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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.

20 Comments

  1. elvwood
    January 21, 2013 @ 1:10 am

    I noted in the Alien Bodies comments that one of the things which intrigued me was the Dark Sam engineering idea, so it's rather amusing that the next book I actually get through is the one that deals with it. And as I've only read three Sam stories in total, she hasn't come across as bland! Selectivity changes the observed phenomenon.

    This is the first book I've bought specifically because I wanted to read it before you got to this point in the blog – there are a couple more coming up. My selection was based partly on rankings (Shannon Sullivan's and the Gallifrey Base NDRs) but mostly on price and availability. And that means I'm dipping even more shallowly into the EDAs than the Eruditorum. And I'm realising what an effect that has on my experience of the era. Dark Sam was one example; another is the focus on San Francisco, with the TVM, Vampire Science and now this all set there. Of course, in actuality this was spread over three years, but to me it seems even more repetitive than the London-based stories of 2005.

    And speaking of the new series, what this reminds me of more than anything is the Cardiff Rift – just a Rift recognised by the public.

    Oops, got to dash – maybe more later. In case I don't get back, cheerio to Kate Orman, and thanks for some great stories!

    Reply

  2. Steven Clubb
    January 21, 2013 @ 4:01 am

    I would say Sam is Rose Tyler without a show-runner to champion her. She's young, plucky, athletic, has no real skills or ambition, and eventually falls for the Doctor. She's a lump of clay to be molded by her time with the Doctor.

    And the writers being given no particular plan as to how to develop her (and Who having grown past the point where the Companion can remain the exact same character until the actor eventually leaves out of boredom), just did the easiest thing in the world: torture her.

    There's a cynicism at play in the EDAs which wasn't present in the NAs. Perhaps this is due to the authors getting up a bit in age, but the idealism of Sam seems to be something they instinctively want to punish rather than temper with a light dose of reality. In one of my recent reads (Longest Day), she's given the choice of letting everyone die or to savagely beat two men to death… she picks the secret third option, beating herself up.

    And this is by no means an isolated event. Her desire to see the best in people and do the right thing has a tendency to blow up in her face. As if the writers are saying "there is no hope, now that our beloved manipulative troll-man is gone".

    Which I think speaks to the deeper problem with the EDAs. The writers simply do not want to write about a Doctor whose most remarkable feature is his gentleness and enthusiasm. Something like Vampire Science manages to pull it off, but only by reminding us how at every turn how the Seventh Doctor would never have done this.

    I thought my most recent read, Legacy of the Daleks, was on the verge of pulling off the trick, with McGann's Doctor instantly getting through the defenses of a deeply cynical woman and helping to transform her… but the ending there also falls into the trap of punishing idealism. The Doctor fails to save his grand-daughter's husband and we're robbed of an "Earthly Child" bonding between the two characters.

    Which all comes as a pretty big shock to me, as I was introduced to the character via the Big Finish audio plays, where they seem to take the path that there is a price to pay for his idealism, but one that he gladly pays. Even when the story is about beating him down, its the 8th Doctor's essential goodness that eventually elevates him again. The novels seem almost embarrassed, slapping him reality over and over, asking him why he's not their Doctor.

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  3. Doctor Memory
    January 21, 2013 @ 7:46 am

    probably the single most important Doctor Who writer of the 1990s not to have written for the new series

    Apologies for asking a dumb question, but does anyone know why this is? It's not like the new series has been otherwise shy about mining the novels for material and personnel; Orman's absence is pretty striking.

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  4. Ununnilium
    January 21, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    Interesting point on the embrace of the status quo. I find myself wanting to give moderation itself moderation; I don't believe in the usefulness of radical action, but I also gotta say that ideological compromise is kinda shit. But, of course, this also includes the compromises people make for their ideology – ignoring real human experiences in pursuit of a political master narrative.

    What's the solution to this? Heck if I know. Personally, I go for continuous pressure on people's perception and expectations of society.

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  5. That Guy
    January 21, 2013 @ 8:08 am

    I suspect it's as simple as Orman not having any TV credentials (of the five writers who wrote anything for the Virgin/BBC novels and later got a TV gig, Moffatt, Davies, Cornell and Gareth Roberts all had long lists of TV credits, and Rob Shearman had at least written for "Born and Bred").

    It may simply be a case that she doesn't want to write for TV enough to learn to write on something the TV market would buy while Doctor Who was off the air – the gigs for Emmerdale, Coronation Street or Casualty that served as training grounds for a lot of New Adventures/8th Doctor adventures writers. Writing for the Australian equivalent (Neighbours, Home and Away etc) may simply be not what she wants to do.

    Reply

  6. encyclops
    January 21, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    I'm about 30% (according to Kindle) of the way through The Year of Intelligent Tigers. It's really quite excellent so far, and really pushes the Eighth Doctor characterization you're talking to into the forefront. Perhaps because he's not on television, he can get away with losing himself in what appear to be the small things, with becoming attached to people who aren't his companions while said companions are in danger, with succumbing as entirely as possible to passion. I haven't read many of the novels, but this is unlike any of the novels I have read or any other Doctor Who story I've ever encountered.

    At the same time, the planet and culture it takes place on and in is almost comical in its groovy "late-twentieth-century liberal" paradise. There's no poverty! Everybody plays music and goes to each other's concerts! Check out the awesome library! We could stay here for months and months!

    Of course, I imagine that there's going to be some payoff to this, some snake in Eden, and that it's not just Kate Orman's idea of bohemian heaven as a self-serving backdrop. But even if there isn't, it's simultaneously one of the freshest-seeming alien planets I've ever encountered in Doctor Who, and one of the most risible if you're in the mood to ris.

    I'm really starting to like the Eighth Doctor finally, though, and yes, hats off to Orman for making that happen. Maybe if I see enough pictures of him without the Austrian composer's wig (is that where the inspiration for this world came from?) I might form a different impression of him, but for now this is the one that lingers.

    The Doctor, being mercurial, brings upheaval to any situation, but he also is able to adapt and fit into almost any situation. The companion’s job is to not quite adapt.

    I love this.

    Because this is, for better or for worse, the default mode of social justice fandom: love the hell out of something while also ripping into it for its political failings.

    I love this too. Not the act of doing it (though I'm often guilty, especially if you open the door for more than just politics), but the apt description.

    Also, I just finished watching The War Games. I thought you'd end up talking in your excellent essay about the striking allegory (too obvious?), but you went in a slightly different direction, a take on the Second Doctor I'd never read before. Bravo.

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  7. C.
    January 21, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    Lack of TV cred is the big factor, yes. But I'll be a bit impolite and also suggest that IMO Orman's solo writing >> her writing with Blum, and perhaps the fact they're a package deal now is resulting in some less-than-inspired treatments/pitches.

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  8. Sean Daugherty
    January 21, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

    I'm rather surprised, Phil, that you didn't choose to talk more about how this book was received, at least among certain segments of fandom. It seems to dovetail nicely with your recent points concerning the TV movie and War of the Daleks. In short, I was active in online fandom when Unnatural History was released, and it was controversial, to say the least. The main antagonist, Griffin, was read as an attack on the trad/anorak fanbase, and Orman and Blum went through a lot of criticism on rec.arts.drwho for it, as I seem to recall. It was a reasonable point, I suppose, but I imagine a lot of the strength of the reaction had more to do with the feeling that the fan base was (finally) shifting away from the old-school, Ian Levine-style continuity obsessive. There had long been the "trad"/"rad" divide between stories and authors, but this wa one of the first books I remember reading that actually seemed to be addressing that distinction head on.

    Of course, I loved it to bits. I still do, actually: it's my favorite of Orman and Blum's books, and one of the defining stories for the eighth Doctor, IMO. Most of the commonly-cited criticisms fall flat for me. In particular, the complaints that "dark Sam" was "boring," all of which seemed to proceed from the basic idea that she was ever intended as a replacement for "blonde Sam." The fact that she wouldn't have worked as a regular companion was the point, I thought: she was someone who would never have traveled with the Doctor or Fitz of her volition. She was brought into an adventure that she was entirely unequipped to deal with, and sticks out like a sore thumb, basically doing all of the things that a companion traditionally doesn't do (like, for instance, sleeping with Fitz). And she was what the book so successful, IMO, because she provided the perspective of a true outsider.

    The reason that's so important, for this book in particular, is because of the dynamic you hint at here. There are three basic forces at work. On one hand, you have Faction Paradox, who are chaotic by nature. On the other, you have Griffin, who is obsessed with order. Both of them, however, are totally unconcerned with the individual. The Doctor sits between them, and is distinguished, as you suggest, by his care for human life. But his inability to acknowledge "dark Sam" as a person with her own past and identity muddies that position considerably. The Doctor is just about as uncaring towards her, and just about as dangerous, as everyone else. He's not playing the part of the hero. At best, he's just the least bad alternative.

    This is also why I think Lawrence Miles's criticism of the book misses the mark. I don't think Orman and Blum portray Faction Paradox as "mustache twirlers," honestly. The boy is single-minded and callous, but not uniquely so. He has his own agenda, just like Griffin, and just like the Doctor. That he appears evil is more of a result of what's at stake in the story. In that regard, I think Unnatural History is a superb opening salvo for the next year or so of novels, where the sort of destructive manipulation we see Sam go through here is experienced by the whole TARDIS crew, next with Fitz (in Miles's own Interference), and later with Compassion in the novels from The Shadows of Avalon through The Ancestor Cell. This is unabashedly my favorite period of the EDAs (though I'm not hugely fond of how The Ancestor Cell attempts to wrap it all up), and the only point at which I feel the range comes close to the sort of ambition and achievement that marked the best of the Virgin New Adventures.

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  9. Sean Daugherty
    January 21, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    I don't think that's fair. First of all, Jon Blum is actually quite a good writer. His solo short stories from the various Short Trips collections were highlights, and his lone Big Finish audio, The Fearmonger, was one of their better early offerings.

    It also doesn't strike me as fair because I see no indication that there's any "package deal" in the first place. Their writing collaboration basically ends with this book, which was released six years before the new series arrived. Kate Orman went on to write two more solo books (Blue Box and Year of Intelligent Tigers), and the lone major collaborative work after this is a Telos novella. They both maintain careers independently, and both are talented in their own right: neither carries the other.

    Kate Orman, simply puts, hasn't shown much inclination towards writing for television. There's also the fact that, unlike the other novelists-turned-scriptwriters to work for the new series, she's not British.

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  10. Adam Riggio
    January 22, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

    "The Doctor, being mercurial, brings upheaval to any situation, but he also is able to adapt and fit into almost any situation. The companion’s job is to not quite adapt."

    In a way, I feel as if this gets to the heart of the companion's role in Doctor Who, but also why the companion will always be inescapably problematic. Insofar as the companion is never quite comfortable with the diversity of the worlds she moves in, she will always be dependent during her travels in some way on the Doctor. Yes, she's invited along and is in the position of a friend and conscience to the Time Lord, but the TARDIS is still his ship, and her mal-adaptations will eventually get her into trouble from which the Doctor has to rescue her.

    The Doctor will always be in a superior position to his companions, no matter how the emotional relationship between them (especially in the new series, where Davies and Moffatt have focussed at times on how much the Doctor can learn from his companions, just as he did from Barbara Wright). So a companion's measure of success, given this context, is how much and by what means the character overcomes that inevitable imbalance of power.

    Barbara, Ian, and Vicki were successes because they made the Doctor part of their team, and Hartnell's Doctor never quite had the worldly power to measure up to his sometimes superior attitude to people. Levelling the field through attuning the Doctor to their personality is how Sarah Jane and Romana succeeded too. I'd say the same goes for Rose and Donna in the Davies era; Martha, in my view, never quite got out of the shackles of dependency, as so much of her character arc was dominated by unrequited attraction.

    Jo Grant is a weird case, where she was actively more mercurial and weird than the Doctor she worked with. What I loved about seeing her with Matt Smith in Death of the Doctor was watching the sheer weirdness of their personalities spark from each other. I think River in her best moments works this way too, being strangers and less predictable than the Doctor, putting him off his usual dominating stance.

    The way Sam Jones was put together, I don't think she ever had a chance.

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  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 22, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    It is, I believe, entirely her lack of television experience. From what I understand even Rob Shearman was a tough sell for the BBC. Someone with no television experience simply is not eligible to write for Doctor Who. Which makes sense, as a perusal of Lawrence Miles's completely unfilmable proposed script demonstrates.

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  12. Matthew Blanchette
    January 29, 2013 @ 8:07 am

    "Someone with no television experience simply is not eligible to write for Doctor Who."

    Erm… I think Andrew Smith would disagree with you, as would Steve Gallagher, John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, Eric Saward (unfortunately), Ben Aaronovitch, Graeme Curry, Kevin Clarke, Marc Platt, Rona Munro, and Victor Pemberton.

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  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 29, 2013 @ 8:10 am

    I am, of course, talking about the new series with that quote. And the BBC is reasonable, I think, in deciding that maybe it shouldn't hand over the keys to its expensive-to-make flagship drama to someone who hasn't proven themselves on something a little more low-rish first. This was, to say the least, not a problem with the classic series, where Doctor Who was instead the low-rent show where writers broke in instead of one of the jewels of the BBC.

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  14. Matthew Blanchette
    January 29, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    Well, out of the eleven writers I listed, six of them wrote stories you praised to the skies, so… perhaps that decision wasn't as rewarding on return as it might've been — but, then again, the new series did give us Stephen Greenhorn, Stephen Thompson, Helen Raynor, and Matthew Graham, so… hmmm.

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  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 29, 2013 @ 11:08 am

    Yeah, it worked great for the classic series. But the classic series wasn't spending a million quid every hour.

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  16. GeneralNerd
    December 11, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

    I'm not a big fan of the "social justice" school of fandom where every discussion about a show has to become a poilitical debate or about race, sex, or gender issues. Granted, I am aware that nothing is really apolitical and that the politics of a show are important, but "social justice warriors" of the kind you find on Tumblr tend to get so bogged down in the minutia of that sort of thing that there's really nothing separating them from the kind of fan who gets obsessed with continuity. And that wouldn't be a problem if they didn't act like that was a better way of engaging with the show.

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  17. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    "The bulk of this criticism stems from his hatred of Walking to Babylon, a book we didn’t cover and I haven’t read, but which, in his telling (and Lars Pearson’s in I Who 2) all of the characters, including historical ones, act like they’re from the present day with no attention given to material history."

    This is actually an illiterate criticism on the part of Miles and Pearson, given that Kate Orman was a librarian who intensively researched her period for Walking to Babylon, while Miles and Pearson are dilettantes who, well, didn't.

    The past isn't what you expect it to be, sometimes.

    Now, did Kate specifically pick a place and time which was relatively comfortable to her sensbilities as a 20th-century liberal? Yes. Did she emphasize the comfortable parts and leave out the less comfortable parts? Yes. Is there a slight air of unreality to the whole thing, a bit comparable to Steven Moffet world? Yes, but that's largely because Benny is chasing time criminals.

    But Miles and Pearson's criticism is basically historically illiterate.

    Read Walking to Babylon sometime. It's the most important of the Benny books, tied with Beige Planet Mars. It deserves its rating

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  18. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

    There's some other wonderful subversions in the book. The Doctor describes all the weird alien stuff going on in San Francisco. Fitz asks, "So we're here to stop it, right?" The Doctor says, "Of course not!" Their agenda is simply to prevent the place from being blown up by the Kraken.

    The Doctor's biodata (biodata being a weird recurring theme of the BBC Books) is scattered around San Francisco. They never find out why — nor does the Doctor seem to really care!

    Griffen's background is not explained nor are the source of his powers. We just deal with him as he is.

    It's an aggressively non-explanatory book in reaction to a many-years-long fan trend to try to close all the loopholes and explain all the oddities. It celebrates the weirdness. This is really good.

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  19. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

    I've asked Kate, and she didn't want to write for TV. She doesn't like scriptwriting; she's very invested in the control which she has over the words in a novel or short story.

    It's that simple.

    Jon Blum wouldn't mind writing a script, but he wasn't invited.

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  20. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

    "But it fundamentally rejects the possibility of radical change."
    That's not quite right. It's not that it rejects the possibility as a possibility, it's that it disapproves of it. This is a legit position: a position in favor of incrementalism.

    Please note that some of the other Doctor Who writers have criticized Lawrence Miles for his shallow naivete in believing that Black Bloc radicalism is effective, which pops up heavily in the really dumb bits of Interference.

    Reply

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