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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.

26 Comments

  1. Scott
    November 2, 2012 @ 12:56 am

    Hope you haven't been taking too bad a battering from the storm!

    Reply

  2. SpaceSquid
    November 2, 2012 @ 1:20 am

    The Doctor/Pryce argument is rather reminiscent of the frequent "heroes don't kill" arguments so common in superhero comics, at least during the early to mid nineties (possibly as a response to the existence of anything written by Rob Liefeld).

    It always struck me as annoying that almost all of these arguments boiled down to the insistence that there is no moral distinction between murdering an innocent and murdering a murderer of innocents. That doesn't mean the latter action is necessarily correct, of course, but refusing to see the distinction is just lazy arguing.

    That Mitchell and Webb Sound punctured this pretty well in a short sketch they did about a detective too interested in correct procedure and paperwork to actually catch any criminals. I paraphrase here, but it goes something like:

    "I'm sorry, boss, but if I were to cut corners, how would I be any different to the guy we're trying to catch?"
    "He murders nuns!"

    Reply

  3. Jack Graham
    November 2, 2012 @ 2:17 am

    It may be telling that, though I remember the Hith, Vaughn and the teddy bear thing, I had no memory at all of Zebulon Pryce until reading this post. The other thing I remember about this book is that I was sitting around reading it when I was supposed to be reading Augustine as part of my Christian Philosophy module at university. I was amused by this at the time and I'm still amused by it now.

    Reply

  4. Ross
    November 2, 2012 @ 3:09 am

    This article reminds me a lot of the fact that right around this point in the line, there was a some talk in the fandom (specifically rec.arts.drwho) between the Rad and Trad traditions, about whether we should stop thinking of Doctor Who first and foremost as a TV show; there was a sizeable contingent who were bold enough to say "Doctor Who is a series of novels that happens to have had a long-running TV adaptation, which is now long over and mostly forgotten and should stay that way; no one cares about the show, the Virgin Novels are the 'real' Doctor Who, and anyone who still cares about that crappy camp show from the sixties is just practicing necrophilia" while the other contingent felt very strongly that the first contingent had lost their minds.

    This being rec.arts.drwho, this disagreement of course took the form of neverending flamewars.

    Reply

  5. BerserkRL
    November 2, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    to treat the Doctor as someone who has a coherent moral system that can be argued according to the terms of philosophy in general is simply a misrepresentation of how the narrative works

    But the claim isn't that he has a coherent moral system. The claim is that he doesn't have one, but should. The claim that most people don't have coherent moral systems, but should, and should be ashamed of not having them, is as old as Socrates.

    Reply

  6. Josh Marsfelder
    November 2, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    I would probably add "This being the Internet".

    Reply

  7. Henry R. Kujawa
    November 2, 2012 @ 9:42 am

    "heroes don't kill"

    My reaction to this narrow line tends to be, "Heroes don't let innocent people get killed."

    Reply

  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 2, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    Mine is that Macbeth and Othello are heroes.

    Reply

  9. Daibhid C
    November 2, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    It might have worked better if we'd got a better idea of Zebulon's take on things. Apparently he, like the Doctor, believes killing is wrong except when it's right and he knows the difference. The trouble is, we know perfectly well he's a technobabble-influenced psychopath who doesn't know the difference, whereas the Doctor, even if you disagree with his recent decisions, at least has understandable reasons for them.

    I remember it being pretty powerful stuff as long as you don't actually think about it too hard, though 8-). (And in a few books Kate Orman will revisit it, so it's possibly worth being in there just for that.)

    Come to think of it, one of the cleverest workings out of this I've seen in fiction is from The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents by (you knew this was coming) Terry Pratchett:

    "No Rat Should Kill Another Rat."

    "But supposing you have to?"

    "Then you have to. But you shouldn't."

    Reply

  10. tantalus1970
    November 2, 2012 @ 11:33 am

    Yeah, I remember the Rads (they weren't called that by then, though) from the old BBC forum; they used to say that everything before Season 25 was crap, and Doctor Who was Seasons 25 and 26 and the New Adventures.

    By and large, they were often the same ones who, when the New Series was announced, were complaining that it should be post-watershed (ie after 9pm) because, as one posted, at 6-7pm they wouldn't be able to do X-Files type stories.

    Ironically, when the New Series actually started, many of them changed their tune and compared the Old Series favourably to the New!

    Reply

  11. Tiffany Korta
    November 2, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

    There an argument to make that to those reading the book at the time these weren't just tie-in novel there were for all intense a purposes Doctor Who.

    Cause a lot of people weren't thinking that way, including I suspect some of the authors.

    Reply

  12. Adam Riggio
    November 2, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    The question of whether the Doctor should have a single consistent morality is really a recurring issue of the Doctor from the McCoy era onward (and so retroactively interpreted into previous eras by fandom and academics and academic fandom since 1989). It's first raised seriously in the Virgin era, I think, as many of the major plot arcs have been about exploring what ethical lines the Doctor crosses in his various plans and adventures, and the ramifications of those line-crossings.

    But it also is a constant danger of becoming empty. By Journey's End, this conundrum has been thrown into the story so many times that it becomes monotonous. The Doctor's morality is challenged by Davros, of all people, and the camera language suggests that we're meant to take this seriously. It's one thing to have one aspect of the Doctor's character be his guilt at his past mistakes or his misjudgments of ethics — that can make for engaging drama. If you let it consume the character entirely, the Doctor becomes a monotonous guilt machine where anyone who steps into the proper placeholder in the story or the dialogue can be a legitimate challenge to the Doctor's moral flexibility, be they a serial killer or the creator of the Daleks.

    As for my own moral thinking, I've become quite distrustful of people who place adherence to a single set of moral principles without exception. Such an attitude cares more about the moral rule than the people the rule is supposed to serve.

    In other, less weighty, questions. "In the next book (to be covered on Wednesday, incidentally, and not Monday – I’ve decided to pull the Pop Between Realities forward again) we’ll see Dave Stone draw the line in a very, very different place." Does this mean Sky Pirates? At least part of a post on Sky Pirates?

    Reply

  13. Ununnilium
    November 2, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

    Nothing to do with the article (tho IMHO, any incarnation of the Doctor should be able to run ethical rings around Hannibal Lecter – he's a cartoon supervillain on the complexity level of Davros), but might I suggest as a Pop Between Realities: The Simpsons? Both because it's pretty influential on the modern-day TV format and what can be "taken seriously", and because of the ways it handles being the kind of show that has a Season Seventeen.

    Reply

  14. BerserkRL
    November 2, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

    As for my own moral thinking, I've become quite distrustful of people who place adherence to a single set of moral principles without exception. Such an attitude cares more about the moral rule than the people the rule is supposed to serve.

    Do you allow exceptions to the principle that moral principles must always be in the service of people?

    Reply

  15. Adam Riggio
    November 3, 2012 @ 2:17 am

    The exceptions to the rule are the people.

    Reply

  16. SK
    November 4, 2012 @ 7:43 am

    That's just a standard Hursthousian ethics of virtue take on tragic dilemmas, isn't it? Don't think Pratchett gets any credit for cleverness there.

    Reply

  17. Daibhid C
    November 4, 2012 @ 8:59 am

    After googlng, I've decided the clever bit was saying it in terms I understood 8-)…

    Reply

  18. Matthew Blanchette
    November 4, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    But he should. 😉

    Reply

  19. Matthew Blanchette
    November 4, 2012 @ 10:09 am

    Perhaps we will cover the other British big event of '95… i.e., the return of James Bond? I know we haven't brought it up at all in any of the entries, but it's as good a comparison as any to what the '96 TV movie tried to do and failed.

    Reply

  20. Froborr
    November 5, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    As I mentioned above, I think that is the main form of Pratchett's cleverness in the third phase of Discworld novels: Using bloody good fiction to present moral philosophy in clear language. This is a major gift, I think–most people who try to use fiction to present moral philosophy end up with unreadable slogs full of characters pontificating at one another for millions of pages without anything actually happening.

    Reply

  21. Froborr
    November 5, 2012 @ 7:03 am

    "As for my own moral thinking, I've become quite distrustful of people who place adherence to a single set of moral principles without exception. Such an attitude cares more about the moral rule than the people the rule is supposed to serve."

    Hear hear!

    For my money, I'd rather be around someone whose ethics are wildly inconsistent in a philosophical sense (say, veering from consequentialist to virtue-ethics to deontological in the course of a single decision), but somebody who follows a philosophically consistent, but morally abhorrent, philosophy, such as an Objectivist or a Biblical "literalist."

    Somebody who's inconsistent, after all, is just following a rule that hasn't been fully articulated: they might say they follow Rule X, but actually they follow Rule Q, which says "Follow Rule X except in Situation Y, when you follow Rule Z."

    "Do you allow exceptions to the principle that moral principles must always be in the service of people?"

    Are you planning to ask us to tolerate your intolerance next? Because this is very much the same caliber of question.

    Reply

  22. Froborr
    November 5, 2012 @ 7:27 am

    Whoops, forgot which thread I was in. The comment I mention as being "above" is actually in the Red Dwarf/Pterry thread.

    Reply

  23. Froborr
    November 5, 2012 @ 7:34 am

    Meant to say "I'd rather be around somebody whose ethics are inconsistent in a philosophical sense…but consistently non-evil, than somebody who follows a…"

    Not sure where the middle part vanished to, it was definitely there when I hit Publish.

    Reply

  24. BerserkRL
    November 5, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    Are you planning to ask us to tolerate your intolerance next? Because this is very much the same caliber of question

    My point is that it doesn't make sense to reject all exceptionless principles, because doing so is itself either exceptionless or not exceptionless, and you've contradicted yourself either way.

    Reply

  25. BerserkRL
    November 5, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    As for rules needing to serve people, the problem is that different moral theories disagree as to what counts as serving people. "Promoting their interests" and "respecting their autonomy" may come apart, for example. There's no theory-neutral characterisation of what serving people amounts to, and so the advice "drop your theory whenever doing so serves people better" is empty.

    Reply

  26. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

    The problem with this analysis of the book is that it misses out on what caught everyone's attention about this book. The world-building. Andy Lane's world, a very loose riff on the concept of "Adjudicators" from Colony in Space, was an arresting and memorable one, complete with utterly random stuff like the cybernetic Empress. The down-and-out Earth Reptiles are another memorable and arresting followup on continuity.

    I love the book, and I never remember anything about the main plot, frankly! It's all local color that I remember, and that's how it gets so high on the ratings list. The local color is brilliant, riffing off Doctor Who traditions very thinly to create a world that feels alive. And as a result, it gets followed up on repeatedly not just in the New Adventures — most notably by Ben Aaronovitch in So Vile A Sin — but also in the Missing Adventures, and it even gets referenced in the BBC books. Andy Lane's Earth Empire becomes "the" Earth Empire of the books, displacing the thinly drawn Frontier in Space, Colony in Space, and The Mutants versions. Even if you can see the obvious lifts from Judge Dredd, it just works somehow.

    The obsession with characters, people, is a popular one today. But it was not Andy Lane's forte and the book shouldn't be judged that way. You can already see his worldbuilding in Lucifer Rising, but it's more impressive here. The characters are stock; but he describes a world better than most Doctor Who writers and better than many writers period.

    Reply

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