The Fan Fiction Phenomenom
Here’s a little something I found while searching through some files the other day – it’s a great piece by Jez Strickley, written in 2007, about fan fiction and its on-going popularity. Originally appearing on the Doctor Who Online website, both Jez and DWO were kind enough to let us reprint it here for your enjoyment.
THE FAN FICTION PHENOMENOM
Jez Strickley takes a look at the fan fiction phenomenon and how it is kept alive in all of its shapes and sizes, from the broad spectrum of fans.
Given the enormous scope of the Doctor Who format it should come as no surprise that there is a vast wealth of Who-based stories alive and well beyond the confines of the small screen. These tales come in all manner of shapes and sizes and are pitched at a broad spectrum of fans. The novellas of Telos Publishing, the comic strips of Doctor Who Magazine, and its junior counterpart Doctor Who Adventures, the Big Finish audio productions and the manifold efforts of BBC Books each demonstrate the rich story making potential of Doctor Who – a programme with an array of incredible adventures still waiting to be told.
But what of the realms of imagining and writing which lie beyond the limits of officialdom? In these precious, creative waters lies a territory which deserves a good deal more attention than it generally receives: fan fiction – the world of writing which apprenticed the talents of Marc Platt (Ghost Light) and Paul Cornell (Father’s Day, Human Nature and The Family of Blood) and continues to throw up gems of every description.
The business of writing fan fiction is hardly a new development, it being the stock trade of many a science fiction fan with pen and paper – and time – in hand. In so far as Doctor Who fandom is concerned, however, this creative enterprise can become something of a grand affair, verging, in some cases, on the virtually impregnable world of professional writing. The Doctor Who Appreciation Society first entered the world of fan fiction with Cosmic Masque in 1977, whilst the Toronto-based Doctor Who Information Network stepped into the fray in 1991 with Myth Makers, later joined by its more substantial sister publication Myth Makers Presents in 1996.
Beyond these fan fiction publications most common or garden fanzines also contain an offering or two in amongst their pages. Gary Merchant’s efforts for the Celestial Toyroom (see www.dwasonline.co.uk) include Solitary Man (CT 347) and more recently his episodic tale Déjà Vu (CT 348 – ). Alongside these monthly servings the quarterly Canadian Doctor Who Fan Magazine Whotopia (see www.whotopia.ca) indulges in both plain text adventures, such as Tea at Midnight by Evan F. Casey, and those of the comic strip variety, as evidenced by Kyle Borcz’s and Jon Huff’s Blossom Core.
The advent of the Internet, and its Wunderwelt the World Wide Web, has given the readers and writers of fan fiction a globally accessible storehouse. One of the largest collections of online fan fiction is A Teaspoon and an Open Mind: A Doctor Who Fan Fiction Archive (see www.whofic.com), which contains over ten thousand stories generated by the creative faculties of more than fifteen hundred writers. Another online venture, given a distinctly original taste by dint of being audio-based, is Sebastian J. Brook’s aptly named Timestream Productions, available on the Doctor Who Online website (see www.drwho-online.co.uk). This exciting ongoing project evidences that fan fiction is a versatile animal, more than capable of branching out from its paper-based home and into other, more diverse media.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with all these worthy efforts is one fan fiction endeavour that deserves a particular attention. It is not the longest running enterprise, nor is it the most extensive in terms of material, but it is undoubtedly one of the most professional fan fiction undertakings currently available. The phenomenon in question is the Vancouver-based The Doctor Who Project (see www.thedoctorwhoproject.com), a multi-award winning collection of fan written adventures, which undoubtedly leaves many of its competitors standing.
The Doctor Who Project, or TDWP for short, was forged in the creative crucible of the Telefantasy Appreciation Society of Canada. On a distant day in 1998 some of its members became inspired by a Pandora’s Box-esque question, the sort which starts with those two seemingly harmless little words “What if…?” and belongs to that particularly dangerous breed of query known as the hypothetical question. In short, the question was: What if the Doctor Who television series had not been cancelled in 1989? These few brief words delivered up nothing short of a Hydra-like series of enquiries, the answering of which unlocked a gamut of fictional possibilities, which became the mainspring of the TDWP. Since that time this question has gone on to fuel eight seasons of fresh, innovative stories which take up where season twenty-six of the classic series left off. In so doing, TDWP has carved out an alternate time line for the maverick Time Lord, and one well worth following.
Aside from these words of praise, what makes TDWP such a phenomenal body of work? First, it possesses a highly motivated and experienced coordinator in Bob Furnell, the writer-turned-editor who has been actively involved in all things Who for over twenty-five years. Second, it has a team of writers and editors that can deliver the goods, including such leading lights of fandom as Arnold T. Blumberg, author and editor of various books and publications, and a writer for Telos Publishing. Third, it is a professionally packaged affair with a glossy, user-friendly website which houses a growing library of sharply edited stories, adorned with superbly drawn covers by artists such as Jack Drewell and John Gordon.
Fourth, it serves up first-rate writing in a range of styles. Consider, for example, the fast paced dialogue of Lesleigh Force’s The Atef Crown, alongside the rich historical substance of Duncan Johnson’s The Conspirators and the vivid imagery of any John Gordon story (Season 33’s Dawn of Time is a prime example). Each of these tales evidences such a high quality of writing that it is astonishing that more of TDWP’s contributors are not paid-up professional writers.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, TDWP is fed by a rich vein of creativity. Over the past eight years over fifty stories have been written, involving three different Doctors, an array of companions and a cartload of menaces both old and new. Still further, planets and peoples have come and gone, moral crises faced, time lines threatened and even the odd story arc laid to rest. And with villains like the cephalopod Oozle and story titles like David P. May’s Séance In A Type 40 TARDIS originality is the watchword for TDWP.
Sixth, TDWP understands the importance of continuity. In fact, respect for what Doctor Who is as a programme runs deep within the ever-expanding archive of this series of fan fiction. Its manifold works are tightly fastened to the history and heritage of the television programme and palpably draw their sustenance from its mythology. Moreover, the most recent example of this regard for the past has involved the inscrutable act of regeneration, bringing about TDWP’s second original incarnation of the Doctor.
In short, there are at least six reasons to support the claim that TDWP is a fan fiction phenomenon: a strong coordinator, a talented and motivated team of writers and editors, excellent production values, high quality writing, truckloads of creativity and a high regard for continuity. Just a glance at the TDWP website and its free-to-download adventures will demonstrate that these essentials are all present and correct, so why not drop in and see what it’s all about for yourself. July 2007 saw the release of TDWP’s latest season, Season 34, which presents ten brand new additions to the fan fiction world and ten more reasons to give TDWP a go. And don’t forget, all this industry is done simply for pleasure of it, which is quite possibly the most important ingredient of all. Enjoy.
This article originally appeared on Doctor Who Online (www.drwho-online.co.uk) – April 2007
Reprinted by permission of DW Online and Jez Strickley
© 2007 Jez Strickley/Doctor Who Online