The First Settlers Called it the Crystal Feast (Christmas on a Rational Planet)

(56 comments)

Speaking of Christmas, and the general season of gift-giving it implies, have you considered just how much all of your friends and family want copies of the first two volumes of TARDIS Eruditorum in book form? You should probably make their dreams come true.

Unless, of course, you don't think they'd want a copy. Then you should think about just how good family or friends they are, and whether they deserve to have their dreams come true. Then you should get them copies anyway.

Volume 1 (William Hartnell): (US) (UK). Volume 2 (Patrick Troughton): (US) (UK).

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I'll Explain Later

We skipped GodEngine, to someone’s sorrow, I’m sure. It had Ice Warriors and lots of continuity references.

Christmas on a Rational Planet is the debut book of Lawrence Miles, which is almost certainly the most important thing about it. It features the intrusion of the raw forces of chaos into our universe and Chris making the decision as to what the fundamental nature of the universe should be, albeit manipulated by the TARDIS. It also introduces the idea of Eighth Man Bound, a Time Lord game about previewing your future regenerations. Lars Pearson, still a number of years away from employing Lawrence Miles, calls it “delicious, but a bit text-heavy and fragmented as hell.” Dave Owen, at the time, bemoaned the release schedule, saying that if the book had “been among the first handful of New Adventures it would have been immediately seized upon as radical, unprecedented, and exhibiting a fresh approach to Doctor Who storytelling,” but suggesting that the disposable nature of the novels means that it won’t get the second reading it deserves. Shannon Sullivan’s rankings have it embodying mediocrity - at thirty-first out of sixty-one it is the median New Adventure with a 69.1% rating. DWRG Summary. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide (worth it for the attempt to figure out if fan rumor of a reference to every Doctor Who story is true. It's not - Miles misses thirty-three even by a sympathetic count).

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It’s July of 1996, one of those months where the number one single changes weekly. Baddiel, Skinner, and the Lightning Seeds start us off with “Three Lions.” Then we get The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly,” Gary Barlow’s “Forever Love,” and finally the real news in The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” Los Del Rio, Underworld, Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, Belinda Carlisle, and Mariah Carey also chart. While in news, Dolly the sheep is successfully cloned, Boris Yeltsin is reelected, and Eric Robert Rudolph, an anti-abortion domestic terrorist, bombs the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

In books, it’s Lawrence Miles’s debut novel, Christmas on a Rational Planet. Which means we finally have to do Lawrence Miles. Except he’s not Lawrence Miles yet. Which is an odd thing to say, but bear with me. Lawrence Miles, the grand figure of myth who provided the primary creative vision of the Eighth Doctor era, has his debut novel with Alien Bodies. That’s the book with which Miles immediately seized the crown of “most interesting writer in the line.” But that title relied in part on just how dire the early chunk of Eighth Doctor Adventures were on the whole, and, for that matter, how utterly uninspiring the entire Eighth Doctor thing was.

But in July of 1996 we were in an altogether more ambiguous point, as I’ve already observed. The Virgin line was already the past of Doctor Who. And Lawrence Miles embodies that tension perfectly. For all that he’s, creatively speaking, associated primarily with the Eighth Doctor line, aesthetically he’s a much better fit with the Virgin line. Indeed, he’s said in interviews that the Virgin era is outright his favorite period of Doctor Who. And, not to flip too far ahead, for all that he’s the major creative figure of the Eighth Doctor range, his time there is enormously fraught and comes to a crashing and unsatisfying close. Miles is, in many ways and for many reasons, an oddly liminal figure that doesn’t quite fit into any era. As such, this liminal period in which Doctor Who lacks an era is actually perfect for him. This truly is Lawrence Miles’s native era - not so much a part of Doctor Who as a figure haunting Doctor Who with the uncanniness of its alternative histories.

And haunting perfectly describes the role this book plays. For one thing, no matter how much Miles disclaims the book (he’s visibly not fond of it in interviews, suggesting that the correct acronym for it is CRaP), the truth is that several of his Big Ideas show up here: Grandfather Paradox, a bottle universe, Eighth Man Bound, the possibility of something uncanny regarding the Third Doctor, a fascination with the notion of Time Lord biodata. And they show up in ways that are oddly coherent. The idea that Grandfather Paradox is loosed upon the world because of a conflict regarding the teleology of the universe that occurs within the frisson between the Seventh and Eighth Doctor’s eras is, for instance, aggressively, perfectly right. Even though, in 1996, none of that future was visible in the least, Miles’s larger aesthetic siege on Doctor Who seeps out from this book.

But perhaps the more important thing to observe is that the notion of alternative mythologies haunting the narrative is in fact Lawrence Miles’s primary concern not only throughout this book but throughout Miles’s work. Here the central idea is that the rational universe established by the Time Lords is continually haunted by a sense of irrationality. This, of course, is just a rejigging of what Marc Platt did way back in Time’s Crucible, but here the idea goes subtly and wickedly further. Miles explicitly presents irrationality as a literary, narrative logic, having, at one point, irrationality’s avatar, the Carnival Queen, challenge Chris, asking “do you have a sense of justice? A sense that somehow, sometime, there has to be a happy ending and a way of tying up all the loose ends?” Which, of course, there is, in point of fact, in Chris’s world given that he exists inside a novel that is broadly governed by Aristotelean structures.

Implicit in this is one of Miles’s great hobby horses, which is his firm belief that Doctor Who is not a science fiction series. A cursory glance over his various published Internet musings reveals this, particularly his insistence in the time before Russell T. Davies brought the series back that the only way it was ever going to come back was as a cult television show in the model of Babylon 5, where it would fail spectacularly and kill the series off forever. Wrong, clearly, but instructively so both in terms of how accurately he diagnoses a particular version of fandom’s vision. During that time, however, Miles was taking to the letters column of Doctor Who Magazine (issue 233, specifically) arguing that this completely misunderstood the nature of Doctor Who, which, in his view, has its roots “in Arthurian romance and European mythology” but that uses science fiction props. This, at least, pretty accurately describes, for instance, the Hinchcliffe, Bidmead, and Cartmel eras, but it cuts against a huge swath of thought about the show that we’ve been characterizing as the Whoniverse approach. Needless to say, that’s largely fine, at least in terms of this blog’s agenda. We have, after all, never been fans of the Whoniverse.

But what Miles does here is considerably more interesting and nuanced than just suggesting that Doctor Who is actually fantasy and not science fiction, which was at least part of the problem with Platt’s approach - it went as far as noticing that the Time Lords could just as easily be magical, but then said “ah, but they picked science fiction” and left it at that. Instead Miles jams the two together, staging a confrontation in which the irrational universe reasserts itself as an irreducible Other to the supposedly rational universe that Doctor Who, as a series, is prone to insisting that it is. And Miles is ruthlessly consistent in this, even in his choice for what the irrational forces call the Time Lords, namely the Watchmakers. On the one hand this invokes one of the common arguments for the existence of god, typically phrased as “if you found a watch lying on the beach you would assume that there is a watchmaker because it is too complex to have arisen naturally.” But this, of course, frames the Time Lords in terms of the supposed irrationality of religion, trapping them in the very logic their nature resists.

But there’s an added sting involved in the label “watchmaker” for the Time Lords, which is that it’s a backhanded demotion for them. There is a world of difference between the idea of Time Lords and Watch Lords. If they are mere watchmakers than all they have done is created a tool and a system of measurement for time. They rule it only because they’ve used language to describe it, and language, as a tool, trends inexorably towards the forces of irrationality. They don’t rule time - they rule a particular framework for understanding time.

Indeed, one need only look at the peculiarities of how the term “watchmaker” is used to signify the Time Lords. On the one hand, it’s clearly a reference to the argument for god. But that argument was most famously advanced by William Paley in 1802, whereas the term “Watchmakers” within Christmas on a Rational Planet is framed as part of a primordial conflict about the nature of the universe. Which is to say there’s no way that the Carnival Queen could have been referencing Paley when she picked the epithet. And yet the name is an obvious reference to Paley. The name itself, in other words, defies causality, illustrating exactly the sort of thing that the Time Lords’ perspective cannot grasp.

Again, the underlying trick here is that the universe of Christmas on a Rational Planet really is running according to the grounds it stakes out as irrational. Being a novel, things really do work according to a metaphoric logic. The nature of things really does vary depending on context and circumstance, as opposed to things having fixed and absolute definitions. There is no such thing as atheistic fiction for the simple reason that the “world” of any given work of fiction really was created by an intelligent and (in terms of that world) all-powerful being. And thus no matter what the Time Lords try to do they cannot impose a “life of ordered calm” onto  the world they live in because the underlying principles of their world are ordered towards a logic that isn’t just imposed by an external force, but one that exists from a different universe entirely. (This is central to the notion of the bottle universes that Miles plays with at such length in future books)

For instance, look at Eighth Man Bound. Ostensibly it’s a Time Lord game about seeing future regenerations, with the eighth regeneration being, apparently, the first one that is impossible to foresee. That’s a reasonable enough concept that has an internal logic within the narrative, much like “watchmaker” makes sense as a swipe at the fact that the Time Lords do not control time but instead control the description of time. But much like “watchmaker” is obviously a reference to the external logic of William Paley (who writes three years after the novel is set, making him doubly inaccessible as a reference within the book), Eighth Man Bound is also clearly a reference to the external logic of Doctor Who as a television show that got cancelled while on the Seventh Doctor such that, within the confines of the Virgin line, the Eighth Doctor was unforeseeable. But this logic is completely foreign to the Time Lords if we treat them as imaginary people - it’s wholly impossible that they have even the slightest concept of this. That’s what the threat of irrationality imposes - not illogic, but a logic from another system entirely.

This is terribly clever, especially for Doctor Who, a series that is, historically, all about pulling code switches such that what looks like one sort of story suddenly starts working according to the logic of another sort. The idea of haunting Doctor Who itself with a logic that is necessarily outside of its own comprehension is absolutely brilliant. And what’s really brilliant is that it puts the Doctor (and, by extension, the TARDIS) in the position of not being able to understand how they work. Both believe that they can only function as creatures of rationality. This makes sense for them - they, after all, have no way of recognizing the genre tropes and literary conventions that in fact explain how they work. (Or, rather, they can, but it requires that we zig instead of zag within the series’ history, picking The Mind Robber instead of The War Games.) The Doctor cannot understand his own actions as the intrusion of one genre on another, and thus mistakes himself as working rationally. It’s a glorious deconstruction of the concept - and for once I mean deconstruction in its proper sense where, once dismantled, the concept continues functioning not just in spite of its contradictions but because of them.

But there’s a larger problem here. Well, two, actually. The first is that Miles inexplicably and ill-advisedly ties these principles to gender essentialism, having men be the forces of reason while women are the forces of irrationality. “The male and the female of the species, in every humanoid species, have completely different psychologies,” Miles has the Doctor mansplain. “Men build… their fundamental purpose is act as architects. Towers. Pillars. Bridges. All men’s things. In a man’s world, everything has to be defined, named, planned with precision… the female psyche has no need to construct, no need to control… no need to define. The female psyche is adaptable, mutable. That’s why little boys dream of killer robots and little girls dream of faerie queens.” Which, you know, great. Thank you, Lawrence Miles, for making stereotypical gender essentialism a fundamental principle of the universe. Brilliant. Now we can move on to Dave Sim’s vision of Doctor Who, I hope. What’s particularly frustrating about this is that it mucks up what would otherwise be a fantastic idea, namely the Gynoids, which are robotic creatures who are not built but who simply are. It’s a great, chilling concept, and even plausibly an antecedent to the existential horrors of the Silence and the Weeping Angels, except that Miles frames it in a shockingly sexist manner that just poisons the concept.

The second problem, however, is the tying of history to rationality. Rationality, throughout the book, is repeatedly tied to the progress of history, with the development of human warfare culminating in the atomic bomb being explicitly presented as one of the consequences of allowing the universe to remain based on Reason. (Miles does distinguish between the capitalized and uncapitalized versions of the word, with several jokes throughout the novel hinging on people noticing the capital letter in ostensibly spoken dialogue) To some extent this makes sense, serving as an extension of the critique I made about why science fiction in its classic Golden Age form is an irreparably flawed genre. And given that the bulk of the novel is set in the past there’s a wicked cleverness to this. On the one hand, as a matter of practical reality, the atomic bomb is the inevitable teleology of 1799. But if we accept that as an inevitability then the novel’s system of belief forces us to also accept the sci-fi teleology of things like Babylon 5 in all its oppressive horror. Which is quite clever.

But the idea that irrationality, as presented, lacks any necessity or teleology is fundamentally flawed. The rest of the time the book trades heavily on the fact that it is a novel and thus has the irrationality of Aristotelean narrative structure. The whole point of Aristotelean narrative structure is that the ending of the story is made inevitable by the beginning and that the beginning is necessary setup for the ending. This is part of a larger incoherence in Miles’s system that depends on the assumption that art and Reason are a coherent dichotomy. He avoids the worst form of this assertion by having irrationality continue to persist and haunt the edges of the Rational universe, thus showing that the dichotomy cannot be absolute. In many regards this isn’t a huge problem - art and Reason don’t have to be 100% opposed in all contexts to work as a thematic division in a novel any more than the White and Black Guardians had to be a perfect division. But as one might expect from someone who doesn’t really like The Ribos Operation, Miles doesn’t quite manage to paper over the gaps within his metaphor so as to build an even temporarily workable frame.

My objection here is not, of course, that Miles does not tie everything off into a neat structure. That would cut against what’s so interesting about what he’s doing in the first place. But for a novel that is self-evidently trying to make a point about the nature of history and of totalizing ideologies it’s a fairly substantive problem. But equally, it’s a first novel. Miles will do better with these concepts in future works. Paul Cornell didn’t get his definitive statement of what he wanted to do with the Doctor together in Timewyrm: Revelation either. Which is an apt comparison, because this is the single biggest infusion of new ideas Doctor Who has seen since that book. Much is made of Alien Bodies and how Lawrence Miles swept in and provided a direction and vision for Doctor Who at a point when it was otherwise floundering badly in the disastrous start of the BBC Books line. Not nearly enough, however, is made of how Christmas on a Rational Planet, as the Virgin era wound down towards an uncertain future, showed that there was, at least, such a thing as post-Virgin ideas.

Comments

Ewa Woowa 4 years, 9 months ago

Dear Phillip.
The perfect Christmas present for someone (me!) who already has the first two volumes of TARDIS Eruditorum in book form is?
The third volume (Pertwee) of course!
Pull your finger out and hurry up!
Love, Ewa Woowa.

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David Anderson 4 years, 9 months ago

Watchmaker seems overdetermined. Paley would be best known via Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker. On the other hand, the use that leaps to my mind is Watchmen.

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Tiffany Korta 4 years, 9 months ago

How could I not comment on this book :), though of all jis works this one's a little fuzzy of my mind. Time for a reread me thinks.

Lawrence Miles strikes me as one of those fans who loves the concept of Doctor Who rather than the actual show itself, it makes sense he would love the stuff when it was most unlike Doctor Who. I could be reading between the line but he seems to particularly dislike the Doctor he's most often writing about.

I think the most ironic thing is that he saves most of his ire for Moffat era Who, which you could argue is the most like his idea of the Doctor as mythic fantasy character....

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William Whyte 4 years, 9 months ago

Dave Sim!

I hope you do a Pop Between Realities (or something) on The Beasthouse on the Tennant era. I agree with Tiffany Korta that running through Miles's critiques there's an element of (to paraphrase Dave Sim, since he's here now) getting what you say you want and still not being very happy, but there's also a lot of insight there.

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peeeeeeet 4 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, the gender essentialism is unfortunate. My main memory of this book is not reading it until long after the NAs had finished and being annoyed that it jossed some of my NA fic. Oh, and that amusing anecdote about Gareth Roberts dropping the MS down the back of a Virgin filing cabinet and no one finding it for months.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure how much new-series Doctor Who is like what Miles wants. Miles wants a Doctor Who that is about, first and foremost, Big Ideas. His foremost hate figure, remember, is Ally McBeal: the idea that lawyers just doing their day job is somehow heroic.

Given that, the Davies era of Doctor Who is obviously the antithesis of what Miles wants: because for all the Davies Doctor's insistence that he 'doesn't do domestic', the series is weighed against that, seeing it as the Doctor's flaw that needs to be fixed: and the greatest moments of triumph are where the Doctor does 'do domestic' (the climax of The Christmas Invasion, for example) and the moments when he is unable to bring himself to 'do domestic' are seen as tragic.

In the code of the Davis Doctor Who universe, 'domestic' is good, lonely exploration of the Big Ideas of the Universe is bad. For all that 'Rose' is ostensibly about a girl with low horizons suddenly shown something greater, as the series develops it's the Doctor who is drawn into Rose's world far more than Rose is drawn into the Doctor's: both literally in terms of his enmeshing into the fractured madness that is the Tyler family, and emotionally in that he comes to care about Rose. The ending of Doomsday is played far more as a tragedy for the Doctor than Rose: she gets her family back together, but the Doctor is forever cut off from the domesticity that he had started to allow himself to enjoy.

So you can see how this is almost diametrically opposed to Miles's view, where it is exactly exploring the big ideas that matter, and what holds humanity back -- what poisons our culture -- is the elevation of the everyday, the mundane, to heroic status. To Davies, the point of life is to immerse oneself in domesticity, in relationships: to Miles, it's to break free from all that and explore the big ideas at the boundary of cognition.

So, yes, both Davies and Miles realised that Doctor Who wasn't a sci-fi show, but they depart from that in diametrically opposed directions: Davies towards soap opera, Miles towards conceptual exploration. In terms of the sixties, Davies wants Doctor Who to be Coronation Street; Miles wants it to be The Prisoner.

But what about Moffat? Well, I think Moffat's take is closer to Miles's, but not quite the way Miles would do it, and obviously that -- someone doing what you think they should be doing but doing it wrong -- grates more than someone doing something that is completely opposed to what you would do.

Moffat does bring in the big ideas, see, but Miles's objection is that Moffat isn't interested in the big ideas for their own sake -- for the sake of trying to blow children's minds -- but is interested in them just to show off his own cleverness (that this is his view of Moffat is, I think, pretty clear from his sidebars). And in so doing Miles thinks Moffat neuters the big ideas, makes them safe, uses them for gags and looking cool rather than making them huge and scary.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

The way to show the path not taken, surely, would be to write an article on The Book of the World.

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J. L. Webb 4 years, 9 months ago

Heh, due to your style of delivery there I may have read that in rorschach's voice.

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Aaron 4 years, 9 months ago

That is probably the best (and most charitable) explanation of Miles' relationship to the new series I've ever read. Thank you for that.

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J. L. Webb 4 years, 9 months ago

See, I would agree with this as a critique of Moff, but couldn't say I saw the assesment of Davies as in any real sense damning. Not least because this sympethy towards domesticity counters a lot of Davies dim view of working class life. Life with the doctor is still shown as better, but it can be made better by the values of normal people.

Additionally, it's an uphill struggle to argue that Moffat hasn't gone further to domesticate TARDIS life than any predicessor, albeit in his own peculiar way...

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Tommy 4 years, 9 months ago

I don't think there is a rationale behind Miles' condemnation of the Moffat era, infact by his own admission Miles has chosen to miss watching it.

Moffat's era isn't beyond criticism of course. I detested the philistine RTD years, but I think Russell made the showrunner's job look easy. And now Moffat's doing the job I think it's proving to be a juggling act, even though all the elements are right. Moffat's era started strong on Series 5, but that had a portion of the gap year in which to get right, and since then I think Moffat's been overworked and rather ended up losing his focus. I think the demands of the show's workload are leading to a more rushed approach to writing and editing, and leading to Moffat relying too much on River Song as his crutch, when she's been overused to the point she just isn't interesting anymore, and certainly not interesting enough to carry a season.

But lets not pretend Miles has any point to make about any of this. He hates Moffat for personal psychological reasons, he's admitted he's a volatile, not very well balanced and socially awkward individual with a tendency to bring alienation upon himself. Whereas Moffat is the witty, cool socialite who ladies love. It's not just jealousy that motivates Miles, but the way that he sees in Moffat's impeccable cool, only his own inadequacy and self-loathing reflected back at him (this might also be why in classic series terms, he much preferred the inadequate Fifth Doctor and despised the smartarsed later Tom Baker Doctor). In some ways I can sympathise because we exist in such a self-conscious media culture that won't let us forget our personal insecurities and failings to measure up, and thus breeds people like Lawrence Miles, but I firmly believe Miles' issues with Moffat are a malaise, not any kind of worthy argument.

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arcbeatle 4 years, 9 months ago

MS?

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BerserkRL 4 years, 9 months ago

Paley would be best known via Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker.

I think Paley's fame is pretty secure prior to and apart from any mention by Dawkins!

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BerserkRL 4 years, 9 months ago

and for once I mean deconstruction in its proper sense where, once dismantled, the concept continues functioning not just in spite of its contradictions but because of them

Ah, Proudhon ....

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

See, I would agree with this as a critique of Moff, but couldn't say I saw the assesment of Davies as in any real sense damning

The point here is not whether it's damning or not (it's not the main critique I would make of the Davies era) but how it relates to Miles's view of what Doctor Who should be.

And a major strain in Miles's criticism is that contemporary Doctor Who simply isn't imaginative enough: that it plays safe, that it is made so that people will like it (he accuses Davies as basically making the programme to get the approval of the media luvvies club).

And this grounding in the everyday, and exultation of the everyday, therefore, is a major sticking-point to someone who thinks that the purpose of Doctor Who is to be as imaginative and as far-from-the-everyday as possible. Look at The Book of the World for example: all big ideas, the only connection to Earth an abstract conceptual one.

Basically, Miles was going to hate Davies Doctor Who from the moment Davies made his famous 'Planet Zog' comment ('We need to return to Earth to get an emotional focus on what’s going on. If we’re on Planet Zog and Zog people are being affected by a monster, we couldn’t really give a toss. But if there’s a human colony on Planet Zog, then that’s more interesting'), because to Miles, the whole point of Doctor Who is to go to the planet Zog, or to the farthest reaches of rationality and consciousness, or deep into metatextuality, or to the end of time (or, in the case of the City of the Saved, past the end of time), and force the audience to think about Zog-people and their monsters.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

(And I know Miles didn't invent the City, but the point is that he developed it as editor).

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pmcray 4 years, 9 months ago

MS = manuscript.

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jane 4 years, 9 months ago

Indeed. And the fourth volume, too!

(Either the bottleneck's in those few extra essays that he's too busy to get to, what with the breakneck pace of the blog, or it's in the slender fingers of copyediting, in which case the editor needs a bit of a goosing.)

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

Tommy: Firstly I think you mean 'envy' there, not 'jealousy'.

But secondly, there clearly is a rationale behind Miles's condemnation of the Moffat era (and note I am not offering any judgement on whether it's a good rationale or not, or whether I agree with it). The fact the rationale may spring from Miles's own psychology has nothing to do with that. Miles sees Moffat as being more interested in impressing people than in making experimental, unusual, exploratory television, and the Moffat era of the programme as displaying those traits: of not being adventurous enough, of having 'cool' moments put in to be cool, of going with the dominant aesthetic codes of the day rather than challenging them.

Now. Miles may be right about all of those points, some of them or none of them. And even if he's right that this is the way the series under Moffat is made, he may be wrong that it's a bad thing (perhaps having 'cool moments' just for the sake of it is not that big a sin).

But to claim that it isn't a rationale is silly. It may be a stupid rationale; it may be a mistaken rationale; but it is a rationale. And just offering an explanation for why Miles holds that rationale doesn't stop it being one.

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jane 4 years, 9 months ago

That implies a striking sort of self-hatred, it does...

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 9 months ago

The first half of the Pertwee manuscript went out to the copyeditor this week, and I've got another twenty (MS Word, not book) pages revised that I've not sent her yet. I'd guess February or so, with Baker in late summer/early fall if all goes well.

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Jesse 4 years, 9 months ago

I've read very few of the Doctor Who original novels, so perhaps I'm a victim of a skewed sample here. But setting aside broad themes, on a prose level Miles' work is just head and shoulders above the rest. He really is good enough to be doing non-tie-in fiction, and it seems bizarre that at this point in his career he isn't.

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Aaron 4 years, 9 months ago

While this is true (It pains me so much that This Town Will Never Let Us Go will never get the wide audience it deeply deserves) I'm not sure his prose is completely out of the league of some of the others. Kate Orman, Paul Cornell, and Ben Aaronovitch (maybe also Jim Mortimore) also have strong prose styles and are probably much better than any of their contemporary authors. Which, is probably why Cornell is now doing TV and Aaronovitch is doing his own series of books. But you're right, it is very sad and bizarre that neither Miles nor Orman have really ventured outside of the Doctor Who universe.

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Aaron 4 years, 9 months ago

He definitely was never a fan of the Eighth Doctor, the Doctor he found to be his main Doctor. He actually has a weird relationship with Doctor Who, because he loves the Jon Pertwee era completely and utterly, even though, at least to my eyes, it is the utter antithesis of what he wants Doctor Who to be like. I think that has to do with him understanding Doctor Who more like some sort of cultural heritage than an ongoing TV show. He grew up watching Pertwee, so to him, that's his mythology he can draw from. He also has a very amusing anecdote about, as a kid, thinking the Peter Cushing Journey to the Center of the Earth movie was a Doctor Who story, since Peter Cushing starred in it, and being utterly disappointed when the actual show showed conclusively that there were no dinosaurs at the center of the Earth, like he had imagined. Which I think is telling. Doctor Who is very much a show about the mysterious world he knew as a child. Attempts to make it logical and rational, or to focus it on the mundane world of growing up, destroy the magic for him.

Actually, now that I think about it, I wonder if that's why he loves the fifth Doctor era too. That era treats the past of Doctor Who as a common mythology to draw on, in much the same way as he uses the show in Alien Bodies and Christmas on a Rational Planet. Of course, there are major differences, but I think it's worth remarking on.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

Hm. Do The Book of the War, This Town Will Never Let Us Go et seq, count as 'tie-in fiction'?

I mean, yes, Faction Paradox were first used in Doctor Who. But there was a fairly clear break-point when Mad Norwegian started publishing the books, where the explicit intent was that this was a new thing, an original work, that, yes, happened to be inspired by Doctor Who and written partly in reaction to it, but that should be considered to stand on its own two feet.

Most clearly in diegetic terms, the Faction Paradox universe contains no non-human races, while Doctor Who is absolutely swarming with the things. (Actually, I can't remember -- does Of The City of the Saved include hybrids? Which would imply the existence of non-human races, though still, the point remains they are kept completely off-stage).

Contrast with, say, the Benny Summerfield series, where there was no such break and, indeed, the intent has always been that they are the continuing adventures of the same character who travelled with the Doctor.

And yes there's the Homeworld and the Houses and whatnot, but then Gatiss has Lucifer Box and nobody claims his books are 'James Bond tie-ins'. Taking an established thing as inspiration and providing a new slant on it is a time-honoured literary technique.

So the answer to the question, I think, is that not only did Miles do non-tie-in fiction, he did it so well that other authors wanted to write tie-ins to his non-tie-in fictions, spawning a range of novels and short story collections which continues even to this day.

However, Miles is always going to be a... niche taste. His ideas are so out-there that, well, he's never going to have the mainstream appear of a bunch of London coppers discovering they can do magic (a market which can apparently support not just one but two ex-New Adventures writers). He's inherently a small-press writer, immensely rewarding for those who discover him, but not someone who'll ever make it onto the bestseller lists.

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Jesse 4 years, 9 months ago

I'd say it's a tie-in to a tie-in (or, if you prefer, a spin-off of a spin-off).

More importantly: As far as niche tastes go, I would expect Miles' work to appeal to fans of fiction in the Dick/Ballard/etc. mode (you could pitch Christmas on a Rational Planet as "imagine Robert Anton Wilson writing Doctor Who"), and while I certainly wouldn't claim that he's as good as Dick or Ballard or Wilson themselves, I would think he'd be able to climb above the Mad Norwegian Press league to a higher level of cult success.

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jane 4 years, 9 months ago

I haven't read his books, but I did get a chance to look over his Doctor Who script, the one with the Stolen Earth trapped in a book in The Library. While I liked the Big Ideas, I wasn't at all engaged with his characters -- there wasn't a single person in that script I actually cared about, in part because there's no attention to their emotional interiority, so there's no emotional payoff to be had. Is the rest of his fiction in this vein?

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Tiffany Korta 4 years, 9 months ago

The City of the Saved has half-human and Transhumans, it hints at it's links to Doctor Who. Including a "Doctor" who can visit because of his special status.

The thing about the Mad Norwegian stuff is that it has very little to do with Faction Paradox, only one of the books using them in any meaningful fashion. And apart from Book of the War, This City Will never let us go and some editor duties, Mr Miles seems to have very little to do with the line.

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Tiffany Korta 4 years, 9 months ago

I think it's probably a mix of the two, with him not agreeing with the approach the series is taking and the complicated relationship with all the other creators and writers of Who.

Of cause I don't know id it's all a Internet persona that Miles has created, does anyone know what he's like in person?

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arcbeatle 4 years, 9 months ago

thank you!

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peeeeeeet 4 years, 9 months ago

Is the rest of his fiction in this vein?

Not to the same degree, no, and definitely not in the case on Dead Romance.

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Christopher Haynes 4 years, 9 months ago

This may be a classic example of people who loved the concept rather than the show:

http://nzdwfc.tetrap.com/archive/tsv43/onediscussion.html

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Daibhid C 4 years, 9 months ago

This is where I admit I've never "got" Lawrence Miles. I read Christmas at the time ... well, shortly after the time, once I'd retrieved it from where it had landed after I'd read the bit about the gynoid. And I didn't get it. I could see there were some Big Ideas in there, but I couldn't connect to them, and the bits of the story I could connect to I mostly disliked, pegging Miles as one of the "cynical and depressing" NA authors (I first logged onto the internet in 1999; at this point I knew nothing of guns, frocks, rads or trads. But I knew what the NAs I didn't enjoy so much had in common). It's entirely possible I'm being unfair on him, but in a way that's my point; I was left with the feeling there was an entire side to this novel that I was missing. And that Miles was entirely uninterested in explaining it to me.

(My impression of Interference [Part One, then I gave up] was much the same, only more so. I did like Alien Bodies, though. Mind you, I wasn't at all surprised when Miles said in DWM that he hadn't realised it was funny when he wrote it...)

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 9 months ago

I've been reading through the New Adventures novels (just got to the final one, Dying Days) and it's such a mixed bag. One recurring problem I have are the sort of High Concept ideas (like the Eighth Man Bound) which might be fascinating ideas but are a bit too cerebral to translate into a Who style plot. And it's easy enough to spot the influence of Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, and others who were much, much better at integrating these kind of High Concept Ideas into a narrative.

But even with all my misgivings, it's probably the most fascinating and interesting excursion I've ever had into an Extended Universe. These guys are really trying to do something different and many of them are talented enough to almost, kind of pull it off despite their youth and inexperience.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 9 months ago

I think Miles, like a lot of fans, can be a bit too blinkered by their own vision of Doctor Who. The series endures because it can go outside of its comfort zone and do any manner of things, so a few years there, it was a domestic soap opera and worked beautifully.

And now it's something else.

And in the interests of immediately contradicting myself.

As for Miles himself. Having only read one of his books and assorted interviews, he seems to be far more interested in the wider lore than I am. I don't think world building is a particular strength of Who (so much of the lore is just stacked on top of other bits with absolutely no foresight to how it all worked together). Big Finish only really stumbled when it tried to remake the franchise into an on-going Gallifrian political soap opera with a looming Time War... that was never as interesting as just listening to the Doctor go out and have random adventures. So many of the ideas at the core of the as-yet-unread Miles books just leave me cold, because it seems so desperate to build something much bigger than Doctor Who.

So as not to contradict myself totally, this could conceivably work, but I've not enjoyed either the New Adventures or Big Finish's attempts to do so.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

By the way, did this website ever mention Joking Apart? Because if you want to study Moffat, that's surely the key.

Also the first ever appearance of the Melty Man.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 9 months ago

Yep. http://tardiseruditorum.blogspot.com/2012/09/pop-between-realities-home-in-time-for.html

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Brad Cast 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm gonna be honest, the distinction between doing something out-there because you should do something out-there and doing something out-there because it's cool is pretty meaningless.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

It's not, though, because if you're doing it to be cool then you confine yourself to the subset of out-there that is cool, and that's a very small set of out-there. Miles's example is that Moffat would never have done an episode half the fans loved and half hated like Love and Monsters, because he wants to impress everyone all of the time.

Again, not saying Miles is right here, but that is his thrust.

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Tommy 4 years, 9 months ago

"But to claim that it isn't a rationale is silly. It may be a stupid rationale; it may be a mistaken rationale; but it is a rationale. And just offering an explanation for why Miles holds that rationale doesn't stop it being one. "

No there is no rationale behind Lawrence's condemnation of an era he doesn't even watch. This is the guy who deliberately missed out on the whole of Season 5, tuned into the last ten minutes of The Pandorica Opens just so he could complain baselessly about how 'it didn't make sense'.

That's not a rationale, that's a joke. To claim it is a rationale is silly.

He can rant all he wants about how 'the show should be doing this or that', (based on what is obviously the thinking of a child of the Davison era, when the show itself was at its most warped and cultish) but he's already laid himself bare as having no leg to stand on because one could easily counter with 'and how would you know, you don't even watch it'.

What Lawrence Miles writes about the show under Moffat is plainly propaganda of the crassest kind, when the author literally has no awareness of what he's villifying, like First World War propagandists who said how the Germans eat babies and other such rubbish. Where the agenda is not even based in the remotest fact.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

Surely no one believes the old, 'If you haven't watched it you cannot comment' canard any more? That's just a close-down-discussion card played by those who want to end the conversation. 'You haven't watched it? There goes your locus standi, goodbye.'

And besides, we only have Miles's word that he hadn't watched it, and even if that was the truth at that point there's no reason to think he hasn't changed his mind since then.

But that being said, even if he doesn't watch it, he has a rationale for not watching it that is based on his idea of what it is like, informed by Moffat's previous work and by whatever he has heard about it.

If I say, 'I'm not watching that film because I have seen every one of the director's previous films and each was more boring than the last, and I have heard about this one and everything seems to suggest that it would actually make me gnaw off my hand just to have something to do' then I have a rationale for criticising it even though I have never seen it.

Again: it might be a wrong rationale, either because the era isn't doing what he thinks it's doing (and possibly he doesn't know that because he hasn't watched it), or because it is doing what he thinks it's doing and that's not actually a bad thing.

But it is a rationale.

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Contumacy Singh 4 years, 9 months ago

@SK

"Most clearly in diegetic terms, the Faction Paradox universe contains no non-human races, while Doctor Who is absolutely swarming with the things. (Actually, I can't remember -- does Of The City of the Saved include hybrids? Which would imply the existence of non-human races, though still, the point remains they are kept completely off-stage)."

Miles' Faction Paradox audios contained various non-humans, including the Egyptian-themed Osirians, the Sontarans, and a variety of genetically-modified background creatures.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 9 months ago

Tiffany -- actually Miles has to approve everything released under the Faction Paradox banner. While the FP books have only tangentially touched on the Faction themselves (with the exception of some of the Obverse short stories), they are *very* tied in with the larger storyline of the War...

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Contumacy Singh 4 years, 9 months ago

While Miles suffers (admittedly) from various mental and physical illnesses, and is one of the more irascible and controversial DW commentators, I find his work to be engaging and thought-provoking. His "BIG ideas" approach appeals to the same type of reader who likes Hard Sci-fi, much of which relies less on characterization, and more on plot. That's not a bad thing. It's simply a different flavor of fiction.

I think if Miles' public attacks on Moffat and others hadn't poisoned the well for him, he'd still be contributing exciting new fiction to Who, at least in the novel or audio ranges. As it is, he's alienated everyone who might have allowed him access to those venues. Imagine how quickly Big Finish would suffer some kind of sanction from the Moffat production office if they hired Miles to write an audio.

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SK 4 years, 9 months ago

Ah ha, you fell into my trap. In the Faction Paradox universe the Sontarans aren't an alien race: they are homunculi, artificially created clone soldiers. Like the genetically-modified creatures, they aren't true aliens.

Didn't know about the Osirians, though; looks like they appeared after I stopped listening to the radio plays. So okay, you can have that one.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 9 months ago

Actually they did hire Miles to write an audio in 2009 (a rather good Bernice Summerfield one -- and the story that came straight after that was a stealth Faction Paradox crossover), and he's said on Twitter that there's no longer a ban on him working for them -- the main thing that kept him from working for them in the past was personal animosity between him and Gary Russell.

Long before the TV series came back, he said that he didn't want to write any more straight Who stories, and he seems to have backed off from writing fiction altogether recently -- the only things he's done since that Benny audio were The Book Of The World and a great Lovecraft/Holmes thing called A Broodmare For Gloriana that he posted to a blog a year ago.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 9 months ago

That's the origin of the Sontarans in the Doctor Who 'universe' too. They're artificially created clone soldiers from Sontar. Still aliens.

There are also the Ysgarroth, the Malakh and so on.

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Contumacy Singh 4 years, 9 months ago

The Osirians appeared in the excellent 6-part series from Magic Bullet.

Well worth buying if you like FP and Miles.

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Gnaeus 4 years, 9 months ago

I think "Christmas" in some ways suffers from classic 'first novel' syndrome: there's just too much in it, and so much of it suffers as a consequence, as none of the ideas has room to breathe, and the whole thing comes across as slightly confused. As I recall, Miles' main criticism of the book now is that it's overwritten (and it says something for the man, I think, that he's willing to criticise his own work in such blunt terms in public).

The gynoids, as noted above, are unfortunate, and it's tempting to try and excuse them as either bleedthrough of the period setting on the narrative at large or a deliberate irrationality, but Miles doesn't seem terribly into the level of postmodernism which moves from knowing complexity to unrepentant smuggery, and the whole thing just rings hollow.

Can't say I thought of the idea that the Time Lords' own rationality was founded on an irrational basis, but this does elegantly tie up the problem of the amaranth (otherwise an inexcusable macguffin), and also neatly turn Matheson into a curious, distorted parallel.

I think the back of the book is interesting, though: Europe is recovering from the Age of Reason, it starts out, before saying that "the Vatican is learning to cope with Napoleon" (what a parallel!), and then America "is celebrating a new era of independence".

There's a wonderful sense of ambivalence about big-r Reason (and, implicitly, what Dr Sandifer calls Big-Ass Science), which is of course marvellously in tune with the period's own tensions between Rationalism and the fundamentally irrational (i.e., the hellfire clubs, the masons, the emergence of tarot, the obsession with hermetic wisdom, the Count of St-Germain, etc.).

(It's worth noting that Miles is clearly very interested in the period in question and obviously knows his stuff about it, not only because he returns to it in the FP audios [first round] and Henrietta Street, but also because of the degree of research he obviously does on it on each revisit, which is often above and beyond the 'here's what I remember from primary school with some classic sci-fi reductionism thrown in' approach of some other authors.)

I don't think that I can agree that Miles' characters are emotionally unengaging or bland. Certainly, he doesn't bash you over the head with these things in the way the new series does (most offensively, but not exclusively, in Murray Gold's melodramatic incidental orchestration). But I think what he leaves in their speech and their actions is often enough to paint a fairly clear picture of their emotional state.

I'm also not sure I can agree he's the only author who writes decently in the run, though I also disagree with the list presented by someone in response. I find Kate Orman (at least in conjunction with Jon Blum) unreadably bland, and found 'Vampire Science' like chewing on something gloopy, chewy and tasteless. (It doesn't help that large chunks of the early book are spent with Sam looking through filing cabinets, from what I remember.) On the other hand, I find Marc Platt very easy to read (even his "Cat's Cradle" book, which in terms of content is pretty much the epitome of 'over-complicated and incoherent'), and was pleasantly surprised, on reading "Lucifer Rising" after the review here at how well-written that was. Nevertheless, it's fairly clear that Miles is one of the most stylistically confident writers to have done a Dr Who novel.

I also can't sign up to the idea that having 'big ideas' makes a novel less good. That seems to turn literature on its head.

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Aaron 4 years, 9 months ago

I think Room With No Doors or Seeing I is where you want to go to get a taste of Kate Orman as a writer. I too find Vampire Science bland and unengaging, but that's definitely the exception and not the rule for her. I'd agree that I really like Marc Platt, but his writing is not really on the same level as mainstream novelists. For instance, Lungbarrow is good, but reading it in context of the Jim Mortimore and Kate Orman that precede it, his prose style comes across as very much weaker. Lucifer Rising I'd also agree with, it's very well written. However, Andy Lane, while good, has not shown himself in future books to rise above the general level of tie in fiction (as Phil argued in the article on Original Sin) and Jim Mortimore is not often to my personal tastes. So it's hard for me to put both of them on a list of authors who write above and beyond the rest.

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Gnaeus 4 years, 9 months ago

I have to confess, it's been a while since I've read Platt, and I'm far from encyclopedic in my knowledge of the Who novels. From what I remember of reading Lungbarrow years ago, I hugely enjoyed it (probably, on reflection, more for its myth-building than its style per se).

I seem to remember trying "Unnatural History" after Vamp/Sci and finding much the same problem, so perhaps it's Blum's influence on the novels that I find rebarbative.

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Aaron 4 years, 9 months ago

I like Unnatural History a lot, and I think the world of Jon Blum, so I hate to agree here, but my experience has been that her solo novels have a far more distinctive style to them than the Blorman ones. Sometimes, as in the case of Return of the Living Dad, they read like a excited (and good) fanfic, but sometimes, as in the case of Set Piece, they read as stylistically mature. Although Year of the Intelligent Tigers I found similar in style to Vampire Science (although better written overall).

And yes, I hugely enjoyed Lungbarrow too. But reading it back to back with Room With No Doors, I was just struck by how much Room With No Doors felt like a real novel while Lungbarrow felt like tie in fiction. I've had that same reaction from other Who fans I've lent those books to. Time's Crucible, done early in the range when most of the books weren't polished or stylistically complex, fits perfectly; Lungbarrow, done when competing with a much higher level of quality, shows how little Platt has grown as a writer in the intervening years. That's why I tend to think that though the likes of Andy Lane, Marc Platt, and Lance Parkin* are wonderful, they never really transcend the sort of tie in fiction they write.

*Excepting Warlords of Utopia.

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Tiffany Korta 4 years, 9 months ago

Don't get me wrong I like the FP books, but...

If there is a Miles Master Plan it's more obscure than Cartmels. How does Erasing Sherlock fit into the war, apart from the fact that it's involve a time traveller?

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 9 months ago

"Surely no one believes the old, 'If you haven't watched it you cannot comment' canard any more? That's just a close-down-discussion card played by those who want to end the conversation."

But, it does close down discussion, because you haven't actually engaged with the thing that you're criticizing in any real way.

"I read some summaries on the internet of what happened and so I think it sucks" isn't good enough. The episodes are only 45 minutes long, and available through every streaming service in existence. At least give it a shot, rather than reiterating a bunch of generic slurs against the producer. That kind of criticism is worth about as much as the "Star Wars? Isn't that the dumb movie with the silly puppets?" sort.

I remember getting into an argument with a lit professor about Frank Miller's Sin City in this very same way, where he dismissed the series completely out of hand based on a couple pictures he'd seen in the back of Wizard. He just didn't like noir and figured that it couldn't be good. Which would have been fine if he'd said it like that, rather than proceeding to launch into a half-hour diatribe about what he thought the series was about and why it stunk, getting major plot points and themes completely wrong in the process (Marv isn't the main character in all of the stories, the color palate changes depending on the story, Dwight isn't Marv's boss, Manute isn't the main bad guy of the series, etc.), and making him appear terribly foolish in my eyes. There are many, many, MANY criticisms to be made of Sin City, but you ought to read the damn thing before you start spouting off, so your criticisms actually make sense. Oddly, this same professor was a passionate and enthusiastic fan of Miller's Elektra: Assassin and The Dark Knight Returns, so who knows what was going on there...

It is a rationale, but it's a bad one that deserves criticism for being lazy and over-reaching. I've disliked enough M. Night Shamalyan films to say that I'm never going to see one again. I could give you a five thousand word essay about what's wrong with "The Last Airbender," because I saw it and I hated it. If he put out a new film, the only criticism I'm going to level at it is "I dislike this director, so I'm not going to pay money to watch his work." Full stop. I wouldn't write him a passive-aggressive letter asking to join the writing team that starts "Dear Cheeky-Chops..." because I think there's a lot of traction in the "twist ending horror movie" genre that I could do much better.

(I should note here that I think Miles is an amazing writer, and that This Town Will Never Let Us Go and Dead Romance are two of my favorite sci fi books. Sometimes he's very witty and engaging and a delight to read, but this style of spouting off really rubs me the wrong way.)

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 9 months ago

Miles' spouting off, I mean, not SK's. Your response was clear and well written, even if I disagree with it :)

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Alex Wilcock 4 years, 9 months ago

Catching up very late with the last few entries, so I’ll truncate this as no-one’s likely to be still checking back and reading it…

I love most of Lawrence’s work – though not all of it – and, unlike him, think this is a terrific book. Particularly taking some of Marc Platt’s ideas and running with / overturning them. Yes, the gender essentialism is jarring, but weirdly so even in context: it doesn’t even fit at all with Roz Forrester (who I think Lawrence has said is his favourite NA companion), nor her characterisation in the book (and certainly not the TARDIS’s). But I won’t go into analysing his opinions at length, as I’ve just read 55 other comments and feel I know less than when I started. It’s as if all those reviews Lawrence wrote saying how much he loved Russell’s new Who never happened.

One question, though, to anyone who happens to come back to this comment thread and is even more obsessive than I am: Phil, above, cites the Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide’s useful list of references above, though rather oddly takes it as absolute gospel that there are not, in fact, references to every single Twentieth Century Doctor Who story. I last read Christmas On A Rational Planet a few years ago and, after checking off the Disco list (almost all of which were convincing), tried keeping an eye out as I read for any that were missing from their collection. I found plausible references for about half those still outstanding – which makes it all the more likely, surely, that there could well be more that both I and the Disco missed.

If you’re a keener-eyed fan than me, then, why not post a comment here or drop me a line if you’ve identified references to the following, which by my reckoning are still missing from the text:

Mission to the Unknown
The Seeds of Death
The Green Death
Planet of Evil
Pyramids of Mars
The Seeds of Doom
The Horns of Nimon
Full Circle
Arc of Infinity
Mawdryn Undead
The Caves of Androzani
The Twin Dilemma
Vengeance On Varos
Delta and the Bannermen
Silver Nemesis

And, appropriately for this blog, I found one that could be for The Celestial Toymaker, but it’s very iffy…

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