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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.

41 Comments

  1. Spacewarp
    October 2, 2013 @ 1:35 am

    Merlin would have fitted in quite well here, which makes me suspect you are planning a detailed Merlin post…

    Reply

  2. Chadwick
    October 2, 2013 @ 1:36 am

    What, in part, led to the demise of the Robin Hood series was that it got on the wrong side of viewers and critics by SHOUTING ITS PARALLELS TO CONTEMPORARY POLITICS AND SOCIETY and quite often, as you said, in a silly way. Allusions, references snuck in, parallels and allegories are great but just cutting and pasting Tony Blair's and Alastair Campbell's soundbites into the mouths of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisborne was plain irritating. The show was criticised for that and then, in what was a PR blunder latched onto by certain media outlets already suspicious of the show, it was believed that the omission of Friar Tuck from the story was done on grounds of political correctness and to not appear to be insensitive to overweight people. The production office couldn't get its story straight on the decision to omit Tuck and that was seen as proof of "political correctness gone mad". Leaving that aside, the show was a load of predictable and overdone tosh for me…but then again, I don't like Xena, Hercules and Merlin either.

    Reply

  3. David Anderson
    October 2, 2013 @ 1:46 am

    I read the sentence about mid-80s fantasy being dead, and immediately thought what about Robin of Sherwood. You do mention it half way down in connection with the recent Robin Hood, but still.
    At the time we didn't really notice the absence of UK fantasy because of the dominance of imported cartoons, as well as imported reruns – most notably Star Trek.
    Robin of Sherwood could probably have kept going had Michael Praed stayed on – it showed an admirably kitchen sink attitude to the matter of Britain.

    Primeval kept going for a respectable number of series, especially given its penchant for killing off half the cast every so often. It knew what it was trying to deliver and it delivered it. It got Cornell to write for it a couple of times (sadly I didn't see those episodes).

    Reply

  4. Seeing_I
    October 2, 2013 @ 1:59 am

    It's almost as though you're actively avoiding having to write about Voyage of the Damned! 🙂

    Reply

  5. Bennett
    October 2, 2013 @ 2:34 am

    If memory serves me right, we have a whole series of The Sarah Jane Adventures to get through before then (thankfully!).

    Reply

  6. Adam Riggio
    October 2, 2013 @ 3:41 am

    Funny, I always considered Voyage of the Damned a B-. Well, on first viewing, I thought of it as more of a C, but subsequent viewings on the DVD made me upgrade it to a B-. I think it'll be an interesting essay: when Doctor Who tries epic pastiche and takes its disaster movie clichés too seriously to pull off the pastiche. Corny fun, but fantastic, and alchemically connected to the sense of impending doom that surrounded the Donna season and Specials year, both in its basic storyline and the Bernard Cribbins cameo (who, after all, only became the Wilf we know and love because an actor literally died after filming his premiere episode).

    Reply

  7. Adam Riggio
    October 2, 2013 @ 3:53 am

    I enjoyed almost the whole first season of Robin Hood immensely because of those parallels. I had a different cultural orientation to the show's clear anti-Blair/Bush message because, being in Canada, I was closer to Bush than Blair. And Bush was, culturally, much easier to parody than the greasily slick Blair. Also, we had just elected our own leader who, when he was in opposition in 2003, demanded that we heartily join the Iraq War out of solidarity with the United States. It took Harper until 2011 to take it back. Despite whatever controversy it may have caused, Blair, Iraq, and the War on Terror in 2007 was a ripe target for critique, even if Robin Hood's critique was as subtle as a pie to the face. Still not as entertaining as a thrown shoe, though.

    Really, my only problem with Robin Hood was that it didn't always navigate the tension between its camp tone and its serious violence. I stopped watching after the first season finale convinced me that its creators didn't know what they were doing with that tension. The finale put those tones in stark relief for the first time in the show, where before there were multiple scenes transitioning to camp from horror and back again.

    In the finale, the Sheriff concocts a scheme to detect traitors among the Nottingham nobles by tricking them into signing a pact against him when each is alone in a secret room. As each nobleman signs, the Sheriff unmasks himself and slits their throats. Then Robin and the gang show up, rescue everyone, and hang the Sheriff from a chandelier by his ankles, where he snarls like Snidely Whiplash. Then they leave the surviving rebel nobles, including Marian and her father, in the middle of the Sheriff's banquet hall, vulnerable to his army (about which the gang have done nothing) and casually stroll out of the castle, freeze-framing on a jumping group high-five. They switched too fast from brutality to cartoonishness, and the tone problem just became too much for me.

    Reply

  8. jane
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:13 am

    Doesn't… like… Xena?

    That's like saying there's no Silicon Heaven.

    Reply

  9. Ross
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:32 am

    This article really hits on what I've never been able to articulate myself: why Primeval just did not work for me. My wife loved it, but I was just never able to get into it. (I'm starting to get a handle on the idea that I'm not actually a science fiction fan per se; I just like things that are Flippin' Weird)

    That said, I did think it was pretty neat how Primeval was so willing to reinvent itself on a regular basis, being fairly shameless about replacing its leads and rewriting the frame story around the dinosaur-chasing. It's been a long time since TV shows were allowed to be so shameless about swapping out major elements like that.

    Reply

  10. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:33 am

    in the mid-80s; the entire children-friendly sci-fi/fantasy/horror television market was dead, and adult sci-fi wasn’t doing much better, with Doctor Who being more or less the lone survivor in either category

    Well, apart from stuff like V, Max Headroom, Tripods, Voyagers, Matthew Star, the revived Twilight Zone, and something called Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    Reply

  11. Andrew
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:42 am

    The only British TV drama on that list is 'Tripods' which was aborted after two series.

    Reply

  12. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:44 am

    the omission of Friar Tuck from the story was done on grounds of political correctness and to not appear to be insensitive to overweight people

    Because if you include a fat character you have to then make fun of his weight. Got it.

    Reply

  13. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:48 am

    Did Phil mean British shows only? He didn't say that.

    Reply

  14. David Thiel
    October 2, 2013 @ 5:03 am

    The comparison between "Primeval" and "Sliders" is apt, though "Sliders"–at least as it was conceived–could've been that show that responds to other shows. The premise of "Primeval" was much more limiting: a weekly remake of "Invasion of the Dinosaurs," albeit one with fewer puppets. (insert joke about main cast here)

    For me, what made both "Primeval" and "Sliders" frustrating was that while both toyed with big story arcs, neither could decide what story it wanted to tell. The frequent shifts in cast and meta-plot left promising threads forever dangling as the producers pounced on the next shiny object.

    What I found especially galling about "Primeval" was that by the end of its run, most of the original team of investigators were long gone, leaving only the two I dubbed Pork Pie Hat and Pants Girl. (The latter nickname based on the Series 1 scene in which she opens her apartment to admit a relative stranger in her pants–or out of them, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live.) Two less likely series leads I could not have imagined.

    Reply

  15. Ross
    October 2, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    I found it rather charming that the two who ended up being the leads were the two least likely.

    Reply

  16. Andrew
    October 2, 2013 @ 5:25 am

    Well, I took it to mean so, since the reference concerned attempts to copy or compete with Dr. Who (which American TV wouldn't have had the slightest inclination to do – not in the mid 80's, anyway).

    Plus, as far as I can recall, shows like V, Twilight zone, Max Headroom were shown late at night in the UK, and so weren't attempts to encroach onto the "children-friendly sci-fi/fantasy/horror television market". ST:NG was shown at tea-time, but on the (slightly) minority BBC2 channel.

    Reply

  17. Theonlyspiral
    October 2, 2013 @ 5:52 am

    My problem with Robin Hood was the same as Adam's. The tonal dissonance just got to be too much. I was never 100% sure if I enjoyed watching it after a given episode.

    Jane: There is no Silicon Heaven. The Calculators just…die.

    Adam: Where in Canada are you? I'm in Alberta!

    Reply

  18. Theonlyspiral
    October 2, 2013 @ 5:54 am

    Am I the only one who authentically enjoys Voyage of the Damned? As in would go back willingly and watch it again?

    Reply

  19. Galadriel
    October 2, 2013 @ 6:00 am

    I've watched the first three seasons of Primeval–it's not a top-tier show, but it's amusing enough in its own way. Do you feel the short seasons were complimentary to the limited premise, or that longer seasons would have helped develop the premise?
    And on to Sarah Jane Adventures! There is a sad lack of critical analysis for that show.

    Reply

  20. Matthew Pickens
    October 2, 2013 @ 6:28 am

    You're not the only one; in fact, until it started popping up here in the comments, I had no idea that anybody particularly disliked it. I'm looking forward to seeing what problems most people here have with it.

    Reply

  21. David Thiel
    October 2, 2013 @ 7:12 am

    In hindsight, I don't have strong feelings about it either way. At the time, I wanted more from a stand-alone special airing after a lengthy hiatus. And the "Poseidon Adventure" riff seemed at odds with the holiday. (Am I correct in remembering that there's a UK tradition of broadcasting disaster movies on Christmas Day?) Mainly, it just wasn't much fun, what with all of the likable characters dying.

    Reply

  22. David Thiel
    October 2, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    To bring up a current example, it would be like having "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." season four led by Fitz/Simmons.

    Reply

  23. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 7:27 am

    copy or compete with Dr. Who (which American TV wouldn't have had the slightest inclination to do

    I find it hard to believe that Voyagers wasn't trying to some degree to copy Doctor Who: mysterious and cranky man from society of time travelers, with time machine disguised as ordinary object, accidentally kidnaps younger companion from our era, the historically knowledgeable son of a history teacher (so sort of Ian and Adric combined), and thanks to a fault in the time machine has trouble returning him to his own time, but in the meantime the two visit various historical eras, including meeting Marco Polo ….

    weren't attempts to encroach onto the "children-friendly sci-fi/fantasy/horror television market".

    But Phil explicitly included the adult market in his thesis: "adult sci-fi wasn’t doing much better, with Doctor Who being more or less the lone survivor in either category."

    Reply

  24. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 7:30 am

    Plus the time traveler's clothing looked like a cross between Han Solo's and the Fifth Doctor's. (Though his name, Phineas Bogg, was a nod to Jules Verne.)

    Reply

  25. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    Indeed the more I think about it the more I wonder why Phil didn't pop between realities to do a post on Voyagers. For the book, perhaps?

    Reply

  26. David Anderson
    October 2, 2013 @ 8:03 am

    In series four and five it was I think too much of an ensemble show for them to be the leads. If there was a lead it was Matt from the future.

    Reply

  27. Daibhid C
    October 2, 2013 @ 8:30 am

    There was a letter in Radio Times criticising it for precisely those reasons. "What are you supposed to say to a child? 'Let's watch Poseidon Adventure so you can appreciate the cultural context'?"

    Reply

  28. Daibhid C
    October 2, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    The only British TV drama on that list is 'Tripods' which was aborted after two series.

    In Max Headroom's case, that very much depends on your definition of "British". The original one-off special is definitely British; the series, probably as British as Miracle Day.

    Reply

  29. Ross
    October 2, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    I'd even say that comparing the two versions of the pilot is an extraordinary way to demonstrate very clearly the difference between how TV works in the US and the UK.

    Reply

  30. Josh Marsfelder
    October 2, 2013 @ 10:40 am

    Maybe Phil considers Star Trek: The Next Generation a late-80s show-That's what I took away from that sentence at least.

    And IIRC wasn't TNG delayed a few seasons in the UK anyway?

    Reply

  31. elvwood
    October 2, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    Interesting. I've never even heard of Voyagers! And TNG was, indeed, delayed in reaching these shores, so the first episode wasn't broadcast until September 1990.

    Reply

  32. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

    In other news, guess who's going to get David Tennant's role in the American version of Broadchurch?

    http://www.aintitcool.com/node/64450

    Reply

  33. Spacewarp
    October 2, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

    Indeed, the first I ever saw of TNG was on VHS in my local video rental store in the mid to late 80s. I would go in every week in the hope of a new release. In these days of the successful Star Trek franchise you forget how exciting New Star Trek actually was.

    Reply

  34. Spacewarp
    October 2, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    At the risk of too much Primeval in this thread, did anyone else really enjoy the recent Canadian "New World" iteration? Lots of timey-wimey and a slow-burning arc that kicked off in the last few episodes, sadly though not enough to save it from cancellation.

    Reply

  35. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 2, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    I did mean British shows, yes, as those are the ones that would meaningfully be conceived of primarily as responses to Doctor Who. Influenced by Doctor Who – which I'm willing to buy that TNG was – is not the same as "copy and compete."

    And there is no amount of money in the world that will get me to write about Voyagers.

    Reply

  36. Ross
    October 2, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

    Most of what I remember about Voyagers! is the rather tragic story of what happened to its star.

    That and the episode where they considered "He's a fan of Niccolo Machiavelli" to be absolute irrefutable proof of someone's guilt in a court of law.

    Reply

  37. Iain Coleman
    October 2, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

    The article refers to '"Doctor Who" vet Tennant'. I thought that was Davison?

    Reply

  38. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

    there is no amount of money in the world that will get me to write about Voyagers

    If I were enormously wealthy I would take that as a challenge.

    Reply

  39. BerserkRL
    October 2, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

    Ah, but he's a Doctor of everything.

    Reply

  40. Chadwick
    October 3, 2013 @ 3:01 am

    I hope BerserkRL doesn't think I agree with the view on Friar Tuck, but his omission from the series raised a lot of questions and issues that were handled badly by the BBC and the production team for Robin Hood. Why wasn't Tuck there? The press went with a supposed leak from the production team that it was because Tuck's a comic character as he's an overweight glutton and that mockery of fat people was wrong. Cue the "political correctness gone mad" headlines. But the production team failed to respond adequately and made some statements about the relevance of the character that made you think it really was the reason. The other theory going around was that as a Christian religious figure, that was wrong too in today's multi-faith culture or with secular viewers. Again, the response from the production team was slow and not convincing. So that became a stick to beat the show with, which opened up all kinds of accusations that the show was populated with Hollyoaks style youth actors who didn't convince in an action series, the clunky allegories and, inevitably unfavourable comparisons with Robin of Sherwood and other incarnations of the Robin Hood story.

    Reply

  41. Daibhid C
    October 10, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    Brother Tuck appeared in Season 3, as a not-overweight and very serious black man.

    I don't suppose that would have exactly have silenced the "political correctness gone mad" crowd.

    Reply

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