From The TimesWhat the Doctor did next
Can’t get enough of your
fictional favourites? Well there may be plenty more stories about them on the
WHO WOULD HAVE WON the War of the Ring had
Gandalf not returned after his fall in Moria? How did Elizabeth and Darcy cope
with married life at Pemberley? Does Dumbledore have a secret crush on Professor
Snape? And what would Captain Kirk have said to Doctor Who had they bumped into
each other in the bar at the Mos Eisley spaceport in Star Wars
In the extraordinary cyberworld of fanfic (short for fan fiction) amateur
writers post poetry, short stories and fully fledged novels derived from the
realms of previously- invented fiction. They can be about what happened after or
before events in the original or can fill gaps in plot, character and
relationships or, indeed, rectify perceived errors.
I know what you are thinking: what a bunch of geeks.
That was my thought, too. But having immersed myself in this surreal world for
the past few weeks, I find myself looking rather enviously at these virtual
communities and the shared passions that bind them together. My love for fiction
suddenly seems frivolous in comparison. No wonder those from planet fanfic
describe the unconverted as “mundanes”.
The phenomenon was started by Star Trek fans after the show was
cancelled in the 1970s and television sci-fi continues to carve some of the
deepest niches in fanfic cyberspace. Doctor Who, which returns tomorrow
on BBC One, has spawned a number of websites, including A Teaspoon and an Open
Mind (at www.whofic.com), which hosts 375
authors. It has stories devoted to each of the 10 Doctors and helpers such as
the incomparable robot-dog K9.
Sarah: “Make a wish, K9.”
K9: “This unit has been programmed with logical reasoning ability.
“Non-algorithmic thought is not possible for this unit. Non-algorithmic
thought is illogical and a waste of processing power.”
Sarah: “Non-algorithmic, poppycock. It’s your birthday. Surely you can take a
break from logic on your birthday.”
K9: “Birthday. Human convention. Completely meaningless when applied to
machines. Birthday. Annual celebration marked by exchange of gifts and birthday
cake. Cake. Sweet. Fattening indulgence. Cake not compatible with this unit.”
(From The Cruella Response on the website)
Fanfic is a phenomenon of mind-boggling magnitude. On the fanfic.net website
alone there are more than 200,000 Harry Potter stories and nearly 40,000
Lord of the Rings stories. Fiction Alley www.fictionalley.org has more than
70,000 registered users and more than a million posts.
The fact that fanfic derives from existing works raises questions of
copyright. Some authors, such as Anne Rice, author of the Vampire series,
have said that they do not want their creations to be the subject of amateur
fiction. Such wishes tend to be respected by most websites. Rice has taken legal
action against those who persist.
However other writers welcome fanfic provided that it is not written for
commercial gain. J. K. Rowling has said that she is delighted that her books
have inspired others to write and her website links to sites such as MuggleNet
and the Leaky Cauldron. She draws the line, though, at the sub-genre known as
This was originally applied to fanfic of an adult nature but has come to
refer specifically to homosexual or homoerotic relationships not present in the
original. A “slash” relationship between Captain Kirk and Mr Spock from Star
Trek was one of the earliest subjects of fanfic. Since then there have been
relationships between Bodie and Doyle from the 1970s television series The
Professionals, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Starsky and Hutch, Mr Darcy
and Mr Wickham, Harry Potter and Severus Snape.
Almost all slash is written by women for women and typically focuses on
emotion rather than sex. Indeed, ATG (any two guys/girls) is a derogatory
acronym for slash in which the characters seem incidental to the shagging. The
most remarkable piece of (heterosexual) erotic writing that I came across on my
cyber travels was a smouldering interpretation of Luthien’s encounter with
Morgoth in the dungeons of Angband from J. R .R. Tolkien’s The
Silmarillion. It is simply spellbinding (if Tolkien fans will forgive the
pun). Fanfic must be distinguished from spin-off books published
to capitalise on the success of a novel, film or television series. Again,
Doctor Who has been particularly successful. A string of novels was
published by Virgin under the BBC Books imprint between 1991 and 1997.
Doctor Who has also inspired spin-off science books, including Michael
White’s A Teaspoon and an Open Mind: The Science of Dr Who (the
same name as the fanfic website) that asks such questions as: How do you build a
Tardis? Can a robot dog catch a cold? The only problem is that the Doctor is
rather incidental. It is a book about science in which Doctor Who is
invoked solely to boost sales.
But the remarkable success of derivative literature
demonstrates its significance. As Sheenagh Pugh points out in The Democratic
Genre (Seren Books), this sort of literature has been around since time
immemorial. Fanfic writers, she says, “resemble Ancient Greek dramatists,
working with the characters of myth, the writers of mediaeval morality plays
with their cast of Bible characters, or some historical novelist bringing Queen
Victoria or Napoleon into her pages”.
Perhaps most surprising of all is that, amid the pedestrian offerings (and
there are plenty) there is the occasional gem of such superlative quality that
it enhances one’s appreciation of the original. One from the Harry Potter genre
is The Draco Trilogy by a twenty-something New Yorker who writes under
the pseudonym Cassandra Claire (access it via the fictionalley website.) You
couldn’t make it up.
for any fandom except where the author objects.
Your haven in a
world programmed to misunderstand obsession with things Austen (well, that’s
what it says on the homepage).
Brilliant for Tolkien lovers with drop-down menus for character, genre, era
For all things
Potter including an excellent fanfic page.
www.whofic.com Copyright 2005
With stories on all
10 Doctor Whos.
Times Newspapers Ltd.</span>