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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.

19 Comments

  1. John Toon
    December 21, 2011 @ 12:51 am

    Recommended edit: "Fisher", not "Fischer".

    Reply

  2. Andrew Hickey
    December 21, 2011 @ 1:46 am

    I really think you're being too harsh on Miles there. Having read his fiction, stuff like This Town Will Never Let Us Go or Dead Romance is so good, and so unlike the philistine you describe, that I think at worst he has a fixed idea of what a Doctor Who story on TV should be, not a fixed idea of how all stories work.

    And your claim that 'The only way in which he is willing to treat a Doctor Who story is via a model where the most interesting question is "what happens to the Doctor this week?"' is just wrong. If anything he (assuming it is him and not Wood who wrote the prosecution) thinks the story is too obsessed with the Doctor:

    "And any sense of there being anything outside the Doctor and Romana's line of sight is almost forgotten… There's no sense of this world even existing. A series which started off being about experience of the unknown, both for the audience and for the Doctor, has now become a series about the POV of two self-involved Time Lords."

    Reply

  3. Matthew Celestis
    December 21, 2011 @ 2:31 am

    I love this story. It's one of my favorites.

    Reply

  4. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    December 21, 2011 @ 5:37 am

    Another recommended edit: "Rumford", not "Rumsford".

    And I've been salivating at the prospect of reading your interpretation of one of my favourite non-Hinchcliffe/Holmes Tom Baker stories.

    To me, this has always been classic DOCTOR WHO's last gasp at trying to be scary, and when I watched this story as a young 'un, it did scare me, silly rock monsters and all. I think it was because of how the Ogri glided around in precisely the way that giant monoliths shouldn't, as well as their silent, implacable, relentless nature — How can an old woman keep outrunning a creature that never tires like she will??

    Personally I would've been disappointed if the Ogri had transformed into humanoid golem-like beings. Somehow, their being stone monoliths AND alive at the same time is infinitely more unsettling to my mindset.

    And I can't heap enough praise on Beatrix Lehmann, who is utterly divine as Professor Emilia Rumford. Arguably, she's the first performer that Tom Baker connects with/respects since Elisabeth Sladen's departure, and the chemistry between them is simply wonderful.

    Also, she was able to reign in some of Baker's excesses by giving him a disappointed look and softly saying things like, "Oh, you're going to do it like that?", so that rather than pouting and sulking as usual, Baker quietly acquiesced.

    And as a final note, Lehmann was a lesbian in real life, which may (or may not) have "bled through" into her performance/interpretation of the script. Just sayin'…

    Cheers, JohnH

    Reply

  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 21, 2011 @ 5:47 am

    Both errors now fixed. Thanks.

    Reply

  6. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    December 21, 2011 @ 5:58 am

    You're most welcome, Philip. 🙂

    Also, I half-expected the title of this entry to be, "Oh, look — rocks!" ;-D

    Reply

  7. Grant, the Hipster Dad
    December 21, 2011 @ 10:03 am

    Recommended edit: The word "chart" appears a whole pile of times in your first paragraph.

    Reply

  8. inkdestroyedmybrush
    December 21, 2011 @ 11:16 am

    and this is where is just about dives off of a cliff for me. Yes, we still have the ridiculous Prisoner of Zenda runaround to go, but far from feeling like the Key to Time season is a triumph, we get stories like Pirate Planet that are, in my mind, to clever for their own good.

    Seeing the story as a metaphor for drug addiction or, as i prefer, imperialism as one poster commented, makes it more interesting to discuss, but it is still un-watchable in parts. Poorly filmed and with its bizarre mix of ideas too outside of the director's ability to translate to the screen in terms of tone. All this long held chat about Douglas Adams genius forgets the point that what works on the page often doesn't work on the screen. Look at how difficult it was to get HHGttG on the big screen. Coming to sci-fi post-monty python is not exactly an easy place to be coming from. Your sincerity is worth openly questioning at every step of the game, since you can pull the rug out from under us at any time. If that's the case, why bother involving ourselves in the narrative? Adams is too clever for his own damn good. The mentats in Pirate Planet simply never occupied the same critical space throughout the story.

    And so here Williams does a good job of showing us the story and then twisting it, true, but the balance and tone of the show,not to mention the budget, is just about shot. And what appears flat and insincere in the recording session comes across that way on the tv.

    Blah.

    Reply

  9. Keith
    December 21, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    I've always liked this episode. I was under the impression that people tended to like the first part, but hated the Megara bit (I blame the DISCONTINUITY GUIDE for this impression). I found the "horror" aspects of the episode more effective than you did (more for the mood than for actually being scary – I've never found DR WHO scary to begin with). I thought the camper sequence was quite effective, playing out like the pre-credit sequence of an old slasher film, such as the start of the original FRIDAY THE 13th (but with killer rocks).

    100% agreement on Beatrix Lehmann as Professor Rumford. She is definitely a highlight of the story. Fantastic performance.

    I could not disagree more with your opinion of the Ogri, though I doubt anyone considers them a top-tier alien. As another poster mentioned, what is creepy about them is that they glide around in a way that monoliths shouldn't. Though admittedly, you have to get past the question of HOW they move. I fail to see how having them turn into rock men would have really improved things.

    The shot where you see one of them pass by the window of De Vries' house on its way to kill him is very eerie, though his exchange with Martha as they're about to be killed is so OTT maudlin that it threatens to derail the whole effort.

    To sum the Ogri up as urine-yellow polystyrene rocks seems about as fair as saying the Daleks are crap because they're just mobile pepper pots with egg wisks and toilet plungers who spent nearly 30 years being hamstrung by stairs, despite being galactic conquerors. Besides, I like the yellow glow effect. 🙂

    While the Doctor producing a barrister's wig was amusing, the funniest part for me was when he was about to be sacrificed by De Vries and he suddenly asks "Does your Cailleach ride a bicycle?" which sends De Vries into an apopleptic fit, screaming "A BICYCLE!?"

    And on the topic of humour, the bit where the Doctor mentions that the Megara found their creators in contempt of court and blew up the galaxy sounds like a line from THGTTG.

    Reply

  10. Iain Coleman
    December 21, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

    Can't say I much like this story, though a lot of that may be down to the poor direction that mars many of this season's stories.

    The one bit I do remember enjoying is the Doctor thoroughly taking the piss out of De Vries' deeply held druidic beliefs.

    Reply

  11. 5tephe
    December 21, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

    Yeah… While this series has always been fun in my opinion, it does start to feel laboured at times. I agree that the Ribos Operation is a wonderful conception and execution, but (despite being a massive Douglas Adams fan) I could never get into the Pirate Planet. It was neither funny enough, nor serious enough. Perhaps this is a limitation of TV that Adams was unused to overcoming, moving from the infinite canvas of the radio play.

    And as to this story: watching as a younger boy or man it did not seem so much like the change in direction was a deliberate swerve as just a little bit of a clumsy way to disguise the plot you are telling, or mash together two ideas that might work better separated, if you put more effort in.

    I will have to go back and re-watch this series, through your lens, and see if I can get something better out of it. Although I too have my objections to the sudden arrival of two "god" figures for the Time Lords.

    And on one last point: you don't count the Master series in Pertwee's time as a Series Arc? It's not as clearly stated at the outset and contiguous as this, but it is definitely (especially in the conception you outlined for having the Master be actually the dark side of the Doctor's personality) an arc, I'd say.

    Reply

  12. William Whyte
    December 21, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    I'm with a lot of the other commenters here: these three stories are easier to like in theory than in practice. Of the three, I liked Stones of Blood best at the time and like Pirate Planet best now: I felt even at the time that Stones of Blood got a bit … talky once the Megara showed up. Both Stones of Blood and the Pirate Planet, to an extent, rob you of the story you were expecting to see. That's a risky approach, and in retrospect I think it works better for the Pirate Planet, where the twists blindside you first time but in retrospect are clearly an escalation, than for Stones of Blood, where our initial kitschily enjoyable Hammer homage is replaced with an overlong comedy sketch.

    But this isn't a review blog.

    So let's note, thematically, that all three of these stories have the common element of an alien visit that isn't an invasion. In Ribos, it's an attempt to buy the planet. In Pirate Planet, it's a straightforward obliteration. In Stones, it's someone hiding out. This is the first time we've had that since The Time Warrior, I think (and this observation has just provoked a lengthy comment on your Time Warrior entry which EXPLAINS EVERYTHING). You can look on all of these as an ongoing attempt to work out how to do Doctor Who, which is, after all, a series of stories about visits other than invasions by an alien. Particularly, it fits nicely with the Williams problem of inheriting a massively successful show and being told not to do it like that any more. You can see how those thoughts would have been in the air. On the other hand (although this isn't a review blog) it perhaps illuminates a reason why the Williams era, though highly creative, doesn't have the visceral force of Hinchcliffe: the stakes are at the wrong scale. In Ribos and Stones, it's actually not that big a deal whether the villain gets stopped. In Pirate Planet, the stakes are if anything too high: we don't see the people who get wiped out on Calufrax and I remember rolling my eyes somewhat when the next target was determined to be Earth; even at the age of 10 I saw it as a pretty losery attempt to make everything seem MORE REAL. For all that stories in this season grapple interestingly with questions of order and chaos, it's really only the Armageddon Factor that properly escalates the stakes and gives the impression that things are spinning out of control.

    Frankly, almost all of the Key To Time season concepts are actually done better by Keeper of Traken, and that only took four weeks. Every episode 3 cliffhanger in Season 16 should be as good as the episode 3 cliffhanger of Keeper of Traken.

    Reply

  13. William Whyte
    December 21, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

    It's also worth saying that David Fisher was perhaps too busy having two scripts in a row to write to realise that he was coming after Robert Holmes and Douglas Adams. Two scripts in a row is the real nightmare brief. And while Fisher was obviously a pro who could fit in with the culture of any program (which is one explanation for why his novelizations are so Adams-y), he's also obviously someone who's deeply in tune with the Williams/Adams approach. So much so that I think that he deserves almost as much credit as Williams and Adams do for the successes of that approach. It's a shame he and Bidmead got off on the wrong foot when Bidmead took all the jokes out of The Leisure Hive because he could otherwise have carried on being a major player.

    Saward, of course, clearly hoped for the same relationship with Philip Martin, but ended up getting it with Pip and Jane Baker. Oh good.

    Reply

  14. William Whyte
    December 21, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

    Three-comment rule!

    I would say that Lawrence Miles is basically wrong about a lot of classic Who, but his critiques of RTD-era Who are spot on and necessary. FWIW.

    Reply

  15. William Whyte
    December 22, 2011 @ 3:35 am

    I forgot The Hand of Fear when going through alien non-invasions. You could maybe argue that Talons of Weng-Chiang counts too.

    Reply

  16. Alan
    January 2, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

    Add me to those who thought the Ogri were pretty creepy. For me, they work for the same reason the Daleks do. Scary voices aside, I've always thought that the scariest thing about the Daleks was the way they just glide around silently. I don't think the Daleks would have been as successful if they'd been another humanoid race of aliens staggering around on clumsy legs. The Ogri had the same sort of feel, an unnatural form of movement not seen in nature.

    Reply

  17. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 22, 2012 @ 6:56 pm

    It's long amazed me how flexible Tom Baker's Doctor was over the course of 7 seasons. In his 1st year, at times he seemed too incompetent, as if the "act" Patrick Troughton used to put on suddenly became the real thing. He got a bit more serious his 2nd year, but at the same time, it often seemed as if Sarah spent half her time watching out for him, helping him stay out of trouble. When he goes home, without her, sure enough, every move he makes it the wrong one.

    Along comes Leela, and suddenly, he has to be more sensible. He's got someone who needs watching out for now… except, she doesn't need watching out for, and she'd be the first one to say so. So unexpectedly, they almost become equals, despite their vast differences.

    And then Romana arrives. She's like the reverse of Leela. Stylish, classy, lovely, brilliant… and hopelessly naive. But not for long. But instead of trying to be a guide, suddenly, The Doctor finds himself in a competetion. You have 2 people each trying to prove they know more than the other one. Haven't had that since Zoe! Of course, before long, they begin to develop mutual respect for each other. I sometimes wonder if Mary Tamm didn't jump the gun quitting the show so fast, supposedly on the grounds of her character not having enough to do. Considering the state of almost every other companion in the show's history, the phrase, "Get in line!" somehow seems appropriate. And I did think Romana as a character developed a lot over her 6 stories.

    Strangest thing… Baker is probably at his very best in Season 16, the mix of actual competence and outrageous humor. I enjoyed his first 4 seasons (mostly), but I loved this season. And yet, looking back on it this week, I find something crossing my mind that never did before. Which is, I could easily see William Hartnell doing these stories. Can you picture if HIS Doctor ran across Amelia Rumford? There he'd be trying to bring along this young wannabe who's maybe too full of herself, and he runs smack into someone who'd probably remind him of an old friend. Or, himself. I bet HE would have invited Amelia for a trip in the TARDIS at the end (the way The Doctor did with Sarah so often).

    I hadn't really noticed or thought about all the dropped and unexplained plot threads until I read all the reviews at the "Page Fillers" site. I suppose it's a triumph of how the story turned out that somehow, you can watch it a dozen times or more (as I have) and not notice the "problems".

    Incidentally, early in the story, they discuss how there's 3 circles which have been associated with foretelling the future. One might suppose this has something to do with the 3rd segment, and Vivian's somehow expecting the Doctor to show up before he does.

    Oh, yeah… and something else I somehow never noticed before tonight… in the earliest scene in the story, the sacrifice in the circle… you can SEE Vivian's face clearly right at the end of the scene. So when she shows up the next day with Amelia, anyone who was paying attention should have already known she was the leader of cult.

    Oh yes–funniest scene, Baker pulls out the wig. My reaction being, "What the HELL is he carrying one of THOSE around for?"

    Reply

  18. timelord7202
    April 26, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

    " lesbian subtext "

    Where is the lesbian subtext?

    I know some people make crude jokes with sausage sandwiches and truncheons, but the bulk of people usually date around their own age. Not 1.5 generations older than themselves or vice-versa.

    Granted, it's not inconceivable but – as with many other things – how these two ladies got together (platonic or otherwise) was never addressed. Ditto for why Cessair is handing around Earth in the first place, and why no other Megara went cruising after that prison ship that would not just magically disappear…)

    It's still an awesome story, but a lot of motivations are overlooked. Usually in its favor, but not always.

    Reply

  19. David Gerard
    November 30, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    I remember enjoying this story at the time … but:

    "they're giant polystyrene rocks that glow urine-yellow as they glide around. Rather it is that the human brain, when faced with that description, isn't quite capable of generating the full and jaw-dropping weirdness of it on its own, tending instead to hedge and assume that it can't be that bad. No. It is. It is pretty much the worst case scenario for giant urine-colored attack rocks."

    … is my abiding memory. This is when we really start getting into the battling a foil-covered shoebox era.

    Reply

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