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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.


  1. John Callaghan
    April 6, 2012 @ 12:47 am

    The Adventure Game! Wonderful show! I remember the first time I watched the guests walking to the exit and getting the sequence wrong, and being abruptly shaken when they all suddenly evaporated! I jumped out of my skin! Exclamation marks!

    The format was apparently two celebs and a non-celeb, so you're correct.


  2. David Anderson
    April 6, 2012 @ 12:57 am

    Many of the celebrities were clear A-listers in the world of under-10 children's daytime television.


  3. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 1:47 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  4. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 1:48 am

    Or more specifically, two celebs and an expert… some of whom were more charismatic than the celebrities.


  5. Dan
    April 6, 2012 @ 2:56 am

    If they were vapourised they just had to walk home, apparently. What a relief! But it's a hell of a long way…

    I think it was largely inspired by Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy too, as well as DG being asked to write it.


  6. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 2:57 am

    Though I watched Doctor Who growing up, it was never a favourite. If pressed, I would probably have said my favourite shows were Sandy Frank's Battle Of The Planets, and The Adventure Game.

    The striking thing about watching the show now is both how long – children's TV was rarely above 25 minutes in the 1980s – and often how dull it was. In the Janet Fielding episode (in which, annoyingly, she breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the camera men laughing at her – damn it, Janet!), they spend most of the episode in one room tethered to the wall.

    In fact, The Adventure Game was wholly climax-focused – the puzzles were the (entirely arbitrary) leg-work you had to sit through in order to reach the big pay-off of the vortex round. Though the puzzles were made to seem to matter, in most series they would end up at the last round no matter what, and this is where the life-or-death decider would take place.

    For those unfamiliar, the vortex was the final game of the show, in which (in series 2-4) the whole thrust of the programme switched from puzzle-solving to random chance, in a game of blind hop-scotch against an invisible foe. Step on the vortex: get vapourised. It didn't matter how well you solved the puzzles during the body of the show, whether you won or lost – or, ostensibly, survived or died, though in later series the celebrities were seen to have been beamed into outer space, where they were forced to walk home – depending solely on random chance.

    (In series one, they were forced to encounter a logic puzzle to enter the game; on the way out, the logic puzzle became 'live'. This was changed, presumably, because if they actually solved the puzzle on the way in, there was no tension as to whether they'd be vapourised on the way out).

    Another remarkable thing about the programme is that every series was entirely different. Not just the puzzles, but the whole format, many of the cast, opening titles, even the premise and occasionally the music. It was forever reinventing itself.

    Also worth noting: Doctor Who began immediately after the assassination of JFK. The final episode of The Adventure Game coincided with the Challenger shuttle disaster.

    Thank you for covering this! πŸ™‚


  7. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 3:08 am

    Wait, no, I got it wrong – episode 4 was shifted to the end of the final series due to the Challenger disaster.


  8. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 4:33 am

    Also worth saying that part of its overt nod to Dungeons & Dragons is that all the names on the planet Arg are anagrams or pieces of the word 'dragon'.


  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 6, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    I've seen claims that the vortex game is always beatable if you have a single green cheese roll, but I've not actually checked it.


  10. BerserkRL
    April 6, 2012 @ 9:16 am

    Listening just to the tone of the opening narration —
    — I think the influence from Hitchhiker is quite evident. It sounds like an entry from the Guide.


  11. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    Any one move is winnable if you have a roll, but I don't think that applies to the whole game. If, for example, you don't trigger the vortex with it, you're none the wiser.


  12. willbikeforchange
    April 6, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Sadism designed to look like fun is the definition of playing the old Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy text game, so it's no surprise they asked Douglas Adams to write. If you've never played it, it's a game where unless you give a dog a cheese sandwich in the first five minutes of the game (where there is absolutely no indicator whatsoever to do so), you can never, ever win the game. Not to mention the room that when you say "look" lies to you about what is in it three times before it finally tells you anything useful.

    I'd kind of love to see this television show though. It sounds like the sort of thing I would have died to get on as a kid, up there with Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

    As for role-playing games, I just started playing and our GM is definitely of the puzzles are better than monsters type. He hasn't killed us yet, but he was definitely driving us a bit bonkers because we had a lot of difficulty even trying to figure out how to begin.


  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 6, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    I think that just involves not putting down the roll in a way that causes it to bounce off irretrievably. That is, if you find the space to be safe, making sure you also reclaim your roll for later use. In which case, as I understand it, you can effectively put yourself in front of the vortex and advance safely to the end.

    I didn't watch enough to see if rolls are reusable. Janet Fielding clearly wastes hers tossing it in a way that it bounces away, but if you're careful with it you can presumably pick it back up, yes?


  14. William Whyte
    April 6, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    I was sorry to see that the episode with "Daviod Yip" (sic) is no longer in the BBC archives. That was made in 1980! I thought they'd changed policy by then.

    To me, the seminal series will always be series 2 with Lesley Judd as the mole secretly working for the Argonds (shades of Anthony Blunt, but with aspidistras and sticky-backed plastic instead of art). At the start of the series, the second-last game was guessing who the mole was, but Lesley Judd was so bad at pretending not to be a mole that everyone always guessed her, so by the end of the series they had to change it to "Musical Moles", where she basically got to get one of the other contestants vaporized at random.

    The wicker look of Arg was very reminiscent of the start of The Ribos Operation. And the whole show was unsure about where it stood, in an endearing way: was it frantic knockabout fun as celebs solve puzzles, or was it a strange kind of Spike Milligan-ish performance art where everyone was the straight man reacting to jokes that could barely be detected? Great days, Gay.


  15. Alan
    April 6, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    Speaking of rpgs, do you plan to cover the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game published by FASA in 1985? I don't remember much about the game personally, although I definitely remember playing it. I was surprised just now to find the Wiki page for it and learn that the writers actually retconned Adric's death! Apparently, one of the modules lets your Timelord character travel back and rescue him!

    Also, mock the First Doctor's "easy as pie" solution if you want, but to this day, I can recite pi to the eighth decimal place by recalling it in Hurndall's voice.:)


  16. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    Search 'The Adventure Game BBC' on YouTube, there are episodes! πŸ™‚


  17. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    I'm fairly sure that, in fact, people rarely guessed Lesley as being the mole.


  18. William Whyte
    April 6, 2012 @ 11:33 am

    My memory is that she got away with it the first couple of times and then got busted pretty consistently after that.


  19. Exploding Eye
    April 6, 2012 @ 11:46 am

    Looking around at various sources, it seems like Lesley was busted just once out of the first four episodes. The series was only five episodes in length, so not really time to form a pattern. If there was a game of musical moles (which does ring a bell), it can only have come in the fifth and final episode of season 2.

    But it does look very much like she was caught out only once of the five episodes in series 2.

    (Wikipedia has down three contestants as having been evaporated during the mole round, two of which are stated as being wrongly identified as mole. But I'm fairly certain Graeme Garden was also wrongly outed, due to being just too good at the games. He certainly didn't make it as far as the end game).


  20. sleepyscholar
    April 6, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

    Writing as the reviewer of the FASA game for White Dwarf (I was sent it because I had a reputation for trashing games, and Games Workshop were irked at losing the license) I was surprised at how good it was, especially given that I later learned the writers had seen very little of the series. Nevertheless, I don't think it merits extensive examination; or at least, it could be examined along with Timelord (in which I have a personal stake) and Adventures in Time and Space, the current game. But really, it's an abstruse area that doesn't enlarge our understanding of the programme much more than Philip's comments here about Dungeons & Dragons.
    I say that as someone who is currently writing a paper about RPG fandom to try to correct some of the reception theory bias that fan scholarship suffers from. Too many media scholars treating role-playing as if it is merely the manipulation of pre-existing texts…


  21. John Callaghan
    April 6, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

    I am hugely into RPGs as the modern bastion of communal storytelling and a jolly good social activity to boot. I've found that having an understanding of various methods of creating satisfying narratives has improved my gaming experience enormously, as well as my viewing and reading. This is why I always sigh when D&D is used as the archetype of what roleplaying is. But if people enjoy it, then more power to their d20s, of course!

    I actually playtested the current Who RPG, by the way.


  22. Matt Sharp
    April 6, 2012 @ 11:55 pm

    'I was sorry to see that the episode with "Daviod Yip" (sic) is no longer in the BBC archives. That was made in 1980! I thought they'd changed policy by then.'

    The four missing episodes (and some from BAFTA award winning show Take Hart) were actually junked in 1993…!

    The one with Paul Darrow is officially missing too.


  23. Exploding Eye
    April 7, 2012 @ 2:34 am

    The Paul Darrow one is officially missing, but there is a pretty decent version of it on YouTube. I think I saw a really ropey copy of the David Yip one on YouTube some time ago too.

    I do believe there are a couple of episodes that are properly actually missing, mind you.


  24. Matt Sharp
    April 7, 2012 @ 3:04 am

    Oh, I wasted so much time on that HHGTG game, and I never did find out how to impress Marvin's cabin door, or even if I was supposed to impress Marvin's cabin door.

    The BBC put the whole game online after Adams died, and I was stunned to find that I could remember exactly what to put where to get the Babble fish out of the Babble Fish Dispenser.


  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 7, 2012 @ 7:51 am

    There was a large junking of children's programs in the 1990s due, essentially, to an unwillingness to provide the funds for converting them to digital formats.


  26. sleepyscholar
    April 8, 2012 @ 3:16 am

    You did a good job, then, John. The current Who RPG seemed pretty good to me (though I have had no opportunity to play it, here in Japan).

    I understand your annoyance at D&D being used as the archetype of roleplaying (Andrew Rilstone expressed the same frustration in the journal IF in the 90s). I partly share it — I gave up D&D for mostly homebrew some time around 1980 — yet my current research has driven home to me that we're too close to our topic. Philip is actually right to identify D&D as the archetype of role-playing, because it is. That we transcend this crude archetype in all sorts of ways is largely irrelevant.

    Comparing the three Doctor Who RPGs might be of interest, but I think it would be tricky without being an aficionado. And does the fact that, for example, the FASA game simulates Doctor Who as if it were real while Timelord represents the TV show, really matter very much to anyone other than role-players?


  27. John Callaghan
    April 8, 2012 @ 3:51 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  28. John Callaghan
    April 8, 2012 @ 3:54 am

    An interesting question! It pertains to our enjoyment of other media as well as RPGs. I can imagine the fourth wall as a movable barrier rather than a fixed thing. There's always an acknowledgement that what we're seeing isn't real, but in some entertainments the medium saying "this isn't real, but go with us anyway" is more noticeable in the content than in others. And there are rules for how deconstructed each show/book/whatever can be, so in a way the rule-breaking is contained within the rules too.

    For instance, even though the Arg TV presenter can talk directly to the viewer, the contestants aren't supposed to.

    I lack Mr. Sandifer's eloquence and can't express what I'm trying to get at here economically without going on a navel journey.

    Re your points, Sleepyscholar, I can say that 'annoyance' is too strong a word – if people enjoy it, then good for them! However, I suppose I feel it's a missed opportunity if someone didn't pursue roleplaying as a hobby because they felt that D&D was all there was too it.

    And I'm in danger of going off-topic! At least I haven't mentioned Wonderful Christmas Time.


  29. Jesse Smith
    April 8, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    I have never seen this, but I guess it was a precursor to Knightmare (which has an even more direct and obvious connection to D&D).

    1983 was pretty close to the mass market popularity peak of both D&D and computer puzzle/adventure games, so it does not surprise me that their influence would show in Doctor Who at this time.

    On the other hand, it's possible to overstate it. The checkerboard in "The Five Doctors" reminded me more of the red and white linoleum of death from "Death to the Daleks" than anything else.


  30. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 8, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

    Sure, but I wasn't really arguing that the checkerboard was inspired by D&D. As I said, Doctor Who had been doing that sort of thing since the Hartnell era. Both the linoleum (and really Terry Nation's entire fascination with writing dungeon crawls and quests) and the checkerboard are artifacts of that. Indeed, I think back in my Keys of Marinus entry I noted that it was plotted like a video game. As I said, D&D's rise was less a matter of influencing Doctor Who and more a matter of taking an old element of Doctor Who away from it because D&D could do it so much better.


  31. GarrettCRW
    August 26, 2012 @ 8:24 pm

    With the short-lived toyline and the debut of the cartoon (which was itself the final cog in 1983's rather enormously popular animation debuts-He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Inspector Gadget being the others), I think it's no doubt that 1983 was the zenith of Dungeons & Dragons' mainstream popularity.


  32. Daibhid C
    July 17, 2013 @ 5:08 am

    From memory: consulting the Guide on "intelligence" suggests the door will be impressed if you can maintain a logical inconsistency. The way you do this is to convince the NutriMatic to give you tea. When you pick up the tea, the game will tell you "no tea dropped". You then pick up "no tea", and the door will be duly impressed by someone who has tea and no tea simultaenously.


  33. Ross
    July 17, 2013 @ 5:18 am

    For what it's worth, by the way, if you don't give the cheese sandwich to the dog at the beginning, you get another chance to do it later.

    The illustrated website version is an interesting technical achievement, by the way. The original game had no illustrations, and it's not clear if either the original source or the compiler to build it still exist at all, and in any case, the BBC didn't have them. Instead, they took an open-source interpreter for the compiled game format (Infocom's games were released in a portable binary format, sort of an evolutionary precursor to java), and actually scanned for key phrases in the text output, then used those to control the illustration engine. (So whenever it saw the text "You are standing on the bridge of the Heart of Gold", it would throw up the illustration of the bridge of the Heart of Gold, and so forth.) Really clever hack.


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