That is not dead which can eternally hit the snooze button

Skip to content

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. Muad'dib
    October 19, 2011 @ 12:16 am

    I know the (latest) well-deserved roast of Terry Nation rapidly approaches, but I hope we can mitigate that somewhat with a Blakes 7 "Pop Between Realities" somewhere down the line.


  2. John Callaghan
    October 19, 2011 @ 12:37 am

    I think the way the Doctor deals with Sutekh is rather clever, actually. The problem is that it's explained afterwards, so the audience don't see the story unfolding.


  3. John Callaghan
    October 19, 2011 @ 12:54 am

    And in keeping with your (entertaining, as ever) article, Sutekh's point of weakness is when he relies on a method which is vulnerable to sci-fi rules (rather than supernatural ones) to complete his plan.


  4. Steve Hogan
    October 19, 2011 @ 3:43 am

    Great recap, but you're going to want to recheck your links. "Western" and "Espionage thriller" both lead to your post about The Massacre, which is neither.


  5. Spacewarp
    October 19, 2011 @ 4:05 am

    Interesting comment about the Yorkshire Ripper. That juxtaposition would not be incongruous to the British. After decades of news coverage culminating in the capture and imprisonment of a major serial killer, the phrase "Yorkshire Ripper" no longer has any connotations with anything remotely Northern, like whippets or pudding. Certain phrases end up transcending their constituent parts and take on a linguistic life of their own. Like "Una Bomber", "Moors Murderers", or even "9/11".

    I'd also advise against making such comments on a wider internet forum than this too!


  6. Alex Wilcock
    October 19, 2011 @ 4:47 am

    Rarely has your analysis reflected itself so strikingly; rather than horror fantasy colliding with sci-fi, it’s almost as if you set out to make a postmodern collision between your in-story analysis and your context, normally so in tune with each other.

    For me, your case about the Doctor first naturally put into history and then versus an alien genre – though I’m surprised you didn’t link that more explicitly to your argument about Planet of Evil – was absolutely spot on: as so often, incisive, illuminating, and appropriate.

    On the other hand, rarely has your casual attitude to context made me twitch the more. Aside from the tastelessness of your comments about Peter Sutcliffe, seriously: “Yorkshire, a thoroughly working class region [the Doctor even highlighted Harrogate for you in the previous story!] generally lacking in glitz.” Like… Oh, Whitechapel, then?

    Then there’s “it's irritatingly stereotypical in its portrayals of Muslims,” which is breathtaking. You seem to be postmodernly posing as the stereotype of an American who thinks all Muslims are Arabs and all Arabs are Muslims. It’s true that Namin is a nastily clichéd Arab, if the writing is slightly more complex than you suggest (given the dialogue between him and Warlock), but in the absence of Egyptian pantheon-worshippers to be offended, I suspect any Muslim readers you have would be able to spot that he isn’t. He really, really, isn’t, and it’s astonishing that someone usually so intelligent as you are hasn’t picked up on the subtle and minor part of the story that involves his worshipping ancient Egyptian gods.

    After which gobsmacking stupidity it’s hilarious that you insult other people’s education if they have other views than you about The Wedding of River Song. I’d argue, but that’s just too silly a piece of pompous abuse for words (though, as it’ll take you so long to get to that story, I might just direct readers to a particularly erudite review of it by someone far fonder of it than I am who still exposes many of its weaknesses).

    I know you insist that yours isn’t a review blog – but your reviews are often so much stronger than your ‘writing about everything else in the entire world’, about which it’s so much harder to be an expert…


  7. Tom Watts
    October 19, 2011 @ 5:25 am

    Writing about the outside world, sometimes tendentiously, seems an effective way to amass comments on a Doctor Who blog. It's unjust and absurd no doubt, but healthy for the blog I would have thought. Yorkshire Ripper does seem an incongruous juxtaposition, now I think about it. Philip I think from his writing is a Lefty and a Post-Modernist (is that unfair?) I am a Righty and was educated in unreconstructed Modernism (to crudely simplify) which means he and I would disagree fundamentally on practically everything. A left-wing modernist like Lawrence Miles despises the whole Moffat era. I also hate it, but for anti-post-modernist rather than political reasons (which are probably more important to LM).

    I'm finding PS's interpretations of the Hinchcliffe era very idiosyncratic, unexpected and thought-provoking. A couple of points: I don't think Namin is a nasty cliche, just a literary cliche, in keeping with the cliche Scotsmen of TotZ. We wince now because the world is smaller and we've all probably met some Egyptians. And also, especially in future reference to ToW-C, when Robert Homes is being bigoted, it's not remotely out of laziness, but an active creative choice, much akin IMO to what Tarantino does in playing with genre stereotypes, particularly when they relate to race. RH was way ahead of the game in this respect.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 6:10 am

    I can, however, see where my comments about Sutcliffe could be misread as glib instead of as making a point, which was not that Sutcliffe's crimes were funny but rather an observation about the sort of media event that Sutcliffe was built into. I've amended the entry, in any case, to try to make this clearer.


  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 6:15 am

    As for the bevy of other suggested corrections from people…

    Alex – You are correct that I carelessly and while polishing off the entry last night conflated "Arab" and "Muslim." The entry has also been amended to correct this. "Gobsmacking stupidity" is a fair way of characterizing this error.

    I've also fixed the link to The Western. However, The Massacre is a historical spy thriller, and I stand by that one. πŸ™‚


  10. Spacewarp
    October 19, 2011 @ 6:59 am

    "Sutekh is specifically Set – the mythical figure who slew the risen god Osiris"

    Could this be the reason why the Doctor – theoretically another risen God – is scared of him?

    Or was that what you were hinting at, only not obviously enough for me to notice? πŸ˜€


  11. Wm Keith
    October 19, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    With reference to England's largest county, you should leave the lazy, inaccurate stereotyping to Barry Letts and Robert Sloman.

    As for Ibrahim Namin, his first name does indicate that he most probably wants the outside world to think he is a Muslim.

    I'll put the problems with this article down to your mind having been wiped by Styggron.

    Grumbling aside, you say that Doctor Who is a show about people being where they shouldn't be. Well, I'll tell you where Sutekh was when I was five years old. He was in the toilet. Sitting on the toilet. Waiting for me. After dark. Every night. For months.


  12. Tom Watts
    October 19, 2011 @ 7:15 am

    Ibrahim could also be a Copt, with that name. Namin is a surname of Persian origin, as far as I can tell from Google.


  13. Stephen
    October 19, 2011 @ 7:50 am

    Well, looks like I was wrong in predicting that the first 4th Doctor book you were going to tackle would be Managra (unless you're putting it in a different slot to what's on the back cover blurb).

    If, as you said previously, the first one you're doing is an MA, then it's Evolution or System Shock (neither of which seem even half as appropriate to this blog as Managra), or you'll be doing all four 4th Doctor "Time Can Be Rewritten" posts on Season 16/17 novels. Which would be uncharacteristic.


  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 8:36 am

    Wm – I'm bemused that you read my observations about the moniker "Yorkshire Ripper" as a comment on Yorkshire on my part. It's not. But I do think that the general cultural associations with Yorkshire (and it is, I think, safe to say that it does not have the cultural cachet of other regions, which is not a commentary on it so much as on the London-based media culture) are, in that moniker, being deliberately juxtaposed with the more glamorous horror of Jack the Ripper to create an incongruous name for a serial killer that will sell more papers. It is, in other words, entirely a comment on the tabloid press and not on Yorkshire.


  15. Aaron
    October 19, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    "as though Doctor Who has given up on being ambitious and is just contenting itself to tell satisfying scary stories in different settings."

    Minus the word satisfying, isn't this really all we can say about the Hincliffe era though? You give some good insights into what the stories are doing. I particularly like what you've said about the Doctor now fighting ideas. But, for instance, take this and Terror of the Zygons? Aren't they, at the heart of everything, just a boring monster runaround trying in vain to be scary?

    I mean, I like your comments that Zygons is a send up of the Pertwee era. And, academically, this is enough to make this episode seem good. But watching it, all it is is another monster without motivations fighting the Doctor who we know will inevitably win, through monster vision goggles from time to time. At base level, that's all the Hincliffe era is. Stock monsters fighting the Doctor over and over in different settings, without so much as any ambition.

    Take this story instead of Zygons. What happens? There are plodding mummy monsters. There's a big scary monster. The Doctor defeats them. Done. That's all that happens. Unlike most of the Hartnell era, or (as much as I hate to defend it) the Pertwee era, it feels less like Doctor Who has started to be about something and more like it's stopped being about anything. The Doctor now seems to defeat monsters. That's it. And Brain of Morbius and Horror of Fang Rock coming up are only going to cement my feeling that there's nothing but boring monster runaround happening in the Hincliffe era.

    Can you explain for me, either here or in an upcoming entry, how Pyramids of Mars is any different from Tomb of the Cybermen? Both are setting the Doctor down in another genre, both deal with horror tropes, both have racist charactitures of a nonwhite group of people. But one to you is an unambitious and offensive mess, while the other is a fun well put together story. I don't get it.

    It's weird, because I basically agree with you about everything else in Doctor Who except the Hincliffe era, and I admit, I am enjoying the look into the Hincliffe era as post modern, which is a way to look at it that had never occurred to me. But, for all your enthusiasm, I still can't understand how this is any different than Season 5.


  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 8:51 am

    Ultimately, the difference is that Pyramids of Mars is followed two stories later by Brain of Morbius, which takes what this story does and merges it with the many of the best ideas from The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Terror of the Zygons, and Planet of Evil to form a jaw-droppingly good piece of television. While Tomb of the Cybermen is followed two stories later by The Ice Warriors, which just makes 80% of the same mistakes.

    Which is to say, Pyramids of Mars is a flawed piece that nevertheless breaks the ground that needed to be broken in order to do a stunningly brilliant piece later, whereas Tomb of the Cybermen is just a flawed piece that was followed up by a chain of nearly identical flawed pieces. And because Tomb of the Cybermen is a mispaced mess for four episodes, whereas Pyramids of Mars really only falls apart in the final episode.


  17. Aaron
    October 19, 2011 @ 9:04 am

    Oh, I didn't realise that Brain of Morbius is coming up in two stories. For me, it's the best example of everything wrong with the Hincliffe era. It's just a useless monster runaround that rehashes another story and tries to be frightening while in fact being incredibly predictable. I look forward to you proving me wrong.


  18. Steve Hogan
    October 19, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    @Phillip; Fair enough on the other link. I haven't seen (Well, I should say heard) The Massacre. I guess I was thinking something more Enemy of the World-ish. (Which isn't a historical, so there I go…)


  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    Since this is clearly going to be a long comment thread, two more things I should point out.

    1) My objection is not to people who dislike Moffat's era, but rather to people who criticize its plotting while valorizing past Doctor Who. Whatever inadequacies "The Wedding of River Song" may have in terms of its resolution, it at least clearly intends to be a bit of a shaggy dog story, which puts it miles ahead of the limp "Oh crap we need another episode and to wrap this up" ending of this story. I don't think the new series is unfailingly good, but I think the idea that it is worse than the classic series is absurd.

    2) It's really not a review blog. But I target about 2000 words per entry, and I'm not above wading into existing critical debates about Doctor Who to hit my word count. πŸ™‚


  20. Seeing_I
    October 19, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    By the way, I think you're missing something here:

    "In this sense, the Doctor dealing a final defeat to Set is readable either as the final confirmation of the transition to a new aeon, albeit in a typically Robert Holmes sense of "well I guess that wasn't a utopia either.")"

    I saw an "either" but not an "or."


  21. Wm Keith
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:07 am

    Phil, I simply think that (from your mansion in leafy Stepford, Connecticut where, as you look out of the window, you can't help watching the jolly Theta Sigma fraternity boys from Yale "hazing" the sophomores), you don't understand what Yorkshire means in British popular culture. (We're not talking about what Yorkshire is really like, are we? but about perceptions.)

    Your Ripper comment suggests urban "grim up North" aspects which are certainly present in popular perceptions of the North of England – but not particularly of Yorkshire per se. The most stereotypical Tyke is a tight-fisted, grim-faced yet honest hill-farmer.

    There's a fairly major brand of tea in the UK – "Yorkshire Tea" whose packaging and marketing is based on the idea that "Yorkshire" implies trustworthiness, strength, and quality. It comes in a box decorated with illustrations of Yorkshire beauty spots.

    In another place you have referred to "uneducated coal country". I really don't think that this is a popular stereotype. You yourself must know that the history of the labour movement and the history of education go hand in hand. The recent National Theatre play "The Pitman Painters" is worth investigating. But as the grandson of a Yorkshire miner I must declare my bias.

    Finally, do look at "The Beiderbecke Affair" (Yorkshire Television) when you come to the mid-1980s.


    • Elton Townend-Jones
      September 20, 2021 @ 6:24 am

      As one who grew up in Yorkshire pit towns and villages during the damp, mouldy, parsimonious, bleak, drab, power cut period in which these stories are set, I can confirm that West and South Yorkshire at the least were miserable, depressing, violent, glamour-free, and wilfully ignorant shit-holes. Being there at the time of the Ripper added to the sense of grim misery. The debilitating effect it had on working class women who had to travel by bus or walk poorly lit lanes already peppered with ignorant yobs and far from reconstructed macho males who liked to either get in your face or punch the crap out of it without particular cause was unavoidably evident. The steroid addicted 80s and 90s were little better. Rough as.


  22. WGPJosh
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    Aaron: I'm once again going to side almost completely with you. Phil, I'm sorry, I've agreed with you on everything else but here I can't quite follow you. I'm still not sold on "Pyramids of Mars" or the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era proper coming up. Much as I liked Season 12 and thought it was generally brilliant, this is the point where the show just begins to fall flat for me and it doesn't pick up again in a big way in my opinion until Season 16.

    In an attempt to avoid just going through and blindly repeating all the points Aaron already made (and I do agree with them and second them) I'll just make a few caveats: The one big place I will differ from you is in that I actually do enjoy "Brain of Morbius" and "Horror of Fang Rock", but for very specific reasons. Yes, "Morbius" is just Frankenstein, but in that story a very good effort is made in making The Doctor seem mysterious as well, particularly in brain showdown scene. To me, it is very much, as Phil said, the best of the era. And "Fang Rock" I adore for the dripping, eerie atmosphere and the complex mystery plot going on with the holiday cruisers that really sells the Gothic horror vibe better than anything in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, and it helps its not as much of a whole plot lift as some of its ilk. But that's a discussion for a later date.

    Back to "Pyramids of Mars" then. And, as much as I hate to be in a position of defending this story, there are a couple things about it that do work well. One, the opening scene between The Doctor and Sarah is great and does a fine job at re-characterizing The Doctor in particular and his relationship with her. This is a change from Season 12 and an overt shift to a more melancholy and moody feel: The Doctor has graver, more serious concerns now other than engaging in action setpieces to entertain us and he's explicitly aloof, alien and dismissive towards Sarah and, by extension, the audience. This is the first step in a road that takes The Doctor to an entirely different position in the narrative then we've seen up 'till now, that culminates in "Brain of Morbius". Actually, Phil, I'm surprised you didn't pick up on this having previously said "Pyramids" is a "point of transition" in this regard.

    Along those lines the acting throughout the serial IS quite good and both Baker and Sladen are in good form and have some good dialog to work with. That's all very well and that alone is enough to elevate it above "Tomb of the Cybermen"'s notoriously (or not) messy plotting, overt racism and poor pacing. While "Tomb" is a trainwreck of a story that nevertheless has one or two clever core concepts, it pretty much relies completely on Patrick Troughton's legendary acting chops and charisma to carry it through. "Pyramids" has almost the opposite problem where it's a very well told story (apart from the casual racism, which is at least more muted this time), but the story isn't actually very interesting or engaging.

    That's the key failing of "Pyramids of Mars" and this era as a whole, in my opinion: The big problem is, as Aaron pointed out, that it is so uninteresting and unoriginal despite being well-executed. Part of the problem is that Sutekh, for my money, is an absolutely terrible villain. Yes, Gabriel Woolfe is a capable actor but he is given very little here to work with. As much as Tom Baker sells it like a champ and goes above and beyond the call of duty in trying to make Sutekh seem to be this all-powerful Lovecraftian embodiment of pure evil to be feared and scorned, it just does not work for me at all.



  23. WGPJosh
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    Part of it is that I admittedly have a hard time wrapping my head around the notion that there are forces more powerful than The Doctor. I've always felt that The Doctor's antagonists should be a match for him, a worthy adversary, but never so omnipotent and alien that they lord over him and make him look weak and incapable. To me, that diminishes the effect of his character a lot. That's what "Pyramids" does in a nutshell: it spends the first episode setting up The Doctor as this new, sombre, contemplative and unreadable figure but than as soon as Sutekh comes in he is constantly outplayed and outmanoeuvred until he finally meets him and spends most of episode three as essentially a peril monkey. That's just madding to me: I want a breathtaking battle of wits between The Doctor and his antagonists, not a curb-stomp wash-out.

    That aside, Sutekh's motivation is the most stupefingly rote and simplistic of plans: He wants to destroy the universe because he's evil and he can. He doesn't represent anything, there's no other sides to his personality, there's just nothing at all about him that makes him stand out in any conceivable way. He's just The Big Bad. He's just Evil. And Evil must be fought. He's no different in that regard than that ridiculous seaweed monster from "Fury From The Deep". And, as I've made clear before, that's just a style of writing and characterization I have zero tolerance for.

    That line: "But Doctor, your evil…Is my good! Wherever I go, I leave devastation and waste in my wake. I find that good!" is possibly the worst, most overstuffed faux-philosophical piece of garbage writing in the whole of the series as far as I'm concerned and exactly the kind of sentiment that sends me flying off the deep end (if you haven't already noticed). By making the claim that "evil simply cannot comprehend good" the story is expecting us to read this as a really, deep philosophical moment where two characters compare their worldviews and has the sheer, brazen GONADS to expect us to be bowled over by this apparently stunning and revelatory statement. Wow! Evil is Evil and Good is Good. I never would have guessed that! What genius writing!

    Even in the Universal films (which Hinchcliffe and Holmes were very clearly huge fans of) there was usually some effort made to humanize the monsters and give them enough characterization so we could sympathise with them, or at the very least understand them. Because, at heart, the Universal Horror films are really just elaborate Gothic tragedies. Sutekh gets no such treatment here and this isn't a tragedy: It's a Gothic-tinged sci-fi thriller and not a very good one at that.

    As an aside, it doesn't help matters at all that Sutekh is eventually destroyed by nonsensical technobabble and the TARDIS control panel because they were running short on time for the episode. Sort of undercuts his presence as an almighty evil spirit. King Ghidorah was a more convincing destroyer of worlds than this guy.



  24. WGPJosh
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:29 am

    The other side of this point is the plot itself. I'm sorry, but if I wanted to watch Blood From The Mummy's Tomb, I would watch Blood From The Mummy's Tomb! Throwing The Doctor and Sarah in there doesn't actually do anything to make the story "better", because while they have some good establishing character moments I'd rather the show be overtly about those instead of tossing them into a pre-existing story, especially a pre-existing story rehashed in a less-then compelling manner.

    And this brings me to my absolute biggest problem with this era, and one that is sort of compounded based on all the other little niggling issues I've mentioned before. Doctor Who can blend genres and be about anything. I get that. The thing is though, I always got the sense that going along with that there was a kind of obligation for the show to challenge itself by broadening the imagination, just like "The Web Planet" did. "Pyramids of Mars" doesn't do that. Nothing in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era after this serial does that: Each and every story is a blatant and unimaginative pastiche of something else, and there doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason as to why.

    Even I I were to forgive the flagrant and whole-cloth stealing from the Universal and Hammer pantheon (which I absolutely do not, I hasten to add), Hinchcliffe and Holmes do nothing with the material they acquire! All they do is retell the story in a more simplistic, more morally reductive and less engaging way. This becomes especially egregious in "Robots of Death" where they totally steal the plot for Asimov's "The Naked Sun" and and handily leave out the part about playing with the robots' Three Laws Compliance, which is the whole thing that makes the murder mystery actually interesting. I mean, if you're going to just steal from other works and retell them, but in a less intelligent and less meaningful way and not even bother to make some comment on the genres, what's the point of even bothering in the first place?



  25. WGPJosh
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    It's not as if the central conceit of this story is inherently unworkable: it isn't, and it should say something that 30-some-odd years later Stargate SG-1 comes and takes the guiding premise and builds 10 years of television off of it to fantastic effect. But what Stargate SG-1 does so brilliantly is that it fuses the Lovecraft and horror aspects with space opera tropes, thus giving the Goa'uld, our Osiran stand-ins, individual personalities and motivations making for a fascinating space politics thriller. To top it off, the show absolutely refuses to take itself seriously: This allows it to do a wonderfully glib tongue-in-cheek self deprecating commentary on sci-fi and pulp fiction in general that never stops being delightful. "Pyramids of Mars" has no such-self awareness and that's incredibly grating. Don't try to tell me that's too advanced a concept for me to expect from 1976 television, because we just saw "Genesis of the Daleks", "Revenge of the Cybermen" and "Terror of the Zygons" do the same thing and then not three years later "Destiny of the Daleks" does it again and takes it to the logical limit.

    Certainly there's nothing wrong with the occasional entertaining romp (that's why I fervently defend stories like "Horns of Nimon"), but that's not what this story is and it's not what its defenders so often like to paint it as. Every review of it (that I've seen at least) explicitly praises it for some imagined deep commentary on hubris and fanaticism that plainly isn't there. To me it's just a glorified monster-of-the-week story told during an era when monster-of-the-week stories were already passé.

    Sci-fi action romps are just fine (that's pretty much all "Firefly" is from how I see it and that was a wonderful little piece of work), even if I tend to prefer my romps to have just a smidgen of intellectualism to keep them from being totally mindless, but what's not fine are grand, poorly constructed conceits with mind-numbingly reductive morals and ethics, tepid characterization, whole-hearted plot theft with little to no purpose behind it, a disturbing lack of self-consciousness and a show with the stupendously mediocre goal of just doing the same thing week after week and never challenging itself to broaden its horizons while simultaneously thinking it's far more than it actually is.



  26. WGPJosh
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    Phil you made the claim today that Doctor Who isn't highbrow avant-garde material, which surprises me quite a lot because what is this blog if not an effort to show how it at least can be because that's a fundamental part of what it is? What were people like Patrick Troughton, David Whitaker and Verity Lambert doing even from the very beginning? And if we're now at the point where Doctor Who isn't expected to be intellectual or ambitious then we may as well go ahead and let in things like "The Moonbase", "The Ice Warriors", "Fury From The Deep". "The Invasion of Time" and "Attack of the Cybermen".

    I'm not opposed to Doctor Who doing an entertaining genre romp every once in awhile: I quite enjoyed "The Curse of the Black Spot" to use a modern example, despite generally disliking this year's season as a whole, and I submit not every story needs to be "Ghost Light" or "The Web Planet". But when the show flat-out renounces its ability to do that kind of story to focus on pure popcorn storytelling and hokey, obnoxious pseudo-intellectualism, that's when I start to get really concerned.

    I REALLY, REALLY apologise for the length of this rant but something in this story just really rubs me the wrong way and I felt the need to lay all my concerns on the table all at once. I'm going to back off now and take a break from all this and will return sometime in the future hopefully to talk more about radical left-wing mysticism-tinged anarchic utopianism.


  27. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:37 am

    Wm – All righty, buried in comments, a more thorough analysis of urban/rural divides in the US and UK than I've offered on the blog or can guarantee that I will offer on the blog for a while. πŸ™‚

    It is true that my default and not always quite accurate assessment is that you folks treat your rural/mining regions much like we do ours, and so I've been using Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia as my basic model for thinking about the coal mining regions of the UK. With a major difference being that at least some effort went into a controlled demolition of coal economies in the UK, whereas in the US we just let it fester appallingly.

    But of course, we've always had a schizoid relationship with national culture that you've avoided through a variety of cultural factors like being a fairly small island, having a handy figurehead to promote national unity, and things like the BBC. This creates major differences in the tone of the things – you have things like The Pitmen Painters, or Billy Elliot, or The Full Monty. We… don't. The cultural image of finding dignity in the "grim" mining town just isn't a part of US culture in the same way it is in UK.

    But I still tend to assume the underlying issues are basically the same – that you have towns that were, for a couple of decades, in an economic boom that did virtually nothing to build a longer-term infrastructure for the areas with things like adequate health care or education, and then cared nothing for the people left behind when it ended. And a large scale political problem whereby the resulting cultural carnage doesn't register as a real issue with the general public.

    The result is a really awkward setup where you have areas that are simultaneously screaming out for someone to treat their culture with respect and help in its dismantling in favor of "progress," whatever that might mean. And in that tension is a massive tarpit in which leftist thought is perpetually mired, including me in this discussion.

    I mean, this is not the entirety of the north/south divide, certainly, any more than it's the entirety of the coastal/heartland divide in the US. But it's a crucial part of it. And it's in play here – even as the mainstream culture venerates the idyllic and honest simplicity of those quaint rural folks, there's an ugly rejection involved in it. I mean, that's the heart of what's so maddening about Lettsian liberalism in Doctor Who – it ultimately views the economic woes outside of London as terrible things happening to those poor innocent simple folks.

    And the question of how to form an effective alternative isn't settled yet, as the deeply middle class nature of the Occupy protests indicates – the left still isn't good at avoiding treating regions with education gaps as areas in need of nice educated people to come by and sort them out for them. And this is still easily used by the right as evidence that the left doesn't care about them, and remains far more effective evidence than our explanations of how decades of right-wing politics are the cause of all their problems in the first place.

    But even with all of this explained, you still have in the phrase "Yorkshire Ripper" the juxtaposition of the simple country with the glamorous and macabre imagery of famous seedy Victorian London serial killers. You're still merging two frames of reference in a way that hinges on the fact that simple beautiful Yorkshire isn't supposed to be anything like Whitechapel. And that juxtaposition is a masterpiece of Murdochian sensationalism.


  28. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    WGPJosh – Yeah, that is practically a guest entry there. πŸ˜‰

    I think the difference is that I see sufficient intellectual heft in Pyramids of Mars to be non-offensive. Yeah, it's less heft than is ideal, but it is there. And I think that if you put Pyramids in the context of a show that's developing a way of telling postmodern adventure stories in 1975, which is profoundly early days for postmodernism, there are clear advances there. I don't think you can get to Brain of Morbius or Talons of Weng-Chiang without going through Pyramids of Mars.

    But something I should probably make explicit in the entries at some point instead of defending in comments is that if you read the Hinchcliffe era as pioneering postmodernism, you have to also give it a break for when it's doing it. These ideas, which are axiomatic to the new series, were still enormously new here. And so you get kind of awkward half-steps like Pyramids of Mars. But faulting the show for not outpacing the evolution of postmodernism more than it did is… I mean, I'm not going to pillory Williams or Nathan-Turner for not spending more money either.


  29. zapruder313
    October 19, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    I was trying to stay out of the "Yorkshire Ripper" debate, but, oh, look, I've failed πŸ˜‰

    As a Yorkshireman who grew up in the 1970s, and whose childhood is heavily coloured by memories of the Ripper crimes and investigation, I was looking a little askance at the main blog's assertion that

    "It is worth pausing here and commenting on the fundamental absurdity of the phrase "Yorkshire Ripper," combining as it does the macabre celebrity killer glory of Jack the Ripper with Yorkshire, a thoroughly working class region generally lacking in glitz."

    However, now you've said

    "You're still merging two frames of reference in a way that hinges on the fact that simple beautiful Yorkshire isn't supposed to be anything like Whitechapel. And that juxtaposition is a masterpiece of Murdochian sensationalism"

    I am much happier, and I can see what you mean. Can I put in a heartfelt request that the wording about the simple beauty of our county being juxtaposed with Whitechapel is the form that goes into the final book version of this piece? That is an insightful point about the shocking juxtaposition of the words "Yorkshire" and "Ripper", and much clearer and more elegant than the original wording, which didn't seem to make quite the same point.


  30. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    Never mind the book version, I've just amended the entry because I have an edit button and can do things like that. πŸ™‚


  31. elvwood
    October 19, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    I am a Whippet-owning Yorkshireman (by choice, not by birth). I am also firmly middle-class, and I live in Sheffield, the city with the wealthiest constituency outside of London (at last count) – although I live in another part of the city. I know you've clarified that you were speaking about the media image of Yorkshire, but it doesn't come across like that, and – as others have pointed out – in the UK the Yorkshire stereotype is different. We think of it more like "Emmerdale", "Last of the Summer Wine" and "All Creatures Great and Small" (or even "Postman Pat", though technically that's over the border) than "The Full Monty" or "Brassed Off".

    Oh, and in case you were worried I'm not offended, and still enjoyed the post.


  32. elvwood
    October 19, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

    Darn, a whole slew of posts went by before I posted mine that I needed to read first. That's the trouble with having one computer in the household – it gets taken off you mid-stream for your daughter to do her homework. Yes, the revised version is much better, thanks.

    I loved Pyramids of Mars as a child – proper scary stuff! – and still like it today. The ending might not be great, but there's such a lot to enjoy along the way. My exposure to mummies as a child was more from the Shiver & Shake comic and similar rather than undiluted horror films, and even today I've only seen parodies and pastiches. Just enough to "get" what should be going on, basically, and that helps it to work. As far as I'm concerned it's still visiting a genre rather than a particular story.


  33. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    October 19, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    I am a Yorkshire pudding, and I do not care to be confused with other sorts of pudding such as tapioca or figgy!


  34. Wm Keith
    October 20, 2011 @ 1:20 am

    That's all very well for you to say, 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194, but I demand the proof of the pudding.


  35. Steve Hogan
    October 20, 2011 @ 3:19 am

    So what are we to make of "The Shropshire Slasher"?,_You_Say


  36. Alex Wilcock
    October 20, 2011 @ 4:45 am

    Sorry for striking a grumpier tone than I needed to yesterday – it was one of those days. And thanks for taking it in good part.

    What I was trying to say in my crabby way wasn’t that you shouldn’t mention the outside world – you wouldn’t be half as interesting – but that it’s much easier to come a cropper on it. Which is probably a truism.

    I still don’t agree, though, that “Yorkshire” and “Ripper” is a bizarre juxtaposition, and not just because I have a different mental image of Yorkshire (a vast swathe of England, three different administrative counties, a few biggish cities and also two quite posh cities that I’m familiar with, but never “simple country” in my head even though, plainly, there’s plenty of that on the map). It’s also because I can’t agree with your “glamorous horror of Jack the Ripper” thesis. In the endless flood of fiction about the murders, yes… But in the actual facts, surely not. Whitechapel’s an unglamorous working class area a few miles from where I live, and where I regularly go to hospital – it’s changed a lot in a hundred years, but not the basic facts of someone horribly murdering women in an ordinary area, which applies just as much to the ’70s case (it felt like it when I was at school up north and it was always in the news). Surely the whole point is that the original “Ripper” was pretty much the same, but also made into a media event with a catchy brand-name?
    And of course it’s right to say that “I don't think Namin is a nasty cliché, just a literary cliché”. I, er, probably meant to say he was a “clichéd nasty” and mangled my words. That’s my excuse.

    Oh, and the Hinchcliffe era terrified me as a boy, I still love it today, and I’d argue strongly with assertions in the thread that it’s nothing but boring runarounds… But you can do that for yourself, and do without more hijacking of your thread. For what it’s worth, though I’ve not got round to it on Season 13, I’ve previously written about the deeper themes of Season 12 and of Season 14. Just because they’re exciting and scary doesn’t mean they don’t have intelligent things to say…

    On which note, I’m looking forward to what you have to say about Morbius, which amongst other things is so funny it seems a Season 14 story ahead of its time.


  37. WGPJosh
    October 20, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    Phil, I have to tip my cap to you once again. You've showed the utmost class and sophistication responding to my screamy histrionics from yesterday. You made some utterly fantastic points in your rebuttal of my rambling tome and it reminded me why I love this blog so much. I know I said I was bowing out for awhile, but I wanted to come in once more to clarify one or two things and then I really will back off.

    It's not so much that I loath this serial so much I need to rant about it (although I freely admit that's probably part of it), it's that I don't understand why it's so revered. Both in your post and in the comments you've given this story the best, most honest reappraisal I've ever seen even if I don't entirely agree with you. I even follow you when you say it's a half-step forward and we need to be lenient towards it as it's still the early days of postmodernism. I get that and even tried to say something similar in my first few paragraphs, though I admit maybe it wasn't very clear.

    Something I didn't point out but probably should have is that "Pyramids of Mars" wasn't originally written by Robert Holmes and it was a last-minute addition to the season. That REALLY shows and probably goes a long way towards explaining a lot of its problems. I get the impression it was one of the first examples of a worrying, reoccurring trend during the Tom Baker years where the script editor gets an entirely unworkable pitch, shelves it, runs short on serials for the seasons and has to do a drastic, last-minute rewrite to make it even slightly palatable to fill out the year. Perhaps that's why it feels like such a come-down coming off of "Genesis of the Daleks", "Revenge of the Cybermen" and "Terror of the Zygons". Although, seeing as how the next serial bugs me almost as much maybe not.

    The thing is, regardless of whether or not its a flawed half-step into early postmodernism or a rote, banal, pretentious mess with a laughably stupid villain, the fact remains that for many Doctor Who fans "Pyramids of Mars" is an unabashed flawless classic with incredibly deep and complex themes and statements. And that's what I don't understand. I honestly cannot fathom what so may people see in it and why they see it as this awe-inspiring work of unbridled genius. Reading those reviews I get the impression those fans are watching an entirely different programme than me and I don't get it. And unfortunately, it's not the last time I've felt this way watching this block of stories.

    I WANT to like the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era-I really do. I love Universal and Hammer Horror and my very favourite movies are the old German Expressionism ones. The idea of throwing The Doctor into that environment and making some comment about it is really intriguing to me. I mean I can see occasional glimpses of where the era could have gone and I really like what I saw there: The aforementioned "Brain of Morbius" and "Seeds of Doom" in particular. But, on the whole, at least as I see it, Hinchcliffe and Holmes never completely lived up to the expectations they set themselves and their audience. I really want to be proven wrong though: I want to see what so many others see in this era or at least understand why they think they see it.

    And with that I'm going to sign off again for a time. Will probably see you around "Brain", "Seeds", and "Mandragora" (really looking forward to your take on that one) unless the "Android Invasion" thread explodes the way this one did of course…

    Although a quick aside: Were you planning on doing a "Pop Between Realities" on Kraftwerk's Autobahn? I think it's a really important album to look at in terms of Doctor Who and is the first breakthrough of the musical trend that will eventually become British Punk.


  38. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 20, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    Autobahn is important, but I'll probably save my Kraftwerk comments for Kinda, which aired while Computer Love was at #1.

    One thing to note about Hinchcliffe, which I'll deal with (most likely) in a Pop Between Realities on Mary Whitehouse after Talons, is the fact that he was fired (and for terrible reasons) and thus didn't really get to conclude his Doctor Who run. I agree that the run feels in many ways as if it is missing its magnum opus, and the Hinchcliffe equivalent of Planet of the Spiders is something I'd have loved to see. But yes, you're right that there is a slightly unfinished tone to… well, all of the final three producers of the classic series, really. But in some ways Hinchcliffe worst of all – Williams at least has a partially finished magnum opus, and Nathan-Turner's tenure has so many sub-eras that do resolve themselves.


  39. 5tephe
    October 20, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

    Hi Phil,

    Sorry to throw yet another comment on to this already really long thread, but I am interested in something else:

    If this is the first instance of the show inserting the Doctor into another "story", then what does that make "The Myth Makers"? I think I know, but wouldn't mind your comment on it (if you have time between posting up your next entry.


  40. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 21, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    5tephe – The Myth Makers is interesting. For the most part, it is played like a historical as opposed to a story – we're meant to read the characters of the Iliad not as components of an existing story but as historical figures who we learn the foibles of. It is much closer to the "here's what really happened" model of inserting the Doctor into history than to something like this.

    But yes, you're right that it is oddly prescient. But then, Donald Cotton is one of the most amazingly clever writers ever to write for the program, and the failure to ever rehire him after The Gunfighters was criminal. As much as I quite like the two Louis Marks scripts in the Hinchcliffe era, the world would have been a better place if Cotton had been the Hartnell-era writer brought back instead of Marks.


  41. Wm Keith
    October 27, 2011 @ 2:00 am

    In passing, the plot and tone of Bram Stoker's "The Jewel of Seven Stars" are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike "Pyramids of Mars".

    Parts of the book, particularly the chapter entitled "Powers – Old and New", seemed to have been lifted straight out of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail". Until I remembered that "Jewel" was fiction masquerading as speculations on history.


  42. Jesse
    October 27, 2011 @ 4:41 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  43. cupofassam
    December 9, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

    Catching up on this blog, reading a few entries a day, I pause here at the Ripper discussion. I grew up in Leeds and, later, returned to this city to work here. I recall my nine-year old self as a paper boy, delivering newspapers to my neighbourhood with the headlines and images as the Ripper story unfolded. There was a real sense of shared fear in the city that I was aware of from these stories, and from the conversations I overheard – women did not go out alone at night. And I don't have any issue with this being summarised as an 'event' in the way Philip sets out. In many ways it was an archetypal media event, and the hoax 'I'm jack' recording, that Geordie accent, became a key element of that event: a mediatised tease that raised the stakes and led the police disastrously astray. Baudrillard would have made much of it all. No, the trouble I have here is that representation of Yorkshire, challenged in the comments. And, yes, as a Yorskhireman, I have counted to ten and taken a sense of humour check before writing. Leeds was always already post-industrial for me growing up, and my limited experience of 'Yorkshire' was the 'God's own county' of the beauty of the dales, the north coast, the medieval flavour of the streets of York, the castles and dry-stone walls. That doesn't mean to say that the representations of Yorkshire as 'a thoroughly working class region generally lacking in glitz and generally associated with the imagery of its mining regions' don't have their accurate bases. But it's a London-centric view that perpetuates an anachronistic provincialism the like of which we happily elsewhere condemn when Wales gets it. I was similarly shocked when Russell T Davies used Leeds in his Dalek/Holocaust story as a city of cobbled streeted back-to-back two-up, two-down terraces. I can't remember, but maybe he had laundry hanging across the street to boot. A now fictional set of associations the like of which he'd purged in representations of Cardiff. And, by the way, whole swathes of North Yorkshire fro York to Harrogate to Ripon to way into the 'blue belt' (as we used to call it) would very much take to task the notion that they are predominantly 'working class'. It's kind of hilarious to say so, and that comes from a proud working class lad who thinks it pretty grim down south.

    I agree with the disappointment of the fourth episode as an adult viewer, but as a kid I remember this being exciting, and was keen to revisit it when I first got the DVD. The disappointment was palpable, but for a kid the logic bits were fuel to the utter astonishing admiration of the Doctor, part of the process of our elevating him to genius in our minds. I remember my dad explaining the 'he's a liar and he tells the truth' bit to me, and my little brain finding it just a little struggle to catch up, and breathtakingly satisfying to 'get it', like I was being brought the edge of my intellectual abilities by a TV show. Let's keep this audience in mind more often.

    Cheers for the good work.


  44. Kat42
    April 9, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

    I did enjoy Pyramids of Mars quite a bit as a kid, so I have a hard time arguing with you that it has value, but as I've enjoyed quite a few other episodes that you didn't, I think I'll say it anyway.

    I have a bit of a hard time accepting the idea of putting the Doctor in another story, as anything important or worthwhile, after all didn't they do this with Abott and Costello and other comedians in the past? It wouldn't have been a new or exciting concept. It's a concept I enjoy but I hardly see it as being an important step, along the way, if it was a pretty obvious storytelling idea to begin with.


  45. orfeo
    August 18, 2014 @ 5:24 am

    I agree that this particular story is first and foremost an entertainment, and I'm surprised more people haven't commented on the humour in Pyramids of Mars. To my mind, there were things in the first couple of episodes that were quite funny – and I mean consciously funny, rather than accidentally.

    The whole business with the organ, for instance, seems deliberately hammed up. First you hear scary music, then you realise it's not soundtrack but a character playing scary music (not unlike, actually the playing of bagpipes in Terror of the Zygons). Later on, the same character is playing but the music continues after he's stopped. To me that's deliberately amusing… but then of course a shadowy figure in black appears, trailing smoke in his footsteps, and the organist is dead. The horror wins out.


  46. otr214424
    September 7, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

    Work from home theory is fast gaining popularity because of the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. Since one is not bound by fixed working hours, they can schedule their work at the time when they feel most productive and convenient to them. Women & Men benefit a lot from this concept of work since they can balance their home and work perfectly. People mostly find that in this situation, their productivity is higher and stress levels lower. Those who like isolation and a tranquil work environment also tend to prefer this way of working. Today, with the kind of communication networks available, millions of people worldwide are considering this option.

    Women & Men who want to be independent but cannot afford to leave their responsibilities at home aside will benefit a lot from this concept of work. It makes it easier to maintain a healthy balance between home and work. The family doesn't get neglected and you can get your work done too. You can thus effectively juggle home responsibilities with your career. Working from home is definitely a viable option but it also needs a lot of hard work and discipline. You have to make a time schedule for yourself and stick to it. There will be a time frame of course for any job you take up and you have to fulfill that project within that time frame.

    There are many things that can be done working from home. A few of them is listed below that will give you a general idea about the benefits of this concept.

    This is the most common and highly preferred job that Women & Men like doing. Since in today's competitive world both the parents have to work they need a secure place to leave behind their children who will take care of them and parents can also relax without being worried all the time. In this job you don't require any degree or qualifications. You only have to know how to take care of children. Parents are happy to pay handsome salary and you can also earn a lot without putting too much of an effort.

    For those who have a garden or an open space at your disposal and are also interested in gardening can go for this method of earning money. If given proper time and efforts nursery business can flourish very well and you will earn handsomely. But just as all jobs establishing it will be a bit difficult but the end results are outstanding.

    Freelance can be in different wings. Either you can be a freelance reporter or a freelance photographer. You can also do designing or be in the advertising field doing project on your own. Being independent and working independently will depend on your field of work and the availability of its worth in the market. If you like doing jewellery designing you can do that at home totally independently. You can also work on freelancing as a marketing executive working from home. Wanna know more, email us on and we will send you information on how you can actually work as a marketing freelancer.

    Internet related work
    This is a very vast field and here sky is the limit. All you need is a computer and Internet facility. Whatever field you are into work at home is perfect match in the software field. You can match your time according to your convenience and complete whatever projects you get. To learn more about how to work from home, contact us today on workfromhome.otr@gmail.comand our team will get you started on some excellent work from home projects.

    Diet food
    Since now a days Women & Men are more conscious of the food that they eat hence they prefer to have homemade low cal food and if you can start supplying low cal food to various offices then it will be a very good source of income and not too much of efforts. You can hire a few ladies who will help you out and this can be a good business.

    Thus think over this concept and go ahead.


  47. Henry R. Kujawa
    November 30, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

    Isn't it freaky when Peter Copley turns up in this gothic horror story, and the FIRST thing that crosses my mind is, oh, he was the jeweler with "the wheel", in "HELP!" ?


  48. Andy G
    January 11, 2019 @ 5:39 pm

    Excellent entry. Just one minor historical detail though – whilst the Edmund Fitzgerald did indeed sink during the transmission of this story, the Gordon Lightfoot song commemorating the event was not released until August 1976.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.