A Whole Other Whoniverse

This piece was originally written for an English class at the University of Toronto, and therefore was entered into an essay database committed to stopping plagiarism. Therefore, if you’re going to use or copy any of it, do make sure to contact me for the full APA/MLA citation. Thanks!


From existing technology to the colour of the sky, science fiction has its own set of rules. With the possibility for new inventions, innovations, and species, sci-fi creates worlds far outside our own. In Doctor Who, we are brought on a journey to not only explore a newly discovered society, but whole galaxies and eras of different species and technologies. With these different species and technologies comes a whole new language that we must understand. Science fiction, because it often writes of a universe where the world as we know it has developed in a way that either surpasses our knowledge or is utterly separate from our knowledge, necessitates the creation  of new words. This means that the script writers need to be able to understand the patterns behind the development of language as to be able to predetermine what might come into existence linguistically to name such objects, while at the same time staying true to the patterns of language and tone of the script. It is not just the script writers, however, that must learn to conform to these ideas – it is also the fans who decide to engage in fan fiction that must learn to adapt and use these methods to create their own spin on the text while still staying true to the primary source. I would like to argue then that in the world of Doctor Who, there is a full language that one must be familiar with to be able to participate in the culture surrounding it, and because of this, its fans – especially those who engage in “fanfic” – must hold a specialised understanding of not only the development of words and the English language, but also must be able to apply that to engage in a dialogue with and about the show.

Fan fiction is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as, “fiction, usually fantasy or science fiction, written by a fan rather than a professional author” (OED Online, 2010). Just because it is not professional, however, does not mean that it is not held to a high standard by its readers. Upon reading my first paragraph, a friend who is a devoted Doctor Who fan commented, “I 100% agree… nothing is worse than a fanfic that is out of character or context.” She further explained that if the author is out of sync with what the original writers had created – either in tone, story line, or in language use – she simply stops reading (Robertson-East, 2010). As of November 22nd 2010, there are 23,435 written stories under the Doctor Who heading alone on fanfiction.net.  Given that there are 47 years’ worth of television, books, and films to take canon from, there are lots of plots and subplots that the writers and fans must be aware of to be able to fully take part in the world of the Doctor.

Given that a large aspect of Doctor Who is the Doctor’s ever changing cast of companions, we see even his companions must get used to his world. In the first season of the latest series, Rose Tyler is introduced to Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor and his space ship while being attacked by living plastic. Her introduction to his space ship is as follows:

Doctor: “Where do you want to start?”

Rose Tyler:  “Um… the inside’s bigger than the outside.”

Doctor: “Yes.”

Rose: “It’s…it’s alien.

Doctor: “Yup.”

Rose: “Are you alien?”

Doctor: “Yes. Is that alright?”

Rose: “Yeah.”

Doctor: “It’s called the TARDIS, this thing, T-A-R-D-I-S. That’s Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.”

DW: Rose, 2005


Martha Jones, the Tenth Doctor’s companion takes a more skeptical view of the Doctor’s high-tech gizmos, asking,


Martha Jones: “What is that thing?”

Doctor Who: “Sonic screwdriver.”

Martha: “Well if you’re not going to answer me properly – “

Doctor: “No really, it’s a screwdriver, and it’s…sonic.”

Martha: “What else have you got? Laser scanner?”

Doctor: “Well I did, but it was stolen…”

DW: Smith and Jones, 2005


Later on, Tennant, who plays the Tenth Doctor, complains, “[p]sychic paper, long story, oh I hate starting from scratch” when referring to Martha’s ignorance of another one of his alien technologies (DW: The Shakespearean Code). Many of these terms – TARDIS, psychic paper, sonic screwdriver – while still English are not words one would find in English today. They have been created using various developmental linguistic techniques and patterns which attempt to predetermine the growth of both technology and the English language. These words and patterns became part of a world which writers and producers from Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, and Donald Wilson to today’s Russell T. Davies, Phil Ford and Gareth Roberts have created and kept to keep the Doctor’s story alive and, as important to our discussion, consistent.

On genre, Ken Gelder argues that

[…] genre magazines are an affirmation of genre, and writers participate in this wholeheartedly. It means that they, too, combine the roles of fan and scholar. Indeed, they have to do exactly this; as Gwendolyne Butler had advised, they must read and analyze the genre before they can expect to perform well as genre writers.

Gelder, 2004

I believe that this argument laid out can be shifted to not only encapsulate a particular genre in a genre magazine, but a particular show’s universe in fan fiction – in any context. Within the Doctor’s world, there exist numerous gadgets, villains, and species that fans must be aware of to be able to immerse themselves fully in the world of Doctor Who. The most important villains include the Daleks, a species that warred with the Time Lords, eventually causing the Doctor to be alone forever (DW: The Daleks, 1963); the Cybermen, creatures that have attempted to take over the Earth multiple times by assimilating human kind into their system (DW: The Tenth Planet, 1963); and finally the Master, a Time Lord whose presence later in the series is a mystery, but is explainable when one looks at time as a “ball of wibbly-wobbley… timey-wimey… stuff”, a concept which itself must be understood in order to understand the Doctor’s universe (DW: Terror of the Autons, 1971; DW: Blink, 2005). All these villains and more exist in the world of Dr Who, and their consistent application is very important to the fan base which the Doctor has acquired. John Tulloch writes, “Doctor Who fans’ sense of a good episode is constructed in terms of quite a precise aesthetic: it should not ‘leave things unexplained’ (in order not to lose the wider audience); and it should adhere to the history and continuity of the series (in order not to lose the fans) [italics mine]” (Tullach, 1995). This precise balancing translates into fan fiction also as fans attempt to extend the Doctor’s world in their own dimension. On sites such as fanfiction.net, the authors can denote through “Author’s Notes” (“a/n”) where their piece can fit into the original series, and readers can critique the author’s work, occasionally with questions concerning the loyalty to the characters and text, including continuity and logic behind the placement of the plot. I have inserted two examples from one story denoting both character critique and plot confusion:

Again, excellent. Though I don’t believe that the Doctor would have called the Minister a nincompoop (his vocabulary is much broader than that), you have perfectly encapsulated the Third Doctor’s persona in this story. “That, my friend, is very hard to do.”

fanfiction.net, 2002


 Is the suggestion here that U.N.I.T. “hires” the Master? If so it would explain all those appearances by him during the Third Doctors tenure but it would also suggest a lot of funds being channelled into a rather elaborate deception that could have been satisfied much more easily by continuing to fund U.N.I.T. before the cutback! Well written, then, but somewhat illogical – unless I’m missing the point altogether, which wouldn’t be the first time.

fanfiction.net, 2000

Not only do we see the support of peers in keeping with canon, we see how readers will attempt to help authors keep their writing loyal to the original text (Black, 2005). In other comment threads, it is possible to find references to obscure characters and instances, such as Jenny, the Doctor’s “daughter” from Season 4, Episode 6, The Doctor’s Daughter, an episode whose title in itself hinted at the original series where the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, was his companion (fanfiction.net, 2010; DW: An Unearthly Child, 1963). These obscure references are an important part of the Doctor’s universe (following, “Whoniverse”), and for a loyal fan, the keeping track of these instances and characters – especially in chronological order within the “wibbly-wobbley… timey-wimey… stuff” that makes up the Doctor’s perception of time. An example I might give here would be the aforementioned Jenny/Susan confusion. Hypothetically, given that canon says very little to nothing about Susan’s mother or father, it is possible for a fan, by using the fluctuations in time, to make Jenny Susan’s mother, given that they maintain the prior canon and ensure that the characters and plots fit realistically into the Whoniverse.

            While consistency in character and plot is an important part of the Doctor Who community dialogue, it is the language and lingo that support it which is critical to its authenticity. The development of the language in Doctor Who rests on many forms of development, including combining, compounding and acronymy. For a Who fan, it is important to understand these forms and more, as without them, the naming of new villains and gadgets to conform with canon would be infinitely more difficult. Claire, pseudonym “queenoftheoutlands,” on fanfiction.net for example brings to life the Castle Valstende on Planet Iau 6 in the year 2799 (fanfiction.net, 2010). Although these do not exist in the canon of Doctor Who, the species which she employs do. Feline humanoids – Cat People –appear sporadically throughout Who canon. When I looked into the names, Valstende, when translated, is roughly, “choose to stand”, and the IAU is the International Astronomical Union. Granting that these were intentional, we see Claire has used blending and acronymy to create words to emphasise the reality of her Whoniverse. In the next paragraph, I will extend the discussion on the use of language itself within her created world in relation to the Whoniverse.

 First, Claire introduces the Cat People; while they are a species not altogether common in the Whoniverse, their existence in canon makes them fair game for fan fiction writers. From there, she adapts what little is known of the Cat People – that they settled all over the galaxy in large groups – and creates her own settlement. Clair creates this settlement piece by piece, by first incorporating well-known conceptions about real structures – “castle” being denoted with “drafty” and “royal” – and adapts it in a very Whovian, 28th century way by placing in a hidden panel an information kiosk consisting of a hologram computer. She thus brings historical conventions into the futuristic world of the Doctor, including soon after the introduction of the Duke and Duchess of Valstende. The name itself has been discussed in the above paragraph, but this use of medieval phrasing in a futuristic context is a reoccurring theme in the Whoniverse, where millennia-old kingdoms exist on planets far from our own. This also brings into account the political side of Doctor Who, a show which often demonstrates how hierarchy and inequality can lead to disaster. Given that the Duchess is murdered before we meet her and the Duke is quick to behead any trespassers found without questioning where they had come from or why, we therefore are given another instance of continuity with the Whoniverse canon.

As far as language creation is concerned, Claire uses the Whovian convention of numbering planets, hinting that it has gone through many mutations until it has reached its present state, and connects this with language. While travelling with the Doctor, companions need not fear learning other languages, as the TARDIS translates foreign tongues automatically. However, the Doctor tells us the following about the language of the Cat People:

“Basic.1 is the universal trade language of the universe, created by the First Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But it’s old by now, very old, these people will be speaking Basic.4.”

fanfiction.net, 2010

Within the universe itself, we are told that the language we are being introduced to it ancient yet mutated. This theme continues when another character introduces to us to the Book of Time.  Set beneath a painting of “The Red Goddess”, Claire draws from an array of mythology and cultural predeterminations to create these phenomena. As well, the Doctor uses shifting to denote a reason his companion should not be excited about being a human incarnation of a deity: “The hunter-gatherer clans of the Dark Matter planets sacrifice the earthly vessels of their deities by boiling them in oil” (fanfiction.net, 2010). Aside from the very Whovian trend of throwing in random facts about various other cultures and planets, Claire has used this form of language development to create another world within the Whoniverse; one which does not exist in canon, but which is utterly possible within the context of the series.

 When people identify themselves as fans of something, there are certain markers they display to identify themselves as such. Some of these markers may include the joining of a fan club, collections of merchandise, or ticket stubs from visiting a museum exhibiting something related to that thing. These, however, are just the surface fan markers: the ones concerned with in this essay surround the intimate knowledge a fan knows about the universe of their obsession. They know the tone of the story and the way its villains and heroes are made. As well, though they may not realize it, when it comes to engaging with the original source and writing fan fiction, they understand the methods employed to create new words and meanings in the language of their universe and often approach the fandom in a way very similar to their peers[1]. Fans of the British series Doctor Who, to effectively engage with other fans and fully understand the Whoniverse, must have a wide vocabulary of species and places and technologies created in the series, and must hold some understanding of how the original writers of the show brought these words to existence. Without this knowledge, fan fiction would not be able to live up to the standards it so often does. To truly create a world in which the fans of a series can relate, a writer of fan fiction must be able to engage in an active dialogue with the text; else their invention of new technologies, enemies, and planets will seem out of place. For lots of fans, there is little worse than fan fiction that seems as if the person writing it has never seen an episode of Doctor Who, for it breaks the reality which has been built around their fandom, and disregards the rules of engagement within fandom.From the creation of words such as Whoniverse and Whovian[2], to the creation of new planets and species within the understood reality of the TARDIS, fans must hold a deep knowledge of their fandom, and must be able to engage with the English language in order to fully engage with the series.



Works Cited


BBC . Doctor Who – The Official Site. 2010. 17 11 2010 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/dw&gt;.

Black, Rebecca W. “Access and Affiliation: The Literacy and Composition Practices of English-Language Learners in an Online Fanfiction Community.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (2005): 118-128.

—. “Language, Culture and Identity in Online Fanfiction.” E-Learning (2006): 170-184.

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child. Dir. Waris Hussein. Perf. William Hartnell and William Russell. 1963.

Doctor Who: Blink. Dir. Hettie Macdonald. Perf. David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. 2007.

Doctor Who: Rose. By Russell T. Davies and Robert Holmes. Dir. Keith Boak. Perf. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. 2005.

Doctor Who: Smith and Jones. Dir. Charles Palmer. Perf. David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. 2007.

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons. Dir. Barry Letts. Perf. Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney. 1971.

Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Code. Dir. Charles Palmer. Perf. David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. 2007.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet. Dir. Derek Martinus. Perf. William Hartnell and Robert Beatty. 1966.

Dr. Who and the Daleks. Dir. Gordon Flemyng. Perf. Peter Cushing and Roy Castle. 1965.

Gelder, Ken. Popular fiction: the logics and practices of a literary field. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Mackey, Margaret. “Researching New Forms of Literacy.” Reading Research Quarterly (2003): 403-407.

Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford English Dictionary fanfiction. 2010. 18 11 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/cgi/entry/50082087/50082087se8?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=fanfiction&first=1&max_to_show=10&hilite=50082087se8&gt;.

—. Oxford English Dictionary Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. 2010. 20 11 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/cgi/entry/50213239?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=sapir-whorf+hypothesis&first=1&max_to_show=10&gt;.

queenoftheoutlands. The Girl in the Mirror. 26 10 2010. 10 11 2010 <http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6300917/1/The_Girl_in_the_Mirror&gt;.

Ravon, Omega and Mike Shannon. Reviews for The Man from the Ministry – Fanfiction.Net. 2002. 20 11 2010 <http://www.fanfiction.net/r/51809/&gt;.

Tulloch, John and Henry Jenkins. Science fiction audiences: Doctor Who, Star Trek, and their fans. New York: Routledge, 1995.



[1] Further reading: Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (OED Online, 2010)

[2] Both examples, incidentally, of compounding.

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