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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.

71 Comments

  1. Tommy
    January 7, 2013 @ 2:05 am

    Judging by Peel's novelizations of Whitaker's Dalek stories, I'm not convinced he shared Nation's antipathy toward them. Infact I suspect the main motivation behind why John Peel resurrected Skaro was so that Evil of the Daleks would still stand as the Daleks' 'final end'. So he was probably very faithful to the letter of Whitaker.

    I guess this book's too uncool to be associated with the 'timey-wimey' meme.

    The main problem with the book i think can be summed up as trying to force a square peg into a round hole, specifically a hole where the plot should be. There's no story here, it's just an excuse to stitch together fannish vignettes and gratuitous pluggings of continuity holes. I don't mind saying that it's fairly readable and occasionally thrilling, but it's ultimately hollow.

    The rectonning might have been manageable if it had stuck to its purpose of saving Skaro. Sure it'd still be a mean-spirited vandalism of someone else's work, but it wouldn't be a mess. The Daleks found out about Remembrance's events by raiding the Ministry of Defence records. Makes sense. The Doctor was using the randomizer in Destiny of the Daleks so he might not have actually been on Skaro that time? Fortuitous enough.

    But then, needlessly, he retcons the entire Movellan war as a fabrication of the Daleks' own making, and it just becomes stupid and unwieldy. It falls apart if you think about it a moment. It would mean that the Daleks, in order to fool Davros, actually created the Movellan plague with the purpose of wiping out an entire taskforce of them, and letting the people of Earth have them. And so in its quest to restore the Daleks to their 1960's power and get back to how they were before Davros upstaged and divided them, the book actually has them shoot themselves in the foot and makes them more berzerk, and suicidally neurotic than ever.

    The whole problem with the book could be summed up as 'overkill'.

    I mean sure, I would have liked Destiny to include some explanation as to who the Movellans are and who created them and why. But this wasn't the answer any of us wanted.

    It's a shame you're not covering Terror Firma, as I think it's a brilliant critique of Peel, and an example of how to do this kind of convoluted retconning story right. Because it all comes down to the focus and framing device of Davros' personal revenge against the Doctor and determination to destroy his life and his spirit. It actually compliments the character, carries a personal stake, and is more than just a gratuitous insertion that has less to do with this story than some others the author doesn't like.

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  2. Spacewarp
    January 7, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    I had that board game. I wish I still did, the little plastic Daleks were cool.

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  3. Prole Hole
    January 7, 2013 @ 2:52 am

    Well the other thing to say about this book, and sorry if this seems obvious or if the point is already clearly-enough made, but the writing really is Target-level childish. Genocide may be an enjoyable if unremarkable book, but it never reads like Terrance Dicks circa 1977. The plotting in War Of The Daleks is indeed horrible-to-non-existant, the characters are vague, generic and uninteresting, the fanwank ridiculous, and the retcon just ghastly but for me what sinks it more than anything else is the just-awful writing. Even the worst of the early EDAs are written better than this (yes, even The Eight Doctors!).

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  4. Steven Clubb
    January 7, 2013 @ 3:30 am

    I think what's so totally wrong about story is it violates the one rule that modern Doctor Who fandom is built upon: there is no canon.

    There's really two major categories of retcons, which I'll label Positive and Negative.

    The Positive Retcon is all about taking stuff that doesn't work and providing an explanation to make it work. The vast majority of fannish excess in the Virgin years is of this nature, it's explaining how the cricket ball in Four To Doomsday can break the laws of physics. The various attempts to fit the Cybermen stories into a coherent narrative is probably the single most massive retcon of this type Doctor Who fans have had to endure.

    The Negative Retcon is all about removing an offending story or idea from the Continuity. And while I'm aware of a few examples of someone ignoring a cricket ball, I think War of the Daleks is really the first time in an official Doctor Who that someone got really ambitious about it. And we've still got the Bottle Universe and the destruction of Gallifrey ahead of us.

    In a previous reply here, I said a massive Fan Civil War had broken out (the opening salvo being Ace's death in Doctor Who Magazine), although in the spirit of retcon and meta-stories, I'd like to change that to a Time War. The fan-writers of Doctor Who are doing nothing less than battling over the official time-line of the Doctor Who Universe and this is the real Time War that the Eighth Doctor fought in the Wilderness Years.

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  5. Ross
    January 7, 2013 @ 3:32 am

    Infact I suspect the main motivation behind why John Peel resurrected Skaro was so that Evil of the Daleks would still stand as the Daleks' 'final end'. So he was probably very faithful to the letter of Whitaker.

    Though, ironically, our host argued rather compellingly that even at the time, no one seriously expected Evil of the Daleks to be the "final end".

    The idea that Evil of the Daleks is the Real True Final Once And For All End Despite All The Other Stories is something I don't think I've encountered much outside of "The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book" by — hey look at that — John Peel. (Though the time I saw him at a convention in the early 90s, he claimed that no one had ever read that book)

    —-

    Arguably the total rejection of John Nathan-Turner’s declaration that Dimensions in Time was canon and should have a production code prefigured this

    What's the deal with production codes anyway? When the series was resurrected back in '05, one of the hottest topics of debate was "But what are the production codes for the new stories???" For that matter, when the TVM happened, there was a big "But what production code shall we use?" argument.

    Is it just "We need something to be the primary key in our databases"?

    One of the things I remember most reading War of the Daleks near its original publication was being bothered when the Doctor repeatedly takes unambiguous responsibility for the destruction of Skaro. Like, I think when they reveal that Skaro still exists, the Doctor's actual line of dialogue is "But that's impossible! I destroyed Skaro!"

    Given how big a part of the Seventh Doctor's character it was that he went out of his way to not be responsible for the destruction he had a hand in, that seemed like one of the most retconny things about the book.

    (From the vantage point I've got now, I have the option of viewing this as an element of the eighth doctor's character — that while the 7th doctor could manipulate and be content to say that it wasn't his fault because it was Davros's finger that pushed the button, the 8th doctor knows better. But I'm not prepared to credit Peel for that, given that he's not actually going for having any sort of specific characterization for the doctor)

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  6. sorrywehurtyourfield
    January 7, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    I've always found it liberating that Doctor Who lacks a creator-auteur figure looming over it, like Gene Roddenbury or George Lucas, having their word treated with total reverance by sections of fandom. The murky nature of even its initial creation 1963 works against this, and it's been very healthy IMO. Indeed, the shift to a more auteur-led, "officially"-organised creative structure for the series in 2005 took some adjusting to….

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  7. Daibhid C
    January 7, 2013 @ 6:34 am

    Fun fact: Peel wrote a column in Starburst magazine in which he criticised Star Trek: Voyager for rehashing old stories from previous Treks rather than having ideas of their own. At the time I wondered if there were two John Peels (well, two telefantasy-related John Peels; I knew he wasn't the DJ), since surely no-one could be that un-self-aware…

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  8. Stephen
    January 7, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    The idea that Evil of the Daleks is the Real True Final Once And For All End Despite All The Other Stories is something I don't think I've encountered much outside of "The Official Doctor Who and the Daleks Book" by — hey look at that — John Peel.

    It also turns up in Jean Marc L'Officier's The Terrestrial Index, which was the companion volume to his Programme Guide. The bulk of the book was a chronology of the Doctor Who Universe based only on the TV Series (up to Survival). This chronology uses the New Skaro theory (that Evil of the Daleks takes place not on the original Skaro, but on a replacement Dalek home planet)>

    On an entirely different note, the basic plot outline (sans retcon) made for a very good read when it was recycled (this time using actual characters) for the Tenth Doctor novel Prisoner of the Daleks.

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  9. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 7:35 am

    Oh, man. I am so stealing the Positive/Negative Retcon terminology.

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  10. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    So, I read War of the Daleks in preparation for this article, and… um… I didn't hate it?

    In fact I thought it was… okay? I mean, not good, but… the way it was talked about, I expected some horrifying mashup of Timewyrm: Genesis and The Eight Doctors. Instead, it was a reasonably well-paced runaround, with some good character moments (I don't really get why the main Thals aren't considered "real characters") and some nice funny moments. Indeed, its main problems were the huge buildup to a very "meh" revelation, and the fact that the main conflict at the end just kinda disintegrates to Daleks vs. Daleks with no real impact outside of that.

    But I've read far worse books. I'd call it better than Blood Heat, for instance, because it doesn't stop every few paragraphs to lecture the audience that you should make peace with your horrifying invasive overlords. That said, I don't think I've seen any worse Dalek stories; even Daleks in Manhattan wins out just for having original ideas.

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  11. Arkadin
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:11 am

    This is one of the two Doctor Who books I've attempted while reading this blog that I was unable to finish. The other being, of course, Timewyrm: Genesys. So that's 0/2 for finishing John Peel books. It actually wasn't totally badly written, and now that we're several Dalek stories removed from the retcon I didn't hate it. It was competently written most of the way through, which is more than can be said for a great many books. I might even have been able to finish it if I hadn't made the "mistake" of watching Asylum of the Daleks after I'd started. Generic Military SF of the Daleks couldn't help but feel dull and hidebound after that. It does have its uses though–I read from some of the book in order to put myself to sleep when I got too excited after watching Asylum.

    Peel seems particularly keen to disavow the idea of the Daleks having any subjectivity and interiority: ‘Daleks have no interest in anything but conquest and war. Art, decoration, poetry, music – it’s all irrelevant to them.’" This was a swipe against the recurring concept of Dalek poetry, which was first suggested by Ben Aaronovich in the Remembrance novelization, IIRC, and developed in The Also People. Asylum, by contrast, establishes the Daleks have their own form of aesthetics (they won't wipe out the "broken" Daleks because they consider hatred to be beautiful). The episode humanizes them, but in a way that brings their alien-ness into sharp relief.

    I wouldn't say that John Peel acted like "the worst possible version of what people feared he might be," though, since there didn't seem to be any rape in this book. War of the Daleks, while pretty wretched by comparison to Parkin and Orman/Blum, or even the gloriously thorough ridiculousness of the Eight Doctors, which was at least never dull, at least had some vague moral compass since it was imitating classic Dalek stories instead of shitty sword and sorcery, and was therefore a better book than Genesys. That said, it seems like the fandom of the time didn't worry much about such things, if the DWRG reviews of Genesys and such are anything to go by. It didn't get anywhere near the hatred War of the Daleks did even though it more than deserved it. Say what you like about social justice fandom, but I'm glad at least some of us now consider trivializing rape to be a more serious sin than poorly thought out retcons.

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  12. Arkadin
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:18 am

    I do think the shift to a more auteur-centric version of Doctor Who has had a negative effect on the discourse surrounding the show. It means that far too often, discussions of Moffat's or RTD's Doctor Who turn into ad hominem arguments about the good or bad qualities of these showrunners–for instance, whether Moffat is sexist (or rather, the same scripted argument over and over again)–instead of examinations of the stories on their own terms. I'm certainly guilty of letting my personal annoyance of RTD towards the end get in the way of understanding how that version of the Doctor Who works, when it does work.

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  13. Matthew Celestis
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:23 am

    I liked this book. I found it really enjoyable. It's easy to read and full of action. I imagine younger fans who love Daleks would really enjoy all be Star Wars-inspired combat in it.

    Yes, the big retcon about the destruction of Skaro seems pointless. What was the big deal about Evil of the Daleks being the final end of the Daleks. Yet I can't help admiring the cheek of John Peel in doing it. And it is done in a really clever way.

    It's not the Daleks change history; rather they cheat and fool history. It's a level of 'timey-wimeyness' that is probably cleverer than a lot of the stuff Moffat does.

    What is more, War of the Daleks makes the Daleks impressive again. They are so cunning in this book! After all those stories in which Davros dominates and overshadows the Daleks, they finally outwit Davros. He is made to look like a complete idiot in this story, instead of the mundane evil scientist mastermind.

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  14. J Mairs
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:45 am

    "It's not the Daleks change history; rather they cheat and fool history. It's a level of 'timey-wimeyness' that is probably cleverer than a lot of the stuff Moffat does."

    Or – put another way – it's Series 6

    (albeit less interesting as it's lacking the meta-textuality of Moffat's work)

    As a side note, I have no issue with the retcon: Peel clearly got his facts wrong. This story is clearly set during the offscreen Trial of Davros between Revelation and Remembrance (after all, how many times can the same person be put on trail for incoherent reasons. Besides the Doctor, I mean) and the destruction of Skaro's sun is an eschatological event taking place far in the Dalek's future; The Emperor is bluffing when he claims to have fixed it.

    As for "The Final End" – that was indeed the final end… until those silly Time Lords intervened – evidently to make a retcon on Dalek History and attempt to bring some semblance of order to it so it make canonical sense.

    That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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  15. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    I note that Peel did continue the whole creepy "perfectly beautiful" thing about the Thals, but at least had the decency to contrast it with their brutality.

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  16. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 9:01 am

    The weird thing about War of the Daleks is how much it undermines its own retcon, with several characters doubting the veracity of it in ways that are never contradicted.

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  17. Dr. Happypants
    January 7, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    "War of the Daleks" was the worst Doctor Who book I ever read, one of the least enjoyable books I've ever finished, and the last straw that convinced me that I didn't really need to keep up with DW and fandom after Virgin lost its license. I still picked up books sporadically when I heard something especially good was coming along–at least until "The Ancestor Cell" killed even that for me–but the magic was gone. Sloppy, pointless, and generic, that sums up most of the initial run of the EDAs to a T.

    I still can't get over how riddled with continuity errors WotD is, in a book so obsessed with continuity fetishism. And I don't mean it clashes with other stories: I mean internal contradictions within the book itself, like the Davros thing Phil noticed. Or Antalin being the fake blown-up Skaro here, and Antalin being an un-blown-up waterworld at the same time over there. The only way to make sense of the plot is to assume everything the Dalek Prime says is a lie, and that the whole thing is a practical joke.

    And given a whole novel as a canvas upon which to paint the glory of the Daleks unshackled by budgets or any constraint but imagination, John Peel gives us…really large Daleks with legs. And Spider-Daleks like from that crap movie proposal. Mr Peel, truly you spoil us with your creative bounty.

    At least "The Pit" was shooting for cosmic when it landed face-first in the dung. And at least "The Pit" had prose bad enough to be often hilarious, instead of prose merely so bad it was bad. When you've made "The Pit" start to look good in comparison, something has gone dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. It makes one pine for Eric Saward.

    I'm sure Peel managed to work in a reference to mercury somewhere in the book, which I suppose is ironic considering it's the least mercurial story ever.

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  18. Adam Riggio
    January 7, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Of course, it's not just that War of the Daleks is a mediocre to terrible book. That's the review blog conclusion, which wouldn't advance on any of the reviews of the book since it first came out. What matters is that this is where the fragmentation of Doctor Who really steps into high gear. War of the Daleks is a story that attempts to erase everything interesting and strange that had been developed for one of the pillars of Doctor Who. It reduces the Daleks to their original concept of evil aliens that think only of hate.

    All the aspects of the Daleks that had been developed through Whitaker's and Aaronovitch's stories were being retconned away to return to the generic space monster, as if the origin was a more fertile or productive place than the full articulation of its history. War of the Daleks is a cracking solid adventure, but the best Dalek stories operate as more than this. The novel tried to reduce them back to cracking solid adventure villains and nothing more. If this book had been at all influential in shutting down the narrative possibilities it wanted to, Shearman's, Davies', Raynor's and Moffat's Dalek stories would have been impossible. We should be glad the retcon was so convoluted and ridiculous that fans outright rejected it.

    Phil is right that this is a powerful precedent. It's not that Doctor Who was literally taken out of the hands of its creators — the BBC still holds the copyright, after all. But the fragmentation the fallout of War of the Daleks started made the creators of Doctor Who lose the power to define Doctor Who. In essence, a master narrative defines exhaustively its subject: Doctor Who is delimited in the following terms, x, y, z, etc. It's another iteration of Whoniverse thinking, as we understood it through the analyses of the Saward era.

    Even though the production of the show rests under the dominion of a single Svengali figure (and I don't know how much of this model will survive after the already-decentralizing Moffat era), these creators don't have the power to define Doctor Who itself in the exhaustive manner that a master narrative requires. The contemporary showrunner can define their version or overall aesthetic of Doctor Who. But once they clock out, a new vision takes off with no necessary reference to old ideas, storylines, or possibilities.

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  19. Arkadin
    January 7, 2013 @ 9:35 am

    Of course, there's a dark side to this lack of a master narrative as well. Look at how people systematically failed to follow up on or even notice most of Lawrence Miles's best ideas. (Rather like Grant Morrison at contemporary DC, which somehow both suffers from too much and too little controlling vision.)

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  20. Arkadin
    January 7, 2013 @ 9:42 am

    It's somewhat like a continuity equivalent of the Law of Prescriptive Retaliation in linguistics: any story designed to mainly fix continuity will make it vastly more confusing and broken and/or have glaring continuity errors itself.

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  21. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 9:44 am

    Adam: I think "master narrative" is being taken too far here – there seems to be an underlying idea that any kind of unifying threads are bad, un-Who-ish. Which is both untrue and leads to the kind of thing Arkadin is talking about.

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  22. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    He seriously seemed to love those spider-Daleks!

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  23. Ross
    January 7, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    @J Mairs: I will happily acknowledge that there is a certain similarity between the Emperor "setting Davros up" in order that Skaro would survive despite there being honest documentary evidence to the contrary and the Doctor pulling an end-run around his own death by setting it up so that he'd appear to die in the prescribed manner at the prescribed time and be widely reported as dead.

    As to Evil of the Daleks, I used to be of the "The Final End" camp, but a year or two ago, I came up with a cute little notion that I rather like: Evil of the Daleks is contemporaneous with Revelation of the Daleks. The Dalek task force returns to Skaro with Davros and his new Daleks to put Davros on trial, only to find that the place has been trashed and the emperor killed while they were away. They can't afford to execute Davros while they're facing extinction, so they draft him to help them rebuild, and he seizes the opportunity to fill the power vacuum by declaring himself emperor.

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  24. J. L. Webb
    January 7, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    I never actually got as far as the dire continuity mess. I found the prose suspiciously readable (if rather lame) at first, which threw me given the story's reputation, but after about a chaper the whole tone became too cloying. The way in which all of the female characters were falling over the doctor, etc.
    clearly a holdover of the 'classic adventure yarn' model being aimed for, but written with a tedious childishness, and just bizarrely simplistic and jarring in tone next to Paul Leonard's Genocide (which may have it's flaws, but was an infinitly more textured book)

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  25. Grant, the Hipster Dad
    January 7, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    A line that summed up how badly Doctor Who had gone wrong at this time: A friend of mine was very familiar with the Baker/Davison years from PBS, and passingly familiar with the other Doctors from fan clubs and conventions. After I read this book, I described the retcon in detail. He thought for a moment and said "There's a reason that show got canceled."

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  26. Steve Hogan
    January 7, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    To further complicate the narrative, Skaro already reappeared at the beginning of the TV movie, albeit with a more helium rich atmosphere.

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  27. J Mairs
    January 7, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    That is a very nice idea. I may have to retcon the inside of my head.

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  28. Mike Russell
    January 7, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

    RTD has often expressed frustration that fans think what his characters say should be taken as true or as what he believes. A case in point would be anyone repeatedly arguing that because RTD had a closeted, timid, stereotypically blinkered fan character say "Paul McGann doesn't count," then RTD must obviously share that opinion.

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  29. Adam Riggio
    January 7, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    I don't see it as dark, as much as an unfortunate risk. The Bidmead year is one of my favourites of the classic series, and while it's sad that few people took up the stranger, more abstract elements of his run, at least it exists and we have it. The same goes for Miles — he may not have any philosophical successors in Doctor Who today, but he still had space to express his ideas. The genuine control of a single master narrative would never have permitted that space. A John Peel would have retconned it away, if it had ever been allowed to exist at all.

    The fact that there is space for these experiments means that we can revisit them, enjoy them for what they are, and let them inspire us. So it isn't that Lawrence Miles' (and Chris Bidmead's) ideas are abandoned; it's more that no one has followed up on his directions … yet.

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  30. Iain Coleman
    January 7, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    True enough, but don't similarly tedious discussions also surround JNT's Doctor Who?

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  31. Steven Clubb
    January 7, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

    "It's somewhat like a continuity equivalent of the Law of Prescriptive Retaliation in linguistics: any story designed to mainly fix continuity will make it vastly more confusing and broken and/or have glaring continuity errors itself." — Arkadin

    I read super-hero comics for decades, then one day I realized that the only people who find the Continuity Errors "confusing" are the hardcore fans.

    When I was wee one, I read a Huntress back-up feature in Wonder Woman which mentioned that Batman was dead (and had been for quite some years). My seven year old brain had absolutely no idea how to process that information, because Batman's comic was sitting right there on the stands where he's most certainly not dead. My young self figured there must be some explanation and dedicated his brain power to something more important… like how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

    As an adult, I saw the need to "fix" the Continuity of Donna Troy utterly destroy the character. In the wake of Crisis On Infinite Earth, her origin became impossible. The original fix was to re-tell her origin minus the Wonder Woman connection and she thrived over the next decade or so, even managing to jump to the Green Lantern franchise after The Titans got cancelled.

    Then along came a creator who decided to shove back into the character a bit of history ret-conned out of the character long before Crisis (that being Wonder Girl was meant to be Wonder Woman as a girl). And Donna Troy became radioactive.

    Same thing happened to Hawkman, who walked into a pretty major Continuity Error in the mid-90s, shrugged it off for several years before they "fixed" it by making him so confusing that no one wanted to use him as a character.

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  32. John Seavey
    January 7, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

    I think that a very significant point that factored into fandom rejecting the retcon so thoroughly was the story it was retconning away. If there is a single, emblematic turning point that marked the beginning of the new, more mature and complex Doctor Who that started with the Cartmel era on TV and continued into the Virgin books, it's the destruction of Skaro. That was the moment when Doctor Who more or less said, "School's out, children."

    And when the BBC took back the book line, it was with the more-or-less explicitly stated goal of making it less mature, less complex, and more "safe". Peel's novel, at the time, wasn't simply a pathetic exercise in poor writing. It wasn't even a bad book retconning a good TV episode. It wasn't even a sad piece of fanwankery. It seemed, at the time, like an attempt to consign truly good Doctor Who made for grown-ups to the memory hole. Given that at that point, the entire audience of Doctor Who was those grown-ups who had spend the last six or so years reveling in Doctor Who that was Made For Us, it's not surprising that it was held in such universal contempt.

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  33. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

    I gotta say, this does bother me.

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  34. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

    Excellent point.

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  35. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

    I'd say that some fixes are good, because they open up story opportunities. That said, any big "make it simpler" change has to tread a careful line between "make it more boring" and "completely miss 'simpler' and land in 'way more complicated what the fuck you guys'".

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  36. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

    And he's one of the few figures behind the scenes of the classic series who presented himself that way.

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  37. Steven Clubb
    January 7, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

    Definitely, a really good retcon is one that opens up the narrative. Alan Moore's "The Anatomy Lesson" is a classic in that regard, which allowed the character to move on past his quest to regain his humanity (and thus end the book) and fully explore the concept of a plant-based super-hero.

    But I think the true test is whether or not you can slip it into a story naturally. And most retcons should be smothered at birth for failing this very simple test. If some talking head has to show up and explain three or four stories from decades ago, you have failed to write an interesting retcon.

    One of the best retcons I've read recently is a pre-Unearthly Child tale that effectively explains why Susan claimed to have named the TARDIS. Simply put, the Doctor and Susan had their memories tampered with and both have sizable gaps about who they are and where they come from.

    It's simple, it works, and it removes not one ounce of mystery from their origins. And it's very naturally placed into a completely unrelated story.

    Then you have the Chapter One style retcons (since I was just slagging off John Byrne with his Donna Troy re-origin), where in order to explain why a Manhattan crook ventured out to Queens to rob the Parker House, the crook takes time during the climatic confrontation scene to explain to Spider-Man that he saw Uncle Ben buy a computer, stake out his house to rob it, saw Spider-Man come out of a window, thought Spidey was casing the joint, wanted to team up with him…

    Completely unnatural bit of exposition which lays out a convoluted sequence of events that adds nothing to the story.

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  38. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

    Ah, yes, Chapter One. …why.

    But yes: Having a retcon is less important than having a story; the former must serve the latter, must fit into it smoothly. (After all, Remembrance of the Daleks was itself a retcon.)

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  39. jane
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:05 pm

    I may have to retcon the inside of my head.

    Death and rebirth.

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  40. Arkadin
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:29 pm

    To go completely off topic, I have to disagree somewhat about Donna Troy. Linking her back up to Wonder Woman as part of a proper Wonder Woman superhero dynasty was a good idea, since it removed the awkwardness of having Donna as a Wonder Woman-like character who preceded Wonder Woman, and also gave her more to do since she was–for the first time–part of Wonder Woman's supporting cast as well as a Titan. It was just handled in a deeply weird and confusing way, like a lot of what Byrne does. (Same with the idea of Hippolyta being a hero in the Golden Age.)

    I also liked the later retcon that made Donna the sum of all her pre-Crisis selves, effectively the embodiment and caretaker of DC history. The right writer could do something really interesting with that.

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  41. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

    Obviously, we need to give Donna to Grant Morrison.

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  42. Ununnilium
    January 7, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

    Also, since Dr. Sandifer seems to be against certain types of political ads on his page, there's an "Obama says, BAN GUNS!" ad at the bottom for me. Perhaps he just wants to prevent any more generic military SF versions of Doctor Who.

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  43. elvwood
    January 7, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

    There are ads on the blogspot? I've never seen them.

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  44. elvwood
    January 7, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

    That's interesting – I just assumed from the context that this was something RTD had said in interview. So is this just a comment from the Queer as Folk character? If so, I'm with the two of you.

    Reply

  45. elvwood
    January 8, 2013 @ 12:04 am

    Yeah, I agree the worst thing about the book is the quality of the writing, which means I never got as far as the retcon – I can write better prose than that!

    Still, I have to disagree with the comparison with Dicks. I've read his Dalek Invasion of Earth novelisation, which is from 1977, and it's very readable. Certainly in comparison to WotD.

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  46. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 8, 2013 @ 1:01 am

    Meh. And I just did an ad review a few days ago. I'll go take a few ads out back and have them shot.

    Reply

  47. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 8, 2013 @ 1:35 am

    It is from Queer as Fokk, though I think treating Vince as "a closeted, timid, stereotypically blinkered fan character" does him a disservice. To suggest that any scene of Queer as Folk depends on a high level understanding of Doctor Who is silly. The overall tone of the "Paul McGann doesn't count" scene is triumphant – Stuart is trying to persuade Vince that Vince's boyfriend doesn't really care about him or share any of his interests, and scoffs that he probably can't even name all the Doctors before calmly rattling off the list. Vince, bemused and slightly wary, asks "what about Paul McGann," to which Stuart replies that "Paul McGann doesn't count," with Vince joining in, their connection, and, yes, love clearly affirmed for the audience.

    First of all, for the scene to work there has to be a reasonable cultural understanding that saying "Paul McGann doesn't count" would make sense – that is, it had to tap into a pre-existing social sense of McGann's illegitimacy. Nothing about Queer as Folk's engagement with Doctor Who is so complex as to use the subtleties of Vince's opinions as character traits, and rightly so, because that would be unintelligible to most of the viewers. But more to the point, the scene doesn't leave room for viewing Vince and Stuart's shared understanding as negative. There are other scenes that do that, or at least gesture at the possibility of that (the series does, after all, end up firmly on the Vince/Stuart side), but this just isn't one of them.

    Now, do I agree, as Tat Wood argues in About Time, that Davies was tacitly ordered to count McGann? No. I think it's more likely that Davies, when approaching the series as a professional, decided that there's a slippery slope in excising bits of Doctor Who's history that he doesn't like.

    The situation seems to me analogous to Moffat's various dismissals of eras of Doctor Who. Do I think he was lying when he railed against the Hartnell era? Not for a moment. Do I think he's still seen pretty much all of it, buys the DVDs, and quite enjoys it? Yes. I do. Indeed, I think Moffat's description of loving Doctor Who while recognizing that his love does not magically make it any good is a fairly normal state of affairs for a lot of fans.

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  48. elvwood
    January 8, 2013 @ 1:43 am

    I wouldn't bother trying to have them shot – they'll just turn out to be android doubles, or the firing squad will be attacked, or it'll turn out to be a parallel reality. Make them a cup of tea instead.

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  49. sorrywehurtyourfield
    January 8, 2013 @ 2:28 am

    I suppose discussion of whether the auteur model is good or bad for the quality of the series itself is best left until we get to the 2005 episodes, but this brilliant discussion of "official histories" has got me thinking about why I feel quite alienated from much discourse surrounding the new series.

    I always used to love reading histories of the old series because it was so lacking in totalising authorship explanations, the series instead being the product of creative and industrial tensions often as interesting as what was on-screen. Even now, the DVD documentaries are usually fun because of their irreverant tone, and the general impression that everyone is being heard out and no agendas are being pushed.

    By contrast, I find Doctor Who Confidential to be unwatchably vaccuous PR, and new series production accounts in DWM little better. The auteurist model causes everything to be written in a "Davies decided to do this, then Davies decreed that, then Davies thought it would interesting to do the other" which I personally find eye-wateringly boring to read. Is it bad that sometimes I want to hear from a writer who didn't enjoy seeing their scripts rewritten, or Christopher Eccleston express an opinion that isn't incredibly guarded? Yet in the manner that Phil suggests, any journalist persuing such an angle would probably find it near-impossible to get any future set access.

    And yet, on the other hand, I'm often quite uncomfortable with the character-assassinating gossip that often creeps into analyses of 80s Who, which as Ununnilium points out was the peak of auteurist presentation in the old series. This is perhaps the problem; when auteurism is pushed so forcefully as the key way to understand the series, criticism is too easily forced onto the same terrain, something that is now prevalent with new series cricitism.

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  50. Steven Clubb
    January 8, 2013 @ 4:15 am

    "Look at how people systematically failed to follow up on or even notice most of Lawrence Miles's best ideas." — Arkadin

    In reading interviews with Lawrence Miles, I always feel he had a very unrealistic idea of what would happen after his novels were published. You've got a whole bunch of writers, each following their own muse, and he's introducing all these complex and inter-related concepts. I just don't see people grabbing ideas and running with them.

    When Neil Gaiman was writing Sandman, people really weren't picking up on his plot threads and expanding on them in other books. Mostly this was limited to The Demon which had to address any changes made to Hell's mythology since it was a regular setting. Generally people sat back and let Gaiman tell his story and only when the story was reaching its conclusion did people start jumping on and picking up loose plot threads.

    And I think this is the most natural reaction. Alien Bodies is a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but had I been writing Doctor Who back then (not that I have the talent to do so), I would have given Miles' mythology a very wide berth as to avoid stepping on his toes, assuming that anything I thought was pregnant with possibilities was deliberately so and Miles had plans to do something far more interesting with it.

    And this was Doctor Who. Most stories are random adventures connected to nothing. Even at the height of Continuity in the 80s, he still only visited Gallifrey once every year or two. I haven't read Interference yet, but it's clear from these interviews that Miles was trying to provoke a very un-Who-like reaction from his fellow writers by doing stuff like giving the Doctor an insanely powerful companion who rendered the old capture-and-escape trope impossible… to which they responded in a very Who-like way by forcing said companion into those traditional formulas anyway.

    I just wish he was the sort of writer who didn't need the validation of his fellows. He had definitely made a splash with Alien Bodies and it was going to take a few more books for his reputation to solidify. But he seems to have wanted instant recognition that he was the best thing ever, grumbling over Mark Gatiss getting the same review score as he did for a traditional Who story.

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  51. jane
    January 8, 2013 @ 4:32 am

    Even now, the DVD documentaries are usually fun because of their irreverant tone, and the general impression that everyone is being heard out and no agendas are being pushed.

    By contrast, I find Doctor Who Confidential to be unwatchably vaccuous PR, and new series production accounts in DWM little better.

    But these are very different contexts. The DVD commentaries are looking back over many, many years, decades even, and often by people who are no longer in the industry. It's easy to speak your mind when there are no repercussions to worry about.

    Confidential, on the other hand, is talking about the here and now. It's not going to get into squabbling, or anything controversial. You'll have to wait until 2037, when the remastered 3D versions are released, to get an unguarded opinion!

    Reply

  52. Arkadin
    January 8, 2013 @ 5:10 am

    And of course, Paul Magrs and Lawrence Miles got away with what they did precisely becuase McGann "doesn't count."

    Reply

  53. Ununnilium
    January 8, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    "Most stories are random adventures connected to nothing."

    See, I disagree. As Dr. Sandifer has shown us, there are generally thematic threads connecting everything. Every era has its own feel, and most of them have their own overarching ideas.

    Miles's ideas could have provided that in an era that flailed around more than Hartnell – but you're right, you can't just throw the ideas out there and expect everyone to straightforwardly pick them up. If it was me, I'd talk to my fellow authors a lot, try and get them in on it – but from what I've heard, that seems to have been Miles's downfall.

    Reply

  54. Russell Gillenwater
    January 8, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    But I get what sorrywehurtyourfield is getting at. Confidential became an exercise for the production team just to "slap them selves on the back." I guess I first noticed this after Daleks in Manhattan and how everyone thought Dalek Sec was a great idea.

    By the time of Series 5, I would just watch Confidential to see how the production team would "slap them selves on the back" about how cool and clever they were in the redesign of the Daleks and Silurians (in the latter case we were shown much better designs that were rejected in favor of a Star Trek look…that last part is my opinion).

    I will give Moffat credit he did seem to listen to the fans when it came to his design for the Daleks as he marginalized them in favor of the RTD design in Asylum of the Daleks. However, there is a reason the plug was pulled on Confidential.

    Reply

  55. Ununnilium
    January 8, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    Of course, it may be simply that that's how Davies saw Doctor Who fans seeing it, and not how he saw it himself.

    In the end, tho, it doesn't matter, because the important part is, there's a major difference between being a fan on the outside and being a creative force on the inside, and part of that is, when you're on the inside, you can change things – so why rail against stuff you don't like when you can just make stuff you do like instead? Why exclude bits of your audience if you've got the opportunity to genuinely make everyone happy? (Well, not everyone, but…)

    Reply

  56. Arkadin
    January 8, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    The idea of an actual story arc and overarching plots in Doctor Who is still pretty new at this point–as opposed to overarching character and thematic threads, which writers started playing with more consciously in season 27. The convoluted and messy psi powers "arc" was the first prolonged storyline of the kind the New Series is built around. Even if Lawrence Miles wasn't so determined to alienate absolutely everyone else involved with Doctor Who, I'm not sure the writers and editors of the time could have pulled it off effectively.

    Acutally, I still have very mixed feelings about the story arcs in New Who. The big storylines were generally my least favorite part of RTD!Who. We didn't get an arc where the ending was as interesting as the foreshadowing or the opening until Moffat's first season.

    Reply

  57. Arkadin
    January 8, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    Yeah, when I watched Asylum I was pleased that the show had so quickly dropped an approach to the Daleks that didn't really work without needing to justify it. I'd still kind of like to know what an Eternal Dalek is, though, as I got a wind-up one for Christmas.

    Reply

  58. BerserkRL
    January 8, 2013 @ 10:14 am

    Russell T Davies was still proclaiming that Paul McGann doesn’t count only a few years before taking the reins of the series.

    Russell T Davies was insisting Paul McGann didn’t count only a few years before he was running the show.

    You have both of these statements in the same paragraph. I reckon you wanted just one of them.

    Reply

  59. BerserkRL
    January 8, 2013 @ 10:22 am

    Given that the continued (well, depending on when it's supposed to be) existence of Skaro had already been established in the opening scene of the tv-movie, why isn't the need to explain that a sufficient explanation of the need for a Skaro retcon?

    Reply

  60. David Anderson
    January 8, 2013 @ 11:02 am

    I wonder whether Moffat had the dalek redesign foisted on him. If you're a competent story teller or a competent marketer you don't do a big redesign and then announce that you're resting the thing you've just redesigned. If Moffat had been doing his best to kill off the redesign I'm not sure what he'd have done differently.

    There were some podcasts on the BBC website over Christmas in which Moffat was reviewing classic dalek stories. And one of the things he says is that the daleks in the first story are small; he noticed when doing Asylum they've been made bigger everytime we've redesigned them but small daleks are scarier. If that's not a notice of intent to redesign the redesign I'm not sure what is.

    Reply

  61. jane
    January 8, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    Oh, I agree the DVD commentaries are more interesting, and the Confidential is essentially PR — but I'd never expect anything different, considering the contexts. The current production team, in the midst of production, is invested in sounding positive; they're also missing any critical feedback. I mean, of course they're patting themselves on the back for the latest Dalek design — they wouldn't be redesigning them unless they thought it was a good idea!

    The retrospective commentaries are also self-deceiving though, because they're an opportunity to latch on critical response and say, "Yeah, I thought that was a dumb idea, too," a way of distancing themselves from the work.

    But in general, I'm rather distrustful of any insider commentary. There's always an agenda to advance, infelicities to gloss, and secrets to keep. Imagine being an author who believes in "the death of the author," from a critical perspective, yet being in the position of have to promote and comment as a matter of professional duty. You'd practically have to lie just to maintain some integrity!

    Reply

  62. Christopher Haynes
    January 8, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    If the Doctor's irresponsible, hypocritical and just plain monstrous behavior in Remembrance is Doctor Who done for grown-ups, then I've yet another reason to regret adulthood.

    Reply

  63. Iain Coleman
    January 8, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    If you prefer your showrunners angst-ridden, depressed and acutely conscious of their inadequacies to the point of self-loathing, then "The Writer's Tale" by Russell T Davies is the book for you.

    Reply

  64. Dan Abel
    January 8, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    Moving on from Goodies and Baddies, to people with difficult choices would be the definition for me. People and almost unknowable magical aliens.

    Reply

  65. Dr. Happypants
    January 8, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    There's no need at all: the Doctor and the Daleks are time travellers. If you need to do a story involving Skaro, say it takes place before "Remembrance" from the Daleks' perspective. There's no need to retcon anything unless you have your heart set on (1) following the Davros storyline post-"Remembrance" while simultaneously (2) using a non-explodey Skaro as a vital setting.

    And that's not even mentioning that if you did need to retcon it for some ungodly reason, the proper way to do it is "Blah blah, Time War".

    Reply

  66. Tommy
    January 8, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    "If the Doctor's irresponsible, hypocritical and just plain monstrous behavior in Remembrance is Doctor Who done for grown-ups, then I've yet another reason to regret adulthood."

    So the more 'moral' thing for the Doctor to do would be to let the Daleks continue to spread through the universe destroying whole races, then?

    Reply

  67. Tommy
    January 8, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    "Acutally, I still have very mixed feelings about the story arcs in New Who. The big storylines were generally my least favorite part of RTD!Who. We didn't get an arc where the ending was as interesting as the foreshadowing or the opening until Moffat's first season."

    The irony of the RTD years is that for all their stated intent to make the show accessible to a new audience, it gradually reached a point where the show was just internalizing itself too much, becoming insular, and where the overall season arcs began to neuter stories of the ability to stand alone. Even Doomsday and Turn Left seemingly had to have a cliffhanger for the next story tacked onto them right after what should have been the story's emotional denouement.

    In old series terms, arcs such as the Black Guardian Trilogy and the Trial season prove to be risky ventures because essentially the season is relying on the arc to carry it and to give it overall direction and substance. The problem is even in that the arc approach can limit and reduce the directions and possibilities of where the show is going, and the season in question can be just as easily sunk as lifted by the arc.

    Reply

  68. Ununnilium
    January 8, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    "Even if Lawrence Miles wasn't so determined to alienate absolutely everyone else involved with Doctor Who, I'm not sure the writers and editors of the time could have pulled it off effectively."

    They could have, but it would have involved someone coming in on the editorial side who was both a.) quite smart and good and b.) had an mindset that took more from other forms of media than TV shows. If you'd gotten in someone from comics, maybe…

    "it gradually reached a point where the show was just internalizing itself too much, becoming insular, and where the overall season arcs began to neuter stories of the ability to stand alone."

    Y'know, it's true – the arc-ish parts of RTD-era stories often feel kind of forced. (That said, the "there's something on your back" in Season 4 was generally nice and creepy.) Moffat's big innovation was spreading the arc-ish episodes out throughout the season – something that's definitely inherited from the best of good arc-based TV.

    Reply

  69. Ununnilium
    January 8, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

    Pretty much. I mean, it gets a bit hinky with the Master's timeline, but not unmanageably so.

    Reply

  70. Spacewarp
    January 8, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

    "If you prefer your showrunners angst-ridden, depressed and acutely conscious of their inadequacies to the point of self-loathing…"

    So more or less like the rest of us then!

    Reply

  71. Christopher Haynes
    January 10, 2013 @ 3:55 am

    I'll leave the rebuttal to Alan Stevens:

    http://www.kaldorcity.com/features/articles/remembrance.html

    Reply

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