Steven Moffat wants a Who-lock crossover, but do the fans agree?


Fandom is a funny old thing. Simultaneously amusing and bemusing, enticing and disturbing, it’s a bug that tends to catch up with even the best of us sooner or later. Yet, while it’s true that almost any enthusiast of any story will these days enjoy indulging in things like fan fiction, crossovers, shipping or, at the very least, plot speculation, there generally remains a fairly clear distinction between these aspects of fan culture and the actual series/films/books/comics/games/other to which they relate.

As the concept of fandom has moved increasingly into the mainstream, however, its growing influence over writers, directors, producers and other creatives has been marked, gradually dissolving the boundary between fiction and fan fiction in a way that would probably make Roland Barthes cry tears of smug joy. It seems no one has struggled with this blurring effect more than Doctor Who and Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat. In a Guardian article published back in January, art and culture critic Mark Lawson warned that TV creatives were in danger of allowing hardcore fans to dictate too many of the developments in shows like Doctor Who and Sherlock, at the huge risk of alienating wider audiences. The latest episode in this ongoing saga came in a Q&A last weekend, when Moffat publicly confessed that he would quite like to see a crossover between the two series he leads:

“Look I’m going to come clean on this: I would… Go speak to Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue, OK? They’re all in the way. I’m not the killjoy, it’s that lot. It’s probably not going to happen.”

Although Flickering Myth reports that those in attendance at the Q&A in Cardiff seemed disappointed that Moffat’s “killjoy” colleagues were standing in the way of their dream duo finally teaming up, almost all of the comments on news articles reporting the story have expressed the opposite view. There are plenty of reasons for this, ranging from an assertion that there are already so many similarities between the shows that such an exercise would be fairly pointless (Fourth Horseman, Flickering Myth), to a belief that aliens and science-fiction have no place in the grounded, logical world of Sherlock Holmes (William A. Corley, Variety). The latter of these is particularly interesting when considering that Arthur Conan Doyle, a devout spiritualist who genuinely believed in things like ghosts, fairies, magic and psychic powers, was careful never to allow any of his personal beliefs or interests to creep into his Sherlock Holmes stories, knowing that such things would sit ill with that particular character and his world-view. Meanwhile, even those less dead-set against the crossover could only possibly imagine it working as a Comic Relief or Children in Need special.

There are instances, of course, where fandom and the creative output it generates can and have been used to great effect as part of a series canon (Shipwrecked Comedy‘s multiplatform series Kissing in the Rain is a perfect example of this, if you’re interested). But to successfully carry out a fan-led show requires conviction, and clear rules of fan-creator interaction to be laid out from the start. Even in a universe where anything can theoretically happen, there have to be some parameters – Sherlock Holmes himself recognised the importance of first eliminating the impossible before deciding that “whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Sadly, rules and conviction are among the things that Doctor Who particularly has been lacking for some time now, notably with Moffat’s “everybody lives” mantra having been taken to its absolute extreme.

Thankfully though, the showrunner seemed to see a bit more sense as the discussion progressed (emphasis mine):

“You know in some ways, I think Mark [Gatiss] has got a point when he says that however good you imagine [the crossover], it would be almost better in your imagination than it would be if the two grand old egotists actually met. They’d just both go off in opposite corners and sulk that there was someone cleverer than them.”

This is precisely the point: just because things like WHOLOCK exist online, doesn’t mean that fans should expect, or even that they necessarily want, the same crossover to happen on TV. In much the same way as we may imagine real-world scenarios without wishing to see them played out in our lives, we can also imagine things happening to our favourite characters without ever wanting them to become canon. If they did, we’d probably be disappointed with the results, and after all, if fiction becomes its own fan fiction, what fun is there left for the fans?

Moffat’s later comment naturally begs the question – did he genuinely mean what he said about wanting a crossover, or was he merely playing his fans, getting them on side while offering his excuses? Regardless, Moffat – and indeed all other writers and makers of things – would do well to remember that whatever tempting confections fan culture may cook up, the proverbial cake is always a lie: you just cannot have it and eat it.

Sources: Variety | Flickering Myth | The Guardian

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