I said “I think underneath his suit Darth Vader is secretly a wookie” that’s fine. There is no evidence to support this but it’s in my head.

So the Doctor Who fans choose what is and isn’t Canon. They can believe everything they see and read about The Doctor and his adventures while ignoring the mistakes and contradictions or they can pick and choose between the different stories in different mediums.

Phew. Do you have a different definition of Canon? Do you like to believe everything you see or hear in a selective medium or do you like to pick and choose to avoid inconsistencies? Let everyone know in the comments down below and I’ll see you next week.

5 Replies to “Canons”

  1. And I thought I was going to get a chance to tell you about round shot. Ah well.

    I rather like the idea of people trying to work out which bits of made up stuff are the real made up stuff and which are like it, but not actually it.

  2. Pingback: My top ten books

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