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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. Keith
    December 23, 2011 @ 2:32 am

    Funny thing about this story is that while the Key segment serves virtually no role in the plot (even in its disguised form), this is probably the episode where it gets the most screen time, aside from the season finale. It is also the only episode (again, aside from the finale)in which we see non-Timelord characters interacting with the revealed segment (Grendel wants to know what it is, Lamia tries to examine it scientifically). As I recently re-watched this story (after not having seen it for years) this stuck out for me because I remembered this as the story that could have most easily dispensed with the Key narrative, and because I thought it was interesting to actually have some examination of what the segment is.

    In the modern tv series, there probably would have been some revelation from Lamia's examination of the Key segment that would have come in useful in the season finale, but sadly this season did nothing more than note that it defied analysis.


  2. Keith
    December 23, 2011 @ 3:25 am

    I think you are correct that set-pieces play a large role in story rankings. With literally hundreds of episodes to compare, nobody (presumably with the exception of yourself 🙂 ) is going to take the time to complete an in-depth analysis of every episode before evaluating where the story should fall relative to the other few hundred.

    I suspect most people are going to look at which stories most readily come to mind (both good and bad), which will skew the results towards episodes that have the most-memorable sequences. Once you factor out the episodes that are so well/badly written and executed that you can’t help but remember how good or bad they were (leaving just the middle-ranked stories), I suspect people will just utilize a basic heuristic of comparing how interesting the aspects they remember about the episode are, relative to others (finally putting my Psychology degree to use here).

    For instance, I’m quite fond of RIBOS OPERATION, but it is not really that memorable a story (“It’s the story with the con men on a primitive planet with a dictator. There’s a Galileo stand-in character, a goofy-looking reptile monster, and — I think — a woman wearing antlers”.)

    Even though I tended to recall ANDROIDS OF TARA as “The story where they put androids and electric swords into THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and Romana gets captured and escapes a hundred times”, comparing the episodes based on “the one with the con men” versus “the one with the robots and sci-fi swords”, one might be inclined to favor ANDROIDS OF TARA because it sounds more interesting (though the memory of it as a PRISONER OF ZENDA rip-off lead me to rate it lower).

    And with missing episodes, you sort of see this as well. As most people never got to see them, the ranking is reliant on what people most readily know about these episodes (I'll bet TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN was rated more highly before its re-discovery because the premise sounds so good. It isn't until you see the hammy acting, and large volume of ridiculous details that you realize this may not have been the undiscovered classic people thought it was).


  3. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    December 23, 2011 @ 3:25 am

    I think in your last paragraph you've managed to articulate the slight unease with which I've always viewed this story!

    As good and entertaining as it is, there's a certain, I dunno, hollowness (or something similar that I can't quite convey at the moment) to the proceedings that leaves an odd aftertaste for me.


  4. Spacewarp
    December 23, 2011 @ 4:09 am

    I personally think you're on a hiding to nothing trying to make sense of a DWM poll. The fallacy here is to think of it as a decently large and representative slice of fandom as your sample. Unfortunately that's not really the case here. For a start it's a poll filled in by only people who read DWM, which probably excludes (or at least is heavily skewed against) anyone under the age of 10 and over the age of say 40. But these people (especially those under 10) make up a significant proportion of Doctor Who fans. It also only really works as a representative poll if you assume that everyone who took the poll has watched every extant episode of Doctor Who. Even if that assumption was true, the sample group (a significant proportion of whom may well be within a specific age group) may well have grown up with a particular era of Who, and therefore will look favourably on it. I grew up with Pertwee and find it difficult to compare him critically with other Doctors' stories.

    "But this is no different from the problem of treating Doctor Who as a coherent single object from 1963 to 1978, and we do that fine." In my opinion we don't do fine here, and we should not do this. It makes a lot more sense of the aesthetic leap from Troughton to Pertwee if you consider Pertwee to be almost a reimagining, for example, than if you try to see it as a seamless continuation. If you did a hundred polls of Cybermen stories for example, I don't believe you would have any consistency other than a tendency for fans to put Tenth Planet high simply because it is "regarded" as a classic, and Silver Nemesis low because it is "regarded" as a dud.


  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 23, 2011 @ 4:20 am

    Spacewarp – When saying "we do that fine," I should note that the "we" refers to this blog. Where one of my entire premises is that Doctor Who can be treated as a single coherent project. I do so primarily because I enjoy the usefully mad conclusions that follow from the premise. You can't really get to Doctor Who as secret solution to alchemy and counterpoint melody to radical politics and youth counterculture without going through that particular blatantly false premise.

    I approached the DWM poll in a similar spirit. Yes, obviously DWM-poll-answering fandom doesn't make any sense or have a coherent single agenda. But that doesn't mean taking the gestalt mind seriously isn't going to be worthwhile. It just… restricts the sorts of worthwhile it might be.


  6. Spacewarp
    December 23, 2011 @ 5:37 am

    Phil – point taken! Addressing another of your points: I'm sorry but on several occasions your blog posts have sent me scurrying back to re-evaluate a story, so I'm afraid you do have an influence whether you like it or not!


  7. elvwood
    December 23, 2011 @ 7:19 am

    On the DWM Poll
    Spacewarp – while what you say about the validity of the DWM poll is true, it's probably the best we're going to get and I think it works reasonably well as a benchmark of popular fan opinion. In case you're interested, The age range was 5 to 71 with 14% under 18 and 45% over 35; and DWM did give us the top 10 and bottom 5 for each of the three age groups. 6,700 people took part and it was a "rate these" not "vote for your favourite", so having fewer people rate the missing episodes didn't matter (and even The Savages received 2740 ratings, twenty times the number for the most commonly rated stories in the Gallifrey Base Non-Dynamic rankings).

    Philip – while it's quite fun to compare adjacent stories, the difference in scores is often so tiny – 0.03% for The Hand of Fear/The Androids of Tara – that only their similarities are meaningful, rather than which one comes out on top. Having said that, I believe (like Keith) your conclusions are probably correct. It's just this isn't very good evidence for it.


  8. elvwood
    December 23, 2011 @ 8:04 am

    On the KTT Season So Far
    I've seen this season once, when I borrowed the Limited Edition DVDs from the boy next door. I happen to know that one of my Christmas presents in a couple of days will be the Unlimited Edition, so I'll soon get a chance to watch it again. This time I will have Philip's analyses (and the comments of others) rattling around my brain; I suspect they'll make the biggest difference to The Ribos Operation, which is already my second-favourite, after The Stones of Blood and just ahead of The Pirate Planet. Androids is currently in fourth place. But it's all totally subjective and based purely on how much I enjoyed them at the time.

    Happily, I can enjoy both the set-piece stories and the weird ones. This does depend somewhat on my mood, but in general I can appreciate them for what they are. And – unless I am misunderstanding terms again – there are some that manage to be both: The Mind Robber springs to mind.

    Incidentally, KTT is my daughter's favourite season. In fact, Graham Williams' era seems to have been targeted with her in mind: the remote control K-9 was the first piece of DW merchandise she bought for herself – she saved up for three months after Christmas to get it – and her favourite Tom Baker story is The Horns of Nimon!

    Anyway, this has been a particularly fine run on the blog, and I look forward to seeing what you have to say about the stories that are generally considered the lowlights (though personally I quite liked Kroll).


  9. David
    December 23, 2011 @ 8:35 am

    Got to say, The Androids of Tara is my very favourite Who story of all. I know objectively there are other stories more dramatic, exciting and even competently made, but this for me is Doctor Who at its funniest and cosiest. But then, Cave of Androzani, Enemy of the World, The Myth Makers, Vincent and the Doctor and Father's Day are all favourites of mine as well, so I wouldn't necessarily say that "cosy entertainment" is my yardstick (though most of my favourite stories are noticeably funnier than others – but then I come from a school of thought that reckons most of the best dramas are also the funniest programmes; Doctor Who is funnier than most comedies).


  10. John Callaghan
    December 23, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

    It's time for me to embarrass myself by being dense and missing the point of what you were saying… Could you clarify what you meant by the following?

    "Though The Invisible Enemy and The Pirate Planet are both less funny than the stories immediately ahead of them, The Invasion of Time and The Androids of Tara are both funnier than the ones immediately behind them."

    Isn't the same thing happening in both cases? And I find The Pirate Planet much more funny than The War Machines. And Planet Of Giants isn't more comical than Invisible Enemy.

    While typing this it's occurred to me that you may have meant that PP and IE are more funny than the story immediately above them…

    And have a happy Christmas yourself!


  11. elvwood
    December 24, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    …and a Merry Christmas to everyone at home!


  12. William Whyte
    December 24, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

    Merry Christmas to you, too, Phil.

    You starting this blog has been, no exaggeration, one of the highlights of my year. It's been a chance to have the conversation about Doctor Who I've always wanted to have, and an immensely enriching experience for me. Hope you have a good 2012.


  13. Alan
    January 2, 2012 @ 1:08 pm

    I just think you're over-analyzing this. I think people like Androids of Zenda because it's a swash-buckling adventure of a style that DW in general and Baker in particular rarely did. All I remember about it was that Romana had a (highly implausible) double and that episode 4 had a lengthy sword duel between Baker and the bad-guy who, upon losing, jumped into a moat and tried to swim away. I can see why someone for whom the existential horror of The Pirate Planet was overshadowed by a robot parrot that pooped lasers would prefer this rather more straight-forward tale.


  14. orfeo
    August 24, 2015 @ 4:47 am

    No, I don't want more than just entertaining and fun. Not when entertaining and fun is done as well as this.


  15. Jubal
    May 30, 2016 @ 5:20 am

    One thing that has struck me about this is that I suspect many people watching it now will be thinking of a different reference point from the Prisoner of Zenda, which has largely drifted out of the popular consciousness over the years. They may well have read in the guidebooks and DVD notes or whatever that this is based on Zenda, but I wonder if that for a lot of viewers the first thought would actually be “This is Doctor Who doing The Princess Bride!”

    Which of course, in many ways it is – a loving homage to the swashbuckling tales of yore, coupled with a knowing wink to the audience and gently making fun of some of the central cliches.


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