A quick guide to Inspector Spacetime

30 September 2011

So: a new season of Dan Harmon’s marvellous Community has begun in the US. It’s a very, very funny sitcom. It’s also a very funny sitcom that frequently plays on the expectation that the audience is deeply versed in pop culture, with entire episodes that pastiche movies and genres. You should watch it.

In S03E01, which aired last week, Abed – the TV geek inside the show – is distraught that his favourite show (Cougar Town) has been moved to mid-season – “never a good sign“. Afraid it’ll be cancelled, his friends try to find him a new favourite show. And, eventually, they stumble upon “a British sci-fi show that’s been on the air since 1962“:

Inspector Spacetime.

This is already a fairly brilliant joke – the phone box! The reboot-pastiching title card! And, you know, I hope it’ll return to haunt the rest of series.

But: then, the internet worked its magic.

The thing that has been entertaining me beyond all measure this week is Inspector Spacetime Confessions.

This is a tumblr account of a popular format: the “Confessions” format, in which fans of TV shows, books, movies, etc, post “secret” confessions about their take on characters, episodes, or arcs (sometimes, secret crushes) as text written across images. Amateur photoshop at its best. It was huge on Livejournal, and it’s ideally suited to Tumblr.

Except: there are, currently, about fifteen seconds of Inspector Spacetime in existence.

This, of course, does not matter when you’re TV literate. What’s happened is: fans are just making it up. They’re back extrapolating an entire chronology based on fifteen seconds of “tone”, and their entire knowledge of the Doctor Who canon.

So, they’re diving into gags about former Inspectors:

They’re torn about Stephen Fry:

The Steve Carrell TV movie wasn’t well received:

And of course, they’re concerned about pocket fruit:

But there are more sophisticated jokes emerging. Like this one:

This presumes, in the form of a “fan confession”, that: the showrunner of Inspector Spacetime is also running another show – Hercule – which appears to be a modern-day Poirot reboot, and of course, because Benedict Cumberbatch is starring in Hercule, he’ll never be the Inspector.

This is sophisticated on a bunch of levels, but its elegance is in the way that entire gag is contained in one sentence and a photograph.

Or how about this:

which presumes Inspector Spacetime lives in that land of fictional TV shows, and thus a fictional actor (Alexander Dane) who starred in Galaxy Quest really ought, one day, to return to SF as the Inspector.

There’s a slowly emerging canon, thanks in part to the Inspector Spacetime forum. A lot of the canon is useful – the DARSIT feels better than the CHRONO box, everyone’s sold on Fee-Line – but it’s sometimes nice to see people buck it, or introduce new ideas (and Inspectors) in the most throwaway of Confessions. All this, from a fifteen-second joke that we don’t know will continue (or if it’ll introduce continuity we don’t know about yet).

And yes, Dan Harmon knows about it.

In the week between the two most recent episodes of Community, this has given me a vast amount of joy; I’ve been rattling the various configurations of Inspectors and Associates in my head, trying to remember my favourite episodes of a sci-fi show that never existed. And then giggling at the ingenuity and brilliance of some of the other confessions appearing – of the whole fictional history they bring to life, of Liam Neeson’s run in the 80s or the creepiness of the Laughing Buddas.

It’s really hard to explain the joy (especially as someone fascinated by the inner workings of serial drama) that this brings me. It’s a funny kind of magic – it’s unofficial, didn’t happen on TV, and just relies of fans’ understandings of not only TV shows, but how telly itself works. The results are just brilliant.

I’m off to write my own confession now. There’s always room for one more.