Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Continuity Errors

Go To

"What," asked Gwenny, "do monsters have nightmares about?"
"Me," said a voice from the doorway.
The whole library spun.

Continuity Errors is Steven Moffat's very first Doctor Who story, originally published in 1996 in the short story anthology Decalog 3.

Notable for displaying a number of themes that have since popped up in Moffat's tenure as head writer and show runner of Doctor Who, including a Deconstruction of the Doctor's methods.


A little man on a podium is preparing to give a lecture at Lunar University. As the holograms of his audience appear one by one, he goes over the lecture one last time. It's about the Doctor, a "Complex Space-Time Event" (CSTE) and an incredible danger to society.

In the Library -- so large that it doesn't need a name -- a bored and grumpy Librarian named Andrea Talwinning meets the Seventh Doctor. He needs a specific book about a specific war that's taking place right now in the past. It contains crucial details that he needs to know about, in order to save thousands of lives. The book is off-limits, so Andrea tells him to get lost. Weird, her co-worker notes, because the previous Librarians were all the Doctor's best friends for some reason. The Doctor's companion (Bernice Summerfield, nicknamed "Bad Earrings" by Andrea) saunters off towards the shelves to go read the finished version of her own published diary, ignoring the Doctor's warnings about that sort of thing.


Professor Candy's lecture notes elaborate on the Doctor's danger. He takes young women — such as Jo Grant — out of their own timelines, manipulates them, influences them, and leaves them behind again. The women are obviously brainwashed, never questioning why all aliens can just naturally speak English and never realizing that the Doctor's telepathic translation field extends into their own minds. In many cases, they never return home.

The Seventh Doctor decides to take matters into his own hands, and starts manipulating Andrea's past to make her a much friendlier person in the present. But the process of tinkering with Andrea's past means that her life in the present quickly stops making sense. Andrea notices the increasing continuity errors in her own life story with a feeling of dread. She goes to talk to "Nice Earrings" to ask her why she suddenly has a lover at work — then a husband — then a daughter who was supposed to have died years ago. She remembers a whole new life, but she feels, deep down, that her life was very different just a few moments ago. Because she knows the Doctor is behind it all, she tries her best to resist. Meanwhile, the narration is interspersed with more notes from the lecture about the Doctor's methods.


In the end, Andrea tells the Doctor and "Super Earrings" that she will not succumb to their plot. Yes, she's incredibly grateful to him for making her life worth living again, and for saving her daughter, and for everything. But she's been trained, as part of her Librarian studies, to resist him. She won't give him the book. The Doctor leaves her alone, seemingly defeated.

At the lecture hall, the little man on the podium looks at his audience and sees a young Andrea there. In the middle of her Librarian studies, she's going through a phase of priming, and everything said to her in this period will stay imprinted in her mind forever. The little man throws out Professor Candy's lecture, tells the class that Professor Candy is sick, and instead gives a nice talk on the importance of lending library books to your friends.

The story ends with a catalogue entry confirming that the Doctor has borrowed the book... only instead of being called Massacre on Deltherus 5, it's now called Miracle on Deltherus 5.

Continuity Errors provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Invoked by Professor Candy's view of the Doctor, with specific attention paid to the fact he has a telepathic field that affects his companions' perceptions (the translation circuit). Obviously, we're not meant to agree with him.
    Pr. Candy: Most troubling of all, everyone on record as having known the Doctor insists that he is a good man, a hero in fact. But did they think that for themselves? Or did he think it for them?
  • Decon-Recon Switch: The story is initially set up as a deconstruction of the Seventh Doctor's methods, with much of Professor Candy's lecture seemingly meant to present him as an egomaniacal and monstrous manipulator who ruthlessly twists people's lives solely to present himself as a hero when he's ultimately nothing of the kind, and and there is much questioning of his morality, and even from his friends. However, the story ultimately reconstructs the Doctor as a heroic figure: his manipulations are ultimately done only to save people's lives and to make the world better, and while his influence on Andrea's life is underhanded it is also ultimately nothing but positive. If he truly was in it only for his own ego gratification, there would be much easier (and more brutal methods) of manipulating the situation.
  • Fiction as Cover-Up: One of the Doctor's methods of concealing himself, according to Candy, is to insert himself in the fiction of the worlds he visits.
  • Loss of Identity: Andrea is extremely upset when she realises that the Doctor is changing her personality.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Andrea has a rudimentary one, as it turns out.
  • Tuckerization: The Kantrassi philosopher Orcnell, author of Four Seasons and a Wedding, ie, Paul Cornell, author of the four Doctor Who New Adventures that end "Long ago in an English winter/autumn/summer/spring" and the one where Benny gets married. The first passage of 4S&AW includes the phrase "First there is war, then there is peace. First there is love, then there is heartbreak" and Cornell's second NA, in which he introduced Benny, was Love and War. (Which is also the first appearance of the Doctor's claim that he's what monsters have nightmares about, a line Moffat borrows here and elsewhere.)
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Played With.