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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. William Whyte
    March 28, 2012 @ 3:48 am

    Does it make sense to read the rejection of the Black Guardian not as a rejection of queerness but as a natural stage in a coming-of-age story? As you say, Turlough is coded as gay before the Black Guardian shows up in Mawdryn Undead: so what we have is a mature but sinister mentor guiding / tempting him through a transition to adulthood, who he then rejects at the end of it as part of moving on from having a mentor and becoming a full person. This isn't a particularly gay story — it's the story of Little Red Riding Hood, for example.

    The problem, of course, with this rite-of-passage / be who you want to be interpretation, is that Turlough ends up being the Doctor's companion, and to be a companion is necessarily to be infantilized. But the nice thing about this is that Turlough's story ends with him voluntarily leaving the Doctor and accepting his responsibilities as an adult.

    Also worth noting, on the side of the ledger against reading this as a repudiation of homosexuality, are that Turlough stays gay. Those shorts in Planet of Fire? None more gay.

    Also, when discussing authorial intent, wasn't Peter Grimwade gay too? I don't think this affects the argument on one side or the other, but just for the sake of completeness.


  2. Dr. Happypants
    March 28, 2012 @ 4:06 am

    Grimwade was certainly gay, and I find it impossible to believe he didn't have the queer subtext of "British public schoolboys" very definitely in his mind when he wrote "Mawdryn Undead". Note that Turlough keeps the costume.

    Also gay is Ian Levine, who was the first resident DJ at gay megaclub Heaven in the early '80s. Not that that's relevant here, I just think it's funny.


  3. Alex Wilcock
    March 28, 2012 @ 4:26 am

    Hmm. Up to a point, Lord Sandifer. Not unconvincing, as once again Doctor Who steps back to fin de siècle, but as you and William both supply background details, I’d have said that the more gay contributors were on board with Turlough, the less probable it would seem that he’d be constructed so highly out of anti-gay stereotypes and still be intended to have that reading (weak, cowardly, insincere… All associated with the Evil Gay on film). He’s also much less camp than almost anything around him…

    On the other hand, I have occasionally been known to send in one-liners to DWM’s Time Team, and they made an interesting change when printing one for this story:
    Why do they need to save space by giving Turlough Adric’s room? And, as in between stories Turlough’s been chatting up the Doctor, winding up Tegan and getting down to sabotage – obviously taking some time – where’s he been sleeping in all the days we missed?
    Why do they need to save space by giving Turlough Adric’s room? And since in between stories Turlough’s been sucking up to the Doctor, winding up Tegan and getting down to some sabotage – obviously taking some time – where’s he been sleeping all that time?
    It looks like they thought the idea of Turlough “chatting up” the Doctor was a little too risqué, but I’m not sure they really thought through their bowdlerism; as my other half put it, “Where could Turlough have been sleeping in the nights when he was fellating the Doctor?”

    Nothing to make of this story being the first Doctor Who story from both a woman writer and a woman director? Whether or not that was a significant factor, it’s always intrigued me that this is such a disturbingly askew take on a love story rather than ‘the usual’.

    And, as I’ve been keeping tabs on the underlying themes in my own Black Guardian Trilogy review, it’s worth noting that this is yet another tale of travellers doomed to wander in an “echoing voyage,” now underscoring the ‘Flying Dutchman’ feel with wandering spirits, powerful but empty, with yet another dose of subtle vampirism from the parasitic aristocrats, who have – like Mawdryn – far more of an ‘aesthete’ coding than Turlough.


  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 28, 2012 @ 4:31 am

    It makes some sense, but as I said, if you take this story as working with the aesthetic tropes I argue for, the Black Guardian and the extended meditation on a negative moral choice is part and parcel of the gay coding. Which is, I think, what makes the matter interesting in the first place. Yes, Turlough would be easily argued as gay even without the Black Guardian plot, but he's not only gay, he's gay and put in a plot ripped right out of iconic gay literature.


  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 28, 2012 @ 4:36 am

    I'm not sure it follows that gay contributors would have been less likely to construct Turlough out of anti-gay stereotypes. As I noted, the most high profile homophobic attacks on Nathan-Turner came from a fanzine with a gay editor. Which is to say that the gay community has always had a complex relationship with its own negative stereotypes. To fast-forward, are we also going to be surprised that Russell T. Davies makes Stuart such a blatant negative stereotype in Queer as Folk?

    That said, as I write this, I do see a rather substantial addition to make to the post that I'm about to go edit in. 🙂


  6. Alex Wilcock
    March 28, 2012 @ 5:05 am

    I take your point, but it's still, I think, evidence against – as is that Turlough is so much further down the 'aesthete' scale than, say, Mawdryn and Striker in the same stories. I'm not saying you're wrong, but I do think it's nowhere near as cut-and-dried as you present it.

    And to fast-forward, yes, Stuart fitted into several negative stereotypes… But he was also that series' most massively strong and empowered – and honest – character, not something that could be said of many other gay TV characters before then (and never of Turlough, until he's literally coded as a family man), and by definition he wasn't the only gay man in the series; Queer As Folk was groundbreaking not because it had one gay character who had to embody everything, but because it showed a lot of us, none made from pure stereotypes, positive or negative. In short, a drama. So taking 'the one' read-as-gay character out of context has a wholly different meaning from taking 'one of a whole series of' openly gay characters out of context; if there were more LGBT characters on TV even today, I suspect there'd be far fewer complaints than there are when a series' token gayer is too camp / too invisible / too slutty / too virginal / too dead at the end or whatever other old stereotype people get weary of when there's no variety of characters to be characters rather than tropes.


  7. William Whyte
    March 28, 2012 @ 5:13 am

    I like your updated paragraph — I think that completes the picture in a really useful way.


  8. Alex Wilcock
    March 28, 2012 @ 5:43 am

    Also, as I said under Mawdryn, I think a far more obvious reading of Turlough is that he's a dark mirror of the Doctor – the Third Doctor, in particular, which is another of those reasons that the Brigadier suits the story far better than the intended Ian (and it would have been far more heart-wrenching to have Ian without Barbara than the Brigadier without his uniform).


  9. William Whyte
    March 28, 2012 @ 5:54 am

    Having said that, you may want to edit the previous paragraph too, as that reads like the end of an argument and it isn't so much any more.


  10. inkdestroyedmybrush
    March 28, 2012 @ 9:16 am

    After 198 posts, we've finally got one where i think that you're the least steady on your feet with regards to your summation of the themes in the story and its finale.

    There is no question that Turlough coded as gay from the start, but i think that you're making the final lines of the story too cut and dried. I've always seen his repudiation of the Black Guardian as a larger part of his acceptance of his sexuality: he knows it, but now he knows that everyone else knows it, and he starts to make different choices about who he is going to "listen" to. The black guardian comes across as an older manipulative "boyfriend" shaming and cajoling Turlough into doing what he wants. And he finally gets tossed out when Turlough has had enough abusive behavior.

    I've never quite gotten the slash fiction on a lot of characters (the Kirk/Spock thing: kinda), but since Davison's Doctor has shown a complete lack of interest in Nyssa or Tegan, its not difficult to imagine him weakening to his attraction to the forbidden fruit: Turlough, the submissive agent sent to kill him. Now that's a good case for sexual attraction.

    Turlough gains enlightenment because he's got a better offer.


  11. William Whyte
    March 28, 2012 @ 11:48 am

    The dark mirror of the Doctor interpretation doesn't work for me, because Turlough doesn't seem, well, special enough. The fact that he's not from Earth is just a thing about him, not a characteristic that gives him unusual technology or powers of insight. Pertwee, like him or not, stood out in UNIT. Turlough is clearly not seen as exceptional by anyone in the school. Frankly, to be a dark mirror of the Doctor, you have to be a star, which is why I think it works for Linx and Davros (in different ways) but not particularly for Turlough.


  12. BerserkRL
    March 28, 2012 @ 11:58 am

    Why oh why is there no Wilf/Davros slashfic?


  13. Alex Wilcock
    March 28, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

    That's fair enough, but surely it's not in tune with Philip's argument?

    Within the school (as the other boys and the Headmaster all say) he does stick out, just not as an alien exile… But isn't that part of how he contrasts with the Doctor, that he's a liar and a coward? Yet he's still shut up with the Brigadier, who also was once special and is now just another teacher. As Philip argues, it's not necessarily right to say you have to be terribly glamorous and have exciting adventures to count. I'd go further and say that if you think it is about the Brigadier coming down in the world, then his new 'exile' must, too.


  14. Exploding Eye
    March 28, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

    It has never and would never have occurred to me that Turlough might be gay. Perhaps this is because I'm ginger, went to an all-boys school with a very similar uniform, am generally quite feeble and cowardly, am a sensitive aesthete (I write songs, and screenplays with strong female leads, and I got into Formula 1 because I liked all the different coloured helmets)… and spend most of my time daydreaming about girls. Sigh, girls.

    Maybe I never looked into it that deeply, maybe I just see Doctor Who as sexless and Turlough in particular as alien, but I don't buy it as being that obvious. Yes, he could be gay, but he just as easily could be a sensitive/alien straight man; or he could simply, and more easily, be a non-specific fictional character in a generally sexless fictional universe.

    Incidentally, and for the sake of completeness, it's a shame you've "skipped" Enlightenment, as this was one of the most evocative stories of my childhood, and I think it deserved more than to be a hook onto which to hang Turlough.


  15. Exploding Eye
    March 28, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    Also, "being the only Doctor since Pertwee to have a male companion in a majority of his stories" is hardly remarkable when you consider that Pertwee was only one Doctor ago.


  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 28, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

    I meant the claim to cover post-Pertwee Doctors as well. That is, "Davison is the only post-Pertwee Doctor to have a male companion in a majority of his stories."


  17. WGPJosh
    March 28, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

    Although a lot of the Gay (sub)text in Turlough's character was probably written in intentionally, as you claim, I maintain a big part of it is the draconian no-hugging-no-kissing-no-affection-of-any-sort dictum laid down at the start of the John Nathan-Turner era. Peter Davison jokes about it, but it's true that he wasn't allowed to show much warmth at all towards Nyssa and Tegan so the only companions he was ever allowed to get close to or show any kind of affection for in character were Adric and Turlough. Can't have the kids thinking The Doctor might have ghastly, horrid FEELINGS for his female travelling companions, can we? No siree, especially not after how naughty and inappropriate Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were. Love and sexuality are evil, sinful things and emotions are for the weak.

    Yes it's 30 years later and I do still have a chip on my shoulder, why do you ask?


  18. BerserkRL
    March 28, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

    Exploding eye for the straight guy!


  19. SK
    March 28, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

    I heard that John Nathan-Turner had a secret attic where he kept a Hawaiian shirt that just kept getting more and more tatty and torn.


  20. SteveGP
    March 29, 2012 @ 1:26 am

    I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned the Misos triangle branded on Turlough's arm in the very next story; that seems to me to be a clear and intended reference to the pink triangles used to identify gay people by the Nazis (and, at the time of the broadcasting of these episodes, being 'reclaimed' as a gay pride insignia before the rainbow flag eventually and more positively replaced it).


  21. krimmena
    March 29, 2012 @ 5:21 am

    I wholly agree about the triangle. 'Bent', the Martin Sherman play about the homosexual experience in the concentration camps was revived in the 1980s and the triangle was on all gay journals. It would have been very familiar to the gay members of the production team.

    There seems too to be a conscious parallel drawn in the script of 'Mawdryn Undead' between Turlough's concealed identity as an alien and the closet, as described by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in the 'Epistomology of the Closet'. Turlough has something to hide and that is that he is an alien refugee of some kind. The concealment of the alien identity is better effected by the emotional isolation of the character by means of a great emphasis in the script upon the tropes of 'gayness' in pre-1980s British – and, if Gore Vidal's accounts of 'the sissy' are anything to go by, American – culture (ie his aesthecism, anti athleticism and intellectual superiority). These traits may have been given to the character for this reason, with the intended ironic effect that they were also the traits of the adolescent 'pre-gay' male so widely reported in British public school culture. Whether that makes the character of Turlough gay too is another matter. In the original series – I hate calling it 'classic' – Steven may be retroactively constructed as gay (no particular interest in women and the owner of a toy panda) but the performance does not support the reading and I think Turlough falls into the same category.


  22. SK
    March 29, 2012 @ 5:36 am

    Surely asking, 'Was Turlough gay' is a completely meaningless question? It implies that Turlough has some kind of existence outside of what is on screen (and, if you like, in the novelisations).

    You could only even ask it if you think that drama is, as Dr Sandifer so pithily puts it, 'gossip about imaginary people'.


  23. Anton B
    March 29, 2012 @ 5:42 am

    To misquote Jesssica Rabbit. 'He's not Gay he's just drawn that way'. It might be useful to differentiate between 'Gay' and 'Queer' here. Indeed, while we're about it – and before we get into the Brett Anderson 'Bisexual who has never had a Gay experience' explanation/excuse – while I recognise what you're suggesting (and BTW I,to a large extent, agree)surely without a scene explicitly depicting it (unlikely at the time) any speculation regarding Turlough's sexual orientation is just that – speculation. He's not a real person he's a fictional character. Bloody hell he's not even supposed to be human so attributing specifically 20th century Western Gay tropes and signifiers to him is a bit of a reach and really quite slashy in itself. The subtext, via JNT and the contempory fanbase/writers is undoubtably there but this just isn't the same as your previous Whittaker inspired claiming of the show for Hermetic Alchemy/Mercury/Odin/Chaos Monkeys/whatever..Is it?


  24. SK
    March 29, 2012 @ 5:54 am

    I would note that thogh some commenters seem to have got the wrong end of the stick, Dr Sandifer was careful not to write anything about the character's actual sexual orientation: the good doctor is writing entirely about the symbology that surrounds the character, which (unlike the sexual orientation of a fictional character who is never seen having any sexual responses whatsoever) is somethig that actually does exist and can be written about.

    Basically: Turlough, as a fictional character, can't be 'gay'. That would be silly. Fictional characters can't 'be' anything. They can, however, represent, and Turlough could, in some way, represent 'gayness' or a particular kind or in a particular historical context.


  25. krimmena
    March 29, 2012 @ 6:06 am

    For another reading, Turlough's exile to the public school could be read as Christ's period in the desert. Like Christ, Turlough is tempted three times (three successive adventures) by evil, and again like Christ, he has the opportunity to obtain his freedom, to die (and be brought back to life) and to become a ruler of many. Peter Grimwade, brought up in a Christian context in the late 1940s and 1950s, would have known the gospel story well. Such parallels eased the consumption of the story to the contemporary audience in 1983 (less so now, one suspects). Grimwade would also have had the good taste not to foreground the parallels; current writers take note.

    One might also suggest that Turlough also has overtones of Judas Iscariot, represented with red hair, with the partial exception that Mark Strickson was reportedly asked to dye his blond hair that colour to avoid confusion with Peter Davison in long shot.


  26. inkdestroyedmybrush
    March 29, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    I did get started on a story, but got distracted by the Zoe/Leela wrestling epic i was writing.


  27. WGPJosh
    March 29, 2012 @ 9:37 am

    I agree with all the discussion that's popped up over the night. I just wanted to clarify I wasn't trying to "gossip about imaginary people" at all, just point out another way in which the symbology of the story and production of the show helped contribute to a particular interpretation.

    Well, that and get in a few more snarks at John Nathan-Turner and Mary Whitehouse's expense.


  28. Wm Keith
    March 29, 2012 @ 11:37 pm

    I don't know what bearing the name "Turlough" has on this topic. A turlough is a type of lake found in limestone areas of Ireland which floods when the water table is high and drains when the water table is low (in summer).

    This may be of great intended significance. Or it may just be there as an Irish placename, like Gallifrey.


  29. SK
    March 30, 2012 @ 12:08 am

    But surely then it would be pronounced 'Tur-lough', not (as the character does) 'Tur-low'.


  30. Anton B
    March 30, 2012 @ 1:30 am

    I hope you weren't including my reply as one of those who'd 'got the wrong end of the stick'(and I'm assuming the innuendo was intended). On the contrary I was trying to reinforce and clarify Doc. Sandifer's original thesis that Turlough could indeed be read as a gay signifier but thought it might be helpful to the discussion to indicate, as you did, that as a creature of fiction he cannot 'be' Gay. This also leads me to wonder, in light of the whole 'Abdication of the role of Master of the Land of Fiction' trope assigned to the Doctor in the Mind Robber entry, whether there's any mileage in talking about the very thing you propose – that 'Fictional characters can't 'be' anything. They can, however, represent' and perhaps this is why the Doctor can't 'be' sexual in any real sense? For example in the current incarnation his relationship with River seems totally fictitious and mostly happens off screen. What I wonder in this context does the Doctor then 'represent'?


  31. Matt Sharp
    March 31, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

    I always assumed that the name Turlough was originally from (Irish) Pat Mills' 'Song of the Space Whale' rather than anything Grimwade or Saward came up with – it's a very Pat Mills-ey sort of a name.


  32. Warren Andrews
    April 5, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    JNT's original desired look for Turlough was to have him bald and wearing shorts.

    But Strickson said no to the shorts and that being bald would mean a loss of potential acting job thus earning.


  33. Lindy Orthia
    April 18, 2012 @ 7:33 am

    Picking up on a completely different comment, I'd like to vote for the Axon spacecraft as the most obvious manifestation of a vagina dentata – it's mostly buried in the earth, but the entrance way sticks out, and is an oval shape with a toothed circular door in the centre (see http://cdn.static.ovimg.com/episode/297398.jpg). And the Axons themselves of course are all sticky and organic and desired by men for their beauty and fecundity yet are actually deadly. Etc.


  34. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 15, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    I was gonna skip all of Season 20, but a friend kept reccomending this as one of the "best" Davison stories, so I figured I'd make an exception.

    It does have a clever concept, the designs are nice, several of the characters are very intriguing. However, some of the dialogue is positively awful. I just ran across a reference somewhere earlier today that said it wasn't until the McCoy era that dialogue began to sound like actual conversation again, instead of "essays", and I can see the point. In all fairness (not that this excuses anything), ST:TNG suffers from this even more than WHO at its worst.

    The crew are the most natural characters, you get a really "friendly" feel from all of them. Too bad they mostly disappear after Part 1. The main Eternals are all fascinating, from determined to creepy to flamboyant-as-hell and her sidekick (who, the instant he started talking, I said to myself, "Now that guy is DEFINITELY gay!!!" (which never even crossed my mind about Turlough, even though I'd already read this blog post a month ago).

    Tegan is awful in here (and this was supposed to be her best story?? –AUGH!!!) and Turlough needs to tone it down a few notches. The Black Guardian, ditto. A shame Tom Baker wasn't still around for this, I'd like to have seen his having a 2nd confrontation with The White Guardian.

    Overall, not bad, but I feel it would have been much better without the whole "Black Guardian" plotline. Truthfully, it doesn't come alive until Wrack appears, and while some have said she's way too OTT for a "empty" Eternal, I say thee nay, she's no doubt living it up BECAUSE of all her human crew.

    Now, how come The Doctor has gotten so much better at precise hops with the TARDIS, yet still can never get Tegan or Turlough back to their home planets? That fall from the radar dish really scrambled his brain, and for at least 3 whole years.

    Funny thing– Keith Barron (this story) and Anthony Ainley (next story) both appeared together as Nazi u-boat crewmembers in Amicus' "THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT" (the same people who gave us "INVASION EARTH: 2150 A.D."). Which makes me think, too bad The Doctor and Tegan weren't played by Doug McClure & Susan Penhaligon.


  35. Richard Fuller
    February 6, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

    I really don't agree with a lot of this. A shortened version of what this is saying would, in essence, be "It's 1983, so Turlough was gay.".
    I was rewatching Terminus and Frontios and wondering about Turlough's place in what has clearly emerged in JNT's Doctor Who term.
    I never cared for Davison as the Doctor, and I take it now many Americans did not. The statement back then was each actor was to be the opposite of predecessor, but Davison to me was too young, clearly supposed to be a boyishly handsome prettyboy.
    Davison clearly sought to be anti-social and disagreeable as Hartnell established, but whereas Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and T. Baker came across as crotchety or set in their ways, Davison's youthfulness made it look like he had a childish attitude, especially when he was angry toward Adric or Tegan.
    I watch Logopolis and Castrovalva and recall how promising (I thought) the quartet looked and how disappointing it all turned out.
    When it was all over and I learned JNT was gay, I began to notice the peculiarities, mainly with Mawdryn Undead, with how the 'menacing aliens' looked like aged drag queens.
    But all of this about Turlough being gay because he was coaxing the friend to steal the car. I have to heartily disagree.
    With this logic, Bart Simpson and Milhouse Van Houten are a gay couple. Spanky and Alfalfa are a gay couple.
    And as for Wrack being a gay icon because she was a strong woman (tho I'd say she was threatening), had this been a man playing Wrack, it would have STILL had gay undertones, one way or another. That really does limit who could depict Wrack!
    Had it been a ROBOT in the role of Wrack: R2D2 image, well, that would have been depicting a penis, obviously!
    C3PO, oh, that' s a boy toy!
    After a while, it's a no-win situation.
    This is basically what I am seeing on Doctor Who, again with the Doctor getting younger and younger.
    While I liked Eccleston and Tennant, I really was not crazy about how young either one was. Still they were fun, but Matt Smith, no matter how good he was, it just wasn't the Doctor. It was silly playing.
    And Smith's voice sounded more like Tennant than Brandon Routh did Chris Reeve in the Superman effort.
    These young Doctors, to me, all looked like little fancies, and I look forward to Capaldi taking over. I've already heard he is supposed to be a return to 'the second Doctor'. The same thing was said about Colin Baker (and again, look at what a disaster that turned out to be!) I don't understand what the intention is in channeling Troughton, but no one is succeeding.
    I'd guess once C. Baker succeeded in losing the American audience, the quick decision was made to bring in Sylvester McCoy. Of all the Doctors, Troughton and McCoy have borne the closest physical resemblance.
    I'd say Turlough's earliest depiction was he was supposed to be sly and clever, very crafty. Just like Adric's mathematical skills, that fell apart very quickly and never came into use.
    And I don't understand why Turlough was an alien on Earth. None of that made sense to me.
    As for Total Eclipse of the Heart, disagree on it being a gay song, and don't understand why you think so.
    With Boy George in Culture Club, Annie Lennox dressed as a man, Duran Duran sporting long hair and makeup, androgynous attire, unisex hair cuts (thanks, Thompson Twins), the atmosphere which would give way to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, NO ONE was saying Total Eclipse of the Heart was the gayest thing around.
    Madonna was just around the corner. Why would anyone focus on Bonnie Tyler as some gay icon with an anthem?


  36. Jubal
    June 11, 2016 @ 9:45 pm

    An awful lot of your points I agree with. Wrack is, after all, the third most blatant fag hag in all of Doctor Who, falling just behind the Rani and Iris Wildthyme, and just ahead of River Song.

    Still, I never viewed Turlough as being gay, even codedly. This is because, from my reading, he and Tegan are blatantly shagging like rabbits by the end of his first story. (Yes, they still hate each other and fight like cat and dog. This is hardly unrealistic).


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