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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Alex Watts
    March 9, 2020 @ 4:57 pm

    “The truth is that to do a Silurian story with any moral integrity, you’d have to approach it in a way that is fundamentally and massively hostile to the entire cultural context in which Doctor Who is made”

    On this basis, how fair is it to criticise Doctor Who for existing in this context? I’m not saying I don’t agree, but this critique seems to over-savagely land the responsibility for the moral mess of this story on Doctor Who and its production, and not the of state of the UK and its culture and television. It’s putting the entire blame for a cold on a single sneeze.


  2. Christopher Brown
    March 9, 2020 @ 11:37 pm

    Not until Kerblam! a decade later did I find myself hating a Doctor Who story I’d expected to like more than when I saw this story for the first time.

    The ironic bit, as far as Eruditorum is concerned? My friend and brother were also disappointed by what they saw of this. Afterwards, we watched Invasion of the Dinosaurs and enjoyed it. Quote from my friend: “Now that’s a good Doctor Who episode!” XD


    • wyngatecarpenter
      March 10, 2020 @ 12:04 am

      Invasion Of The Dinosaurs is my 8 year old son’s favourite classic Who story. I put that down to two things; firstly he’s obsessed with dinosaurs; secondly he didn’t find it remotely scary. On the other hand I put on Carnival Of Monsters once thinking that he wouldn’t be too bothered by it. Instead he had nightmares about the Drashigs for a couple of weeks afterwards.


  3. wyngatecarpenter
    March 10, 2020 @ 12:13 am

    I can’t really disagree with this assessment of the story. I do wonder about the naming of the Sea Devils though. It was previously going to be called The Sea Silurians. I wonder if Sea Devils was chosen as a more exciting , less clunky name and the dialogue was changed without giving it too much thought. It seems a bit odd that the Doctor uses this name. It doesn’t really excuse it of course, but you’d have expected Hulke togive it a bit more thought. (On the other hand he also came up with the name Silurians for a race that appear to be from the Jurassic, and then in this story has the Doctor say that they shiould really have been called the Eocenes, so maybe thinking through the meaning of names wasn’t Hulke’s thing).


    • Lambda
      March 11, 2020 @ 10:04 am

      Or maybe Hulke just wasn’t very good at geology.

      It’s easy to forget nowadays that getting such things right in the 1970s would likely require a trip to the library.


  4. Sleepyscholar
    March 10, 2020 @ 6:30 am

    I don’t know whether it was intentional or accidental, but my formatting of the page had “It’s” followed by a picture of a Sea Silurian emerging from the sea, Michael Palin-like. Absolute genius either way.

    I also very much enjoyed having a story that was one of my favourites as a kid (watched on transmission) trashed so forensically and deservedly.


    • Aylwin
      March 10, 2020 @ 8:32 am

      This happens, but that is an exceptionally good one. My favourite previous case was the Sleep No More post.


  5. Aylwin
    March 10, 2020 @ 8:44 am

    Well, using Doctor Who as a lens through which to view its context is pretty much the object of the exercise here, so I don’t think “Doctor Who’s not to blame, it’s the society that made it” is an objection that really makes sense here.

    And I’m not sure fairness to it is a priority. As I understand it, Dalek Eruditorum is a polemic, in dialogue with its predecessor, in a way that partly reflects the author’s changes in outlook over time, but is also partly about just taking a different perspective. It is not aiming to be balanced and comprehensive. Indeed,on the level of individual stories, even TARDIS Eruditorum was avowedly prone to going easy on some and hard on others, in service to a larger rhetorical design. This is the counsel for the prosecution.


    • Aylwin
      March 10, 2020 @ 8:46 am

      Sod, that was meant to be a reply to Alex Watts above.


    • Alex Watts
      March 10, 2020 @ 12:45 pm

      I do appreciate that – both in this and in the original Eruditorum – the writer (the Two Sandifers, to both adopt the premise of this revisit and suggest a crossover episode) is creating a narrative as much as ‘writing criticism’.

      But the counsel for the prosecution implies the existence of – potentially the necessity for – a defence. I’m suggesting the CPS may have misfired on this one. You’re attempting to sentence a single bullet, not even the weapon and certainly not whoever pulled the trigger

      Abandoning this decreasingly sensical analogy, I don’t think it’s wholly counterproductive to look at the extent to which we should expect an artefact from a different cultural context (be it the 1970s at home or 2020 abroad) to match with the values we’ve arrived at by living from our birth and having experiences until this moment in time, and the intensity with which we should condemn it if and when it fails.


      • Sleepyscholar
        March 10, 2020 @ 11:35 pm

        As I suggested above, this was one of my favourites as a kind, so you might expect me to rise to its defence. However, I would say that El is not ‘expecting’ an artefact from the past to match our values. She is judging it by her current values, because such an interrogation throws light on both.


        • Sleepyscholar
          March 10, 2020 @ 11:43 pm

          As a kid. Why can’t I type any more?


  6. prandeamus
    March 10, 2020 @ 12:48 pm

    The name “Sea Devils” is problematic on several layers, because it pushes the creatures into generic monster territory and it also continues the grand tradition of Who writers coming up with utterly implausible scientific names (Homo Reptilia, indeed, Mr. Chibnall, I’m looking at you).

    Devil has a significance because of the quasi-religious imagery, just like Bok and Azal.

    Introducing the “white man’s burden” into the mix is completely unnecessary. Or, being more generous, there’s a loser connection to colonialism and oppressed peoples, but it doesn’t need the Kipling imagery to make it work. Until reading this article I’d simply interpreted Devil=Monster, much as the S7 story was novelised as Dr. Who and the Cave Monsters.

    It IS a worthwhile thing to talk about, but I don’t find it necessary as an interpretive point.


    • CJM123
      March 12, 2020 @ 12:20 am

      I love Homo Reptilla because it implies there is an evolutionary link between them and humans. When even just inverting the name would make it clearer this is a case of convergent evolution, not divergent evolution.

      I think the Kipling reference is fair game. Devil is the most used representation of an “underformed society in British literature” (the whole phrase is in quotation marks because it’s icky to say but the best I can come up with.). And the Sea Devils asks to be more closely read in relation to colonialism than religion. So, a colonial story relies on colonial ideas and commonplaces.


    • Jim Fung
      February 26, 2023 @ 1:00 am

      I’m fairly certain “Homo Reptilia” was around already before Chibnall’s Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. The Tardis wiki suggests it was in Hulke’s novelisation of the original Silurian story.


  7. Paul F Cockburn
    March 12, 2020 @ 9:35 am

    Ms Sandifer, an enlightening read, but the pedant in me can’t help but rule at some sloppy fact-checking:

    Malcolm Hulke was, for many years, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain—not to be confused with the later Communist Party of Britain or indeed any other Communist Party in the world, current or otherwise.

    ‘Colony in Space’ was NOT about “a bunch of working class miners oppressed by an evil corporation”—it’s primarily about a bunch of middle class farmers being threatened by a self-serving mining corporation while being mildly condescending to an indigenous culture thousands of years old. (Most of those working for the mining company seemed OK with doing so.)

    Madame Vastra was happy to eat Jack the Ripper and the Camberwell Child Poisoner but, as far as I can remember, never ate another of her species (whatever we call it). So, not a cannibal then.

    Can I also ask how propaganda FOR the Royal Navy is inherently any worse in terms of television drama than propaganda against it?


    • kevin merchant
      March 12, 2020 @ 12:37 pm

      You are right. The farmers were as middle class as the majority of the survivors in um “The Survivors”.


    • CJM123
      March 12, 2020 @ 10:40 pm

      Propaganda for the Royal Navy is propaganda for a tangible thing that does a lot of bad things, including operating the British nuclear programme. To make propaganda for it is to take a deliberate stance on its merit, and side-step, ignore or accidentally promote British imperialism, aggression and nuclear weapons.

      Anti-Naval propaganda is for a concept, a concept that can be as nuanced or angry as it wants. And because “Peace is good” is not an inherently disgusting idea, it has far more room and scale than the opposite.

      Also, I’m not sure Doctor Who should promote nuclear weapon wielding groups at the best of times. Let alone whilst destroying an indigenous population.


  8. wyngatecarpenter
    April 19, 2020 @ 1:03 pm

    “The Doctor just calmly parrots the description given by the repair man who sees them, apparently thinking that this is a perfectly acceptable thing to call the indigenous reptiles.”

    Apologies if I missed something but I’ve just rewatched it and I didn’t notice that ,the only reference I noticed came from the repair man. Throughout the script appears to suggest that the creatures are more or less indistinguishable from the Silurians. Terrance Dicks recalls in the extra features that the story was called The Sea Devils to give it a more exciting name and somewhere along the way in the production it was decided to give them a design modelled on a turtle, making them quite distinct from Silurians. Fan lore tends to require monsters to have a name so I guess that’s why “Sea Devils” stuck. In other words I’mnot convinced that the colonial slur interpretation isreally supported by the story. Of course Hulke’s novel may be different , I can’t remember now.


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