The idea is that fan fiction has, since the beginning of time, just been weird girls in their rooms writing about how Spock is drugged and can’t stop touching Kirk’s butt. This is not the case. Fan fiction is nothing more than fiction featuring someone else’s characters. The Argonautica, a 3rd century BCE poem by Apollonius Rhodius about Jason and the Argonauts, is basically one of the first examples of fan fiction. Euripides’s Helen of Troy, where Helen was in Egypt all along and has to fall in love with Menelaus all over again, is fan fiction. John Milton’s Paradise Lost? Fan fiction.

We only started using the term “fan fiction” in the modern era after the concept of intellectual property really took off and people like Disney and DC Comics made it possible to “own” characters. Then fan fiction became something more. Because a fan/writer couldn’t earn money off their work a passion seemed to flow off the page. Some paying writers struggle with getting 80,000 words to their editor on time, but a fanfic writer can churn out a 200,000 word butt touching opus in a matter of weeks, fueled by nothing more than their love of the characters (and probably also feedback from readers).

Fan fiction became insular. A culture developed. Tropes developed. Enough that websites like FFYF and FanLore formed just to chronicle (and mock) all those tropes. Real person fic, alternate universes, self insertion. The list goes on and on. But what they all possess, besides a devil-may-care attitude towards character ownership, is the passion of the author for someone else’s characters.

And that passion (and those tropes) aren’t just limited to fiction. Sometimes really cool people actually get paid to play in someone else’s sandbox and bring their love of the characters with them. They produce really cool comics, “officially canon” books, and, my personal favorite, television.

Yeah, I said it. Fan fiction exists on television. Russel Davies, Steven Moffat, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. These folks are all paid to play in sandboxes developed by other writers before them. Because I love you, fair internet, I have formed a list of five of the most egregious examples of fanfiction produced as television.

“Journey’s End” Doctor Who written by Russell Davies

Davies tenure on Doctor Who was chock full of crazy fannish moments. With nods to the original series as well as an evolution of the Doctor’s sexuality…in that he finally had one. The original series kept the Doctor a little flirty (particularly the Four/Romana years) but primarily asexual. He was too busy battling dinosaurs and aliens to have hang ups about girlfriends or boyfriends. He was so asexual that when the new series arrived and the Ninth Doctor had to kiss the time vortex out of Rose’s head fans of the original show through an absolute fit.

But nothing could have prepared those fans, or any fan really, for the end of Davies run on the tv show proper (he’d make a series of specials over the next two years before Moffat took over). Old show fan favorite Davros showed up as villain, Sarah Jane showed up to remind Davros that they knew each other. Mickey and Rose’s mom showed up to say hello. Donna Noble became the first human time lord ever and saved the day. Martha Jones showed up to threaten to blow up the world to save it. And then a human Doctor was born out of Donna’s hand so the Doctor could condemn him to an alternate universe where he would spend the rest of his human days making out with Rose Tyler and talking like Donna Noble.

It was so fanficcy good that io9’s Charlie Jane Anders actually said it “almost elevated fanfic to an artform.”

“En Ami” The X-Files written by William B Davis

Where Davies made fanfic virtually transcendent The X-Files once had an episode so indulgent and Mary Sueish you would have thought it was just pulled from (because everyone knows the good X-Files fanfic was at Gossamer) and produced as is. But it wasn’t! While watching it you might not have even noticed the indulgence and Mary Sue factor. You would have just thought it was a weird episode focused on the Cigarette Smoking Man where he forces Scully on a road trip with him and gets the better of her and gets her changing into sexy dresses and showing some boobage. You would have also noticed that Scully was kind of uncharacteristically stupid.

Then the credits would have rolled and you would have noticed William B Davis pulling double duty as Cigarette Smoking Man AND writer.

Yeah that’s right. CSM wrote himself into an episode so he could see Gillian Anderson’s boobs. There was probably a CSM/Scully sex scene or love confession scene cut, along with one where CSM does kung fu to save Scully from rapists and she sobbingly clutches him and says she loves him more than Mulder.

“The Reichenbach Fall” Sherlock written by Stephen Thompson

Like Doctor Who and Once Upon A Time really any episode of Steven Moffat’s Sherlock could appear on this list. The show as a whole is a carefully constructed “Modern-era AU”. It’s loaded with references to the original work on which it is based. Characters found in the books, like Watson’s wife, are removed to make things a little more Johnlockian (that’s the portmanteau for the Watson/Sherlock relationship; I would have just done a link to website explaining it but they’re all SUPER explicit). And the whole thing is based on a property that actually invented modern fan fiction. People were apoplectic when Doyle killed off Holmes and spent the next ten years writing every conceivable escape out of the mystery for the hero.

Since this episode aired last year modern Sherlock fans have done the exact same thing for Moffat’s Modern-era version of Doyle’s adventures. But can their fics really compare to Moffat’s? Or this episode written by Stephen Thompson?

Besides being a modernized version of one of Holme’s more famous cases there’s also the liberal use of slash goggles gaying up the joint, Mrs. Hudson being put in mortal danger, and, the big one, Moffat’s unemotional version of Holmes willingly sacrificing himself in order to save those he loves. Would that I were a major fan of the show or the Johnlock pairing. It would have been like seeing your favorite fic actually brought to life.

“The French Mistake” Supernatural written by Ben Edlund

What list regarding fanfiction would be complete without some choice real person fic? This episode of Supernatural reads like the summary of some actual real person fic for the show. Sam and Dean get sucked through a portal by an angel out to protect them and wind up in our world, where they are horrified to learn their lives are fodder for television and Dean’s played by a guy from Days of Our Lives and Sam’s married to a woman who plays a villain on the show. In their quest to get back they end up maxing out a credit card, doing some really bad acting and getting the actors playing them fired. Also an angelic hitman shows up and slaughters half the cast and nearly the entire creative staff.

The only thing missing is some choice Wincest or Destiel butt touching.

And awesome side note: the title for the episode is the name of the song played by the band in Blazing Saddles when a brawl shatters the fourth wall and the entire movie winds up on a movie lot.

“Broke” Once Upon A Time written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz

Let’s be real, all of Once Upon A Time is fan fiction. It’s very premise is fan fiction. I once had to summarize an episode and say the phrase “and then Mulan and Sleeping Beauty nearly made out.”

You could point at any episode and say “fanfic”. They all tend to be referential, a little self-indulgent, and loaded with crack!ships.

So what makes the season 2 premiere stand out? Because it is way too satisfying to just be regular television. Nearly everything one would want to happen after season 1 happens. Emma is reunited with her parents and there are many many tears. Henry calls Charming “gramps”. A raging mob storms Regina’s mansion. Henry calls Regina “mom”. The Charmings and Regina team up to take down a monster created by Gold. Emma touches Regina and creates magic.

Seriously. I watched it and was confused. I honestly thought Kitsis and Horowitz had stolen the script from my private LiveJournal.

And besides being fanfiction for the show itself this episode also had Mulan and Prince Philip teaming up to rescue Sleeping Beauty and fight a Dementor. The writers on that show are living every adolescent girl ever’s dream.

Special Mentions

  • Elementary didn’t make the cut because there can only be ONE modern-AU of Sherlock on the list.
  • “Coming Home,” Xena: Warrior Princess, written by Melissa Good. Melissa Good was so popular in Xena fandom as a fanfic author that Rob Tapert sought her out to write the season 6 premiere. She would write two more episodes including one unproduced musical one where Xena and Gabrielle are the identical twins of Sappho and her lover and have to go undercover to reunite them.
  • “For Those of You Just Joining Us,” Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci. Another “real person” episode. Kevin Sorbo is actually Hercules in disguise and stuck on a writer’s retreat with the creative staff of the show (as played by characters actors from the show and Xena).
  • Really all of Xena and Hercules could have fit. Those shows were extremely aware of their fandoms and loved to make whole episodes designed to create fangasms.
  • The entire current season of Castle.
  • “Fan fiction is nothing more than fiction featuring someone else’s characters.” This is called work-for-hire, not fanfic. As I understand it, fanfic is non-canon work written by fans.

    • Glad you made it past that first few sentences. The second paragraph addresses your concerns.

      • I did read the whole thing. I take your thesis to be 1) here are some qualities of fanfic; 2) these television episodes share some of these qualities; 3) therefore, these episode are fanfic. I don’t think that works, because by definition, fanfic is amateur, non-canon work.

        When I saw the article title on Reddit, I though it was going to be a list of episodes written by people discovered on fanfic sites or fanfic stories adapted for television, but it’s really a list of “if you like fanfic you’ll like these,” “these stories might as well have appeared on,” or “these episodes are fan pleasers.”

        I know I’m being anal about it, my apologies. After reading Lentilite’s comment, I guess there are different meanings of fanfic running around.

        • Oh man I’m so sorry! Crossed signals there. I was trying to find more fanfic authors turned actual writers because I know they exist but the only one I know for a fact for television is Melissa Good (as mentioned above). I sometimes put Ronald D. More in that camp as well because of his completely unsolicited Star Trek: TNG spec script but that feels far more disingenuous than any of the names mentioned in the article above.

          As for the definition of fanfic, I think it’s changing. A couple of years ago I would have absolutely defined it as specifically as you have. Though even when you use your definition things like Hercules and Sherlock and Once Upon A Time are “fanfic.”

          • Lentilite

            Hmmm… but since Disney owns ABC, does that make everything that happens on OUAT canon? Now I REALLY want Mulan & Aurora to get together…

  • Lentilite

    “Secretly”? ;)
    Okay, Journey’s End is certainly extreme fanfic, but Time Crash is even more blatant. Moffat might as well have screamed “look how much I love the 5th Doctor!”.

    Also, Ben Edlund wrote for Supernatural? Dang it, I didn’t want to watch Supernatural…

    • I forgot about Time Crash! You’re right, it’s insanely fanfictiony.

      It was a Children in Need special wasn’t it?

      • Lentilite

        Yup, Children in Need special, so not really an episode I suppose.
        It’s adorable. I almost feel sorry for David Tennant that everybody thinks the 5th doctor was his favorite (he says pretty clearly in the DT Diaries on the 2nd series that it was 4th doctor) – but I guess that worked out pretty well for him IRL. ;)

  • Nick Barovic-Hancock

    I would nominate “Keep Calm and Flutter On.”

  • Sami Holloway

    The SG1 ep “200” is about as close to fanfic as a show’s actual writers can get. And some of the best fan-service I could have hoped for!

  • Gem

    You forgot the Grey’s Anatomy musical episode…