Eruditorum Press

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

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.

22 Comments

  1. Iain Coleman
    November 12, 2012 @ 1:22 am

    Who is this Ian M Banks character? I've never heard of him.

    Reply

  2. Abigail Brady
    November 12, 2012 @ 2:48 am

    This is the only New Adventures I've actually read (I was on an Aaronovitch kick over the summer and ran out of Rivers of London books). The idea of Doctor Who meets the Culture seemed fun, at the worst.

    What I wasn't expecting was a meaningful examination of aspects of the Culture that Banks tends to leave underexplored. Banks focuses on Contact and Special Circumstances and Minds rather than the domestic stuff, like the child-rearing or even the People-internal murder mysteries that we see here.

    Reply

  3. Nick Smale
    November 12, 2012 @ 2:53 am

    I must admit I was a little surprised that Phil didn't follow his Pop Between Realities on Snow Crash with another on, say, Consider Phlebas. He was right to identify Cyberpunk as a major strand in literary SF in the early 90s, but just as important (and arguably more influential on the New Adventures) was the New Space Opera, that re-invention of galactic adventure tropes that was found in the works of Banks, Stephen Baxter, Vernon Vinge, M. John Harrison, Alastair Reynolds, Paul McAuley, Peter Hamilton, etc.

    Reply

  4. peeeeeeet
    November 12, 2012 @ 4:44 am

    You make some good, solid points here. I'm always prepared to give extra credit when a writer balances a large regular cast well.

    You completely lose me with the "actually is good enough to be television" bit, that's been bubbling under for a few entries, though. I don't think the average quality of the NAs at this point is lower than much of the original series or the new series. You seem to think that Human Nature's success was that it effectively got "promoted" to television; I'd come at that from the other end and suggest that Davies pilfered a good idea in order to shore up his mostly weak third season, but even if we split the difference, would you really say that something of the standard of Original Sin would stick out as particularly poor amongst the likes of 42 or The Lazarus Experiment? And even that's a bit of a skew, since if Original Sin had somehow been made as a telly story in the nineties, its competition would have been the likes of Bugs, Crime Traveller or that version of Randall and Hopkirk with Vic and Bob in it. Assuming a budget could be scraped together to do justice to the talking slugs etc, wouldn't it piss on all of those series?

    Fundamentally, I just don't know what you're getting at. Perhaps you think Doctor Who's natural home is television, and the best a story in another medium can aspire to is to be "great for a story that wasn't on the telly". Or maybe it's much more general and you think television is a more sophisticated medium and prose should be consigned to history. Cases can be made for both, but they do have to be made. My view is that television is a hostage to all kinds of fortune, and even with a talented cast and crew, there can be many slips between cup and lip. With a novel that's not eliminated but is greatly reduced, so occasionally one comes along that a reviewer can seriously describe as "flawless", in a way that they can't with even The Caves of Androzani, which is always going to have a silly waddling dragon in it. The new series suffers less from this, but I think that has less to do with more talented people being involved and more to do with the available computing power offering easier ways to paper over any cracks, all the way down to a basic cheat such as filmising. Journeys End is a perfect example of this: a swelling score, some good performances and a general sense of confidence effectively distracting attention away from some seriously odd or arbitrary story and character developments that would quickly die of exposure in a novel.

    Television drama, at its most critically acclaimed, is often more novelistic (e.g. The Wire), but that approach is virtually impossible to pull off, because there're just too many opportunities for things to go off the rails – Babylon 5's final season being a good example.

    The Also People is a great Doctor Who story. Not "great for a novel" or "great for a non-televised story" or "great for a piece of glorified fan fiction". It's a great Doctor Who story, full stop.

    Reply

  5. BerserkRL
    November 12, 2012 @ 4:45 am

    an extreme utopia in which standard western ideas of individual liberty are perfectly honored

    In other words, the way normal people interact already, politics aside.

    Reply

  6. Iain Coleman
    November 12, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    I am put in mind of Randall Jarrell's definition of the novel as "a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it".

    Reply

  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 12, 2012 @ 5:53 am

    That I think a silly waddling dragon is a much smaller problem than an ill-conceived structure leading to a villain reveal is perhaps telling about my aesthetic priorities, but it remains the case. So in the end, I simply disagree that Original Sin would have looked that solid in the new series. I think it would have looked solid in the Davison or Colin Baker eras, but past that I'm not even convinced it was up to the standard of much of the classic series.

    Well, actually, it probably would have been fine in the new series, but only after Davies did a near full rewrite of it, vetoed the villain, moved the structure away from building to a shock reveal of said villain, completely refocused the Zebulon Pryce scene to be about something other than the purely theoretical, and picked a clear single focus to throw out for the tone meeting. Which he undoubtedly would have done if given a script along the lines of Original Sin. And, more to the point, which Andy Lane should have done.

    I'm unconvinced that the basic quality of effects raises the standard as much as you hope – I expect that the effects in Doctor Who will come to look as ropey as material from the mid-90s does today in due time. I think what will stand out, though, is that Russell T. Davies was a damned good editor who could maintain a baseline of quality in his scripts. It's not just the confidence and Murray Gold score that salvages Journey's End, it's that the structural pacing and choice of what constitutes a big scene is absolutely meticulous. That the logic is a mess in places is obscured primarily by the fact that all of the right scenes happen at the right time and have coherent senses of what they're about. But more on that in a year or so.

    Reply

  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 12, 2012 @ 5:55 am

    The density of reading this phase of the blog requires means that getting in as a Pop Between Realities entry at the moment has a somewhat idiosyncratic requirement for novels: they have to be things I've already read.

    I'll add Consider Phlebas to my terrifyingly long list of "things to do when I hit the Big Finish era," after Catherine Valente's Palimpsest and before sleeping. 🙂

    Reply

  9. peeeeeeet
    November 12, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    Well, you've done a bit of sleight-of-hand there – I wasn't comparing Androzani unfavourably to Original Sin, but to The Also People, which is the one Dave Owen was tempted to describe as flawless. A silly monster isn't a deal-breaker, but it is a patent flaw, and one the novel medium can more easily avoid.

    Anyway, I'm not thinking so much in terms of effects – frankly a lot of the early part of the Eccleston season looked pretty ropey even in 2005 to any viewer of Battlestar Galactica – and more things like digital editing which made the process of assemblage of the raw materials into something that's basically watchable a lot less labour-intensive.

    But we'll have to disagree on Original Sin – I think the structure and tone is fine, and I'm more bothered by the poorly structured build to a climax in The Lazarus Experiment, partly because there's not much else on offer and partly because at around 9000 words of scripting, there ought to be less heft required to get it right. And the tone of something like The Sound of Drums is much more all-over-the-place than Original Sin's, surely. (I should say that when I read Original Sin for the first time I hadn't encountered the villain and knew nothing about where he came from. I just went with it and enjoyed it for what it was.) And while I am with you on thinking the Zebulon Pryce stuff falls flat, the new series is hardly a stranger to ill-conceived moral debates.

    I don't know, I just find this attitude a little like praising Tammy Baldwin's senate victory by saying, "this proves she's good enough to be a heterosexual man!". Gee, thanks…

    Reply

  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 12, 2012 @ 7:18 am

    Well, and it's misleading to say that I didn't like Original Sin. I quite did. But there are different bars to clear, and there is a natural reason why the basic standard of writing for the new series simply has to be higher than that of the New Adventures. Original Sin has to be good enough that people who might buy and read a Doctor Who novel will enjoy it. This is first an idiosyncratic form of good – Warchild, for instance, which I'm writing up today, is a pretty good book that fails to adequately target the audience it has. But second, it's a very narrow version of good. Appealing to a small and self-selecting audience is simply easier than what the new series has to do, which is to appeal to anyone who isn't immediately going to switch off BBC1 just because Doctor Who is on.

    I'm certainly not going to say that broader appeal is always the superior form. Indeed, I think the many virtues of the Virgin line are things that only could have happened in the more marginal context they did happen in, at least for their first attempt. Part of the reason why Human Nature is better as a book than it was as a TV serial is that in the book Cornell painted a much richer and more troubled portrait of the Doctor's angst, whereas in the TV series it got collapsed into a much more straightforward narrative centered on the fetishization of David Tennant, and that's something that depends on the marginality of the novels.

    But I do think that needing to appeal to people who won't buy practically anything with the Doctor Who logo on it forces some higher standards in places.

    Reply

  11. Ununnilium
    November 12, 2012 @ 7:50 am

    Fled the conversation!

    Reply

  12. Ununnilium
    November 12, 2012 @ 7:53 am

    Going back to the OP: Isn't "The Also People is a great story, regardless of medium" exactly what Dr. Sandifer said? And isn't Original Sin, at least in his opinion, not as good of a story as most of the new series, regardless of medium?

    Reply

  13. Matt Michael
    November 12, 2012 @ 9:42 am

    I think The Also People is easily good enough to be on TV, but is – in this case – genuinely too wide (and maybe even too deep) for the small screen.

    But then I think Ben Aaronovitch is the alchemical heir to David Whitaker and Robert Holmes, an one of the very best ever writers for the series. So what do I know.

    Reply

  14. Daibhid C
    November 12, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    It's interesting that this comes shortly after you've compared Sky Pirates! to Discworld. Because while Sky Pirates! makes a pretty good fist at doing what Pratchett was doing in 1985, The Also People does a much better job of doing what Pratchett was doing in 1995, and does so while pastiching another set of narrative conventions entirely. (Then again, that is what Pratchett was doing in 1995…)

    Admittedly, sometimes Aaronovitch does this by simply burying Discworld references in the text. (It's a fun game to spot them; my favourite is probably the street trader called C!Mot.) But sometimes he does it by creating the same pitch-perfect blend of comedy and Big Ideas as Sir Terry does, as in the dream sequence above, which discusses free will and the nature of evil in the context of two cyborgs and a electricity-feeding clone somehow getting completely hammered.

    Reply

  15. Russell Gillenwater
    November 12, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

    I have to say I noticed the same things that peeeeeeet did about the “actually is good enough to be television" trend in recent blogs and have to say that I do agree with much that he said in his previous two post.

    I think the NAs like the Classic and Modern Series have stories that are great, average and some that are plain bad, but being on TV doesn’t inherently mean better. I will just add that appealing to a wider audience doesn’t equal quality. I for one have no problem saying that Original Sin is better than Stolen Earth / Journey’s End (when we get to that story I will have more than one thing to say why I loathe these episodes).

    I will say Phil that you echo my feelings about Human Nature, in that the book is superior to the TV adaptation and said adaptation is my favorite stories of the Modern Series. This shows what I think of the book more than anything. Like Human Nature, I think The Also People is one of the greatest Doctor Who stories in any medium (so much so that I have it as 1b of my favorite Doctor Who stories ever, with Human Nature as 1a).

    Reply

  16. Adam Riggio
    November 12, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

    To me at least, this whole discussion seems like an effect of a shift in the temporal focus of the blog that has kicked into high gear with the entrance of the Wilderness Years, was one (among many) factor of analysis in the McCoy years, and was first suggested in the Trial of a Time Lord entries.

    The blog began as a reading of the classic series in the context of its time. Given how much fan lore had been integrated with the orthodox accounts of these early stories, situating them in their social and political moments, and in the priorities of the writers at the time (David Whitaker in particular) let us discover dimensions of these stories that had been invisible at the time. Those dimensions were revealed through the technique of watching these shows with the mind-set of a viewer in the present time of their transmission.

    Phil's analyses now have a clear telos in the future of the time period of the current essays: The 2004 resurrection of Doctor Who under Russell T Davies (potential nitpickers: I refer to the year the show was announced and began production, not its broadcast).

    This has an important positive effect: We can see what elements of the current series had their genesis in the McCoy era and the Wilderness Years, a period that, given the current amazing success of Doctor Who, can be easily neglected as those sad years when Doctor Who was either barely watched or not on TV at all.

    But it also has a negative effect: The telos of the resurrection under Davies and Julie Gardner obscures the meaning that each piece of Wilderness Years material Phil covers had in the context of its own time. Maybe there isn't as much to discover about this period. After all, most of us remember the Wilderness Years. At the very least, it's easy to find the records of the time because most of the public discussions existed on the internet, so will live as long as the Swedish server farms on which all our data rests. However, I think it marks a significant transition from the methods of the Eruditorum at its beginning.

    I'll trust Phil's judgment on this — he hasn't let me down yet — but we should keep that transition in mind. What began as the eruption of the past as it was in its present has become a present defined through the knowledge of its future toward which it reaches.

    Reply

  17. Adam Riggio
    November 12, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    Explaining my episode references.

    The McCoy TV era was the first time that a regular feature of Phil's analysis was understanding which elements of the show influenced the writers of the 2004-present series. This kind of analysis comes up in just about every entry on the better-quality NAs, especially in this middle period where Human Nature and The Also People indicate what Doctor Who at its best can do in the Wilderness Years.

    The Trial of a Time Lord entries included a discussion of the Seasonish as the future of the series actively intruding on its past. Season 23's production, because it takes in events from Peri's tenure as companion to Mel's, is ongoing today: Colin Baker is still recording stories for audio that take place in this gap between Peri and Mel. So Phil was able to include the idea that the Sixth Doctor is put on trial by Time Lords from the period of the Time War itself. The future of Doctor Who could now affect its present, because the Seasonish (its nature being far hazier than any Time Can Be Rewritten Missing Adventure-style story) allows the present of Doctor Who to exist simultaneously with every future moment of the show until the sad day when Colin Baker eventually dies. So the telos of becoming Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat's Doctor Who can co-exist with every time period from Season 23 onwards.

    Elements of this blurring of time periods occurred in Phil's analysis of Time Crash as well, when we could understand the potential of the Peter Davison era through the depiction of the Fifth Doctor through the pen of Moffat and the production of Davies and Julie Gardner. In this case, Davies and Moffat actively reached into the past to bring Davison back for a demonstration of his talent that was obscured in Eric Saward's fatal misunderstanding of Doctor Who.

    Oddly enough, the influence of future on past was impossible at the first moment of present and future blurring within the series: Phil's first analysis of The Two Doctors during his entries on Season 6B. He concluded that the future Doctor Who of Season 22 couldn't co-exist with the present Doctor Who of Season 6, precisely because the character of the violent, nihilistic late Saward era was incompatible with the giddy hopefulness of the Patrick Troughton era.

    Reply

  18. David Anderson
    November 12, 2012 @ 11:18 pm

    At the time, I remember being more impressed by Use of Weapons. That was structurally more ambitious and structurally successful. But a large part of the effect depends upon a late reveal. Whereas Consider Phlebas is a more sprawling novel, but perhaps more thematically interesting. (You could say that it anticipates the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

    I can't remember whether it's Against a Dark Background that has the sufficiently advanced technology gun.

    Reply

  19. Tiffany Korta
    November 13, 2012 @ 12:08 am

    I don't see how you could cover the Wilderness Years without looking forwards to NuWho.

    Really apart from each books individually themes there are three underlying themes that permeate the books "The Doctor is/was a amoral godlike being", "The Doctors a bit of a git to his Companions" and "The importance of the ordinary man".

    All of which are themes that have used to varying degrees in the returned show.

    Reply

  20. SK
    November 13, 2012 @ 2:56 am

    The new series was announced in 2003.

    Reply

  21. SK
    November 13, 2012 @ 3:57 am

    (September)

    Reply

  22. Adam Riggio
    November 13, 2012 @ 4:22 am

    Thanks for the correction, SK. I guess the memory does cheat.

    Reply

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.