The struggle in terms of the strange

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. Sheโ€™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. William Whyte
    November 9, 2011 @ 12:50 am

    This is the best story. Well, this and Fenric, maybe. And this entry is a great entry. I love the insight that TARDISes are rare and the link to Faust — and you'd think there'd be more Faust in Doctor Who, given the alleged point of Planet of the Spiders; maybe the problem is that the Doctor is essentially incorruptible, despite the alleged point of Planet of the Spiders. And I love your reading where there's no contradiction between the Deadly Assassin and what went before. I'd add a couple of things, one more fanwanky than the other.

    First — this is clearly a jab at the House of Lords, as you say, and that means that part of the inspiration is Bagehot's The English Constitution and its distinction between the dignified and the efficient parts of government. Up till now in Time Lord stories we've only seen the efficient side of the Time Lords. Here we're seeing the dignified side. There's no particular reason why one side's characteristics reflect the others: the ceremonies could sit in Gormenghastian isolation in a surprisingly-small Panopticon while the rest of Time Lord society, outside the Citadel, gets on with things. (This isn't the impression that later Time Lord stories give, of course, but it's consistent with the show to now). Of course, one of the points of The Deadly Assassin is that the dignified side of the Time Lords isn't all that dignified, so there's a clear implication about the efficient side too.

    The fanwanky point: I continue to believe that something horrible happened before An Unearthly Child that killed Susan's parents, left Susan dangerously unstable, aged the Doctor terribly, and unhinged the Doctor's relationship to his own timeline. It could be something technological, like the Doctor flipping the wrong switch; it could be something magical, like an observation of history so intense that the Doctor's form couldn't contain it; it could be something in between, an experiment with Forces That Were Not Meant To Be Tampered With. All of Hartnell is his attempt to run from this. Troughton lets a long time go by before claiming he's the Doctor because the regeneration was in part this hole in the timeline swallowing up Hartnell, and Troughton genuinely doesn't know yet whether he's the Doctor or not. He continues running from the Time Lords because he knows that what he's done is irreversible and the consequences will be terrible. When he meets the War Chief in the War Games, he knows it's safe to call the Time Lords because the War Chief doesn't remember what the Doctor did — the hole in time the Doctor caused has now eaten up the actual memories of his crime, and all the Time Lords remember is that they want him for something, but they can't remember the specifics and just end up putting him on trial for the relatively weak beer of "getting involved" in some sense. But it's this hole in time that the Doctor brings with him that makes him able to meet himself in the Three Doctors, and this hole that the Philip Hinchcliffe Doctor and the Graeme Harper Doctor and the Jeremy Thorpe Doctor peer through in The Brain of Morbius.

    The point of all this is that the transition from Three Doctors to the Deadly Assassin can be looked on as the result of changing the power supply. Or it can be looked on as what happened to Gallifrey as a result of bringing together three copies of the Doctor's hole in time; the result broke Gallifrey. Or, even more fundamentally, it's Gallifrey's punishment for breaking the First Law of Time, and the exact mechanism is unimportant: the Three Doctors is the original sin, and what we see in the Deadly Assassin is the aftermath of the Fall.


  2. William Whyte
    November 9, 2011 @ 1:01 am

    My throwaway Jeremy Thorpe gag above reminds me that when this story was being written, the shooting of Norman Scott's dog Rinka was the other political assassination that was on everyone's mind, and looking on The Deadly Assassin as a mashup of The Manchurian Candidate and the Jeremy Thorpe case makes it make a lot more sense than looking on it as The Manchurian Candidate alone.

    And I know this isn't a review blog, but it's worth saying that this is the start of a run of four stories that are better-made than anything until Earthshock, and better-written than anything until Ghost Light. The perfectly pitched use of the word "heliotrope" is a great indicator of how high Holmes had raised his game at this point: how solid this world is in his head that he can mock it from within, in character, without undermining it at all. I've never understood people who, even if they don't like the picture of Gallifrey in the story, aren't lifted up by the cheaper but rich pleasures of the dialogue and the direction. Holmes and Maloney finally together!


  3. SK
    November 9, 2011 @ 1:31 am

    Seems churlish to pick up on one minor point in the middle, but what the Hell? I like being churlish. You've confused 'canon' and 'continuity' again.


  4. Alex Wilcock
    November 9, 2011 @ 2:43 am

    Absolutely fascinating, and probably the biggest insight so far into the towering edifice you make of your great philosophical reconceptualisation of the whole of Doctor Who. As usual, I think some of it’s brilliant, some of it’s flawed, and some… not to my taste ๐Ÿ˜‰ I won’t go into a great screed today, but in this particular case my overlap or opposition to your ideas may come down to you thinking it’s about magic, my thinking it’s about religion and politics (as I’ve said in a surprisingly shorter article), and my then thinking we probably meet on deconstructionism. I agree with William Whyte, though, that it’s the best Doctor Who story of them all, still the series’ most radical and creative vision, both conceptually and visually. I particularly like your idea of the Master as the assassin of Doctor Who – I’ve often seen him as the director of the story – controlling its beginning and ending with that amazing coincidence of November 22nd / 23rd (I’m sure Holmes had no idea of the serendipity when Hinchcliffe came up with the idea of doing a conspiracy thriller, but it works brilliantly in the context you summon for it).

    It’s entertaining that I agree neither with Jan’s famous article nor with your fisking; I got to know him many years later and had several enjoyable debates with him about it, which I wish I’d turned into a complete article – I’ve had bits of one knocking around for years with the argument, ‘The Time Lords Are Gits, And Always Have Been’. Though you seem to raise it as an absurd corollary, ever since I first saw it twenty or so years ago I’ve been saying that the Time Lords are indeed the ultimate villains of The War Games (for me, the clincher is that the story is bookended by grossly unfair trials that ignore the Doctor’s defence and sentence him to death – the obvious parallel can hardly be there to tell us that the Time Lords are the nice guys). I think, incidentally, that Jan got his version (to note the impossibility of ‘canon’) of the “Mark One” from the novel of Terror of the Autons, in which Terrance Dicks does indeed make it about the TARDISes themselves as a character point, so that the Doctor in effect sides with the ‘vintage roadster’ against the ‘flashy new model’.

    As I said, most of all you’ve published today is a fascinating illustration of your ambitious worldview, but there’s one point at which, not to pull out too many of your bricks, I think you’ve let your desire to fit everything neatly into your overview warp your reading of the text. When you say “it seems unmistakably what the script is gesturing at,” I’d (mathematically) argue that you’re almost a perfect one hundred and eighty degrees out. Surely the point the Doctor remembers Borusa making with “Only in mathematics will you find truth” is not that everything human (sic) nature is as true as pure mathematics, but that every bit of it is as impure as anything else. In remembering this lecture, the Doctor is telling us how Borusa can justify his “truth”: the point is not that Borusa’s spin-doctoring of reality is as true as mathematics, but that because nothing in real life is absolutely true, altering any of it is therefore no more false than leaving it as you found it. It’s cynical, not epistemological.


  5. Dr. Happypants
    November 9, 2011 @ 3:52 am

    As Alex says, it's cynical, not epistemological.

    This is a serial that's actively hostile to the very idea of mythologizing and to reverence for ideas. Robert Holmes sets himself up here as the explicit anti-Philip. In passing he also denies the existence of the soul.

    It's not just that the Time Lords are old men with bad hips and bumbling cops…And hilarious chalk outlines…I first saw this story roughly 25 years ago on PBS and that still cracks me up…

    Consider the Matrix. Firstly, we have the rather strong philosophical claim that the mind is nothing but electrochemical impulses that can be stored in a computer at all, but that's not the important part. No, the important part is the dreamscape. We've seen Doctor Who episodes before where thoughts become reality. But look how incredibly differently that same trick is treated here! In The Mind Robber, we fall right out of our reality into a realm where fiction is real–all our conventional notions of ontology are thrown right out the window. In The Three Doctors, Omega can manifest physical objects in his world through pure thought–again, we are in a whole new universe which explicitly defies our conventional notions of physics and reality. These are both extremely metaphysical stories in which things and ideas actually become the same. But in The Deadly Assassin, we get huge wodges of exposition establishing and reinforcing the idea that everything that takes place in the Matrix is just an illusion! The Matrix is probably the hardest SF idea the show has used to this point, maybe ever. Ideas aren't allowed to slop out into the external world at all–ideas can only become real inside the confines of the reality of the mind. The world of the imagination is contained inside the physical one, and can't get out. Thoughts can't change the material world directly, but only by changing other peoples' thoughts.

    The collision of conceptual and physical reality here is explicitly made compatible with a completely demystified Big-Ass Science view of the world, because Robert Holmes frigging loves hard SF and grubby physicality and revels in tearing down Big Ideas and has no respect for abstractions.

    The whole story is a gleeful exercise in dynamiting the whole concept of mythologization. If that's even a word.

    Take regeneration: not just the 13 limit, but how the Time Lords treat it. Runcible asks the Doctor if he's had a "face lift"! In Planet of the Spiders, regeneration was a profound metaphysical rebirth and an ascent to a higher plane of consciousness…and now it's cosmetic surgery.

    Take Rassilon: although he's set up as having the same kind of legendary status Omega was, that legend is torpedoed immediately after it's established. The Book of the Old Time is revealed as obscurantist gibberish the Doctor sees through in a New York minute, and we're told that for all his mythical stature now, in his own time Rassilon was remembered as an architect and an engineer…An engineer! Not even a scientist.

    All the legendary symbols of Time Lord power turn out to be components in a big hard SF machine (ooh er, nurse!).

    The inmates are running the asylum. The guardians of history are themselves subject to it. Nobody's in charge of this universe. A personal vendetta–and that's what the Doctor/Master conflict is: it's no battle of ideologies–comes this close to toppling the godlike civilization at the center of time. The greatest crisis in the Time Lords' long history isn't Omega the God, but an insanely petty and vindictive man nursing a grudge.


  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 9, 2011 @ 4:32 am

    I am puzzled as to why epistemology and cynicism would be treated as being in opposition. I agree it's cynical. Of course it's cynical. It's a Robert Holmes story. But reducing Robert Holmes to a bad mood and some witty dialogue seems awfully hard on the man.


  7. William Whyte
    November 9, 2011 @ 4:54 am

    Alex — surely Jan VR's point was not to complain about the Time Lords being gits, but about them being rubbish?


  8. William Whyte
    November 9, 2011 @ 5:10 am

    On conspiracy theories: one thing about the Deadly Assassin is that, although it's done in the paranoid style, in practice it isn't a conspiracy theory, it's a whodunnit. There isn't a deep-running, organized corruption at the top of Time Lord society; there's a single ambitious bad apple. To this extent it's exactly the opposite of The Manchurian Candidate or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which want to leave you trusting neither the authorities nor your neighbours. The Deadly Assassin, transgressive though it is, ends with the story neatly tied up and no remaining reason to think things aren't exactly as they seem.


  9. Alex Wilcock
    November 9, 2011 @ 5:22 am

    William – sorry, that's the trouble with making a glancing reference to something I really out to dig out, polish off and publish, but here's the very short concept behind it. You're right that Jan saw these Time Lords as not proper Time Lords because he saw the originals as godlike beings whose ways we couldn't understand and these as just "human"; my counter-argument with him was that I understood them all too well, as bullies wielding arbitrary power – or, to put it simply, gits. But that's to do with my debate with Jan, not directly his critique of the programme (my rebuttal being more complex than 'Oh no they're not').


  10. Jesse
    November 9, 2011 @ 6:00 am

    William: It's a fascinating piece of paranoid storytelling because it begins as The Manchurian Candidate but takes a detour into The Matrix. An interesting combination.


  11. William Whyte
    November 9, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    Right — I agree that it's paranoid, but it's not really in the conspiracy genre. It just pretends to be.


  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 9, 2011 @ 6:13 am

    To be fair, I also am not really in the conspiracy genre.


  13. Adam B
    November 9, 2011 @ 8:01 am

    tl; dr. lol, jk!

    Anyway, sir, you've outdone yourself again. And I still can't help but start to think about how all of this plays out throughout the rest of the show to date, and confirms my belief that classic and nuWho are much more two sides of a finely-woven garment than some like to admit.

    I also learn a lot from well-reasoned contrary comments, so kudos to all of you as well. I'm not able to chime in here often, but this is quickly becoming just about my favorite place on the whole cyber-tube superhighway.


  14. Gavin
    November 9, 2011 @ 8:01 am

    On the specific point of the guards – the story is pretty clear that they have a definite non-ceremonial function as police. The Castellan is always "running the sheboogans in" for vandalism and normally, according to Engin, deals with a less elevated sector of society than Time Lords.

    More generally, the odd thing about objecting to The Deadly Assassin as changing everything is that its Time Lords are closer to those of The War Games than those of the intervening stories in every respect except that they're no longer godlike figures of great power and knowledge.

    Which may seem a little like "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" But what The Deadly Assassin shares with The War Games is the claim that the Doctor was right to reject this society as static and unwilling to act, which is central to the character in a way that what the Time Lords are exactly like is not. And the show is about the Doctor, not the Time Lords.

    When my teenage self in the '80s first saw The Deadly Assassin on Super Channel (a lost bit of DW history, as far as I can tell, but it made me a devoted follower of the show for life) I reacted badly to the bit where the Doctor claims that Time Lord technology is antiquated garbage. The fact that I found it uncomfortable is, I think, a sign that The Deadly Assassin is doing something absolutely right.


  15. inkdestroyedmybrush
    November 9, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    I was wondering how Philip got through the entire review without referencing the Manchurian Candidate, especially when we just had Holmes plundering Shelley with Morbius.

    Far more interesting here is the concept that the Time Lords do subject themeselves to being part of history, i.e. allowing themselves to actually HAVE history and be subject to it as opposed to sitting outside of history and, as a result, being completely static. Given that they rely on cultural memory and a matrix that is a collective unconscious, the casual rewriting of history for political expediency is not something that pisses off the Doctor. Its something that, by now, he expects. WE expected the Time Lords of the War Games with their best suits on, what he expects is exactly what he fled from: a society that has fundamentally disappointed him and that he escaped from.

    While you delved into violence before on the program, perhaps we should phrase it as Philip making actions really count more than antying, whether it is a violent action or not. When Hartnell ran around saying, "we can't change history! Not one inch!" He was keeping in the tradition of the Time Lords as grammer police, not as a writer. By the time that the Time Lords are sending 4 back to change the Dalek history, they have already decided that the Doctor is a writer of history, and as such has the power to change and do things. When Baker's Doctor is shot, or hands the gun to Solon to commit suicide, they are deeper actions; deaths that have real meaning, violence that actually hurts, changing lives and timelines in both the matter and anti-matter universe. This is the Doctor that made a point of showing us that he's a writer of history: he shows Sarah the future that could be, the one that could exist if they don't act. Only a writer could make up a future, white it out, and then go back to rewrite the chapter. If hartnell's actions assured history, the Time Lord now acknowledge that the Doctor DECIDES history, and his renegade status outside of the Time Lord politic becomes both troublesome and assured. Love him or hate him, McCoy is firmly in line with that bit of thinking.


  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 9, 2011 @ 11:15 am

    inkdestroyedmybrush – you wanted MORE words? ๐Ÿ™‚

    (Mainly, I didn't have time to rematch The Manchurian Candidate, and given that it's one of the best movies I've ever seen I really didn't want to flounder about on the basis of one viewing from over five years ago. And really, convincing myself not to add another few hundred words was not hard by the end of this.)


  17. David
    November 9, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    The most piddling of details: the TARDIS has a time scanner, so they do exist! It was used at the end of The Moonbase to enable the Doctor and co. to discover that a holiday camp is being menaced by a giant claw, something they appear to forget once The Macra Terror itself gets going. And the time scanner was never used again. I feel sad for remembering that but I've always had an odd fascination with random bits of the TARDIS that get introduced and never used again, like the thought television thing the Doctor uses to cue in a repeat of Evil of the Daleks, and the Terry Nation IKEA furniture of reasonable comfort. God knows why Rudzki would harp on about it, though.


  18. WGPJosh
    November 9, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    McCoy's not only firmly in that intellectual tradition, I would argue he's the logical conclusion to it. I smiled when I read the bit about Rassilon and Omega because now I know Phil is going to link this with "Evil of the Daleks", "The Mind Robber", "Brain of Morbius" and the Cartmel Masterplan and when that happens that entry is going to be glorious.

    Not that this one wasn't: As expected, this is another masterwork for this blog. I definitely agree with the concept that "The Deadly Assassin"'s primary triumph is making the Time Lords mutable and subject to history, and it follows predictably on from stories like "Genesis of the Daleks" and "Revenge of the Cybermen". However, I am intrigued by Dr. Happypants' argument and would like to see a little more of it, though I feel it's perhaps more appropriate to view "Destiny of the Daleks" that way rather than this story. However, I seem to be in the minority again on that one so I'm anxious to see it covered here.

    One thing I was sort of hoping to see covered here but Phil didn't seem to touch on was how the character of The Master changed from the Pertwee era to here, though the analysis he did give us was certainly more than exhaustive and heartily appreciated.

    The 13 regenerations thing has always sort of fascinated me too: Russel T. Davies talks about how bemused he is that certain throwaway lines are given more weight in the fandom than others. He also likens it to The Doctor's age, where so many people latch on to the idea that he must be 900-something years old, despite Pertwee's claim on more than one occasion that he'd been a scientist for thousands of years. I totally agree with him here and also submit the Morbius faces and the recurring implication in both the Troughton and McCoy stories that The Doctor is quite literally older than time itself as examples of this rather baffling focus so many fans have on minor lines and details.

    I've sort of been toying around with a theory of late to reconcile things like this, along with trends I see in one of my many other lives as a freelance video game journalist: I think a lot of it comes down to the nature of serialized storytelling itself, wherein the unique quirks of the medium are intertwined somewhat with a kind of capitalist hegemony. In short, the serial can be seen very much as a type of story-as-commodity, wherein fansXconsumers seem obsessed with "what happens next", i.e., consuming more of the storyXproduct, and creatorsXproducers know what to sell and who to sell it to. Doctor Who is notably great at fundamentally rejecting and deconstructing this and always has been, but that doesn't mean its fandom doesn't fall into the trap itself.

    That's where endless debates over canon come from: The stereotypical fans, like the Time Lords, are focused on upholding the sanctity of the linear progression of the story. That's why fan reviews so often tend to read like consumer reports, because that's exactly what they are: Sullying the canon means sullying the product, and consumers react badly to that.

    Now granted this doesn't explain why this story of all stories is given more credence than anything else, though its status as a spectacular retcon is probably at least part of the reason why. However, I do think I could explain a lot of fandom and fixation on canon along these lines, or similar ones.


  19. WGPJosh
    November 9, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    Speaking of McCoy and only because it was brought up in the context of this entry via Phil's aversion to watching Doctor Who in a feature-length format, I'm anxious to hear his thoughts on the feature-length cuts and re-edits to the McCoy-era serials. A lot of fans, and crew members for that matter, feel them to be the definitive versions because so much material was excised and left on the cutting-room floor during the original run, including material that would have fleshed out important details and made the story flow better.

    Also, I probably missed it but a whole section on the Panopticon and not even a name-check for Michel Foucault? I'm in totally anal STS academic nerd mode here, but come now ๐Ÿ˜‰


  20. inkdestroyedmybrush
    November 9, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    @ WGPJosh – Yes, McCoy is the end product of this line of thinking… but i don't think that they pulled it off. The closest we get to that particular fanwank is Silver nemesis and god is that dreadful. I guess the problem is writing on the nose, rather than writing around it. The Cartmel "masterplan" was exactly what i wanted as a fan… and that makes me even more suspicious that it isn't where they should have gone.

    Rather than a heavy handed "lets make the Doctor tell people he's not just a time lord", it would have been far more impressive to have it been more subtle in shows like Ghost Light. We were so bonked over the head with it in Nemesis.

    (McCoy's best moment in the series is the tea scene in the diner in Remembrance, and its the same question that Baker is asking outside the Dalek birthing room.)

    As far as fandom picking up on certain lines: The point that i made about actions having consequences, doesn't being immortal make things rather boring? Having a cliffhanger with the TV show lead in a deathly situation is silly, we know that they're not going to get killed. Well, in the Doctor's case, yes, he has been killed. And having a regeneration limit means that him losing lives gives greater weight to the consequences of regenerating. If you just keep on regenerating ad nauseum then who cares of the cyberman shoots you?

    I do love that RTD and Moffat put in lines to deliberately screw with the fans…. They must have stock in internet companies.


  21. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 9, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    I haven't decided on the extended cuts yet beyond wishing they were episodic as well. I don't even recall which ones were extended. I know I've seen extended cuts of Silver Nemesis, Curse of Fenric, and Remembrance. Two of those three (the two you'd expect) are my absolute favorite classic-era stories and I've watched them so many times that it barely matters which version I pick. I could practically write those two entries right now if I wanted to.

    And Foucault is in there. Look again. ๐Ÿ™‚


  22. BerserkRL
    November 9, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    In fairness, though, the upper-limit-on-regeneration thing isn't just a throwaway line in "The Deadly Assassin"; it's also a crucial plot point in "The Five Doctors," "The Twin Dilemma," and the TV-movie.

    On the other hand, of course, those examples also make clear that the upper limit can be extended.


  23. Jesse Smith
    November 9, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

    I'm fascinated by your idea of The Deadly Assassin taking place long after The Three Doctors and depicting the ramifications of the latter story, rather than just showing us how the Time Lords have always been. I've never thought about it this way.

    Do you think Goth is the same Time Lord as the one Bernard Horsfell played in The War Games? I like to think so, given that Clyde Pollitt also played a member of the Doctor's tribunal and later played a Chancellor in The Three Doctors. I wonder how well this works with your idea of significant time having passed (but I guess it could still have passed for the Doctor as well).

    I love your comment regarding the Doctor becoming a character in a TV show created by the Master. I've never heard it put so well, but that's exactly what happens. He finds himself in a story where the usual Doctor Who tricks don't work and has to scramble just to barely stay alive in this hostile narrative.


  24. Jesse Smith
    November 9, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

    This is what I really love about this blog, by the way. I first saw The Deadly Assassin about 27 or 28 years ago, and you've given me a completely new way to look at what it is showing us about the Time Lords and their history.

    I will say, though, that this idea of Rassilon being a relatively new figure (contemporary with the Third Doctor) does not square well with the history described in later serials like The Five Doctors or Remembrance of the Daleks. A path not taken, I suppose.


  25. zapruder313
    November 9, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

    Do we really have to wait the best part of a year for the full-on, glorious Academic-Reasons-Why-We-Love-Sylvester-McCoy-Fest? It's agony. It's like waiting for Christmas!


  26. Richard Bensam
    November 9, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    Heck with Foucault — why didn't you ever mention Asimov's The End of Eternity? His neurotic, bureaucratic, squabbling Eternals are pretty much exactly what you've described the Time Lords as being!


  27. BerserkRL
    November 9, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

    While we're on the subject of alchemical assassinations, I can't resist posting this nugget about how the deaths attributed to Tutankhamun's curse were actually murders committed by Aleister Crowley! 'Cause if you can't trust the Daily Mail, who can you trust?


  28. SK
    November 10, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    Is this entry also setting a record for number of words written in response?

    I think the McCoy-era cliffhangerless re-edits are a very different kettle of fish, in that by that era, post-VHS, the stories were being pretty much written for rewatching. No longer were writers writing 'to the cliffhanger', in the soap opera tradition and as Doctor Who had done for most of its history, but they were writing a single story that just happened to have cliffhangers every twenty-five minutes. The better stories integrated these cliffhangers well; the worse ones simply stopped the story so the Doctor could dangle himself off a ledge for no reason and then climb back up next week.

    The Curse of Fenric, in particular — I understand that if the re-edit of that had been episodic, keeping the original cliffhangers, the episodes would have been wildly differing lengths. In those circumstances it seems like the free-flowing version is closer to the original intent of the story (and the greatest cliffhangers of that story still work in the movie version, because they aren't just solved in a continuation of the same scene: when Judson stands up and says, 'We play the game again, Time Lord' and the scene changes, that still works as a cliffhanger even without the theme music pounding in. There's a connection here with Moffat's dislike of resolving cliffhangers straight away, finding it a bit boring and artificial — 'What, you mean they were standing there the whole week just to say , "Go to your room"? — and preferring to find another way into the story.

    (A well-done cliffhanger raises the stakes of the story: if it's then immediately resolved, not only are the stakes deflated back to where they were before, but the momentum of the whole thing is drained. Moving scenes, leaving the cliffhanger hanging, allows the story to keep operating on the raised level.)

    Executive summary: a movie-style recutting of a story which was conceived and designed as a movie that just happened to be split inconveniently into four twenty-five parts because that was how Doctor Who had always been scheduled except when it wasn't, is a very different thing from a movie-style recutting of a story which was conceived as an episodic serial first and foremost. And the distinction is the availability of home video and the assumption that episodes will be rewatched.


  29. William Whyte
    November 10, 2011 @ 12:14 am

    Is this entry also setting a record for number of words written in response?

    I think this entry + comments are now longer than the novelization of Image of the Fendahl.


  30. SK
    November 10, 2011 @ 12:27 am

    Now, why does fandom latch on some throwaway lines but not others? Well, that's a huge topic.

    Of course the reason we now have the thirteen-lives thing 'established' is that it's been referred to so many times. It's an important point in the plot of Mawdryn Undead, for example, before we even get to The Trial of a Time Lord (PS how many entries is that?).

    But that just shifts the problem: why did this line get referred to, when others didn't? In this particular case I think there is a good reason and it's one Lawrence Miles recognised when he wrote Alien Bodies: because the idea that some day, in the far future, the Doctor will die, resonates.

    Paradoxically, infinity seems small. It's actually quite an easy concept to grasp. Harder to work out the implications of, of course: but still, intuitively, if you have infinite visas of time or space, they kind of all collapse down to one concept: 'Oh, it's infinite'.

    Think how much older the universe seems now we know that it had a beginning, than the steady-state theory made it seem. If it's been around forever, then in a kind of way it's just.. there, in an eternal present. but if it had a beginning, then suddenly all those billion of years since the beginning all land on us at once and it's breathtaking (at a talk at the Institute of Astronomy, the moment that really hit me was when I asked if — just as there are generations of stars — there had been 'generations' of galaxies. The answer turned out to be no: as far as we know, we are living in the first generation of galaxies. And that made the universe seem far bigger than if there had been an cycle of galaxies forming and reforming: because like infinity, a cycle collapses down to two repetitions, 'now' and 'before' (Beckett spotted that) and so seems small. Even a cycle of billions of years.

    So giving the Doctor an end-point makes, I think, him seem a bigger figure: not just a stuck-in-the-present and therefore small-because-steady-state flat caricature, but an actual archetype.

    (As for the age thing, I think Davies has got that wrong: before the new series, there was no consensus about the Doctor's age. I remember sidebars about it in A History of the Universe. It may have stuck in his mind that the Doctor was nine-hundred and something, but fans knew that the given figure had varied wildly (and the more anal ones explained it by the Doctor's vanity). It's only when Davies decreed that from now on the new series would be consistent — the Doctor would start at nine hundred and blah and age one year per series — that the 'nine hundred' figure became accepted (and then mostly among new-series fans who know no better). I personally think that Davies should have continued with the tradition of the Doctor giving wildly different ages, perhaps with the companion occasionally pulling him up on it, and him giving a different excuse each time.)

    (But then I also hate the way the new series always uses the same regeneration effect. It's supposed to be different each time, damn it!)


  31. SK
    November 10, 2011 @ 12:50 am

    If you just keep on regenerating ad nauseum then who cares of the cyberman shoots you?

    This is why it's quite important to remind the audience that dead Time Lords don't regenerate.


  32. SK
    November 10, 2011 @ 1:00 am

    By the time that the Time Lords are sending 4 back to change the Dalek history


    They are not characters called '4' or 'Four' or 'Five' or 'Ten' or WHATEVER.

    The Time Lords are sending the fourth Doctor (or if you're short of space, the 4th Dr) back to change Dalek history.

    DO NOT let me catch you using numbers as 'names' for the Doctors again. Just DO NOT.


  33. SK
    November 10, 2011 @ 1:05 am

    Oh, hang, on, I misremembered, didn't I? It doesn't cut after Fenric possesses Judson, he teleports away. Damn, example gone. Is it the previous one (the Ultima machine running out of control once they've programmed it with the inscription) that cuts?


  34. elvwood
    November 10, 2011 @ 1:48 am

    Everyone's missed the point of this story. It is, of course, a commentary on Chinese politics, which is very apposite given the recent death of Mao Zhedong. I mean, why else would it have an organisation called the Celestial Intervention Agency? I can't believe people miss this while still noticing the ties with Sax Rohmer's film, The Insidious Doctor Fu-Manchurian Candidate!

    Seroiusly, though, one of the things I don't like about entries like this is that the sheer volume of ideas mean that by the time I've assimilated them enough to comment, the time for comment has passed!

    Good work, Mr. Sandifer, and thanks to the folks who do manage to come up with insightful, timely commentary…


  35. Wm Keith
    November 10, 2011 @ 3:54 am

    And I thought it was a preemptive challenge to Mary Whitehouse who, sallying forth from her Castle of the Maidens to stop everything ever from changing, is the true villain of this multimedia piece.

    The Doctor, unlike most Time Lords, has given himself the freedom to imagine the reality of violence and its consequences. That freedom of thought gives him the insight necessary to save his own life inside and outside the Matrix.

    But saving Time Lord society demands more than one man's creativity. It also demands an imaginative reinterpretation of society's traditions.

    Rassilon was an engineer and an architect – he designed and built Time Lord civilisation. Here, the Doctor acts as Rassilon's foreman. He reinterprets ancient ceremonial for modern times, turning it into the weapon that is necessary to defeat the Master and Goth.

    Of course, back on Earth, Mary Whitehouse isn't finally defeated until Ghost Light.


  36. Jesse
    November 10, 2011 @ 5:56 am

    William: There are other conspiracy stories that end with the bad apples removed and the proper order restored. Relatively recent examples range from All the President's Men to the Bourne trilogy. (Part of the problem here is that "conspiracy" isn't really a genre in itself: There are several different sorts of conspiracy stories, and they all influence each other.)

    elvwood: You only think you're kidding…


  37. BerserkRL
    November 10, 2011 @ 7:54 am

    President Fu Manchu? Well, we've done worse ….


  38. inkdestroyedmybrush
    November 10, 2011 @ 9:16 am

    @ SK – OK, you caught me in that i had gotten tired of typing "Tom" and "Baker" so i went for the abbreviation. I don't really like it either.

    The only reason to discuss the character in terms of the fourth Doctor or fifth Doctor is really to discuss the changes that came about because: a) the lead actor/director/producer changes or b) the character has evolved. It may be rather fanwanky to think so, but i'd like to see the Doctor, not the fourth or fifth, but the Doctor, as an evolving character, a single time lord that we're following through these adventures.

    And yes, it is wounded time lords that regenerate, not dead ones. Wasn't that Dalek that shot David Tennant literally the first one in the history of the show to mortally wound someone, as opposed to just exterminating them? Anyone up the researching that?


  39. William Whyte
    November 10, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

    Jesse — so I probably talked past the point I meant to make because I got excited about some other point. The point I meant to make is that The Deadly Assassin isn't a conspiracy movie because there isn't a conspiracy. There's just the Master and Goth. Proper conspiracy movies have an actual gang.


  40. Iain Coleman
    November 11, 2011 @ 1:19 am

    Machiavelli argues that the most effective conspiracies involve only two people. (Discourses, Book 3, Chapter 6)


  41. BerserkRL
    November 11, 2011 @ 6:30 am

    The most effective conspiracy of all would involve NO people ….


  42. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    November 12, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    Wow, alright, that was brilliant. Alas, I'm a Classics student, so anything might weigh-in with would be fundamentally out of sync with the level of erudition being displayed here in regards to the topic at hand. Pity, I'd like to seem smarter on this topic.


  43. Llamastrangler
    November 12, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    I haven't anything weighty to add, and feel rather unworthy to add much to all this erudition on display, but I just have to say that this post is amazing, even by the dizzyingly high standards of this blog.


  44. David P. Cole
    November 13, 2011 @ 6:38 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  45. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 12, 2012 @ 11:51 am

    "a DAPOL action figure of K-9 – the inexplicable green one"

    Perhaps just as strange was the 5-sided control panel. On the other hand, the central column DID go up and down at just about the exact speed as the real thing on TV, and with a rather similar sound. A jewel of my toy collection. I don't think they ever sold enough sets to go back and run off a "corrrected" 6-sided version. Pity.

    "watching it this time, I noticed for the first time the chalk outline of the Time Lord President, complete with the tracing of the elaborate Time Lord robes, and I burst out laughing"

    Ditto– 2 days ago. (Must have seen this 10 times at least by now. Don't know how I missed that before.)

    "The entire thing is a Kennedy Assassination joke – hence the infamous mention of the CIA. The Doctor is the framed Lee Harvey Oswald, left to frantically search for the shooter on the grassy knoll. The giveaway clue, of course, is that the Time Lords, otherwise modeled off of British aristocratic institutions, have a President as their head of state in the first place."

    Interesting observation.

    "This is a story that can, at least for a moment, be located at the absolute center of Doctor Who. In the Panopticon, if you will."

    Coming in at the middle of Season 14– out of 26– puts it ALMOST in the center. More telling, for me, has always been that the last episode of THE PRISONER that was filmed, on PBS, was run DEAD CENTER– "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling", which starred Nigel Stock (Dr. Watson of the 60's SHERLOCK HOLMES series– both of them– and the guest-star in "Time-Flight") as Number Six, thanks to a brain-transfer plot (of a kind already seen on THE OUTER LIMITS, THE AVENGERS, and eventually, STAR TREK). Almost exactly halfway thru that episode, Number Six gets to KISS a woman– something Patrick McGoohan never did on the show– of course, it's his fiancee. Also, the episode ANSWERS, in pictures, WITHOUT words, what Number Six answered, with WORDS, but NO CONTEXT, in "ONCE UPON A TIME". "Why did you resign?" You have to see both stories to understand the implication of the answer. I find it clever that the answer to the "mystery" could be found EXACTLY in the center of the 17-episode run. (Mind, the question and the answer are less important than they seem, more a "McGuffin" to drive the stories, as well as a way for "The Village" to break down his resistence to answering ANY questions.)


  46. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 12, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    "we are, with the Doctor, dealing with someone who broke the first law of time"

    The Doctor didn't do this. THE TIME LORDS did this! It clearly wasn't his idea.

    "Remember how in Brain of Morbius, Morbius shows us what give every appearance of being pre-Hartnell Doctors?"

    BS. There were TWO Time Lords engaged in that mind-battle. And "THE THREE DOCTORS" already told us, in the dialogue, that Hartnell was the "earliest" Doctor. (Always preferable to go with the simplest explanantion.)

    "Surely Goth's noting that the Master offered him knowledge must be taken in that vein."

    Are you SURE we both watched the same story? Because I don't remember Goth EVER saying The Master promised him "knowledge"– ONLY "POWER".

    "Perhaps most significantly, what on Earth are we supposed to make of the fact that the cop who figures everything out and helps the Doctor clear his name is played by a Czech actor in an Eastern European accent?"

    George Pravda, my favorite actor in the entire story, probably playing his best role ever. I love how he berates Hillarad about allowing The Doctor to hide inside a tower 56 stories tall, by asking, "I take it you're trying to confuse him." Or, later, when he sends him to stazer the body and says, "I'm giving you this assignment because he's already dead– you're unlikely to MISS him." Then of course, there's his lines to the Doctor, like, "Alright– CONVINCE me." And, later, "It's getting better and better. Doctor, you MAY become President yet."

    "Do you think Goth is the same Time Lord as the one Bernard Horsfell played in The War Games? I like to think so, given that Clyde Pollitt also played a member of the Doctor's tribunal and later played a Chancellor in The Three Doctors."

    I like to think so too. It would add (even if it wasn't mentioned in the script) an extra level, that someone PRESENT at The Doctor's trial should be present at this one as well. (Of course, SOME fans have speculated that The War Chief MIGHT be an earlier incarnation of The Master. IDENTICAL m.o. and everything! Then again, the Peter Pratt Master feels more like The War Lord than The War Chief…)


  47. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 12, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    And now, my comments from the IMDB boards…

    Just saw this again. All my original reactions from 1979 (when I first saw it) came back, except, NOW, of course, I know what's going on.

    Part 1 is infuriating. The Doctor shows just how much he'd come to rely on Sarah, as without her around, every single thing he does is the wrong move. He acts like such an idiot, walking right into a situation and a death-trap, even though he had full advance warning of it. It's like, he deserves to be executed for a crime he didn't commit!

    Part 2 is brilliant. We find out (for the most part) what's going on, and see that Spandrell is possibly one of the most intelligent people on Gallifrey. (Yes, George Pravda gave perhaps the best performance of his career in that role.) To me, it keeps getting better and better until… suddenly… the Doctor decides to try and find his enemy, by "going inside the Matrix". At which point, originally, I got completely lost.

    Part 3 is more of the same. And it goes ON AND ON AND ON for the entire episode!!! It feels like you've somehow side-stepped into a completely different story… or even, a completely different SHOW. And then you have the cliffhanger, which was apparently THE main target of evidence that the show had "gone too far". (At least, as far as censors were concerned, who could not grasp that the show was being made for a FAMILY audience– NOT "just" for KIDS!!!)

    Part 4 returns to sanity, but also reveals so much in such short order, I actually had to watch this story 3 TIMES before I understood exactly what was going on. Once I did, I realized Robert Holmes had written something brilliant, but you know, that doesn't take away from the fact that it was virtually impossible for me to "get" it on the first viewing. And considering the comparitively slow pace of the storytelling (compared with the McCoy or later eras), perhaps there was a problem with the story, and not with me. (Hmm…)

    Finally: I REALLY wish they had brought back The Master again 3 stories later. Everything in "TALONS" feels like it was supposed to be him, but they changed their minds at the last second. It would have made a very fitting ENDING to the character.


  48. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 15, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

    In "THE DEADLY ASSASSIN", there's a prolonged sequence (which actually got the producer KICKED OFF the show) where the hero is laying on a table while his mind enters a dream-scape and does battle with someone who's laying on another table, somewhere else in the building. And a few months back, while reading MISTER MIRACLE, it hit me the scene of Scott Free battling that big slug was quite similar. Do you suppose someone on the show read the comic and was inspired by it– or could both scnearios have an earlier, common source?

    I've lost track of which issue it was in, but way back in the early days of the Hal Jordan GREEN LANTERN series, there's a story about a planet where an entire city of people are laying on tables, SLEEPING, while they lead full, "active" lives within an electronic computer bank. Until something goes WRONG. That's also somewhat similar… but it's even MORE similar to THE MATRIX movies, which came out decades later.

    Seems to me someone said the guys who did THE MATRIX were Kirby fans, but as I just pointed out, that particular major point of those films appears in GREEN LANTERN about a decade before that MISTER MIRACLE comic.

    Any earlier examples? Anybody know?


    • Elton Townend-Jones
      September 23, 2021 @ 12:17 pm



  49. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 16, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    Got the following replies today:

    "There is at least one Brian Aldiss story, I think from the fifties. In the latter half of the twentieth century techniques have been developed to enable people to have controlled dreams. So there are room after room of people hooked up to a computer while they sleep and indulge their fantasies. In the story I recall, the world is in the midst of a major nuclear war whilst the people in the building sleep. I can find out more if you are interested. I think the story appears in Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand."


    "Arthur C. Clarke's "The Lion Of Comarre" published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, uses the idea of a city of people sleeping while wired into a computer matrix that feeds dreams to them. I'm not saying that it was the first use of the idea, though, as I haven't read every stf story of the thirties and forties."

    I wonder if the people who did "The Deadly Assassin" or "THE MATRIX" ever admitted what their sources of inspiration might have been?

    As a writer, naturally, I don't see this kind of thing as swiping. All ideas have to come from somewhere. If you came up with something entirely new, audiences might not be able to relate to the story.

    The "trick" is to juggle things in such a way that it seems different enough, so that it actually does become something "new". Otherwise, there would be no "new" things– at all.


  50. daibhid-c
    October 5, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    It occurs to me that there's a rather snide observation to be made about the idea that the continuity-canon fan thinks the Time Lords should demonstrate their godlike powers by obsessively reviewing past events…


  51. Josiah Rowe
    February 28, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    Nope. The first person shot by a Dalek on screen, Ian Chesterton, was merely temporarily paralyzed. That said, the visual effect in "The Stolen Earth" shows the Dalek's shot as a "glancing blow" of a sort never seen before or since.


  52. Hikari
    May 27, 2014 @ 5:01 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  53. John Reid
    November 6, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

    The link to situationist, in episode is broken
    Good comments here
    Did anyone twig the Lee Harvey Oswald manipulated into the book, store, the shot came from another direction,it was the Vice President who wanted the president JFK comparison. Witnesses, video evidence destroyed, the master/JFKs body altered,and the shots on the site of the gun,were fixed so he couldn’t have hit it, references at the time

    I know Bob Holmes use to say, imagine if it was a Dalek on th grassy knoll,to other writers


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