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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.

38 Comments

  1. Scott
    September 17, 2012 @ 12:49 am

    As someone who also experienced a certain amount of bullying in the 1990s (although by your comments here I'm getting the sense I was a little bit older than you, and thus experienced the particular joys of later teenage bullying), your final comments in this entry strike a chord, Phil. Particularly in what you say about not wanting to let go — I think you're right that on some level we do need that sense of victimhood and exclusion; it's ultimately as much a part of us as everything else that composes who we are.

    "It’s telling that the novel begins not just with the Doctor finally ditching that dreadful question mark pullover in favor of a new wardrobe…"

    It's funny you mention this, because to be honest, absurd as it may seem, this is one of the larger reasons why I really struggled to get into the New Adventures at the time. And it might be simply because I actually like the dreadful question mark pullover, but on thinking about it, I think it also might actually have something to do with what you're talking about with regards to how the New Adventures on some level seem embarrassed to be Doctor Who, since this is in many ways — for all that it's a development you seem to approve of — emblematic of it.

    Because whether you like the pullover or not, ultimately, it has to be said that it's a pretty futile change for the novels to make. It's like how the later Sixth Doctor Big Finish audios put the Sixth Doctor in a blue suit; yes, it's getting the character out of something that looks ridiculous, but it's only doing so in a niche corner where the only people who will notice will be other Doctor Who fans (they're still wearing them in the old TV shows, which is how most people will get exposure to them anyway), and it's also doing so in a purely non-visual medium where the only visual cues (aside from the cover, that is) come from the reader's imagination anyway — in both cases, for one reason or another, no one will see anyway. The attempt to show how grown-up Doctor Who is becoming by discarding the frivolities of the past instead seems like a slightly strained attempt to reassure Doctor Who fans (and themselves) that their show isn't silly and they aren't silly for liking it.

    The whole thing smacks of a slightly desperate insecurity or embarrassment. The way I see it, yes, the question mark pullover's silly, but it's ultimately not that much sillier than someone going around wearing a twelve-foot long multicoloured striped scarf, and yet no one is latching on to any excuse they can to try and to strip that from the Fourth Doctor. Because it's an emblem of the character, just as the Seventh Doctor will always have worn that pullover and the Sixth Doctor will always have worn that coat and people will see and remember them doing so no matter how embarrassed the fans get by it.

    I think at some point, you really just have to come to terms with that fact and move on.

    Reply

  2. Scott
    September 17, 2012 @ 12:54 am

    This said, I can see the argument for how it's a symbol of how the New Adventures Seventh Doctor is a darker character than his TV incarnation. But it still smacks of embarrassment.

    Reply

  3. Spacewarp
    September 17, 2012 @ 2:02 am

    I feel so sorry for you, growing up as a member of a despised and ridiculed minority, when just over 20 years earlier things were so much different. We unashamedly played "Doctor Who" at school, and on November 30th 1968 my birthday party was paused so we could all watch episode 5 of "The Invasion"!

    You wouldn't have gotten that level of universal acceptance in the 80s and 90s!

    Reply

  4. AndyRobot800
    September 17, 2012 @ 3:13 am

    I think we had very similar upbringings.

    Reply

  5. BerserkRL
    September 17, 2012 @ 3:59 am

    Because here’s the dirty little secret of our space adventure fantasies of the future: they were always just fantasies of imperialism

    This seems too strong. There's a long history of space adventure that's about people trying to escape from imperialism (with Firefly being the most obvious modern example).

    Reply

  6. BerserkRL
    September 17, 2012 @ 4:02 am

    Instead McIntee offers a vision of a Lovecraftian universe bubbling in the erased cultures of colonialism, such that what was erased by our imperialist fantasies creeps back.

    As in Howard's stories (both influencing and being influenced by Lovecraft) of Pictish resistance to Roman imperialism.

    Reply

  7. Ununnilium
    September 17, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    You know, this is what's been bothering me about the Sixth Doctor suit for a while, unconsciously. Not that it isn't, in theory, a good idea – I do enjoy that sort of retroactive playing with the difference between media – but simply the way some fans treat it.

    Reply

  8. Matthew Celestis
    September 17, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    I like the pullover, but I love the safari suit as well (it reminds me of former MP Martin Bell).

    Interesting that as they were making the Doctor darker, they gave him a lighter-coloured outfit.

    Reply

  9. Ununnilium
    September 17, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    Yeah. There's always been an imperialistic thread, of course, but there's always been several others (including, of course, the "get away from the overbearing jerks at home" one, which is meant as a reaction against imperialism but can turn into it if it goes wrong).

    Reply

  10. Josh Marsfelder
    September 17, 2012 @ 8:35 am

    I have to agree with BeserkRL here too. I hate to keep bringing up Star Trek in the 80s and 90s, but under Rick Berman and Micheal Piller, and especially under Ron Moore and Ira Behr, it really did become an outright deconstruction and rejection of the Neo-Imperialist tradition the Original Series was made with in mind. Battlestar Galactica too, though I agree Firefly is probably the best example.

    I would also argue Doctor Who was concerned with the Neo-Imperialism and technoscientific utopian futurism of Golden Age science fiction even as late as 1969, with "The Seeds of Death" and "The Space Pirates" being overt critiques of it. Heck, you could probably even make a case for "The Ambassadors of Death" too.

    Reply

  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 17, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    I'm not sure that the turn of space-based sci-fi to a critique of imperialism in the 80s and 90s is a point against me so much as what I'm saying – that the vision of a space-based future is necessarily entangled in imperialism. Once space stopped being the future we expected sci-fi about it became in part a critique, but that's largely to be expected. The fantasy is still about imperialism. A critique of imperialism is hardly an abandonment of the imperialist fantasy.

    Reply

  12. Dougie
    September 17, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    On a different tack, I was really interested in your lack of ability to read some of the New Adventures. I haven't been diagnosed with ADD and I have never read White Darkness in its entirety. Nor Sanctuary, First Frontier, Bullet Time…but I always thought it was the author's fault, not mine. I can also skate across pages and pages of Justin Richards' work: not because of my reading skills but because I find it dull and unrewarding.

    Also, no one mentioned White Darkness' debt to the movie of Live and Let Die, from whence some of its imagery is "borrowed".

    Reply

  13. Josh Marsfelder
    September 17, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    Certainly the space race and technoscientific prognostication is by necessity entangled with Cold War and imperialist themes extrapolated from the mood of the day and that shaped how Golden Age literature played out. That's a given. What I'm arguing is the genre need not be constrained by that any longer, and was actually making strides to distance itself from its imperialist heritage as early as the late 1960s (Raumpatrouille Orion is probably an even more blatant and scathing indictment of space-based Imperialism that I'm ashamed of myself for neglecting to mention before).

    I'm not convinced space-based science fiction is rooted in the Neo-Imperialist fantasy anymore (though with the dearth of it at the moment I can't say for sure it's dead and gone). It certainly need not be by definition and I think writers savvier than I have successfully problematized this particular aspect of the genre beyond the point it could be brought back unironically.

    Reply

  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 17, 2012 @ 9:18 am

    Well, if it were just the McIntee books I'd think the problem was him, but he's far from the only author whose stuff I never finished. Having already done The Dark Path and The Face of the Enemy, I don't think McIntee is a hugely masterful writer, but I find him inoffensive. Though I can see how he'd drag. He's not one of the worst writers of the novels for me, though – for me the two really turgid ones are Bulis and Russell.

    Reply

  15. cardboardrobot
    September 17, 2012 @ 11:00 am

    Reading this blog entry is much more interesting than actually reading "White Darkness" itself. You've illuminated a lot of themes that should make the book fascinating, but don't. Or at least that's how I remember it. Haven't read it since the 90s.

    On another note, your accounts of being bullied make me appreciate my relatively civilized school district in Maryland. Mostly I was just ignored, rather than bullied. Also, I was a sophomore in high school when I discovered Doctor Who. Most kids in my district were beyond bullying by that point. If I had discovered it a few years earlier, the situation might've been much different. 7th and 8th grades are the worst. Those were bad enough as it was.

    "Because there’s a curious little death drive in this. It’s fun to be the cancelled show. It’s liberating to be at the bottom."

    Fascinating. I can remember some of the New Adventures well enough to agree that some of them were driven by this.

    Reply

  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 17, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    If your only options are imperialism or a critique of imperialism then I don't think you have much in the way of distance from imperialism.

    Reply

  17. Dougie
    September 17, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    Fair point about Bulis and Russell. I remember throwing Invasion of the Cat-People across the room at " You have not been give permission to mew".

    Reply

  18. Josh Marsfelder
    September 17, 2012 @ 11:36 am

    But that's not actually what shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5 are about, or at least not entirely. DS9 is an ensemble character drama about mundane daily life in Space Shanghai (with elements of political thrillers and spiritualist fiction) and BSG is a mash-up of mythology, theology, semi-sentient metafiction and leftist sociopolitical critique.

    I suppose you could level this at Firefly or B5 in spite of their political leanings, as the former is a Space Western, connected to US Neo-Imperialism as much as Westerns are always connected to it and the latter centering around the Space United Nations and ostensibly about Post-Imperialism. But even so I think eventually you're going to wind up with a problem in that imperialism has touched all aspects of Western thought: I think it would be hard to do a story about Westernism or Modernity that doesn't address it in one form or another.

    Even Doctor Who, as we've talked about before, has roots in some very unpleasant aspects of Victoriana. It's something it's kept having to deal with over the years, with changeable results.

    Reply

  19. AndyRobot800
    September 17, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    Agreed. I have a fierce case of the ADD. I did manage to get through "Legacy" and not hate it, but everything else by Gary Russell, I have not been able to crack. I got about 100 pages into Divided Loyalties on the strength(?) of its "so bad, it's great!" reputation, then stopped reading out of disinterest. Spiral Scratch actually looks interesting.. and I can't make myself care.

    However, anything by Kate Orman, Paul Cornell, Lawrence Miles, Steve Lyons, or Lloyd Rose… Click. I'm there.

    I have White Darkness somewhere. Your description of it made it look a lot more interesting than it seemed when I bought it back in 1993 (at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA – still there, folks…), so I might give it another shot.

    Reply

  20. AndyRobot800
    September 17, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Ugh. Now, if that book had been anything CLOSE to a comedy, that would have been just fine. A planet full of deadly little kittie witties? I can see this happening. I can see Dave Stone having fun with it, or Paul Cornell. But egads… no, Invasion of the Cat People was not a good book.

    Reply

  21. sleepyscholar
    September 17, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

    Probably worth mentioning the way that universal — or at least widespread — acceptance returned to the show during the last 7 years.

    Reply

  22. Ununnilium
    September 17, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

    Simply put: Space exploration fiction isn't all about imperialism because exploration itself isn't all about imperialism.

    Reply

  23. Ununnilium
    September 17, 2012 @ 7:07 pm

    Also, on bullying: Man. I'm sorry. Here's a bushelful of Internet hugs, if that counts for anything.

    My history with bullying is… tangled. I'm not entirely sure how much I was in school, simply because, looking back on it now, I can see that some things I mistook for people mocking or making fun of me were clearly attempts at friendly humor.

    Reply

  24. Scott
    September 17, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    @ Ununnilium: That's kind of my response as well, these days; I'm a lot more mellow about those kind of things now, including the safari suit, and I can see the logic behind it (even if I do confess I kind of like the Sixth Doctor's costume as well — dressing the hero of your mainstream sci-fi show in that as brassy as brass balls if nothing else, although if it were my decision I'd have kept the coat and anchored with something a little more 'normal' underneath), but it just reeks of desperate embarrassment; as if they can magically stop Doctor Who being silly and make it more grown up by just changing a costume over.

    @ Matthew: I have to admit, I do appreciate a good bit of juxtaposition there (even if it's not exactly the most groundbreaking or complex — putting your dark character in a light coloured suit isn't really that far removed from putting the good guy in a white hat and the bad guy in a black one).

    Reply

  25. daibhid-c
    September 18, 2012 @ 2:20 am

    I dunno. My niece gets teased at school for being a Doctor Who fan. Probably – if I know bullies, which I do – by kids who do actually watch the show, but don't identify as "fans".

    A schoolfriend of mine in the 90s once organised a Doctor Who video night. A lot of kids came, they all enjoyed the episodes he picked (I can't remember what they were now), and it didn't make a blind bit of difference to how we were regarded.

    Reply

  26. Ununnilium
    September 18, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    It depends a lot on the individual community. Two grades in the same school can have wildly different attitudes.

    Reply

  27. Russell Gillenwater
    September 18, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    I don’t know if I would categories the problems with the Sixth Doctor’s coat or the Seventh’s pullover as being about “insecurity or embarrassment.” I don’t think it is a secret that both Baker and McCoy were not fans of either of these parts of their costume and neither was Phillip Segal, who ditched the pullover when he made the TV Movie. Doctor Who magazine also dropped the pullover from a number of its stories too.

    I think the dropping of the pullover in the NAs and later Big Finish bring in the Blue Suite (which I am not a huge fan of either), were symbolic ways of righting some of the perceived wrongs of the JNT years. I didn’t have a problem in 1986 with Baker’s outfit or later McCoy’s pullover, but I welcomed the change of the latter. I didn’t feel the change was needed because I was “embarrassed” or I was “silly for liking” Doctor Who. For me it cemented that the Doctor had progressed for the McCoy’s TV portrayal to the Seventh Doctor of the NAs, so the change, for me, felt natural.

    I know Scott said that it was a “pretty futile change” and only a “niche corner” would notice, but at that time I didn’t really care if the greater world would know. Maybe as an American Doctor Who fan I had always lived on an island so changes to the TV series held no more weight than those in the New Adventures. I had very few friends who were into Doctor Who, so to me the NAs were just as real as the TV show had ever been.

    Reply

  28. matthew
    September 18, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    Pedantry: June 93 only sees Wiles' first attempt to proving FLT, I think, not the correct version.

    Reply

  29. ant
    September 18, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

    White Darkness is a book I've kept coming back to, in an attempt to read it all the way through, and I've never quite managed it. I get far too distracted by all the references that the author smuggles in in an attempt to be clever, like having a character named Lt. Deitz in a reference to Anthony Ainley's character in The Land that Time Forgot. They tend to pull you straight out of the narrative. (The BBC Book Byzantium is the pinnacle of this: do we really need this many Joy Division lyrics in a 60's Doctor Who?)
    I also have to say Phil, if I may address you as such, that my son has ADHD and has just gone into high school, which is a great worry to me. To see someone with a similar condition who has obviously worked so hard on his qualifications and whose opinions are the highlights of my week is such a great reassurance. Cheers.

    Reply

  30. jane
    September 18, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

    @Phil: I got a message from him on Facebook a year or so ago, apologizing for what happened well over a decade ago. It meant the world to me. But I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I was at a loss for words, unable to conceive of what a world where I forgave him even looked like even as I did just that. I still haven’t written back. I still haven’t actually finished Theatre of War either. Sometimes we need our wounds more than we need atonement.

    @Scott: I think you're right that on some level we do need that sense of victimhood and exclusion; it's ultimately as much a part of us as everything else that composes who we are.

    I am the cause of my own suffering — I took this to heart five years ago, and forgave all my childhood woundings, which includes bullying and other forms of predation and abuse. And this conferred a strange sense of power within me; I'm still not sure what it is.

    It's really weird and fucked up to say it, but I'm grateful for the wounding I received. It made me who I am, and I wouldn't change who I am, not anymore, so I have to accept that suffering, though borne out of a meaningless, stochastic universe, as something essential to what makes me, me, monster and angel. I wouldn't have it any other way.

    I'm reminded of a terribly cheesy parable: the acorn cracks, and this is its great wounding, but it must take this wound if it's ever to grow into an oak tree.

    Reply

  31. Wm Keith
    September 18, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

    I like the (deliberate) inversion – as a British fan I do literally live on an island.

    But each individual NA is inevitably more insular than each TV episode, in that the consistent, ever-present visual background is simply not there. I could read the next ten NAs without knowing that the jumper was gone -unless and until the author or editor inserted a description of the new costume.

    Reply

  32. sleepyscholar
    September 19, 2012 @ 3:24 am

    I had the same problem with Love and War. I like Big Night Out as much as anyone, but the Vic Reeves cameo pulled me out of the narrative, as did the sundry lyrics references and other in-jokes.

    Reply

  33. sleepyscholar
    September 19, 2012 @ 3:27 am

    I do recommend you look into the work of Viktor Frankly, whose approach to meaning in life seems to address — and complement — what you're describing perfectly. And his own story is an extraordinary one: far more so, in my opinion, than those of the other two 'great' Viennese psychological theorists, Freud and Adler.

    Reply

  34. sleepyscholar
    September 19, 2012 @ 3:28 am

    Frankl, that is, not Frankly.

    Reply

  35. John Seavey
    September 20, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    So DS9, which is a series about a former colony that's been given independence and is currently attempting to forge its own way as a sovereign power, while dealing with a benevolent foreign government that is nonetheless distrusted because its "coalition" is viewed by some as colonialism under another guise, while attempting to protect a vital resource that is clearly theirs but that they don't have the military might to defend on their own…is NOT about imperialism?

    Wow. That's a very different take on it than the ones I've seen.

    Reply

  36. encyclops
    October 2, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    1. I'm tentatively putting the critical imprinting age for Doctor Who at 11. The more I see, the more I'm convinced that's the time when you'll decide what Doctor Who is and should be. I was watching PBS omnibus editions of Pertwee, Baker, and Davison around that time, and so as much as I admire parts of the Hartnell and Troughton eras they still seem like relics to me, and everything from Colin Baker on has always seemed just a little bit ersatz in comparison, including the new series. All bets are off if you come to the show as an adult, of course, but I note that you were hitting the New Adventures around this time and lo and behold, that's your Doctor.

      2. I did the skimming thing a lot too. English was one of my worst subjects in school (relatively speaking) until they stopped grading based on whether you remembered details of the plot and started grading based on whether you could articulate what the story was actually about and what it meant. I used to say I'd "moved my eyes over" all of the Lord of the Rings books, but I didn't actually read them until I was an adult and the movies were about to come out. That's when I discovered that interesting things actually happened in The Two Towers, and that the story wasn't just ringwraiths and a giant spider.

      3. It's exhausting to have to call out the moral failings (racism, imperialism, etc.) in literature. You're a better man than I am for being able to manage that part of your job without letting it get you down.

      4. I wish I'd been invited to more strip poker games as a kid. Sounds like they were much more my cup of tea than yours. 🙁

      5. Kids are assholes, junior high kids doubly so. I don't think I had it as bad as you did, but these traumas expand to fill the brain space provided. I'm Facebook "friends" with people from that time and it continually surprises me. I have no idea what the worst bullies are doing, though, and I have no idea what I would say to them in your position. Most of the emotional bruises have faded, but I couldn't sincerely say "it's cool, you were young, you only filled me with dread and hostility to humanity part of the time."

    Reply

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  38. John Binns
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    Reply

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