Eruditorum Press

Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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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.

34 Comments

  1. SpaceSquid
    January 10, 2014 @ 2:05 am

    …but even this makes little sense given that a constellation doesn’t define a region of space.

    Of course it does; any planet circling a star within a constellation is "in" that constellation. Much as Los Angles is in a blue state, despite their being no conceivable absolute spatial definition of the term. All one needs is a common frame of reference.

    And I quite like the ludicrous idea that at some point the various species of the galaxy decided the best way to group star systems was via some kind of shared central point and some form of mutually agreed aesthetic sense. It doesn't do enough to just say "it's in Kastaborous, mate", sure, but then neither does it do enough for me to tell people my home town is some way north of where I live now, but oftentimes that information seems to be sufficient.

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  2. Charles Knight
    January 10, 2014 @ 3:09 am

    Just as an aside, since I'm an infrequent reader of this blog (being reading the books), the article is a little confusing as it's completely unclear what show you are discussing right until the end of the article.

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  3. IG
    January 10, 2014 @ 4:10 am

    AIUI this was actually intended to be a direct sequel to Masque of Mandragora, but references to the villain being the Mandragora Helix making a return attempt were removed at some point in the scripting process.

    Also, surely it's Pyramids of Mars that first mentions Kasterberous? So perhaps the constellation was named by the Osirians…

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  4. Abigail Brady
    January 10, 2014 @ 4:45 am

    Maybe Kasterberous is the constellation Gallifrey is in when seen from the original homeworld of the Time Lords?

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  5. David Ainsworth
    January 10, 2014 @ 5:02 am

    Unlikely, given that Sutekh immediately asks for coordinates from galactic zero center. Bob Holmes always seemed vague about this kind of terminology. I've read accounts trying to reinterpret Kasterberous as the system. Or, given that Sutekh doesn't ask which galaxy he's getting coordinates from the center of, it could mean "galaxy" in this context.

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  6. jane
    January 10, 2014 @ 5:27 am

    I think Phil's point is that "constellations" in the sense of astrology are defined from an external point of view — "constellation" wouldn't be a "natural" grouping of stars but rather an arbitrary one. It's like saying Mars is in Virgo — it's only perceptually "in" that constellation.

    Of course, Time Lords have a different perspective than astrologers. I'd image a Time Lord to understand a "constellation" not in the astrological sense, but simply as a grouping of stars that do have some causal relation to each other. Or even, perhaps, metaphorically — that the "society" of Kasterborous shines so brightly it's apt to call it a constellation.

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  7. SpaceSquid
    January 10, 2014 @ 5:40 am

    I think Phil's point is that "constellations" in the sense of astrology are defined from an external point of view — "constellation" wouldn't be a "natural" grouping of stars but rather an arbitrary one. It's like saying Mars is in Virgo — it's only perceptually "in" that constellation.

    I agree entirely that it's an arbitrary grouping, I'm just arguing there are plenty of arbitrary groupings we use here on Earth that are nonetheless perfectly common and understandable descriptors. As I say, you'd need some kind of consensus as to from what specific point to draw constellations, but that seems to throw up interesting questions about interstellar society (well, I'd find them interesting) rather than being proof that the Kastarborous idea can't work.

    Of course, Time Lords have a different perspective than astrologers. I'd image a Time Lord to understand a "constellation" not in the astrological sense, but simply as a grouping of stars that do have some causal relation to each other. Or even, perhaps, metaphorically — that the "society" of Kasterborous shines so brightly it's apt to call it a constellation.

    That might work even better. It seems entirely reasonable that one would want to group stars somehow to allow easy reference (think of how irritating life would be were we forced to give latitude and longditude every time we refer to a location), and that these groupings need a name. Not every work of fiction should feel compelled to go with "sector".

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  8. SpaceSquid
    January 10, 2014 @ 5:41 am

    Did the Time Lords live somewhere pre-Gallifrey? This would be a wonderfully simple resolution if so.

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  9. jane
    January 10, 2014 @ 5:45 am

    There's another view of astrology to consider here — perhaps not apt for this episode of Sarah Jane (which, lamentably, I haven't seen) but for the topic in general. To some astrologers, the stars don't control the events on Earth so much as they reflect them. As above, so below.

    This is still mystical woo, but it's different mystical woo, and perhaps more supportable. First, it's based on a principle that Everything Is Connected, which is shared by more than one philosophy. "Indra's Net" is another metaphor for this principle — the deity Indra has net that hangs over the Centre of the world, made of millions of jewels, and each jewel is reflected in all the other jewels. The concept was expressed in terms of grains of sand in Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist," and Steven Moffat recently used it in the Pandorica.

    The other aspect of astrology that's not entirely woo is that it can be largely co-creative, relying largely on metaphor, story, and the larger patterns of the world. Every person has a birth chart, made of twelve houses, in which lie all the planets. The houses and planets all have their own stories, their own meanings, but those will be unique to every individual. Each of us has Jupiter in our charts, and Jupiter tells a story of expansiveness, of growth. Where that manifests in my life will different than in yours. I can use my chart to construct a story of that principle, as it relates to me, and thus illumine a very abstract thing that is actually a part of me, and only reflected in the planet above.

    Astrology, in other words, is really psychology, a way of tapping into the subconscious mind through a sideways approach — necessarily, because the "conscious" or "willful" approach can't get through (otherwise we'd still be talking about the conscious mind, and not the subconscious). A good astrologer will know all the stories, and will also be a good "cold reader" — someone who can pick up on our own subconscious cues, cues which are otherwise unavailable to us, and help us to create a story that at once reveals what is hidden, as well as creating a sense of union with the larger cosmos.

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  10. jane
    January 10, 2014 @ 5:47 am

    That might work even better. It seems entirely reasonable that one would want to group stars somehow to allow easy reference (think of how irritating life would be were we forced to give latitude and longditude every time we refer to a location), and that these groupings need a name. Not every work of fiction should feel compelled to go with "sector".

    Looking at the current motifs in play for describing "space-time coordinates," they certainly imply a sense of orbits and relationships, of circular systems, not the arbitrary chopping up of a galaxy into a pie, or a grid.

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  11. elvwood
    January 10, 2014 @ 6:52 am

    I read somewhere (on the ever-reliable Internet) that the backstory was changed from Mandragora when it was realised that one of the NSA novels had already dealt with the Helix returning at this particular time – I won't mention the book's name in case anyone wants to avoid being spoiled, but it was an okay-but-nothing-special tenth Doctor one. Personally it wouldn't have bothered me – I've already incorporated two versions thanks to the seventh Doctor DWM story, and a third would have made little difference – but I can see that it is at least plausible.

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  12. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2014 @ 7:06 am

    And so in a story when the astrologer proclaims that a character will die, even if the astrologer is fraudulent, even if astrology is rejected, it carries weight and foreshadowing simply because that is how the alchemy of narrative works. … But in an Aristotelean structure in which everything makes everything else likely or necessary, everything really is causal, and mysticism is true.

    As Aristotle writes in the Poetics: "Such incidents [in tragedy] have the very greatest effect on the mind when they occur unexpectedly and at the same time in consequence of one another; there is more of the marvellous in them then than if they happened of themselves or by mere chance. Even matters of chance seem most marvellous if there is an appearance of design as it were in them; as for instance the statue of Mitys at Argos killed the author of Mitys’ death by falling down on him when a looker-on at a public spectacle; for incidents like that we think to be not without a meaning."

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  13. Anton B
    January 10, 2014 @ 7:17 am

    To some astrologers, the stars don't control the events on Earth so much as they reflect them. As above, so below.

    Indeed. I like to think of astrology as analagous to a clock face. It isn't '5:45' because your watch says so. The position of the numbers and hands of a clock don't determine what time it is, they present an analogue reading of the hour and minutes. In the same way the stars and planets do not determine people's actions or predict the future but present an analogue (using metaphor and myth) of the potential influences they might feel and may suggest a variety of potential outcomes depending on the path taken. Tarot and numerology perform similar functions and are in fact connected by their symbolism and numerical equvalences.

    This strikes me as an eminently useful tool for the Time Lords to use, given their concern with influencing by observation a deterministic multiverse of possibilities. The terminology of constellations as relating to planetary positioning in regard to Gallifrey may then simply be the Doctor referring to some ancient mysticism of his home world. The Sisterhood of Karn's beliefs for instance. As you said jane – The written language we are shown and which is referred to in the narrative as 'Old High Gallifreyan' implies a sense of orbits and relationships, of circular systems.

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  14. Iain Coleman
    January 10, 2014 @ 8:19 am

    This is still mystical woo, but it's different mystical woo, and perhaps more supportable.

    It may be different, but it is no more supportable.

    It's true that "everything is connected". In this context, everything is connected by the gravitational field, as people who study the stars and planets closely found out some centuries ago. The advantage of this particular version of the "everything is connected" principle are that it is amenable to testing, and it has passed every test thus far devised.

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  15. Iain Coleman
    January 10, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    I prefer to imagine that among spacefaring races, the traditional idea of a constellation becomes pretty much useless, and the word is repurposed to apply to gravitationally bound clusters of stars.

    The rather eccentric use of "galaxy" in Doctor Who(and much other sci-fi) is harder to square away.

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  16. Josiah Rowe
    January 10, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    Once again, Google's software that attempts to match ads with audiences based on the presence of keywords fails amusingly:
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v478/josiahrowe/Mobile%20Uploads/image.jpg

    Reply

  17. Froborr
    January 10, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    I'm not sure it's the case either that narrative operates purely at the whim of the author or that narrative is causal (which seems to contradict the previous claim) and reality is not. Rather, narrative follows a different kind of causality than material reality. In material causality, to find the cause of an event you must look to its past, until eventually you get back to event zero (presumably the Big Bang). In narrative causality, events have both diegetic and extradiegetic causes, and to find the diegetic cause you look into the future, until you get to event zero, the end of the story.

    Put another way, in narrative causality, events occur because they will be needed later–the guns are on the mantelpiece in act 2 because they will be fired in act 3.

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  18. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2014 @ 9:46 am

    In material causality, to find the cause of an event you must look to its past

    As a good Aristotelean, I think that in material causality, to find the cause of an event you often have to look to its present.

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  19. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2014 @ 9:47 am

    And of course narrative causality applies to the real world too (as Aristotle likewise saw). The reason guns hang on the wall in the real world is often that they will be needed later.

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  20. Galadriel
    January 10, 2014 @ 10:03 am

    According to the DWM special editions about SJA, the Mandragora Helix was the original villain, but it had to be changed too much to fit the plot.

    Mandragora is also in play in the Sarah Jane audios; season two focuses on a doomsday cult formed by the duke from that episode, but I don't remember if it actually displays power or not.

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  21. encyclops
    January 10, 2014 @ 10:41 am

    The comments here are vastly entertaining, but even if they hadn't been, I'd be glad I read this post. Even though I still haven't seen an episode of SJA (I have yet to get to episode 2 of Torchwood, even), I appreciate you having added the phrase "mystical woo" to my vocabulary.

    Reply

  22. heroesandrivals
    January 10, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

    I'd just like to point out that this episode makes perfect sense if you treat Astrology as a form of DOM manipulation. He's using a set of XPATH-> queries to hook up everyone in the world by their biodata['birth_sign'] attribute and like falls through the crack because that attribute it unset.
    It's no different than the Sykorax's (biodata['blood_type] == 'A+') manipulation. These are messy-grabby set manipulations that use any sort of publicly-accessible attribute to manipulate the subset they define. I'm sure if the seventh Doctor had drawn a set-excluding circle around Sarah's gang they would have been unaffected by it.
    And then of course there is the absolute identifier. biodata['id'], or biodata['true_name'], a handle that grants irresistible, non-exculdable power over the target object. That's why alchemists and occult practitioners must guard their absolute identifiers so carefully.
    doctor->who();
    doctor->who();
    doctor->who();

    UNRELATED: Phil I reccomend you re-read JLA: Rock of Ages before reviewing The Pandorica Opens because Kyle's quest is, IMO, freakishly synchro with that episode. (Joe the Barbarian too, though it's much less so.)

    Reply

  23. ferret
    January 10, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

    Because stars in constellations are generally very distant in relation to one another, this does allow for them to perform one useful, accurate task: triangulation.

    Perhaps if you use all the stars of the constellation of Kasterborous and triangulate them, Gallifrey is within that 3 Dimensional space. It doesn't precisely matter where Kasterborous is 'best' viewed from, so long as the stars that make it up are known.

    I find this appealing, as constellations are 2D phenomena, their downfall being that they are disparately 3D, but between the contradiction a use can be found…

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  24. Matthew Blanchette
    January 10, 2014 @ 10:19 pm

    Didn't James Randi come up with that phrase, as a diminutive of "woo-woo"?

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  25. Matthew Blanchette
    January 10, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

    Funny how you mention the whole "constellation of Kasterborous" thing, Phil, considering Tennant used that phrase for the first time in ages in "Day of the Doctor" not two months ago…

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  26. elvwood
    January 10, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

    One of the surprises for me this episode was Russ Abbot. I knew him as an OTT comedian from the 80s, and came with certain expectations of how he would be. He caught me out once, with a sympathetic performance as Truman in the opening – then again when he didn't convince once Truman became a designed-to-be-OTT figure, where I had imagined he would be more comfortable.

    Anybody else affected by similar baggage? How did his performance seem to people who had no idea who he was?

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  27. J Mairs
    January 11, 2014 @ 5:51 am

    I've been trying to find a succinct way to explain this for ages…

    Thanks Froborr – I will be quoting you in the future.

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  28. Pen Name Pending
    January 12, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    I just keep getting an ad underneath showing revealing images of a computer-generated woman with "play now" underneath. It is rather unfortunate.

    Reply

  29. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 12, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

    Ugh. Will try to nuke that, Pen Name Pending.

    Reply

  30. Daru
    January 13, 2014 @ 1:37 am

    @ ferret – Yes! I like the thought that the term of constellation could refer to 3D triangulation, marking off a region of space. I can visualise that and it certainly works in my mind as a concept.

    Reply

  31. Daru
    January 13, 2014 @ 1:51 am

    Yeah I knew him as a kid from watching him in the 80's. Even then as a Scot I cringed at his Scottish parodies.

    I was very surprised in a good by his touching performance at the beginning of the episode and hoped that it would go down a different road from what we ended up with – so yeah was not surprised by his OTT climax.

    Reply

  32. Froborr
    January 13, 2014 @ 5:37 am

    I have often wanted to write a history of science and philosophy entitled "Proving Aristotle Wrong." He had an incredible talent for being wrong about everything it is possible to be wrong about, consistently and unerringly. In the case of his study of causation, for example, he missed the difference between purpose and cause. The placement of the guns on the mantelpiece is not caused, in real life, by their later use, but by the past intention of the person who placed them there to use them later–an intention which may or may not be translated into action.

    @J Mairs: You're welcome! It's a distinction I've been kicking around for some time–I think much of magical thinking and woo can be reduced to expecting narrative causality to apply in real life.

    Reply

  33. Daibhid C
    September 11, 2014 @ 11:02 am

    The NSA novel in question actually namechecks the SJ audio, the DWM comic, and a PDA which I won't spoil either as being "partial" invasions of the Helix, paving the way for its "full" return in that book.

    Reply

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    May 12, 2015 @ 7:39 am

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