The drama, up to the current point:

  • A question was asked: Is the "Time War" introduced only in "new" Doctor Who?
  • My (now-deleted) reply answered the question, and cited two Wikipedia pages as the source of my info.
  • The OP wrote, in a comment on Meta:

    I'm reluctant to read that Wikipedia page, since it almost certainly contains spoilers (i.e. outlines the entire plot, not just where the plot starts). There's also information in one of the answers that's not (from a quick search; again: don't want to read it) in the Wikipedia answer.

Which leads me to ask:

If someone asks a question, and:

  • the answer to that question would be a spoiler for someone who hasn't seen/read everything
  • the asker does not state he wants a spoiler-free answer

Is it reasonable to assume that the OP is looking for an answer to his question?

Or should anyone thinking about answering first ask the OP if they really want the answer, or only certain parts of the answer? And then return later—hopefully to find out what sort of answer is acceptable—and then make sure that their response meets the criteria?

  • I think "drama" is a bit of an exaggeration here. I'm also unsure why you deleted your answer - it wasn't that good (perhaps because the question is not that good) - is that why? Or because of the spoiler risk (which isn't right, because I can choose not to click)? Or because you decided that the close vote was more appropriate and having an answer and close vote would be wrong? (The latter seems best to me).
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 20:44
  • @Dori: I don't get the reasoning behind your close vote, could you explain it here or in a comment on the question or in chat?
    – user56
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 21:07
  • 3
    I didn't see the now-deleted answer, but I think the principle that would have avoided this issue is "never post a bare Wikipedia link - always quote the part you think is relevant to the question".
    – Martha
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 21:20
  • @dori surely "if someone asks a question (with no mention of spoilers) and it turns out later that they only wants [sic] certain types of answers" then the question should be downvoted, not closed? Closing is for questions that are off-topic, not questions that are poorly asked - that's what down-voting (and ideally, commenting) is for.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 2:39
  • @dori you only surmise that I wanted a partial answer (which I dispute) because of a comment in meta. I really don't agree that it is difficult to tell what is being asked.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 3:19
  • The FAQ says "Questions that are deemed sufficiently off-topic may be closed by the community." If it's a bad question, but not sufficiently off-topic, why not down-vote it?
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 3:24
  • Hopefully my answer (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1164/…) shows that I did want a full, interesting answer.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 6:09

3 Answers 3


I think that when a person asks a question, it should be assumed that they want as full an answer as possible, unless they state otherwise.

If the person asking the question doesn't want a full and detailed answer, why is he asking it on SE? If he only wants a specific spoiler-free answer, he should have specified that in his question.
In your example, the OP should have asked his question as something like "I'm currently watching the new Doctor Who series. Is the Time War something which was introduced with the Ninth Doctor, or was it featured in the original Doctor Who series?" Which would imply that he wanted an answer about the background of the plot rather than the details of the plot.
His question as it stands definitely implies that he's fully familiar with the plot, and so I would probably have posted a full answer without considering spoilers as well.

  • @neillius I don't really see how your phrasing of my question changes my question (except that it is much shorter). It seems obvious from my wording that I am watching the new series (but if not, feel free to edit). I did not ask "what is the Time War", but "is is introduced in the new series" - i.e. answers should explain (in full detail, and hopefully interestingly) when it was introduced (using whatever plot summary is necessary, which seems unlikely it would include the entire story, like Wikipedia).
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 20:41
  • 1
    Note also that my spoiler concern was for reading Wikipedia, not scifi.se. IOW, I trusted that human answers targeting my specific question would be spoiler-free (for some value of spoiler).
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 20:43

Like Nellius, I think that when you answer a question, you should feel free to include spoilers unless the questions explicitly requests non-spoiler answers.

Note that if you want to include spoilers as part of your answer, you can use the spoiler markup: put >! in front of every spoiler line (this is a simplification of the full syntax).

This is a spoiler. This is still a spoiler.

To see the text in a spoiler block, select it or put your mouse cursor over it.

I would further like to warn askers that even if they do request non-spoiler answers, it is impossible to guarantee that answers will be sufficiently spoiler-free. Anyone can post an answer, and the bar for voting answers up is very low, so there is definitely a risk that you will see overly spoily answers. The risk is yours to take.

  • 1
    Best way to go about it if you're not sure.
    – Kyle
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 18:12

(I am the OP - but note that I do not consider there to be any "drama" here).

My comment on meta was not clear, I believe - perhaps also my question (although in that case, an edit would be most appropriate, really). Before I give my answer to the overall question, here's the explanation of the "Time War" question.

The Wikipedia page about the "Time War" is (unsurprisingly) encyclopedic; it's long (much longer than even good SO/SE answers), and covers in detail not just how this story was introduced into the Doctor Who universe, but the entire plot of the substory, discussion of continuity, and so forth.

What I wanted was a detailed, interesting, answer as to the origin (specifically the introduction into the universe, not the entire backstory).

If you consider that Wikipedia is an authoritative source that contains all relevant information (it appears some people do, which is sad but off-topic) then you could indeed answer this question using only information within that Wikipedia page. However, IMO a good answer would do more than just summarise particular sections of that page, and it would be specific to the question (in the same way that SO answers are specific to the question, and not 'here's a link to a page that explains all about binary search trees).

My comment about spoilers was referencing the fact that the Wikipedia entry contains far too much information, that is not answering this specific question. I obviously have no problem with answers that are full and detailed and on topic to the question.

In terms of the larger question: "spoiler" is a vague and subjective term. There are elements of story lines that are clearly going to have a significant impact, but there are many others that would "spoil" the story for some and not others. For example:

(Warning: Star Wars related)

Darth Vader is Luke and Leia's father.

I think this clearly falls into the former camp.

(Warning: Serenity related)

Wash dies.

This is much more subjective.

(Warning: Star Trek related)

Data ends up captain of the Enterprise.

This would probably not be considered something that "spoils" watching ST by most (especially you consider how it eventually occurs).

IMO good answers should make judicious use of the spoiler tag. If there's something that the answerer feels would spoil the story but is necessary to make the answer interesting and detailed (i.e. good), then include it in the answer but make it as a spoiler. If the answerer doesn't feel it's a spoiler but the asker does, then that's the asker's fault for not being clearer.

I'll go and research my question and answer it myself with the sort of answer I hoped to get, which perhaps will demonstrate this more clearly. (Pre-emptive note: the fact that I answered my own question does not mean that it was one that I should not have asked. It took a lot of work to find out what I did and summarise it - work that I believe that someone more expert in Doctor Who than I would not have needed to do. There are also parts of my answer that I am not 100% confident in, that the expert could probably have done better).

  • @dori you missed my point (try skipping my rambling introduction and going to the second to last paragraph). I think everyone that answers a question should consider using the spoiler tag, when something seems like it would significantly decrease the enjoyment of the story if it was known. It's a judgement call of the answerer, unless the asker makes mention of it.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 2:42
  • 1
    @dori I don't know how to say this more clearly - what you are hearing is not what I am saying. I am saying answerers should use their own judgement about what anyone reading the question would want to see and where they, not the asker consider it appropriate, use the spoiler tag.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 4:20

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