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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.

14 Comments

  1. 5tephe
    March 1, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    Still writing great stuff here.

    I've been checking in every couple of days, and you have inspired me to go back and hunt out some of the "lost" stories that I never saw. Marco Polo was fascinating.

    (Editing note: I think you mean that you need a well developed sense of theatrical camp when watching Doctor Who after about 1973, don't you?)

    Reply

  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 1, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    No, the "after about 1963" was intended as a droll way of suggesting that the show has always been theatrically camp. 🙂

    If I were to suggest that the show took a swing towards the camp during the Pertwee era, I would suggest that the swing would have to be located at Terror of the Autons in 1971. 🙂

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  3. Steve H
    May 4, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

    Again I think you get something basic wrong here – though I wouldn't dismiss you as "stupid" for holding a different point of view. There was quite some anger there.

    It surprises me to see that you first encountered DW at age 10 because a lot of your analysis of the show comes across as that of someone who first came to it as an older teenager or adult.

    It's far too sweeping a statement to paint young children watching DW on mulitple levels as some knowing audience (presumably having taken literary analysis or film studies in kindergarten that week). Even knowing that there'll probably be another DW story after this one and that, therefore, the Doctor couldn't really die doesn't come into it. DW has always been about scaring children not having them rationalise danger. Just that – scaring them. Scared of a monster not because it might kill the Doctor or have consequences but because it's a monster and monsters are scary. Because it's a scary thing threatening our friend and that makes you scared for him.

    It's only as you grow older that you start taking what are quite adult attitudes to reading books and watching TV. Suspension of disbelief in adults is a willing suspension and a conscious one. Much less so in children.

    This isn't because young children are less intelligent than adults but because things are simpler and clearer-cut for them. They know that there's a man called William Hartnell pretending to be the Doctor but they don't watch him every Saturday as an exercise in the appreciation of acting. Watch any young child clutching a parent's arm or …insert sofa-based cliché here… as the monster of the week menaces the Doctor and then tell me that the cliffhangers don't work for them and are merely an opportunity to see how a plot point is resolved.

    I do think there's a real danger in dissecting DW to quite this depth. Not that the dissection and the conclusions drawn aren't well done and of interest per se, but in order to perform this sort of analysis, you really have to ditch that element which constitutes the child's eye view of the show.

    Without that element, DW just becomes another enjoyable TV show. Highly enjoyable still but lacking that fundamental tie-in to one's childhood and memories which enables it to transcend most other shows of its "genre".

    And that's the dilemma in a philosophical analysis of DW. It is such a formative part of so many of our lives and rooted so deeply in most of our childhoods that we treat it as important enought to merit this sort of analysis. But actually analysing it to any great depth necessitates looking at it as an adult and abandoning the child's view without which the show loses much of it's significance in our lives and thereby loses the reason to analyse it seriously in the first place. And once that double view of watching it as part child, part adult is lost, one might as well be analysing an episode of Dynasty. And you'd feel silly describing Alexis as an ontological figure, wouldn't you?

    The basic concepts give the show its timeless appeal. The actual plotting, acting and characterisation, however much we may love them, are rarely strong enough to withstand too much serious analysis.

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  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 4, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

    Well, my accusation that John Byrne's viewpoint is stupid is really a special feature of John Byrne. 🙂

    More seriously, all I can really say is that my experience, throughout my life, has been one of relative faith in narrative structures. I don't mean my analysis to in any way drain cliffhangers of their power – two of my favorite Doctor Who cliffhangers are Moffat's cliffhangers on Time of Angels and The Pandorica Opens. Both were absolutely thrilling cliffhangers, because they put the Doctor in a situation that it was difficult to see a way out of. Also great are the cliffhangers in Dalek Invasion of Earth Part 1 – in which the TARDIS crew is not in any immediate danger, and the cliffhanger is "OMG! Daleks next week!" Or, for that matter, the brilliant "I AM YOUR SERVANT" cliffhanger in Power of the Daleks, which again is tremendously forceful without ever putting the Doctor in any danger.

    These cliffhangers strike me as powerful regardless of whether one approaches from a child's perspective or an adult's perspective, because they challenge the shape of the story. But even from a child's perspective, waiting for seven days in the real fear that the lead character is going to die is not fun. There has to be that awareness that this is all a story, and follows story rules. And I think the reason that Doctor Who provides "safe" fear, as opposed to real, dangerous fear is that in the end, the game isn't "will the Doctor be OK" but "how does the story work?"

    Which is why I think this sort of analysis is, in the end, still a childlike way to approach the series, albeit with an adult's knowledge of terminology and an adult's level of experience with stories. It's still, in the end, a question of learning to build a story. Certainly as a child, for me, the fun was always in imagining my own Doctor Who stories, whether I wrote them down or not. To some extent, it still is.

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  5. Rostkowianka
    September 22, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

    speaking of child's eye view – what age would you pick to introduce kids to DW?
    my daughters are four and five years old, and i've been shooing them away whenever they try to sneak a peek at my computer screen whenever i'm watching a newest episode – which of course makes them all the more fascinated. I can't wait to share my fannish glee, but damn this stuff is scary! Any advice?

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  6. Sparklepunk
    September 28, 2011 @ 11:48 am

    I started watching Doctor Who when I was 7 and while I totally understand that children are different I can attest that I was never really afraid that the Doctor or the assistants were going to die. I was always more curious to find out how they would get out of things. It wasn't until I was older and read stories from the U.K. of kids watching from behind the couch that the idea of being seriously scared by things , as apposed to just being creeped out or nervous even occurred to me.

    Reply

  7. ferret4
    October 21, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    My earliest memory of Doctor Who is at 4 years old, watching Logopolis and seeing the Doctor fall to his death… I was stunned, because I knew that killing the hero wasn't allowed.

    Not "oh no my hero is dying, I am so upset" but "no, they're not allowed to do this, it's not how it works".

    Even at 4 years old you've been read a lot of stories from books and seen a bit of television (especially with older siblings in the house), so 'the rules' are already pretty well ingrained.

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  8. PMcD
    December 20, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

    Rostkowlanka: My earliest TV memory full-stop is the Dalek going up stairs at the end of 'Rememberance' Part 1; I was 5 and was scared shit-less (not literally) but because I was with my Mum it was exhilhirating.

    Basically, if your Mum and/or Dad are there Doctor Who is suitable for any age. Best not to patronise them when it comes to terror, because kids can find terror in anything – they're mini-experts in terror – and at least it's better for them to be scared by something with at least a better-than-average chance of being well scripted. As opposed to just being scared of the corner of the room because it's a bit shadowy, it gives that terror a focus, especially because that focus brings a Doctor to make it all better by the end. Lewis Carroll is much more terrifying for kids because you're thrown into a bizarre world with no-one to help you get out (a bit like if in Doctor Who the Doctor just buggered off and let the companion to figure it out on her own). But that's a different discussion board no doubt…

    Anyway, 5 in 1988 and the very worst it did was turn me into a life-long Dr Who fan – and life would be poorer for that!

    (Hope this post hasn't seemed too waffley or self-indulgent)

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  9. solar penguin
    February 25, 2012 @ 5:27 am

    Sir Ian's reign began in the Doctor's attempt with the fifth Dalai Lama who converted their monasteries to the door of the Tsar. Supposedly he ruled for twenty years.

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  10. daibhid-c
    September 28, 2012 @ 2:22 am

    Just a quick comment to say I agree with you about cliffhangers, and kids' understanding of narrative conventions. At around the time this post was being made, my niece (10 at the time) was explaining to me that because everyone thought the "good man" River killed would turn out to be the Doctor, it wasn't going to be the Doctor. (Yes, she was wrong in that instance, but she had the right idea – she knew there'd be some twist to it.)

    Having said that, I think you missed one aspect of the "Time of Angels" cliffhanger. The Doctor doesn't just shoot in the air, he clearly shoots out the only light source, while surrounded by Weeping Angels. The cliffhanger isn't just "Why is this thing the right thing to do?" it's "Why is this thing which appears to be completely the wrong thing the right thing to do?"

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  11. daibhid-c
    October 4, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    On another note, I'd say that whether a historical is repeatable depends on how wide the area is; you can't do another story set on the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and you probably run into trouble doing another one in the French Revolution, but you can certainly have another Roman Empire story if it's – for example – set a decade later in another part of the Empire. You can't do a second Pompeii story, of course, any more than you could do a second Nero story.

    And even if one defines Shakespeare world as "England, at a time kings with pointy beards were making serious decisions" rather than "Any period with a Shakespeare play set in it" (by which definition The Romans and The Myth Makers could be set in Shakespeare world; they just aren't), there's still about 400 years of that stuff between The Crusades and the time when Shakespeare actually wrote the plays. Plenty of space for another visit to Shakespeare world. (Indeed, The King's Demons surely has pretentions of being the second pseudo-Shakespearean story, and the fact its reach exceeds its grasp doesn't invalidate the concept.)

    On a third note, while Victor/Vicki is, as you say, a reference to the fact female characters were played by boys in Shakespeare's day, it's also a more obvious and slightly less meta reference the fact that in Shakespeare's comedies, female characters would often be disguised as boys. Which, of course, to Shakespeare's audience would have been brilliantly meta itself; they were well aware that these were boys playing girls playing boys (always should be someone you really loooooove…)

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  12. daibhid-c
    October 4, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    …Aaand by "England", obviously I mean "English history, which at this point happens to be taking place in the Middle East"…

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  13. William Silvia
    February 16, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

    I have to protest at the idea of attempting to immerse the audience in a narrative being idiotic. Certainly, there are benefits to tongue in cheek moments, breaking the fourth wall, etc., but there are also times when anything that distracts you from the world of the narrative itself hurts the story. If you watch Luke Skywalker have his hand cut off and you think "well, Mark Hamill's going to be fine" you're edging in toward something that's Monty Python's area of expertise- but in every other way hurting the attempt of the mood that Empire Strikes Back is attempting to set.

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  14. Daibhid C
    March 2, 2015 @ 8:46 am

    But surely that scene is powerful at least partly because Luke Skywalker is the hero, and we don't expect things like that to happen to the hero? In other words, because we aren't seeing him as a real person who crap happens to, the way Byrne apparently saw Superman.

    Reply

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