06 January 2013

Unasked Questions-How Did This Network Come About?

So, you might wonder WHY this project came about. Why did I decide to delve into Doctor Who in this manner. Let me shed some information on its background.


The university department I work at does practical work in network analysis. It handles some very complicated datasets for some serious customers. And although pouring over large amounts of some dull email data or reviewing the data from the some revolutions going on in the world, the processes can provide some insights on viewing connections between people, places and things.  But I thought I wanted something a little more "toward my general interests". Thus, into my head popped Doctor Who. Now there's a dataset. Nearly fifty years of data. One of the most complicated interpersonal networks I could ever think of.

The Data Source

Unlike all that other data, I could take everything I liked from Doctor Who and run the analysis over data that I actually understood. And the best part was, the data was a whole lot easier to collect. Much of the other data out there requires some specialized knowledge on obtaining it along with many special tools. And at times, special requirements.

But with Doctor Who, there are literally dozens of web sites out there wanting people to come and look at their stuff. And I was certainly happy to oblige them.

That was nearly two years ago. Now, anyone who has a regular job, and who likes to dabble on the side, will understand that these types of projects take time. Time that can only be allotted when you're not at your regular job. And so it was slow going in the beginning. There were also multiple false starts. There was, at some point in time, when I had to literally chuck everything away and start again. For a while, it was beginning to look like I may never get this thing off the ground. Maybe it was just too big.

A Little Help From My Friends

It wasn't until one of the people in the department gave me a helping hand. He scrapped all the data of every actor from every story and complied it into a format that was much easier for me to make sense of. And from that data I was able to more easily create the base dataset I needed and it made cleaning up the noise a whiz. Now I was ready to move into the actual charting.

The First Version

The end result I was going for was to merely create a pretty picture of every connection ever in the show, down to the extras with the least amount of screen time. That was amounting to quite a few characters. Instead of a pretty picture, I ended up with what looked more like a Persian carpet. It had turned into a very messy looking image and was somewhat incomprehensible. This wasn't going to do. Not at all. There had to be a better way.

Asking around, it was suggested that I eliminate some of the lesser characters out of the mix. You know, the ones which did nothing to actually enhance the network. They call this removing the noise. And suddenly I began seeing the potential of the network as the possible art piece I dreamed up. Yes, it's that old saying, Sometimes less is More!. Guess I forgot that lesson from school.

First off all the extras were eliminated unless there was a concrete reason to keep them in. This in itself trimmed away a hefty amount. Then, I thought, are the villains from every story really necessary? From most people's, the answer would be yes. But from an analysis angle, they were actually making it more difficult to see the bigger picture. Too many inconsequential connections which did nothing to define the network.

So I decided that no one-off villain would be included (again, without special reason). So the biggies were in [Daleks, Cybermen, and Silurians) and single story villains were out [the Krynoid, Quarks, and Vervoids]. And once again the network began clearing up.

The Network Takes Shape

And it was at this point that the true structure of the network began to take shape. With all the noise removed, I could actually begin to see some of the finer connections. Links that showed how NuWho had reached out to take hold of something from Classic Who. Just look at the 2012 Christmas Special, The Snowmen. There is something in that story that reached back to connect to its roots in the 1960s. What I was looking at now was, in essence, the Network of the Doctor and his Friends (along with his major nemeses).

Companion Categories

I had read a lot regarding who is, and isn't a companion. And sometimes the discussion got what I would consider, out of whack. People would come up with a template. Then someone would toss up a companion and say they didn't fit. So a new template was devised in order for them to maintain that status. Or maybe a character was a companion but they wanted to make that person a little more special than just another person.

All this was a bit more than I wanted to deal with so I went as easy as possible. These are general categories, not hard-and-fast templates. And being a subjective project, any person can be moved to another category on the notation of, "That's where they belong". As well as "No one-off character can ever be companion. They will always be a Companion-Lite." Okay, that is the one hard-and-fast rule.

The full article on Companion Categories can be read HERE

But Why The Villains

But you might ask, "Why did I include some of the villains when this is a network of the Doctor and his Friends?" Many times the connections from the present to the past were formed through these villains. Without them, there would not have been a connection to the past. They became an essential part of the Friends Network, even though they were villains (again referencing the 2012 Christmas Special, The Snowmen).

The Poster

So after the poster is finished for the conference, I figure it was time to get to the actual reason I constructed this network in the first place. To analyze the connections of the Doctor and his Companions.

Let's Add Other Stuff

There were some suggestions to include every skill that every character possessed. And also all the various equipment that was used in all the episodes. Oh yeah, and I couldn't forget all the various locations and planets should be mapped. As soon as I thought about this, I realized that it would start climbing right back into the mess I had when I had ever single character from the show.

So I made a decision. Since adding any of this information would start down a slippery slope, it was better to not use it for this particular project. I would go straight to the character by character network. The only addition information I used was the stories they appeared in. This also helped show how the various networks formed.

The Here And Now

So here I am, creating these individual Companion analyses. These will progress to the each of the Doctor's analyses. And this will eventually lead to the 50-year analysis.

What That Means To The Network

That means that even though I do all this work now, some parts of it could be unraveled by someone or thing popping up in an episode in Series 7. And yes, I refer to the Christmas Special once again. I didn't have to revamp any of the analyses I'd done already, but I did have to look into whether it altered anything from the rest of the 1960s. And it did.

That's how it works because this is all about the connections. And every episode has the potential for creating new and exciting connections.

I hope you'll all stay with me as we progress through the years and work up toward the 50th anniversary.

Thank you...

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