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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.

15 Comments

  1. Carey
    January 9, 2012 @ 12:43 am

    "At least some of the blame has to go to Williams for letting the show get to the point where it essentially only has one arrow in its quiver. It works when it can do intelligent comedy based around Tom Baker."

    To be fair though, that isn't really Graham Williams' fault: if he'd had his way, Tom would have been replaced at the end of the Armageddon Factor. It was Williams' superiors at the BBC who said "No, it's Baker's name above the titles, and he's less replaceable that you, Mr Williams." Which of course, adds another level of contradictory commands from the Powers That Be at the BBC (cut out the horror and replace it with comedy… uh oh, the show has become too comedic, tone it down… however, the selling point of the show is Tom Baker being Tom Baker… etc, etc.)

    So in this case, the metaphor of two spaceships overlapping and with ideas seeping from one to another seems incredibly apt.

    And, of course, it continues with The Nightmare of Eden being the only Doctor Who on record where the the director was sacked: supposedly Tom ran rings around him during the recording, with him losing control of proceedings forcing Williams to step in and take over the rest of the recording sessions. I believe it was this incident, on top of the "You can't sack Tom" one that led to him resigning.

    Finally, and possibly unfortunately, considering your lovely essay above, I believe the two spaceships intertwined idea was Douglas Adams', not Bob Baker (not that Baker didn't find interesting ways to develop that idea visually, as you said), and another nail in the coffin of Adams not being a good nuts and bolts script editor. If I recall correctly, all the writers of season 17 were given very detailed ideas about what the stories should contain. Adams also tried to bring in new blood to the writing team, and found it next to impossible to find anyone he felt measured up to the existing writers.

    John Nathan Turner turned out to be more successful in this respect, although at a cost of consistency to the quality of the scripts.

    Reply

  2. Jack Graham
    January 9, 2012 @ 2:03 am

    I've always thought of the two spaceships thing as being a bit like 'Alien'. That's also about two spaceships that infiltrate each other. Of course, Bob Baker's version is nowhere near as interesting because his two spaceships are not fundamentally very different and their mutual infiltration is too literal. In 'Alien' one spaceship is a kind of Freudian nightmarescape that seeps into, attacks and exploits the latent unease in the repressed atmosphere of the other. In 'Nightmare of Eden' there are no nightmares… just a crashingly moralistic 'war on drugs' thing.

    Reply

  3. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    January 9, 2012 @ 3:52 am

    "The acting is often poor, though nobody stands out as a particular disaster."

    Erm, what was that?

    What about Jennifer Lonsdale as Della, so wooden she could've played the Queen in "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe"?

    What about the two playing the Azure security officials?

    And most egregiously, what about Lewis Fiander as Professor Tryst? I know that recently, people have tried to defend his performance as a riff on Peter Sellers' in "Dr. Strangelove," but to me it's always been a naff accent that severely undermines the character's plausibility. Now, perhaps if it had been revealed as a ruse at the end or something, I could accept that. But as things stand, his is in my mind the worst thing about this story — even the rejects from "The Muppet Show" shambling around and hugging people to death.

    David Daker, at least, makes the best of his performance as the pleasure ship's Captain while he can. And frankly I'm surprised that you didn't pick up on / comment upon the very post-modern moments when, hepped up on vrax, is pointing at the monitor depicting passengers getting mauled by the Mandrels, and laughing his head off — much, I suspect, like less-forgiving viewers have been doing at home throughout this story.

    And as you did mention, by now this programme is becoming "The Tom Baker Show" rather than "Doctor Who," which in limited doses is extremely entertaining; this is one of the reasons why I (unlike many fans out there) can pop "The Horns of Nimon" into the DVD player when I'm in a crappy mood and feel it evaporate as I take in the proceedings (but more about that on Wednesday, I suspect…)! 🙂

    But here, freed of directorial constraint, Tom goes his most overboard with the toe-curling "…Oh, my everything!!!" resolution, emerging from the CTE with his iconic frock coat in tatters — perhaps the perfect visual methaphor for the way in which the show has shredded with the ascent of Tom's monstrous ego and Graham Williams' inability to control it thanks to hamstringing by his higher-ups…

    For me, "Nightmare of Eden" will always be third in my Top Ten List of "Doctor Who" Stories Where the Chasm Between Intent and Realisation Is So Great That Willing Suspension of Disbelief Simply Snaps With a Resounding Twang." (And for the record, "Warriors of the Deep" and "Paradise Towers" occupy slots one and two.)

    Cheers, JohnH

    Reply

  4. Alex
    January 9, 2012 @ 10:54 am

    "with The Nightmare of Eden being the only Doctor Who on record where the the director was sacked"

    To be fair, Michael Imison was sacked by John Wiles before the recording of the final episode of "The Ark".

    Reply

  5. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    January 9, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

    @fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73

    I thought we, as a fandom, collectively agreed that if we ever had to talk about "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" ever again, at least it wouldn't be just to make "wooden acting/wooden queen" jokes.

    Please, think of the children. One day they may grow up and find an archive of this thread, adn threads like it. They will see the countless wooden acting/queen jokes and they will weep at us with pity. I don't want the children of the future to pity us any more than they already will.

    Reply

  6. Wm Keith
    January 10, 2012 @ 6:27 am

    I hate to be the person who points out that the Taoiseach is the Irish Prime Minister and that the Republic of Ireland (also known as Ireland) also has a President who is Head of State. But I am that person. The person who points it out, that is. Not the President of Ireland.

    Reply

  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 10, 2012 @ 6:30 am

    You should be both. (Fixed.)

    Reply

  8. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    January 10, 2012 @ 7:32 am

    Question: Did any of the Who showrunners leave behind any significant writings about their time on the show, or is it all gleaned from tantalizing fragments in interviews?

    Reply

  9. Iain Coleman
    January 10, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    Well, there's Russell T Davies, of course. The Writer's Tale is a rich and indispensable account of the latter half of his time as showrunner, as valuable for its insights into writing in general as for its information about Doctor Who in particular. It'll be a while till Phil gets there, mind you.

    John Nathan-Turner did write an autobiography that had quite a bit about his Who years. I've never read it, though, so I don't know how meaty it is.

    Apart from that, I don't think so.

    Reply

  10. SK
    January 10, 2012 @ 7:57 am

    I'm not sure it's that useful for insights into writing in general, but it's very very interesting for its insights into Davis in particular.

    If Mr Keith were President, I suppose, then Michael D. would still be rocking in the Dáil.

    Reply

  11. inkdestroyedmybrush
    January 10, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

    nothing more to add… except that the idea of Mandrels being chatty cracks me up.

    Reply

  12. William Whyte
    January 10, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    Pretty much all tantalizing fragments.

    Thanks for this nice summing up of the Bristol Boys, Phil. They weren't the best writers on the show but they stuck at it and that counts for something.

    One thing you come close to saying, but I don't think say explicitly: Possibly one reason why the rep of the Baker & Martin stories goes down as you go through their career is because they got better and better at the primary constraint of writing for television, ie fitting their (mainly visual) ideas to the available budget. So the visual ideas got tamer and tamer but they couldn't quite replace them with anything.

    Weirdly, this makes Bob Baker seem like one of the writers it would be most interesting to bring back for the new series. Flaming skulls in Hyde Park! An army of slaves being marched across a bridge made of song! A Cyber-king arising from the Thames! No, wait, that last one's crap.

    Reply

  13. Andrew Hickey
    January 11, 2012 @ 3:06 am

    JNT's autobiography was actually given away as an audiobook subscriber bonus for Big Finish subscribers last month. Listening to it the main things I take away from it are that he found breasts and bottoms funny, that he didn't like Eric Saward or Ian Levine, and that everyone in showbiz was 'simply marvellous' and 'a trouper of the old school' especially if he could get them to star in one of his marvellous little pantos.

    Reply

  14. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 30, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

    I never saw Tryst as being like "Dr. Strangelove". I saw him more as "Dr. Fritz Fassbender" from WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT. (Which, of course, is much worse!!) "Licentious adulterer!!!" "Don't you dare call me that, until I've had a chance to look it up!" (Since I discovered that part was actually written for Groucho Marx, I suddenly realized how that entire film, and every line Fassbender says, would have been so much funnier if Marx had been in it, instead of Sellers.)

    I suppose the joke is supposed to be, no, NOBODY that stupid could possibly be one of the criminals. But when you think about it… halfway thru the story, he starts to aggressively want to "help" The Doctor uncover who the drug smuggler is. And this is exactly the sort of stunt that 98% of all the murderers on COLUMBO ever did. (The notable exception being Patrick McGoohan in his 3rd of 4 appearances–which just happened to become my favorite episode in the show's entire history.) And how many times have I compared Patrick Troughton's Doctor to Peter Falk's Columbo? Especially in the earliest stories, and then again in many of the revival episodes, where you get to see that "the mask" of dim-wittedness on the part of the hero is in fact a mask– that he isn't just catching the bad guys (or saving the universe) thru dumb luck.

    Stott seemed the most intelligent character in the story (apart from the regulars), and I kept wondering, where have I seen Barry Andrews before? Then I looked him up… oh, of course, he's "Paul" in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, which I must have watched a dozen times by now. Which actually makes sense, as "Della" kinda looks a bit like Veronica Carlson.

    Reply

  15. Kat42
    July 2, 2012 @ 5:43 am

    While I'm not arguing at all that this story is probably quite bad I feel that for every bad story there has to be at least one person saying oh but it was one of my favorites as a kid and I am that person. I liked Tryst in fact quite a bit. For some reason I always remember this as a Leela story though, so I may have mixed up some of the bits with a different episode. To be fair when I say one of my favorites it's on a long list and still not that close to the top, but it sticks in my mind more than most of the other late Tom Baker stories.

    Reply

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