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The Coalition of Chaos

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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.

24 Comments

  1. J. L. Webb
    January 4, 2013 @ 4:06 am

    Aha! Hehe, wonderful to hear some praise for the Eighth Doctor. Albeit praise with an asterisk. He really is a wonderful character, or perhaps several wonderful characters and a couple of lame ones too, gradually coming into something like cohesiveness (this of course is a little true of all Doctors, but this one more than ever).
    curious to hear that Morris was consulted on the general brewing of a direction for the early EDAs, having read his contribution it feels like a bad caricature of the Eighth Doctor as depicted here, unenigmatic, and blunderingly childish. but then this may be a total personal bias.

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  2. elvwood
    January 4, 2013 @ 5:00 am

    Yes yes yes yes yes! I love the Doctor in this book, overdone verbal tics and all. When Kramer tries to view him through the lens of her experience with the seventh, it's a blatant attempt to distinguish the two; but it's a blatant attempt done right. And it seems as if all of your criticism is directed not at this book, but at the circumstances surrounding it – which I, happily, can ignore, since the only other "early eighth" book I've read is Alien Bodies. Oh, and a bit of War of the Daleks, but since I got less than halfway through it didn't count in my mind.

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  3. Tommy
    January 4, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    "Davison was an active attempt to find a quieter and more low-key Doctor than Tom Baker, at least at first the writers clearly enjoyed finding structures for Doctor Who that didn’t have to cater to Tom Baker’s ego and star power. And this paid off actively: things like Kinda and even, for all its flaws, Earthshock would have been unthinkable with Tom Baker. Kinda was originally a Baker script."

    By your own admission Davison only comes off strong in Kinda when written by someone who's understanding of how to write the character is closer to Tom. The more distant he gets from Tom's era, the more he stagnates, and the worse he gets as a character, until Holmes brings him back to what he was.

    S19 stories are sanitized, contrived affairs. Earthshock aside, they're often bloodless, "everybody lives" stories. Perhaps this was a refreshing change, and a more optimistic philosophy, but it comes off as sanitised and dishonest. The 5th Doctor's victories seem contrived and dependent on everything falling conveniently into his lap, not on his gifted insight, resourcefulness or determination.

    Even amidst suicidal Mawdryn demanding the Doctor grant him euthenasia, and Terminus' seven layers of hell, it's still resolved by a random fluke of someone stepping in at the right time to bail him out.

    Unfortunately, Saward feels likewise and fights to add more grit and bodycounts to stories, and Earthshock's impact is being felt and mimicked by others, even the hippyish Johnny Byrne.

    So the 5th Doctor was still a pawn in contrived storytelling, but now to the opposite end of having his puppeteered, nonsensical actions allow death and downbeat endings. Eric had toughened up the show's fictional environment but kept the Doctor from adapting. And either exposing, or contriving the 5th Doctor's unworkable failings, making him the ineffectual bystander he's often pilloried as.

    "The only idea they had for Colin Baker, on the other hand, was “well let’s make him loud and garish instead of quiet and subdued.” There was no attention to the sorts of stories this implied, and ironically the only people to really do anything with the idea were Pip and Jane Baker, who clearly enjoyed the Sixth Doctor’s bombast."

    I'd say the, erm, germ in potencia of an idea behind the Sixth Doctor, was partly Colin's desire to hark back to Hartnel. But mainly to reassert the Van Hellsing side to the Doctor. A Doctor that understood the darkness and evil of the universe more intimately than his predecessors, and knew he had to go that bit further to embrace some that evil in order to fight it. Something that was lost and erased from Davison's incarnation, except in the stories you highlighted. So I'd say there was more to Colin's Doctor than Davison's.

    The problem is Saward just doesn't understand that there has to be a line drawn somewhere for this to work.

    Revelation is a Davison done right take on the Doctor. He's still on the sidelines, but doing 'the right kind of a little', not the wrong kind of nothing, and prepared to take action that's beyond Davison's moronic squeamishness. Also when he tries to calm the mutant, when confronted with a deranged, volatile, confused madman, he actually approaches him as a kindred spirit, having been there himself in that confused dark place.

    I'd say Holmes understood Colin's Doctor best, and he alone gave him a mission statement. That yes he's a cantankerous snob, but he's on our side against the greater colder snobbery of his people.

    Mindwarp would be impossible with any other Doctor.

    Davison began promisingly, but got more limited and impotent, and effectively regressed into almost a dead end as he went on. Colin demonstrated capacity for growth and for taking things into new avenues (i.e. reshaped by guilt over Mindwarp) but was denied any chance by Grade.

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  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 4, 2013 @ 7:14 am

    Mindwarp worked just fine when they called it The Invasion of Time.

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  5. Steven Clubb
    January 4, 2013 @ 7:25 am

    This one gave me quite a bit of hope about the Eighth Doctor line, combining the traditional adventure motif of the Missing Adventures line with a Doctor who was interested in engaging with the various characters in the narrative, and allowing that interest to affect the plot in a substantial way.

    In many ways, this is the approach Big Finish would take with the character, taking advantage of McGann's very personable portrayal to make deep connections with his allies and enemies. Such as his adventure with Lucie Miller, "No More Lies" where he chases a villain through time only to catch up with him after he reforms and marries, segueing into a more heart-felt story where the villain's story takes center stage.

    What's missing from most of the next half dozen books really is the human element. Most of the stories (especially Genocide) have potential, but without making us care overly much about any of the characters, we're left with is the Missing Adventures starring the new Doctor. Something designed to tic all the boxes on the Doctor Who formula card.

    Mad Larry is probably the only exception pre-Longest Day (the next novel I'll be reading… eventually), but he's not so much interested in characterization as he is in building a Moore/Gaiman/Morrison comic book style Mythos, with all sorts of new Time Lord spin-offs. And seeing as the EDAs are a multi-author line without a strong editorial center, that was never going to work.

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  6. David Anderson
    January 4, 2013 @ 9:42 am

    I'm inclined to think that Peter's Doctor is less defined than Colin's, for all that Davison is the better actor and the basic approach has more potential. On the Song of Megaptera commentary, Mills says that Saward described Peter's Doctor to him as more of an action hero than Tom's. This suggests that the script editor was: a) not trying for a Doctor who nudges things from the sidelines, and; b) disconnected from what everyone else was doing. Basically that there was the same lack of editorial direction that you describe for the BBC books.
    Colin's Doctor is more clearly defined. You could easily do a caricature of Colin's Doctor. The problem was that too many of the writing team were incapable of anything else.

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  7. Galadriel
    January 4, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    Exactly! The human element feels off. That's one reason I've skipped ahead to Shadows of Avalon, where the inclusion of the Brig really brings characters to the forefront.

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  8. Alan
    January 4, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    I just had an epiphany about why the Fifth Doctor was so weak: because Peter Davison allowed him to be! Kinda would have NEVER worked with Baker the way it did with Davison because Baker would have never tolerated being held prisoner by a single lunatic and his two zombified lackeys for a whole episode. Hell, he'd have never put up with the old woman calling him "idiot" for the whole story. Davison, OTOH, was willing to mine the possibilities of a Doctor capable of being humbled, with the end result that he came off looking weak in comparison to the Doctor who was NEVER humbled by anything.

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  9. Adam Riggio
    January 4, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

    It was immensely difficult for many fans to appreciate Peter Davison's Doctor in his time, and clearly this continues today. It was a characterization by one of the most talented actors to play the role, which was crafted with far more subtlety than Tom Baker can ever be capable, exploring possibilities for the character (humility, frailty, the possibility of making mistakes) that had simply not been live options on Doctor Who for twelve years(!). Combine this with a creative staff that was first disunified and then just not up to snuff, and you have a Doctor whose greatness exists almost entirely in potential. And the potential is never as obvious as the kinetic.

    But I want to move beyond Tommy's taking every tiniest opportunity to eviscerate mercilessly every aspect of Peter Davison's performance and era, as this is actually a blog post about an Eighth Doctor novel, and what can be developed from (and for) Paul McGann's performance as the Doctor. I think Phil charts very well the basic ethical idea of the Eighth Doctor as a man giddily in love with the details of life, no matter where they can be found. One could call him the ADHD Doctor: so much of the world matters to him that it becomes near-impossible for him to set priorities. Everything from the cosmic to the mundane matters to him because for him, scale is not a legitimate means of ranking the importance of phenomena.

    Expressed this way, one can see how the ethical core of the Eighth Doctor may have influenced heavily the approaches of Davies and Moffat in the new series. In all his years of travelling, their Doctors understand that he has never met anyone, no matter the scale of their direct and indirect actions, who wasn't important. It makes for a profound, demanding, and fascinating ethic.

    The problem with the Eighth Doctor is that it takes so very long for this seed of potential to develop out of the merest tendency as it existed in McGann's delivery of a single line.

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  10. J. L. Webb
    January 4, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

    Personally I felt Paul Leonard did a fine job writing characters about whom one cares (although better with the more minor parts, certainly his use of Jo left something to be desired).

    I hope you enjoy Longest Day, but it felt mediocre and drawn out to me, though there were moments of charm.

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  11. Steven Clubb
    January 4, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

    Genocide came so very close for me. I wish more time had been spent with the good alien guy just to make his decision a bit more heart-wrenching. This is someone asked to give up everything and I'd rather have spent much more time with him and his family than trying to make us care for the various soon-to-be corpses that made up most of the supporting cast. You could remove at least four major characters (including Jo Grant) and not lose anything.

    So far, it's the story I most wish they'd adapt into an Eighth Doctor audio because the right actor in the role of the alien and it would be amazing.

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  12. Ununnilium
    January 4, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

    Which, IMHO, was more than worth exploring.

    (Of course, it didn't help that this came at the exact same time as a script editor who was less interested in the Doctor than in traditional action heroes…)

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  13. Ununnilium
    January 4, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    It's interesting because it takes the equivalence of the mundane and the cosmic to its most extreme form.

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  14. Tommy
    January 4, 2013 @ 10:23 pm

    Alan, I'm beginning to think Kinda is really where the character loses any sense of the alien intelligence he used to have. He is written as unsure and clueless, and likely to stop himself mid sentence out of crippling self-awareness. I've tried thinking that S19 is Davison's most effective showing, and that if not for the later seasons tainting him I'd think of him as a far better Doctor, and I've even tried thinking that maybe Davison only comes off as 'too human' in Kinda because what surrounds him is so much more alien. But no, it just isn't there. And frankly I think far too many fans for too long have been mistaking his limited characterisation for 'subtlety' or 'integrity'.

    I don't think it was Davison's fault per se, but the fact is he was cast specifically because he was the good boy actor who did as he was told, to avoid the problem of Tom Baker. And even that would be fine if the production team had a clear, consistent idea of what this character should be. But as the Come In Number Five feature on the Resurrection rerelease, revealed, we had a producer who for all he made the occasional crippling gestures of maintaining his authority and creative interference, he was actually far more negligent than anything (actually I came away thinking JNT wasn't the main villain of the piece after all), Eric didn't think much of the scripts he was getting, or the character of the Doctor (he particularly disliked Kinda).

    So Davison just did what he was told to do, but no-one seemed to have a solid idea of how to get the best from him. It's notable that his best performances tend to be when a really good actor's director like Harper or Cumming is directing him, and that elsewhere, under lesser directors his performance just comes off as overearnest, directionless bluster or prone to only coming alive in fits and starts.

    Most of what was decided, just came off as JNT's fan propaganda and desire to say that this was the same show, but different enough. And partly why certain companion characters were only introduced to tick certain boxes or fulfill certain trademarks. And that propaganda was all surface, all without soul or insight, and rendered the Fifth Doctor a puppet rather than a character, and saw some stories like Kinda and Warriors of the Deep, degenerate into preachy lectures, or obnoxious Levine-esque propaganda and cease even being a story.

    I used to think if Doctor Who had been axed right after Davison's first season, then we'd have something more with his character than we did, and possibly enough to launch something of a 15 years before its time version of the EDA book range. But I'm slowly coming to the sad realization that Davison's Doctor could only retain a sense of Doctorishness if his era pretty much ended right where it began on Castrovalva.

    Or maybe if Bidmead had stayed on.

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  15. Tommy
    January 4, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

    "It was a characterization by one of the most talented actors to play the role, which was crafted with far more subtlety than Tom Baker can ever be capable, exploring possibilities for the character (humility, frailty, the possibility of making mistakes) that had simply not been live options on Doctor Who for twelve years(!)."

    Just to address your last part of this-

    Twelve years? Surely Genesis of the Daleks and Horror of Fang Rock weren't that old at the time, and they're both stories where the Doctor effectively loses, conveying a very palpable air of danger and uncertainty about whether he may win or lose each next time. It was done not long before Davison, and it was done better. And whilst Logopolis shouldn't count since it's so close to the Davison era it almost is a Davison story, it's still where Tom is arguably at his most frail and most prone to making mistakes.

    "I think Phil charts very well the basic ethical idea of the Eighth Doctor as a man giddily in love with the details of life, no matter where they can be found. One could call him the ADHD Doctor: so much of the world matters to him that it becomes near-impossible for him to set priorities. Everything from the cosmic to the mundane matters to him because for him, scale is not a legitimate means of ranking the importance of phenomena."

    I have to say, whilst I've not really read the EDA's, I have actually come to regard Paul McGann as my favourite Doctor on the strength of his audios, and for that very reason. That open-eyed quality to him that reminds you of a time circa City of Death, before the franchise became so insular and so removed from a sense of joy de vie.

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  16. Tommy
    January 4, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

    I'm also thinking the problem is that in Kinda, the fact he's portrayed as too human, is actually something I could almost say with faint praise for a character who was supposed to be more 'relateable' and 'human' and yet elsewhere in his era he was so badly, irrationally written that it was impossible to be anywhere near on the same page as him. By comparison, having him seem 'too human' almost seems as good as he got, prior to Holmes' intervention.

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  17. Ross
    January 5, 2013 @ 6:48 am

    @Tommy: "Alan, I'm beginning to think Kinda is really where the character loses any sense of the alien intelligence he used to have." Really?

    Through most of Kinda, it's very clear that the Doctor knows far more than he's telling, and is just letting people treat him like an idiot — though unlike Troughton (or even occasionally Baker), he's not doing it so that they'll underestimate him, but rather out of genuine humility.

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  18. Tommy
    January 5, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

    I don't get that sense at all. In a story that feels like a lecture, it's pretty much the Doctor who has to be lectured, with a projection of what the Mara is and what apocalypse it will wreak. Any insight he gets is all second hand.

    And even when other characters are describing him as an 'idiot', it characterizes him as such, and so the need becomes greater for him to counteract that by doing something impressive. Something that subverts the term 'idiot' into the same kind of dramatic irony as, well all the characters in Othello who spoke well of 'honest Iago'.

    It doesn't happen, either in this story (where a key problem is that his assessment of the Mara as 'evil' comes off as rather simplistic, and that when he's talking of where the Mara will go when it is banished, it comes off like he doesn't have any real idea at all) or a large chunk of his others, And by his final season where he's setting off military sea base nuclear reactors, he's clearly no longer playing the fool, he just is a fool for real, and as such, as one DWRG commentator put it:

    "He was called an 'idiot' by other characters (and pretty nearly all of his companions) and he did precious little to convince us that he was not. He never seemed to have a clue as to what was going on, until right before the climax? And then he understood everything, perfectly, or so it seemed. He would say 'this is what happened' or 'that is what happened' and all one could do was nod one's head, providing one wasn't already nodding in sleep."

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  19. Nick Smale
    January 6, 2013 @ 2:31 am

    Kramer was first introduced in Jon Blum's fan video "Time Rift", of which "Vampire Science" is a loose sequel. Having seen the video first, her scenes in the book developed a weirdly am-dram quality in my minds eye…

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  20. Russell Gillenwater
    January 6, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

    Great article and it makes me more sure that I should have read The Dying Days before The Vampire Science (I also felt this in 1998). I was on the fence about Vampire Science when I read it because I was still struggling to except the Eighth Doctor. In fact The Vampire Science made me long for the days of the Virgin NAs. When I read the Dying Days (it was the next book I read after Vampire Science)

    I think the POV characters of Benny and The Brigadier both allowed me to gain experience of the new Doctor through I was familiar with. It also didn't help that in the first two EDAs Sam Jones was the POV character. While I have this feeling about Orman & Blum's work, nothing could save The Eight Doctors.

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  21. Arkadin
    January 6, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

    Another key aspect to Eight that this novel digs into is his attitude toward war and violence. The other distinctive moment for Eight in the TVM is when, in a confrontation with a cop, he grabs a gun and threatens to shoot himself in the head. It's a moment that shows the potential of the TVM's genre, how the Doctor's presence could have turned the tropes of American cult TV inside out.

    Vampire Science takes this potential and runs with it. It drops the Doctor into an American cult tv urban fantasy setup, resembling Forever Knight and other such shows–the book reads like it's filmed in Vancouver. And then the Doctor steps in and disrupts everything. He tries to find a way to redeem the vampires, and the whole thing turns out to have the same plot template as the Silurians or the later Hungry Earth. Personally, I like this book the best, because as a novel it gets much more deeply into the different characters' viewpoints and makes all the different characters' viewpoints understandable and justifiable–Shackle's cynical weariness, born from a Joanna Harris's combination of ruthless pragmatism and love of intellectual pursuits and her desire to escape the typical vampire life, Slake's overdramatic posturing which masks a sense of helplessness and doubt.

    The moral dilemmas the Doctor faces in this book are not only poignant but uncannily prescient. The whole shape of the Eighth Doctor era is unusual–it's really more like the absence of an era, defined by extra-canonical stories and by what we know from later Doctor Who. From this perspective, Eight becomes a potentially fascinating character. Because this Doctor, the kindest and most human of them all, will be the one who commits genocide on an unimaginable scale.

    Similarly, Orman and Blum extrapolate from the moment mentioned above and from Eight's general attitude and position him as "Life's Champion." In the end, he can't entirely escape the violence he's been caught in, orchestrating a mass vampire slaying. But he does save the life and soul of one of them. Joanna Harris is a sort of mirror of the Doctor, questioning the vampire "life" in the same way the Doctor did that of the Time Lords. And she becomes the lone survivor, doomed to humanity, the Ishmael who survives the wreck of her people, just as the Doctor will one day be.

    In one of those striking cross-fandom resonances, this book's conception of "Life" is similar to that of the highly complex, bizarre, mercurial webcomic Homestuck. (I'll have a LOT more to say about Homestuck when we get into the Moffat era, with regard to the medium awareness that's endemic to our current moment in pop culture and is powerfully distilled in both works.) Players in Sburb, the cosmic game that underlies Homestuck, each have a particular conceptual aspect associated with them. The Life aspect is associated with breaking rules and finding unusual solutions. But players can also invert aspects, much like the Endless in Sandman, who embody their own opposites. The opposite of Life is Doom, which represents restriction and inevitability. We'll see what that looks like for Eight when we get to Alien Bodies.

    This opposition helps us understand why Eight's character took the shape he did. Doom was definitely in the air for Doctor Who at the time. It seemed like the hour of midnight had finally been struck and the TARDIS would turn back into a police box. Some, like Miles, would try to explore what that Doom means for Doctor Who, while others would seek to recover Life.

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  22. Arkadin
    January 6, 2013 @ 8:24 pm

    One of my favorite moments from this book:

    The Doctor stopped short. ‘I’ve seen Slake and the others now. They don’t deserve to be kept alive. Not at the cost of others’ suffering and death.’

    Sam’s mouth fell open. ‘Isn’t that my line?’

    ‘Of course. You were right.’

    Sam blinked. And this after he’d almost had her convinced! ‘But what about all that stuff you were saying, about everyone having the right to live –’

    ‘Oh, that’s right as well.’

    ‘But they completely contradict each other,’ put in Harris.

    The Doctor half smiled. ‘You’re right too. Now all you need to do is figure out how we can all be right at the same time, then you’ll have it.’

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  23. Ununnilium
    January 6, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

    Now that's my Doctor.

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    September 24, 2019 @ 12:43 am

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