Canon is a tricky issue for Doctor Who fans. There are several schools of thought. Some think that only what appears on TV counts. Others say that the canon consists of TV and the Big Finish audios, because they use the original actors and the Eighth Doctor name-checked his Big Finish companions before his regeneration in Night Of The Doctor. Others still will say that everything licensed by the BBC counts: the TV show, the Big Finish Audios, the comics, the books (the BBC ones and the Virgin New Adventures), even the comic strips in the Radio Times are all part of the epic story that is the life of the Doctor. Yes, it presents problems (like how the Doctor went through events of Human Nature twice, in two different incarnations, and didn’t seem to notice) but, these people argue, with a bit of careful cataloguing you can make every licensed Doctor Who story part of the canon.
Of course, the correct answer is that those people don’t go far enough. It’s not just that everything the BBC has licensed is canon. It’s that everything is canon. From the comics that suggest the Seventh Doctor visited the Marvel universe to that time the Fourth Doctor replaced the TARDIS console with a computer from eighties and proposed to Romana. All of it! (Except the Dimensions In Time Children in Need special, that comic where Ace died, and the bit of the TV movie that suggested the Doctor was half human.)
But these cameos and one-off appearances, licensed or not, aren’t just part of the canon. They’re essential to it. Even the briefest blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances can have world-shattering consequences for the rest of the Doctor Who universe.
Here are the most significant, in chronological order (from the Doctor’s point of view, obviously).
In Doctor Who’s long, winding and self-contradictory history there’ve been a few world devastating wars and catastrophes, so there’s plenty of room for Fallout’s nuclear wasteland to slot in. So it’s not surprising, while you’re wandering around New Vegas to hear the phrase “Bravo Bravo Charlie the Doctor is coming” over your radio. Of course “the Doctor” could be any Doctor, and who knows what “Bravo Bravo Charlie” is supposed to stand for.
Of course then there are the mysterious ghost people who wear gas masks and can be found around graffiti saying “I am not your mummy!”
But the real giveaway that the Doctor has been wandering the wasteland is that in an earlier game, you see him.
Iron Sky is not a great film. This is a shame, because this ‘Nazis on the Moon’ movie gives us a tantalising glimpse into one of the most mysterious periods in the Doctor’s life. That glimpse comes during the climactic space battle at the end of the film, where the Earth’s spaceships unite to fight the Moon Nazi menace.
In among the fleet of weaponised space craft, which include MIR, the ISS, and a Union Jack emblazoned ship that’s very clearly part of the British Rocket Group, you can see a tiny blue box. If you missed it in the clip, don’t worry, here’s a much bigger version.
Now this raises some questions. Firstly, how does this fit into Doctor Who continuity given that Sarah Palin never becomes the US President in the Whoniverse, and the Moon doesn’t have a gigantic hole ripped out of it before it turns out to be an egg in 2050?
But more than that, what’s the TARDIS doing flying into battle with a fleet of war ships? That’s a very un-Doctorish way to behave.
But of course, this TARDIS isn’t piloted by the Doctor. This TARDIS is clearly piloted by the dreaded secret incarnation between Doctor’s Eight and Nine. The Last Great Time War would have featured all kinds of dangerous meddling with the timeline, and it’s just like the Daleks to secretly back a horde of Moon Nazis to bring down the planet Earth. Even the Nazi flying saucer bear more than a passing resemblance to Dalek technology.
Chelmsford 123 was a short-lived sitcom about the Roman governor of Great Britain in the year 123. It’s largely forgotten apart from one scene at the beginning of the first episode. In the background the TARDIS appears, the Doctor steps out, looks around, then steps back in again and takes the TARDIS away.
Now if you think about it, off-screen this must happen a lot to the Doctor. He’s not great at steering the old girl, and there must be countless times when he lands somewhere a bit dull with no monsters or historical figures around, and just decide he’s better off dematerialising again.
But do you notice something about the TARDIS? The lights in the windows? That might not seem like that big a deal to you, but this was shown in 1988, and the TARDIS wasn’t shown as having lights in the windows until the series relaunch in 2005.
I think this is all the evidence we need to confirm that this is the first appearance of the Ninth Doctor on TV.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
So with exception of one blurry, low resolution silhouette, we’ve seen a lot of the TARDIS, but not much of the Doctor. That is until the Buffy The Vampire Slayer season 8 comic books (which were written and overseen by Joss Whedon, so you know they’re canon). In one British-centric issue, we see this:
Okay, maybe that’s David Tennant and Billie Piper out for a stroll in costume. Until you start thinking about it. Both universes feature worlds that somehow manage to closely resemble the culture and politics of our own despite near constant apocalyptic events that everyone seems to immediately forget. Both feature vampires that are humans infected by a much bigger bat monster.
Even the monsters crossover regularly. The Absorbaloff showed up in Buffy. The Judge from the Buffy episode Surprise is clearly a relative of the Destroyer in Battlefield. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Scooby Gang completely forgot about the Gentlemen after meeting them, given their resemblance to… that one’s slipped my mind.
These are all fascinating nuggets of course, but you can still happily enjoy Doctor Who without ever having seen any of them. None of them are exactly essential. But it turns out that one of the biggest mysteries in the entire history of Doctor Who has been resolved in a split second frame of Red Dwarf.
You see lots of Doctor Who fans were confused when Matt Smith regenerated into Peter Capaldi with, Time Lord ex machina aside, relatively little fanfare. I say “relatively little” because we’d been told that between his “twelfth and final incarnations” (remember everyone got bumped up one thanks to the War Doctor, and then bumped another thanks to the “metacrisis regeneration”) were supposed to get the Valeyard, an “an amalgamation of the darker side of the Doctor’s nature” who would then go backwards in time to put the Sixth Doctor on trial. So when Peter Capaldi turned up we were forced to assume the origins of the Valeyard would remain forever a mystery. Little did we know the mystery had been solved ages ago.
You see the makers of Red Dwarf hid a TARDIS in the small rouge one’s landing bay. Of course, it’s a tiny detail, it was cut out of the episode (Marooned) it was originally intended for. But that scene was used eventually. For a split second you can just make out the TARDIS in a single frame of a scene where Starbug is speeding out of the landing bay.
Blink and you’ll miss it. So why is it so important?
That episode is Demons And Angels, where the crew make a device that accidentally splits the ship, and everything on it, into its good and evil halves. That’s right. The Eleventh Doctor must have stopped off on Red Dwarf, had a look around, then run away when he realised the ship was about the explode – never realising his evil double had just come into existence on the evil Red Dwarf double.
It all makes perfect sense.
Read Chris Farnell spout more over-elaborate Doctor Who theories on Twitter. When he’s not doing that he’s writing stories about killer eight bit videogames, dolphin apocalypses and ninjas, which you can read here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.