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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.


  1. Josh Marsfelder
    November 16, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    I find it delightfully synchronous that Oasis is charting with What's the Story at the same time Wishbone is halfway through its first season and you're covering a Virgin book with an overt focus on the mundane.

    Great essay as always, and a good overview of why I'm such a fan of Andrew Cartmel.

    Oh also, "Spaceman" is awesome. I actually have that album and single.


  2. jane
    November 16, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    Oh, this comment section is looking so lonely. Poor comment section! Is this an effect of the oncoming weekend?

    Okay, I'll take this opportunity to ask for clarification on Cartmel's influence on the current series, or lack thereof. I get the bit about the "human scale," and I very much agree, but this other bit puzzles me:

    "For all that the new series is very, very good, and for all that it jumps around among premises and genres, the fact is that there’s more thematic and tonal unity to Doctor Who these days than there ever has been before. The most recent mini-season demonstrates the point perfectly: for all its aspirations to being five “movie poster” Doctor Who stories it turned out five stories of almost indistinguishable quality and tone.

    The quality of production certainly looks uniformly marvelous, but tone? We go from a creepy, tragic Dalek story to a hilarious romp, then a sober reflection on mercy and justice, a domestic soap opera, and finally a noirish convergence of love and death. What's indistinguishable about the "tone" of these stories?


  3. peeeeeeet
    November 16, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    That puzzled me a bit too; I suspect what Dr S is getting it is what I might call consistency of attitude rather than tone. For example, all the current scriptwriters are required to sign up to the notion that the Doctor becomes a scary badass when humans are absent for any length of time, which shows up in the "hilarious* romp" and the "reflection on mercy and justice" episodes. There's an emergent house style on everything from the Doctor's romantic feelings to how time travel works. In the original series, the writers gave little impression of caring about these things, let alone making sure they were consistent with what went before; the NA writers plainly did think about these things pretty deeply, but didn't always come up with perspectives that aligned with one another, and the editorial instinct at the time was to favour authorial, um, authority over inter-book consistency of attitude. I tend to prefer the NA approach for a couple of reasons. One is that, as long as I've get plenty of books to agree with, I don't mind disagreeing with some, whereas with the new series it's their way or the highway; and secondly, I don't think the modern approach is as consistent as it first appears – the "fixed point in time" thing gets looser and more plot-expedient each time it's brought up.

    * My mileage varies


  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 16, 2012 @ 9:47 am

    peeeeeeet has part of it, but it is also the way in which the tone shifts have accelerated to where they happen multiple times within an episode. So, yes, we have a sober reflection on mercy and justice juxtaposed with a hilarious romp. But the hilarious romp has a tragic sequence where the dinosaur dies and a chilling moment of the Doctor's vengeance, and the sober reflection on mercy and justice has slapstick gun scenes and a joke about a trans mare. Variety in Doctor Who is these days a question of which elements get brought to the forefront of the mix, not what instruments are in the mix as a whole.


  5. Dougie
    November 16, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  6. Dougie
    November 16, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    Dr. S, would you say that the Visians are "far more invisible" than the Refusians since we never see the former throwing cups around?


  7. jane
    November 16, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

    But isn't this kind of what we got in McCoy era? Delta's got its tragedy of the slaughtered Navarinos, and Happiness has the tragedy of Helen A's Fifi — even Paradise Towers has the tragic end of Pex, and the Yellow Kang. And all these stories have gobs of humor and satire, too — it's just a matter of what elements in the mix get brought to the forefront.

    Sorry, but I'm still not getting how the "tone" of the current run is any more consistent than in Cartmel's day — or, say, the Gothic tone of the Hinchcliffe era, the humorous sensibilities of Williams' run, and so on. Seems to me there's an "attitude" as peeeeeet says in just about every era of Doctor Who, whether it's the "glam action hero" who juxtaposes a Buddhist/Crowleyian take with UNIT shenanigans for Pertwee, or the misanthropic cynicism of Saward's tenure.

    If anything, it's not an inconsistency of tone that the current series has drifted away from, it's the element of social critique so prevalent in Cartmel's run that seems to be lacking. We're not gonna see another Happiness Patrol anytime soon, or even a Green Death or Kroll; the show is more interested in exploring and deforming other genres and other forms of storytelling than contemporary issues or political considerations.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 16, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

    Scope, mainly. The Moffat era has had a relatively consistent tone for twenty-eight stories now. Whereas the straight "gothic" period of the Hinchcliffe era basically ran for less than a season when it did three Hammer knock-offs in four stories. Even there, though, there was some contrast: The Android Invasion feels jarringly weird in amidst Season Thirteen in a way that only the most aggressively experimental episodes of the new series do within their seasons.

    I mean, I think it's only to be expected. You've got a larger team of creatives working on each individual episode – a house style is useful for that. And you've got a much greater oversight by a single writer. That, at least, has faded from the Davies era, but Moffat's writing six of fourteen episodes is still more homogeny of tone than Robert Holmes brought to the series even at his most prolific.


  9. David Ashton
    November 16, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

    " but it is also the way in which the tone shifts have accelerated to where they happen multiple times within an episode."

    They even managed that in yesterday's 2 minute webisode.


  10. David Ashton
    November 16, 2012 @ 10:27 pm

    "And while the Doctor sits on the sidelines for most of the story, idly nudging events to keep them on track, the end, in which he calmly and casually pipes up in the midst of the final confrontation…"

    I can't remember if you've talked about Sandman yet, but this desciption of the Doctor's role reminds me very much of Morpheus in that comic. Since Cartmel's TV era was heavily influenced by 2000AD & Alan Moore it makes sense that his books would be influenced Sandman & Neil Gaiman.


  11. Anton B
    November 17, 2012 @ 1:00 am

    I think the elusive 'tone' that we're all attempting to pin down has a lot to do with the foregrounding of the primary characters' emotional responses in both Moffat and RTD's seasons. The emphasis on Nu Who is consistantly on how the defining moment of each story affects the protagonists' feelings for eachother and possibly more importantly, for the Doctor. For example I don't believe we've had the uncertainty regarding the Doctor's motives, loyalties and motivations played as a major source of the dramatic tension (Seventh Doctor's machinations notwithstanding) so much since the Hartnell era, perhaps shading into the suspicious and anarchic early Troughton. The consistant (if not always succesful)attempt at maintaining high production values even in the more dodgy stories helps too.


  12. Adam Riggio
    November 18, 2012 @ 3:12 am

    That's a really interesting way to think about the show's development. In a way, the circumstances of Doctor Who's creation made a kind of perfect storm for a wildly mercurial show. Yes, it was a very popular show in one of the BBC's peak family viewing hours, but it was still a cheap, weird, little production. So it had enough space for experimenting in tone and content with every story.

    Now Doctor Who is a flagship show for the entire BBC, and everybody knows it. So the kind of everyday experimentation in tone isn't really possible. Yet it's just as mercurial because the established tone of Doctor Who is now a show that shifts tone all the damn time. Moffat's "compressed storytelling" season this year (which in my opinion has been more successful so far than the arc-based seasons of the last two years) is a perfect example. The content can vary, because everyone who's familiar with the show understands that Doctor Who is a program that tells crazily divergent styles of story week after week (hallucinatory action, madcap romp, Western, etc). If you don't like variation of that sort, you don't really like Doctor Who. And my friends who don't like the show (to the extent that they can really remain my friends) dislike it precisely for that reason: they don't know what Doctor Who is going to be week to week.

    The key influence of Cartmel is in what stays consistent through all this variation: the focus on individual people and their motivations, among all the major supporting characters, and most importantly, the regulars. Through all this flux, Doctor Who creates characters who are constant across the stories and develop according to their own logic and personal narratives. A show with the kind of flux we see today that had the kind of cookie-cutter characterization of the Nathan-Turner/Saward era would be disastrous: pure chaos without a single anchor through which we could care about it.


  13. encyclops
    November 18, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

    When you described the Davies script-rejection incident, I thought you were kidding, but it looks like you're actually endorsing the idea that such a story would have been a good idea. I half agree with you, but only half.

    I just rewatched "Varos" in anticipation of the Wife In Space watching it soon. It's not great — most of the acting is hilariously bad, and all the hallucinatory nonsense is tedious and uninspired (I don't think I ever need to see another story in any genre or medium where an obstacle is overcome by repeating "it's only an illusion!") — but it's not about "interplanetary politics." It's about Earth society and politics, as you clearly point out in your essay on it; even within the story itself Sil is primarily there to provide an unambiguous crisis for the Governor (and, of course, comic relief). Whereas "Paradise Towers," though it's a tad underrated, is a story about a bunch of cartoon characters trapped in a building together.

    Yes, we have tower blocks in present-day Earth, and we don't have televised torture zones for political criminals. We have televised torture zones for obnoxious would-be celebrities, and we have clandestine torture zones for political criminals. But I find it easier to credit the idea that the Varosians are us than I do the idea that the Towers residents (as portrayed onscreen) could be.

    They're both decent satires and I appreciate them, but I can't really buy your suggestion that Towers somehow treats ordinary people more effectively. So maybe I've just completely misunderstood that suggestion.

    As for "indistinguishable quality," I would (did) say that "A Town Called Mercy" jumped out pretty prominently as a fourth-rate Star Trek story which was a lot closer in quality to "Victory of the Daleks" and "Curse of the Black Spot" than the other stories in the season. I mean, it tried a bit harder to say something, but:

    PAUL: …it tried and failed?
    MOHIAM: It tried and died.

    I'm the only person I know who thinks that. But it really made me angry, and I was surprised because I don't usually feel that way about a Whithouse script. Otherwise, though, I see where you're coming from.


  14. Matthew Blanchette
    November 19, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

    Holy crap… someone who agrees with me on "A Town Called Mercy"! :-O

    And may I shake your hand, sir? πŸ˜€


  15. encyclops
    November 19, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

    Just don't shake the one that's been made into a gun (what a novel idea!).


  16. Matthew Blanchette
    November 20, 2012 @ 5:35 am

    Let me attempt to doff to you the hat that's seemingly welded to my head, sir… πŸ˜›


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