Eruditorum Press

A workers state with executive dysfunction

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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.

69 Comments

  1. Mike Russell
    January 2, 2013 @ 12:15 am

    Yeah, "nobody" liked the TVM. Nobodies such as RTD and Moffat have said they loved it. I'll bet the bullies at your school told you "nobody" liked your favorites, too.

    Reply

  2. Ununnilium
    January 2, 2013 @ 12:21 am

    Good point, overall ("Doctor Who knockoff" feels a bit harsh, but I get what you meant). Nitpicks and comments:

    "The first thing to realize is that in 1996, Neil Gaiman wasn’t Neil Gaiman yet."

    Well, he was Neil Gaiman: Creator of Sandman, and that's certainly a Neil Gaiman, even if it's not the Neil Gaiman we have now.

    "This is different from making things mythic, a term that implies the headlong slide into the master narratives of the epic."

    You know, I've been reading the first book volume, and it talks a lot about how they made Hartnell mythic by having him step out and be mythic and have the camera and the setup treat him as mythic. I prefer that "mythic" to the "mythic" that's part of the whole "epic as all-consuming master narrative" thing.

    "Gaiman and Lawrence miles have separately talked about learning Doctor Who as their first mythology, and this captures something sensible about its history, which is that it is a mythology to draw from."

    And I note that this mythology is what I tend to call "Whoniverse", and I prefer that Whoniverse to the Whoniverse of the stasis-bound every-detail-in-place continuity.

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  3. Tommy
    January 2, 2013 @ 12:27 am

    "Gaiman and Lawrence miles have separately talked about learning Doctor Who as their first mythology"

    Somehow even seeing the words 'Gaiman' and 'Lawrence Miles' in the same sentence makes me half-dread it's gotta come to a punch-up to decide which one has to go.

    Reply

  4. doublethreatmagee
    January 2, 2013 @ 1:20 am

    For anyone interested, here's a link to Gaiman's introduction to Paul McAuley's Telos novella of a few years back, where he discusses exactly what Phil's talking about: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2007/05/nature-of-infection.html

    I was lucky enough to see Neverwhere very close to its original broadcast here in Australia and have loved nearly every iteration of it since (except the comic book, natch). Maybe it's because my visual literacy c. 1996 was learned almost entirely through watching Doctor Who, but I never once equated the VT with cheapness.

    (Side note: oh God, wouldn't Paterson Joseph have been fantastic as the Eleventh Doctor?)

    Reply

  5. sorrywehurtyourfield
    January 2, 2013 @ 1:28 am

    Neverwhere was my first exposure to Neil Gaiman, introduced to me by a massive fan of his. "I have to tell you," she said solemnly and apologetically, "it's a bit cheap. You have to look past the bad effects." "Don't worry," I said cheerfully, "I watch Doctor Who." And I had no trouble loving it.

    (Still, I've often wondered why, if it was shot and lit for a film effect and the only thing missing to improve it was the film effect, why they don't just filmise now for a special edition DVD?)

    "The failure of the TV Movie was not the final nail in the coffin but the necessary attempt at one approach that had to happen to finally shut a particular contingent of fans up for good."

    I certainly agree that the TV movie was, in a sense, useful as a lesson in how not to do it, but I think the fans are far from the only people to blame. Quite honestly, from my memories of the period, it seems like the entirety of British culture had completely lost the plot as far as Doctor Who was concerned; from the BBC's endless fruitless attempts to make the mega-budget movie version, to the press' endless speculation as to which A-list action hero would star in the mega-budget movie version, and the inbility for public discourse to consider the old series in any other terms than its low budget.

    On the one hand you had the success of Independence Day convincing people that the main and perhaps only point of SF was spectacle, on the other you had The X-Files as the rare example of a cult series becoming a hit on BBC1, somehow convincing people that cult = success. And in a way, the supposed brand power of Doctor Who was the curse, causing it to be endlessly sucked into this vortex of wrong-headedness on the part not just of fans, but the BBC, the press and the public.

    "It’s the moment where we can at least say that it becomes clear that the heart of this sort of television is its conceptual approach, with its technical qualities providing a useful bonus."

    I completely agree, but it does seem to have taken a while for this attitude to overcome some of the prevailing moods.

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  6. Alan
    January 2, 2013 @ 1:33 am

    This is perhaps understandable: nobody has ever suggested that any piece of American television should get a British remake, and yet virtually everything in the UK is subject to pillaging US versions. Virtually anything we make is considered good enough for UK consumption, whereas we insist on redoing virtually everything from the UK.

    Well, there was "The Upper Hand," the British version of "Who's the Boss" (the one with Honor Blackman playing the Katherine Helmond roll). Ran for several seasons, I think.

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  7. Alan
    January 2, 2013 @ 1:45 am

    I certainly agree that the TV movie was, in a sense, useful as a lesson in how not to do it,

    Indeed, it is fascinating to me to compare DTM to S1 of the new show. The Movie started nattering on before the credits about "Timelords," "The Master," and the lead character having multiple lives, and one of the first shots shows a police box flying through space followed by McCoy in a spacious Victorian parlor, with no explanation for the audience about what's going on. "Rose" starts off small — a young woman is working as a shop assistant when aliens attack — and you see the Tardis at first only as in the background with a music cue to tell you its important. The first time you see the inside, it is A Big Deal. The aliens are a Classic DW alien but are also easily comprehensible to the audience ("An alien blob that can possess plastic wants to take over Earth because we have a lot of plastic"). The head alien doesn't even have speaking lines, let alone a chance to vamp around for half the show eating all the scenery. You don't learn anything about the Timelords until the next episode, by which point, "whoops! they're all dead and shan't be mentioned again." Part of me wonders if RTD consciously wrote the first two episodes as a deliberate reaction against the mistakes of DTM.

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  8. Pete Galey
    January 2, 2013 @ 2:04 am

    The whole "it would have worked if it had been filmised" argument that Gaiman himself used to trot out (I don't know whether he still does) is utter bollocks. To prove it I ripped the DVD once, and presented two versions to a friend who had trotted out that line, one as it is on the DVD, one filmised. He couldn't tell the difference. He'd presumably expected "filmising" would make the whole thing shimmer like a David Lean masterpiece, rather than just look jerky and weird (see also Red Dwarf season 7). There were improvements to the technique after the switch to digital shooting, to the extent that RTD's material was filmised all the way up to The Next Doctor, but the real changes came with a pure digital pipeline, better motion-detection algorithms, and lighting and shooting single-camera.

    As it happens, it amuses me that these days people have their televisions set up to automatically videoise filmic material (including, of course, material that was once video and has already been filmised) because they prefer the smoother motion, but do it deliberately as a filmmaker and all the critics suddenly say how cheap it looks.

    Meanwhile, the real flaw in Neverwhere is where no one ever dares to put it: the script. Two-dimensional characters, a mostly overly linear plot, acres of tedious dialogue, no end of clunky lines, all add up to something very uninvolving. But sure, let's drop every other field and see if that suddenly makes it AMAZING.

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  9. elvwood
    January 2, 2013 @ 2:10 am

    I wasn't much of a television watcher in the 80s and early 90s, and I'd left Doctor Who behind long ago (I think the last time I saw a whole story was The Five Doctors, but I'm not even sure if I saw that on original broadcast). I was getting more interested in TV again in time for the TVM – and not being a fan I was able to enjoy it as disposable entertainment. But I was a bit disappointed that it didn't feel like Doctor Who used to when I was a child, and in my head it justified my stopping watching. It certainly didn't rekindle the love.

    Neverwhere was an entirely different kettle of fish. My (soon-to-be) wife and I both loved it, and were dismayed at the negative reception in the press. She asked for (and got) the DVD as a birthday present a couple of years ago, and we enjoyed it all over again.

    The cheapness never bothered us. I was going to say that I'm sorry I never saw the seventh Doctor's run as it wouldn't have bothered me there either, but at the time of broadcast I would have sneered at it; so I'll modify that that and say I'm sorry I didn't see it (or seasons 25 and 26 at least) in the late 90s, when I had grown up enough to appreciate them.

    Actually, the unfilmised look added to the sense of strangeness for us, I think. And the obvious comic-book feel (in some ways reminiscent of the slightly later film Dark City), which was a negative feature for the reviewers, was for me more a "hint" towards a way to watch it.

    So, count us among the "nobodies" who were thrilled by Neverwhere!

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  10. elvwood
    January 2, 2013 @ 2:27 am

    And outside of drama, we do remakes and rip-offs – think The Price is Right for the former and Jeremy Kyle for the latter.

    But Phil is prone to state things as absolutes when they are instead strong trends. In this post he's already been called out on three of them (one by me)! He doesn't really believe that nobody loved the TVM or Neverwhere; nor that the statement you quoted is literally true. Perhaps it's just his way to stir up debate.

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  11. John Callaghan
    January 2, 2013 @ 2:34 am

    He would have, but I'd like to repeat myself from the Jonathan Creek post: the problem is that the audience would know exactly what to expect and wouldn't be 'intrigued' to tune in, even if he then made his performance very different.

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  12. John Callaghan
    January 2, 2013 @ 2:39 am

    Philip, there are other shows which I've thought are nearly-but-not-quite-Who, paving the way. There were a few 'grown-up' BBC 1 comedy-drama fantasy shows on at 9pm on Saturdays. These would include Crime Traveller and the Vic & Bob Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). If they'd put the latter on at 6pm, with tamer violence and less sauciness, and made it a touch less weird and better acted, it could have been the family smash which Who was.

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  13. Daibhid C
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:02 am

    Don't forget The Brighton Belles, the UK version of The Golden Girls.

    Actually, do forget it. Work very hard at forgetting it.

    From what I've heard by people who liked Law & Order, Law & Order: UK was okay.

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  14. John Callaghan
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:07 am

    And it was even written by Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts.

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  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:34 am

    "Paul McGann doesn't count."

    Which is to say that Davies and Moffat both did, upon ascending to the throne, switch to an attitude of loving everything. Even still, Davies's comments about the TV Movie have been barbed since then – I recall a quote in which he said that he enjoyed it despite a host of grave storytelling flaws. It's not exactly a ringing endorsement.

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  16. Nick Smale
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:40 am

    Or for that matter "Days Like These", the UK version of "That 70s Show"…

    Reply

  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:50 am

    Not quite a way of stirring debate, though it's close – a mirroring of the tone of argument that characterizes fan debates over drinks. It's been a stylistic choice since the start of the blog, back when it had to distinguish itself from the (willfully mad) tone of The Nintendo Project. It still serves at least some use, mainly in keeping this from becoming "proper" scholarship in tone.

    In that regard, more telling than my occasional stylistic overgeneralizations are the moments when for no particularly useful reason I start meticulously splitting hairs. 🙂

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  18. Christopher Haynes
    January 2, 2013 @ 5:08 am

    Each time Philip brings up the TV Movie I'm reminded of the RPG term "bad wrong fun":

    http://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/RPG_Lexica:ABC

    Well, that and I keep waiting for him to claim that anyone who liked it "actually hates the vast majority of Doctor Who".

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  19. David Anderson
    January 2, 2013 @ 5:26 am

    I think Neverwhere's problem is that it's trying to do two different things and they're at cross purposes. The one is to have a set of interesting weird things going on: an Earl's Court at Earl's Court, an angel called Islington at Islington, and a Night on a bridge at Knightsbridge. And on the other it's trying to depict a society that's dropped out or been excluded from upper London. And the two don't mesh. For Richard having adventures, the night on the bridge is part of the dangers he's facing in trying to survive. But it doesn't belong with people trying to get by from day to day or run a market.

    On the plus side, Croup and Vandermar make themselves into the archetypal pair of villainous henchmen, so that other pairs of villainous henchmen are now automatically Croup and Vandemar imitations.

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  20. Ross
    January 2, 2013 @ 5:51 am

    I don't know that " shut a particular contingent of fans up for good" is even right. My recollection at the time is that a big chunk of fandom considered the sin of the TVM to be 100% "Too american, not enough continuity" and that what they wanted was a show that was just as much in the cult sci-fi mode but more british-flavored. Something with "none of that rubbishy soap stuff with girls and feelings" and more science and explosions. And a more slavish adherence to continuity. (There was a lot of "What they should have done is hired ME as their continuity advisor and given me veto power over anything that violated so much as a word of the preceeding 35 years of the show")

    @Alan: When you get to The Parting of the Ways and have the Doctor kiss his companion, have his companion open up the heart of the TARDIS, and have the use of the magical glowing energy therein bring the dead back to life, I know I kinda felt like RTD was saying "See? You actually can pull that stuff off." (Because of my break with a lot of fandom over the reaction to the TVM, I see it less as RTD sticking it to the TVM and more as RTD sticking it to the fanboys back in 97 who thought the problem with the TVM was with petty details like kissing rather than it being a fundamental lack-of-getting-it.)

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  21. Arkadin
    January 2, 2013 @ 6:00 am

    I enjoyed Neverhwere immensely when I saw it in 2005 or thereabouts, around the time the new series started. It definitely fell within the tradition of Doctor Who and other British television that I'd watched a fair amount of, growing up in an academically-oriented family. Like a lot of British TV, it felt more like a theatrical production than a television one. In that context, the non-specialness of the special effects didn't matter–"The best of these kind are but shadows and the worst are no worst, if imagination amend them." In fact, I found the relative slickness of the New Series to be a little alienating at first. (I probably would have liked it less if I'd read the novel first.)

    It's also worth noting that Paterson Joseph, who plays the Marquis de Carabas, continually comes up as a fancasting for a black Doctor.

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  22. Arkadin
    January 2, 2013 @ 6:10 am

    Gaiman would win the same way Dream defeated Choronzon in Sandman #4–by becoming Hope. Lawrence Miles was always more at ease with bitter "realism" than hope, though a vastly more intelligent version of that creed than most of its worshippers, and with the sweeping and vast scale of history than the small and human. Which is why, for all his brlliance, his way of Doctor Who was ultimately a dead end.

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  23. elvwood
    January 2, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    Some blantantly, of course, as with the New Firm, Mr Pin and Mr Tulip, in Terry Pratchett's The Truth. I remember being completely boggled to find out they weren't actually based on the Old Firm, especially given the relationship of Mssrs Gaiman and Pratchett.

    It didn't stop me using their -ing voices when reading the book to my children, though.

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  24. Archeology of the Future
    January 2, 2013 @ 7:26 am

    Neverwhere never did it for me, mainly because it felt like an attempt to do a more mythic version of 'Archer's Goon' by Diana Wynne Jones (and its 1992 children's telly adaptation). There was something kind of embarrassing about the 'myth of the city' stuff with Angel Islington etc.

    My feelings about Gaiman are complicated. In the autobiography of the founder of geordie Viz comic, Chris Donald, he talks about meeting Harry Enfield for discussions about writing material for him. Donald talks about the overwhelming sense that he had of Enfield choosing comedy as a career in the same way that someone might choose law or accountancy. My feelings about Gaiman have always been similar. I picture him in the careers office at school answer the careers teacher's question about what he wants to do for a career with 'I want to be a maker of modern myths.'

    Gaiman is evidently a good writer, but I don't quite connect with him. His writing always, to me at least, feels calculating and considered as if he creates writing that exists expressly to hit the buttons of various audiences. There is a limited amount, for me at least, to 'read' in Gaiman. He is almost too coherent, to aware of critical approaches. To my mind at least when left to create his own characters and situations he tends to create ones that to me feel already locked down and dead to interpretation.

    My problem is that he is too coherent, too savvy. I did however like his early work writing stuff that others had set up. His book of Miracleman/Marvelman is fascinatingly inconclusive and sad, as are the various bits of work he did on various DC shorts when he was being groomed as the successor to Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. He's really very good at ringing new angles from established continuities and mostly adding melancholy.

    His creation of his own mythologies has always left me cold.

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  25. Ununnilium
    January 2, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    "I certainly agree that the TV movie was, in a sense, useful as a lesson in how not to do it, but I think the fans are far from the only people to blame."

    See, I think it had far more to do with shutting up a particular segment of TV producers who were very rarely fans. I mean, there's a certain aspect of nonsensical continuity that seems to stem out of Philip Segal's fannishness, but I'd think that the greater effect in terms of cutting off future possibilities was the idea of just straightforwardly shoving the series into whatever mold you had available and putting it out there.

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  26. Ununnilium
    January 2, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    To be fair, in that paragraph he did at least say "virtually".

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  27. Ununnilium
    January 2, 2013 @ 8:36 am

    Apparently, it does, measured by the relative success of the novel.

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  28. Ununnilium
    January 2, 2013 @ 9:01 am

    He certainly hasn't attacked anyone for liking it. (Heck, the bit you quote specifically mentions Hartnell as well, and if he thinks it's bad to like that I'll eat my hat.)

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  29. Arkadin
    January 2, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Well if nothing else we know the Word Lord enjoyed it.

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  30. Jon Gad
    January 2, 2013 @ 10:23 am

    Law & Order: UK, for that matter.

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  31. minkubus
    January 2, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    Must we as adults treat high school as the moral center of the universe?

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  32. Mike Russell
    January 2, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    Check out the Doctor Who Confidential introducing Matt Smith. RTD amd Moffat are genuinely enthusiastic about McGann, but in contrast, RTD is very political and guarded about Colin Baker's era, calling it "brave." And yes, RTD has pointed out the storytelling flaws in the TVM, saying "so not what I would do, but I love it." He also said that the best parts of it are among the best Doctor Who ever made.

    It's perfectly fine for you and many other fans to despise the TVM, but please don't try to speak for everyone by saying that nobody liked it. That kind of stance suggests a lack of mercury on your part. 🙂

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  33. Christopher Haynes
    January 2, 2013 @ 11:50 am

    Anyone who knows my wife would never accuse her of being a nonconformist. She goes to all the mainstream films, watches the most popular TV programs, and listens to Top 40 radio.

    Yet when I recently asked her who her favorite Doctor was, she mentioned some of the more recent actors but finally decided hers would always be William Hartnell.

    I was, of course, horrified. I never knew she hated Doctor Who so much.

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  34. Bob Dillon
    January 2, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    Surely the same argument could have been advanced for Pertwee?

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  35. encyclops
    January 2, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    I was a huge fan of Sandman when I first read Neverwhere the novel. I had no idea it had even been filmed until it came out on DVD in the US. And I'm with Pete on this one: to me it read like lukewarm self-parody. I thought it was OK (in contrast to Stardust, which I hated, and American Gods, which I loved) but it dealt a mighty blow to my opinion of Gaiman at the time.

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  36. Galadriel
    January 2, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

    I love Neil Gaiman–after watching his episode in season six, I dove headlong into his works, from Sandman to American Gods and Coraline. I actually read Neverwhere before watching it and you're right–the effects are cheap, but not so bad it stopped me from watching it.

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  37. Matthew Blanchette
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

    Except, I'm sorry, the wigs made me laugh. Honestly, why do you have wigs? 😀

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  38. Matthew Blanchette
    January 2, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

    Weren't Croup and Vandemar themselves a more sinister version of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, though?

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  39. Steven Clubb
    January 2, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    I would imagine a very large part of the "Americanization" of UK shows stems from the demands of American TV. If you're not producing 13 episodes a year, then networks don't quite know what to do with you. Masterpiece Theater just crams about of short series into an anthology format.

    While there's some obvious cultural differences, we've never exactly been a tough sell for British entertainment (Bond, Harry Potter, the English Hugh Grant rom-coms, and our general fondness of English actors even when they're not playing villains). It's just the major networks want 22 episodes a year and cable networks want 13. British TV is just a weird fit.

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  40. David Anderson
    January 2, 2013 @ 10:28 pm

    Thinking about Wint and Kidd now, you just think that they're not as well done as Croup and Vandemar. Gaiman's made over that archetypal space.

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  41. Ununnilium
    January 2, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

    Pratchett pointed out that, basically, all these sets of characters are part of a classic double-act of bad guys:

    "Fiction and movies are full of pairs of bad guys that pretty much equate to Pin and Tulip. They go back a long way. That's why I used 'em, and probably why Neil did too. You can have a trio of bad guys (who fill roles that can be abbreviated to 'the big thick one, the little scrawny one and The Boss') but the dynamic is different. With two guys, one can always explain the plot to the other…" "

    Other examples include Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction and the two Rons from Hale and Pace. (At least, according to the Annotated Pratchett File.)

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  42. Scott
    January 3, 2013 @ 12:22 am

    @ Ross: Heck the fact that the new series is a hugely successful, popularly and critically acclaimed, award-winning and increasingly internationally successful cultural behemoth … and there's STILL a fairly sizeable hoard of continuity-obsessed wingnuts whinging about how the series would be so much more successful and better if they just got rid of the girly stuff and implemented the fan's personal spreadsheet timeline (which settles the three Atlantises, UNIT dating and precisely how McGann regenerated into Christopher Eccleston) at once suggest that it will take the end of time itself to shut that contingent up for good.

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  43. SK
    January 3, 2013 @ 12:32 am

    That's one problem with Gaiman. The other is that he's a one-trick pony. I was a big fan as a teenager, then American Gods made me realise that every single thing he writes has the same idea behind it: what if things that aren't people (abstract concepts, norse gods, other gods, stars, tube stations, the TARDIS) acted like people?

    It gets wearing after a while. And I don't need to read endless variations on the same idea, which add very little to each other.

    But there is clearly a large market who do need to read endless variations on the same idea: large enough to make him very rich, at any rate. As a writer I put him in the same class as Stephanie Meyer and Ian Flemming: he does one thing very very well, and it's one thing that a lot of people like.

    And Sandman? Well, then I grew up. Goodness, sixty-odd issues just to do a bit metaphor for reinventing yourself when you go to university? It's so very, very teenage. Which I suppose is why I loved it as a teenager (I remember discussions with people at school over who the as-yet-unnamed missing member of the Endless might be).

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  44. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 3, 2013 @ 12:58 am

    That quite describes Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Violent Cases, Mister Punch, Signal to Noise, his two Marvel series, and most of his short stories.

    Which is to say that he's as much a one-trick pony as Alan Moore.

    I am more sympathetic to Archeology of the Future's complaint. I think, somewhere around American Gods, Gaiman fell into the trap of believing his own hype and writing for his fans. And like many writers, his best work came when he was still hungry for success and writing for himself. There was a solid decade in which Gaiman just did not surprise me once with anything he wrote. And I think when he fell into that trap he does start feeling clever without substance.

    That said, I've had a sense that the tide has shifted in Gaiman since about The Graveyard Book. I can just about point to the chapter of The Graveyard Book where it's clear that something's shifted in Gaiman as a writer (the Danse Macabre chapter), and his work since then has felt interesting and like a writer trying hard to challenge himself again. I'm actually quite excited for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which hasn't been true of a new Gaiman book for… twelve years now.

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  45. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 3, 2013 @ 1:00 am

    To expand on the above slightly, it also occurs to me that part of the style of TARDIS Eruditorum is a deliberate slight overplaying of my hand. Indeed, one of the larger ironies is that for all that I rail against master narratives, the entire blog tacitly assumes Doctor Who, and by extension British and American culture, has one. Which is self-evidently nonsense, but terribly interesting nonsense.

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  46. Ross
    January 3, 2013 @ 2:51 am

    Which is self-evidently nonsense, but terribly interesting nonsense

    So self-evidently, I think, that it becomes clear that you don't seriously mean that the master narrative exists.

    A bit like RTD's penchant, whenever a story calls for a really large number, to insert one so ridiculously huge as to communicate not just "A very big number" but "Look, clearly what I am going for here is 'mind-bogglingly huge' not some specific value for the fanboys to slot into their spreadsheets and obsess over."

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  47. Ununnilium
    January 3, 2013 @ 2:53 am

    "what if things that aren't people (abstract concepts, norse gods, other gods, stars, tube stations, the TARDIS) acted like people"

    This, to me, seems as much "just one idea" as "a man comes to town and everything changes" does.

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  48. doublethreatmagee
    January 3, 2013 @ 3:00 am

    Apparently, part of Pertwee's schtick when developing the character with Peter Bryant was that for once he was going to be able to play himself rather than hiding behind a silly voice, as he had done for most of his career up to that point. So possibly a lot of the audience hadn't actually seen him in that sort of a role before.

    And I do sort of see your point John, but it would have been fascinating to see (a) how Joseph might have developed the Marquisesque character into a Doctor Who framework and (b) how Steven Moffat might have written a Doctor that pushes away from Joseph's already established role.

    Instead, we got Troughton-lite.

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  49. Ununnilium
    January 3, 2013 @ 3:44 am

    I think the master narrative is the Eruditorum version of Glycon: something that's of use primarily as an image in the mind more than a real-world phenomenon.

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  50. Daibhid C
    January 3, 2013 @ 4:28 am

    I liked Neverwhere. I wasn't very familiar with Gaiman, I think I'd read two or three issues of Sandman, mostly because I recognised the name as that of the guy who wrote Good Omens and wasn't Terry. Neverwhere convinced me it was worth tracking down more. It was a bit flawed though, and not just because of what Terry called "Morag the Friendly Cow".

    I can't recall much about it as television, though. After all this time all that sticks in my mind is the revelation that the Angel Islington is a bad guy, and my Mum saying "Well, obviously; he's played by Peter Capaldi…"

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  51. SK
    January 3, 2013 @ 5:19 am

    After all, what is the whole idea of 'material social progress' but a master narrative?

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  52. SK
    January 3, 2013 @ 5:31 am

    Well, almost. It's more like 'a man comes to town and everything changes, but always in the same way.'

    So, you know, that might be 'a man comes to town and bring out simmering tensions so it all ends up in a big gunfight.' You can do that with different men, different towns, and different tensions, which provides a lot of variety, but you always know you're going to get the gunfight at the end (and there are authors who have built careers on doing exactly that, and to an extent all crime fiction is the same, 'a detective comes along and exposes the hidden secrets of the cast and at the end the crime is solved').

    Gaiman has a formula (and okay, saying it's all he ever does may be the same overplaying of the hand that is common on this site, but it is the vast majority of his output, including quite a few of the short stories, actually) which he does very well. I happen to find formulae boring (I rarely stick with any American TV series, for that reason; and it's why though I once loved Aaron Sorkin's dialogue, since spotting the formulae I sometimes find it painful to listen to) so I started disliking his work once I noticed it, but I don't deny that there are a lot of people who like formulae in general and Gaiman's formula in particular, and that's why — once he perfected it, and then marketed it well enough — he became very rich. Well done him.

    At least Doctor Who never stays one thing long enough to get boring.

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  53. Ross
    January 3, 2013 @ 5:35 am

    At least Doctor Who never stays one thing long enough to get boring.

    Well, except for "The Doctor has grown weary of his life of adventures and loss, and gives up traveling with a companion, becoming dangerous and detatched, until he meets That One Special Spunky Girl with 'Attitude' who breaks him out of it."

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  54. SK
    January 3, 2013 @ 5:42 am

    Well, some eras do tend to do the same sorts of stories over and over again, it's true, but then it changes.

    (And in the case of the Christmas episode, it's clearly not the girl he's interested in, but the mystery: though that is rather a repeat of Amy. If there's any annoyingly repetitive formula in the current era, it's companions temporarily dying.)

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  55. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 3, 2013 @ 5:45 am

    Ross – each of those elements in isolation has precedent. The combination has occurred exactly once that I can think of. To head off each of the examples you're thinking of.

    Rose: the Doctor is not weary, nor has he seemingly given up on traveling with a companion. He just doesn't have one. When we first meet him he's in full cheery adventure mode. ("Run!")

    Smith & Jones: The Doctor seems basically functional here, and not actively traveling without a companion. He's upset about Rose in The Runaway Bride, but to be fair, that followed Doomsday by seconds.

    Partners in Crime: the Doctor is functional, not detached, not dangerous, and not actively traveling without a companion.

    The Next Doctor-The End of Time: No special girl here.

    The Eleventh Hour: I suppose if you really want you can decide that this is picking up directly from the funk at the end of the Tenth Doctor's era, but Amy is not presented this way. That funk is shown to have ended in The End of Time.

    The God Complex-The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe: The Doctor isn't dangerous, and it's not the loss of people that's bothering him, it's his own imminent death. Which he has sorted out on his own. He's not dangerous in The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe, and he's certainly not weary. The observation that he should go back to the Ponds is based entirely on the fact that he's being a shitty friend by letting them think he's dead.

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  56. jane
    January 3, 2013 @ 6:31 am

    After all, what is the whole idea of 'material social progress' but a master narrative?

    Exactly. It needs a counterbalance, "individual internal progress," to be properly alchemical, to escape the noose of master narratives.

    But isn't the idea that "we should avoid master narratives" itself a kind of master narrative? It's the master story against master stories, which means at some point it has to attack itself and eat its own tail, or tale, if you prefer. This is the height of irony, and the pinnacle of postmodernism.

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  57. Ununnilium
    January 3, 2013 @ 7:47 am

    "We should avoid master narratives" doesn't seem like a narrative itself – just a rule that can itself lead to many narratives, as long as they're not master ones.

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  58. David Anderson
    January 3, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    Ben Aaronovitch is I think not going to crop up on this blog anymore. So here's a good place to say that the Rivers of London series he's doing at the moment has a strong feel of Neverwhere done in a way that works more consistently.

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  59. John Callaghan
    January 3, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    Fair enough! I'll stress now what I should have said initially – the idea that the Doctor's casting should be surprising and intrigue people in is my own personal criterion.

    I like Matt Smith ("he's so young and weird-looking! How's that going to work? I'd better tune in and find out") and think he has elements of Troughton but in the main very much has his own personality.

    And I like the TVM too. Ner.

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  60. John Peacock
    January 3, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    I thought they were fairly direct copies of Breughel and Mahler from the original Max Headroom movie, myself.

    Reply

  61. Matthew Blanchette
    January 3, 2013 @ 10:54 am

    I suppose one could add the Mitchell and Webb-bots from "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" to that list… 😉

    Reply

  62. jane
    January 3, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    So not a master narrative, just a master rule. And as long as we don't transmit it narratively, we're okay?

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  63. Ununnilium
    January 3, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

    Well, as long as we don't make it an all-encompassing theory of everything, we're okay. Simple stuff, once you remember the reasons why he said a master narrative was bad.

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  64. Arkadin
    January 3, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

    It's interesting how, with the 50th anniversary, an awareness of the series's history is starting to re-enter the wider fannish/pop-cultural consciousness that's been created for the new series. For instance, they're doing a bunch of "e-shorts" featuring every single one of the Doctors, which are written by various children's authors.

    There will also be anniversary reprints of some of the Doctor Who novels, mostly BBC books. These are mostly odd and disappointing choices, though two are perfect–I won't quibble with Festival of Death or the Remembrance of the Daleks novelization. A lot of the more interesting wilderness years novels are too adult or too arc-oriented, but I would have gone with:

    One: Doctor Who and the Daleks
    Two: ???
    Three: one of Malcolm Hulke's novelizations?
    Four: Festival of Death
    Five: Goth Opera
    Six: Dunno, I guess Players is as good a choice as any
    Seven: Remembrance of the Daleks
    Eight: The Scarlet Empress (yes, it's weird and tangly and postmodern, but it has a very young adult-y feel)
    Nine: Stealer of Dreams
    Ten: The Eyeless
    Eleven:…I haven't read any Eleven books, but I like the comics I've read from Abnett so that might be good
    And cap it off with the Infinity Doctors, because there's absolutely nothing wrong with having two Lance Parkin books.

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  65. Arkadin
    January 3, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    Oh right, forgot the link. It's here, under these somewhat unnerving mugs:

    Reply

  66. jane
    January 3, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

    Does that include the 3-Act Structure?

    Reply

  67. Wm Keith
    January 3, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

    I absolutely love "Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks", with its narration by an Ian Chesterton who might almost be Harry Palmer and with its unintentional half-reference to Marc Bolan's car crash, but as a novel it makes explicit some of the unspoken attitudes of the television story. For example, on removing the Dalek creature from its machine: "Chesterton, if I had any doubt at all about what we were contemplating, the sight of that disgusting thing has totally dispelled them. And they call the Thals mutations!" or "Like the men, all the female Thals were perfectly proportioned and their hair was fair."

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  68. Daibhid C
    January 4, 2013 @ 12:53 am

    But everything doesn't always change in the same way in a Gaiman book. "What if this abstract concept was a person?" is a beginning; it doesn't tell you how the end's going to be. I can certainly see why you might find it irritating that it's something he keeps doing, but AFAICS it's a "formula" in the sense that "What if an anarchic figure in a time-travelling police box wandered into this situation?" is a formula, not the standardised plot beats of westerns and whodunnits.

    Interestingly, I was flicking through Terry Pratchett's Once More With Footnotes this morning for the amusing anecdote about why Neil Gaiman doesn't wear a hat, and found that Pratchett's praise of Gaiman is pretty much a positive interpretation of the above criticisms:

    What can I say about Neil Gaiman that hasn't already been said in The Morbid Imagination: Five Case Studies?

    Well, he's no genius. He's better than that.

    He's not a wizard in other words, but a conjurer. Wizards don't have to work. They wave their hands and the magic happens. But conjurers now … conjurors work very hard. They spend a lot of time in their youth watching,very carefully, the best conjurors of their day. They seek out old books of trickery and, being natural conjurors, read everything else as well, because history itself is just a magic show. They observe the way people think, and the many ways in which they don't.

    And they take center stage and amaze you with flags of all nations and smoke and mirrors, and you cry: “Amazing! How does he do it? What happened to the elephant? Where’s the rabbit? Did he really smash my watch?”

    And in the back row we, the other conjurers, say quietly: “Well done. Isn’t that a variant of the Prague Levitating Sock? Wasn’t that Pasqual’s Spirit Mirror, where the girl isn’t really there? But where the hell did that flaming sword come from?”

    And we wonder if there may be such a thing as wizardry after all…
    (endquote)

    (SK, I think, is in the position of someone who isn't a professional conjuror, judging Gaiman by that standard, but does know how the trick is done – and moreover, knows that the last five tricks, while they looked completely different, were based on the same mechanic, and therefore weren't that interesting. Which is fair enough, really.)

    Reply

  69. Arkadin
    January 4, 2013 @ 3:46 am

    Reply

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