Eruditorum Press

Ideas may be bulletproof, but nobody’s tried plasma rifles

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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.

22 Comments

  1. Aaron
    May 16, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    Thanks for that explanation about the time travel, that's so cool that Whitaker's nonsense technobabble explanation actually makes some sort of sense if you think about it in terms of Alchemy. This is a really neat piece, thanks.

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  2. Jamez V
    May 16, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

    Probably your most interesting article yet. At least to me. of course I absolutely adore "Evil" so it would be.

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  3. JJ
    May 16, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

    Excellent review, as always. I had always somehow gotten the general notion about the Doctor being a Wizard and the appearance of alchemy without ever putting it all together and seeing how complexly those ideas are realized.

    What I always loved about Evil, despite its three episodes of padding (and I rarely care about padding – my favorite DW is The War Games), is that it's basically a Sylvester McCoy story 20 years early. You've got the Doctor's ruthless manipulations and the companion infuriated at his apparent heartlessness in seeing the big picture. And, as you said, the Doctor is a wizard here, like, well, Merlin.

    So Whitaker is somehow on the same page as Cartmel and Aronovitch 20 years before they even had a page.

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  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 16, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

    Amusingly, more than one thread of this post will get picked up in the Cartmel era, since Cartmel's biggest influence was Alan Moore, who would go on to explicitly become a magician in the alchemical sense. And some comics Moore did for Doctor Who Weekly are known to be an influence on how Davies thought of the Time War. To say nothing of the similarities between Moore's later work and Steven Moffat's.

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  5. BatmanAoD
    May 16, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

    I think this may be my favorite post yet on this blog. I definitely need to try harder to get my friends to read this thing.

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  6. inkdestroyedmybrush
    May 17, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    Excellent post in realizing what Whitaker was working at behind the scenes. It is not difficult to see a connection to Cartmel's ideas, however poorly realized many of them were on screen. It would have made more sense here to have had Cartmel follow up this early 2nd Doctor, since, by the time Andrew takes over as script editor, his conception of a darker Doctor was quite at odds with what was expected at the time, and quite at odds with the budget. Here, Doctor Who could come in with some utterly mad ideas that people would nod, "Um, OK…" and let the story move on.

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  7. Anton
    May 17, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

    Excellent. As stealth reviews of The Doctor's Wife' go this was extraordinary. Alchemy eh? Quite probably. spot on with the Mercury/Trickster connection, I love to imagine mercury flowing through the newly anthropomorphised TARDIS's veins (or 'fluid links'). Incidently wasn't 'winged mercury' an early graphic image used by the BBC? Or am I thinking of something else. In 1967 it would be a coulple of years before that other alchemist Michael Moorcock would also predict Steampunk with his Oswald Bastable novels. So its interesting that he's only just got round to being asked to write a Doctor Who novel. I;d imagine after this weeks Gaiman tour de force it surely can't be long before Alan Moore and Grant Morrison get to do a TV episode.

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  8. 5tephe
    May 18, 2011 @ 3:18 am

    You sir, are a genius.

    Thank you so much for giving a fan with a lot less literary education than you obviously have the tools to "read" his favourite old show as the glorious adventure that he knew it was when he was a little boy.

    And can I say: this is the best essay that I have read in a long time. You handle your arguments and build to your climax like a complete professional. Someone should give you a job.

    Reply

  9. wwhyte
    July 8, 2011 @ 7:45 am

    This is a great entry. I love to see David Whitaker getting the level of attention you give him.

    I'd throw in another observation: Whitaker keeps returning to alchemy, which is at least in part about transmuting things from one form to another; but he is also almost certainly responsible for "you can't change history, not even a single line!". So we can contrast a belief in the mutability of things, but an insistence on the immutability of Story, both coming straight from him. Or, maybe more usefully, we can say that the transmutation of everything is dangerous, but only the transmutation of stories is so dangerous that it's absolutely forbidden.

    Maybe this comes directly from alchemical teachings; even if it just comes from Whitaker, it obviously makes sense. Things are different from stories. With things, there is an object and an image (as your quote illustrates); with story, there's only image and no object to use as an anchor. Also, things are bounded; stories are unbounded and can expand to take in anything (as Evil of the Daleks illustrates in particular, with its constant escalation and shifts of setting).

    The other difference, of course, is that things are outside you, while stories are inside you. And in early (ie Whitaker's) Doctor Who, as everyone has noted, there's no problem changing history, there's just a problem changing the history you know. It's not a problem of physics. The implication is that the stories you know are so much a part of you that changing them changes you unrecognisably and gives you no way back.

    I think this echoes somewhat some of your ideas in your Mind Robber review, but I haven't been reading your entries in order so I may be repeating ideas you've come up with elsewhere. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

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  10. SK
    August 26, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    So it's not that you can't change the past — it's specifically that you can't change history?

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  11. SK
    August 26, 2011 @ 9:18 am

    (So that'd be why it's fine to save people nobody has heard of.)

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  12. William Whyte
    August 26, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

    Well, that's the idea.

    Bear in mind that what I'm proposing isn't necessarily what David Whitaker thought (in fact, it's clearly not what he thought — see the quote from him in the Three Doctors entry: "The basis of time traveling is that all things that happen are fixed and unalterable…"). It's just more consistent with everything else he thought than what he actually thought was, and it makes sense in a way that fixed points don't. (An alternative approach is the one in The Time Travellers, which is similar but more drastic).

    FWIW, in my personal canon (which I call WANON), the reason why the Doctor left Gallifrey was because he tried to change history, and the result was to kill Susan's parents and leave Susan reduced to the intelligent but feral creature of pure instinct that we meet her as. This is why he's so insistent on not changing history in the Aztecs, and why he can't explain why not, not in front of her.

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  13. Kat42
    December 4, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    I haven't quite read this whole article yet, but I am loving it, I am wanting to point out a bit of confusion though.

    You say "although to be fair, his script says Turk, and the scientific racism about some races having inherently inferior intelligences was usually focused on Africans, so a lot of this came from whatever idiot decided that "black" and "Turkish" were synonyms"

    I am wondering why you are assuming that racism of that nature would only be aimed at one race. If I were to guess I would wonder if you were thinking this , because racism of this nature tends to be aimed more at black people in the U.S, however in other countries that type of racism can be aimed at other races a bit more.

    I know we don't tend to have a particular problem here with that type of thing being aimed at black people, but we do against other races a bit more.

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  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 4, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

    I was referring specifically to scientific racism. The line describing the character as simple-minded genetically is spoken by a Victorian scientist and inventor, and thus invokes a specific tradition of racism. In that form of racism, lack of intelligence was generally associated with Africans. I'm thinking here of viewpoints like Charles White's – that seeming to be a particularly good analogue for the sort of beliefs Maxtible would have held.

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  15. Kat42
    December 4, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

    Have read it all now, yes awesome awesome post. I know I read this before, but I think I only skimmed it or didn't quite get some of your ideas, because I wasn't reading them in sequence.

    Reply

  16. willbikeforchange
    January 1, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

    I'm curious to see when you get to the new episodes how they play off of a lot of the ideas here in the old episodes. In particular, I noticed that the idea of "mirrors used in time travel" comes back – that's how they transport Donna in "Turn Left." Likewise, I'm really interested in how you talk about story in the new seasons, having just watched The Mind Robber myself.

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  17. William Whyte
    January 23, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

    I've finally seen this (I R BAD FAN). (And by "seen" I mean "seen most of it and read the script for episodes 4 and 5").

    but the fact of the matter is that even the Doctor spends three episodes seemingly twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the Daleks to begin with their real plan

    Well, yes, but one thing you've missed here is that these episodes explicitly position the Doctor as the narrator of The Adventures of Jamie. As you've noted, the Daleks can be a force for narrative collapse, and what the Doctor's doing here is putting himself outside the narrative altogether, assuming a different role so he can resist that. It seems like what he's doing is , but actually he's telling stories.

    The fact that he positions himself like this is a nice reflection of one running theme in the story, which is to do with things being in places where they shouldn't be. Victorians in modern day England, Daleks in Victorian times, hankies in Dalek suckers, the Doctor outside the narrative, the TARDIS on the back of a van, crazy bladed pendulums in a Victorian mansion, and finally humanized Daleks on Skaro. It almost makes sense of the otherwise odd appearance of the TARDIS right at the end: the last place the TARDIS should be is handily outside the Dalek city, so of course there it is.

    It is brilliant, of course. It brings back the fuck me, this show can do anything days of season 2 more than anything before it. Episode 2 is one of the oddest and best things ever. Seeing it makes me more excited than I have any right to be to see what Derek Martinus actually did with Galaxy Four.

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  18. William Whyte
    January 23, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

    Let me also say in re Kemel that the fact that he changes sides, against Maxtible's orders, makes him a better illustration of the true Human Factor than Jamie. And his disobeying orders to do what he thinks is right is exactly what we see the humanized Daleks do on Skaro. So you could argue that the Doctor's narration of the experiment is actually a successful effort to throw the Daleks off the scent: he's synthesising the Human Factor not from Jamie but from Kemel.

    This does, I think, make it less racist. I don't know if it's true, but given Whitaker's misdirection in Edge of Destruction and The Rescue, it's at least slightly plausible.

    (And Tomb of the Cybermen doesn't get the same escape hatch because it was just copying).

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  19. William Whyte
    January 26, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    And one more delight, of course, is the fact that the humanized Daleks aren't just humans; they're children. And they run around playing playground games. It both points out the essential childishness of the Daleks, and gives us a beautifully twisted version of Dalekmania. Humanmania!

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  20. Eric Gimlin
    January 27, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    I like the way you admit how dumb the scene with Daleks playing can sound when you try to describe it,because I've had the same problem. It's just not that clear without context. But listening to the audiobook, it's the single scene in all of missing Doctor Who I most want to see. Although on one level I'm not sure why- hearing his voice I can just see the sheer delight on the Doctor's face as he realises the Daleks are playing. It's an amazing moment, and in its own way possibly the best cliffhanger the series ever did.

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  21. Anonymous
    July 9, 2016 @ 1:11 am

    After reading this, I watched reconstructions of the serial. Alpha, Beta, and Omega are HILARIOUS.

    TRAAAAAAIIIIIINNNNSSSS?

    Reply

  22. Chris
    January 30, 2021 @ 6:56 pm

    Has anyone considered that the Emporer in the new series may be an evolved and forcibly mutated Maxtible? One reason why foreign muscly guys in old films and TV are mute is simply the fact that untrained non-actors are inevitably recruited to play them as this is something outside the normal remit of a RADA graduate. This is one way of getting around the problem of wooden line-readings – same as giving glamour girl models in minor parts few lines.

    Reply

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