Eruditorum Press

Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

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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.

27 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    February 13, 2013 @ 12:30 am

    Maybe the ideas were interesting, but the prose and dialogue were so excrutiatingly dull and awkward as to make actually reading the thing unbearable. True of much SF actually.

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  2. sorrywehurtyourfield
    February 13, 2013 @ 1:38 am

    I never read any EDAs beyond Interference; by the time I'd finished that, The Ancestor Cell had been published and what I hard about it convinced me that it and future arcs probably weren't worth my investment. But the idea of the Doctor trapped on Earth for a whole century (but a limited number of books) did sound appealing. It seemed to me you could do something very interesting with the Doctor interacting with historical persons and situations in a more drawn out and immersive way than the usual "turns up, meet famous person, solves case, leaves"; an interesting new approach to the challenge of The War Games, by giving it a more historical dimension. I always mean to read The Turing Test in particular, which seemed like it had potential in that area. I don't think you'd need the Doctor to have amnesia, though.

    Regarding editors, according to his wikipedia page, Cole's hiring for the editorship seems to have come about largely due to hanging around the right office at the right time. Reading that, I couldn't help but be reminded of the problems of lack of experience you discussed in relation to Eric Saward in your Slipback post. Perhaps that's unfair, and I've no idea what Darvill Evans and Levene had done prior to the NAs, but Virgin really did seem better at finding the right people to steer the ship.

    Richards is interesting for being, as far as I'm aware, the only Doctor Who novel editor to "rise through the ranks", earning the top job through writing many books rather than coming in from somewhere else and writing Who books later; in effect, more the Robert Holmes career trajectory. As I've not read any of the books from this time, I can't really comment on the results, but I remember thinking at the time he seemed like an odd choice; a reliable regular but his books didn't seem to stand out for many people. Still, I suppose with hindsight, most of the favourite authors had wandered off by this point, whether forging TV careers or falling out with people, so maybe he really was the only workable candidate.

    I remember an interview with Miles in which he complained that there were simply too many novels and that they should halve the output, and furthermore that Cole agreed but BBC Books wouldn't let him. Maybe that was the biggest problem, as that's a hell of a lot of material to oversee if you're struggling to get a coherent direction together. Virgin managed to pull it off pretty well, but (as I think Miles was saying) the NAs existed at a perfect time to catch people who had grown up with Who were just starting to forge professional writing careers, but by the time of the EDAs many had moved onto bigger and better things and the generational shift meant that fresh blood of the same quality just wasn't coming in.

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  3. sleepyscholar
    February 13, 2013 @ 2:59 am

    Justin Richards I met a couple of times at uni, and traded fanzines with, and he always struck me as a very nice bloke and very much not "openly fascistic and brutal," though he was unquestionably an active Doctor Who fan from way back.

    Peter Darvill-Evans was my first boss, and while not openly fascistic and brutal, he was perhaps more willing to put the boot in when needed. I should also add that, compared to Justin, he was probably far less of an invested fan. Indeed, he was less of a fan than, say, Ian Marsh, who did a lot of copy-editing on the Virgin line. Darvill-Evans's professional background was (being my boss) heading up Games Workshop Publications, in the days before it was consumed by Warhammer. He also wrote — as did so many GW alumni — Fighting Fantasy books. So he was coming from a somewhat orthogonal direction. Which might have helped.

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  4. Daibhid C
    February 13, 2013 @ 3:01 am

    I know you shouldn't judge a book by a cover, but honestly "It's possibly the most overused image from Paul's photoshoot [it's either this or Docor Leaning Over Console], but we've set it on fire in Photoshop" doesn't fill one with confidence.

    But yes, I liked this one. What I remember, though, is (of course) arguing on radw about it. The person I was arguing with was a proponant of Doctor Who as Serious Science Fiction, who felt fire elementals had no place in the series.

    Now, I've got DW-as-SSF tendencies myself (I try to keep them under control), so I could see his point. But the take I had on it was that, in a typical Doctor Who story, you could certainly have a fire elemental, as long as the Doctor was there to technobabble it away afterwards. In The Burning, of course, the Doctor wasn't in a position to provide a technobable explanation, but that didn't mean such an explanation didn't exist. To suggest that the DW universe only worked a certain way if someone said it did was, well, magic thinking…

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  5. Blueshift
    February 13, 2013 @ 3:20 am

    I thought the 'Doctor losing his memory' made a lot of sense given the arc of the books, that is 'The Doctor is trapped on Earth during the 20th century'. If you do that, you have two options: Have him know exactly what is going on, knowledge of everything that will happen and every important person, or have him come to these events without such foreknowledge. Of course, spinning it out past the 'caught on Earth' arc was a bit bonkers.

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  6. Arkadin
    February 13, 2013 @ 4:49 am

    One of the interesting things about this turn is that it's a soft reboot in the Doctor's character–an attempt to have the impact of a regeneration without an actual regeneration. Later on Big Finish would do something similar with Dark Eyes.

    Reply

  7. Arkadin
    February 13, 2013 @ 4:53 am

    As I recall, that was an ongoing shift in direction in the post-Ancestor Cell EDAs–there were more mysterious enemies that weren't quite explained and more magic. In Adventuress of Henrietta Street, there was the implication that the world had become less rational without the Time Lords. Of course, there were plenty of "normal" Doctor Who stories as well.

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  8. jane
    February 13, 2013 @ 4:54 am

    "It’s a serialized narrative and a line. It’s not going for individual moments of genius, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s going for consistent quality."

    I see what you're doing here! It's a great line in the sand to draw.

    Reply

  9. Ununnilium
    February 13, 2013 @ 5:03 am

    Well, there's a third option. A Third Doctor option, if you will.

    Reply

  10. ir3actions
    February 13, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    I've read that Justin Richards was only a part-time consultant for the DW publishing line. (I think it was two or three days a week?) If editing DW books wasn't his full time job, maybe Justin just couldn't take firm control of the books or have rewrites and changes made because he just didn't have enough hours to make it happen and still get the books out on schedule. (I could be wrong about this.)

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  11. Ununnilium
    February 13, 2013 @ 7:47 am

    Also, now that we're nearly at the end of continuous coverage of the EDAs: Is it just me, or were the PDAs generally better? I mean, maybe that's a false impression left by the PDAs that have been covered by this blog, but I get the feeling that they were better because they were freed from the necessity of being a "line" and could just be good stand-alone stories.

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  12. Arkadin
    February 13, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    I don't think so. The PDAs had a ton of boring filler, it was just easier to ignore because it wasn't part of an ongoing narrative. Also, the good PDAs are easier to appreciate than the good 8DAs because they're not tied into story arcs that don't pay off.

    Reply

  13. Matthew Blanchette
    February 13, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    I love that he's so nonchalant on the cover even though HIS COAT IS ON FIRE AAAUUUGGGGHHHHH!!! 😛

    Reply

  14. Stephen Jeffers
    February 13, 2013 @ 9:47 am

    Oh good god, no – the PDAs were a dungeon for the dullest writers, people like Rayner and McIntee, who are perfectly competent writers, consistent 7/10ers, but who never had an original idea in their life.

    At least when the EDAs failed, they were trying to be ambitious and interesting.

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  15. Archeology of the Future
    February 13, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    I think that the most horrible aspect of the EDAs and the PDAs is that they got clogged up with writers who proclaimed that they were 'visual writers' as if this were a virtue.

    'I just describe what I can see in my mind's eye' they'd say, forgetting that a book isn't just a transcription of a film that is playing in the mind of the writer.

    One of the things that is most interesting about prpose is that it can do things that other mediums can't. This is where the maxim 'stories too broad for the small screen' gets translated into 'stories with special effects too expensive for the small screen' rather 'stories using storytelling in ways that couldn't work on the small screen (as we've seen it thus far)'.

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  16. Adam Riggio
    February 13, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

    You've hit on one cool thing The Burning does. Because Richards only has words to use, he can do all those fake introductions of characters who you think are going to turn out to be the Doctor, but then aren't. That's the kind of joke that works in writing.

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  17. Adam Riggio
    February 13, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    It is a good line in the sand, and generally an excellent way to run a multi-author or otherwise multi-contributor series. But I'm reminded of another ghost from the Pertwee era returning to haunt us.

    "It’s a serialized narrative and a line. It’s not going for individual moments of genius, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. It’s going for consistent quality. Doctor Who hits “brain-meltingly brilliant” occasionally almost no matter what. There’s never been an era that managed to blow it at every outing. . . . Taking care of hitting “quite fun” reliably is, as a result, generally more important. The brilliance usually takes care of itself."

    Wasn't this the root cause of the disaster of season 11? Worshiping too heavily at the altar of not fucking up, just generally taking care of having a rollicking adventure and letting brilliant stories and moments arise from the base level? The lesson that the McGann novel era needed to learn was the lesson that was taken too much to heart in the Pertwee era.

    Reply

  18. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 13, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    I wonder how much of this late focus on "visual" writers was a reaction against Big Finish – an attempt to position the novels as closer to "proper" Doctor Who by virtue of their supposed visuality, while Big Finish attempted to claim the crown by virtue of having actors.

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  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 13, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

    Yeah – the Letts era is, for me, the one real exception to the general rule that if you successfully set a baseline of quality below which the show rarely descends you'll end up with sufficient brilliance to do you well. Save for Ambassadors of Death and Carnival of Monsters the Letts era never managed much in the way of brilliance.

    But other than that almost every era has about the same rate of "complete and mind-wrenching brilliance" – it's the rate of "total cock-ups" that varies widely from era to era.

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  20. Commander Maxil
    February 13, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

    I’m a long-time reader of the blog (which I love) and have been meaning to post something for ages and I finally feel the time has come. I feel I ought to stand up (at least in part) for the EDAs as they have (quite often correctly) been criticised here quiet correctly, but there is also a lot to love about them as well I feel. I found during the NA era that I couldn’t get into the New Adventures, I was very much a trad fan in the sense of what I wanted from Doctor Who stories, namely I wanted something that was essentially the TV show I had loved as a kid in book form. I did read the MAs but the NAs always seemed too cliquey and annoying when referenced in DWM, as though if you didn’t ‘get’ them then you weren’t the sort of person ‘they’ wanted reading them. I did decide to read the EDAs though after the excitement of the TVM (which was terrible of course but was at least, new Doctor Who with a new Doctor). I picked up the first few but read only intermittently as those early ones were not great. However cut to mid 2003 when I moved to London. I started collecting the EDAs and NAs and found I really enjoyed both ranges. Maybe because I read them both at the same time and tended to alternate, 1 NA, then 1 EDA I found that both the NAs and EDAs had great and terrible books, and I don’t think on reflection the NAs were really more experimental. Whilst I appreciate the blog cannot cover them all and this is probably the best place to leave the books with the Paul McGann (which I plan to wax lyrical about as well when we get there) audios coming onto the scene, the second half of the EDA run is by far the stronger one. Some of the later EDAs really were fantastic. The run from Eater of Wasps through to Time Zero is one of the strongest run of Doctor Who stories in any medium in the series’ history, there really are some great books there, including probably my favourite ever Doctor Who story, ‘The Crooked World’ . Doctor Who in all its formats can be characterised as inconsistent, great stories are often followed by terrible ones, and both book ranges have this in spades, but both NAs and EDAs contain great books and I’m glad we had them as the wilderness years were terrible ad at least they were new Doctor Who. Indeed I have now been inspired by his blog to read all NAs followed by EDAs in order (have just finished Tragedy Day) as there are still quite a few I missed. I am thoroughly enjoying the NAs now but for me the EDAs shade it as my preferred book line, there are so many good books in it. They were a bit overshadowed by Big Finish and the new series basically (and probably correctly) ignored them, but at the time I loved them, and still do.

    Reply

  21. encyclops
    February 13, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    I'm really looking forward to what you have to say about the New Who era now. I haven't counted them up but my perception is that there are actually quite a lot of stories set on Earth in the last few centuries. If "Earthbound" is actually a serious problem for this show, then it follows that "Earthcentric" should run into the same cul-de-sacs. I think Smith's Doctor in particular has spent almost no time on alien planets (the occasional asteroid or Silurian ark, yes, and of course Skaro, but not too many new planets). Of course, the timebound element here is maybe even more important than Earthbound given that it's what rules out the pure historical (the pseudohistorical is typically just "alien invasion" again).

    Of course, you could do the "pure contemporary" and send the Doctor to Saudi Arabia….

    I'm quite pleased that we're on the same page about the highlights of the Saward era. Of the stories you named, I'd only quarrel lightly with Vengeance on Varos, which I'd agree is terrific in theory but which still seems a bit thin on the ground to me in practice. The nicest thing I can say about it is that I very quickly forget its virtues when it's not onscreen in front of me. But it doesn't have too much competition for the number 5 slot, especially if you classify Castrovalva as Bidmead-era (and why wouldn't you?).

    When you were describing the "do we know this new Doctor?" stories, I flashed on "The Snowmen." How long does it take to get him back to SOP in that one? Three minutes, four?

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  22. T. Hartwell
    February 13, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    I agree with your general point, but surely we can be a bit more charitable and grant Spearhead from Space and Three Doctors a 'brilliant' status as well?

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  23. Spacewarp
    February 14, 2013 @ 12:27 am

    Also that whether Doctor Who is brilliant or not, it should also still be fun. And speaking as someone who grew up through the Pertwee years, it was often fun.

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  24. Ed Jolley
    February 14, 2013 @ 5:08 am

    Spearhead was Sherwin, not Letts.

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  25. Ed Jolley
    February 14, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    The story builds towards a decent surprise as the Doctor opts to let the villain drive, having decided that the villain cannot be redeemed, actively lets him die.

    Shouldn't that be 'opts to let the villain drown'?

    Reply

  26. Ununnilium
    February 14, 2013 @ 5:49 am

    Hm. I guess I'm spoiled by stuff like The Infinity Doctors, The Quantum Archangel and The Time Travellers.

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  27. John Seavey
    February 14, 2013 @ 5:57 am

    I think that 'Zeta Major', 'The Infinity Doctors', 'Tomb of Valdemar', 'Verdigris', 'Heart of TARDIS', 'Festival of Death', 'Rags', 'Byzantium!', 'Ten Little Aliens', 'Combat Rock', 'The Suns of Caresh', 'Heritage', 'Blue Box', 'The Algebra of Ice', 'The Indestructible Man', 'Fear Itself' and 'The Time Travellers' would all disagree with you on that. Whether you loved them or hated them (and I can point to examples of both on this list alone) there were a lot of books that tried to be "ambitious and interesting", just like I could make a similar list of EDAs (starting with 'The Bodysnatchers', and including such "luminaries" as 'Coldheart' and 'The Deadstone Memorial') that were bland space-fillers. One of the few things I think the BBC line did better than Virgin was that they didn't make a conscious editorial decision to assign their second-tier writers to the gap stories.

    Reply

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