Sneakily taking the hinges off the doors of perception

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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. John Peacock
    February 1, 2012 @ 12:58 am

    Surely it would be "Any insufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from science". That's the version I like, anyway.


  2. Spacewarp
    February 1, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    Unfortunately, as clever as it sounds to invert the phrase, it doesn't make sense. Science is explicable while Magic by its nature is inexplicable. As soon as you explain Magic, it moves into the realm of Science. For any form of Magic to be indistinguishable from Science it would have to be explicable, as Science is. Magic can't be explicable and remain Magic.


  3. SK
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:01 am

    Nope. It's not explicability that distinguishes magic from science: quantum mechanics are science and nobody can explain them.

    What distinguishes science from magic is purely repeatability. If it happens the same every time, it's science. If every time you do a certain dance and say the word 'Abracadabra!' it rains, then that is science, even if you can't explain how it works any more than you can explain how the waveforms of entangled particles collapse.

    If every time you manipulated symbols, the referents of those symbols reacted in the same way, that would be science. You could do experiments on it. You could see what happened if you left out a certain symbol, our changed the referent of one symbol but left the others the same, or whatever. You could form a hypothesis and test it. That's science. Doesn't matter that you can't explain how the manipulation of the symbols could possibly affect the real world: if you can form a hypothesis, test it by experiment, and the experiment turns out the same every time, that's science.

    Back in the seventeenth century, before they knew which things were repeatable and which weren't, scientists tried all sorts of things. Turns out that symbol-manipulation isn't, in fact, repeatable — it isn't science. But mixing chemicals together — that always produces the same results. An proportion of an acid plus a proportion of a base always produces the same amount of a salt and some carbon dioxide. So they abandoned manipulating symbols, and concentrated on mixing chemicals.

    Whittaker and Bidmead are effectively positing a world in which that went the other way: in which it turned out that manipulating symbols always gives the same result. Which, it turns out, if quite handy for constructing fictional puzzles, because if doing X always produces result Y then in order to make a satisfyingly clever fictional puzzle you just have to introduce X doing Y early, make the audience forget about it, and then at the climax have the protagonist realise just before the audience that they really need is Y — and they happen to have an X to hand…


  4. Jack Graham
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:27 am

    Phil, your casualness about the term 'Charged Vacuum Emboitment' is a dead giveaway.

    Didn't old TV cathode ray tubes have vacuums inside them, vacuums that get electrons fired through them onto the screen, thus creating the images? So… that would make a TV a box containing a charged vacuum.

    And the French for 'box' is 'boite'.

    'Emboitment' sounds like a French word for 'contained within box or boxes'.

    In fact, isn't 'emboitement' a biological theory about all living things growing from germs that are inside their progenitors, with all life thus inside previous life like Russian dolls… a bit like spiders within Marshmen within Alzarians…

    And didn't Romana once tell someone that the universe worked like Russian dolls… something that Bidmead's cosmic picture certainly backs up?

    This all looks to me like Bidmead is tying a view of reality to the medium he's using. The universe works like television. It's a succession of boxes within boxes. E-Space within N-Space within the TV…

    Bidmead uses this televisual metaphor again in 'Castrovalva'. The tapestry is a 2D space that depicts action but with different spatial rules (as in Escher pictures) and in a different temporal continuum… almost like it's edited.

    And its inherently Whoish. 'An Unearthly Child' is about spaces within spaces, boxes within boxes… and expresses this idea in terms of television (as you've noted before). 'Carnival of Monsters' is about TV, reality and narrative as boxes within boxes. Etc…


  5. zapruder313
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:58 am

    The Doctor that Bidmead wants are the Doctors that Whitaker wrote for – the small and seemingly harmless men who skulked and observed and learned to understand the system before making a single decisive move within it.

    I know we have a long weary trek before we get there, but I'm so looking forward to the McCoy entries, when we finally do get the small, seemingly harmless man back.


  6. Gnaeus
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:23 am

    Repeatability doesn't grasp the nub of the issue at all: in a materialist sense, whenever magic is done, nothing happens. But this is unsurprising: we are judging magic on science's terms. This is about as much use as employing positivism to critique a dialectical argument (and, indeed, the people who do the former tend to do the latter, too.)

    Magic, of course, is neither dialectical nor positivistic, but predates and avoids both.


  7. Matthew Blanchette
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:49 am

    Exactly; E-Space isn't a parallel universe, but a pocket universe the TARDIS slipped into on the way to Gallifrey — that's why the TARDIS is able to navigate it so easily, because it's so small compared to N-Space; it fits within it.


  8. Matthew Blanchette
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:50 am

    What about Davison, though? He wasn't very "big", was he? Proto-Tennant-y, at his worst, but not "big"


  9. Matthew Blanchette
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:54 am

    Just because one inverts a phrase doesn't make it clever or have it make logical sense; for example, if I said, "The yellow is banana", that wouldn't make any damned sense, but Philip would let it slide because he likes inverting symbols for the hell of it.

    When you treat symbols as just that, symbols, you run afoul of logic and knowledge, which arbitrates what symbols mean — by inverting symbols that already mean something, you go against logic, and, thus, look decidedly stupid.

    Just saying.


  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:58 am

    Never mind Castrovalva. I'm just building shamelessly to the Logopolis post with that aside. I mean, obviously the term is fascinating on several levels. But when you're planning a sprawling epic of a post…

    That said, the Doctor has had relatively accurate control of the TARDIS since City of Death at least. He's been doing short hops of various sorts quite precisely for a while now. So him having control of it within E-Space hardly stands out as something in need of explanation.


  11. Alan
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:59 am

    I'm going to jump in for just a second to defend the "whiny prat in yellow pajamas" for a second because we will soon reach "Kinda" after which any such defense will be nearly impossible. I rewatched this episode last week and saw very little of the petulance that will ruin the character in the next season. What I saw was a callow boy inserting himself into a familial structure of the sort that he had never known before (due to his "deprived delinquent upbringing"). He asked lots of questions which led to a lot of clunky dialogue about E-Space but it was an arcane concept and the plot exposition has to go some where. Also, the closest thing to a "Crowning Moment of Awesome" the poor boy ever gets (much better than his death scene in which we the audience know that he's really dying for nothing and that the human race would be doomed if he'd succeeded) can be contained in the following line: "I'm sorry. I don't know what any of these levers do. But I do know it's pointed in your direction." If we'd gotten more of that — more plucky, less sulky — audience reaction to Adric might have been a lot different.


  12. Alan
    February 1, 2012 @ 6:03 am

    The problem with Davison, which I guess we'll be discussing around Valentine's Day is that, IMO, he wasn't really a seemingly harmless man.


  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 1, 2012 @ 6:34 am

    Well, the reason that "the yellow is banana" doesn't work as an inversion is that it's grammatically unsound – banana isn't an adjective. Past that, if it parses, I think the inversion necessarily makes at least some amount of damn sense. As the refutations to Chomsky's famed attempt to create a grammatically sound but meaningless sentence with "colorless green ideas sleep furiously" show, things that grammatically parse do make at least some sort of sense.

    Neither logic nor knowledge arbitrate what symbols mean. An enormously complex set of social relations arbitrate what symbols mean. And so the relationship between a symbol and its meaning is at once extremely tight-knit and extremely sloppy. A symbol cannot be severed from its meaning, nor can it be attached completely. The tensions implicit in that fact are, I think, the heart and soul of what magic is.


  14. Matthew Blanchette
    February 1, 2012 @ 6:57 am

    What I mean to say is (in a more polite manner of speaking, of course) is that the whole point of sci-fi is to explicate magic — to make it understandable through processes the human mind can understand.

    At this broad definition, it may seem like we're lowering magic, but we're not; if anything, a rainbow is even more magical when, for example, you understand the prismatic principles behind it.

    I can appreciate magic (hell, I've been a fan of Harry Potter since the late '90s), but in a rationalistic universe, which Doctor Who purports to show, it only increases wonder to show the man behind the curtain — or, in this case, the man behind the big blue doors. ๐Ÿ™‚


  15. Aaron
    February 1, 2012 @ 7:07 am

    We're not even to Battlefield yet, and we're already quoting the 7th Doctor. I'm pretty excited for what you'll be saying about that one.


  16. Wm Keith
    February 1, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    Actually, "The yellow is banana" does make sense. It makes a number of different senses.

    But any sufficiently advanced argument is indistinguishable from bullshit.

    How else could representative democracy operate?


  17. Matthew Blanchette
    February 1, 2012 @ 7:54 am

    Oh, please don't go all Blakean on us, again; I couldn't get through a word of that damned post… :-S


  18. Matthew Blanchette
    February 1, 2012 @ 7:55 am

    …so, you're saying his approach was a bit, um, crap? :-S


  19. nimonus
    February 1, 2012 @ 8:37 am

    Another great essay.

    But I would be thrilled if you could elaborate (at length) on exactly what you mean by "quasi-sentient metafiction".


  20. William Whyte
    February 1, 2012 @ 8:44 am

    The BBC, being a public broadcaster, could not out and out get involved in tastemaking

    I'm not sure this is true. What about John Peel? I'll grant you, though, that TV had to tread more carefully than radio.


  21. Jon Cole
    February 1, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    Another great read – although you do omit any reference to what Stephen Gallagher contributed to the story, and the echoes of other stories in it (Mind Robber, Omega's singularity, and the time sensitivity etc.)

    However, for me, this is one of those stories where objectivity just doesn't work, as it whips me away in a nostalgic whirlwind – I would say I've just re-watched it before posting, but actually I then went and found St Winifred's on you-tube, and got nostalgic over that as well (which takes some effort, believe me.) I had a memory of them being on some Jimmy Saville related programme, and there rolled his name in the credits as well.

    So somewhere in my little brain its forever teatime in early 1981 and Tom Baker just walked backwards through a mirror. That's proper magic that is.


  22. Anna
    February 1, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    Re: "The yellow is banana"

    [Open on an ice cream shop. A customer enters]

    Employee: "What would you like today?"

    Customer: "Let me see… What flavour is the yellow one?"

    Employee: "Oh, the yellow is banana."


  23. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    February 1, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    Magic, as I've always thought of it, has to do with it as an internal force. Science if the effect of tangible forces on the world, magic is the effect of intangible will upon the world.


  24. BerserkRL
    February 1, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

    I take the difference between science and magic to be, roughly, that in magic, semantic relations are directly causal. The purest case of magic is the voodoo doll: because the doll semantically represents you, poking the doll's arm affects your arm. If the effect were mediated by voodon particles it wouldn't be magic. Advanced science seems like magic because the intermediary mechanisms are less obvious.


  25. Shane Cubis
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

    I wonder how much of that return to the small, seemingly harmless man Matt Smith will be able to pull off next season.


  26. WGPJosh
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

    Seconding Alan here. Don't want to play my hand about Davison yet, but he's certainly not harmless and the "man" part of it is stressed a bit much for my liking.


  27. WGPJosh
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    Can't speak for Phil, but I for one think Peel succeeded because he trolled the system by taking advantage of a loophole (yielding awesome results, of course). I'd argue he's more of an exception than the rule.


  28. Aaron
    February 1, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

    Lawrence Miles, who I'm sure is not the authority on it but I nevertheless thought it was interesting, argued that the difference between magic and science was that magic recognises context. When a wizard zaps you into nonexistence, it recognises that you are a sentient entity distinct from the clothes you are wearing, the air molecules around you, the bricks on the ground, and is able to distinguish what it zaps and what it leaves behind. In essence, magic relies upon a conscious mind looking down onto the world and ordering it according to different categories like "human" and "clothing". A mad scientist zapping you into nonexistence with a death ray, on the other hand, has no way of making his scientific laser distinguish between you and the ground, your clothes, etc. It zaps them all equally as though they are fundamentally all the same sorts of things and that a human (or conscious organism's) ability to distinguish between them is illusory. Like Phil was saying, magic cannot be athiestic, but science, at least on face, cannot distinguish.

    However, the definition I think Phil would go with is probably similar to what you said BerserkRL. The alchemical prescription "As above, so below," along with the idea that a symbol of a thing can stand in for the actual thing itself are probably key to the way that you understand magic. Science doesn't make symbolic connections in the way magic must.


  29. WGPJosh
    February 1, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

    I was going to write an impassioned farewell to Lalla Ward and Romana and go on at length about how well-done her exit is and how much I miss her being on the show but…Well, Phil already said pretty much all I wanted to say. That'll learn me. I wish we could have spent a little more time talking about her, but maybe that's oddly appropriate for one who lives life on the margins. Even so, I'd like to giver her one last tribute if I can:

    The poetry on display is just perfect: Of course Romana's destiny lies in another reality-Where else could it be? She's The Doctor. She's not The Doctor of this show, at least not anymore (if we can speak frankly it's arguably been her show for three years now), but she is The Doctor of some other show on some other plane. "Warriors' Gate" makes this clear: There's an infinite universe full of exciting and thoughtful adventures ahead of her. It's just too bad we don't get to see them.

    Phil said that Bidmead wants to write for the Doctors Whitaker wrote for, not the charismatic leading men of the 1970s. True as that may be, we did get two proper Doctors in the 1970s-It's just no-one saw them because no-one looked in the right places: We got Katy Manning and Lalla Ward. The two of them, especially Lalla, took The Doctor's mercurial, transgressive powers and applied them to Doctor Who itself at points when the show was faltering and having identity crises and I don't think they'll ever get the credit they deserve for that (certainly the way Romana has been treated in spin-off media, especially the audio plays, seems to support this, though at least she and Louise Jameson seem to have excellent chemistry together).

    Knowing that though it's really hard for me to get excited about The Adventures of Tom Baker and The Whiny Prat in Yellow Pajamas. Even knowing a kindly shrinking violet destroyer of worlds in a cricket uniform is on his way, for me this is where this era of Doctor Who really comes to a close: The Doctor is gone now, and it'll be a long time before he returns in a form that's recognizable to me.

    Bye bye, Ms. Ward. You were fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and the show will never see a leading lady like you again.


  30. 5tephe
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

    Way to suck the wind out of his future post sails there, Mr. Graham….


  31. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 1, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

    He sucked at best a light breeze out of it, 5tephe. ๐Ÿ™‚


  32. Jack Graham
    February 1, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

    I don't think Phil's airy dismissal of the CVE was ever meant to fool us. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Looking forward to that 'Logopolis' post already.


  33. SK
    February 2, 2012 @ 12:11 am

    Science doesn't make symbolic connections in the way magic must.

    I do not think you understand what 'science' is. Science is whatever is repeatable. If symbolic connections worked in a repeatable way, they would be investigated by scientists using scientific methods. As it happens they don't work in a repeatable way, so scientists ignore them and hope that by doing so they can make them go away.

    Science has no ontology, no epistemology. That's what make it so powerful a tool. It doesn't care what exists or what can be known. It only ever cares about what works.


  34. Gaius
    February 2, 2012 @ 1:02 am

    I see that Romana being a Distaff Counterpart (a feminist issue if anything) isn't a problem for anyone here, or maybe it's the loathing of Adric that leads to people ignoring it. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  35. SK
    February 2, 2012 @ 2:42 am

    (Basically you seem to be using the word 'science' to mean something like either 'physicalism' or 'materialism'. But they are not only not the same thing, they are not even the same type of thing.)


  36. BerserkRL
    February 2, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    Well, I'm not committed to using the term "magic" in such a way that it contrasts with science. (Though I'm not committed to the opposite either.) I'm more committed to magic's involving semantic relations as directly causal than I am to science's not involving that.

    But the definition of science as "whatever is repeatable" seems a bit idiosyncratic.


  37. WGPJosh
    February 2, 2012 @ 8:13 am

    I agree that could be seen as a problem, but I think it was maybe more an issue when she first appeared than it became. I would argue by this point she had proven herself to be a truly capable, unique character in her own right. If anything she's more The Doctor then Tom Baker because of how effortlessly she slides into the Troughton-esque transgressor role, which is something Baker was either unwilling or unable to do on a regular basis (IMO he hasn't really done that since "Horror of Fang Rock" and even in the Hinchliffe/Holmes era he was up and down in this respect). I mean I love Tom Baker, but a mercurial, marginal master of stories he ain't (at least not anymore).

    In other words Romana does the same thing Jo Grant did by clandestinely taking over The Doctor's role when he's unable to perform it, only this time the narrative literalizes it and makes it part of her story arc. Romana's not a copy of The Doctor, she well and truly is The Doctor because she plays that role in the story and has proven to be a more fitting heir to William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton then either of the two '70s Action Men Leads. Therefore, her story arc naturally ends with her being allowed to finally become The Doctor with all the trappings by stepping out of Baker's shadow.


  38. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 2, 2012 @ 8:34 am

    Well, two things. First, I've never been one for an image of ideal feminism. Yes, the Distaff Counterpart is flawed. But we live in a patriarchal culture. Every mainstream media depiction of female characters is almost necessarily going to be flawed. That's what patriarchy means.

    Secondarily, as Josh points out, Romana is interesting in part because she ultimately supersedes the Doctor, replacing him in his own show not just here but as far back as The Horns of Nimon.

    But more than all of that, the real problems of the Distaff Counterpart is that it treats "the female X" as one of a number of interchangeable iterations. The classic Distaff Counterpart issue is when Superman gets diluted rapidly by Supergirl, Superboy, several versions of Superwoman, Krypto the Superdog, Streakey the Supercat, Comet the Superhorse, and, of course, Beppo the Supermonkey. The biggest problem is not creating a female version of the lead character but treating it as one of a series of inevitable iterations.

    From this perspective, the fact that as soon as Adric, the Teenage Doctor shows up Romana gets the hell out of dodge is positively delightful.


  39. WGPJosh
    February 2, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    Really well, put Phil! Despite the fact I will continue to fight a (probably Sysiphean) battle for ideal feminism I'm behind you here. The Distaff Counterpart is also troublesome because it reinforces the notion that male is default and female is some variation on the norm.

    I would also argue that since we know Time Lords are essentially genderless Doctor Who is again ahead of the curve here.


  40. inkdestroyedmybrush
    February 2, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    warrior's gate is a classic, and certainly a story of the type that hasn't been done since troughton's era in sheer surrealistic terms. The face that it allows Romana to become more the Doctor than the Doctor himself is exactly why i dislike the Williams era: Baker was allowed to shift the Doctor into something that he found fun to play, and millions of people found fun to watch but was NOT the character that he started out as. And that's a problem. This story almost jolts him back into character since "the problem of Romana" is solved. Traken shows us a Baker that is closer to the Hinchcliffe Doctor than we've seen in years.

    Warrior's gate also makes us realize how nice it was that the VCR was starting to come into play. Its non linear storytelling shows a great deal of understanding and prescience over what would turn out to be sisemic shifts in viewing habits: recording to rewatch later and finally time shifting. You could create a program that would reward second and third passes since you could now count on the viewer to be able to do so.

    But does this one create the beginning of the passive Doctor? After all, in a circular time loop, the Doctor has only to show up, which has been preordained, and walk through things. Anything that he does differently will upset what is already to come. He is less the protagonist than viewer. And while its OK here, since Romana gets to shine, within 3 years we will have stories that happen AROUND Colin Baker and not will him involved actively. And its massively unsatisfying to watch. As ratings will show.


  41. Alan
    February 2, 2012 @ 10:09 am

    I was thinking about "Earthshock" in which he was more of "the mouse that squeaked." But your response reminded me of his various killing sprees in the following season which I had apparently blocked out of my memory. Davison's tenure really was all over the map, wasn't it?


  42. Alan
    February 2, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    [W]ithin 3 years we will have stories that happen AROUND Colin Baker and not will him involved actively.

    Too, too true. I recently rewatched "Revelation of the Daleks," and while I remembered that it was bad, I had totally forgotten that CB and Peri wander around lost in someone's backyard for HALF the story, without even knowing that they're in a Dalek story at all!


  43. WGPJosh
    February 2, 2012 @ 10:28 am

    That's putting it mildly. Comparing Davison and Tennant should prove to be an endlessly fruitful endeavor.

    Moffat seems to want to get back to that point, but he seems to be dragging the arc out far longer than strictly necessary. We're basically rehashing the 1970s here and I can't quite figure out why.


  44. WGPJosh
    February 2, 2012 @ 10:52 am


    We're never going to agree on the Tom Baker years, are we? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    At the risk of dredging up our neverending debate again I'd argue Baker wasn't ever really playing the Doctor role regularly, even in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. We see shades of mercury in that era's best serials (IMO "Genesis of the Daleks", "Terror of the Zygons" and "Brain of Morbius"), but just as often Baker is showboating around and stealing the spotlight just as much as he does in the Graham Williams era. He's in full-on action-man mode in "Seeds of Doom" and even when he's supposed to be on the margins he can't help but draw attention to himself, like in "Robot" and "Robots of Death". I think that's just the way he plays the part: He wants everyone to know exactly how clever he's being at all times. I wouldn't argue subtlety to be Baker's forte, nor that it ever really has been.

    I would also make the claim that had the Williams era lived up to its potential more often, this would have been continued to be addressed and Romana would have wound up in the same place anyway. The conceptualization of her we get in "Warriors' Gate" seems honestly not that far removed from where Douglas Adams was already taking her to me, though helped by Bidmead's strength with poetic narrative. I'd be willing to bet her creators and original architects were well aware that without her Doctor Who would cease to operate like Doctor Who.

    For what it's worth I'm with you on your other points though!


  45. Adeodatus
    February 2, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    I knew you were going to do something amazing with "Warriors Gate", Philip. Thank you for this challenging and – pardon me – magical essay on what has always been one of my favourite Doctor Who stories.

    I haven't read through the comments yet, so I may be repeating or contradicting someone here – but I always understood it was Larry Niven who first inverted Clarke's Law. (In fact for a long time I couldn't remember whose version was which!)


  46. inkdestroyedmybrush
    February 2, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    i agree that romana was always going to end up here, character-wise. she was the first one after ian and barbara to actually ahve her character arc finish out the way that it should have (some will argue Jo but i'm not sure). all the others had their characters truncated or shipped off or just plain diluted til they were a vestige of who they had started off as.


  47. WGPJosh
    February 2, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    I'll agree there. I love Jo, but I don't think her exit was handled with quite as much dignity as it should have been nor did she end up where she should have. I think it could be argued Victoria had a noticeable character arc too, if only a subtle one. Every other companion between Ian and Barbara and Romana totally got shafted though.


  48. SK
    February 2, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

    Not so much 'idiosyncratic' as 'totally accurate'. That is what science is. You make some observations, form a hypothesis, set it against a null hypothesis, carry out a repeatable experiment, and if the positive hypothesis happens a statistically significant proportion of the time, you accept it. That is what science is.

    How did they teach science at your school?

    Why do you think that every do often they do double-blind experiments to find out if, say, prayer helps people in hospital get better? If those experiments repeatedly showed the result that people in the prayed-for group got better significantly more than people in the control group, then that would be a scientific fact, even though there would be no material way to explain it. For a scientific fact is simply one that is determined by the scientific method, that is, repeated experiments testing against a null hypothesis.

    (Of course, the problem with the double-blind prayer experiments is that no one has so far figured out a way to stop God from knowing who is in which group).


  49. Gaius
    February 3, 2012 @ 4:21 am

    Ah yes, the bull Nimons and Romana in male fetishist riding gear…


  50. SK
    February 3, 2012 @ 5:04 am

    I would disagree with the very premise that Romana is 'the female Doctor' in any sense similar to, say, Supergirl.

    Surely the problem with 'X is the female Y' is simply that it give X no character of her own: she is simply a reflection of a male character. Supergirl is 'Superman, but a girl'. Inasmuch as the idea is problematic, it's simply because it treats 'being a girl' as a defining character trait in its own right.

    But Romana, right from The Ribos Operation, is always a fully-realised character (as much as any character in Doctor Who, anyway). She simply never is just 'the Doctor, but a woman': she is always a distinct character first and foremost.

    That she happens to share some traits and narrative functions with the Doctor cannot take away that she is a character in her own right (as opposed to being entirely defined in relation to another character as 'Y but a girl'), in a way that, say, Supergirl isn't.

    So no, her being the Doctor's counterpart isn't a problem, because she simply is never 'the Doctor's counterpart' in the simplistic 'the Doctor but a girl' way that, say, Supergirl is Superman's counterpart, Batgirl is Batman's, or Buffy is Van Helsing's.


  51. SK
    February 3, 2012 @ 5:12 am

    The classic Distaff Counterpart issue is when Superman gets diluted rapidly by Supergirl, Superboy, several versions of Superwoman, Krypto the Superdog, Streakey the Supercat, Comet the Superhorse, and, of course, Beppo the Supermonkey. The biggest problem is not creating a female version of the lead character but treating it as one of a series of inevitable iterations.

    Though of course if there really were 'several versions of Superwoman' then the female one is not 'one of a series'.

    Again, the problem is treating 'being a girl' as a character trait: it's exactly the same problem as if you have, say, four main characters, who are the leader, the clever one, the tough one, and the girl. Or when Starscream is cloned, and there's the braggart one, the scared one, the mad one, and the female one.

    And again, this is not a problem Romana suffers from: yes, she has to fill a space in the format of the programme that demands a female character, but 'female' is never treated as if it is her singular character trait.

    This is as opposed to, say, Polly, who is definitely just filling out a space marked 'the girl'. So if you want to criticise Doctor Who characters for the thing you are bringing up here, Romana is not the one to pick.


  52. Mad Latinist
    February 5, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

    On science vs magic, see now (note also the alt-text) ๐Ÿ˜‰


  53. timelord7202
    May 4, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    Awesome review, thanks!

    And, being a fan of David Whittaker's work, the spiritual parallel of Bidmead to Whitaker put a smile on my face… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ditto re: your analysis of Romana's departure and comparison with Susan…


  54. Daru
    May 17, 2012 @ 3:03 am

    Here is a late thought regarding the "yellow is banana" quote.

    Above it was argued that the phrase both did – and did not make sense from different poster's points of view.

    Both arguments are true I believe.

    This makes me think of the mirror/gate in the bridge point between N and E space – their are two perspectives (from either side of the mirror) and participants do or do not have access to both sides.

    Now the point above about whether the placement of "yellow" works or does not work is really then about context and the placement of the above phrase into various situations – perhaps sometimes it will work and others it won't.

    So – in this tale, science and magic are interchangeable – 'true' and 'untrue' at exactly the same time.

    Think of they key image for me of the coin being tossed at the beginning and reprised later by Adric.

    Magic works here – and it is science; science works here and it is magic perhaps because of the context, the placement of the narrative? The narrative climax of the story ending up in E space is that the magic works – that all of these symbols do have power BECAUSE of the tale occurring in E space?

    For maybe the point that Bidmead was making depended on happening there?

    Just some thoughts.


  55. goatie
    August 12, 2012 @ 5:19 am

    I am shocked – shocked! – that in a post about Warrior's Gate, in which you even mention David Bowie, you make no mention that he clearly played a Tharil in Labryinth.


  56. Timothy Bramfeld
    February 18, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    According to The Internet, Magic is described via the following Sci-Fi authors:

    "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" -Arthur C. Clarke
    "Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology" -Jack L. Chalker
    "Magic is just another way of saying 'I don't know how it works'" -Larry Niven

    Considering the source, the latter two may never have been actually uttered in any form by their respective authors, but having read some of Chalker, I think that it's probably a fair representation of his perspective. But as I'm not familiar with Niven's work, it's equally possible that this is off-base.

    At any rate, for the sake of further nit-pickery, science =/= technology, so that your statement of "Whitaker's Heresy" isn't quite an inversion of Clarke's 3rd Law. But it is close; for technology consists of the tools and devices by which science can be wielded, it's not a description of the actual concepts of science. I think that alchemy (as I think you've described it–though I've been occasionally questioning my understanding of that) therefore would consist of the tools and devices by which magic (a "science of words" as a spiky-haired Doctor might call it) can be wielded.

    Which leads to the notion that, if the term "magic" in the above two quotes is replaced with the "alchemy" I think you've been describing, then those quotes are a good way to describe either 1) the perspective of the writers on the technical descriptions they fashion, or 2) the perspective of the characters on the way technical devices operate within their narrative.


  57. Froborr
    May 2, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

    Given that Niven was a major figure in developing the "fantasy with rivets" subgenre of fantasy, which basically inverted Star Wars by applying a Golden Age science fiction approach to high fantasy settings, I highly doubt he said his quote.

    Also, I think Philip is straight-up wrong; magic can become very advanced indeed while still being quite distinguishable from technology. It would be more correct to say (as SK alludes to above) that any sufficiently reliable magic is indistinguishable from technology. Or, more simply: Science is magic that works.

    There's also my favorite, Gehm's Corollary to Clarke's Law: Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.


  58. orfeo
    August 8, 2016 @ 6:00 am

    Well. That was really something.

    I don’t think I’ve seen Warrior’s Gate before. It is one of the strangest Doctor Who stories, and on the whole it was pretty compelling. I think it demonstrates that giving mere fragments of explanation can be better than giving a “complete” explanation that doesn’t convince the audience.

    You are SO right that the scene where Romana meets the slavers is pure Troughton. I hadn’t thought of that while watching it, but as soon as I read that it made perfect sense.


    November 22, 2019 @ 10:57 am

    Awesome review, thanks!

    And, being a fan of David Whittaker’s work, the spiritual parallel of Bidmead to Whitaker put a smile on my face… ๐Ÿ™‚


  60. YaramahZ
    April 27, 2022 @ 10:17 pm

    Interesting review and comments, which especially befit this story. One thing I have to mention (and I am surprised no-one has previously), is this is the final story for K-9. I know he wasn’t especially beloved by this blog’s author or regular readers (given the paucity of comments on him), but I really enjoyed K-9. I was certainly sad to see him go. However, the sadness was tempered by the realisation he got to spend his time in E-Space with Romana. Not a bad life.

    Now the adventures of Romana and K-9, I’d watch that for sure!


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