Watch this space, you poor doomed motherfuckers

Skip to content

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.


  1. Flying Tiger Comics
    September 7, 2011 @ 1:10 am

    Your misuse of the term "peak oil" is illustrative of the, in my opinion, specious foundations on which your entire shaky premise is based. The prism through which you have looked at the Pertwee period is not just obstructive, it's getting to the point where you analysis is indistinguishable from flights of fancy.

    You are accepting and repeating the hard left's mythology of Thatcherism verbatim, whilst ignoring that the fact that a lot of arts and drama students were fashonably leftwing at the same time they were happy to benefit from Conservative reforms and good governance is a poor reflection on your scholarship.


  2. Millennium Dome
    September 7, 2011 @ 1:12 am

    "the Conservatives crashed to a defeat at the polls, gaining a larger share of the vote than Labour, but fewer seats in Parliament,"

    That's an interesting definition of "crashed", when if you state it like that it actually looks like the Tories should have won but were robbed by a gerrymandered electoral system.

    Of course, the system was gerrymandered, but the real losers were the Liberals with 20% of the vote but just 3% of the seats. Anything approaching a fair or representative outcome would almost certainly have seen a Liberal/Labour Coalition (and almost certainly a very different end to the 20th Century in Britain).

    What actually happened was a period of political and economic chaos during which the UK actually went bust and had to call in the IMF as though we were a third world banana republic and climaxing in the Winter of Discontent, a period of industrial unrest so reviled that the Tories were able to trade off it for nearly two decades of power.

    So I'm afraid to describe Britain in the late seventies as even "relative stability" is well off beam.

    And while you are quite correct to describe the Thatcher reforms as "brutal", "cruel" and "regressive", you miss the most important adjective which is "necessary".

    The British economy by the end of the Seventies was very badly broken and needed to be repaired.

    (That's a whole essay in itself, but the shortest form I can manage is: rather than letting uncompetitive manufacturing industry go bust, which would have caused a lot of pain in the short term, we kept nationalising it, which became a bit of pain for everyone forever. Thatch cashed in all that deferred pain all at once in the early Eighties.)

    In case it comes across as otherwise, I do actually like your essays a great deal, you have a fascinating perspective that I always enjoy reading.


    • Elton Townend-Jones
      September 14, 2021 @ 10:13 am

      Wait till you see UK 2021…


  3. Spacewarp
    September 7, 2011 @ 1:56 am

    Since you are not British (and therefore do not have any British political leanings)I think your view of the political situation in the 70s comes over as unusually non-biased. This is rare in this country, where it is extremely difficult to find political analysis that isn't coloured by the author's politics. In the same way as the US where Democrats lay any historical crises at the feet of the Republicans, regardless of whether they were in power or not. And vice versa. I personally think your assessment of the UK's 70s is probably as accurate as any other, but that you should be prepared for a bit of a Comments S*** Storm.

    And not necessarily about Doctor Who.


  4. Tom Watts
    September 7, 2011 @ 2:13 am

    Indeed, the comedy of Dad's Army was as much, if not far more, to do with Britain's perceived relative post-war decline in comparison to the Federal Republic than with actual memories of the war.

    OK, "The raw embodiment of all evil". This is so lazy. The 3 day week was not a manufactured crisis; it was a consequence of inflationary pay demands. The crisis in British manufacturing and the accelerating rates of closure long precede the advent of Thatcher. Thatcher did not have a Masterplan to smash everything Northern on assuming power for the sheer destructive hell of it. And there are so many historical sources you can read on this – popular summaries, there have been good BBC documentaries, memoirs, newspapers, I hardly know where to begin. It's not as if there's a dearth of reliable sources.

    Could I ask you to reflect for a moment on how smug and exclusionary this is? "The Leftist perspective that DW is necessarily allied with"?! When I'm reading this blog I'm increasingly reminded of the pompous authority figures of Python or Hulke, very very safe within their comfort group and its received opinions.

    If you want to do more useful work, why not examine the role that the imaginative figure of the woman leader played at the time and in British tradition, and how Thatcher was viewed in that context? Why not look at the way historical periods of stress and uncertainty impact on imaginative work, or the way ideologies try to play catch-up with scientific, literary or creative change? Why not hold up to rigorous examination your own imaginative investment in the rhetoric of "hating Thatcher's guts" and how this structures your appreciation of Doctor Who?


  5. SK
    September 7, 2011 @ 5:18 am

    Dear oh dear. Obviously this is a biased account with a political axe to grind — has it ever pretended to be anything else?!

    Complaining that the author is wearing left-wing blinkers is like complaining that Das Kapital is a little on the socialist side.

    If you want a balanced, objective assessment of British history in general and Doctor Who in particular, you're quite obviously reading the wrong website! It's the strong personal perspective here that makes it interesting, and the fact that it's up-front and honest about its bias rather than trying to make out it's at all objective that makes it honest.

    And regardless of how necessary Thatcher's reforms were (and they were), I don't think it can be denied that she was seen by a lot of the media, from Alan Moore to Ben Elton, as 'the raw embodiment of all evil; and that this view was certainly held by Andrew Cartmel, for example (and I don't think John Nathan-Turner was a particular fan of Thatcher, either). As a result it is the view from which Doctor Who proceeded for a good part of the eighties, and that can't be denied.

    Though that said I do admit to looking forward to the essays on Saward-penned stories — and I'm sure they will be more interesting from being written from a strong and openly-held partial position, than an attempt to give a balanced judgement would be.


  6. Wm Keith
    September 7, 2011 @ 6:11 am

    Thirty-two years after her first election victory and twenty-one years after her own MPs forced her to resign, the legacy of Mrs Thatcher (Britain still isn't on first-name terms with Margaret) continues to dominate English (if not British) politics.

    Thatcher's eleven years reshaped Britain to an extent which, if not unprecedented, was second only to the eleven years of the 1940-51 coalition and Labour governments.

    The reason that the domination has lasted so long is that, like the good Gramscian/Malcolm Hulke fan that she was, Thatcher sought to enmesh working people (including even "left-wing arts students") in the capitalist system – extremely successfully in terms of council house sales and "home ownership", less so in terms of share ownership.

    But, turning back the clock to 1979, was Thatcher "necessary"? I don't think so. Inevitable, perhaps, given the tired, fractured, and fracturing state of the Labour Party, the complicity of the Liberal party in propping up a government which was presiding over economic failure, and the electoral system.

    But to say that the pain of the 1980s was necessary – that's to agree with Thatcher that "There is no alternative". There was an alternative to Thatcherism, just as there was an alternative to calling in the IMF.

    Certainly, socialism has never really been tried in the UK, whereas laissez-faire capitalism has a track record going back to Tolpuddle and beyond.

    But who knows? It might have worked? Is it too much to hope that one day, it might work?


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 7, 2011 @ 6:16 am

    To be fair, I didn't describe Britain of the late 70s as relatively stable. I described Britain of the mid-70s as relatively stable. I'm well aware of the Winter of Discontent, but it's four years off at this point, and the period in between them, though not without event, when you're bookended by the Three-Day Week on one side and the Winter of Discontent on the other, I think "relative stability" is more or less accurate, even acknowledging the IMF loan. But, I mean, the comparison I made was to Carter. It's not as though I'm calling 74-77 a rousing success with that analogy.

    As for Thatcher… well, obviously we're nowhere near done with her so much as just on the cusp of starting with her. There is lots more to say on the subject. Most of it will probably continue to piss off Thatcher fans, and I do stand by my basic position simply because, as I said, of the degree to which anti-Thatcherism informs a host of media that I hold incredibly dear, including a large chunk of Doctor Who. But that doesn't mean that the subject isn't going to be explored thoroughly or carefully.


    • Elton Townend-Jones
      September 14, 2021 @ 12:30 pm

      There are Thatcher fans?! Doctor Who fan Thatcher fans strike me as something of any oxymoron. They’re certainly not working class Doctor Who fans, then.


  8. Tom Watts
    September 7, 2011 @ 6:17 am

    No, dear. I think that what's written here is important, because it helps form a critical consensus on a show that will be of interest many generations hence. Critics, even PhD geeks, matter and their words have resonance. Tardis Eruditorum isn't one lone Leftist grinding an axe – this blog's political tone is thoroughly mainstream (within the field of cultural criticism), and that is what's depressing.

    Creative people like AC and JNT and all the others certainly have/had political views, but the programme is far more conflicted and complex than their intentions might determine. Have you read that delightful essay "The Ideology of Anachronism" in TARDissertations In Space? This blog is also about British politics and political history, and I'm not asking for ice-cold objectivity, but just a little bit of actual thought. Many things are seen over the course of time as the raw embodiment of all evil, and that's not particularly interesting. What is interesting (to me) is the role that perception plays in political, psychological and creative terms. Just reproducing it, as if it's a sign of sensitivity, "a nice moral flicker", is just not good enough.

    Anyway, what's the point about being up-front and honest without expecting an up-front and honest response? Besides, there are posts here that enraged me so much I couldn't bring myself to write anything: Planet of the Daleks not a disaster? The mind reels!


  9. Tom Watts
    September 7, 2011 @ 6:24 am

    Anyway, don't forget to do a post on Servalan, if you're covering Thatcher at the end of the 70s. That "rancid bitch", played with such incredible subtlety by Jacqueline Pearce, is all you need to know about the way the likes of, well, any familiar British archetype perceived Maggie!


  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 7, 2011 @ 6:33 am

    Tom – I understand what you're asking for, and while the blog is certainly going to maintain its leftist perspective, I would hope that its past track record of actual thought would buy me the good will to at least let me actually get to the Thatcher era before criticizing how I cover it. πŸ™‚

    The point of this entry – probably the last of its sort until the Winter of Discontent (save perhaps one on punk – I haven't worked out the extra posts for Tom Baker yet) – is akin to the previous entries on the Summer of Love and the failed revolutionary politics of 1968 – a general primer on a major cultural and political shift. And in those cases, I like to think that despite my overt sympathy for psychedelia and the Situationalist International, and my overt loathing of Richard Nixon, I also, over the entries that followed and picked up on the themes, (which is why I do these – because their themes are ones I need to play with for entries to come) acknowledged the flaws and failures of those movements.

    It's rare that a Pop Between Realities post is intended as the last word on a subject – I almost always use them to introduce concepts I intend to keep working on.


  11. Tom Watts
    September 7, 2011 @ 6:40 am

    Fair dos. And I appreciate the thought involved in the blog, and enjoy reading the posts. I've no axe to grind on Nixon's behalf you may be relieved to hear, so when you get on to the Impossible Astronaut I shall read without prejudice! RTD and SM are very much of the Left, but I find the rather bluff patriotic tone of particularly SM's episodes a real stumbling block. Strange that as a, OK I'll confess it – a card-carrying Tory, I share entirely your admiration for the work of Malcolm Hulke.


  12. Jesse
    September 7, 2011 @ 8:07 am

    I see someone else noted the weird misuse of "peak oil," which is by necessity a global condition and not something that "much of the world" can "begin to hit." There is a vibrant argument over whether we recently passed peak oil, will hit it soon, or will hit it a bit further in the future, but I don't think anyone in that debate believes it took place in the 1970s.

    I should also note that Klein's book is indeed "hugely wrong" — she botches just about every segment of history that she attempts to summarize. It is certainly true that powerful people will take advantage of crises, and sometimes attempt to induce them, in order to drive through their agenda. Since both scholars and popularizers discussed this long before Klein's book came along and since she added nothing of value to their discussions, it really isn't wise to use her to illustrate the idea. Even the term "disaster capitalism" is polluted, given that the nominally socialist countries were as happy to manufacture crises as the nominally capitalist ones.

    Finally — and most importantly, given what you're doing — I think it's a big mistake to act as though the long '80s start here. There's a weird disappearing act that goes on in a lot of cultural commentary on Britain in the '70s, in which various forms of rebellion, most notably punk, are described as though they're a reaction to someone who hasn't actually taken office yet. I hope you don't fall into that trap. Thatcher is the villain of The Happiness Patrol. She is not the villain of The Sunmakers.


  13. Dougie
    September 7, 2011 @ 8:21 am

    I greatly enjoy your blog but I was a teenager in Scotland during the late 70s and I have to take issue with your analysis.
    It seems to me that a massively revisionist take has been popularised over the last two decades by young and lazy researchers: outside of urban areas, I would argue Punk had virtually no cultural impact. As young teens in a rural area, my friends and I watched punk acts on tv in 1976 and 1977 with a degree of bafflement and amusement- it was just another flavour of pop,(albeit in a familar, naughty, music-hall vein) just like reggae, country, bubblegum, glam rock, disco, novelty records et cetera. My friend's actress girlfriend played an Aberdeen punk on a radio soap in 1982 (the beginning of the Davison Era)! They were considered rather pitiful, ridiculous characters: cartoon yobs not unlike the Teds, who also had a brief revival in the 70s.
    Yes,the Glam Aesthetic waned. But most cultural commentators fail to acknowledge the huge popularity of Heavy Metal and Prog Rock at the fag-end of the 80s: never cool, never ironic, always embarassingly earnest and with an attendant culture of magic, myth, fantasy and sci-fi, utterly in tune with Tom Baker's era.
    Punk only appeared briefly in Who and only then in the Cartmel Era of the late 80s, with Ace's outfit inspired by photoshoots in the Face Magazine.


  14. Dougie
    September 7, 2011 @ 8:26 am

    I meant to say "fag-end of the Seventies!". Dammit! Basically,my point is The Prog Rock aesthetic replaced the Glam Rock aesthetic in Who.


  15. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    September 7, 2011 @ 9:36 am

    As a free-market libertarian, I'm happy to say that I think both Klein's disaster-capitalism thesis and what another commentator referred to as the "hard left's mythology of Thatcherism" are both basically right. My only quarrel with the traditional left's view of Thatcher is their too-frequent willingness to agree with her own characterisation of her policies as free-market, when in fact they mostly represented aggressive government intervention on behalf of the corporate elite. (Similar caveat re Klein.)

    On a completely different topic: the Home Guard also feature memorably in the 1971 movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, as does a rather TARDIS-like bed which can move through space and time and even into the land of fiction ….

    (Actually I can't remember whether it moves through time in the movie. It does in the book.)


  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 7, 2011 @ 9:49 am

    A couple of points, to both Jesse and Dougie

    1) I agree the peak oil comment was overly vague. What I was referring to was the fact that several countries, including the US, hit their domestic peak, though the global peak is indeed still looming.

    2) I'm not starting the Long 80s so much as acknowledging that we're now in the transition between two eras. That did seem to me to require a post in which I take a wider view than I have in a while, but I don't think you can make an even remotely convincing case for the Long 80s beginning before 1976 in Britain, and 1978 is probably the better date. I expect, (though to be fair, it's not like I've watched most of the relevant stuff in ages, so this is speculative) that I'll kind of end up splitting the difference – I do think The Sunmakers is a reaction to the same things that The Happiness Patrol is, but I don't think either are a reaction to Thatcher as much as the ideas that Thatcher eventually became the symbolic representation of. Which is one of the things about Thatcher that I'll eventually work through – the way in which she is a larger than life symbol that extends far beyond the actual woman.

    3) As for punk, you're right that punk itself was less popular than people make it out to be. That said, in many ways, to my mind, the defining image of Punk is the 1976 Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall show – a show with pathetically low attendance that somehow managed to be incredibly important because the forty people who did show up turned out to all be really, really important. Punk's importance is not so much its broad popularity as the specific contours of its influence.


  17. Jesse
    September 7, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    Philip: You're certainly right that Thatcher functions as "a larger than life symbol that extends far beyond the actual woman." This is true for her fans as well as her critics. I've sometimes argued, maybe a little perversely, that she's a bit like Che that way.

    But note that The Sunmakers casts its leftist story of class exploitation as a story about a tax revolt waged against an oppressive bureaucracy. Now, I'm well aware that the real-world Thatcher actually increased taxes on ordinary people once she was in office, but if you were telling a populist anti-tax story in the U.K. in 1977 you were tapping in to the same discontent that helped fuel Thatcher's rise to power, even if you were also telling a very un-Thatcherite tale of labor unrest. That's very different from the context of The Happiness Patrol.

    Anyway. I'm glad to hear you aren't starting the long '80s this early.


  18. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    September 7, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    Making connections from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (from flying beds to flying elevators with beds in them) … any plans on commenting on the Doctor Who / Willy Wonka connection? The first book came out in 1964, too late to have influenced DW and too early for DW to have influenced it. But it could have influenced post-1964 DW; and the movie (1971) and second book (1972) could certainly have been influenced by pre-1971 DW, and in turn could have influenced post-1971 DW.


  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 7, 2011 @ 10:20 am

    Well, we'll have to do that one on The Sunmakers entry – I can't even remember if I've actually seen the entire story, so I can't possibly argue. πŸ™‚


  20. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    September 7, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    Plus there's got to be some reason why Torchwood is (well, was) located at Roald Dahl Plass!


  21. Aaron
    September 7, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    I'm much more of an American historian, so it's probably not all that helpful, but Philip Jenkins' "Decade of Nightmares" is a very good analysis of the transition from the early 70s (which he thinks are basically the end of the long 60s) and the mid to late 70s into the 80s. He basically argues that the failure of liberalism to offer any solutions to the problems of the seventies, plus the fact that baby boomers were growing older and more worried about the safety of their children, caused a conservative backlash that culminated in Reagan. It's dealing with the wrong country, but it's very good analysis of how that transition happens in the United States. You do have to wade through his defense of Reagan's policies though, which gets a little bit weird and annoying.


  22. Tom Watts
    September 7, 2011 @ 11:22 am

    When you do come to punk (and I echo Dougie's comment, but…) don't forget Crass, who were, to my recollection, just as much if not more widely influential than the Pistols (which means not very much of course, but bear with me). Their work crosses with libertarianism, new religious movements, squatting and the traveller scenes as well as animal rights and anti-war activism. But what I can't get over personally, and what I discovered with horror in my mid-20s (a bit late maybe), is that posterity can be such a damn liar, and that far from redeeming the lies of the past, it just acts like an ad-man with a long-term contract. So what I'm saying, moving on from Lady Thatcher, is that academic Marxists and political factions in the music press have pointedly overlooked the music of Crass and associated groups in order to promote their own version of Punk history, and, well, it's a long time since I read England's Dreaming, but that may, for example, help demonstrate the point.


  23. Spacewarp
    September 7, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    As Mickey Smith said: 'I have prepared a little "I was right" dance which I can show you later.'


  24. Wm Keith
    September 7, 2011 @ 11:30 pm

    Punk was alive – and political – for a long time after the Sex Pistols era. In the 1980s it was popular in clubs, and small record companies released records. It just wasn't the sort of music that the major labels wanted to have anything to do with (not only was it political, it was extremely hard on the ears) – so it didn't get radio play. This is a major reason why 1980s punk is largely forgotten today – and why it was confined to urban areas.

    For an example, listen to the 1982/1983 release from Wigan band "The Insane" – A-side "El Salvador", B-side "Nuclear War".


  25. Dougie
    September 8, 2011 @ 8:04 am

    Thanks to Tom W and Wm Keith for their interesting info on Punk. I might have something to say about the Redskins, Billy Bragg and Red Wedge when we reach the mid-80s. The point I was trying to make, however, was that Punk had no impact on Doctor Who's aesthetic during the 70s or early 80s. In fact,the New Romantic era is reflected in Kinda, in my opinion, but that too is for another day!


  26. Steve Hogan
    September 8, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

    At any rate, I think Alex Cox's "Sid n' Nancy" suggests that Johnny Rotten style daleks would've been a cool thing.

    "Boooooo-ring Siiiid-neyyy! Exterminate! Exterminate!"


  27. WGPJosh
    September 8, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    Have to add my voice to those looking forward to a look at 70s and 80s Punk: I'm a bit of an aficionado of the era myself and probably will have a couple things to add once we get there. There's much more to Punk then The Sex Pistols or The Ramones and the definition of what Punk is largely depends on who you talk to. I think if you asked SIouxsie Sioux, Julian Cope, Bernard Sumner, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon or even John Lydon to be honest you might get a very different answer than you would if you asked purveyors of what seems to have been labeled Punk Revival or Second-Generation Punk in the mid-late 80s into the mid 90s. But, as Dougie said that is indeed a discussion for a later date.

    At the moment I'd just like to close by adding that Kraftwerk got really popular in England with Autobahn due in no small part to people describing it as "Doctor Who Music".


  28. Wm Keith
    September 9, 2011 @ 12:02 am

    I agree that it's very difficult to see any sort of direct punk influence on Doctor Who in the 1970s/80s. Apart from the general ineptness, nastiness, violence, constant self-referencing, and factionalism of the Colin Baker years. But I don't think that was an intentional channelling of punk, most of the time, anyway.

    On the other hand, "Warrior's Gate" is explicitly about heavy metal.


  29. Wm Keith
    September 9, 2011 @ 12:05 am

    Apologies for the misplaced apostrophe. There were, of course, multiple warriors.


  30. elvwood
    September 11, 2011 @ 5:15 am

    Speaking of punk, I'm sort of sorry Philip didn't tackle the Past Doctor Adventure Rags. It's a book I really didn't get on with and it felt totally misplaced in the Pertwee era, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when writing a blog entry!

    I was just a little too young for punk. It was something that connected with those higher up the school.


  31. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 11, 2011 @ 5:37 am

    Rags was on the long list of Pertwee books, and is slated for inclusion when I expand this into book form, along with (probably) the Paradise of Death audio, Devil Goblins from Neptune, Who Killed Kennedy, and the recent Jo Grant/Iris Wildthyme audio that I'm blanking on the name of.

    /sits back and waits for the inevitable speculation over whether and where Interference will be covered.


  32. elvwood
    September 12, 2011 @ 2:20 am

    Find and Replace? I've got it, but not listened to it yet.

    Oh, and a nitpick I wouldn't bother with if you weren't going to do a book version: "it's one prize-fighting contender…" should be "its", as you're talking about belonging rather than being.

    Anyway, fascinating entry, as ever. I'm off to see if your latest is up now!


  33. Andrew Morton
    September 15, 2012 @ 9:52 am

    I thought I'd add this, since I think others here may feel my pain:

    I just missed watiching the latest episode ('A Town Called Mercy' for future readers) because I've been engrossed in re-reading the Eruditorum blogs and comments. Thankfully, we live in an era that created iPlayer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.