Poor old Doctor Who's publicity machine.
It seems like every season they try to come up with some new way of producing short weekly minisodes in the hope of their going viral, only to afterwards write the whole folly off as a failure. Season 28 had Tardisodes. Season 29 replaced these with the cartoon serial The Infinite Quest. And then in 2008 there was season 30's wheeze - Doctor Who: Monster Files.
Before we go any further, I must emphasise that Doctor Who: Monster Files is the series' usual correct on-screen title. Despite this, on the net it appears to be more commonly referred to as Captain Jack's Monster Files and latterly River Song's Monster Files as appropriate, but these titles do not appear on the actual programmes - only in documentation.
Whatever. Monster Files was a bit like The Hitchhiker's Guide To Doctor Who, only without any jokes. In parallel with the TV broadcast of series 30, each week one of these 3-4 minute shorts would be released on the BBC Doctor Who website, chronicling the lowdown on each monster of the week. (two-parters required a monster from another season to make up the spare week)
Each potted history featured a dizzily sprawling montage of footage from the episode, footage from old episodes, and brand new footage, most of it muddied up to look like very old damaged film. (and yes, with the traditional whirring of a projector on the soundtrack) In the case of a classic Who monster, some of the footage from the original series looks very effective, because its content also contains old fashions and methods of filming.
The downside to this of course is that it could also show up how unconvincing the new faked old footage looked:
As the series progressed however, increasingly the new footage took over, and some of the later editions are quite watchable as self-contained horror stories in their own right.
Initially each episode was narrated by John Barrowman. He never actually namechecks himself as playing Jack Harkness, but towards the end he does make occasional appearances on camera, as does Torchwood's then base, the Hub.
When season 30 proper finished, the odd random extra edition emerged to support a couple of the specials, but not all. When season 31 hit the airwaves in 2010, the Monster Files returned for just three further instalments, minus the Doctor Who prefix, and now narrated by Alex Kingston as River Song. (online Adventure Games were getting pushed that year)
Then, as you know, season 32 replaced the strand with 'prequels' to selected episodes, which at time of writing (midway through season 33 here) is still the norm.
In terms of canonicity, it's easy to write off these 19 webisodes as pieces of fluff. Obviously, Jack cannot know details about adventures that the Doctor had without him. Footage cannot really exist of events from long before the invention of the movie camera, at which there was no camera present to record it anyway. (matrix and space-time visualisers aside) Reconstructed footage cannot exactly match actual events which we have witnessed in the main series. And just who on Earth would Jack ever trust enough to share all this secret intel with anyway? (with her diary, River doesn't share that last problem)
Impossible footage plus an impossible soundtrack must add up to an impossible series.
And yet, for me, that kind of takes the fun out of it. Surely the appeal of these things is to believe on some level that this really is the same character(s) from the series speaking? If I were watching every Doctor Who episode in an order that made narrative sense, then I would like to include these.
It's probably best to ignore the question of who Jack or River may be speaking to though, and to just assume that these trippy visuals are more likely to be their own minds wandering as they each talk to themselves. As for how they can visualise events from the series that neither of them has witnessed, well there are a million sci-fi ways. I'm choosing to assume that they only see the on-screen captions, and that those clips are simply BBC editing for the viewer's benefit, which Jack and River are not privy to.
Narratively, they don't belong before each episode that they support because, time-travel aside, the speaker shouldn't know in advance what is yet to take place, and neither usually should the viewer.
They don't belong after each episode either because, as I say, Jack shouldn't know what just happened. (although River can)
Regarding Jack's episodes, if they are to be viewed together en masse, then I think they should come at some point after the Doctor and friends have had a chance to tell Jack of their adventures during the events of Journey's End. It should also be before the destruction of the Hub in Children Of Earth. In Doctor Who's terms, that's somewhere between Journey's End and The End Of Time. (in Torchwood's terms, it's between series two and three)
Jack's final two Monster Files were released to trail The Next Doctor and The End Of Time respectively, but the latter has absolutely nothing to do with it. So, I'd place all Jack's Monster Files straight after The Next Doctor. His series also portrays the tenth Doctor as the current model.
River's are even trickier to place with any reasoning, as her appearances are supposed to be non-chronological to us anyway. It's tempting to place them straight after our and the Doctor's first encounter with her in Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead, as this closes on her reading her diary. Also to catch glimpses of the Doctor's future that for her is past, would achieve far more with her time-travelling character than the series has at time of writing explored. But that would subtract something from the mystery of seeing the eleventh Doctor for the first time in The End Of Time, not to mention how wrong it would be to place River's instalments before Jack's. Oh, what the heck, let's go for it. She seems to know almost everything about the Doctor's adventures by that point!
#1 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Adipose
Publicising: Partners In Crime
- Jack narrates shots of bare flesh. Eurgh. With all the muddy jump-cuts on display, he even manages to get in his own audio-edit at 1:32.
#2 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Pyrovile
Publicising: The Fires Of Pompeii
- On a UNIT videotape, an old black and white film is projected of a perfect reconstruction of actual historical events. What are the chances?
You don't say.
#3 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Ood
Publicising: Planet Of The Ood
- Uh, it's very ood. :)
#4 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Slitheen
Publicising: The Sontaran Stratagem
- As this epic montage reminds us, there really are no good Slitheen episodes.
#5 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Sontaran
Publicising: The Poison Sky
- Talks about Rutans but doesn't show them.
#6 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Hath
Publicising: The Doctor's Daughter
- Mentions the Doctor, and quite inexplicably includes a shot of Rose just as Jack says "things went from really bad to incredibly bad."
#7 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Vespiform
Publicising: The Unicorn And The Wasp
- Mentions war with the Quarks.
#8 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Judoon
Publicising: Silence In The Library
- Starts off like The A Team in Torchwood's Hub, although noone seems to have told John Barrowman this. Also contains a joke about Goodwolf Insurance. And apparently a reference to the book Revenge Of The Judoon by Terrance Dicks!
#9 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Vashta Nerada
Publicising: Forest Of The Dead
- The series ducks the shark with an entry that is actually worth watching in its own right. Also features River at the end in (it sounds like) a rerecording of her lines from Forest Of The Dead. Pretty scary!
#10 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Midnight
- Not so much a monster, more of a planet. Still needs jokes to be like Hitchhiker.
#11 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Trickster's Brigade
Publicising: Turn Left
- I felt like I was watching Torchwood.
#12 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Dalek
Publicising: The Stolen Earth
- UNIT has a photo from the future, Jack looks young, explicit shot of the tenth Doctor.
#13 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Davros
Publicising: Journey's End
- Crumbs he looks young in the archive footage.
#14 Doctor Who: Monster Files - Christmas
Publicising: The Next Doctor
- Not so much a monster as a Christian festival. Broadcast behind door number 9 of the Doctor Who Advent Calender 2008. Absolutely terrifying start with Jack appearing on a family's television set and singing. Includes a clip of the interactive video game Attack Of The Graske. The end seems to link into the Cybermen one coming up next.
#15 Monster Files - Cybermen
Publicising: The Next Doctor (again)
- The words "Doctor Who" are dropped from the title, and the monster is listed in plural. There's Torchwoody music, Jack appears on camera again, and laces up a Steenbeck film viewer to watch the clips, which provides a context for the series… it all looks like the stream's pilot, but it isn't. Jack says "Everyone remembers the battle of Canary Wharf". No they don't.
#16 Weeping Angels (1 of 2)
Publicising: The End Of Time
- Often misidentified as 'A Ghost Story For Christmas', although the programme itself bears no such wording. In fact, it's not even labeled as an episode of Monster Files or Doctor Who either, although for me the format and style seal it as part of the series. Released as day 24 of the Doctor Who Adventure Calender 2009. It has nothing to do with either episode of The End Of Time. Jack's final episode.
#17 Monster Files - Weeping Angels (2 of 2)
Publicising: The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone
- River takes over the narration. Rather than seeing Torchwood's secret footage, we are taken into River's diary of impossible things.
#18 Monster Files - Vampires
Publicising: The Vampires Of Venice
- I feel like I'm watching The Discovery Channel.
#19 Monster Files - Homo Reptilia
Publicising: The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood
- Classic footage used to great effect, showing us shots of Silurians, Sea Devils, and dinosaurs. They skip the Myrka. Perhaps they couldn't find any shots of that that were usable? The director of Warriors Of The Deep couldn't.
(Available here. Well, some of them are. If you're in the UK. Good luck tracking down the others! :) )