Beneath the stones, the beach; beneath the beach, Cthulhu

Skip to content

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. Anton B
    June 13, 2012 @ 1:48 am

    Another excellent, thought provoking entry. Just to throw a concept in…The Tardis has the ability to archive both past and future control rooms (as seen in The Doctor's Wife) So it's no great stretch to imagine the Matrix, which post McGann seeems to have at least an annexe in the Tardis, being able to archive past, alternative present and potential future stories. The idea of diagetic narrative being the driving force of the Time Lords fits well with the whole Land of Fiction theory doesn't it?

    'To be a renegade, in other words, is to be in a position of true authority – to be the driver of the eye of the Panopticon. And the Trial consists of them turning the Panopticon and all of their authority onto the Doctor in what we now understand as an explicit attempt to rewrite his history. At this point, then, we must finally turn to the question of who's doing this.'

    My money's on the Tardis. Again, in The Doctor's Wife' it's established that she 'stole' the Doctor in the first place. And only renegades have Tardises hmmm. Are the sentient Tardises the REAL Time Lords after all?


  2. J. L. Webb
    June 13, 2012 @ 3:43 am

    Now there's a theory.
    although it seems a bit cut and dry, i wouldn't say that the Galifreyans aren't Time Lords as such, but that it's a symbiotic relationship.
    They exist as functions of TARDISes, as presentable faces, and deft hands for interacting with history…
    certainly this would explain their apparently un iversal trait of self importance, it exists to prevent such a necessarily clever species realizing that they are not fully in control.
    It also posits that Galifreyan society exists largely as a necessary subroutine to provide renegade Time Lords…


  3. Henry R. Kujawa
    June 13, 2012 @ 3:54 am

    Philip Sandifer:
    "Unless, of course, these aren't the Doctor's Time Lords. After all, the presence of the Valeyard does necessitate that the Doctor is out of his own personal timeline here…..whether the Doctor is being yanked around by a future Gallifrey. The fact that the Doctor's future adventures are known to these Time Lords suggests very strongly that it's the latter – that this is a Gallifrey from several incarnations in the Doctor's future…..there's every reason to treat Trial as an early echo of the Time War."

    Brilliant. This never occured to me, and I've watched this at least 8 times by now. Instead of The Valyard coming from the future to The Doctor's present, The Doctor is being yanked into his own future, which is The Valyard's present.

    And further– the reason the Trial takes place on a space station? Because Gallifrey has ALREADY been destroyed!!!!!


  4. J. L. Webb
    June 13, 2012 @ 3:57 am

    Which would indicate that it's destruction coincides with the point where no more renegades are needed (ah, how the diegetic meets the extra-diegetic), that is to say when The Doctor became the only Time Lord necessary for the continued smooth running of the universe.
    Not that The Doctor or his TARDIS seem happy at this state of affairs, nor Rassilon for that matter, so can we presume the Time War began as a suicide attack on the part of the TARDISes against Skaro?
    And how long have they been pushing that agenda, considering the repeated involvement of The Doctor in Dalek history?


  5. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    June 13, 2012 @ 4:40 am

    FWIW Philip, although it's never stated onscreen, in the "mission brief" to potential writers for "The Trial of a Time Lord," it's explicitly stated that both the Valeyard and the Inquisitor hail from Gallifrey's future.


  6. Adam Riggio
    June 13, 2012 @ 5:29 am

    In a way, the Valeyard isn't a simple villain, but the articulation in the narrative of an ethical failure of the Doctor that can occur at vulnerable moments: when he acts on his authority as a Time Lord without the guidance of any of his ethical or moral principles. Any time he acts without concern for his own authority, he becomes — after a fashion — the Valeyard. So perhaps we can understand the Time Lord Victorious as another articulation of the Valeyard: a moment when the Doctor decides that his decisions are justified only by his making them.

    Henry: Now if we ever get the chance to talk to Russell T Davies, we have a clear question to ask him. Did the ideas behind Trial of a Time Lord inspire the concepts of the Time War?

    Although, I'm not sure if I ever want to hear his response. A definitive answer would end all the speculation I so enjoy.


  7. spoilersbelow
    June 13, 2012 @ 5:52 am

    The sentient-TARDIS-as-true-mover-and-shaker-of-Time-Lord-Society theory is also strongly supported by Lawrence Miles' brilliant "Toy Story," collected in the Mad Norwegian edition of his similarly brilliant novel "Dead Romance," which I'd be shocked if Dr. Sandifer didn't cover when he reaches the year 1999 in his survey (perhaps next January or February if he expects to hit the film by Boxing Day), seeing as it's basically one version of the Time War. Regular commenters Flowers and Wilcock wrote about it for Hickey's Pep magazine a couple years back, doing the book (and the Time War) far more justice that I could ever hope to in their essay A Fractal History of the Time War.

    Page 28 and on in


  8. Henry R. Kujawa
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:00 am

    Adam, I can relate. The other day, while watching "SILVER NEMESIS", I came to the conclusion that, since we never "officially" found out what Lady Peinforte wanted to "reveal", and from the hints I have read (which I don't really wanna know more about)… that I think The Doctor CONNED her into believing something that wasn't true. There WAS no big secret to reveal– she only thought there was. (Simon Templar spent much of his career pulling elaborate con jobs on criminals.)

    Very little of McCoy's 12 TV stories suggest a lot of advance knowledge. More a matter of things he'd heard about and wanted to check out, and put a stop to. And making it up as he went along. One of his earlier selves said, he's always most dangerous when he DOESN'T know what he's doing. (Probably Tom Baker.) Heh heh heh… (Anything expanded on in novels, to me, just don't count. For the same reason STAR TREK novels just don't count. If it's not on TV, it's not "official".)


  9. daibhid-c
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:09 am

    Now that the Trial entries are finished, has anyone else been madly scrolling back and forth to read them in the "correct" order? Ironically, one thing I got from this was that the given order isn't as disjointed as I'd thought reading through it normally, with a definite thematic unity to each entry.


  10. Picklepuss
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:31 am

    I've always been glad that unlike Lucas Licensing the BBC doesn't faff about with degrees of canon handed down from on high like commandments.

    That leaves Henry free to regard only the TV episodes as official, and me free to consider each and every licensed spin-off as official.

    Yes, even the Cadet Sweets cards.

    That à la carte flexibility is one of the things that I think makes Doctor Who very special.


  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:38 am

    The idea that Trial of a Time Lord, a story that has never been referenced by anything else on screen ever, somehow counts for less than Love and War or The Highest Science, both of which were actively referenced by the new series, has always seemed to me to actively reject reality.


  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:41 am

    That's heartening. I built them by plotting out the order I'd present them in and mapping out the titles of each segment, then writing the entries linearly by story and reordering the parts at the end, so my goal was that they'd make a fair bit of sense in either configuration. πŸ™‚


  13. Adam Riggio
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:47 am

    Yes, yes I have. And I've been keeping track all the way through. To me, it reads something like this.

    Each post goes in the order Planet-Mindwarp-Vervoids-Foe. Reading each part of the individual interpretations of the stories in order (Planet 1-4, etc.), you get four fairly traditional Eruditorum entries, touching on various themes as they appear in each story.

    The jumbled organization of the actual posts organizes them thematically. The concept of rewriting history appears at various points throughout, and this is probably the general concept in Phil's interpretation of Trial overall. However, in the presentation of the actual posts, the organizing ideas of each one focus on an aspect of the series starting with the petty particulars of the production staff in 1986, through Colin Baker as an actor and Doctor, then the Trial story itself, and ending with a perspective encompassing the whole series. It strikes me as similar to the articulation of orders of the universe from The Ribos Operation (Gods > Time Lords > Space Travellers > Ribos), only in the other direction.

    Post 1: The production staff rewrite their past mistakes, but only Holmes is fully aware of all the mistakes and understands the inadequacy of a staff so embedded in the past to fix them. The condescending perspective of Pip and Jane Baker show John Nathan-Turer's blindness to the ugliness implicit in his vision of the show. On the bright side, Holmes also created the conditions, throughout his tenure writing for Doctor Who, for the show to grow infinitely.

    Post 2: Examining the Doctor's character as a renegade. Rule-breaking is essential to his nature, but in Colin Baker's Doctor, he has a near-irredeemable downfall thanks to transgressing many of his own ethical and moral principles.

    Post 3: With regard to the structure of the story of the Trial itself, and what is actually going on, it's utterly incoherent. Phil explores several dimensions of this incoherence. The organizers of the trial have no sensible motives, the chronology of Mel is incurably twisted, the only way Holmes can think to write Doctor Who well is to throw his entire old toolbox at the screen hoping something will stick, and the Valeyard wants to rewrite the history of the Doctor so that it leads to him and the moral arbitrariness of his devotion to rules as rules alone.

    Post 4: This examines various aspects of the core organizing idea of Doctor Who that renegades are the true power of the show's universe. The Valeyard is a bad kind of renegade because he is devoted to rules with no organizing principles, so are capricious and arbitrary. The Doctor is critical of his own authority thanks to moral principles that he himself adopts, which allows him to be a good authority, one who always questions and justifies his legitimacy.


  14. Adam Riggio
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    Phil, you posted your short reply while I was writing this obsessively long reply. Now I feel a little awkward for having risked putting so many words in your mouth.


  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    As it happens, all of your words are more or less correct. πŸ™‚


  16. Stephen
    June 13, 2012 @ 8:16 am

    I think you really meant to use "more", rather than "less" in that comment, Phil. Unless, of course, you intended the comment to be as incoherent as Trial.


  17. Anton B
    June 13, 2012 @ 8:39 am

    I tend to agree with the symbiotic arrangement, it's an idea I've held for some time. I suspected that somewhere in the off-air canon there'd be a similar theory but as I rarely bother with the novels etc. I was relying on some of you guys to confirm it.


  18. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2012 @ 8:59 am

    Ah, yes. Perils of replying to Henry. He rubs off on me. πŸ˜‰


  19. Wm Keith
    June 13, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

    I used to eat a "Dalek's Death Ray" lolly every day after school, until I developed an incurable distaste for mint ice-cream.

    I have inwardly digested canon.

    I am canonical Doctor Who.

    Er…other than that, just to mention that the "Trial" series of posts has been a triumph from finish to start.

    Oh, and just to throw in an unsupported assertion: When television itself is on trial, the VCR makes us all the Valeyard.


  20. Adam Riggio
    June 13, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

    By the way, Phil. I just remembered a long time ago when you wrote that Robert Holmes wrote the debut of five companions. You didn't enumerate them, but made a throwaway joke about how that count really did work. There was Liz Shaw in Spearhead from Space, Jo Grant in Terror of the Autons, Sarah Jane Smith in The Time Warrior, Romana in The Ribos Operation. Did you count Mel in the first episode of The Ultimate Foe?


  21. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

    Probably, since it was filmed before Terror of the Vervoids and since, as I noted, it is obviously in practice the beginning of the Doctor traveling with Mel (given how the story ends).

    Though there's an outside chance I meant Mike Yates.


  22. Matthew Blanchette
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    To be fair, Phil, wasn't "The Highest Science" going to be made into one of the '09 Specials around the time Moffat wrote that?


  23. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

    I don't think the timeline would work for that – the line was all the way up in The Pandorica Opens, which had its readthrough a few weeks after End of Time had aired, and a full year after Planet of the Dead had shot.


  24. Matthew Blanchette
    June 13, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

    It must've been in the back of Moffat's head while he was writing, at least…


  25. jane
    June 13, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

    @ Adam

    Thanks for the exegesis of Phil's Trial series. I was thinking of going back to identify the unifying themes, but it all seemed a bit of a jumble, much like Trial itself, but I'm glad it's actually an anti-Trial with all kinds of coherency.

    Just goes to show that the problems with Trial aren't necessarily due to the obvious aspects of its anomalous temporal structure.


  26. David Anderson
    June 14, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    I thought he meant K9 Mk II.


  27. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 14, 2012 @ 4:52 am

    Oh, I might have done!


  28. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 14, 2012 @ 4:54 am

    I dunno. Given that he also wrote the shout-out to Love and War, I think it's equally possible he just liked his friends' books and wrote in references to them. I mean, I don't think a Doctor Who geek making a reference to a friend's Doctor Who book is an event that particularly calls out for extended explanation. πŸ™‚


  29. elvwood
    June 14, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    I'm not sure how well this theory works, but if these are Time Lords from the Doctor's future – and taking into account Time Lords' narrative perception of events – one simple rule might be enough to explain why the trial takes place off Gallifrey: Time Lords always arrive on Gallifrey in sequence. By which I mean that when returning to Gallifrey from elsewhere in the universe, they will always arrive after the last time they left.

    Now, there may be books that contradict this, since I've not read many; but when the Doctor encounters future Time Lords (in Alien Bodies, for example) it is always off Gallifrey. In The Apocalypse Element he meets President Romana offworld and she comments that they are meeting out of order, but when they go home they arrive at a point appropriate to her, being the Time Lord furthest along the Gallifreyan timestream.

    So, if the Valeyard had summoned the Doctor to Gallifrey Sixie would have arrived far up the Gallifreyan timestream, potentially messing up the Valeyard's own past – which he couldn't allow.


  30. Matthew Blanchette
    June 14, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    Hmmmmm… well, I think things have clicked into place on something else, now, for me; the situation with "The Doctor's Wife"/"The Lodger" was exceedingly similar to that back in 1980 with "Sealed Orders"/"Warrior's Gate", albeit for different reasons — end-of-season costs for the former, format difficulties (Priest transferring from books to teleplays) for the latter.

    Just snapped into place; might be an interesting comparison. πŸ™‚


  31. Alex Wilcock
    June 15, 2012 @ 12:25 am

    Well, I’ve finally had time to read all your Trial entries, forwards and backwards, inside and out, and they’re something of a triumph – though, obviously, by now you’ve moved on to a far better Colin story (arguably both his and Big Finish’s best).

    I loved the making sense of the use of the word “constellation”. I wish it was that thought out, but it’s a lovely idea (and very in tune with the likes of The Book of the War, obviously). I liked your using the Valeyard to head every entry, too; I’ve always thought of him as the ‘director’ of the story. I’m not sure your idea (and a terrific one) of him as the Doctor gone bad because he’s suddenly embracing all the rules fits with the idea of a court made up of renegades, though. And there’s a case to be made that he’s not the villain at all.

    I’m with you on Terror of the Vervoids and free will. Last year I wrote in depth about The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp; then I hit the buffers on Vervoids, which is horribly wrong on so many levels, and just couldn’t face writing about it at the time (maybe I’ll come back to it). But that’s only partly to do with free will, or to do with Pip and Jane’s disparaging attitude, and more to do with its twisted morality…


  32. Alex Wilcock
    June 15, 2012 @ 12:50 am

    The idea that Trial of a Time Lord, a story that has never been referenced by anything else on screen ever, somehow counts for [more] than Love and War or The Highest Science, both of which were actively referenced by the new series, has always seemed to me to actively reject reality.

    Unexpectedly (oh, you’ve done that gag), Moffat seems to keep coming back to the Trial. Most blatantly in the Dream Lord but also, as I’ve said before, in an astoundingly up-itself series of fourteen episodes, taking A Christmas Carol to start off with and finishing without satisfactorily resolving most of the questions, absolutely definitely killing off one of the lead characters and then bringing them back, with another recurring character turning out to be a mysterious future relative, and the whole thing mucking about with the Doctor’s past, present and future, with a woman he meets in the wrong order…
    Obviously, I’d pay more attention to the New Adventures anyway, though.


  33. BerserkRL
    June 15, 2012 @ 4:54 am

    So a case can be made for seven?


  34. BerserkRL
    June 15, 2012 @ 5:02 am

    Mr Dr Colin: he is Number 6 – Mr Dr Pat is the new number 2. Who is number 1? No, I'm getting confused…



  35. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    June 15, 2012 @ 5:47 am

    In regards to "The Highest Science" references in NuWho — originally "Planet of the Dead" was supposed to have the Chelonians in, but somebody came to their senses and realised that having actors in full turtle-alien costumes in Dubai wasn't such a good idea. So we got the Tritovores instead — fly-men with clumsy pincer-claw hands that nevertheless can manipulate the tiny zips on their jumpsuits… πŸ˜‰


  36. Daibhid C
    November 9, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    I can't believe this only just occured to me:

    Not for the first time it appears that the Time Lords have no conception of events except as narrative.

    Which of course, is why the founder of their society is later reinvented as the Narrator!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.