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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.

40 Comments

  1. daibhid-c
    June 25, 2012 @ 3:19 am

    This sounds great. It's odd that I was eleven in 1987, it's exactly the sort of thing I'd have watched (if not understood), and I have no recollection of it at all. It was ITV, so maybe my region opted out.

    Reply

  2. John
    June 25, 2012 @ 4:00 am

    Never heard of this either. Where can I get a hold of it?

    Reply

  3. Archeology of the Future
    June 25, 2012 @ 4:50 am

    I only ever saw one episode of this, I think at Sunday teatime. It absolutely dominated my imagination as something half glimpsed. I wrote stories about the basic premise, drew pictures. I was, I suppose, trying to invent for myself the programme I thought I'd seen. I had a similar response to the mythic elements of Robin of Sherwood.

    I'd love to see it now. The idea of the helicopter as evidence of malign authority was such an 80s trope, especially once joy riding arrived in Newcastle where I grew up and nightly the police chopper would roar overhead, spot light combing through gardens.

    The matter of England stuff of course turns up in Who in a bit… Was big in 2000AD with Pat Mills Slaine too.

    Reply

  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 25, 2012 @ 4:52 am

    Maddeningly, it doesn't seem to have an English-language release on VHS or DVD.

    Reply

  5. drfgsdgsdf
    June 25, 2012 @ 4:56 am

    Good article, but shame there's no mention of it's author, the massively underrated Richard Cooper, who also did children dramas Codename Icarus and Eye of the Storm

    It's available if you look for it, but I'm not sure it's ever been released officially, except on VHS in Germany.

    AFAIK it's TV screenings were only in certain ITV areas and it was pretty unpublicized. It deserves to be much much better known

    About half of this gritty sci-fi Arthurian series was directed by Michael Kerrigan, who then later became (for me) by far the weakest thing about the similar sci-fi Arthurian Doctor Who episode Battlefield. I don't know why he changed his style so radically for such a similar project. The other episodes were directed by Andrew Morgan…

    Reply

  6. David Anderson
    June 25, 2012 @ 4:58 am

    I missed it at the time as well. I presume you decided to look at it because of Troughton? The big children's fantasy / sf thing I remember from the time was Robin of Sherwood.

    Also, I take it you think that the threads between Terminator and Doctor Who don't go much beyond the use of time travel? (Also Doctor Who did that already in Day of the Daleks.)

    Reply

  7. Nick Smale
    June 25, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    It's on YouTube, if you've got the patience for that…

    Reply

  8. Tommy
    June 25, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    It seems the blog is becoming talked about in less than flattering terms on the vitriolic The Hive forum. Apparently we followers of the blog are a bunch of sad acts (more accurately "sad navel gazing Tom Baker lamenting cap doffing Grade apologists"), according to this bunch of petty-minded sad acts (who seem to think using the word 'cunt' with abandon makes them sooo edgy):

    http://www.thehiveforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2556&sid=da7908a63f3fa99e4adb6f192a0ab8b6&start=170

    http://www.thehiveforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=2099

    Reply

  9. Wm Keith
    June 25, 2012 @ 7:39 am

    "Gervase! I want to have your babies!"

    For a more lighthearted look at the fascist-by-copter theme, you might consider "Interceptor" (please don't).

    Reply

  10. Adam Riggio
    June 25, 2012 @ 8:46 am

    This is why I don't usually go near most forums. Who are some of these people to spend so much time yammering about nothing and occasional hate for the new series? I honestly can't get into the perspective of someone who hates post-2005 Doctor Who with so much vitriol. Are there ever any solid reasons, well-thought-through reasons given for why someone dislikes the new series that has allowed Doctor Who and its fans to conquer contemporary sci-fi and ensure a thriving legacy lasting generations for what was once a dwindling cult?

    Or do they all just hate Doctor Who now that girls like it?

    Whether or not one agrees with Phil's analyses, they're still fascinating, and take in a pretty wide scope of culture. I think his ideas and profile are only doing a service to Doctor Who studies.

    Reply

  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 25, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    Huh. Usually it's AnorakZone that hates me.

    Reply

  12. Ace
    June 25, 2012 @ 9:36 am

    excellent article, i might have to look into this show some time

    while on the topic of Arthurian dramas, had you thought at all about doing a 'pop between…' on the BBCs Merlin, when the time comes?
    bit of an inverse to this really, just a show demonstrating that even when producing generally very engaging complex Doctor
    Who, the BBC can also produce (as a deliberate stand in for it while it's off air) some really flat, uninspired piece of fantasy drama.

    Reply

  13. William G. Gruff
    June 25, 2012 @ 10:08 am

    Maybe the Hivers spend so much time yammering about nothing and occasional hate for the new series because their favorite Doctors are Hartnell and McGann. I'd be particulary wary of them.

    Reply

  14. Tommy
    June 25, 2012 @ 11:26 am

    I thought Colin was their favourite. Surely McGann's too good natured for them.

    I really didn't like the RTD era myself. But at the same time I'm grateful that of all the things New Who could have been, it was never The Hive's version of what they think Doctor Who should be. I would never have wanted the show to be made for fans like them, who seem to think the show should be done like Season 21/22 again- all continuity, violence, sadism and misanthropy with a Doctor that no casual viewer could ever be remotely on the same page as.

    Reply

  15. Adam Riggio
    June 25, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    Is that seriously the vision of Doctor Who that comes out from the Hive community? That actually sounds kind of fascinating on its own, when you think about it the right way.

    How I think about it: Ever since the hiatus and cancellation, fan analysis has dissected the Nathan-Turner/Saward years and catalogued the mistakes, miscalculations, and misconceptions of that era as precisely how not to do Doctor Who. Now here are a bunch of fans who dislike the new series. This puts them in the minority of contemporary fandom as a whole, which is now so huge that the majority of them were probably introduced to Doctor Who through the Davies or Moffatt seasons. One of the often-heard takes on Davies' relationship to 1980s Doctor Who is that his era of the show was motivated, in part, by a desire to get the best aspects of the Davison era shining through properly, leaving all the mistakes of the Saward way behind.

    In a classic case of "Your evil is my good," the Hive fans react to the Davies era by taking all the aesthetic principles and ideas that he rejected, and holding it as what the show should be.

    It seems to make sense, though I'm sure the real world is vastly more complicated.

    Reply

  16. Billy Smart
    June 25, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

    You'll quite possibly never get any sort of commercial release or repeat of this, as it was made by the short-lived ITV company TVS, who held the Southern franchise between 1982 and 1992. All of the TVS back catalogue is held in a copyright limbo, much to the frustration of people who'd like to see 'Fraggle Rock', 'C.A.T.S. Eyes', the first seven series of 'The Ruth Rendell Mysteries' and a lot of interesting children's drama again.

    Reply

  17. Tommy
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    I think it's more a case that they really hated the Williams era because they didn't like the humour or the way it was made more child-friendly (the argument being that it stopped being Doctor Who, and became more of a parody of Doctor Who- although I do also think there's a class warrior mindset behind it, of them not liking the more middle class lean of the Williams era). But they liked the JNT/Saward era because it such a conscious (not to say neurotic) backlash against that.

    RTD's era is a backlash against the JNT/Saward era, and it consciously takes the show back to the Williams era approach of humour and aiming for the child audience, and all the fan fury and arguments that go with it. So naturally those fans hate it.

    "This puts them in the minority of contemporary fandom as a whole"

    But their actual mentality is based on them seeing themselves as being the cool crowd who sits at the back at the bus and laughs and sneers at everything, and in which being a gushing fan is frowned upon as uncool.

    "In a classic case of "Your evil is my good," the Hive fans react to the Davies era by taking all the aesthetic principles and ideas that he rejected, and holding it as what the show should be."

    I'd say it's more a case of the fact that it's one thing to not like the RTD vision of the show, but when it comes to that question of what a modern version of Doctor Who should be instead of that, the show's been off air so long that there isn't really an answer.

    So falling back on the mid-80's as 'how it should be done' is the fallback position- the period where the show and its continuity was taken as close to as seriously as the fans wanted it to be taken. And in a way the better produced mid-80's stories are closest to the idea of Doctor Who as a modernised show with a more solid, credible sci-fi look and a more visceral tone. Unfortunately it's also as individualist and sociopathic as contemporary pop culture at its worst.

    Reply

  18. Flynn
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

    Speaking as a frequent contributor on the forum (and one who's defended this blog more than once there), I'd like to point out that the vitrolic nature isn't quite the status quo there. In fact, most of the viewpoints outlined above rely in two extremely vitrolic users who for the most part don't reflect the general view of the blog (the admins in particular don't fit that description at all, and have liked elements of the new series to boot).

    Reply

  19. BerserkRL
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    disillusioned and dystopic depictions of fascist Britain and a King Arthur adventure aren't just two different sets of narrative codes, they're two different sets of narrative codes that actively jar

    Even ignoring Camelot 3000, which combined Arthur and fascist Britain (albeit extraterrestrially imposed fascism) a couple of years before Knights of God, it's not that unusual a juxtaposition. The idea of Arthur returning to help Britain in her hour of need was vigorously promulgated in the Middle Ages, first by Welsh resistors to Saxon occupation, and then by both Welsh and Saxon resistors to Norman occupation; and ever since the Blitz the idea of Arthur protecting Britain from Nazis has been a common trope as well.

    Reply

  20. BerserkRL
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    And of course there's the Scouring of the Shire, which is essentially "four of King Arthur's pages come to 20th century fascist-bureaucratic society and knock it on its ear."

    Reply

  21. BerserkRL
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

    Knights of God trends uncomfortably towards a dictatorial monarchism of its own in its endless focus on how a good king will rise up and rule everybody wisely and justly.

    And likewise the similar problem in LOTR. On the one hand, the central theme of LORS is against political power; the problem of the RIng is not how to find the wisest and most benevolent person to entrust it to, but how to destroy it. On the other hand, there's all the stuff about Aragorn as Returning King. (No surprise, since Tolkien said his two favourite political forms were anarchy and unconstitutional monarchy.)

    Reply

  22. BerserkRL
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    Surely there are only two definitive Doctors: Peter Cushing and Richard E. Grant. Everything else is deuterocanonical.

    Reply

  23. BerserkRL
    June 25, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    In related news, one hypothesis about the discovery of (supposedly) Arthur's tomb in Glastonbury in 1191 was that it was a Plantagenet plant to put the kibosh on popular rumours of Arthur's impending return to lead an anti-Norman revolt.

    Reply

  24. John
    June 25, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

    Found it on You Tube but the quality is terrible. Hopefully we'll see a DVD release soon.

    Reply

  25. Sean Daugherty
    June 25, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    It's a well-established fact that all other Doctors pale before the greatness of George Gallaccio.

    Reply

  26. Anton B
    June 26, 2012 @ 12:28 am

    'Tolkien said his two favourite political forms were anarchy and unconstitutional monarchy'

    Did he really? He's gone up in my estimation then.

    There's a lot of mileage in the whole Arthurian schtick isn't there? How similar to Doctor Who it is in regard to its canon/non-canon status and its accreted mythos. It's notable that, following the success of RTD's Doctor Who revamp, the BBC chooses to foreground the character of Merlin in its rediscovered 'saturday evening family viewing' slot; sidelining Arthur to the status of sidekick. Yes the returning saviour/king is a very British trope and in true Brit-Ironic fashion we refuse to take it seriously. It is mostly a construction of the Victorian/Edwardian'heritage' industry anyway as anyone who's visited Tintagel and its 'Guenevere tea rooms' and 'Merlin's cave' gifte shoppes will testify.

    As far as the connection with The Doctor it's strange that, apart from the notorious 'hints' about the seventh Doctor, Doctor Who has never done a straightforward Arthurian historical, not even one transposed onto an alien culture. It would be a fascinating addition to the 'Abdicated Master of the Land of Fiction' theory if the Doctor were allowed to meet the TE White 'Once and Future King' and his assorted Knights etc. I'm sure Doctor Sandifer would have a field day with it. I suppose someone's going to tell me about a Virgin adventures novel where this happens now.

    Reply

  27. David Anderson
    June 26, 2012 @ 12:46 am

    Aragorn's job within the plot of LotR is to provide a doomed last stand to distract Sauron from Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. He is quite explicitly a pointless subplot distracting from the main story.
    Also, Aragorn's rise to kingship is explicitly the dawn of the Age of Men (sic) and therefore only made possible by the decline and passing of the elves.

    Reply

  28. sleepyscholar
    June 26, 2012 @ 3:29 am

    Matter of Britain, surely? I don't recall watching Oliver Tobias in Arthur of the Saxons!

    Reply

  29. Gavin
    June 26, 2012 @ 4:20 am

    Well, I think the thing about Tolkien here is that he's genuinely, utterly, sincerely, committed to a premodern view of power. Everyone has their rightful place, and there's an absolute difference between someone exercising his rightful powers and someone who tries to go beyond those limits. And there always are limits. No matter who you are, you're not at the top of the hierarchy. (That's God.) This is a point which Tolkien does not exactly make subtly – it's all over the place.

    So I think part of the answer to BerzerkRL's problem is that there's no such thing in LOTR as a unified entity that can be labelled "political power," any more than there's a single thing to be called "magic." Worth remembering that Tolkien was highly involved with German – the Macht/Herrschaft distinction is clearer in German than in English.

    It's useful to play Tolkien off against T. H. White. Both hate modernity (and specifically, modern war) and try to recapture what they idealize about (different parts of) the premodern past in their work. Both start with a book for children and then follow it up with continuations of a more adult sort.

    White, as far as I'm concerned, is a better writer, and in particular he's a better novelist. But by the same token, Tolkien is more impressively committed to pushing against the expectations associated with a modern novel and carrying through with a remarkably singular vision of how (according to Tolkien) we should think, whether or not we actually do.

    White, in contrast, is constantly turning to the reader and (sometimes explicitly!) worrying about whether or not this is credible and relevant in the terms of 20th-century middle-class British society. White is worried about "political power" in a way that suits BerzerkRL's reading of Tolkien better than Tolkien does, I think.

    Reply

  30. Gavin
    June 26, 2012 @ 4:26 am

    Tolkien would also have spelled "Berserk" correctly. Apologies.

    Reply

  31. Henry R. Kujawa
    June 26, 2012 @ 6:35 am

    Philip Sandifer:
    "and, for good measure, Doctor Who has a creative renaissance"

    So was James Bond! (Can't help it, I just LOVE Dalton's films.)

    "it's better to have hidden depths than appear oblivious to your own shallowness"

    What a GREAT line!

    "Maddeningly, it doesn't seem to have an English-language release on VHS or DVD."

    An English show not available in English. Wonderful. This reminds me of when, to get my hands on a 45 by my favorite bar band (2 songs that were recorded 15 minutes' drive from my house!) I had to get it from a store in Amsterdam (on the other side of the Atlantic). Wild!

    Adam Riggio:
    "One of the often-heard takes on Davies' relationship to 1980s Doctor Who is that his era of the show was motivated, in part, by a desire to get the best aspects of the Davison era shining through properly, leaving all the mistakes of the Saward way behind."

    I never heard that until recently… but from the moment David Tennant debuted, he kept making me think of, "Peter Davison– done right!" So many people kept saying Davison was so wonderful, and I did like Davison the actor (as evidenced by just how damn much I love CAMPION), but Davison's "Doctor" just never seemed like "The Doctor". And Colin, for all his faults (and they were many!) …did. (Not as much as Sylvester, though. Astonishing how many people keep saying he was "totally wrong for the part!!!" Wanna bet that was what people said back when Troughton was cast?)

    BerserkRL:
    "Surely there are only two definitive Doctors: Peter Cushing and Richard E. Grant. Everything else is deuterocanonical."

    For the 2nd time in 3 years, I concluded a long WHO marathon by watching INVASION EARTH: 2150 A.D. Yep.

    Anton B.:
    "it's strange that, apart from the notorious 'hints' about the seventh Doctor, Doctor Who has never done a straightforward Arthurian historical, not even one transposed onto an alien culture"

    And yet, oddly enough, THE TIME TUNNEL did… (go figure)

    Reply

  32. Anton B
    June 26, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    And of course there's 'A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur' You Americans have always been more willing to suspend disbelief at our semi-fictitious monarchy than we care to. There was probably never any such person as 'King Arthur' outside of a shared national dream. Which IMO makes him a prime candidate for a visit from our very own meta-fictional Sir Doctor of Tardis.

    Reply

  33. ferret
    June 26, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    My dad walked out on us when I was a nipper in 1987, leaving me with my mother and two sisters – not even any male neighbours. As a result Doctor Who and Robin of Sherwood were my two main sources of male role models which – taken out of context – was a pretty awesome set of role models to have.

    Even that aside, I'd love to see Phil's take on Robin of Sherwood – a series very worthy of alternate analysis!

    Reply

  34. Spacewarp
    June 26, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

    @Anton B.

    "There was probably never any such person as 'King Arthur' outside of a shared national dream".

    Oh I don't know, Graham Phillips make a persuasive case in "King Arthur – The True Story". If nothing else it's a wonderfully evocative read.

    http://www.grahamphillips.net/Books/Arthur.htm

    Reply

  35. BerserkRL
    June 27, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    following the success of RTD's Doctor Who revamp, the BBC chooses to foreground the character of Merlin in its rediscovered 'saturday evening family viewing' slot

    The success of Harry Potter surely has something to do with that as well.

    Here's the Tolkien quote, by the way:
    http://radgeek.com/gt/2004/10/17/anarchodorkery

    Reply

  36. BerserkRL
    June 27, 2012 @ 12:07 am

    You Americans have always been more willing to suspend disbelief at our semi-fictitious monarchy than we care to.

    FWIW, here's my take on the historicity of Arthur: http://aaeblog.com/2009/05/31/dragonquest-or-a-voyage-to-arcturus

    Reply

  37. Anton B
    June 27, 2012 @ 1:10 am

    Interesting, thanks. Yes Harry Potter, (or the Anti-Christ if you're Alan Moore) and probably Buffy, Twilight, Game of Thrones etc. There's definitely a swing toward fantasy in the zeitgeist.

    Reply

  38. Alex Wilcock
    June 29, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    Too late to the party on this one, really, but I loved this too – with the exception of one story, even enjoying it more than that year's Doctor Who, which was a first for me – and haven't seen it properly for a long time, having recorded it on a Betamax that I've not been able to play for two decades.

    For me, even with Gareth Thomas and Patrick Troughton, John Woodvine stole it: his 13-episode journey from charismatic dictator to total disintegration is stunning. Even though I'm a republican (note lower case), it's probably the most powerful evocation of the power of the crown I've seen in a drama, as well as offering an intriguing take on one of Britain's four big defining national myths (Arthur, Robin, Holmes, World War II).

    But back to where to find it: for anyone who wants a DVD release, it might be worth writing to Network DVD and asking them to do one, as they specialise in rediscovering such esoteric but well-thought-of shows.

    Reply

  39. jdm314
    July 1, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

    No love for David Banks?

    Reply

  40. Nick Cooper
    September 27, 2019 @ 2:40 pm

    Released on VHS in Denmark and Finland (subtitled, two tapes, 118m & 120m), Germany (dubbed, 199 minutes), and Spain (subbed, 143 minutes).

    Unlikely to ever be released on DVD, as rights owned by Disney (due to them indirectly buying up most of the TVS archive), and all the paperwork has been lost. Even if someone could persuade Disney, they would have to start from scratch with all the cast/crew clearances.

    Reply

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