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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.

24 Comments

  1. Tommy
    December 28, 2012 @ 2:19 am

    "The only ideas John Nathan-Turner had for his second new Doctor were to do everything completely opposite to how he had done it with his first. So in every regard Colin Baker is just Peter Davison done backwards. And this is one of the major problems with the Baker era – it’s entirely negatively defined. It only really knows what it doesn’t want to be, not what it wants to be."

    To be fair to Colin, the same problem afflicted his predecessor during the Davison era and its neurotic backlash against the Tom Baker era. And for that matter Eccleston seemed to be defined in no more imaginitive terms than as the anti-McGann Dcotor.

    Reply

  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 28, 2012 @ 2:37 am

    Well, every Doctor is at least partially a reaction against the previous one. But it's difficult for me to describe Davison as a pure reaction against Baker. There's a clear sense, at least at first, of what the series wants to explore with this new Doctor – people are interested in seeing what they can do with Doctor Who now that the lead actor isn't hogging every inch of the screen. So yes, there's a "react against the previous" tone there, but it's not purely negative.

    The idea that Eccleston is simply the anti-McGann, on the other hand, I cannot even understand enough to formulate disagreement.

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  3. dm
    December 28, 2012 @ 3:55 am

    I don't like to see Eccleston as being anti-McGann so much as anti-TV Movie. He has a backstory, but he doesn't really want to get into it. He has no destiny, he's just seeing where the universe takes him. He is a character first, and the culmination of an elaborate canon second.

    One of the great joys of seeing the 2005 series, going in as a long term fan, was seeing how this character would react to different situations, not what these situations would reveal about his backstory. I think I recall reading in The Scripts or The Writer's Tale about how Davies deliberately ignored getting into Jack's missing years because that's not what his Doctor was about- and it's precisely the sort of thing, I feel, that the TV Movie (and, sadly at times, the Moffatt series) is about. At the end of the TV Movie we know that the Doctor is a Timelord, that he's from Gallifrey, that the Master is his mortal enemy (pure evil!), that there's some race called the Daleks, who exterminated him (or so we thought!) etc. but we haven't learnt anything about who he is. That's the triumph of the 2005 series, and its main point of convergence. Even lesser episodes (always controversial picking these- but to my mind The Unquiet Dead is the weakest link) still strive to reveal something new about the Doctor and Rose- not some vague reference to their family or some continuity wink, but something about them as characters.

    Got a little off track there…

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  4. Adam Riggio
    December 28, 2012 @ 5:14 am

    Part of what I'm really interested in about this section of the blog is exploring just what the McGann Doctor actually is, in the sense of character. The best McGann could do given the terrible script of the TV-movie is portray a protagonist that's reasonably fun to watch in a Doctorish sort of way. But beyond that, he couldn't really infuse himself or any of his own priorities and capacities as an actor into the character, which is how, even in the Hartnell days, the Doctor worked out.

    But McGann's Doctor has all these artificial characterization elements that have to be overcome. The Victorian suit wasn't there because of anything specific about the Eighth Doctor as a character, but because the producers took a superficial reading of the Victorian adventurer element of the Doctor's heritage. His hair was a wig. McGann's attempt to reboot these elements of his Doctor's costume/appearance last year I don't think really took: it amounted to a press conference we all forgot about, and doesn't even seem to have been acknowledged on the cover images of his audios. His height is even more pivotal, being depicted and sometimes described with the bearing of a dashing and tall action hero, even though McGann in real life is 5'8. His character is so hazy because of these elements tacked on as superficial descriptors instead of developments of a consistent movement of the character.

    This tacked-on feeling is also what keeps me from understanding Tommy's and SK's complaints about the Davies and Moffat eras. Davies' interest in crafting working class characters and exploring the domestic effects of his characters falling out of the world with the Doctor I saw as a fascinating exploration of narrative territory the show had never conceived before. I don't understand how that equals a condescending philistinism. Similarly, I don't understand how having your four protagonists be two straight couples deeply in love is a morally appalling heteronormativity (though Moffat does have some very problematic lines sometimes, I'll save that discussion for when we get to The God Complex). These complaints, at least as far as I can understand, seem to be an equally superficial imposition on a more complex characterization as Philip Segal's Victorian wardrobe, clock-filled TARDIS, and Byronic wig.

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  5. J. L. Webb
    December 28, 2012 @ 5:15 am

    Oh dear, I seem to be leaping in as a contrarian again, but I can't help interjecting; I read The Dying Days with little or no prior experience of the virgin line (I'd read one Pertwee Missing Adventure), and found it immensely engaging and readable. I was dimly aware that a lot of meta-textual stuff was filtering past me as I went, but it should not be imagined that this is a disengaging or isolating novel of all of its being so involved.
    And whilst the Doctor may have been written broadly generic, and with a strong flavour of Tom, no part of him jarred with what can loosely be called his prior characterization.

    Not that I dismiss any part of your fantastic essay, I've been looking forward to this one for a while, and it was great

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  6. elvwood
    December 28, 2012 @ 6:02 am

    "McGann's attempt to reboot these elements of his Doctor's costume/appearance last year I don't think really took: it amounted to a press conference we all forgot about, and doesn't even seem to have been acknowledged on the cover images of his audios."

    Sorry to be nitpicky, but have you missed Dark Eyes? The stuff set early (like the Mary Shelley trilogy) is still "Byronic", so they aren't contradicting previous cover art; but the post-To the Death stories are taking this on board.

    I do agree with it as part of your list of problems to be overcome, though; it's just they are finally getting there with this one!

    Reply

  7. Ununnilium
    December 28, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    I can see Eccleston as not anti-McGann specifically, but an anti-version of all the Doctors in the series up to that point; and since TVM's version of Eight was a mishmash of all the previous Doctors, I can see how that comparison might work.

    Reply

  8. Matthew Blanchette
    December 28, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

    I do hope Tommy jumps back in, at some point, to respond and clarify his points…

    Reply

  9. Steven Clubb
    December 28, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

    I read this for the first time a few weeks ago and what struck me about the novel is how closely it adheres to the future formula of the new series. Strong focus on the companion who has a sexual interest in the Doctor, big adventure done in a small way (not a lot of special effects), modern day invasions which are explained away, and a few other bits and bobs I don't remember any more.

    Anyway, I thought it was a lot of fun. One of the issues I have with the New Adventures was the endless angst, whether it be the Doctor agonizing over his actions or Ace not trusting the Doctor or Benny not trusting the Doctor or Roz not fitting in or Chris deciding the whole happy adventurer thing wasn't working for him and opted for pining away for his partner before mourning her death. And it was a welcome relief to see everybody in a Doctor Who novel kicking back and having fun.

    Mind you, my early criticism of the Eighth Doctor Adventures (I'm about nine novels in) is that without being able to fall back on all that angst they're at a complete loss as to what to do with any of the characters.

    Reply

  10. David Anderson
    December 29, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

    Just to say, I bought the books over Christmas. I'm glad to see Wheel of Ice made it into the Troughton book.

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  11. Tommy
    December 30, 2012 @ 2:34 am

    "Well, every Doctor is at least partially a reaction against the previous one. But it's difficult for me to describe Davison as a pure reaction against Baker. There's a clear sense, at least at first, of what the series wants to explore with this new Doctor – people are interested in seeing what they can do with Doctor Who now that the lead actor isn't hogging every inch of the screen. So yes, there's a "react against the previous" tone there, but it's not purely negative."

    But Peter Davison is on record as saying he wanted to bring more humour and character to the Doctor and was overruled, which explains what we saw on screen, the Fifth Doctor wasn't being 'developed differently', he was just being stunted and neutered. And whatever else we may think of the Sixth Doctor, he just about makes sense as an anti-hero in his own right, even if his era doesn't (by which I mean it's possible to isolate say the Pertwee or Tom Baker era from the rest of the show and the era would still stand alone well as its own TV series, but the 80's doesn't because it's so wrapped up in what came before).

    With Davison, apart from a few fits and starts of strong writing, the character itself doesn't make sense outside the context of being a contrast to Tom. The moments of seeming compulsive failure and impotence are what causes the character to make no sense as a protagonist, and certainly to make no sense as what's supposed to be a 900 year old adventurer who's survived all manner of dangers all his life.

    "The idea that Eccleston is simply the anti-McGann, on the other hand, I cannot even understand enough to formulate disagreement."

    I would have thought it fairly obvious. Reacting against a posh, gentlemanly, scholarly Doctor with a rough, volatile, thuggish one, and dispensing with the Victorian aspect by rewriting him as a Reality TV watcher and a Heat-reader who buys his clothes from Top Shop.

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  12. Tommy
    December 30, 2012 @ 4:42 am

    "Davies' interest in crafting working class characters and exploring the domestic effects of his characters falling out of the world with the Doctor I saw as a fascinating exploration of narrative territory the show had never conceived before. I don't understand how that equals a condescending philistinism."

    Each to their own, but personally I just found it loud and horribly overwrought, and far from being explored, it just seemed to degenerate into repetitive circular material that got quickly redundant and cumbersome, didn't really go anywhere, and if anything held the show back, and frankly didn't even seem sophisticated enough to bear actual exploration. As a result it was just as unpleasant as the Season 19 companion dynamic, but ended up lasting far longer than that.

    Reply

  13. Adam Riggio
    December 30, 2012 @ 6:59 am

    I will, of course, save the intensity of this discussion in regards to its focus on Eccleston's character for the Davies era proper this Spring. But in a lot of ways, the problematic aspects of the McGann era were something to move away from. I think it's another iteration of the focus on superficiality that Phil identified in the Nathan-Turner era.

    McGann's was a Doctor created according to stereotypes and empty images, rather than actual character causality or a foundation in the peculiarities of the actor. Victoriana of a depth you'd find in a poorly-written history Cliff's Notes, which would say something like, for example, "Dickens was primarily concerned with social issues," and leave it there. The Victorian imagery was so associated with the character that one would have to move beyond it. (And I've done a proper amount of research now, to see that Big Finish is finally moving beyond it in the actual Eighth Doctor material.)

    It's weird, because apart from McGann, the Doctor never really dressed in a purely Victorian style before. He just came from that iconography. One would have to move beyond it, and I think Davies and Eccleston did in a literal as well as a deeper sense. I remember seeing an interview with Eccleston talking about his costume, and he said that the Doctor was an eccentric character not because of what he wears, but because of what he does, and he wanted a more ordinary costume to reflect that the actions matter more than the imagery. That's the best kind of rebuke to the Philip Segal approach, because it's not only opposite in the images, but a wholly different approach to the way his character worked.

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  14. Nick Smale
    December 30, 2012 @ 7:12 am

    Reacting against a posh, gentlemanly, scholarly Doctor with a rough, volatile, thuggish one

    Volatile, maybe, but rough and thuggish? I don't see it. Eccleston's Doctor is a very gentle, sensitive figure – just look at his sympathetic treatment of Nancy in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, for instance, or his devastation at Rose's apparent death in Bad Wolf.

    buys his clothes from Top Shop.

    That's a German U-Boat Captain's jacket. No, seriously.

    Reply

  15. Tommy
    December 30, 2012 @ 8:10 am

    "McGann's was a Doctor created according to stereotypes and empty images, rather than actual character causality or a foundation in the peculiarities of the actor. Victoriana of a depth you'd find in a poorly-written history Cliff's Notes, which would say something like, for example, "Dickens was primarily concerned with social issues," and leave it there."

    Well if it's a lack of depth that's the problem then that can be improved upon by adding a full-blooded, gritty and not so chocolate box dimension to the Victorian aspect of the character, as opposed to jettisoning it completely.

    "The Victorian imagery was so associated with the character that one would have to move beyond it."

    I really don't see why. That just reads as a very blanket declaration.

    "[(And I've done a proper amount of research now, to see that Big Finish is finally moving beyond it in the actual Eighth Doctor material.)"

    I don't think Big Finish were doing anything wrong with the character prior to Dark Eyes. I think he was working just fine as he was.

    Incidentally, I cannot determine the actual moment in Dark Eyes where the Doctor's physical make-over actually happens.

    "I remember seeing an interview with Eccleston talking about his costume, and he said that the Doctor was an eccentric character not because of what he wears, but because of what he does, and he wanted a more ordinary costume to reflect that the actions matter more than the imagery."

    I don't particularly place much merit on Eccleston's view on the character, given that he openly was never a fan of the old Doctors, and remains the only actor to play the part who honestly seems adamantly ashamed of that part of his career, and refuses to have anything to do with the show afterward.

    And the talk of going for an ordinary costume smacks of RTD propaganda tapping into fan shame at memories of the Sixth Doctor's coat. And I get the sense far more of fan shame at who the character was than pride at who he now is.

    "That's the best kind of rebuke to the Philip Segal approach, because it's not only opposite in the images, but a wholly different approach to the way his character worked."

    I just don't think the character even remotely gained more than he actually lost from the change.

    Reply

  16. Tommy
    December 30, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    "Volatile, maybe, but rough and thuggish? I don't see it. Eccleston's Doctor is a very gentle, sensitive figure – just look at his sympathetic treatment of Nancy in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, for instance, or his devastation at Rose's apparent death in Bad Wolf."

    I'd argue that the more Doctorish side to him seen in Empty Child was more down to Moffat's input than anything.

    And as for his reaction to the 'death' of Rose, well it's not like plenty of tough macho action heroes haven't been driven over the edge or broken down emotionally by the slaying of their significant other, as an action revenge trope.

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  17. Tommy
    December 30, 2012 @ 8:33 am

    "But in a lot of ways, the problematic aspects of the McGann era were something to move away from."

    And yet it's that very 'yeah okay let's pretend that didn't happen, la la la' aspect of the RTD years that show it up as being steeped in completely fannish instigation, and fannish attitudes. Trouble is RTD's fannish mindset seems to be particularly knee-jerk deflective, resulting in a show reimagined into one that seeming has no pride in or respect for itself.

    "I think it's another iteration of the focus on superficiality that Phil identified in the Nathan-Turner era."

    Ironically though I'd say the real problem with the JNT era was its fixation with arbitrary backlashing for backlash's sake. In which case the RTD era is the spiritual successor to the JNT era, not the remedy to it.

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  18. Ununnilium
    December 30, 2012 @ 10:22 am

    I'd say that New Who has loads of pride in and respect for itself – indeed, that its points of failure tend to be when it forgets to relax a bit.

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  19. Matthew Blanchette
    December 30, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

    So… did everyone like "The Snowmen"? The ending shocked me, in a good way (and, no, I don't mean the Clara bit)… 🙂

    Reply

  20. Russell Gillenwater
    December 30, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

    I remember reading both Eight Doctors & Vampire Science after Lungbarrow. In both cases I never got a real feel for the 8th Doctor, he felt generic. I then read The Dying Days and he felt for the first time like the 8th Doctor and not a generic model.

    I think Phil was right that having two established characters in Benny & the Brigadier is one of the main reasons for this. I mean I felt more excepting of the 8th Doctor after The Dying Days than those two other books or the TV Movie.

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  21. Tommy
    December 31, 2012 @ 1:45 am

    Erm… I'm not sure how I feel about The Snowmen. The villains were very poorly used. The scene with Clara venturing up the staircase to the clouds and to the Tardis had a lovely magic to it, but then Moffat soured it by revealing it to be only done this way so Clara could fall to her death from it later- and the fact that she wouldn't have died if the Doctor hadn't been such an obtuse, uncaring cad throughout the story (and how stupid and petty was the 'one word' test?). And although I don't normally go along with the 'Moffat is sexist' crowd, I do find something rather troubling about the fact that Clara's death doesn't matter because the Doctor can always go find another one and that this companion is a disposable pretty face.

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  22. Matthew Blanchette
    December 31, 2012 @ 10:05 am

    I don't know about "disposable"… I think the Doctor has just hit on a mystery he wants to solve, and he WANTS TO SOLVE IT; once he's got on that trail, you know, he's gone — won't stop concentrating on it, because now he's got no one else in the TARDIS to protect from the knowledge that might result at the end of his search. The fact that there were two Oswins, identical, with the exact same dying words and interest in souffles… well, that's enough to send him on an impossible chase across the galaxy in search of more Oswins, and WHY there are more Oswins, don't you think? 😉

    Also… I, personally, don't think the Doctor was petty or uncaring; he was just in a MAJOR funk. We don't know how long it lasted, but long enough for Vastra, Jenny, and Strax to be regularly updating him on incidents happening across town (as seen in the online prequel). If nothing else, he was far more remorseful than when he dumped Adam six seasons ago — perhaps because he was more emotionally involved, but perhaps because, thankfully, we've got a better writer writing these things now.

    I liked that he had an arc for this episode; let's see where it goes, from here. 🙂

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  23. Ross
    December 31, 2012 @ 11:42 am

    The thought recently occurred to me that, from a very mercenary position, given the exact scope of the Doctor's funk, he might just be hoping to find himself a companion that he can get back even after he's lived through her death.

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  24. Wm Keith
    January 2, 2013 @ 4:44 am

    "Reacting against a posh, gentlemanly, scholarly Doctor with a rough, volatile, thuggish one, and dispensing with the Victorian aspect by rewriting him as a Reality TV watcher and a Heat-reader who buys his clothes from Top Shop."

    Something of a false dichotomy here. I speak as one who should know, for I am a 5ft8in action hero.

    Reply

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