Monday, May 31, 2010

The Canon of Doctor Who

This week I finished reading The Doctor Trap, by Simon Messingham. It's one of the tie-in novels for Doctor Who, which is one of my favourite TV shows, and I got it for my birthday, and I knew it would be a fairly undemanding sort of read, so it seemed like a good choice of reading material. And that was pretty much exactly what it was. There's this fairly crazy guy on a planet full of robots, who's brought a club of people who hunt rare species together to hunt the Doctor. Which in itself is kind of a neat premise, but then they felt the need to overcomplicate it. The Doctor had a double running around, who was all but indistinguishable from the real Doctor, and at one point a whole other double might have turned up, but I was never sure because it just got too convoluted. The writing was reasonably serviceable, though it occasionally had moments that sounded like something I'd have written at age 12. So it was an entertaining book, but it was by no means great literature.

All of which leaves me wondering something. Tie-in novels for TV shows are obviously just another bit of marketable merchandise, and I guess they don't feel the need to recruit good writers if that's all it is. The good writers get to write actual episodes for the show--like Neil Gaiman, who's written an episode for next season. But despite the general (though not entirely universal) mediocrity of these novels, we read them anyway because it's another glimpse of the Doctor. We always want more of his story, and tie-in novels can provide it. Further, because they've got an official stamp of approval, they get to be considered more or less part of Doctor Who canon.
I've read Doctor Who fanfiction that is better than most of these novels. I know fanfiction gets mocked a lot, and I know a lot of fanfiction deserves it, but some of it genuinely explores possibilities in storytelling and character development that the show never has time for, and some of it is written by good writers. I've read fanfiction that I thought was better than the original material. And in a way, Doctor Who tie-in novels are essentially fanfiction.

Do we perceive them as more legitimate because they're in print? Because they're tied to the BBC? They're not objectively better. And with a universe as long-lasting and multimedia as Doctor Who, which first aired in 1963 and is the longest running sci-fi show, with books and radio plays attached, enormous numbers of writers and producers have contributed to build the canon. There's no ultimate authority about what rules Doctor Who is going to follow. In a way, this is perhaps the one fandom in which the lines between fanfiction and canon have become most blurred. So we have to question how we think about what is true in the world of Doctor Who, and how we value one contribution to the world over another.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Ephemera #38

This chair was designed by Valentina Gonzalez Wohlers. Photo courtesy of her website. Note the spiky bits on the seat.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Greenery Street

So it's a week since the end of Persephone Reading Week, but I've finally finished Greenery Street, by Denis Mackail. It's a lovely, lovely book, my third Persephone read, definitely confirming my love for these books.

Greenery Street is a road full of identical houses inhabited by newly married couples, who inevitably have children, find their homes too small to accommodate them, and move away. These are houses which no one these days would find too small for a family, and which might even be split up into flats. But in 1925, they were impossibly small for husband, wife, two servants, and children. Greenery Street is sort of its own character, with little gobliny gods who sit on the mantelpiece and laugh at all the couples who think they'll live there forever.

It's an interesting book because it's told in such a variety of styles. Sometimes it's just ordinary prose, sometimes it looks like a script, complete with stage direction. One section is an itemized list of 23, Greenery Street's library, which contains 24 books.
"Item. Cheap edition of The Three Musketeers. Still cheaper edition of Twenty Years After. Bought with present owner's pocket-money, and read almost to pieces.
Item. An exquisitely-bound volume with a gilt lock. Owner was given this by her grandmother, and intended to keep a diary in it. May have actually begun it, but lost the key about seven years ago and so cannot be sure. A very choice specimen." (pg 147)
Felicity and Ian Foster are the very young newly married couple who live at 23, Greenery Street. They have small domestic disputes, money troubles, servant troubles, encounters with family and neighbours, and a continuing inability to retrieve the fish-kettle (whatever that is) or the step-ladder from the neighbours, who borrowed them and never returned them. Few of their difficulties are particularly dramatic, but they're all entertaining. Denis Mackail has a lovely turn of phrase, which can make the most ordinary things very funny. Here is one passage I particularly liked:
"But in Felicity's mind, as she waited to hear his voice on the line, it was Ian's office and Ian's office alone. A composite picture which drew something from her mother's bank, something from the stationery department at Harrod's, and a great deal from the business scenes in American films. Ian would thus be sitting at an enormous roll-top desk, covered with telephones and paste-bottles and cardboard boxes, in a vast apartment with a quantity of glass-panelled doors. A tape-machine would be disgorging into a high, narrow waste-paper basket, and a number of minor characters - vaguely identified as 'the staff' - would keep running in and out of the glass-panelled doors, rather like people in a farce. As for the atmosphere of the place, that would be charged with a tense, electrical excitement. The words 'My God, I'm ruined!' or 'Thank Heaven, we're saved!' would be heard there twenty times a day, but in either case Ian himself would remain imperturbably at his desk, calm, serious and - and perfect. The last adjective was for private consumption only." (pg 2a)
As Rebecca Cohen's preface tells us, Greenery Street is semi-autobiographical. Denis Mackail obviously has a very personal connection to the story, though he also sees the ridiculousness inherent in Greenery Street. This combination is, I think, what makes this book so good.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My life in shoes

This is the story of my weekend, told in shoes. This weekend is the University District street fair, which I went to yesterday. I needed my walking shoes (which are getting rather sad) for that.It's been hot out lately. Yesterday my shoulders got a bit red. Good weather for these.Then I went to Goodwill and had to buy these fabulous shoes, though I have no idea when I'm going to wear them.In the evening, I went to UW's quarterly swing dance. Live band, lots of dancing, fun performances. My legs and feet are going to take today to recover from all the walking and dancing.Today I'm going to sit around in my slippers, doing homework and finishing Greenery Street.I suppose I've revealed my shoe-hoarding tendencies now, haven't I?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Just stopping by with a couple of fun links. This is an entertaining blog in general, and here are two particular bits of it.

Modern technology preserved as fossils.

Folded paper art.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In passing

I'm meant to be writing a paper on John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, but starting is always the hardest part. I haven't even chosen a topic yet. But it's due Friday and I've done all my other work for the week, so I should be all right.

I spent most of yesterday outside, and even got a little sunburnt. It was like summer. Did my German homework, read more of John Stuart Mill. Today it's grey and rainy, though.
I promise some time I'll finish Greenery Street and review it properly.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Ephemera #37

Today is my birthday! I meant to post a picture of a birthday cake or something, but I wandered through my picture file and this photo stuck out. (Also, if you do a google image search for "birthday" you get a lot of photos of naked people holding birthday balloons in front of the pertinent areas.) It's the painting "Frau am Fenster" (woman at the window) by Caspar David Friedrich. I like it because it looks like the month of May always makes me feel. Though I'm usually much busier than she looks.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Location, location

Managed to spend a whole hour reading Greenery Street this morning, as I had to get up outrageously early to get into honors classes, and had to wait in line for ages. I'm still loving it.

Then after lunch passed a random book sale, which had lots of books all for under ten dollars. It's been quite a while since I browsed through a bookstore properly, so it was quite pleasant. I didn't buy anything, but I was rather fascinated by which books appealed. It was mostly nonfiction that struck my eye (though granted, the sale was mostly of nonfiction). I did consider buying a collection of Alan Bennett's writing, but didn't in the end.

After that I had to finish reading the assigned chapters of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. I contemplated reading outside, as it was quite sunny today, but it wasn't really warm enough. Next best thing (or maybe better!), I went to sit in the Suzzallo Library reading room. I'm sure you've all seen this webpage, the collection of beautiful libraries. Most of them are photos of centuries-old libraries in Europe, but Suzzallo Library makes it in. Deservedly so. Reading there is like sitting in a church. The ceiling's enormously high and there's all sorts of lovely details, carving in the walls, beautifully painted ceiling, stained glass. Something about those long wooden tables with the lamps built into them make me feel like I should be wearing a 1950s suit. And reading there makes you feel kind of virtuous and pretentious at the same time.Given my sudden desire to read nonfiction and my recent discovery of the joys of reading in Suzzallo, has anyone got any good nonfiction suggestions? I'd like to brush up my history, but I'd like books that have a specific focus, that take history from a certain angle. Ideas?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


It's Persephone Reading Week, hosted here and here. I actually have no time to read anything that isn't for class, but I was seduced by the lure of Persephone, so I am rebelling against my lack of time and reading anyway. Which is kind of dangerous, because I've started Greenery Street, by Denis Mackail, and I already love it and am going to have to continue reading it.

I can already tell this is going to be one of those books that winds up with numerous post-it notes in it of paragraphs I want to quote. A compulsive reading aloud book, is what this is. It's the story of the first year of a happy marriage, basically, so it's nice and cheerful and funny. Here's one of the paragraphs I've already marked. It's on the occasion of Ian meeting his future father-in-law.
'How do you do, sir?' said Ian, courageously. As before, he extended the right hand of salutation.

But old Humphrey, who was at least ten times more embarrassed than anyone else in the room, found himself incapable of making the necessary contact. Instead, he nodded at Ian with an odd kind of familiarity - rather as though they had secretly spent the whole day together in not very respectable surroundings - and began rubbing the tips of his fingers against each other. (pg 27)
This entire scene is quite hilarious, really, tense in the way scenes like this are tense in a movie or on stage (which makes sense as Denis Mackail was in theatre), almost farcical.

It really is a lovely book, and I'm so excited to read the rest of it despite my utter lack of time.


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