Our Imposter Syndrome cancels out our Dunning-Kruger

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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. zapruder313
    October 17, 2011 @ 5:10 am

    Another brilliant post. Your comments about the tone of the series synchronising with the new seasonal timeslot are absolutely spot on, and, as so often with this blog, articulate something that I had always felt but never really put into words.

    Since the first story I can definitely remember seeing on broadcast was "The Face of Evil", my initial and defining impression of Doctor Who was that it was "the sort of thing that should be on telly as the nights draw in and it is getting dark when you walk home from school".

    To me, the programme was always an essential part of the Autumn/Halloween/dark nights/cold mornings season that I loved, and it had never really occurred to me that it hadn't always been that way for the previous Doctors. Definitely, I still have a sense that it should be that way. To fans of my generation, Doctor Who belongs to dark evenings with the curtains drawn as much as ghost stories belong to Christmas. It just doesn't work if it is light outside when the theme tune kicks in!

    Mark Gatiss says somewhere that watching television in the 70s had the atmosphere of a seance, and he is right: watching television was an Event, involving drawn curtains, hushed voices, darkened rooms, awaiting a voice or a message from Elsewhere. This was especially true of Doctor Who (and Sapphire and Steel, too), and contributed in a major way to the thoroughly enjoyable sense of "horror" of the programme. Half the work of scaring the audience was done before the credits even rolled. We had already willed ourselves into a head space where we wanted to be frightened. "Autumnal" Doctor Who was part of the same cultural experience as the battered paperbacks volumes of "The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories" read by torchlight under the covers.


  2. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    October 17, 2011 @ 5:18 am

    "This raises the question, thug"

    I am offended! You have no justification for calling me a thug.


  3. AD169
    October 17, 2011 @ 5:56 am

    I suppose you give the writers more credit than I did when I recently viewed this. The Doctor's "schlepping around Zeta" seemed merely a plot device. His later mistaking Sarah for Victoria just seemed like a quick explanation for her outfit, which would avoid raising any eyebrows in the time period they next arrive in.

    Still, I always smile when a past companion is mentioned (the older, the better). It's a simple form of "fanwank", but it's still appreciated. Especially in an era without reruns (save for, ironically, Victoria's debut story), it shows the writer's appreciation or at least awareness of the show's history.


  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 17, 2011 @ 6:50 am

    I've never claimed to be identifying authorial intent here – I certainly don't think the various writers of Doctor Who were consciously structuring a 50+ year long quasi-sentient metafiction that provided a running commentary and artistic reaction to contemporary ideas of utopianism. Well. Except maybe David Whitaker.

    It's also not primarily the mistaking of Sarah that throws me – although that is something that it's tough to imagine past Doctors doing much. It's the sheer degree of the Doctor's aloofness in that scene. In less than two years Robert Holmes has gone from the Time Lords being "galactic ticket inspectors" to "I'm a Time Lord… I walk in Eternity." It's a massive shift in the character. Regardless of whether the scene is just to justify Sladen's wardrobe, it's transformative.

    But more on that Wednesday.


  5. elvwood
    October 17, 2011 @ 7:08 am

    Beautifully put. This is one of my favourite seasons, and I quite agree that PoE is an amazingly good serial to be one of the lesser stories of the season! The atmosphere of Zeta Minor is palpable, and it's only in comparison to this that the Morestran ship scenes look so bad; they wouldn't have been out of place (or outclassed) in much of Troughton's era, Hancock included. Still, the planet part stands out so far that I tend to forget how much of the story takes place on the ship.


  6. Gnaeus
    October 17, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    I have a soft spot for this one, I must admit. It's not a masterwork, but it's solid.

    Also, you make some good points here. I do have a couple to pose, though, of my own: First, that there is a critique of Star Trek going on here (or at least, Bob Holmes is satirising it in his usual, twisted way). Whether or not this fits, I have no idea.

    Secondly, is there some significance to the antimatter creature being in (what appears to be, from memory) a pit? You ask why the Doctor is so terrified/awed. I wonder if the point is that this is an abyss – or better – the Abyss which Neitzsche warns against staring into?

    Third: the Doctor's role here is essentially pontifical: the mediator between two realms. Is there an implication that he has one foot in the monstrous?

    Also, Hallowe'en falls when it does because it's the vigil of All Saints in the Western Christian calendar πŸ˜› . (And no, I don't think Pope Gregory III was thinking of obscure pagan Irish festivals which first arise in the written record 300 years after his death, when he set that date .:) )


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 17, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    While it is certainly the case that All Hallows Eve does fall the day before All Hallows Day, I don't think that's sufficient to explain the tone of the holiday. πŸ™‚

    Yes, you're absolutely right to observe the abyssal nature of the threat. Also the continued establishment of the basic groundwork for the eventual "I'm what monsters have nightmares about" turn in the Doctor's character.

    That said, I'm a little hesitant to turn any critique of spacefaring adventure into a critique of Star Trek. Yes, Planet of Evil is in a fundamental sense a rebuke of the "Star Trek" way of handling things, but in this case the Star Trek way is really just a distilling of decades of American pulp sci-fi into a weekly procedural. And I think Planet of Evil is responding more to the entire heritage that Star Trek is something of a logical endpoint of than it is to Trek in particular.


  8. SK
    October 17, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    Indeed, the more obvious reference, rather than Star Trek, to a spaceship full of square-jawed explorer types meeting flickery outlined monsters, is that film they made when they took all the songs out of that rock and roll musical Shakespeare wrote and called it Forbidden Planet.

    The building up of the Time Lords from galactic ticket inspectors to mythic liminal figures might possibly be to make the undercutting of them in their next appearance that much more amusing…


  9. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    October 17, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

    And the chief villain (well, antagonist anyway) in Forbidden Planet was named … Morbius.


  10. YaramahZ
    April 22, 2023 @ 8:50 pm

    I’ve always enjoyed this story. Especially Tom’s more sedate version, treating the anti-matter creatures / universe as something he was genuinely frightened of. Whilst I missed the Lovecraftian references in my first watching, seeing them now they are an obvious match with Dr Who.


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