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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.

65 Comments

  1. BerserkRL
    July 2, 2012 @ 12:31 am

    The idea of a Doctor who looks comfortable riding a motorcycle is a major transition for the show, and one I hope to someday see.

    I think Eccleston's Doctor would have looked right on a motorcycle. Certainly he had the jacket for it.

    one in which Big Ben is visible from every point in London.

    Whereas in the real world it's the London Eye that's visible from every point in London — usually from an angle that makes you think "What? there?"

    Reply

  2. William Whyte
    July 2, 2012 @ 12:59 am

    As with Paradise Towers, I think this one suffers from the switch to all-video: it makes it look less real. (But something about McCoy's restlessness is very suited to video.)

    I think it's so hated (and it certainly is, #181 in the Mighty 200) for a number of reasons. First, it does look cheap. Second, there's an uncertainty of execution: Cartmel hasn't worked out how to guide his writers to get the exposition seamlessly in with the rest of the dialogue yet, there's not a lot of subtlety to it, and what humour there is is mainly visual slapstick — which is both hard to pull off on TV (especially on video, which even at this time was harder to edit) and a classic signifier of kid's TV. Third, the comedy Americans. It is clearly kid's TV at a time when the remaining fans weren't kids any more. And at the time, what you really wanted as a fan was that the show would give you a story that you could show to your friends who were saying "Doctor Who? That's a bit rubbish now, isn't it?" and go "No it isn't — look at this!". The good things about Delta, like the good things about Paradise Towers, are to a large extent notes from the production team to itself, pointing out ways that the show could be better. The bad things are right out front and unmissable. Show this to someone who's inclined to think Doctor Who's a bit rubbish and they'll laugh at every minute of it. Three more long weeks to wait for hope to be revived.

    But it's still great, and points the way for the re-energized show that emerges over the next two years. It's the first time since Keeper of Traken where the characters have personalities independently of their plot function: Ray's role as The Abandoned Woman is just a thing about her, rather than leading to her betraying the group as it would in a more obvious and tightly constructed story. It has a romance in it! And not just that, unlike the ones in Keeper of Traken and Revelation of the Daleks, it's actually pro-love — the first time Doctor Who has been pro-love (for supporting characters) since… well, it's hard to put a finger on when it's ever been pro-love, but the intense friendship between Susan and Ping-Cho in Marco Polo is the only real equivalent I can think of (while at the same time, Billy eating the Chimeron jelly is an astonishingly intense character point, the lead male supporting character being willing to subsume his identity in another in a very coded-as-female way — and this is a place, unlike with the Billy/Ray subplot, where the script could perhaps have benefited from having more plot consequences). And when the story invests so much time in setting up the Saved by Bees! scene, so that it looks like it'll be the resolution of the crisis, and in the end it just buys them time to run to a different place and make another stand, it shows an understanding of how to escalate the stakes that the show seemed to have lost.

    In many ways, this is the first Russell T Davies story: much more girl-friendly, full of ideas and pop culture references, not so much concerned with coherence, looking for ways to get to the set-pieces, but having set pieces that are about big emotional moments as well as explosions. The next story, I think, is where it all begins to cohere, but this has been a good waypoint.

    Reply

  3. Alex Wilcock
    July 2, 2012 @ 1:00 am

    When I read your piece, Delta and the Bannermen sound incredibly appealing, and I’d love to see the version it suggests (though I found the George Harrison in the charts very promising indeed. Great album). Unpredictable, madcap fun, killing tourists but not cynical (neat trick if it could manage it)… So why have I never liked it?

    Well, there are some bits I like – the very cheap bus prop having been converted from a space cruiser at enormous expense to look like a very cheap bus, the transformation arch putting blobby purple things in human drag, the way that these days suggests the same might be true of the tourists in similar doomed time-tour Voyage of the Damned so Kylie’s really a blobby purple thing – but, unlike Paradise Towers, this doesn’t seem like fabulous Season 17-ish fun to me, that story’s sharp modern wit succeeded by something flabby, old-fashioned and patronising. Most of it’s just too flat, too earnest, and seems to want to make fannish continuity points. So, for me, the script’s the central failure. It makes me think more of Time and the Rani with less interesting direction: the same flatness, the same over-earnestness, the same getting hip with the kids by referencing the 1950s (while ignoring all the unpleasant social attitudes).

    I know you say critics only attack it for being “silly” and “comedy”. I wouldn’t mind those, but I don’t think it hits either of them. The ‘comedy genocide’ is ickily inappropriate without the redeeming bad taste of “wallowing gloriously in” it at all, the little puff of smoke for the ‘exploded’ bus less “barbed” than incompetent (the first time I watched it it was jarring not because they were all suddenly dead but because it looked like they’d flown away) and the dialogue is far too forced and over-emphatic. It just comes across to me as missing whimsy or archness and instead talking down to the audience: “A poignant reminder that violence always rebounds upon itself” and the intelligence of the almost-human bee sum up what’s wrong with it are played incredibly po-faced rather than like Adam West’s Batman. Give it more lines that are actually funny and have people playing it light rather than lumbering, and it would have been far better. As I said in my much less favourable review, Delta and the Bannermen would be much improved as a whimsical two-parter of ‘the Doctor’s holiday’, with the murderous Bannermen replaced by, if a villain’s needed at all, someone appropriately camp and unambitious like the Hooded Claw.

    And in a weird way, it seems “predictable and traditional”, too. It’s like the author last saw Doctor Who when The War Games aired and was writing half-remembered fanfic for it: there’s a big sky bully / galactic government to whom the Doctor can report the baddies for a ticking-off; space and time travel has someone checking your tickets; there’s a contrivedly enigmatic old man who feels like a half-remembered version of a retired Time Lord – it doesn’t refer explicitly to the series’ past, but instead pastiches it to the level of cliché, with all the same clutter in the plot but none of the detail that made it distinctive. So where’s the fun in that? And how would the audience be able to tell it apart from ‘genuine’ off-putting continuity references?

    I’ve always loved Sylv’s fan letter to the rock (look in the extras), though.

    Reply

  4. David Anderson
    July 2, 2012 @ 1:58 am

    And the Post office tower. And now the Shard, though the Shard doesn't have the what? There? aspect.

    Reply

  5. ferret
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:24 am

    I'm not really happy at the recurring suggestions in the blog and your replies to comments that the only people watching Doctor Who at this point either lacked all taste for sitting through the Colin Baker era or were sad anoraks who would watch anything labeled Doctor Who.

    It's November 1987 and I am 10 years old. I am at this point enjoying Doctor Who immensely, having vague memories of Tom Baker, a full experience of Peter Davidson and an incomplete one of Colin (due to clashing with cubs, and my parents frequent failure to record the show [in retrospect likely parental guidance at work]) and a rich childhood playing games of Doctors and Cybermen and Daleks in the playground throughout those years. I borrow Target books from the library and buy Doctor Who Magazine for the comic strip, as I just want to experience more adventures.

    I am glued to the screen every week, but have taste enough to find the Doctor in Time and the Rani to be a bit embarrassing as he talked in silly broken phrases half the time. I am appalled at Gavrok placing a bomb on top of the TARDIS: it's a shockingly unfair trap that is bound to kill the Doctor. I watch Top Of The Pops every week for months hoping they'll replay the MARRS Pump Up The Volume video again as I'm mad about space and space travel.

    I am 10 years old and according to this blog I am a sad-act with dubious taste. I love your blog Phil, but it's becoming causally hostile towards the actual viewing audience of the day for no apparent reason – certainly I don't see how you have any basis to draw these absolute conclusions other than it fits a theme your blog is warming to regarding the impending cancellation.

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  6. John Toon
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:36 am

    What I don't like about Delta is that it's played much more overtly as kids' TV – young kids' TV at that, pitched right around the 4pm territory of Chucklevision – than Paradise Towers, and has much less substance to it.

    PT and Delta both have stilted acting, but in PT I can actually justify to my own satisfaction that all those characters, isolated in their tower block for an unknown number of years, might genuinely behave like that; I can't do that for the hammy mugging of some characters in Delta. (The romantic leads suffer from the exact opposite problem – both made of solid wood. But still.) And the directing and some of Keff's musical choices contribute to the "talking down" feel that Alex mentions above.

    Meanwhile, Gavrok's entire motivation for wiping out the Chimerons and pursuing the last surviving one is apparently just because he's a black-hatted villain, and he can. There's not a lot going on under the hood of this story beyond the pointing and laughing at tourists. Compare that with everything that PT had to say about contemporary British culture, and with the surprisingly complex personality of the Chief Caretaker.

    Yes, blowing up the bus is a startling move, and not played cheaply – and it's the one and only thing about the entire story after the original transmission – and there's arguably a lot of potential in a whimsical one-line summary of the plot (fugitive alien princess hides out in Butlins) and in the basic concept of a squad of genuine bastards invading a kids' show (assuming that the Bannermen could be considered to be genuine bastards, that is). But the execution just fails for me.

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  7. John Toon
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:39 am

    "…the one and only thing about the entire story that stuck with me after the original transmission…", that should have been.

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  8. Lewis Christian
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:46 am

    This is basically an RTD-era 'light-hearted romp' 20 years early.

    Reply

  9. Abigail Brady
    July 2, 2012 @ 3:21 am

    I can see the London Eye and St Paul's from my desk. That this was possible surprised me.

    Reply

  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 2, 2012 @ 3:22 am

    Actually, it has little to do with the impending cancellation and more to do with trying to explain why a season that is actually quite good has every story in the bottom 10% of all Doctor Who stories ever on the big fan poll. And I think the reason for that is what I've been articulating: the show had scared away most of its audience over the Baker years, which had been assuming an audience of Ian Levine-style fans. Now it's assuming the sort of audience it had in the late 1970s when it still has the sort of audience it had in Season 23.

    Obviously no group of five million can be subject to absolute generalizations. But equally, I think that, when arguing in favor of a trio of stories that are widely despised within Doctor Who fandom there's a need to try to understand this disparity.

    But as I've said, I'm largely done with the impending cancellation. I think we've reached the point where that's inevitable now. I don't think anything in the McCoy era contributes to it further. That's not where I'm going with this at all. And the experience you're talking about is closer to the themes I'm setting up than you're assuming.

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  11. David Anderson
    July 2, 2012 @ 4:43 am

    I can imagine Matt Smith saying that motorcycles are cool. This does not mean Matt Smith's Doctor would look comfortable on a motorbike. To be honest, I feel that something would be slightly off about a Doctor that would look comfortable on a motorbike.

    As an aside, I think the jumper is brilliant. It is of course tasteless. But whereas Colin's coat was tasteless in such a way that you cannot imagine anyone who would wear it, McCoy's jumper is tasteless in the way of a bachelor uncle who has been given it by Gran. So you can imagine someone wearing it, but that someone is not a likely candidate for an sf action hero. Or even a genius con artist, unless that genius con artist is operating according to not quite human rules. The same goes for the bowtie, but at the same time there is a genuine part of McCoy's Doctor throughout his run that is a lovable uncle.

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  12. Iain Coleman
    July 2, 2012 @ 4:47 am

    The difference is that, where Davison and C Baker wore costumes, McCoy wears clothes.

    Reply

  13. Tom Watts
    July 2, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    Brutality and fecklessness: the twin ugly mug of Thatcherism. As often, a vituperation rather than anything that invites engagement.

    But enough of that. Wow. I'll take this opportunity, which in my little way I have been looking forward to, of saying that IMO episode 1 of Delta might just about be the most wonderful single episode of the classic series up to that point. The only things it lacks is money and more time back stage, but it is so bursting with colour and charm that I can only beam with joy at it. The holiday camp looks like an inhabited place with people (like the little girl in the red Indian costume, the little girl under the bridge, the boy at the table next to Sylvester in the canteen, the ladies with the hula hoops, the manager's dog) I want to look at, wonder about. A space port feels like it's in space. The eerily lit quarry fascinates with its sparkly explosions and weird green men. Gavrok and the bounty hunter are rough sounding, grim looking – all the visual and tonal contrasts jag up against one another and yet somehow it all works.

    Two small points. Great as Paradise Towers is, Delta doesn't need an explicit political theme. After all, so often the political subtext changes utterly in the intervening years as political reality swiftly overtakes the imagination of the writers. No one knows for sure the degree to which the architecture contributed to urban degeneration as opposed to specific political decisions. The politics of Delta is that joy in life, and in loving union, have to win out against vaingloriousness and misanthropy. Although, to take issue with an earlier point of Phil's, it's possible to be cynical and pessimistic about the world, without being macho and relishing unkindness. There's a despairing joy in absurdity which can be an equally valid and creative starting point. Second point, I've forgotten it. Maybe just to say that I don't think it looks cheap. I mean it looks cheap, but like theatrical costumes look cheap. Or costume jewellery. Childlike wonder is undimmed.

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  14. Tom Watts
    July 2, 2012 @ 7:12 am

    and it goes to show that the writers were there, just waiting to bring some imagination to the party. And to reiterate, it is incredibly rare in DW to have crowd scenes where the crowd are worth looking at, and look like they can be broken down into individuals. So like what RTD did, but I prefer Delta's – what's the word? – chasteness. And a lack of front. The new series occasionally comes across as if it were written by Ben Elton. The Doctor often seems at a spiked angle to Mel, which works effectively for Sylv's Doctor, but it's a marked contrast to his chemistry with Ray, whom he does seem to fancy. Shy about it, of course.

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  15. Adam Riggio
    July 2, 2012 @ 7:47 am

    "The treatment of history as a subject for tourism within the Davison and Baker eras paralleled with a treatment of Doctor Who's past as a subject for tourism in which the actual matter of telling Doctor Who stories was progressively erased."

    This one sentence (or rather part of a sentence) is the best, most succinct, and clear summary of the major theme of your entires on that whole period, Phil. Reading through them, at least for me, these ideas weren't always clear: how the links between tourism, the nostalgia fetish, and the nature of the superficial all come together. Those links only because clear for me in the Five Doctors entry, and especially the Season 22 analysis. Are you thinking of adding any extra essays to put these ideas more in the direct forefront of your analyses of the period? Adding any material to some essays? Longleat and The Awakening strike me as the essays where those ideas have room for expansion.

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  16. Nick Smale
    July 2, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    And not just clothes, but contemporary clothes. The first six Doctors all had Edwardian costumes (even Colin's, for all the wtf-ness of the fabric, has a period cut). Sylv on the other hand looks plausibly like a 45 year old man of the late 80s.

    In a very real sense he's the first of the modern Doctors. Davison looks seriously out of place next to Tennant in Time Crash. McCoy on the other hand would fit right in.

    They made him Edwardian again for the TVM, of course…

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  17. WGPJosh
    July 2, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    Seconding Adam: Brilliant thesis, Phil.

    The "Theme Park" or "Tourist" reading of Britain and Britain's history is a wonderfully rich angle to explore and critique (as is any sort of reaction against cultural exoticism) and while I'm unfortunately at the moment closer to some of my fellow commenters in being skeptical "Delta" achieves this (I've yet to re-watch it on this current go-around, stuck as I am as of this writing on "Shada") your analysis reminds me of a little hidden gem I found while working on another of my projects recently.

    There's an episode of the 1979 series of Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo called "The Night Ghoul of Wonderworld". I can already sense everyone's overwhelming disbelief at my attempting a critical and redemptive reading of Scooby-Doo and this series in particular, but just bear with me here for a moment. The episode deals with Velma's desire to accompany Sherlock Holmes on a case and the rest of the gang surprises her by taking her to a robotics theme park where they can create a physical representation of her fantasy for her to live out.

    From there the episode becomes frankly far more clever than it ought to be allowed by spiraling off into a giddy, metafictional genre fusion and send-up of Sherlock Holmes, London After Midnight and Fantasy Island and comes dangerously close to saying something intelligent about self-insert fanfiction and how franchises are revived for their spectacle and familiarity instead of for their inherent worth and unique storytelling capabilities. All that is terribly, embarrassingly interesting, but the most relevant aspect of the episode to our purposes is the setting.

    "The Night Ghoul of Wonderworld" unabashedly takes place in a version of London derived from what Phil has dubbed "heritage park Britain" or "Britain for tourists" and the crassest, most cheaply stereotypical form of it to boot. There's pea-soup fog, cobblestone streets, the Crown Jewels, Beefeaters and Big Ben are all vital plot points, Shaggy and Scooby dine on Fish and Chips in a pub and everyone wears frock coats and top hats and carries a walking stick. This would all be horribly offensive if not for the fact that the story explicitly takes place within a theme park, and not only a theme park, but a theme park made of robots that are programmed to cater to Velma's bizarre and self-absorbed interpretation of Sherlock Holmes stories where she can not only replace Watson but upstage Holmes by applying his methods better than him (crucially, Velma only gets to best Holmes when his robot malfunctions due to sabotage).

    The episode doesn't go far enough, of course (a problem that plagues Scooby-Doo a lot in the 1970s and 1980s and, well, always if I'm honest): Ideas don't always cohere the way they should and what they really needed was Mod Utopian Daphne to come in and slap some sense into the proceedings and that never happens. However, given the strange mix of overt cynicism and subtle playfulness the categorized the Scooby writing staff during this era I find it hard to believe this wasn't an intentional commentary of some sort. Watching it got me thinking a lot about Doctor Who and what Phil had said about it of late, and reading this piece on "Delta" just confirms my suspicions.

    By the way, I also thought of this while I was writing, for what it's worth:
    http://www.boreme.com/posting.php?id=17002

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  18. BerserkRL
    July 2, 2012 @ 9:38 am

    joy in life, and in loving union, have to win out against vaingloriousness and misanthropy.

    No no, it's "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."

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  19. spoilersbelow
    July 2, 2012 @ 9:57 am

    Other than the horrible red suit he wore at the end, Tom Baker always dressed like an out of work philosophy professor from the 70s… The scarf got exaggerated as his tenure went on, but even that I could buy as an affectation.

    I totally agree on the Edwardianess of all the others.

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  20. Nick Smale
    July 2, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    Baker's costume was famously inspired by a Toulouse Lautrec painting. Though I guess 1892 isn't Edwardian either…

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  21. Nick Smale
    July 2, 2012 @ 10:36 am

    If I can speak up for Scooby-Doo, the latest incarnation Mystery Incorporated is excellent – scoobies created by writers who've clearly seen Buffy's gang as well as Hanna Barbera's.

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  22. WGPJosh
    July 2, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    I'm overjoyed to be meeting another Scooby fan, but, and not to derail the thread, I unfortunately have to disagree on Mystery Incorporated. I think it fundamentally misses some very key elements of the show's structure and mode of storytelling and also badly misreads the characters. I do appreciate parts of what the show is trying to do though and maybe the next series will clean up the roughness a bit and sweep out some of the poor choices.

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  23. Tommy
    July 2, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    "It has a romance in it! And not just that, unlike the ones in Keeper of Traken and Revelation of the Daleks, it's actually pro-love — the first time Doctor Who has been pro-love (for supporting characters) since… well, it's hard to put a finger on when it's ever been pro-love, but the intense friendship between Susan and Ping-Cho in Marco Polo is the only real equivalent I can think of (while at the same time, Billy eating the Chimeron jelly is an astonishingly intense character point, the lead male supporting character being willing to subsume his identity in another in a very coded-as-female way"

    The problem with the 'romance' of Delta and the Bannermen, is that Billy and Delta are barely seen to share two lines of dialogue when they first sit together, so the idea that they're suddenly in love is hard to buy, and the emotion behind it is impossible to feel.

    So Billy's decision to inject himself to make himself change species makes no real sense- infact it begs the question of what Billy was thinking at all. For all he knows he's taking Delta's precious last supplies of the jelly and leaving the baby Chimera without any food supplies at all.

    It comes across as yet more of the same moronic business of the JNT era of having characters puppeteered to commit strange, inexlicable actions out of the blue for no sensible or beievable reason whatsoever. In that regard it's little or no improvement on the Saward era's soulless meat puppet approach to characters.

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  24. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 2, 2012 @ 11:10 am

    It's one of the things I most love about getting to redo entries for the book. I have a general idea of the themes and arc of an era going in, but there's perspective at the end that makes one terribly sad about missed opportunities earlier. The Davison stuff is a prime example. In hindsight I held out expecting a single story where I could clearly draw the line between the interesting ideas the show had going in and the panicked retreat to mediocrity on the flipside and never got it, leaving the era without a clear signpost entry to anchor things. Part of that is that there isn't such a story besides, perhaps, The Five Doctors, which is sad, as that required me being meaner to that story than I enjoyed. But knowing that, yes, when I go back through those entries I'd like to distribute the weight of that argument over more stories than I did at the time.

    A similar problem, I think, hits the Graham Williams era entries. Though there I think I pulled it off in the final few entries – I'm reasonably proud of the Shada/Well-Meaning War pair. But both suffered from the same defect – I held off on definitiveness too long while I tried to get a feel for the terrain, and ended up running out the clock a bit.

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  25. Tommy
    July 2, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    "And in a weird way, it seems “predictable and traditional”, too. It’s like the author last saw Doctor Who when The War Games aired and was writing half-remembered fanfic for it: there’s a big sky bully / galactic government to whom the Doctor can report the baddies for a ticking-off; space and time travel has someone checking your tickets; there’s a contrivedly enigmatic old man who feels like a half-remembered version of a retired Time Lord – it doesn’t refer explicitly to the series’ past, but instead pastiches it to the level of cliché, with all the same clutter in the plot but none of the detail that made it distinctive. So where’s the fun in that?"

    It's like I've often said. Throughout the 70's the show seeemed to be building on the implications of the final moments of The War Games, with the Doctor urging the Time Lords to break out of their insular apathy and actually do some good in the universe. To the point where stories like Genesis of the Daleks and the whole arc with Romana being taught the virtues of the Doctor's rebellious lifestyle are such a natural outgrowth of that, that it always felt like those stories were inevitable from the moment of that speech to the Time Lords.

    In the JNT era however…. almost nothing feels like a natural outgrowth or development. On the contrary it all feels contrived and regressive. The show feels like it's going backwards. To the point where halfway through the Davison era, one ends up wondering why this passive, impotent Doctor even bothered leaving Gallifrey in the first place.

    I think you're right that Delta and the Bannermen shows how The War Games has become less a mythology that informs the show's central moral philosophy (which had clearly died in Season 21), and more a series of replicable cliches.

    The only way I think the show might have gotten back on track is if a complete production team changeover which saw Barbara Clegg become script editor happened around 1983. I think she was the one who actually understood the spirit of the show, the character of the Doctor, and how to move the series forward, and Big Finish's lost stories have shown that she was incredibly enthusiastic about submitting story ideas that somehow JNT and Saward ignored to the show's detriment.

    I don't think this story represented any return to form at all. I think the mainstrean audience of the time would have found it witless, patronising and inane. Even by 80's Hollywood standards it comes off as moronic and terribly pact.

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  26. John
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    Surely action man Jon Pertwee was convincing on a motorbike. The Daemons?

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  27. Zapruder 313
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

    Just to join in with the Scooby Thread Derail (and who knew there was a subset of Scooby Fans reading this Blog?): the interesting thing to me about Mystery Incorporated, as Nick Smale said, is that it was a clear example of Scooby Doo being totally influenced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a bit like The Beatles reforming in the mid-90s to do an album of Oasis covers.

    It is Very Weird Indeed to be watching the original of something turn into a commentary on the pastiche. I agree with WGPJosh that it wasn't entirely successful, but it was definitely "a noteworthy cultural artifact", shall we say?

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  28. breyerii
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

    "I can imagine Matt Smith saying that motorcycles are cool."

    representing for te occasion millions of aficionados, I'll say: why of course, motorbikes are cool!

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  29. breyerii
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

    *the

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  30. Matthew Blanchette
    July 2, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

    Should've been warning enough as to just how bad they'd be… 😛

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  31. sleepyscholar
    July 2, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

    For what it's worth, I think you're right. In 1987 I am 23 years old, and un-/self- employed in London. I've watched through the Colin Baker period — though thought at the time it was rubbish — with a sort of loyalty that probably derives from having watched videos from the whole history of the show at uni, and through sharing a flat with someone who is writing a role-playing game based on the show.

    And in 1987 I hated these early Seventh Doctor stories.They just seemed tonally off.

    Thanks to your blog, I've just gone back and watched Paradise Towers, and am now one episode into Delta. And as I say, I think you're right. I can even bear Bonnie Langford (whose casting, more perhaps than whose performance, was such an obstacle to enjoyment of the show at the time).

    There are many weaknesses, but in the end the biggest flaw of the programme during this period was the audience. Not the 10-year-olds like ferret. The 20-somethings like me.

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  32. Matthew Blanchette
    July 2, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

    …well, let's face it, though; no 27-year-old of the early '10s actually dresses like Matt Smith's Doctor.

    Think that might be the point, though; the Doctor's not supposed to look "of his time", whenever that may be (and is certainly not supposed to plausibly look like a 45-year-old man of the late '80s).

    He's an alien granddad, not your granddad. 😛

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  33. WGPJosh
    July 2, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    @Matthew I think you underestimate the influence of the Geek Chic! I've seen quite an uptick in the number of people wearing Bow Ties since 2010. And no, he's not 27, but I humbly suggest you take a gander at Alton Brown:

    http://eater.com/uploads/alton-brown-salt.jpg

    http://cf2.foodista.com/sites/default/files/styles/featured/public/field/image/fallon-brown-champagne-saber-open_0.jpg

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  34. ferret
    July 2, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    I'm not sure he convinced me as the Doctor being comfortable on the motorbike, only Jon Pertwee being comfortable on the motorbike. Perhaps that's the problem, it's just not in character… although I wasn't around to see it broadcast, it would be interested to know if viewers then felt Pertwee was Doctorish enough when doing that sort of thing in the role.

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  35. Adam Riggio
    July 2, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

    Speaking as someone who was 27 in 2010, I've dressed like Matt Smith since 2001.

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  36. Nick Smale
    July 2, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

    Matt's an interesting one, isn't he? His costume somehow manages to conjure both "1930s academic" and "contemporary hipster".

    no 27-year-old of the early '10s actually dresses like Matt Smith's Doctor.

    Let me take you around the Northern Quarter in Manchester on a Saturday night, and we'll see how many we can spot…

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  37. Nick Smale
    July 2, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

    Mystery Inc's revival of Scooby-Doo parallel's RTD's revival of Doctor Who in many ways, reanimating a dead show show by adding an arc plot, relationship and family drama, and fresh backstory.

    I'd agree with WGPJosh that Mystery Inc's characters seem off-model compared with the classic versions, just as the 9th Doctor and Rose are radically different from previous Doctor/companion pairs. But just as RTD's changes paid off in story terms, I think those changes are justified because the characters have to do a different job in their new context.

    I haven't watched any of season 2 yet (so no spoilers please) but I'm very much hoping it continues in the path laid out by season 1. I'd agree that the show still doesn't "go far enough" as you say – but for the first time, this feels like a version of Scooby-Doo that might

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  38. Anton B
    July 3, 2012 @ 2:03 am

    'The idea of a Doctor who looks comfortable riding a
    motorcycle is a major transition for the show, and one I
    hope to someday see.'

    I thought this was a foreshadowing reference to the Eighth Doctor who does indeed get to ride a police motorbike quite stylishly through LA on millenium Eve. That picture of McCoy on the bike also bears an uncanny resemblance to Tennant and Piper on a scooter in 'The Idiot's Lantern'.

    Yes, Pertwee was the first to introduce his own obsession with driving but, to me, every time any Doctor drives any kind of vehicle he immediately ceases to be believable as the Doctor and reverts to being the actor? Maybe it's something to do with the fact that for 'Doctor Who' to work we must never be asked to 'suspend disbelief'.

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  39. Lewis Christian
    July 3, 2012 @ 2:26 am

    But it's not bad. It's cheesy, light entertainment, a bit muddled… but it's fun and bonkers. Miles ahead of anything in the Davison and CBaker era, IMO.

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  40. Anton B
    July 3, 2012 @ 4:59 am

    Perhaps fittingly the question mark in my comment above is redundant.

    Reply

  41. Adam Riggio
    July 3, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    While the nostalgia / heritage park connection wasn't clear to me until now, Phil, I did think quite a lot of your Davison essays were brilliant in their own right. Metaphorically speaking, you typically spin eight or nine plates in the air at once — it's quite a feat to keep six or seven spinning. It happens to me quite frequently in my own philosophy and fiction writing.

    I thought your essays on Earthshock and The Five Doctors were excellent in their diagnosis of what was wrong with, respectively, Saward's and Nathan-Turner's approach to Doctor Who. The museum catalogue style was really inventive, had just the right level of sarcasm, and entirely appropriate to your themes. And every now and then, I still read the Terminus essay, giddy about the themes you explore there coming up in more detail in the New Adventures and Steven Moffatt eras.

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  42. Henry R. Kujawa
    July 3, 2012 @ 6:59 am

    First, a confession. I was one of the people who, on first seeing this, wondered, "What the HELL am I watching???" But then… if truth be told, I had that same reaction when I saw THE BLUES BROTHERS in a theatre. That grew on me, too, after a couple years.

    The riding a motorcycle thing, combined with The Doctor comforting Raye when she's crying over Billy, made me realize were seeing the most "warm" and "human" Doctor since Jon Pertwee. And, again, just looking at Sylvester, you don't expect that somehow. Very quickly, McCoy became, in my eyes, both the "most serious" Doctor ever– but also the "goofiest". And I love the combination. You never know what to expect from him, and everything he does is such a delight.

    Philip Sandifer:
    "this is a show that could have been a beloved bit of madcap fun, much as, contrary to the party line of the fan-industrial complex, the bulk of the Graham Williams era was."

    I recall enjoying Season 16 MORE than the 4 before it on first seeing it, because non-stop horror got monotonous after awhile. Of course, non-stop silliness (Season 17) suffered for the exact same (if opposite) reason. Let's have variety!

    BerserkRL:
    "I think Eccleston's Doctor would have looked right on a motorcycle. Certainly he had the jacket for it."

    Seems more appropriate than Paul McGann's.

    Tommy:
    "It comes across as yet more of the same moronic business of the JNT era of having characters puppeteered to commit strange, inexlicable actions out of the blue for no sensible or beievable reason whatsoever."

    That's one of the places where "DELTA" could have used a 4th episode. In Hartnell's day they'd have had time to develop things more logically and naturally. This way, you feel you're listening to the "45" edit instead of the "LP version.

    Tommy: The best way to deal with Seasons 19-23 are to just NEVER WATCH THEM AGAIN. Skip straight from "TRAKEN" to "PARADISE TOWERS" if you have to. No point dredging them up here…

    Ferret:
    "I am appalled at Gavrok placing a bomb on top of the TARDIS: it's a shockingly unfair trap that is bound to kill the Doctor."

    I've also seen Don Henderson in BRANNIGAN and STAR WARS. Hard to believe he was mostly known inEngland for comedy (as was McCoy!).

    The 1st time I watched this, I recall thinking the opening looked like it was picking up from a BLAKE'S 7 cliffhanger we never saw. So when it suddenly turns "fun" and "light" and "silly"… it was more than a bit jarring. The 2 FBI (CIA?) agents didn't help, though many years later I came to realize that Stubby Kaye had been in GUYS AND DOLLS and also CAT BALLOU (one of the stories directly paid tribute to in "THE GUNFIGHTERS").

    This is probably my 2nd-favorite Mel appearance. She gets to show some warmth, caring, and even bravery (right after the bus is shockingly blown to atoms). Plus, she goes thru about 4 different outfits in 1 story, and all of them are "sensible". I really like Bonnie Langford, she deserved better writing than she got. (It's no wonder she jumped ship so quickly… as did Mary Tamm and others.)

    Perhaps the most jarring "WTF???" moment in the entire story (and that's saying a lot) is when The Doctor stands up to Gavrok, annunced he's taking the hostages, and he's going to give evidence when Gavrok comes to trial. It's like– is he out of his mind??? Who knew this was foreshadowing what was to come next season?

    I enjoyed Seasons 25-26 on first viewing. This one took a bit longer. But now I'd never skip it.

    Reply

  43. timelord7202
    July 3, 2012 @ 9:03 am

    I think it fails because it tries to be so much.

    Both serious with the concepts of genocide and the rest…

    But campy with the HIDEOUS humor being attempted.

    It doesn't gel. It drags. It doesn't quite know what it wants to be, and it has to bend over to appeal to what Michael Grade wants (which is essentially to get the show canned, hence season 24 being made so ridiculously silly and inanely…)

    And there ARE some nice ideas and the occasional good acting, and McCoy is on form – especially when dealing with Gavrok.

    But there are some BAD ideas as well —

    Billy eating the Chimeron food should be killing him in agony, and not turning him into one of them – just because some crazy guy says bee food turns a bee into a queen. Granted, at least "Delta" tried to create in-story continuity.

    People mention this as being RTD's era 20 years earlier.

    The problem is, McCoy's era came first. All RTD did was lift elements he liked and then put them into OTT City with Overdrive (@2.5x C).

    Worse, RTD's era sets up ideas and then shoves them to the side to make people tear up for his gratification. At least "Delta" gets credit for sticking to an idea and not bending the ideas it comes up with… even if the chimeron food idea was beyond sheer absurdity."

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  44. Adam Riggio
    July 3, 2012 @ 10:32 am

    A major reason why I like this blog as much as I do is because its priority is to give redemptive readings to otherwise marginalized or maligned stories (The Gunfighters, The Chase, Terminus) and identify serious problems in stories that are generally prestigious within Doctor Who fandom (The Celestial Toymaker, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, most of Troughton season five).

    The Nathan-Turner / Saward production team failed, according to Phil's analysis, for oversimplifying the ideas, tradition, and storytelling styles of Doctor Who (see the essays on The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors, and the first Trial of a Time Lord posts for what I think are the best statements so far). The crazy excess of Doctor Who stories is a core element of the show's identity. Just because not everything sticks all the time isn't a reason for simplifying the stories.

    In the science of the real world, yes, food from an extra-terrestrial ecosystem would probably kill someone. But in the real world, you can't fold a mansion inside of a telephone booth. That Hard SF mandate of following the constraints of established science has never applied to Doctor Who, and doesn't fit its style at all. So the show shouldn't be criticized for including events that are scientifically impossible: the whole premise of Doctor Who is scientifically impossible, and its impossibility doesn't matter to what the show is for and what it can do.

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  45. BerserkRL
    July 3, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    Looking back on Trial of a Time Lord, it occurs to me that the quote from Colin's Doctor, "Unless we are prepared to sacrifice our lives for the good of all, then evil and anarchy will spread like the plague; the rule of law must prevail," is a good case of how the Valeyard could be a future danger for this Doctor.

    Reply

  46. WGPJosh
    July 3, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    @Nick

    Thing is, the arc plot, and arguably the family drama, had already been done once before (and in a far more interesting way IMO) with 1985's The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, which attempts the admirably ambitious feat of welding serialized drama to Golden Age Warner Brothers-style cartoon anarchy. I grant it doesn't really work and the show has a lot of problems, but it's packed with ideas.

    Mystery Inc., by contrast, feels like it's built around cynically checking off a list of things fans wanted out of a Scooby show while at the same time doing this oddly belated and inappropriate post-Buffy metacommentary. I agree with Zapruder it's an interesting contemporary artefact, I just don't really enjoy the show as it's at odds with my reading of the franchise (which, I hasten to add, isn't the mainstream Classic Scooby fan party line either).

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  47. Alan
    July 3, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

    Huh. No one has yet commented on what I personally considered the most interesting facet of this story (which I have always loved despite its faults): the fact that it is a historical set in 1959, which means we are almost at the point where "historicals" can be set within the lifetime of the show itself. And, of course, we will reach that point next season in Remembrance which is set on the day of the program's debut. A pre-adolescent Ben Jackson could have been present at the Shangri-La Holiday Camp (and was for all we know). IOW, the show has no survived long enough so that earier parts of its own history now count as "historical eras." That, to me, is a fascinating commentary on the show's longevity. Which only makes Michael Grade's single minded obsession with destroying it even more exasperating. Did no one every consider what an achievement it was to have had a series in any format endure that long?

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  48. Wm Keith
    July 4, 2012 @ 12:20 am

    Good point, but don't forget Mawdryn Undead, which may or may not have been a historical, depending on whether or not the future happened before the present.

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  49. Wm Keith
    July 4, 2012 @ 12:24 am

    All that they'd have done on "Star Trek" would have been to add a technobabbly line about the proteins in the Royal Jelly rewriting Billy's genetic code. Making the fantastic simply mundane.

    Reply

  50. Matthew Blanchette
    July 4, 2012 @ 11:51 am

    All righty; point accepted. My overall argument still stands, though… 😉

    Reply

  51. Alan
    July 4, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

    In retrospect, while I hated Melanie, I always thought Bonnie got a raw deal. Yes, it is a problem that Mel was conceived as a boring, two-dimensional character, but the proper solution to that was to give her depths to explore, not to just throw one's hands up and stick her off in a side-quest with Pex or Murray while the Doctor does the important stuff. Also, no one has mentioned to date, but the make-up department did Bonnie no favors either. In her post DW appearances, she has always looked quite attractive, but the make-up people apparently saw fit to apply the pancake with a trowel, with the end result that she frequently looked more disturbing than the aliens! Of course, she wasn't as ill-treated as Peri, but it certainly couldn't have been an enjoyable experience for her.

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  52. Exploding Eye
    July 4, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

    I have no problem with Doctor Who being a comedy. City of Death is great, and I even rather enjoyed Creature From The Pit. What irks me about DATB, and makes it possibly the worst Doctor Who I've seen, is that it's both amateurish and unfunny. I feel embarrassed watching it on my own.

    I'm really struggling with this blog at the moment, I must admit. With this sort of thing – like Adventures of the Wife In Space – it's fun to agree with some entries and disagree with others, but when the brief from here on in is that we're in the golden age of Who, and all stories will be treated as such, and I can only really see it as the absolute nadir of Who (with some exceptions – I like Greatest Show, and Ghost Light is interesting) – with poor acting; amateurish production values; rushed, over-complicated stories sometimes edited to the point of making little sense; embarrassing attempts at being 'adult' (Ace's lines about feeling the wind through her clothes in Fenric made me squirm aged 13); and jarring, tinny music that sucks all life, atmosphere and nuance from the show, then it's really tough to follow the blog any more.

    The Cartmel era to me feels more like a teenage boy trying to do grown-up and portentous, than actual quality, grown-up writing. I wasn't sad that the show was cancelled by the end, and I still feel it was being put out of its misery rather than culled in its prime.

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  53. Exploding Eye
    July 4, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

    This is not to say I have problems with redemptive readings, they're rather fun; I'm struggling with the fact that these don't seem to be redemptive readings, but are taken as quality television and the high point of the show. That's a tough one to get past.

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  54. William Whyte
    July 6, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    BTW, you do know that you're not allowed to emigrate to Britain unless you've seen The Young Ones, don't you?

    Reply

  55. John Toon
    July 6, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

    I guess ultimately the science-magic of alien food turning Billy into an alien isn't very far removed from the science-magic of CVEs, or the entire plot of Full Circle.

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  56. Froborr
    October 4, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

    My opinion is unlikely to count for much, as I despise all prior incarnations of Scooby-Doo, but I adore Mystery Inc.

    The only thing I prefer about earlier versions of Scooby-Doo is that the original show was aggressively skeptical and materialist: all apparently supernatural elements were actually frauds or misunderstandings of perfectly mundane events. Sadly, since roughly the live-action film modern incarnations (Mystery Inc. included) have lost that thread.

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  57. Josh Marsfelder
    October 4, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    @Froborr

    Unfortunately I'm going to have to disagree-I actually don't think Scooby-Doo was ever a skeptic's show at all. I see why skeptics like it, but I don't think the Neo-Atheists were the audience Joe Ruby and Ken Spears had in mind. The obvious reason why would be the existence of a canonical spirit world during the last few seasons of the original series (though it does waffle on this and looking for continuity in Scooby-Doo is frankly fruitless), but there's also something to be gleaned from the programmatic nature of the show itself: If the gang were truly arch-rationalists, why wouldn't they go into every case with the presupposition it will be a fraud from the beginning? They don't, and that's why I think the show is actually about something else entirely.

    For anyone interested, I laid out my personal theories here: http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/07/american-gothic-scooby-doo-where-are-you.html

    And also here: http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/07/im-creamof-great-utopia-dream-daphne.html

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  58. Josiah Rowe
    May 20, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    So, now that we've seen Matt Smith's Doctor on a motorbike, do you think he looked comfortable?

    Reply

  59. Henry R. Kujawa
    June 16, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

    Watched this again tonight. The vibe I kept gettng was, this was the show trying to "do" early Roger Corman. His films often had "weird" humor along with the "genre" material.

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  60. C
    August 18, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    I'm crazy about Delta and the Bannermen. I think the first episode a work of absolute genius, and I agree with those who say it could be one of the best single parts of the classic series. I'm grateful for this review.

    Essentially, the plot is the same as the film District 9, played with a light touch. We have a mother alien and her child, being hunted and persecuted. A man falls in love with them and sacrifices himself – in 'Delta' his sacrifice is by eating the alien jelly; in District 9, the man has already inadvertently morphed, but he fights to save the mother and child, at the expense of curing himself. The two stories end with an escape.

    'Delta' gives us a number of great performances – McCoy is superb here, but that's no surprise, as given half-decent material, he usually is. Richard Davies as Burton is great. The aliens on the bus, all the low-fi scifi conceits – superb, anarchic, and in a way, much more representative of disillusioned literary science fiction than the evasive management style of late 80s Star Trek…

    Perfect it ain't. However, this, as Steven Moffat pointed out recently, is Doctor Who, and it generally doesn't really do perfect. Parts of 'Delta' do seem underwritten, the central couple of Billy and Delta don't light the screen… but there is real action here, real adventure, and it is perfect TV for those Saturday nights on BBC1 in the late 80s, which of course, were not being given to the programme at the time.

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  61. mooglar2003
    December 4, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    Okay, a million years too late to this party, but as "Community" and "Doctor Who" are two of my three greatest passions right now ("Justified" being the other, BTW), I have to say that the difference between "Epidemiology" and "Delta and the Bannermen" is that "Epidemiology" is a shitload funnier and (crucially) only 25 minutes long.

    I mean, I watched "Delta" for the first time the other day, in my quest to fill all the gaps in the classic Who I haven't seen, and I was pretty much like, "Well this is really fucked up." It wasn't the worst thing in the world, it was miles better than "Timelash" (and I say that as a much bigger fan of Colin's era than Sylvester's, but god, I think "Timelash" is pretty much a crime against humanity), but the narrative structure was so weird and off-putting that I couldn't really figure out what or whose story this was, what I should care about, and why I should care. And I like creative narrative structures, but I don't think this had one, I just think it wasn't well written. When I feel at sea for most of a story like I did with "Delta" there's almost always huge flaws in the structure making me feel disengaged and weird.

    But there were no such problems with "Epidemiology." Its structure is far sounder than "Delta's", which, to be fair, is easier with a 25 sitcom than a 4 part serial. But just because they may be about the same thing (though really, I don't think they are, but even if I give the benefit of the doubt), doesn't mean they are going to be received the same. They are miles apart in execution, narrative structure, and characters.

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  62. Seeing_I
    December 17, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    I saw "Delta" with some new series fans the other day. I'd not seen it since 2003 or so, and they'd never seen it at all. We came to the same conclusion – it's fun, it's fresh, its heart is in the right place, it's got a lot of charm and some truly funny bits, but on the whole it just does not work either as a comedy or a drama – a lot of the comedy is just unfunny and embarrassing, and a lot of the drama is unearned and, well, embarrassing. Still, it's full of charming ideas (the whole 1950s nostalgia tour), nice character interactions and little touches like the Doctor trying to bite into an apple, or the smoking set of blue suede shoes, and Mel comes off very well in this episode (I really liked her initial black & white striped costume).

    We also felt like Ray was a nice companion-who-wasn't, and it was lovely to see the natural warmth she and McCoy shared. Ray was adorable, and while she certainly didn't have the rough edges and intriguing backstory Ace had (which definitely made her the right choice out of the season's two potential companions) it still feels a little sad to see her stay behind at the end. Would be fun to have her back for a Big Finish, possibly in some kind of alternate timeline story.

    All together now – "He's been ionized!"

    Reply

  63. John
    December 21, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    Never seen Mystery Inc, but the Beatles doing an album of Oasis covers idea is just totally wrong.

    The Beatles were the most important artist in all of twentieth century popular music. Oasis were a bunch of classicist imitators who put out a couple of enjoyable albums before running out of ideas. A Beatles album of Oasis covers would be absurd, not because Oasis was influenced by the Beatles, but because the Beatles were much better than Oasis.

    The thing about the original Scooby Doo has surely got to be that, even at its best, it kind of sucked. Whereas Buffy is generally recognized as very good television. A revamped version of Scooby Doo that imitates Buffy makes sense as a way of improving Scooby Doo in a way that a revamped version of the Beatles that imitates Oasis would not be.

    That doesn't mean that Mystery Inc. carries it off. As I said, I've never seen it. But it's hardly inexplicable why they'd do that.

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  64. Gunter
    January 19, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

    Why, then, is Delta and the Bannermen, created a quarter century earlier, … deltachildren.blogspot.com

    Reply

  65. orfeo
    October 22, 2017 @ 7:40 am

    Oh dear me, no. This was woefully poor. And it’s nothing to do with received wisdom from fandom (I haven’t seen it before, and the 2 reports on the old BBC website for the classic series are both positive). And it has nothing to do with disliking the “funny” style because I thought Paradise Towers was great.

    But this isn’t, despite your assertion as if it’s a stated fact, at all funny as far as I’m concerned. To me it’s stupid and childish in all the wrong ways, and the biggest problem is that it tries far too many things without committing to any of them. Your own comparison of it to an episode of Community illustrates the point, because it took you far longer to explain Delta and the Bannermen.

    We could have quite easily done with jettisoning the American agents, for example. They add absolutely nothing to the proceedings. If you want to keep them, then things could probably be reworked to do without the alien tourists or the beekeeper.

    One of the clearest signs of how overstuffed the plotting is, is that problems get waved away on a regular basis, because there just isn’t any time in the plot to take difficulties seriously and actually make them difficult. It ends up feeling like most lines in the script have no consequences behind them whatsoever.

    Frankly, the only redeeming feature of this story for me was that Billy was quite sexy. Now if only he could act.

    Reply

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