How did the ‘Whoniverse’ Begin? Hyperdiegesis and Trans-transmedia

Friday, June 7, 2013 - 14:00 to 14:45

This paper revisits a concept from Fan Cultures (Hills 2002): ‘hyperdiegesis’. I defined the term there as a textual quality inciting fans’ involvement in cult media. ‘Hyperdiegesis’ equals a vast, coherent narrative world, only a fraction of which is ever glimpsed by audiences: it can be designed, utilized in transmedia storytelling and franchise development (Jenkins 2006; Harrigan and Wardrip-Fruin 2009). But it is also more than simply something textual and designed, since hyperdiegetic spaces potentially blur into real-world interactions (Johnson 2009) and can be supplemented by user-generated content (Jess-Cooke 2012). 

In this presentation, then, I want to consider hyperdiegesis not just as part of transmedia storytelling, but as trans-transmedia: both multi-platform and multi-discursive, moving particularly keenly across fan and production discourses (Hills 2010). Considering world-building in this way means thinking about how narrative worlds are co-produced, over time, between fans and producers. 

The BBC TV series Doctor Who offers a compelling exemplar of this, with the ‘Whoniverse’ (Parkin and Pearson 2012) initially emerging through fans’ intratextual readings and attempts to retcon or repair story contradictions (Britton 2011; Booth 2010). However, as hyperdiegetic world-building becomes something developed by transmedia producers (Perryman 2008; Evans 2013), the question this raises is to what extent fan activity is closed down (Hills 2012) or encouraged (Jenkins 2012). “Rickety” and incomplete worlds allowed fans to expand the “semiotic thickness” of Doctor Who (Booy 2011:116) by reading for details, especially production errors, whereas professional, self-conscious world-building runs the risk of rewarding specific styles of fannish response and particular fan interpretive communities.  

What has been termed “transmedia fandom” (Stein and Busse 2012) is clearly a major area of study in relation to contemporary franchises. By considering the 50-year history of a show such as Doctor Who, we can reflect not only on intersections, changes and developments in production and fan discourse, but also consider how practices of world-building have shifted industrially here, from ephemeral, ad hoc narrative (resembling story arcs avant la lettre) to “implied story arcs” (Hills 2009), and finally towards an emphasis on paradox (Booth 2012). These unfolding texts suggest that Doctor Who has done more than simply mirror cultural and industrial shifts: the Whoniverse has been reconfigured by multiple generations of fans, producers, and producer-fans.

Hills - How did the Whoniverse' Begin ?

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