Rip This World Apart For Just One Cell (Alien Bodies)
Alien Bodies, by Lawrence Miles, is the landmark Eighth Doctor Adventure – the one that changed everything. It introduces Faction Paradox, the War, kills off the Doctor, introduces the Dark Sam plot, and probably does a fair number of other things I’m not thinking of at the moment. Steven Moffat has praised it. Everyone has praised it. Everyone. It’s the fourth most popular Eighth Doctor Adventure, with an 84.1% rating. Jackie Jenkins, guesting for Dave Owen in Doctor Who Magazine, declared that it “nourishes itself through constant questioning,” which sounds like a touch of faint praise. Lars Pearson, unsurprisingly for someone who would go on to publish Miles’s Faction Paradox series, calls it “one of the best ‘Who’ novels ever.” Lawrence Miles, meanwhile, says that it “isn’t even that good.”
It’s November of 1997. Aqua is at number one with “Barbie Girl,” and I think we’ll just leave that to be a metaphor. For something. I refuse to decide what. It lasts nearly all month, and then is finally overtaken by a massive supergroup covering Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in support of the BBC and the license fee, which is to say that things are clearly changing in terms of the BBC and it’s willingness to be proud of itself. Backstreet Boys, Chumbawumba, Spice Girls, LL Cool J, Natalie Imbruglia, Moby, Hanson, and a duet between Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion also chart.
In news, MCI and WorldCom merge to become MCI WorldCom, which then became WorldCom, which then imploded in a massive and spectacular accounting scandal to nobody’s surprise and nobody’s edification. Mary McAleese is elected as President of Ireland, succeeding Mary Robinson in the world’s first female succession of another female as an elected head of state. The BBC begins online news service having previously only covered a few specific events, and the British Library opens a public reading room at its new not-in-the-British-Museum site.
While in books, we finally get to the bits where Lawrence Miles becomes Doctor Who’s driving creative force. It’s a short period – we’ll be out of it by the end of the month – and yet is by any definition one of the most important things to happen in the space between the TV Movie and Rose. It’s also terribly controversial, both because of the scope of Miles’s ambitions and ideas and because of his, shall we say, somewhat abrasive style. This sets up something of a choice. For the most part, all things being equal, I like to keep the lens on the present of Doctor Who. The Wilderness Years are a bit of an exception, in that I let the new series hang over them. The reasoning here is fairly simple: to present the Wilderness Years as they were would be to read them with a sense of continual despair at the fact that Doctor Who is never coming back, because that’s what we all genuinely believed more or less until Rose’s ratings came in. This, while authentic to the time, is a very silly way to read them now, so instead I’ve let the knowledge that the series does come back seep into things simply because it makes it feel less absurd.
But when it comes to this era of Doctor Who history it’s hard to just live through it. There’s a metric ton of fan politics going on in every part of this. And it’s not an era I lived through – as I said, I bailed out on Doctor Who in 1996. And even if I had, as an American high school student I wasn’t going to be up close and personal enough to see the politics. I’ve pieced a lot of it together from interviews, stories, and online discussions, but not nearly enough to call it a full history. And there’s no secondary source covering the history of this era comprehensively. Which means that I just don’t feel like I can give the play-by-play of the era. So instead I’m going to treat everything from here to The Ancestor Cell with the knowledge of what happens.
The short form: Lawrence Miles, mostly on the strength of this book and secondarily on the strength of Interference, introduced the bulk of the plot points that governed the first few years of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. But with the change of editors from Steven Cole to Justin Richards they decided to wrap up their current plot points. Instead of letting Miles wrap up his own plots Cole co-authored The Ancestor Cell, which provided its own resolution to all of them. Miles, incensed both by his marginalization and by his belief that The Ancestor Cell ripped off plot ideas he’d proposed to Cole, had a massive falling out with just about everybody. It wasn’t the end of his time with the Eighth Doctor Adventures – he wrote The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, openly for the money, but it marked a cataclysmic end to his time as the most acclaimed and controversial of the Eighth Doctor Adventures books, and began his current status as curmudgeon extraordinaire.
There are, if you will, three basic perspectives to take on Lawrence Miles these days. First, that he’s a mad genius who remains the most creative Doctor Who writer ever and everybody, but especially Steven Moffat and Neil Gaiman, rip off of him. (This is actually a point I have seen raised in all seriousness – the accusation that The Doctor’s Wife was knowingly ripped off from Lawrence Miles’s short story “Toy Story.” I relate this mostly to convey the fact that Miles has a dedicated enough fanbase to have stark raving mad extremists. And, you know – to sustain publication of the Faction Paradox line.) Second, that he writes overcomplicated shit that nobody in their right mind would ever like. Third, some diplomatic blurring of the two that allows that his personal style can be a bit grating but that his books are quite clever, albeit obviously unmanageable in any larger sense. A subset of this view is the “Alien Bodies was quite good, but as of Interference he started going a bit far” position.
All of this is rubbish. But the scope of it is kind of staggering, so let’s start with what the book is known for. There are in effect three major ideas introduced by Alien Bodies. The first is the War – a still mysterious event hanging somewhere in the future of both Gallifrey and the Doctor – in which the Time Lords very much have their backs against it facing an unknown Enemy. The second is Faction Paradox, a rival organization to the Time Lords who worship paradox and reflect the Time Lords’ technology back to them in a manner explicitly analogous to the practice of voodoo. The third is that the Doctor is eventually killed, and his body is bid on for its potential as a weapon in the aforementioned War.
There are several observations to make here. First, for most writers any one of these ideas is sufficient. The idea of a massive war that wipes out the Time Lords is itself worth several novels. It’s perhaps cheeky to note that Faction Paradox could support an entire book line. And so to use both of these as ballast for a story that already has the phenomenally huge idea of the Doctor confronting the end of his story is a strange decision that seems in many regards profligate. But what’s perhaps stranger is that by all appearances Miles really did intend most of these concepts to be one-offs. He’s said in an interview that he hadn’t been going to build out Faction Paradox much at all in Interference, and only did because Orman and Blum grabbed them for Unnatural History. The War was something he seems to have meant to pick up, but his view is mainly that it should have been left to hang over the line.
Equally, however, he’s suggested that he thought other writers would play around with the War, which is puzzling. On the one hand, yes, obviously when you put something absolutely massive like the War into Doctor Who continuity people are going to want to play with it. But look at what he does with the War. You can’t actually depict it, since the one big thing we know about the War is that it kills the Doctor, which is kind of a problem for the long-term health of the line if you depict it. Plus, it’s clearly scads of years out from Alien Bodies and doesn’t feature the Eighth Doctor. So in fact what you have is a big War whose defining feature is that you can’t actually show it. And Miles thought people were going to pick up on this plot?
On top of that you have Miles’s… prickly manner. I don’t want to get too far into the gossip here or start adjudicating whether some of Miles’s more extreme statements are “just his sense of humor” or “him being an absolute and indefensible jerk to people and then using the classic lame defense of saying he was only joking,” but let’s allow that, broadly stated, Miles has had some feuds. One of these feuds was at least partially started when he suggested that Orman and Blum, in Unnatural History, did not get Faction Paradox right. Now, I’ve not gotten to Unnatural History yet, so I’m not even close to suggesting that Miles is or isn’t right in that accusation. But let’s leave the accuracy aside and just look at the basic frame of the statement – Miles is criticizing other people in a multi-author franchise for not doing what he would do with a concept.
On the one hand, fair enough. The issue of how to share and play with concepts in a multi-author franchise is a complex one, but there is a general ethos that the person who created a concept gets at least some say on how it plays out, and if Orman and Blum got Faction Paradox a bit wrong in Miles’s eye that’s at least something that’s OK to point out. On the other, it’s not like Paul Cornell vetted every Benny book for Virgin – there’s a degree of letting it go that one does. It’s a matter of personal preference, at least partially, but on the flip side, it’s pretty obvious that Miles is a writer who has strong vision of his ideas and is at least a bit put out when other writers break from his ideas.
So we’re left with a War that can’t be depicted and whose creator gives the sense that he’d rather people not break his concepts, and there’s any question why a lot of people didn’t deal with it? It’s not that it was a bad idea – it was in many ways a very brilliant idea. It’s just not a great long-term idea. And that was what it became.
This is not to say that Alien Bodies is bad or fatally flawed. It’s a damn good book, and it’s not a surprise that it set the direction of the Eighth Doctor Adventures for a good long while. It makes sense, really. Where Blum and Orman failed to set the direction with a vivid characterization of the Eighth Doctor, Miles creates concepts and ideas – the Eighth Doctor Adventures’ equivalent of things like “Time’s Champion,” Death, and the Other. Nobody really picks them up for a year, but to be fair, the gap from Love and War to The Left-Handed Hummingbird was a bit rocky as well in terms of actually having developing the ideas that Cornell established for Virgin. The problem is that these ideas just didn’t work. (Well, the War didn’t at least, and Faction Paradox didn’t really work within Doctor Who as such.)
But it’s not like Miles should have realized that he was inadvertently setting the stage for inadequate follow-ups of his work. After all, nothing he did in Alien Bodies is actually that much more bonkers than the Carnival Queen in Christmas on a Rational Planet or the true nature of Tyler’s Folly in Down. It’s just that this time he did it on a line desperate for direction and people seized on to bits of it to try to stitch together an aesthetic for the line. And because this time the sequencing of ideas went just a little differently. Where Down could be ignored like most of the Benny books and Christmas on a Rational Planet was an oddity in the wave of New Adventures towards the end, Alien Bodies came in a line that needed the direction. It was a Doctor Who book that at least had everyone talking in a way that didn’t involve rolling your eyes and wondering what the hell John peel was even thinking. That counts for a lot. Perhaps more than it should.
But what’s key ist hat this doesn’t seem to have been what Miles wanted for the book either. And understanding that requires us to understand Miles in a bit more detail. For our purposes the influence of Lawrence Miles has been hanging over virtually the entire blog, since he’s one of the co-authors on the superlative About Time series that I’ve engaged repeatedly. So before we tear into what he’s doing here, let’s pause and ask what he wants Doctor Who to be. After all, when we have someone who has expended as many words on the subject as he has, we may as well take his own standards for Doctor Who seriously.
The biggest and most visible split between the two authors of About Time is on the Williams/Nathan-Turner axis. Tat Wood loves Graham Williams and hates Nathan-Turner, whereas Miles is the exact opposite, skewering Graham Williams while quite appreciating Nathan-Turner. And the bit of the Nathan-Turner era that Miles really goes to the wall with praise for is Season Eighteen: the Bidmead era. Which, good for him. There are places where Tat Wood is dead wrong, and his dislike of the Bidmead era is one of them. But if we’re going to pick a specific story to look at their differing approaches on the clear one to do is Enlightenment. Both of them like the story, but the nature of their praise goes in subtly different directions. Wood praises the way that the Doctor is at the center of the story figuring out the world. Miles, on the other hand, compares it to Hartnell-era historicals based on “an exploration of a complete world-view.” The difference is both stark and telling – Wood is fundamentally interested in the way in which the Doctor reacts to the world, whereas Miles is interested in the world itself – and specifically the world as separate from the Doctor. If we’re exploring a world-view then we’re not really all that invested in the Doctor at all. Miles is invested in strangeness. That’s the key difference. Wood wants Doctor Who to serve up something only it can do that’s never been seen before. Miles wants it to use the familiar to give us a peek into the truly strange. The Doctor is only interesting as something that gets out of the way in favor of said strangeness.
This is something Miles has backed up in later interviews, particularly after Interference. And it’s a troubling claim, just because it seems to rather badly reduce the amount of Doctor Who Miles can plausibly like. Bits of the Hartnell era, Season Eighteen, some scattered moments of Davison, and… that’s about it. Those are the only times the series has ever subjugated the Doctor to the weirdness of the world. And most of those are happy accidents – Season Eighteen works that way because the production is actively trying to get Tom Baker under control. Hartnell works that way because they hadn’t gotten the series together yet – and by Miles’s own admission that goes out the window by the end of Season One. For all Miles gives Wood stick for not liking the vast majority of Doctor Who, by his own aesthetic there’s precious little he can like.
This issue gets at at least part of Miles’s vocal dislike of the Moffat era. This is, to be fair, a somewhat larger feud, at least on Miles’s part. (There’s precious little evidence Moffat gives a damn.) Moffat, for his part, apparently told Miles that the cliffhanger to chapter five of Alien Bodies – that would be the one where the Doctor discovers that he’s involved in an auction for his own body – is the best cliffhanger of anything he’d ever read. Miles diagnoses that this is because, in his words he “turned the Doctor into a fetish object.” And he regrets this. Technically, at least, he’s right about what that cliffhanger does, but he’s so mind-wrenchingly wrong about the overall point that it’s tough to make much of this.
The big error is that he thinks that he’s the one who did that. Because the Doctor has been a fetish object since, at the very least, the Pertwee era, and frankly since about The Reign of Terror. The ship sailed long ago. So much so that it’s nearly impossible to argue that the interesting thing about the Doctor’s body in Alien Bodies is its fetishization. It’s not. What’s interesting is that the Doctor’s end is now a part of the story. One of the awkward bits of Doctor Who existing in relation to real world time is that it’s difficult to have the future of Doctor Who impact its present. You can write a Third Doctor story where the Eleventh drops in with no problem, but reversing that and having the Eleventh Doctor meet the Eighteenth is a problem simply because it’s impossible to accurately predict what the Eighteenth will be like, and everyone watching now knows it and won’t fall for it.
So Miles manages to pull off quite a trick in having the Doctor encounter his own death – both the most fundamental part of his future and the one bit you can get away with impressing on the past. Unless for some reason someone decides to attempt a proper, final tie-off of Doctor Who that involves killing the Doctor, it’s never going to be shown. It can just be displaced endlessly forward, left as one future adventure that will happen someday, to some Doctor. And so you get a book where the future successfully haunts the past, forcing the Doctor to deal with an inevitability. It introduces, in a much firmer way than the silly “twelve regeneration limit” idea, the idea of an end to Doctor Who without ever requiring that the end happen. This is the interesting bit of what Alien Bodies proposes. Unfortunately, it’s just the big silly epic War and the crazy voodoo Time Lords that anyone bothered to pick up on.
Another thing that Miles objects to is Moffat’s apparent declaration once that Miles, in his heart of hearts, knew Alien Bodies was the best thing he’d ever written. This horrified Miles partially because Miles likes to think of himself as perpetually improving, but there’s a larger issue. On the one hand Moffat was right – Miles never again had the sheer impact he had with Alien Bodies. The book came at the exact right time to have a big impact, and was the exact right configuration of his ideas. But the reasons it succeeded were largely the ones that were least like what Miles was interested in. It was simultaneously the Miles book most unlike his other stuff and most like what Doctor Who fans like. This was, necessarily, an unstable combination – one that burned tremendously brightly as we headed into 1998, but equally one that was inevitably going to flame out even more spectacularly.
January 11, 2013 @ 1:18 am
I love Alien Bodies! It's a candidate for my favourite ever Doctor Who novel, vying with The Time Travellers for the coveted top slot (though I have only read about 60, so there's bound to be other great ones out there). Apart from the aspects of the book that you mentioned, there were a couple more that intrigued me:
1. The idea of Sam as someone engineered to be the perfect companion. The only other book I've finished featuring her is Vampire Science (though I've bought Unnatural History and hope to get to that before your entry), and I've often wondered where this idea went or came from.
2. The scary krotons! Aren't they just awesome?
As for Lawrence Miles himself, I try to separate the author's private life and character from his or her work (otherwise I wouldn't be so fond of Ted Hughes). Sometimes, though, this does have an affect, positive or negative; and with both Miles and Jim Mortimore I think we've got less than we would have if they'd been less abrasive.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:37 am
I can appreciate Miles's skill as a writer, but I always disliked his Big Ideas. This is, like many of the things I don't like, probably some bleed-over from the distaste I got for fandom in the late 90s, but the whole thing with the War and Faction Paradox and the Doctor's Death felt like it was derived from the popular and schizophrenic fan view of the time that, roughly, "The Time Lords have become a sort of storytelling cancer so big and unavoidable that it is flat out impossible to tell a Doctor Who story now without them getting in the way of the storytelling. Therefore we must do more stories that obsess over Gallifrey and the Time Lords. Also, we need to eventually destroy them once and forever." (It's right up there with "There is too much continuity for anyone new to understand the show. Therefore we should obsess over continuity more")
Also, the idea of Miles being interested in "a complete worldview" separate from the Doctor reminds me a great deal of some of the worst aspects of old-school sci fi fandom, where there was a notion that eg., characters should all be nothing but broad archetypes because the audience is here to find out about your clever science fictiony world, not get all invested in characters or even a specific plot — you're supposed to be here to see how Invention X would Make the World Different, and to do otherwise is to engage in "soap" and "pander to stupid working-class people and icky cootie-infested girls".
January 11, 2013 @ 2:44 am
The perfect companion who's been engineered — sounds like Clara to me. And I'm kind of surprised Phil didn't point out the obvious parallels to The Impossible Astronaut. Leaving it to the peanut gallery, eh?
As for Miles himself, I don't care about his private life, but any interface with the production the series is up for grabs, whether it's his critical commentary and how that applies to his own work and what it implies for the series, but especially how he plays with others.
It's a matter of professionalism. Tom Baker, for instance, gets called out for his impact on the production team, and rightly so, because it affects the stories themselves, from the work we get out of Jameson and how she's written, to the dynamics that show up with Ward, to the choices JNT made when taking the reigns.
How much of a stretch is it to say that Miles's critical view (cares about big ideas, not about characterization) kind of encapsulates his working relationship with the series and the people who make it?
January 11, 2013 @ 3:06 am
Yea it's one of my favourites too. Reading the books as I did I was completely disconnected from the politics, in-fighting, squabbling and everything else that went on behind the scenes so I just began at the beginning and dove on through them and this was an easy early highlight and definitely one of the best books published in the line. Enough editorial control (I guess?) to keep things from going too far – while I do think Interference is pretty outstanding I do also think there's a virtue to a bit of discipline and for me Alien Bodies gets that balance exactly right while Interference tips a little bit too far towards the self-indulgent (more when we get there I guess).
The Krotons are indeed excellent in this, and who'd ever thought, prior to the publication of this book, that that was a sentence that would ever get written?
As for Unnatural History, I don't recall Faction Paradox being badly used (though I concede it's been quite a long time since I read it) and my memories of the book are that it was above average but not spectacular and that the best material in it was Dark Sam and Fitz. I'll try and re-read it before we get there.
And as a side-note I'd just like to say that I'm new to commenting here but I've read the bulk of the blog entries and both greatly appreciate the writing involved and the (usually!) courteous and intelligent comments that get posted.
January 11, 2013 @ 3:08 am
And now I've realized that I've posted in the wrong place and this was supposed to be a reply to elvwood. Bugger!
January 11, 2013 @ 3:19 am
Works fine standing on its own!
January 11, 2013 @ 5:05 am
Miles's reimaingination of the Krotons as genuinely scary and interesting was one of the most effective parts of Alien Bodies. It's also one of the many things that's heavily influenced by Alan Moore. (Miles doesn't make any effort to conceal this; one of the later chapters is called "A-LES-SON-IN-AN-A-TO-MY") For all Miles disdains the new series, their approach has one important thing in common: they both borrow quite a bit from comics.
January 11, 2013 @ 5:10 am
Interference was the first of Miles's books I read. I loved it, I was shocked and astounded by it, I devoured it eagerly–but I don't think I ever read the whole thing. I read the first half of it or so and then skipped to the end. That probably says something.
Unnatural History was one of the books I couldn't finish the first time around, and it put me off Orman and Blum for a while. As a teenager, I thought it was too self-indulgent and twee. Maybe I'd think differently of it now.
January 11, 2013 @ 5:12 am
Thank you. I've been looking forward to this analysis for a long time.
I personally love Miles' penchant for "big ideas" and find him to be a bit of a tragic figure. He's openly talked in his blog and various interviews about his psychotic breaks, confinement in a mental hospital, physical illnesses and alcohol and substance abuse. He very much comes off as the stereotypical "troubled genius."
I just wish he would write more fiction. I contacted him via Twitter recently and he replied that he would write when someone paid him to do so.
Not terribly encouraging.
January 11, 2013 @ 5:21 am
Agreed. For something he only wrote for money, Adventuress of Henrietta Street was rather brilliant. Someone needs to go dangle money in front of him right now. Of course, he's certainly burned most of his bridges in Doctor Who fandom, and very few people outside of it have heard of him. Faction Paradox remains as a sort of sub-cult phenomenon but Miles himself hasn't had anything to do with it for quite a while. It's a bit depressing in general how a lot of the writers from this era who could easily have written excellent original novels–or might have been better off doing so, like Paul Leonard–seem to have completely disappeared. At least Cornell has a healthy career. (He's writing Wolverine now, of all things.)
January 11, 2013 @ 6:02 am
As I'm sure has been noted by others, Miles' accusations of plagiarism against Gaiman don't actually bear much weight if you've actually read "Toy Story." TARDISes talking to one another? The TARDIS thinking of herself as the primary adventurer and the Doctor as her companion? Great idea for a short story, no doubt, but its not really the plot of "The Doctor's Wife." By those standards Miles' own work a rip off of "The Christmas Toy" or "The Brave Little Toaster."
The real rip off it of John Tomlinson and Cam Smith's "Nineveh", a terribly obscure little comic from "The Incredible Hulk Presents…" back in the late 80s about the 7th Doctor getting trapped in a "Null Space" by horrible monsters who lure in and eat Time Lords. Much closer in terms of plot, even if the execution and ending are very different.
And honestly, if "Guy finds out that his companion thinks of herself at the primary protagonist, not him" and "Thing that attacks adventurers specifically like the protagonist attacks the protagonist and he manages to escape" are so unique as to invite accusations of plagiarism, there's an entire genre of "Man comes to town to meet someone" and "Man who is not strong or smart manages to win through being clever" that need to start their lawsuits up… Hell, if "Time travel story where events are presented out of order in a clever manner" is, than both Miles and Moffat owe a great debt not just to Kurt Vonnegut, but also to "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Back to the Future."
That said, I really do love Miles' work. The Faction Paradox line is one of the few where all the gushing praise and adoration poured all over it actually measured up when I read it. Not that all of this is Miles' fault, of course, as "The Book of the War" was a collaborative effort, and Philip Purser-Hallard's and Lance Parkin's work would read just fine without the tenuous connection to Faction Paradox (or even Doctor Who). But darned if TBotW, "Dead Romance," and "This Town Will Never Let Us Go" aren't awesome. He reads the way I imagine that Grant Morrison would if Morrison had a good editor who forced him to do a bit more with his ideas, and refused to allow half-baked Kerouac imitations instead of good prose.
Forget the man, love the work.
January 11, 2013 @ 6:04 am
"There are several observations to make here. First, for most writers any one of these ideas is sufficient. The idea of a massive war that wipes out the Time Lords is itself worth several novels."
I don't credit Miles with that idea though. Gallifrey being destroyed forever by the Daleks was an idea that was introduced in the late 80's Audio Visuals stories Gary Russell and Nick Briggs were doing as a warm-up to Big Finish.
"This issue gets at at least part of Miles’s vocal dislike of the Moffat era. This is, to be fair, a somewhat larger feud, at least on Miles’s part. (There’s precious little evidence Moffat gives a damn.) Moffat, for his part, apparently told Miles that the cliffhanger to chapter five of Alien Bodies – that would be the one where the Doctor discovers that he’s involved in an auction for his own body – is the best cliffhanger of anything he’d ever read."
I ceased having patience with Miles at this point, and one of the things I hate about him is how he bills himself as the angry outsider to the elite of fan writers, whilst actually being the most vicious and snobbish elitist of them all.
But normally in his blog writings, no matter how poison lettered it gets, he can at least make the (admittedly cumbersome) effort to try and bring the reader round to his logic and open their eyes to his point.
In that blog post he seriously seemed to expect the reader to follow his spiteful reasoning that his gripe with Moffat here is down to that Moffat once had the audacity to praise and congratulate his work and now he must spit on Moffat's hand.
The only reasoning I see behind Miles' vendetta against Moffat has little to nothing to do with the content of the Moffat era itself, and is simply stalker logic. That a socially awkward, volatile mess of a man like Miles, sees Moffat as the cool, witty figure that people and women imparticular like, and who is everything Miles isn't (not that I'm a Moffat sycophant or anything). Miles issues with him are probably the same that leads stalkers to gradually treat their idolised objects of affection as fixation points of obsessive resentment and a mirror of their own inadequacies and self-hatred. In short I think Miles has to denigrate Moffat's era just to reaffirm his own self worth.
January 11, 2013 @ 6:39 am
I don't know that I completely agree with the final paragraph, I think it might slightly overstate things, but I think what it comes down to is essentially, "At one point Miles looked like he had the keys to the kingdom – now Moffat (and before RTD) actually does." I think there's a disconnect between how Miles views Who and where it should go and how it actually has to function in the real world. Call it ugly if you like, but the fact of the matter is that the BBC require Doctor Who to be a success and that means that the current series has to fit in to certain boxes, presumably boxes that Miles doesn't think it should. Back when all this was kicking off, Doctor Who was a purely fan-owned operation and as such could pretty much do what it wanted as long as it was within editorial guidelines and us fans kept on buying the books. As an ongoing series, it's no longer fan-owned, even if it's still run by people who are actual fans, and that is something that simply has to be taken into consideration.
January 11, 2013 @ 7:02 am
I suspected it was more than that though, because, well, Miles actually did give RTD's approach to the new era his full blessing and endorsement, with no hints of personal jealousy toward the man. Any alarmist or vitriolic posts he made were always directed at guest writers.
Though it might be that during RTD's time, Miles was praising it just because he was touting for a writing job, or he was just so pleased to have the show back on air that any compromises of his vision seemed worth it to secure its place on TV once again. And that maybe he was hoping whoever took over from Russell once the show was secure for a few years would push the envelope more, and in his opinion Moffat was far too cynical and populist to do it.
If Phil's assessment of Miles' tastes is right, then I think Miles' vision of a show that was just like the Bidmead and Davison era, in terms of reducing and sabotaging the Doctor's presence and effectualness, would have been a disaster (regardless of what I think of New Who as it exists). The appeal of the Doctor as a character is surely the fantasy aspect, the man who lives in his own little world amidst a harsh, threatening universe, and because of his confidence and intellectual higher plane, and because of his he prevails.
Which is perhaps why it appeals to imaginative children, outsiders and people in the rather white noise spectrum of autism. That there's hope that even the ordinary and naive can make a difference by doing 'the right kind of a little'. The problem with Miles' vision, and the era he vaunts is that it disarms the Doctor of even that, and as such takes away from the hope the character represents. If there's no hope, there's no sympathy on the audience's part. The Season 18 approach I'd say is an endpoint for the show, not any way forward.
January 11, 2013 @ 7:29 am
Jane… Miles has not had any professional connection with official Doctor Who since Henrietta Street came out in, I think, 2002. Tom Baker's behaviour when he was the leading man in the series can reasonably be called unprofessional, but Miles has never had any professional connection with anyone involved in making the show now.
January 11, 2013 @ 7:30 am
I took Jane's comment to use "the series" to refer to "The Eighth Doctor Adventures."
January 11, 2013 @ 7:41 am
There is certainly an element of the latter in Miles' view — but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.
When the attitude you talk about is coupled with the sexism and classism you talk about, then yes, it's utterly pernicious (and Miles does, on occasion, cross that line).
But in general — and this is something I've been meaning to write a proper essay about recently — why shouldn't there be fiction about ideas rather than characters? Someone like Greg Egan, for example, gets criticised because in some of his stories the characters are considered not particularly well-drawn. Egan disagrees with that criticism, and so would I, but assuming it were true — Egan tells stories that nobody else does, because he's thought deeply about other aspects of the world than people's characters.
Just as it's wrong to say that any writing that focuses on character at the expense of coherence (like, arguably, much of Russel Davies' work) is automatically bad because it's the kind of writing women (stereotypically) like, it's equally bad to assume that all writing about how an idea could change the world is automatically bad because it's the kind of writing that male nerds (stereotypically) like.
I suspect I'll continue this on my own blog later, though, as it's a diversion from the main point here, something I've been meaning to write anyway, and I'm not making much sense now as I have a headache. But I don't think that in itself there's anything actually wrong with fiction about ideas rather than people.
January 11, 2013 @ 7:47 am
Uuuuuuuuuugh. I was a big hard SF reader in my youth, and that was one of the things that eventually pushed me toward other types of science fiction. That said – do you know of anyone who explicitly thought you should stick to archetypes, rather than just not being very good at moving beyond them, or not realizing that you could?
January 11, 2013 @ 7:49 am
I don't think Miles did accuse Gaiman of ripping Toy Story off — the closest I've seen to that accusation is a few people (myself included, actually, but definitely not Miles) pointing to similarities in an "oh, isn't that interesting?" kind of way. I don't think anyone in their right mind would imagine Gaiman's even read Toy Story.
January 11, 2013 @ 7:52 am
I saw someone argue it with apparent sincerity on Gallifrey Base. As I said, I included that mainly to demonstrate that Miles had a substantial enough fandom to include "complete nutters." The point was not that such nutters were representative – merely that his fandom had reached the critical mass necessary to have proper lunatic fanatics in it, which is a certain phenomenon of fandoms of a certain size.
January 11, 2013 @ 7:57 am
Oh, I'm not saying no-one said that, just that Miles himself never did.
January 11, 2013 @ 8:47 am
One thing I thought was interesting was how direct of a response the Dark Sam plotline was to The Eight Doctors. It's like Miles saw the Generic '90s Teenage Hero and created the concept of biodata just to get away from it.
January 11, 2013 @ 8:53 am
One can easily take Miles to task for grabbing a large chunk of Alien Bodies from "Season of Mists". A number of powerful entities assemble to buy an object of immense power. It even features a lot of the same basic dynamics between parties. And he very obviously read Sandman so it's not a coincidence.
But give the same basic story idea to two creative people and you'll get two different stories.
January 11, 2013 @ 9:59 am
The Lawrence Miles Trilogy – Alien Bodies/Shock Tactic/Hour of the Greek are very rich stories. It amazes me how close Moffat and Miles work meshes despite Miles' obviously dislike for Moffat: Moffat could practically be writing the sequel arcs to Interference.
It's also bizarre how Miles actively detests any fetishisation of the Doctor, despite the fact I think this trilogy, read together, do more to make the Doctor an fetish object than any other story.
I mean, you have the entire idea of Dust being "where the Earth Empire comes to die", Fitz/Kode, or the role of the Time Lords in the Universe and the philosophy of the Remote – there's constantly threads throughout the story that harken back to the Bidmead era in theme, with Entropy being almost, like the Cold, an active force in the Universe responsible for the degradation of… well… everything over time.
And what's the one thing that shown to the exception to this rule? Who has actually been getting stronger over time and can reverse the effects of Entropy? Oh yeah.
RTD and Moffat get a lot of flack for Messianic imagery employed across their eras but nothing really compares to a Doctor who is explicitly responsible for the Harrowing of Hell!
Frankly and ironically, the Lawrence Miles stories pretty much set up the Moffat era by making the extradigetic story of the Doctor one of the Doctor's defining universe characteristics and simultaneously defining the Doctor as someone whose reputation and centrality to the universe has grown over time — and will continue to grow into the future with serious negative repercussions.
January 11, 2013 @ 10:04 am
I remember that topic back on Gallibase: I pretty much had the same "Oh isn't that interesting" as you Andrew…
…although I seem to remember receiving a response that was pretty blunt and quite rude from someone with a blog post-modernly dissecting DW who shall remain nameless. :o)
January 11, 2013 @ 10:18 am
And honestly, if "Guy finds out that his companion thinks of herself at the primary protagonist, not him"…
From "Shakespeare in Love":
WOMAN (to RALPH): And what is this play about?
RALPH: Well, there’s this nurse. …
Archeology of the Future
January 11, 2013 @ 10:20 am
I absolutely loved 'Alien Bodies' when I read it a couple of weeks ago.
It felt very, very much as if it had been pitched initially as a seventh Doctor story (which I believe was the case). There's lots of lovely bits that are basically the eighth Doctor going 'Ay-up, I'm all giddy and I'm certainly not acting like my predecessor here.', a bit like putting lots of the NAs in a blender and seeing what happens. Even the casket is a joke based on the hand of Omega method of travel.
It does have the feeling of being very post-Vertigo in that it has the a series of mini-quests that are basically protagionist goes explores somewhere find outlandish looking someone in incongrous setting. The Shade is Danny the Street, Faction Paradox drip with The Invisibles conceptual/ aesthetic ickiness.
I really empathise with Miles in that he feels like an angry young man who watched all of his cohort of shooting stars in a particular firmament become elevated above and beyond him into a world different from where they started while he remained somehow earthbound, held back by some fundamental difference. Think Jimmy Porter but in Doctor Who fandom. Imagine how it must feel to have edged into position of prominence in the world of something like Doctor Who but then to find that prominence and power weren't the same things and that it turned out that all it took was for the old rulers to come back to the kingdom and suddenly you were a pleb again.
If you have struggled to gain power, the first thing you do when you're in it is to try to alter structures in such a way as to favour the continuence of your power. Miles gives me the feeling of someone given the keys to a magic kingdom to which he never expected access who then, after a period of dionysian feasting and carefree enjoyment wonders 'what am I to do now I have this kingdom?'
It feels to me that Moffat and Miles end up as antagonists (on Miles side) because both had the same childhood dream, but only one got it. They different though, I think, in that Moffat is an inveterate fixer of Doctor Who; for all his twisty turny plotting I think Moffat is on a mission to 'fix' everything that erked him about Who and the ability to tell stories within it. Miles, I think, in Alien Bodies had more of an impulse to break Who and reshape it. The reason why no one picked up the War or used Faction Paradox well is that you can't. You can;t really make a story with them in that isn;t Alien Bodies that will work as a story. Faction Paradox, The War and The Doctor's body can only really work in any satisfying way in 'Alien Bodies'. In combination they make something a bit magic. In isolation they just make rubbish stories. Faction Paradox and The War would make Doctor Who Sliders. The Doctor's body would just be a Macguffin or a quest object.
'Alien Bodies' is a brilliant, brilliant 'Doctor Who' novel, but it's not one that could ever properly sit as part of an ongoing series of Doctor Who novels. It's basically a brilliant novel written using the idea language of Doctor Who, a closed 'bottle universe' of its very own.
Or so it seems to me 🙂
January 11, 2013 @ 10:21 am
Miles' blog entries discussing the Davies era never gave me the impression he respected Davies. Unfortunately, Miles routinely deletes many of his entries after a brief period, but his tone regarding Davies' work was pretty harsh.
January 11, 2013 @ 10:28 am
@Andrew Hickey: There's nothing wrong with there being fiction designed like that, but I am dubious that narrative is the best form for it. One of the things I've always liked are non-narrative "technical manual" style books. That sort of format gives writers the freedom to do all the exposition they want without trying to clunkily bolt it into a narrative, to the narrative's detriment. (Plus, they can act as a supplement or inspiration to a separate narrative that actually does have things like plot and characters.
@Ununnillium: I think the people I've heard it from explicitly have all been "People on the internet", though I think I did see it come up at least once in some hard-sf writer's critique of nontraditional sf work. (I suspect it was someone complaining about 'The Handmaiden's Tale', but I can't recall who it was. Though for that matter, isn't it kind of Margaret Attwood's own argument for why her story set in a dystopian future isn't "really" science fiction?)
January 11, 2013 @ 10:31 am
I mostly recall a thread in which I described Miles by his own term for the spin-off books, a writer of "professional fanfiction," and got jumped on by his defenders.
That was amusing.
January 11, 2013 @ 10:40 am
I've never read any of the NAs or EDAs, but intend to for this year of Doctor Who nostalgia, (2013).
This book will be one of the books I will read.
January 11, 2013 @ 11:50 am
As I recall, and I've only skimmed his blog now and again, he was fairly critical of some of RTD era show. Whilst I don't agree with well any of his Moffat criticism, I can see his point about RTD loosing it bit near the end, becoming a little media obsessed. But more of that later…
January 11, 2013 @ 11:55 am
I love this book, it clever funny and just an enjoyable read.
That said it does all this by shunting the Doctor to the side lines whilst all the other player play there parts. Miles seems to like to play around with the world and myths of the Doctors than the Doctor himself.
And despite what the EDA say I still like to think that the enemy is the Darlek's and this is all part of the same Time Was.
January 11, 2013 @ 11:56 am
There's a blogspot called Milewatch which has all his old entries recorded for posterity (I think it has a few gaps closer to the Moffat era though).
I'm no fan of RTD, but Miles's posts were actually surprisingly gushing about RTD's early work, particularly Series One which he argued was a return to the golden age of socially important TV, with heavy praise for Rose and Love & Monsters. Infact he devoted his 42 review to invoking pretty sneering stereotypes of the kind of sci-fi fans who'd hate Love & Monsters.
His opinion of RTD's work seemed to turn after Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, which he regarded as RTD's jump the shark moment, and heavily denigrated Voyage of the Damned and the decision to make Catherine Tate a companion, which he pointed to as a return to the JNT celebrity casting days. And he seemed to hate the specials, but he did highlight Turn Left as a brief return to the Series One days when the show was important and topical. And likewise for Children of Earth.
I think even at this point though he was framing the problem as less RTD, and more the kind of famous people and BBC party line that RTD was rubbing up with, and how he was starting to make the show too much for them and not for the general public anymore like he used to (even highlighting how Voyage of the Damned has an environment and even golden robot villains inspired by awards ceremonies). So he was distancing his criticisms from anything that could be called personal bitterness toward the man, who he seemed to still respect for his early work.
January 11, 2013 @ 11:57 am
Maybe with all the ex Doctor Who writers going off and doing Urban Fantasy I'll try a the genre himself…
January 11, 2013 @ 12:00 pm
His criticism of the RTD series was interesting because it was completely opposite to most other people's criticism — he thought Love And Monsters was the best thing during that five-year run, while Blink was the worst.
I tend to agree with about 70% of Miles' criticisms, though I think Blink is one of the better things Moffat has done. But then, Season 18 and early Hartnell are some of my favourite Who…
January 11, 2013 @ 12:27 pm
Tommy — thanks for the Mileswatch pointer. I'd not come across that before, and I'm glad to finally be able to read the entries from 2005-2007 that I didn't read at the time (though I think there's possibly something a little unethical about making blog posts that have been taken down by their author available).
January 11, 2013 @ 12:57 pm
@Ross: And, of course, Lawrence Miles went on to write exactly such a thing (in collaboration with a number of other writers) in The Book of the War. Personally, I'd rather discuss that when we get to the end of Eight's era than This Town Will Never Let Us Go; an encyclopedia of the Time War seems like an appropriate subject for the last pre-New Series post, even though it's a completely different version of the Time War.
January 11, 2013 @ 12:58 pm
And of course, he also wrote a pseudo-nonfictional narrative for Adventuress of Henrietta Street.
January 11, 2013 @ 1:07 pm
"Though for that matter, isn't it kind of Margaret Attwood's own argument for why her story set in a dystopian future isn't "really" science fiction?"
True, but that's more a judgment on her than on SF.
January 11, 2013 @ 1:15 pm
I think Faction Paradox – as presented in Alien Bodies, at least – could work as an ongoing antagonist-ish force.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:08 pm
From "The Bank and Shoal of Time: A Brief Anti-History of the Time War" (partially excerpted from Doctor Who?: His Lives and Time by Dr. Anastasia Calderón, originally published in volume 57 of the Transgalactic Journal of Anarchaeology:
There has always been a Time War. Or rather, there always would have been a Time War. Dealing with tenses can be a difficult task with regard to the Time Lords. But a catastrophic war which spans time and space and leads to the destruction of Gallifrey has always been part of its history from the very beginning. The Enemy was always changing–the Order of the Black Sun, the Daleks (at least twice), the Dire Wraiths, Varnax, the Divergents, the Hounds of Carcosa… But for every enemy the Time Lord managed to stop, or ensure never existed in the first place, a new one came into being, usually one created by the Time Lords themselves in the process of trying to stop the previous one. Because that's how empires work. If you have a cause, you need to have an enemy to give it meaning. And the 'Decline and Fall,' as the Old Earth historian Gibbon put it, is part of the story of every empire since history was first written. The concept of empire contains its own undoing.
The Time Lords tried to get around this by constantly rewriting their own history. They built their culture around the "Laws of Time," but like all such sacred laws, they quietly broke them when no one was looking. The so-called "Celestial Intervention Agency" began as a smokescreen for the Time Lords' interference in their own past to avert its inevitable destruction… The "Moment" was not the first time Gallifrey was destroyed, nor, most likely, the first it was destroyed by the Doctor.
And the Doctor himself must have been, on some level, aware of this. He is said to have participated in a ritual known as "Eighth Man Bound," in which he foresaw his future incarnations up until the eighth. This means that he must have known that his own people were, in some sense, destined to die, and by his own hand. This was in all likelihood not the beginning of the Doctor's radicalism or alienation from his people; according to the Matrix shards we have currently recovered, the astronomical conjunction necessary for performing the ritual would have to have come after the time of the Otherstide student riots (though it is not clear that all the shards come from the same version of history). The concept of destiny, of course, is highly problematic when dealing with a race that can and did rewrite time, and a member of that race who made a point of disrupting patterns of history. And this was not the Doctor's only possible end; one account tells of his encounter with the corpse of his future self, who died during the great war to come. But all the possible patterns of history in which some good could remain in the universe converged upon one point: the Doctor's destruction of Gallifrey.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:08 pm
The Doctor does not seem to have been consistently aware of this fact throughout his life. Through most of it, after he left Gallifrey, it seems to have retreated into his subconscious. He may have regained an awareness of his "fate" in his seventh life, which motivated him to take on the role of "Time's Champion." He systematically destroyed or neutralized several threats that could potentially become the Enemy, including the Daleks themselves, and did his utmost to bring about reform in Gallifrey. (In one version of history, he guided Ace to become a Time Lord, in another, he masterminded Romana's ascension to the presidency.) He moved heaven and earth to change the patterns of history, nearly losing his soul in the process.
And he failed. That failure must have haunted him greatly toward the end of his life. Perhaps this was the reason why he reconfigured the TARDIS as a Gothic ruin full of ticking clocks–counting down to the inevitable end–and spent the last moments of his life reading the Time Machine, a book about a man confronting the inevitable decay and death of his species, as the once-great chessmaster prepared for a pointless death at the hands of a gang of thugs.
And yet, at the same time, that failure seems to have given him a sense of freedom. At some point the Doctor realized his attempts to repair the engines of history, if carried too far, would ultimately damage both him and them. And so he chose instead to live life on the human level, embracing the moment and seeing people as people rather than as pawns, freeing him from the chains of godhood. The Doctor's eighth incarnation was a paradoxical and confusing one, about which it is difficult to determine anything definite. (Thiis life seems to echo the ancient Gallifreyan nursery rhyme: "Eighth Man Bound, make no sound/The shroud covers all.") But we can see that this double-edged hope and despair was what shaped the Doctor's eighth life. We can see this in the clothing he wore, shaped by a romantic poet. It reflected his sponteneity and passion, but also the Promethean revolutionary fire that burned in his heart. What's more, the Victorian clothing suggested an age of imperial idealism whose hopes would be dashed by a devastating war, and indeed, some accounts suggest he wore clothing taken from World War I in the latter part of his life.
This, then, was the Eighth Doctor, a man defined throughout his life (or lives) by paradox. A good and kind man who would be responsible for unspeakable crimes. A man who letting himself be bound by the chains of fate, freed the universe from history. The Champion of Life and the Bringer of Death. The victim and murderer of history. The Eighth Man Bound.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:28 pm
I'm not sure I agree with your characterization of Miles's ideal Doctor Who. As you point out, there's quite a lot of the show that doesn't conform to the stereotype you've laid out, and with those singular Critiques in the earlier books (as opposed to the Prosecution/Defence ones during the Williams and Bidmead eras), it's hard to tell which praises come from Miles and which from Wood. It's possible that he finds most eras of the show unsatisfying (and probable that he finds some reason to criticize them — don't we all?), but it seems unlikely to me.
I personally suspect that some of the divide can be explained by age, but this hypothesis is on very shaky ground, because while I know that Miles was 8 years old in 1980, and according to my entirely unscientific theories about taste formation exactly the right age to be enthralled by seasons 18-20, I have no idea how old Tat Wood is and I can't be at all certain that he was 8 years old somewhere in early-to-mid-Hinchcliffe, and still young enough to be scared by the Ogri, just as I was when I first saw them and fell in love with The Stones of Blood.
As far as the putative philosophical debate: I think Doctor Who is a waste of time (and space) if its main value is as an exploration of the Doctor or his companions as characters. Even after 50 years the Doctor himself remains relatively mysterious (and we've talked about Cartmel's attempts to keep him that way, and about Lungbarrow's attempts to do the opposite, which was for me the same sort of canon-disintegrator as War of the Daleks was for others (I've never read it)), his character changes randomly every few years in what we hope are ways extreme enough to be interesting, and his companions are distressingly generic with only occasional exceptions. It's perfectly situated to be an anthology show, and while anthology shows do often develop their anchor characters along the way (see The X-Files, I guess?), they're going to be subtle developments and they're going to be attenuated. In short: there's no point in being able to go anywhere in the TARDIS if the places we go can't hold our interest except as sketchy mirrors to our protagonists.
I think this is where the Buffy/New Who analogy breaks down, and why New Who so often feels unsatisfying to me. Imagine if Buffy had been built around the title character traveling from town to town fighting monsters, but if someone had decided that each town and monster threat could be entirely generic as long as you got enough jokes in and Buffy looked cool in the fight scenes.
I'm wandering, maybe. Back to Miles: I don't agree that he's unconcerned with the Doctor as a character or with characters as people (and here I might possibly be disagreeing with Miles himself, I don't know). To be honest, I find his characters (including the Doctor) more vivid and relatable and memorable than those of a lot of other NA/EDA authors, including a few that have been praised here. My only real complaint about Alien Bodies is that the main setting (the ziggurat) feels like a sort of claustrophobic limbo after a while, like the ultimate corridor-based set. I also had trouble (with his other novels) keeping distinct in my mind the various glossy black amorphous entities/substances/concepts (e.g. the Cold) I found myself picturing throughout.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:33 pm
January 11, 2013 @ 2:48 pm
I disagree with Miles most vehemently about Matt Smith, who I think is endlessly watchable and the only thing I like about some of the recent stories. Miles usually makes fun of Smith's appearance as though Smith himself is the problem, but maybe his issue is more with the Eleventh Doctor. Or maybe it's just kneejerk against Moffat, though I don't buy his claims that he doesn't watch the show anymore. Much of his heckling is far too close to the mark to be based on reading plot summaries.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:48 pm
I think they could mesh well as an ongoing antagonist force in a Doctor Who-like setting, but not in Doctor Who itself. They seem to be set up as a kind of dark mirror of the time lords, which has some great potential for them as antagonists of the time lords but the Doctor himself is already sort of out in the left field among time lords, so they are sort of off their mark when framed against him (Insofar as their MO is kind of "They operate in the domain of the time lords, but do not share their cold rationality," that's kinda already the Doctor's gig.). As recurring characters in Doctor Who, they'd probably fit best as either antiheroes or antivillains — either as "What happens if the Doctor goes too far," or an indictment of the Doctor as not being willing to go far enough.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:50 pm
You have reminded me that it has been too long since I listened to David Banks's Cybermen.
January 11, 2013 @ 2:52 pm
I was fascinated by Alien Bodies–I don't think I'd read any Sam at that time, but the whole concept of humanoid TARDISes was fascinating. And the one …Marie, when she is killed and her insides splattered everywhere–whole new level of creepy, right there
January 11, 2013 @ 4:48 pm
That's a good point, and I guess what I meant when I said "antagonist-ish". They seem like they could fit a lot of roles, if used well.
January 11, 2013 @ 4:56 pm
"To be honest, I find his characters (including the Doctor) more vivid and relatable and memorable than those of a lot of other NA/EDA authors, including a few that have been praised here."
Well, I'm glad to see I'm not in a minority of one on this point. I really don't see how the accusation of his not being interested in characters can stack up once you've read, say, Down, Interference, Dead Romance and This Town, all of which involve exploring individual characters, and to my mind were a lot more subtle and interesting about it than some of his fellow authors who tend to beat you over the head with archetypes (oh, look, here's another very poorly writen 'modern woman of the 1990s'…).
January 11, 2013 @ 5:07 pm
"I think Doctor Who is a waste of time (and space) if its main value is as an exploration of the Doctor or his companions as characters. Even after 50 years the Doctor himself remains relatively mysterious (and we've talked about Cartmel's attempts to keep him that way, and about Lungbarrow's attempts to do the opposite, which was for me the same sort of canon-disintegrator as War of the Daleks was for others (I've never read it)), his character changes randomly every few years in what we hope are ways extreme enough to be interesting, and his companions are distressingly generic with only occasional exceptions."
The Doctor's past is what's kept mysterious – never (well, rarely) what kind of person he is. What kind of person is changes so that we can re-explore it all over again, and… well, if you think that most of the companions are "generic" (not sure what that means over a fifty-year span) and not worth exploring, well, frankly, you have to start by throwing out all the episodes with Ian and Barbara in them, where the main point often was exploring the characters – generally by tossing them into a strange situation and seeing how they reacted.
January 11, 2013 @ 5:07 pm
I suppose I came to the EDAs a bit late. I dipped into them a bit while they were coming out, but I only really started reading them about two years ago.
They're awful. Most of these books are terribly, terribly written. I don't even mean in plot terms, I just mean stylistically, they have absolutely nothing going for them. Their authors/narrators have no voice, and nothing to say with them. (I count the Blum/Orman metaconstruct as particularly guilty in this regard: it/their combo novels are utterly unreadable, I find.)
By contrast, Miles, as a prose stylist, really isn't that bad. He's good enough to swap styles when he needs to, at the least, which is head-and-shoulders above some of his contemporaries in the line. Or, given that Alien Bodies is book no. 6, at this point, he is head-and-shoulders above all of his fellow-authors in the line.
January 11, 2013 @ 6:44 pm
Oh, jolly well done!
January 11, 2013 @ 10:23 pm
Ununnilium: I said "occasional exceptions," you say "most," so fine, let's list Ian and Barbara as exceptions. Let's include a few of my favorite companions: Liz Shaw, Zoe, Leela, and Romana. I'll give you Ace, Benny, Donna, and Captain Jack if you give me Adric — for better or for worse, no other companion before or since has made the kinds of choices he did. As for most of the rest…"generic" isn't a fair word, but if we're honest, I think there are a lot of stories where swapping out Jo, Sarah Jane, Tegan, Peri, Mel, Sam, Rose, Martha, Amy, or (I'm predicting) Clara wouldn't make as much difference as it would with those others. I don't know as much about Vicki, Dodo, Steven, Ben, Polly, or Victoria, but my impression has been that they're not the kinds of characters that "develop" or get explored as much as we might like.
Don't misunderstand me: I love a lot of these companions, and I don't blame the actors or the characters as conceived for their treatment in individual episodes. I'm frustrated by how little I know about Sarah Jane's interests outside of journalism, or whether Martha missed the medical profession while traveling with the Doctor, or what Nyssa felt every time she saw the Master wearing her father's face. I'm thrilled Tegan got at least four episodes where we learned something about her psyche, and three of those are among my favorites of all time.
I just think the idea that this show is "the companion's story" is a joke. By its very nature, and particularly if we accept the conclusion that canon is a bankrupt idea in Doctor Who, any attempt to develop the characters — show sustained and meaningful change from episode to episode — is hamstrung. Amy and Rory can experience mind-blowing revelations and experiences in "A Good Man Goes To War" and "Let's Kill Hitler" and not acknowledge an instant of them in "Night Terrors," not just because that was Gatiss rather than Moffat, not just because it's designed to be an independent story, but because it was moved from the first half of the season to the second. They can get an unexpected divorce in "Asylum of the Daleks," but they'd better be married again and blissful by "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" because this isn't drama (where characters change over time) but comedy (where they reset to their baseline at the end of each story). You can find subtle developments in their arcs, you can fill in the blanks, but you'll be doing most of the work yourself. It's not the primary focus, nor should it be…IMO, obviously.
As for the Doctor himself: fair enough, though this, too, is rarely clear-cut enough to be interesting in the manner you might expect if character were the point. In the classic series, consider "Genesis of the Daleks" vs. "Terror of the Vervoids" vs. "Remembrance." In the new, consider "Dinosaurs" vs. "A Town Called Mercy." There isn't zero interest in character…there aren't zero dots to connect…but I think the show is less about the Doctor than, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about Buffy.
What I'm driving at is that the show really has to balance all of these things — the Doctor, one or more companions, AND a compelling setting grounded in the melange of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and history we all know and love.
January 11, 2013 @ 10:32 pm
To be fair to Atwood, she's since stepped back from that, and seems to have embraced being a science fiction writer (or at least with the things she's interested in writing at the moment being science fiction. Because they are, obviously).
January 11, 2013 @ 10:33 pm
I wonder how they — or someone like them — would fit into the new series, given that we no longer have Gallifrey and that the last time we saw Time Lords apart from the Doctor they were so daft I was glad to see them go. I thought maybe that's where Moffat was going with the "dark TARDIS" thing, and the Silence have so far been a bit of a letdown in terms of being (inevitably, maybe, given the name) mostly inarticulate about their philosophies and plans.
Incidentally, I watched episode 1 of Shada tonight for the first time in years and years, and was struck by the idea that even if Gallifrey had to go, it wouldn't have killed RTD to leave some expat Time Lords alive elsewhere in the universe. You could easily run into someone like Chronotis for a story and then let him recede into obscurity again indefinitely, in a way that you couldn't do with a whole hegemonic planet of them continuing to run the show.
January 12, 2013 @ 6:41 am
And the truly clever thing about the way he made the Krotons scary and menacing in a way they never were before is that they're still figures of mockery. Because even as he expands the scope of what they're capable of, the circle they're moving in is much more terrifying. They become creatures that can plausibly conquer whole galaxies…while hanging out with entities that can rewrite entire timelines. They get this huge upgrade, but they're still outclassed.
J. L. Webb
January 12, 2013 @ 7:11 am
you seem to have resolved the logical and technical inconsistencies of the Seven>Eight>Nine transition in a little over 900 words.
i'm saving this.
January 12, 2013 @ 7:43 am
Actually, I'd jump on you too (lightly, with friendship, of course.) Because pretty much by definition, fanfiction is unauthorized by the copyright holder and done without monetary compensation. Once the writer gets paid for it and the BBC slaps a big "official Doctor Who merchandise" logo on it, it ceases to be fanfiction. To call it that, in my mind, is a purely pejorative term.
And yes, I'm aware that you were just quoting Miles. I've jumped on him for that too. 🙂
January 12, 2013 @ 9:45 am
Phil's clarification is correct — thanks Phil!
January 12, 2013 @ 12:30 pm
RTD probably wanted to keep the other TIme Lords off the stage so he could emphasize Ten's sense of isolation and his obsessive love/hate for the Master. I'm certain that Romana and the Rani are still out there, quietly working towards their own purposes and staying out of the Doctor's way, at least for now.
January 12, 2013 @ 12:38 pm
"His criticism of the RTD series was interesting because it was completely opposite to most other people's criticism — he thought Love And Monsters was the best thing during that five-year run, while Blink was the worst."
It's interesting, and very telling, to note that his favorite episode is one that's not about the Doctor himself, but about the effect he has on others and his world. Love and Monsters, being a story about fandom, is very much about the idea of the Doctor as "fetish object."
January 12, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
I think he was going for that whole "Last Son of Krypton" (or Gallifrey as it was) vibe.
After all the Doctor isn't as special if there's a whole planet of people just like him back home.
January 12, 2013 @ 1:10 pm
I'm glad people liked this, considering I was drunk when I wrote it. But really, it should have said the pre-memory of the Moment "slept in his mind."
January 12, 2013 @ 1:11 pm
Ah, Gallifrey Base, I missed you.
I wish I had better aim.
January 12, 2013 @ 1:56 pm
John, that is an excellent point. It's especially interesting because, more than likely, most people who read the book would be hazy about whether or not any of this expanded detail was actually in the episode.
January 12, 2013 @ 2:07 pm
Arkadin: Agreed. I mean, "Dalek" basically blows the idea that no other Time Lords survived out of the water, even before Mister Saxon shows up.
Tiffany: Ack, no! I hate the "a character isn't special if there's anyone else vaguely like them around" idea. Frankly, I think having Supergirl and Krypto around makes Superman better and more interesting. (Maybe not Beppo the Super-Monkey.)
January 12, 2013 @ 2:08 pm
I find this 'Miles cricicism is driven by jealousy of the incredibly sexy Stephen Moffat' idea a bit unlikely. Unless he somehow learned how to speak in public or went to the gym or something after that City of Death interview?
January 12, 2013 @ 2:29 pm
And indeed the Doctor did get a Supergirl in the form of Jenny, the Doctor's daughter. It's a shame she's vanished into oblivion. (I've always felt like Jenny should have a robotic cat.)
January 12, 2013 @ 3:41 pm
Hey, Prole Hole! Welcome, mate! (I go by Mr. Greene on The A.V. Club.) 🙂
January 12, 2013 @ 6:05 pm
I agree that that balance is definitely the most important thing about the show.
January 12, 2013 @ 7:01 pm
I found myself rereading the entry on the Three Doctors in tandem with The Infinity Doctors, and it's remarkable how many of the concepts it discusses are coming to the fore in this period of the novels. "The I, by dint of seeing, creates being out of becoming, literally altering the world into vision"–this is literally the basis for Omega's power in TID. I'm curious to what extent you remembered that novel when you wrote it.
And going back to the present, Faction Paradox is the antithesis of the concept "that the fundamental bound on changing history has little to do with the stability of the universe and everything to do with the stability of the self. One cannot alter the components of one's self – the stories and memories that create the unity of "I."" Well, now we have name for those stories and memories–"biodata"–and we know that, terrifyingly, it can be altered. We have entered a phase of history where nothing is stable anymore, not even the Doctor. Of course, that can be a source of joy too, as seen in The Scarlet Empress, where Iris Wildthyme is the farce to Faction Paradox's tragedy.
January 13, 2013 @ 4:30 pm
And incidentally, while Moffat laid out his basic approach to the Doctor in "Continuity Errors" which means his relationship with Miles was generally a case of convergent evolution rather than plagiarism, I find them both somewhat derivative of Melody Malone.
January 14, 2013 @ 2:21 am
Greetings Matthew, and very happy to be here – nice to see a fellow clubber!
January 15, 2013 @ 2:42 pm
And see William Butcher's amazing remark about Jules Verne:
In Verne's case, if a genre classification really is necessary, he falls into that of travel and adventure. But in no case can he be considered a science fiction writer. One good reason is that only about a third of the Extraordinary Journeys really involve any science; and another, that despite his futuristic reputation the events recounted nearly always happen just before the present. What is more, the science is not generally innovative or designed to change society. A significant number of the works do depend on a novel form of transport, whether underground, under water, or in the air or beyond. But Verne prefers 'intermediate technology'. … The real thrust of Verne's works, their raison d'être, is to explore the globe.
December 11, 2013 @ 8:50 am
Andrew Hickey writes, why shouldn't there be fiction about ideas rather than characters? Someone like Greg Egan, for example, gets criticised because in some of his stories the characters are considered not particularly well-drawn. Egan disagrees with that criticism, and so would I, but assuming it were true — Egan tells stories that nobody else does, because he's thought deeply about other aspects of the world than people's characters.
I had much the same thought and wrote about it here. I go a bit further than you do, in that I agree with Egan's critics ("his prose is dry and impersonal; his characters carry out their function in the story but no more; his plots are often episodic and lack dramatic conflict or resolution; he has a tin ear when it comes to satire") but still find him a hugely important writer because of the unique qualities he brings to his work. How dull would it be if everyone was trying to write War and Peace? "If Egan had written “better” works, according to the standards of the literary novel, then that would have impoverished our culture and not enriched it."
December 14, 2013 @ 6:06 pm
"reversing that and having the Eleventh Doctor meet the Eighteenth is a problem simply because it’s impossible to accurately predict what the Eighteenth will be like, and everyone watching now knows it and won’t fall for it."
The comics, however, tried it more than once. As fakeouts.