Monday, March 3, 2014

Continuity in TV Shows -Part Two – Fixing Mistakes Because We Can

By Ken Parker

My first part of this article was about how emphasis on continuity has changed over the decades. Series from the past had less continuity because it just wasn't as important. Beside serial type shows like Doctor Who, most shows would have very little progression of characters and overall plots. They would concentrate on individual stories and less on development of ongoing ideas. Because of this, fans have taken it upon themselves to fill in theses gaps in any way they can.

When someone loves a show, they will often defend any problems with it. One of the perceived problems with shows is continuity. If a character was injured in one episode rarely would you see the scar or evidence of that injury in the next episode. It wouldn't even be mentioned. The only times you would see something like this would be if it was a two part story or in the case of an injury, the real actor was injured.

Space: 1999, made in the 70's, certainly fits right into that category with virtually no continuity. Addressing just the fact that there were sweeping changes between season one and two (see my article about these changes) there has always been lots of questions surrounding what instigated these changes.

Fan fiction for Space: 1999 has no doubt been explaining these changes and fixing continuity for years. More officially, there has been two recent publications which have not only decided to continue the adventures from that series, but go to great lengths in creating a solid continuity for the show and explaining all the changes in between seasons. Powys Media is producing a series of novels continuing the adventures of Space:1999. Not only are we getting more stories but an increase in character development and then of course as many continuity fixes as possible. All character changes are now explained. The move from Main Mission to the Command Centre- explained. The change of uniforms – explained. Every little detail.

Doctor Who, among many other fandoms does this as well. In the Doctor Who novels during the wilderness years – 1990-1996 the novels did an excellent job handling more 7th Doctor stories but often writers would throw in continuity fix after continuity fix. At the time I loved this because it made sense and potentially explained things that might have annoyed me at the time. I feel that while these fixes are okay, they can get too forced and take up too much time detracting from the story itself.

This self fixing of continuity can also make the universe of the show much smaller. You start to link everything together and explain everything and all of the sudden, things seem a little smaller. The Powys Media book authors disliked the changes made to Space: 1999 in its season 2 and so moved the Alphans back to Main Mission, brought back fan favorite Professor Bergman and others from the dead and also revisited some of the best aliens and moments and linked many of them together. The even took away Maya's powers for heavens sake. They explained more about the monster from “Dragon's Domain”, linked Arra (“Collision Course”) to the entity from “The Black Sun” and arranged everything into a more clean cut pattern of destiny and conspiracy. Now in my mind, the randomness of Space: 1999 and its plots were one of its strengths and Powys Media has lessened that greatly.

Doctor Who has done this as well. How can all of time and space be so limited? Well, to start with, each season of the new series seems to be all connected. You have psychics and annoying characters all over the universe that seem to know what is going on but are cryptic in revealing secrets or just wink and smile. While these gimmicks are basically easter eggs for audiences, they do tend to interfere with story telling and make them less genuine IMHO. This makes the universe of Doctor Who very small as characters are related, the same monsters show up all the time and everyone seems to know so much.

Fan made continuity has its place and will appease some but not everyone experiences these. They are not official (canon) obviously but if you need to make up things to enjoy your series even more, by all means.

For Space: 1999, a fan has gone to the far extreme and virtually remade the series. Eric Bernard set out to fix continuity by actually re-editing all the first season episodes. On the surface, the stuff this guy has done is spectacular. He has explained much of the changes in between seasons and has spiced up every episode with a fast pace and newer effects. All of this stuff is interesting but is this similar to George Lucas messing with Star Wars? Sure, Lucas has reasoning behind the changes and while some of it might make sense and make the entire story more sensible, most fans don't want to see this. If they do, it is more of a curiosity and as long as the original still exists, that is fine.

Bernard has since directed his attention to a sequel or continuation of the series and frankly the stuff looks great!

A recent comic book continuation of Space: 1999 is rebooting the story with a look at what happened on the Earth during Breakway as well as a rescue mission in an upcoming series of comics. Some original comics were remastered with changes made in order to fit into this new direction which will feature many characters from the series as well as new ones. The comics are not changing the series directly as Bernard's fan project nor changing the existing plots of the original series, at least not yet. It is more creating more stories utilizing existing comics and creating a new continuation which, again, is great.

Any continuation of any show or movie, whether it is official or not, it going to change the original. 2010: Odyssey Two answered some questions and created new plot for 2001: A Space Odyssey. The new Doctor Who series is changing the classic stories all the time, mostly in a subtle way but as these continuations go, it changes perceptions and ideals. You could argue that any sequel or season added to an original changes it, sometimes for the good, other times not so much. You can look at Alien 3 and see how badly this movie disregarded the first two. Actually Aliens also Alien a bit by adding more mythology and answering things, all of which changes the story.

As mentioned before, Space: 1999 viewers these days probably want more continuity and so are accepting of much of what we discussed. The Powys Media direction is something I felt would be a perfect way to go if the show was produced in present day. I would have loved to see that entire plot line slowly unfold, even remade with today's emphasis on continuity and character development. But I don't feel the strong urge to see the original series continuity 'fixed' .

Fans repair problems in their own heads. They can fill in the gaps and explain things. I do this all the time without hesitation and when someone 'repairs' mistakes in other movies or shows I am quick to point out that because that flaw exists in the production, that failing to make it clear for the audience is not good enough. A double standard for sure and I will admit that freely. Fans can convince themselves of these fixes.

I remember having an online discussion with Captain Scarlet fans as we compared the original to the 2005 CG remake. I felt the characters in the new series were much more fleshed out (for a half hour action CG series) and yet a bunch of classic fans practically foamed at the mouth stating that the characters in the original were much more defined. Really? Were they better than the new series, perhaps, that is not the debate. The original had barely enough characterizations with little down time to showcase this. It was mostly business with an odd line here and there and that was it. It is possible that they thought the original series did a better job but I would argue that they are trying to defend the original series for one but they have also experienced the original for decades and have read stories in books, annuals and fan fiction. These characters of the original have had almost 40 years to develop. As I interact with these fans its as if I have missed out on seasons of the original show as they seem to know the background of every character, their favorite color and their relationship history.

I picked out Doctor Who and Space:1999 for this article series because of a few reasons. They are both British shows but one was a low budget serial for the BBC and the other, high budget action geared for oversees sales. Doctor Who was basically a soap opera for family audiences. It was always meant to continue week per week with references galore. Characters, for the most part, learned from their mistakes and gained information. You could argue that Jamie McCrimmon was less primitive and more knowledgeable as his time went on for the show. Perhaps the writers became lazy in writing for him and just gave him the information he would need but it still works.

Space: 1999's season 2 went through massive changes as did Doctor Who when it was brought back in 2005. That is not the same obviously but if you look at the two, there are lots of changes and one could see some comparison. The new Doctor Who was no longer serial based and emphasized characters. Space: 1999 concentrated on characters in its second season as well. The shows' changes made things look different and feel different. Doctor Who had years to warrant these changes while Space: 1999 was just a few months. In both cases there were planned reasons for the differences, whether by design or need. Space: 1999's music in its first season was done by Barry Gray and he left for other projects in between seasons, giving season 2 new music by Derek Wadsworth. For Doctor Who, television had changed from 1989 to 2005 and so the serial format was gone and the new hour long format would be in place.

Doctor Who has had the advantage of decades of official adaptations including comics, novels, spin-offs and so on. This has led to the discussion of canon which is a completely different topic but does feed into continuity. One fans continuity and canon is not another's. Fans will often just adapt a single theory -if it aired on the television, it is canon and therefore part of the continuity. If that is the case, what of Doctor Who's “Night of the Doctor” special that was available online? Is that canon to the series?

Space: 1999 has the “Message From Moonbase Alpha” fan made short that was meant to sort of end the series. It aired at a Space: 1999 convention in 1999 and starred Zenia Merton (Sandra). It was included on the DVD release but is it canon?

Fan perception often steers what is canon. Some fans believe the TV movie with McGann is not canon while others are happy to put the Red Button spoofs as canon. Sometimes these things like Dimensions in Time, don't fit in well with existing continuity and therefore cannot be canon.

Extended editions of movies can also confuse canon and continuity. Just look at the Lord of the Rings and all its extra scenes. Imagine having a discussion about the movies and trying to juggle two different realities of the regular and extended worlds.

Fans love to enjoy their interests and making sense out of them will always be part of that. They love to debate their series and movies and books and often these discussions will point out continuity flaws. It is always fun to come up with answers to these 'errors' but do we need everyone of them officially answered? Maybe not.

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