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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.

39 Comments

  1. SpaceSquid
    November 14, 2012 @ 1:24 am

    I had a look round East Anglia Uni back in the late '90s whilst deciding on my UCAS choices. "Grotesquely brutalist" seems overly charitable. I ruled out an application almost instantly upon seeing the student accommodation, judging it too depressing to walk through sober and too dangerous to stumble about drunk.

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  2. Tommy
    November 14, 2012 @ 2:05 am

    "Downtime is, by necessity, an almost entirely backward looking piece, seeking to cash in on fan pseudo-nostalgia for The Web of Fear and The Abominable Snowmen."

    I'm still not convinced that being backaward looking is in any way a bad thing in and of itself, beyond some vague post-Season 22 cancellation crisis fannish self-loathing. The Five Doctors and Remembrance of the Daleks were both backward looking and they were among the better stories of the decade.

    And I have a horrible feeling that 'forward looking' is going to become the default excuse to defend RTD throwing the Brigadier under the bus.

    "The writing is loose – Nicholas Briggs has many talents, but writing is not the foremost of them"

    I can't take that point seriously. Creatures of Beauty, Dalek Empire and Lucie Miller/To The Death I'd say all rank among the best written Big Finish audios in terms of plotting, dialogue, characterisation, themes and world-building.

    "there’s a large, even dominant bloc of Doctor Who fans who want the past, straight up, and with no alteration. (There still are – a brief perusal of Doctor Who forums will find no shortage of people who genuinely believe the new series would be better and perhaps even more popular if they were just recycling old 80s scripts and production values.)"

    Those fans might have gone with the 2005 revival and all the revisions and changes in approach, if it were actually worth their while. But by and large, in the main it wasn't. It was unrewardingly philistine, cheap, sloppy, insular, vulgar and devoid of any maturity or sincerity, or any actual good will towards the audience's intelligence or imagination.

    I see no reason to be snobbish about the idea that a few ahead of their time gems of the 80's amidst the dreck could be looked on as a workable modern model for the show's revival. And yes, given the clueless nature of the JNT production team, some of the best stories of the 80's were actually the ones they never made, such as The Nightmare Fair, Paradise 5, Point of Entry, The Elite. Any one of them has to be prefferable to nonsensical drivel like Last of the Time Lords.

    The 'it'd be more popular this way' angle might seem odd in the context of the show's popular success, but the fact is the glimpses of stories like Dalek and The Unquiet Dead with the more classic series appeal, were the better written stories, and were the reason many fans didn't turn off. If not for those stories then I think RTD's obnoxious and desperate style and love of shock for shock's sake would have been enough to put them off, and we could say goodbye to some portion of the ratings then.

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  3. Tommy
    November 14, 2012 @ 2:27 am

    In terms of the clean slate of the RTD era, I just find that much like the JNT run, for every step forward there were several steps back. Having seen Rose's domestic family life the show had every reason to move on but it just kept going back over it again and again like a stuck record, and seemed cripplingly uninterested in visiting new worlds and imaginative concepts anymore. I don't think the show was moving forward at all under RTD.

    Margaret Slitheen's speech to the Doctor about "you daren't look back" was not only a relapse to Trial of a Time Lord, it was reepeated word for word by Davros in Journey's End. Frankly by The End of Time it was clear that if we'd seen one spectacle-obsessed finale we'd seen them all, and indeed had seen the same old drivel every five years.

    One of the things that really felt like it was dragging the 80's backwards was the repeated rehashes of the Doctor-Master rivalry. When RTD brought the Master back, it really felt like the show had learned nothing in the Wilderness years.

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  4. Nick Smale
    November 14, 2012 @ 2:32 am

    I watched a number of these not-quite-Doctor videos in the 90s – "The Stranger and Miss Brown", "Shakedown", that thing with Sylvester McCoy as "the Chiropodist" – and found them all pretty unengaging.

    Oddly the things I enjoyed most were the fan videos; Jon Blum's "Time Rift" (of which "Vampire Science" was a loose sequel), Simon Wellings' Cybermen two-parter "Cold Blood, Warm Heart", the Rupert Booth/Timebase Productions series. Home video quality production, am-dram quality acting, but created with such passion that you can't help but be won over.

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  5. Ross
    November 14, 2012 @ 3:27 am

    I gobbled these up as best I could back in the day. I was still in my teens and heavily restricted in what I could get imported, but hey, it was new Who-like material.

    Airzone was one of the ones I had, and it was really striking to me the extent to which the plot hinged on the fact that "All these unrelated characters have a magical bond between them which seems to be baseed on nothing more than that the actors playing them are all people who once played the title role in a different show," which almost rendered the entire thing into an in-joke (I was eventually able to get past it by mentally inverting the relationship, and declaring that the quasi-mystical link between the characters was pre-existing, and that casting former Doctors to play the characters was a visual metaphor for the connection rather than the cause of it). (Also, not having watched the credits since the 90s, I am surprised to realize for the first time that "Guy who kinda looks like Alan Cumming" was in fact Alan Cumming.)

    Of the ones I saw, my personal feeling is that 'Shakedown' was the closest to being an actual original and independent story set in the Doctor Who universe, rather than "Trying to be Doctor Who with the serial numbers filed off". It was a fairly thin story, but it still felt like a complete story, rather than a pastiche of continuity references and in-jokes arranged in approximation of a story.

    Years later I watched some more of The Stranger and I was really surprised how they eventually took the character in a very different direction. By the end, they'd made it very clear that The Stranger wasn't just a proxy for The Doctor. That realy surprised me given that 'Summoned By Shadows' seemed very clearly meant to be some kind of "Elseworlds" Doctor Who story where the sixth doctor had made good on his plan to become a hermit.

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  6. goatie
    November 14, 2012 @ 5:02 am

    There's a paragraph in your post that cuts off abruptly, which I find makes it all the more exciting:

    "…the decision to have an overt romantic plot between Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker is so blatantly an attempt to be shocking as to"

    As to WHAT?!! Oh, Philip, be it by design or accident, you've rendered the shock in words (or lack thereof). Bravo.

    Also, to second Tommy's comment about Nicholas Briggs – I'm halfway through his new audio, "Dark Eyes," and I am rather impressed by how the story is put together so far. I'll readily agree that he wasn't all that great a writer 20 years ago, but he's definitely grown in his craft. Your statement still stands – writing is not his foremost talent – but he's narrowing the gap.

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  7. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    November 14, 2012 @ 5:32 am

    The inclusion of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in "The Power of Three" means that "Downtime" is canon now, y'know… 😉

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  8. Ross
    November 14, 2012 @ 5:52 am

    I think the depiction of Kate Stewart in 'The Power of Three' is so radically different from Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in "Downtime" that it actually does exactly the opposite: it outright rejects the previous similarly-named character. (I mean, unless Kate is part Time Lord thanks to a freaky three-way in the Pertwee era. But that's far too horiffic to imagine)

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  9. jane
    November 14, 2012 @ 5:56 am

    So blatantly an attempt to be shocking as to render Phil speechless…

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  10. jane
    November 14, 2012 @ 6:08 am

    Remembrance isn't a backward-looking story in the sense Phil has used on this blog. It's doing many radically new things — the Doctor as master manipulator, the interiority of Ace, a Dalek civil war. It's going so far as to "rewrite" the history of the Doctor — and Doctor Who — rather than indulging in slavish homage. (The Five Doctors, otoh, is almost entirely backwards looking, which is fine for a 20th Anniversary special, but I wouldn't want entire seasons of it — every twenty five years or so is more than enough.)

    And really, in the most widely lauded eras of the Classic series, the show was forward looking, going in a new direction, trying new things. It was Doctor Who doing Hammer Horror, or playing with history, or exploring the boundaries of Fiction itself.

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  11. Tommy
    November 14, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    "the Doctor as master manipulator, the interiority of Ace, a Dalek civil war."

    Yes but aren't two of those things a throwback to Evil of the Daleks? For that matter, isn't much of the McCoy era just the Troughton era in a shiny new politically correct package?

    "It's going so far as to "rewrite" the history of the Doctor — and Doctor Who — rather than indulging in slavish homage"

    I still think a lot of the teasing revisionism of the McCoy era doesn't ring quite true, mainly because Lungbarrow was the missing piece of the era, the piece of the mystery that makes sense of it all, and it didn't get to screen.

    "The Five Doctors, otoh, is almost entirely backwards looking, which is fine for a 20th Anniversary special, but I wouldn't want entire seasons of it — every twenty five years or so is more than enough"

    Well I don't disagree with that, but I think there's nothing wrong with using an approach like that as a starting point of discovery for the series, so I don't subscribe to the assertion that a 90's Doctor Who on TV would be dead on arrival. Infact I've found both Remembrance of the Daleks and The Five Doctors to be a good way of introducing non-fans to the show.

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  12. peeeeeeet
    November 14, 2012 @ 6:53 am

    I think the love-making montage is enough to render anyone speechless… that said, I think Airzone is Nicola Bryant's finest hour – she sells her somewhat unlikely role effortlessly well.

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  13. Henry R. Kujawa
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:11 am

    I completely agree with the comments about "DOWNTIME" (I've seen it twice, and it's almost completely incoherent), "THE AIRZONE SOLUTION" (vague, somewhat disturbing story where the background of the main characters is not explained fully), "THE STRANGER" (my favorite episode is probably the 2nd one, the one with Sophie Aldred), and of course, "SHAKEDOWN" (the single most "coherent" of these spin-offs– yes, Terrence Dicks DOES know what the hell he's doing).

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  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:20 am

    "Yes but aren't two of those things a throwback to Evil of the Daleks? For that matter, isn't much of the McCoy era just the Troughton era in a shiny new politically correct package?"

    They have precedent, certainly, but there's nothing ostentatiously saying "look at me, I'm an Evil of the Daleks" reference in Remembrance. Nor could there really be, because in 1988 Evil of the Daleks had an entirely folkloric existence – no novelization, no audio release, no video release of the surviving episode.

    As for McCoy as Troughton redux, I think it's a bit of a stretch. Certainly it's a break from the received wisdom of what the Troughton era is.

    "I still think a lot of the teasing revisionism of the McCoy era doesn't ring quite true, mainly because Lungbarrow was the missing piece of the era, the piece of the mystery that makes sense of it all, and it didn't get to screen."

    But it wasn't. It was Marc Platt's fan theory that was explicitly rejected. Andrew Cartmel, for his part, had no intended answer to the mysteries.

    "I don't subscribe to the assertion that a 90's Doctor Who on TV would be dead on arrival."

    But it was. It happened, and it was.

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  15. Ununnilium
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:27 am

    Something I've noticed: You've said many times that cult television is for middle-class white men, that fandom is mainly populated by middle-class white men, and that's just not true – indeed, it's based on a flagrant bit of erasure. During the period you've been talking about, the "middle-class" part has been mostly true, but people of color and especially women have always been a large but mostly ignored sector of fandom. Yes, white dudes have generally gotten the most attention, both because of "NO GURLZ ALLOWED" attitudes and because of popular narratives that focus on "Look on what these WACKY adult men are doing! WACKY!", but the common perception is basically a complete lie.

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  16. Jesse
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:33 am

    I saw Downtime for the first time recently. There's a primitive surrealism to the dream sequences that I liked — the kind of archaic-future aura that comes as much from the old-school video effects as it does from the director's deliberate decisions.

    But other than that and Courtney, it's pretty awful.

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  17. Jesse
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    By the way: Will the PROBE series get an entry, or will this be it for the direct-to-video stuff? Might be worth a discussion just for the early look at Gatiss.

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  18. Ross
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:39 am

    That's a good point. One thing I haven't thought about much in years is that during my "prime" phase of childhood Doctor Who fandom, around 1987-1992, I was part of a tiny little clique of Doctor Who fans which consisted of three girls and me. It wasn't until a few years afterward that I met any male Doctor Who fans in my own age group. (This is the period my dad refers to as "When I was always afraid of getting arrested for trekking out to conventions in the city with a pack of preteen girls.")

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  19. Jesse
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:47 am

    People in fan studies always say that Star Trek fandom in particular and "media fandom" in general were pioneered by women. (See Francesca Coppa's comment here, for example: "This is one of the funniest things about fan culture. Everybody assumes they're all adolescent boys, and in fact it tends to be women 25 and up.") I don't know whether that's less true of Doctor Who fandom (or if the pattern is different in the US and UK).

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  20. Nick Smale
    November 14, 2012 @ 7:53 am

    But it was. It happened, and it was.

    The TVM was dead on arrival in the US, but in the UK it got massive ratings. If the decision had been the BBC's instead of Fox's, it would have gone to series.

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  21. Ununnilium
    November 14, 2012 @ 8:07 am

    "I was eventually able to get past it by mentally inverting the relationship, and declaring that the quasi-mystical link between the characters was pre-existing, and that casting former Doctors to play the characters was a visual metaphor for the connection rather than the cause of it"

    That'd be a pretty awesome thing to actually pit in a story on TV sometime.

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  22. Ross
    November 14, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    It should be pointed out that, despite conventional wisdom that the TVM was an utter failure in the US, its actual ratings were pretty much middle-of-the-road. Up against a "very special episode" of one of the highest-rated series of the time, and it managed to do pretty much the same as the highest-rated first-run syndicated science fiction shows. The main reason it was considered a "failure" was that Fox had put a lot of faith in the TVM and was expecting a big break-out success, which it didn't get, just a respectable "also-ran". They were shooting for The X-Files and got Babylon 5.

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  23. Tommy
    November 14, 2012 @ 8:22 am

    "But it wasn't. It was Marc Platt's fan theory that was explicitly rejected. Andrew Cartmel, for his part, had no intended answer to the mysteries."

    I am aware of that. However the McCoy era on TV as it is, rather stands as one where there's no escaping the truth that the emperor has no clothes. Marc Platt's fan theory wasn't in synch with what was intended which was to hint at a secret that didn't really exist, but it was for my money big enough to fill the void, and expansive enough to still keep the questions and speculations going, but this time over something substantial.

    As a fan theory of the author's alone, it wasn't part of an agreed masterplan or series bible, it was simply one of those spontaneously inspired ideas that just happened to fit the way everything else on TV was going in a kind of creative astrological allignment way, as often happens in TV and cinema. Unfortunately the makers thought differently, so it never got the chance on screen.

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  24. Ross
    November 14, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    I can think of a few examples of something close, where two actors who've worked together in the past are cast together in order to communicate either that the two have an existing relationship or a natural rapport (The most famous one I can think of is Michael J. Fox's last episode of 'Spin City' where they cast Michael Gross as his therapist), but those cases it's usually played as a joke. You could also consider cases where real-life family members are cast as people who aren't biologically related, in order to establish a familial rapport.

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  25. Tommy
    November 14, 2012 @ 9:04 am

    Actually I feel I should qualify the 'emperor has no clothes' assertion.

    Remembrance of the Daleks is where it starts in terms of remoulding the Doctor back into a manipulative figure. What we get in terms of Gallifreyan history in terms of the Hand of Omega is very much in keeping with what we were told in The Three Doctors, and as such feels as inevitable and organic a development as say the call and response from the Doctor's speech in The War Games, to the entire plot of Genesis of the Daleks.

    How the First Doctor set up this trap for the Daleks before he even knew of their existence, or how the Doctor could possibly have known and worked with Omega, raises questions however, but the story is more than solid enough to work with that ambiguity surrounding it.

    Greatest Show in the Galaxy, likewise operates enough on its own rules to work. Battlefield wisely makes its mystery about the Doctor's future rather than his past, and Curse of Fenric, I'd say is intricate enough to work in the backstory of the Doctor's long feud with 'evil itself' and make it feel properly threaded.

    Silver Nemesis however is the black sheep, in which the plotting is sloppy and the mystery baiting is out of control, and too many questions are raised about why the Doctor has never used this superweapon before. I think when it gets this out of control there's more of a need for something to pin it all on. This is why I think rejecting Lungbarrow was a mistake because it could have been the pin that that particular story needed.

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  26. elvwood
    November 14, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    Downtime is the only one of these videos I've actually seen. How could I resist? It had Victoria (along with Jamie my first companion), and the yeti – possibly the first monsters I ever saw on the show (though it might have been the ice warriors, can't quite remember if I saw their first appearance). I longed for the yeti's return all through Jon Pertwee's time on the show.

    And then it turned out to treat Victoria as totally useless. The production could have been the best thing since sliced bread and I would still have hated it, but it wasn't. Pretty much all that was good about it is what Jesse says.

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  27. BerserkRL
    November 14, 2012 @ 11:33 am

    East Anglia University? Looks like a good place to shoot a remake of "The Aztecs" to me: http://seeker401.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/university-of-east-anglia-n.jpg

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  28. Iain Coleman
    November 14, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    The pattern is somewhat different in the UK compared to the US. Certainly Tat Wood is quite adamant that UK Doctor Who fandom owed more to football and punk rock fanzine culture than to the slash fiction based fandoms of the US. I think it's a bit more complicated than Wood makes out: certainly Blake's 7 fandom in the UK was largely female, slash-dominated, and generally patterned along the lines of US Trek fandom. However, when we're talking specifically about Doctor Who, that fandom was certainly more male dominated, and in particular more gay male dominated, than any US sci-fi fandom that I'm aware of.

    Basically, where a US-style fandom in 1985 would have been all about fan art of Colin Baker suffering prettily, UK fandom was about mocking Colin Baker for the untimely loss of his child to cot death. Decide for yourself which is better.

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  29. Iain Coleman
    November 14, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

    Short version: people in fan studies say that because they're American.

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  30. Ununnilium
    November 15, 2012 @ 5:01 am

    I see! Interesting. I note that he has sometimes stated it as a generalization that points to US fandom/internet fandom in general, but in this case, it doesn't really affect his point here either way – certainly, affluent white males are more likely to make TV overall.

    (And yeah, I think I know which of those is better. x.x)

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  31. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 15, 2012 @ 5:27 am

    And more to the point, people in fan studies say that because that's more interesting, and there's a heavy reporting bias in the humanities towards claims that are not merely well-supported by the evidence but are novel. So the slash fiction scene in the US was reported on in disproportion to its size, although equally, reporting on it did wonders for its size, as did the Internet. That's not to say it wasn't a thing, and a very interesting thing. But in this case, when characterizing the size and composition of an audience, I trust the soulless marketing suits, who have no incentive to get an interesting answer, merely a profitable one.

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  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 15, 2012 @ 5:28 am

    My current policy on Gatiss is that the prospect of the six televised Gatiss stories I'm going to have to deal with is already daunting and that I do not want to add more. I'll probably do League of Gentlemen because people will complain if I don't, but PROBE will be for the book if ever.

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  33. Jesse
    November 15, 2012 @ 5:53 am

    The fan studies claim isn't just about slashers, though.

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  34. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 15, 2012 @ 6:19 am

    Still, female fandom is pretty clearly the more man-bites-dog angle of the two. Especially female fandom doing transformative works – the vidding link you posted above, for instance. Which is not me saying that female fandom isn't absolutely huge and influential – I started setting up their day in the sun back with Left-Handed Hummingbird, and the inevitable Buffy Pop Between Realities is going to hinge on that.

    But my experience and the way in which sci-fi media is marketed both suggest that numerically speaking younger middle class white men are the numerically primary fan audience.

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  35. Ununnilium
    November 15, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    Except that the soulless marketing suits have every reason to focus on the Males Eighteen To Twenty-Four Demographic(tm) to the exclusion of others. (Because, after all, since they spend the most money, that means nobody else's money is worth pursuing. Blech.)

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  36. Daibhid C
    November 15, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    To me "fandom" means something other than just a collection of all the people who like something, it implies a degree of collective consciousness, to the extent that one can refer to "fan opinion" and suchlike. While I've been a Doctor Who fan all my life, there was a long period where I felt like I wasn't part of "fandom" because I liked Sylvester McCoy (thanks for that, rec.arts.drwho).

    So I can well believe that Doctor Who "fandom" would continue to be male-dominated, even while female Doctor Who fans were on the rise. Not least because the males already in the fandom would try to exclude them, but possibly not just because of that.

    To take an example I'm probably more equipped to pontificate on, I've been in Terry Pratchett signing queues, and know the books are read by people of all colours and creeds – indeed at the last Discworld Convention Sir Terry told us he'd just learnt he was big in Botswana. But I also noticed that at the same convention, the vast majority of the attendees were white. Apparently, while non-white people read the books, they largely seem to feel that conventions aren't really for them – they're fans, but they're not part of "the fandom". I don't believe anyone on the "inside" has tried to exclude them; it's just a thing that's happened. (Discworld fandom, however, is certainly about 50% female. Maybe more.)

    (And yes, there's also a large amount of white Pratchett readers who wouldn't think of going to a convention, but the point is the ones who do are mostly white.)

    Taking this a step further, I can imagine a series, especially one with as many facets as Doctor Who, ending up with multiple fandoms, which is probably bringing us back to "frock vs gun" and "rad vs trad"…

    I may have had a point when I started this, but if so I've lost track of it.

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  37. Ununnilium
    November 15, 2012 @ 11:58 am

    That's a good point. That said, organized science fiction in the US, at least, has at least since Star Trek had a strong female component. (Not sure about non-white.)

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  38. Terrence Flendersen
    January 21, 2013 @ 10:07 am

    If not for those stories then I think RTD's obnoxious and desperate style and love of shock for shock's sake would have been enough to put them off, and we could say goodbye to some portion of the ratings then. chiropodists

    Reply

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