Think of your all-time favorite ongoing series. I don't care what it is - could be a series of novels, a tv show, a series of movies, any kind of fiction issued over a period of months or (more likely) years. You've watched or read everything that's been released so far. Heck, you've practically memorized it. Now you're waiting for the next installment. It's still months away. Or maybe there's a whole series that starts up soon. Either way, you're starting to get antsy.
Now suppose someone offers you a copy of the script or manuscript ahead of time, something that will tell you more or less what happens at the very end, but won't give you the whole experience. Or maybe you know of a website where lucky fans of Your Favorite Thing Ever are reporting their knowledge of what they've seen, secret revelations the world isn't supposed to know about until June at least.
Do you read it, or do you stay well away to avoid spoiling the full impact of the work when it's properly released, in all its multimedia glory? Or do you nibble at the edges of the forbidden knowledge, trying to pick up a few hints without ruining whatever big surprises are in store?
What I've just described above are called "spoilers." And I'm deeply ambivalent about them.
Back in the early 1990s, my friends and I would go to Los Angeles a few times a year, making the pilgrimage from Tucson to attend Gallifrey One and the Quantum Leap conventions, visit Universal Studios yet again, and buy scripts and photos at the Hollywood memorabilia shops. During these trips we always stopped by the office of Belisarius Productions, makers of Quantum Leap, and interviewed whoever we could, usually writer-producers on staff. Another time, two of us were on the Universal lot, watching the actual filming, taking a few pictures and chatting with extras.
In those days the security wasn't all that tight for scripts from upcoming episodes. Nothing was watermarked with the name of the person, or kept carefully out of sight. Sometimes we would be given a script outright, sometimes we would find one lying around somewhere, and sometimes we bought one in a shop. Usually they were from past episodes, or just "sides," a few script pages reproduced for use in auditions of guest cast. Several times, though, we had an entire script in hand for something that would be on tv in a week or two, or possibly later. The most memorable case was when we ended up with the script for the last-ever episode, "Mirror Image," about two or three months before air date.
These days when something like that happens, there's a good chance someone will scan it and put it online immediately, never mind the legalities. We didn't do that. For one thing, the technology wasn't quite there yet in February 1993. For another, it would have been a breach of trust.
But we could read it. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
I know I read "Private Dancer" before it aired, and one or more of the "Trilogy" scripts, and at least one other episode. I didn't regret it. I can't remember whether I held off on "Mirror Image." It was an astonishing episode, and I don't recall the effect being diminished by my having the script. Perhaps I only read a few pages ahead of time.
It was all a long time ago, and I forget the details.
The reason I mention all this tonight is that four times in the past week, I've learned details online about the last episode of this year's series of Doctor Who.*
- Someone reported the names on the guest cast trailers, on location for the season finale.
- Later he and other fans witnessed and photographed what looked like the last scene of the season, except for some final cliffhanger.
- A few days later, someone else posted a rundown of what has been announced in magazines, mentioned in interviews or observed on location about the entire 2008 series. It was meant to be safely tucked away in a "Spoilers" thread, which I don't read, but the person accidentally posted it in the set report thread, which I do. It was so detailed that I read it for a full hour, unable to stop myself.
- And today, yet another person photographed, at a distance, bits of filming and setup for two truly iconic scenes from the series finale, including another, very different "final" scene. It probably takes place before the other final scene, but that doesn't lessen its impact. One of the fan photos is my new desktop photo.
My question is this: should I now stay firmly out of that set report thread for the next three months, to avoid learning any possible answers to my many questions?
*I should explain that the nomenclature of British tv is different from U.S. tv. Each season of Doctor Who from 2005 in is technically called a "series." The 2008 episodes are called Series Four of "New Who." It doesn't mean the end of the show, however. In 2009 there will be four specials, and in 2010 a new full series - which is more of a commitment to the future than the BBC has given any other franchise.