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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. Ross
    February 25, 2013 @ 3:28 am

    I remember when listening to this that it really bugged me that they seriously expected me to believe that the United States of America, in the middle of our ongoing debate on whether or not our deist founders actually, in fact, wanted this country to be legally required to enforce a very specific kind of christian religious fundamentalism which, for the most part, did not yet exist at the time, would add a state called "Malebolge" without anyone even suspecting that it might have something a bit satanic about it. Y'know, rather than outright civil war breaking out when half the country decided that surely this was End Times (Heck, I bet that even if you called the 51st state "Jesusland", they'd still freak out because the digital root of 51 is 6-as-in-666).

    It also bugged me that so early on in the line, they were doing an episode where The Doctor spends most of the story being Not Himself. If I'd only known…

    One other thing. One of the last Who things Nicholas Courtney did was an in-character interview for a DVD extra, and he actually mentions this story as the most recent time he'd met the Doctor. That seemed really weird.


  2. Abigail Brady
    February 25, 2013 @ 3:55 am

    Well, yes, but is this any more absurd than the absence of a world outside Venice in "The Stones of Blood"? If it were otherwise any good, we'd forgive it.


  3. jane
    February 25, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    According to the Big Finish Companion, Volume 1, this one turned out to be a nightmare in production. Alan Lear (whose ME flared up) was given first crack at adapting his own Audio Visual, and it ended up being so long Russell had to come in and chop it down from its new impossible length to something that was merely unwieldy. The better example for what can happen to a story when this happens is Ghost Light, but unfortunately Minuet doesn't have such brilliance to prop it up. They finally got the script about two days before they were scheduled to record it, so no one had much time to get ready — actors, techies, the director. And if I'm not mistaken, they got moved to a different studio, which was cramped and overheated. So, yeah, awful!

    Anyways, this for me is the low point of the 8th Doctor audios. I think Phil lets the terrible accents off the hook — this is an audio production, we've got nothing to go on except voice, so to have such awful voices for such extended periods of time, well, it's torture. Same goes for the demon voices; I just found the whole technical end of the production excruciating (which also applies to Time of the Daleks.)

    The Brigadier's "reports home" were funny and clever, but sucked all tension from the story — in the end, it's lazy exposition. I think there are so many characters that it's hard to get a handle on what's happening and who's speaking — it doesn't help that they're all broad stereotypes, for the most part, rather than fully fleshed-out characterizations. And that's the other problem with relying on their Audio/Visual adaptations: they're not really character-specific. We get generic Doctor/generic Companion, rather than new stories designed around particular characters.

    I'm all for a rollicking critique of America, but this barely scratches the surface — it's all tropes, no substance. And I agree with Phil, throwing in the Doctor's identity crisis doesn't make for good alchemy — in fact, I doubt that this is a good point in the audio line for this exploration, since they're still trying to establish who McGann's Doctor in the first place (thankfully we eventually get Terror Firma to do a proper job for this sort of story.)


  4. elvwood
    February 25, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    The Malebolgia thing bothered me too – I recognised it, and I'm not even Christian! Mind you, I have actually read (a translation of) Dante's Divine Comedy, so I had a bit of a head start.

    The American accents and caricatures did bug me, but I'm saving that discussion for next time. The Doctor in the asylum didn't. Partly that's Paul McGann's performance, a reason which has stayed with me on subsequent listenings; partly it's that the plot allows a way of sorta-kinda bringing the AV stories into continuity, by thinking of them as the distorted memories of Gideon Crane (conveniently played by Nicholas Briggs). That has done less to help me enjoy the story lately, but I still think of it as a nice little touch. And yeah, when I first heard it I did appreciate being able to tick off the Brig meeting McGann's Doctor (even if Nicholas Courtney was wasted). [blush]

    The thing that really, really got to me was the whole sex slave plotline, and the way it was handled. This is as fully deserving of a rant as previous personal issues – after all, this is one that pushed my buttons, too – but I can also understand not wanting to go through all that again. So I'll just say that this has kept Minuet in Hell near the bottom of the heap of Big Finish audios for me.


  5. Ross
    February 25, 2013 @ 6:17 am

    So, I know hardly anything about the Audio-Visuals — I only first heard of them at all a year or two ago. But now that they've come up a few times, I'm curious. I've always felt like there was some Secret History that I hadn't been privy to during the Wilderness Years — it seemed like everyone was working off the same bible (or at least, the same pile of scribbled-on cocktail napkins), and knew things before any licensed material came out. The Cartmel Masterplan, at least, I knew where it came from sort-of. But there were frequently things where it seemed to me like they should have been surprising, but everyone "in the know" reacted less like "I can't believe they did X" and more like "Oh, we finally got to the part where we were scheduled to have X happen." (Stuff about Gallifrey seemed to work that way. All that mess about the pythias and the looms and the humanoid TARDISes and the War, it seemed like even when I went back to their first appearances in licensed books, there was always the assumption there that the broad strokes of those facts were already well-established) Did that come from the Audio-Visuals?

    Are these things worth tracking down? I went on a frenzy some time ago and acquired most of the BBV stuff (ANd even managed to watch some of it. Man, back in the 90s when my mom allowed me to buy just three of the Off-Brand Doctor Who Videos, I had no idea how lucky I'd gotten to have selected Shakedown, Downtime and Airzone. I assumed those to be representative of the line. This turned out to be a mistake)


  6. Adam Riggio
    February 25, 2013 @ 6:33 am

    I don't remember much about Minuet In Hell, probably because I have never listened to it. I liken the story to those times when a friend eats something that makes them nearly gag in front of you, describe how horrible it tastes and feels in their mouth, and that I'll never taste anything so bad in so many different ways. Then they ask you to try some. I always say no.

    Your point about the checklisting nature of fandom, which was made most brilliantly and was most necessary to make in the Five Doctors essay, still resonates with me, as I think over the evolution of my own fandom, and my attitudes to life in general. Because I used to think about each Doctor as having to have had a certain number of things done in order to be a proper Doctor Who: I was weirded out when Eccleston never encountered Cybermen, having presumed without thinking about it that it was only right that he should do so. It's a sign of immaturity: focussing on the superficial — checklists of images and encounters and empty repetitions — as the most important.

    But the practical effects of carrying on an artistic (or any) enterprise that way is to make the enterprise moribund: going through the motions that have come before. The goal of art (and everything, really) is the creation of novelty, divergences, directions that are faithful to the heritage of the past, but which create new material, making the heritage more complex.


  7. theonlyspiral
    February 25, 2013 @ 6:35 am

    I wanted to love this story. I really did. But I can't.

    I can forgive the bad accents. Speaking as someone who's education and professional life is spent in theater and dealing with actors, accent is a difficult thing. Not everyone is a Jamie Bamber or Hugh Laurie who can maintain and keep an accent.

    I can forgive the misuse of the Brigadier. Courtney is one of my favorite parts of Who and I can let it go here just because he does the best he can.

    I can let go of the fact that the Doctor's role is all about not making any progress, and every time he looks to be getting part of himself back it slides. McGann grabs what he can out of the script and likewise Fisher.

    I can't deal with the tone of it though. There is the condemnation of the people of America, (especially the religious and mentally ill) and the treatment of women. This thing was painful to listen to. I've said this before but it took 2 weeks for me to get through. Every other audio I've listened to took me one sitting. Period. Dark Eyes included.

    It's mean spirited. It takes cracks at people's faiths in a way I'm not comfortable with. It glosses over sex-slavery in a way I'm not comfortable with. And at the end of the day it was all human nastiness with an alien meddling a bit. It's like the end of Burn After Reading:

    CIA Supervisor:Jesus Fucking Christ. What did we learn, Palmer?
    Palmer Smith: I don't know sir.
    CIA Supervisor: I don't fucking know either. I guess we learned not to do it again. I'm fucked if I know what we did.
    Palmer Smith: Yes sir, it's hard to say.

    Nothing is learned. Nothing is really made better. The non-plot of this new state is averted I guess? This thing is a slog. It rates as my least favorite piece of Who that I've ever consumed. The Twin Dilemma, Attack of the Cybermen, Fear Her…nothing was this bad. It's a shame, because it has a lot of interesting ideas it could do something interesting with…but it falls so short.


  8. Aaron
    February 25, 2013 @ 6:38 am

    I know how you feel about that, it often feels like everyone already knew about these ideas before they happened in the books, and were never explored all that well in the books because they didn't want to waste time on them since everyone already knew about them. The whole Time's Champion thing, for instance: we never really had a book that set up this idea, but Cornell et al just seem to run with it like it's already a trope before it's even set up. The Doctor being manipulatory too, seemed like it was overplayed- everyone kept talking about how many times the Doctor planned everything from the start, but it never felt like we got more than a handful of "typical" plans for the Doctor.

    I think this is a symptom of the shared world- no one wants to explore the typical case of something in their book, but rather they want to show a unique situation that's different from the others. So no one actually wants to do the book where they explain the Pythia, or explain the idea of Time's Champion, or show a typical adventure masterminded by the Doctor. Instead, everyone wants to show the cool interesting thing that they can do with the idea. Which means that we never are shown that idea, minus the stuff around it.

    I think having rec.arts.who around so everyone can sit around and talk about all these theories doesn't really help either. Rather than showing us these things through the books, I think sometimes there's a lot of assumed knowledge coming out of this community.


  9. Commander Maxil
    February 25, 2013 @ 7:05 am

    This was actually the first Eight Doctor Audio I eve bought, (almost entirely on the strength of ‘The Eighth Doctor meets the Brigadier idea). Luckily I stuck with the line as this is probably the weakest of all the McGann audios Big finish has done. The accents are appalling and the hints at rape are in extremely poor taste (and luckily dropped fairly early on and not referred to again). The first half is terrible but for me, the second half picks up quite well and I find that I quite enjoy this, on the whole. The monsters are okay and it ends fairly well. Certainly I was expecting more Brig/8th Doctor action but Big Finish have produced worse stuff than this. Luckily, despite this weak finish to the first series, Big Finish were able to get McGann back. Can’t wait for Wednesday, several of my favourite ever Doctor Who stories of all time are coming up over the next couple of weeks or so!

    As to the Audio Visuals stuff, I would say it probably isn’t worth tracking down. I bought the complete set off a guy on ebay and haven’t listened to more than about 5 minutes of any of them. Now that we are used to a high standard of production and the real actors playing the Doctor on audio, I found them impossible to listen to. They were undoubtedly important at the time as a launch-pad for many of the people involved in the programme today in one form or another, but when there is so much Who-related audio out there, I don’t think it is really worth bothering with them except perhaps as a historical exercise (I should add I have listened to most of the BBV stuff recently and enjoyed it, but the AV stuff is a significant step down in quality even from them and light-years away from what Big Finish give us nowadays).


  10. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    February 25, 2013 @ 9:22 am

    Hey Dr. Sandifer, would you be willing to give a list of your favourite Bug Finish stories, free of the constraints of exegesis? I mean, you can add that if you want, I'm just curious as to your recommendations as to the 'cream of the crop' was, as it were.


  11. John Seavey
    February 25, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    Another thing that's almost impossible to overcome by itself is the sheer length of time that they play out the "Is McGann the Doctor or isn't he?" subplot, which ends (as everyone always knew it would) with, "Oh, yes, he is." It's intended to be a tease to those segments of the audience that was always hoping they'd decanonize the TV movie somehow, and it falls utterly flat.

    I'd have forgiven it if the scene where the Doctor and the journalist with his memories have their Doctor Who trivia contest had ended with the Doctor saying, "Which of us has two hearts? Because I think I might win that round…"


  12. jane
    February 25, 2013 @ 10:54 am

    I'd especially like it if he came to DePaul in May to elaborate. (It's not that far, Phil, really!)


  13. Steven Clubb
    February 25, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    "As to the Audio Visuals stuff, I would say it probably isn’t worth tracking down."

    Pretty much.

    I listened to them a few years back and have never felt the urge to revisit them. It's very obviously a bunch of people learning their craft. It's high-end fan-produced stuff, but you're better off with the low-end professional stuff from BBV where there's usually a few Doctor Who actors propping the production up.


  14. Alan
    February 25, 2013 @ 11:00 am

    But from an external perspective, the very prospect of electing Bush was an existential nightmare.

    No kidding. I told people as early as 1998 that I saw in George W. Bush the doom of our nation, and it was still worse than I ever imagined. In my worst nightmares, I didn't anticipate that within three years of his taking office, we would be having serious discussions about whether it was acceptable to torture people for information.


  15. J Mairs
    February 25, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

    The threat of rape aside (and there's a sentence I don't have to use that often) I thought this was okay. I mean, there's certainly worse out there.

    I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying its good – but it's a shame that most of the criticism in fandom is directed at the premise of "America adds Hell as a state" and about how unrealistic this was.

    I thought this was mostly having fun with the inherent absurdity of Twenty Minutes Into the Future stories which become obsolete almost the moment they're aired

    However, mentioning Bush this early in the range is a good connection of DW to concurrent history: I'd never thought of the whole "War on Terror" tension that comes out of the Eighth Doctor series to stretch this far back.


  16. Ununnilium
    February 25, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    I was just barely too young to vote in the 2000 election, but from the way I remember it, it was surrounded by a thick pallor of "Who cares? All politicians are the same."

    I watch the "Jack Johnson and John Jackson" bits from that one Futurama episode and I just… cringe.


  17. BerserkRL
    February 25, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

    Too bad this didn't feature Francis Dashwood Tandy.


  18. BerserkRL
    February 25, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

    it was surrounded by a thick pallor of "Who cares? All politicians are the same."

    Which, well, turned out to be true. Most of Obama's policies, for example, are virtually indistinguishable from Bush's, apart from slicker packaging.


  19. Adam Riggio
    February 26, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    "Structurally this works like a bad regeneration story: a crisis brews on one end, the Doctor wanders around trying to become the Doctor on the other end, and as soon as the Doctor gets his act together he dispatches the villain pretty effortlessly."

    So I guess this means you're probably not that big a fan of The Christmas Invasion either? Neither am I. It makes every character who isn't the Doctor look like a whiny impotent imbecile. I'm not sure that I understand what Russell T Davies was trying to do with it. Show how much Doctor Who needed the Doctor? Turn the original question of regeneration — Is this really the same person? — into a source of tension in the plot? If so, it didn't quite work.


  20. Ross
    February 26, 2013 @ 7:11 am

    I suspect what RTD was going for was "Something light and fluffy for Christmas that gives David a chance to try to feel out the character without relying too much on him since he hasn't had time to get his portrayal down yet."


  21. Ununnilium
    February 26, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    It worked pretty well for me as an exploration of the Doctor's role in the story. I didn't really see impotence or imbecility among the secondary characters. (Maybe a touch of whining.)


  22. J Mairs
    February 26, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    Yeah – and given that there is an entire generation of views who had to be introduced to the idea that the man they had been following, who called himself "The Doctor" could actually be played by an entirely different actor.

    So yes, I'd say it achieved it's aim, as well as being pretty much the last hurrah of the "This show has two leads" attitude through Series 1.


  23. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 8:49 pm

    The actual problem with the accents is that no two of the actors are doing the same US accent, making it impossible to place it anywhere regionally.

    Apparently Gary Russell didn't realize that we have dozens of regional accents in the US.

    The Gunfighters does better by at least having everyone sound similar.


  24. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

    All true — Obama has been cloning Bush policies — but Gore turned out to be the exception, ironically, with his leadership on global warming.

    I knew this at the time, which is why I was so frustrated in 2000. Most of the Democrats were like Republicans. Gore was different. It was impossible to explain this to people.


  25. Daibhid C
    March 13, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    Regarding the misogyny, I recently stumbled across a transcript of the Audio Visuals version online. And, ye gods, it's worse! The counterpart of Becky the Demon Slayer is Nelly, who comes straight from the box marked "stereotyped 17th-century tavern wench, lawks, good sir" and is positively enthusiastic about being kidnapped into sexual slavery. Yeesh.


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