Our Imposter Syndrome cancels out our Dunning-Kruger

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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.


  1. John Callaghan
    September 18, 2013 @ 1:19 am

    You know, I actually prefer the TV version. I agree that Timothy shouldn't have been fighting and his reply that Martha leads a dangerous life (when's it's a fictional one and WWI was REAL) is a little cringe-making; I'd have had him saying "they'll need a doctor…".

    But I do prefer the love story resolution. The TV Doctor comes across as an unfeeling bastard, unlike the sympathetic Smith. He tells Joan he can feel everything Smith does, when we know he can't; the book has him apologising that he can't feel that way and Joan blandly accepts it with good wishes.

    I hate all that "fire and ice" stuff but I don't think we're meant to like the Doctor in the TV version.

    And why punish the Family at all if they're going to die in a month anyway?

    By the way, your essay would be easier to read if you put the earlier article in first, rather than lacing them together and striking one out. 🙂


  2. Daru
    September 18, 2013 @ 1:28 am

    Wow. Thank you Phil. Thank you indeed.

    I have not read Human nature and had not read any of the New Adventures at the time when the televised version aired. I knew they existed in 2005, but did not have any as I had absolutely no contact with the show or it's books during the Time war Years. I have since picked up some copies of books such as The Left-handed Hummingbird and Blood Harvest.

    So without knowing the book at all in any way whatsoever, I was blown away by the story when I first watched it. Imagine coming across this tale as an innocent in the world of Who. That's how it felt for me and my heartstrings were indeed tugged and I was very happy to allow that.

    I can really understand that from the perspective of those who read the book first that this televised version would pale in comparison. I think though this was an amazing achievement to choose to take such a book and present it to the unaware mass audience – mindblowing it was for me, really. (not that I am mass audience, I am now again a die hard fan!)

    So thanks again Phil – I agree that this is a great story made up of the past and present, many writers and all of the spaces in between Even when I watched it the first time, oblivious of the story's history, it felt as if the tale had the mass of some unseen greater life intruding into it.


  3. Frezno
    September 18, 2013 @ 3:47 am

    You got your Navidson Record in my Doctor Who blog.


  4. peeeeeeet
    September 18, 2013 @ 4:11 am

    Interesting stuff. The bit about the differences between the Two Tims is significant, to me at least. Self-pimping is rather infra-dig, but I'm going to quietly leave this here:



  5. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Practical thanks: If I ever land a university position where I have to teach Heidegger/Derrida, this is how I'll illustrate the strikeout technique of talking about traces. In fact, it makes far more sense for a new audience to that style of writing to see it here, when they haven't learned enough of the philosophical tradition to feel its weight. I read the book first too, in the early 2000s when the BBC made some notable and hard-to-find Virgin books available on its website for free. This too was a reiterated version: there were extra illustrations that gave a better visual sense to the story's events.

    Because in this case, that really is a brilliant way to describe how the original book (and your original essay on the book) haunts the current television version (and your new essay on the television version). The contrast also allows us a better view of the subtleties of how the Seventh Doctor worked. The Virgin era frequently cast McCoy's Doctor in epic terms, how much he was a monster or otherwise alien from the humans he befriended, but many of the stories, and the Seventh Doctor's own conscience, brought him back into camaraderie with humanity. That historical contrast also helps us see how truly monstrous the Tenth Doctor can be. Especially in his last conversation with Joan, the Seventh Doctor is aware of his failings and admits them, apologizing for them. The Tenth Doctor is convinced that he's the same person as Smith, when the whole story has already demonstrated that he isn't.

    Tim serves a completely different function in the televised story because he speaks to the above problem here, when in the original book he was a voice for pacifism. On TV, he delivers the monologue that justifies the Doctor by describing precisely what a monster he is: the fire and ice monologue. This is the Doctor who's capable of doling out those hideous punishments to the Family, and will culminate in the ethical repugnance of the Time Lord Victorious, the Doctor whose ultimate expression is the demand to be obeyed ("You would make a good Dalek"). Where did that come from?

    Anyway, Tim, yes. Tim. Because he praises the Doctor for his monstrousness, he doesn't have to face that challenge from Joan that the Doctor is ethically better when he's humanized. When I watched this story, Joan's point always stuck with me, lingered with me as an expression of a truth about the Doctor that he didn't want to hear. And I didn't want to hear it either, because I didn't want the Doctor to reach a point where it needed saying. My first Doctor was McCoy, the Doctor who could be monstrous, but limited himself because he understood his tendency to monstrousness as an ethical failing on his part. Tim's monologue always struck me as perverse, situating the Doctor in an order more like The Great Old Ones, when he should be in our order. The episode (and its various trailers both for this episode and throughout the Davies era) positions Tim as voicing the heroic elements of the Doctor. But this epic character has always been what alienates me from the Davies era, even as I love so many individual stories and I'm so glad he brought the show back from its cult. The conscience of the young Cornell, and the conscience of the Seventh Doctor, haunts the middle-aged Cornell, Davies, and Tenth Doctor with the knowledge that his epic existence is not to be celebrated, but is a reason for therapy.


  6. jane
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    "And why punish the Family at all if they're going to die in a month anyway?"

    Because death isn't the punishment we often think it is. Not compared to immortality.


  7. Daibhid C
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:26 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  8. elvwood
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:30 am

    Blimey, that was hard to read – but in a good way.

    I lose a lot of the impact of this analysis, though, through not having read the book. Must do so, someday – I've still got the eBook downloaded from the BBC website Way Back When lurking on my hard drive, somewhere.


  9. jane
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:31 am

    "By the way, your essay would be easier to read if you put the earlier article in first, rather than lacing them together and striking one out."

    Easier, but not better. Such juxtapositions! Such mirroring! And, I dunno, it really conveys the sense of wholesale rewriting, as if from an other editor. Like what Davies did with Cornell's script, but also what Cornell's script did with Cornell's book. Reminds me of the "editing essay" Phil posted a few weeks back. And it also speaks to how much the vocal Who critics clamor for the old division of Producer/Script Editor.


  10. jane
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:32 am

    Lindos — they're not just for breakfast anymore!


  11. Daibhid C
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:37 am

    By the way, your essay would be easier to read if you put the earlier article in first, rather than lacing them together and striking one out. 🙂

    But where's the fun in that?


  12. Chris Andersen
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:58 am

    I started watching Who with repeats of Tom Baker in America. I re-started watching Who with Matt Smith and have gone back and watched all of new Who. I'm not in the process of watching old Who (just about to finish Hartnell).

    I find it fascinating to observe the evolution of The Doctor with the constant question of whether he is the universe's greatest pacifist or its greatest monster constantly struggling throughout. It's the question that is really at the core of what makes the character of The Doctor so fascinating. As children, we might like to think of The Doctor as this lovable, silly man with a magic box. But as we grow up we realize that there is a side to him that is truly frightening (the story of Amy is almost a proxy for the relationship of long-time viewers to the show).

    The question, of course, can never be truly answered. Because, if it was, then the show would have to end. We can't have that.


  13. Bennett
    September 18, 2013 @ 6:04 am

    Love the description of A Journal of Impossible Things as a corrupted version of Doctor Who itself rather than the Doctor's diegetic memories. It makes this serial, in my mind, seem like some kind of anti-Mind Robber…where the Doctor becomes trapped in the Land of Non-Fiction and must struggle to become fictional once more.

    (Which I initially dismissed as a silly idea…until I remembered the names John Smith gave to his parents…)


  14. landru
    September 18, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    I can't really judge Human Nature the book. I don't consider them "canon" and, frankly, have found them most often lacking in entertainment value. (Oddly enough, I do like the straightforward stories as mentioned in your write up on Terrance Dicks … a book I thoroughly enjoyed.)

    Human Nature/Family of Blood is really an anomaly that I sometimes forget about completely. Not that its bad in anyway, but that it drifts so far from the norm. I find its like a blank spot in my mind. But, I do like the story quite a bit.

    But, I would also point to this as the beginning of the "rot" in the RTD era. It is, as you say, an acting exercise for David Tennant and that seems to be the basis for future inexcusably silly such "exercises" that Tennant could not pull off. In my opinion, it works here because it is so different. He IS John Smith for much of the story, not the Doctor.

    One thing I should mention is that, for me, this episode is very much about Martha. She is the Doctor in this episode. Since you were very much interested in the novel vs show, I think you missed that opportunity to discuss "The Doctor crashes into "All Creatures Great and Small" or something to that effect.

    A lot of random thoughts thrown out … flame away. 🙂


  15. BerserkRL
    September 18, 2013 @ 7:40 am

    By the way, your [strike]essay would be easier to read if you put the earlier article in first[/strike] shoelaces are undone; you might consider [strike]rather than[/strike] lacing them [strike]together and striking[/strike] ; over and [strike]one[/strike] out.


  16. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    Point the First: An absolute Corker! I love these entries. It might take some work on my part but I get far more out than I put in.

    Point the Second: This is where Tennent's Doctor and I parted ways. I had a great deal of affection for him until this point, and he had been in the running to replace McGann as my Doctor. And then…there was this story. Which at the time I found kind of abhorrent and continue to. Everyone who dies in this story, does so because the Doctor chose to run instead of stand. Because he chose to try and wait out his foes instead of take care of them. And the result? 4 Dead to provide hosts to the family, the headmaster and (IIRC) several people at the town dance. The Doctor says he cannot risk them gaining his lifespan or access to the TARDIS. So why not take them on a chase through time and space for a month? Or put their vessel in a situation where it pops out of the vortex and is destroyed? Or materialize on board an sabotage the vessel?

    Well because it would not make a very good episode you say. Well an extra diegetic answer is not good enough for me. Would a man who is “never cruel, nor cowardly” let monsters rampage across the country side trying to wait them out so his hands might stay clean? And as for cruel? Have we ever seen the Doctor do something like this before? This is where we see the core of the Tenth: he is arrogant and believes in his own right to decide what happens, and damn the cost. He would rather pay lip service to his morals rather than put them in action. It’s all good to not kill, to try and preserve life and let the family flame out. And if 7 or 8 bald apes need to die so the Time Lord’s hands remain clean, then so be it.

    This is an excellent story. There are some knockout performances. Martha is at her best here. The Family is creepy and unsettling. It’s only a shame that it comes with an episode where I lose my taste for this regeneration.


  17. Froborr
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:01 am

    The strikethrough technique is interesting, but it's really the sideways excerpts in the "margins" that make it; without them it would be just Word's Compare Documents feature. With them it's your own Journal of Impossible Things.


  18. David Anderson
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    You must have been pleased to find the Blake illustration. It had me wondering for a moment whether this and Blink were originally broadcast in reverse order.


  19. David Anderson
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:19 am

    I presume the Doctor expected to hide more effectively. He underestimated the Family's ability to track him.


  20. David Thiel
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:48 am

    I hate, hate, hate this story, partially for the reasons you describe, and partially because so many others seem to love it so much. Aside from the utter nonsense of attempting to wait out antagonists who can travel freely through time, for me it comes down to this: this person who devises elaborate, eternal punishments for his foes is not the Doctor, and for anyone (including RTD) who believes otherwise, this is where we part ways. No argument, no compromise; leave your jusifications and explanations about the alchemical nature of the show at the door. That the script never even once contemplates the obvious alternative to this Doctor-in-name-only's attempt at being merciful–simply NOT being cruel and cowardly–makes me hate it all the more.


  21. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  22. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 8:51 am

    David Anderson: Which does not take away from the fact he'd rather keep his hands clean and put a large group of defenseless people in danger rather than clean up after himself.

    David Thiel: I am glad at least one person agrees with me about this.


  23. Seeing_I
    September 18, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    Great post but I have to say I'm a little disappointed you didn't tackle the "Martha deals with racism" angle to this story. I know there is a LOT more going on, but it's the one and only time, to my memory, that the new show tackles racial inequality issues head-on.


  24. Seeing_I
    September 18, 2013 @ 9:05 am

    I agree with you, but considering the over-arching project of the RTD years seems to be that the Doctor fails his own ideals as often as he upholds them, I can accept it. It makes me mad at the Doctor but not the show. The Doctor is not an uncomplicated, one-dimensional hero, and I think the overall narrative of Who is the stronger for it.


  25. koreagolfer
    September 18, 2013 @ 9:51 am

    1) Reading a post obviously written in the spirit of Molly Bloom; expecting to find the reason for that revealed during the text, maybe as a punchline
    2) Not having encountered expected explanation, asking yourself if "Hooray" is meant to echo "yes I said yes I will Yes", which is among the less far-fetched theories you come up with
    3) Learning that the Feedly app for Android completely ignores the strike-through tag


  26. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    That makes it no easier to sit down and watch a man we are supposed to find heroic, get innocent people killed. It might fit into a larger arc, it might make the narrative strong from a distance but how does it feel to watch it? I am left cold. Not really wanting to see anything else with this man who calls himself the Doctor.

    It's a good thing Blink has so little of the Doctor in it. After this I always need a pallet cleanser.


  27. Daibhid C
    September 18, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    I tend to agree; I don't expect the Doctor to be an uncomplicated one-dimensional hero (I'm a McCoy fan for heaven's sake), but I prefer it when he's not actually the monster.


  28. Seeing_I
    September 18, 2013 @ 11:48 am

    But why does he have to be either a Hero or a Monster? He's both at the same time…which is pretty human, really. OK so you want him to be a hero. But a "hero" in the classical sense always has a fatal flaw which causes him to over-reach himself. A hero who never makes any mistakes is a god.

    The Doctor doesn't want to be (and the show doesn't want him to be) a god, and so he makes mistakes, then runs from them, tries to deny them, over-reacts to compensate for them. He is punishing the Family for his failures, and it's that kind of over-reach that leads to his downfall. It's all part of the revamp of the Doctor from Icon to Character that began with McCoy. You'd never spend a minute puzzling over what the Fourth Doctor's motivations are, or what the Second Doctor might feel guilty about. Whereas RTD's show is a thorough interrogation of the very idea that we want flawless heroes to believe in.


  29. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    His behavior here is monstrous. It is callous and self serving. It's not a fatal flaw, because in a classical sense it would lead to HIS undoing. Here? It gets innocent people killed while he gets to walk away. What does this adventure cost him? Nothing.

    The interrogation fails if you want to abandon the show in disgust. We still have to want to see more of him. Whenever I hear that noise and see the Tenth Doctor walk out, I feel disappointment. There is only one version of our Time Lord that I enjoy less.


  30. David Anderson
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    I assume we're supposed to believe that the Doctor thought hiding would minimise the probable number of innocent deaths. Any other course of action would be more likely to get people killed. (Also, he was planning to open the watch at the first sign of trouble. Also, it was the TARDIS that picked that time and place.)
    I don't think we're meant to exonerate the Doctor entirely, but at the same time I think it's preferable to assume he made a reasonable decision rather than an unreasonable one if assuming the former is more enjoyable.


  31. David Thiel
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    And there's no reason for any of it. Three weeks prior, Mr. "No Second Chances" was pleading for rapprochement with the Daleks. The Daleks. Then along comes a set of third-string villains, and suddenly the Doctor is so full of fire and ice and unlimited rice pudding that the only way he can stop himself from subjecting them to cruel, Gaimanesque torments is to wipe his own mind and hide out amongst a bunch of soft targets. No. This is not only not the Doctor as I know him, it's not the character he was the week before, or will be the week after.


  32. Alex Antonijevic
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    Yeah, I was also getting a House of Leaves vibe from this post.


  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    That's fine. It's not the same show it was last week or next week either.


  34. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

    Yes. But "Fear Her" or "Daleks Take Manhattan" did not make me actively dislike the either of the main characters of the program nor make it less likely for me to watch the week after.


  35. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

    Did any of you have a look at my longer comment from earlier this morning? Because Phil and I are both speaking to your concerns. His essay concentrates on the differences and similarities of the novel and the TV story, but those differences include a shade of monstrousness to the Tenth Doctor that the Seventh Doctor purposely stepped away from. And Tim's role in the story completely changes. He was a voice for a pacifist perspective on problem solving in the novel, but on TV, he's a voice for the epic conception of the Doctor's character that situates him as beyond the concerns of humans. The presence in the story of Tim's praise lets the Doctor forget Joan's lesson that the Tenth Doctor's disconnection from humanity takes him beyond good and evil in a destructive way.

    I also think some of you guys miss the point of the Doctor's original plan in the story. He hid so he could let the Family drift until they died without doing any harm, just like the third-rate villains they were. They were so violent to the people the Doctor cared about (all the townspeople, the school students and officials, Joan, and Smith himself) once they found him, that he wasn't going to let them off easy again. He gave into vengeance only AFTER the Family's massacres. And he justified that vengeance as punishment. They were punishments specifically speaking to the fact that they were third-rate villains trying to punch above their weight. They received epic punishments far beyond their own powers to teach them not to tangle with gods. "Gods like me," says the Tenth Doctor. It reminded me of those old Greek stories where mortals tried to mess around with godly business and were casually given theatrical punishments of eternal torture.


  36. John Nor
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    OK so a lot to comment on.

    I like the style of it – did you write the book/Pertwee-era comparison knowing it could be adapted (as it were) to TV-story/Davies-era comparison?

    “In this regard, Like much of the Tennant era, The Family of Blood is in part a reaction against the Davies-era Doctor Who at large.”

    Considering the Tennant era is much of the Davies-era that's an odd notion but I understand what you mean, I think.

    The question of the Time War hovers over this era.

    I think partly this is why Remembrance Day is brought to the fore, as that means World War II as well as World War I, which gives greater meaning to the “you don’t have to fight,” – “I think we do” lines, especially given the longstanding Nazi parallels of the Daleks.

    Between the broadcast of this story and today, the last known trench veteran of World War I, who was British, died.

    So for that reason also – veterans were still remembering that day – I think it was appropriate to acknowledge Remembrance Day during 2007.

    “fluffy pink slipper” So very different from the TV version.

    I haven't read the book – this element, lost for the TV, sums up perhaps a difference: for this TV story, John Smith is very much a regular human, and the John Smith of the book sounds like a Doctorish human.

    That scene, different from the book, and John Smith's casual racism regarding Martha emphasise this is NOT the Doctor.

    “In Human Nature, the Doctor becomes human to better understand Benny. In The Family of Blood he does it to avoid a bunch of monsters, as a quickly cobbled together ruse.”

    Interesting point – the Doctor on TV doesn't even want to understand humanity.

    “The book is full of crossed out passages and chaotic writing”

    “And yet within it is the history of Doctor Who. Tellingly, within it we get our first proper glimpse of the wilderness years from which Human Nature originated, with all possibility that Paul McGann doesn’t count officially rejected on screen.”

    So to continue that reading, that book, like the wilderness years contains the essentials of what Doctor Who is, including the Eighth Doctor, but it's rewritten and amorphous.

    I like how the Cybermen as drawn are the essence of the Cybermen, their head-handles and blank expression and not much else.

    “This context is emboited within the story in the form of the Journal of Impossible Things, itself a reworking of Steven Moffat’s contribution to the original novel.”



  37. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    It's meant to be a story, in part, about how monstrous the Tenth Doctor can be when he lets himself escape his human obligations and walk in the realm of gods. If the story makes you uncomfortable by doing that, then it succeeded.


  38. Theonlyspiral
    September 18, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    Adam, I've written about 7 or 8 replies but I'm having trouble putting my feelings on this into words properly. You have a point about exploring his monotonousness, but that exploration made this entire incarnation of the character less enjoyable for me. The best episodes in the Tenth Doctor's run are Doctor Light episodes. I think that's fairly telling.

    For myself (And David as well it seems) this is a fairly mortal blow to the Tenth Doctor's ability to serve as a protagonist.


  39. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    Like I said, that's the centre of my relative alienation from the Davies vision of Doctor Who — the monstrousness of the Doctor for his life in the realm of gods. It doesn't keep me from enjoying the stories of the Tennant era: the productions themselves are of good enough quality overall for me to love them, and Tennant's character clearly is the Doctor.

    For all the comparisons I've seen of Eccleston to him, I really think Tennant's Doctor is closest to the concept of Colin Baker's Doctor. The only difference is that Tennant's Doctor is charming and seductive, even while his arrogance and occasional monstrosity slide him into villainous territory. And the overall quality of his scripts charms the audience to him as well. A big reason Colin's Doctor failed on TV was because so few of the writers were up to the difficult task of finding a way for his Doctor to be charming. Ultimately, Tennant's Doctor (along with Colin's, some moments of Sylvester's, and the early stories of the brash and cowardly Hartnell or the manic Troughton) is sometimes a Doctor you can't quite trust. He isn't a monster all the time; just when he's pushed into that territory.

    I don't think Matt Smith's portrayal shades into monstrosity at all — he's wrathful sometimes, but never monstrous. And I don't think Tennant's Doctor is always monstrous — he sometimes does villainous things, and isn't quite self-conscious enough to understand that villains aren't villains by nature, but people who do villainous things frequently. Nonetheless, Tennant's Doctor alienates me from him because he's capable of this villainy, and it jars more deeply with the rest of his character because he's otherwise capable of such incredible charm.

    I think it's a major factor as well that the Tenth Doctor only reaches truly monstrous levels in punishing the Family and in The Waters of Mars. On both occasions, he's alone. He's left Martha on Earth to wait for him while he carries out the Family's punishments, and he's been travelling alone for a while by the time he shows up at Bowie Base. Donna was right in The Runaway Bride that the Tenth Doctor specifically needs someone to stop him. His conscience isn't always powerful enough to hold him back.


  40. Iain Coleman
    September 18, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    In your list of "Doctors you can't trust", you mention five of the ten Doctors so far. That would suggest that untrustworthiness is a general trait of the character. But the Doctors you don't mention include Pertwee, Tom Baker and Davison. That means there's a long stretch from 1970 to 1984 in which the Doctor is straightforwardly heroic (at least inasmuch as Tom Baker can be said to be straightforwardly anything). So a large cohort of fans grew up with their Doctor being of the heroic variety, only coming to appreciate other versions when they were older. At an emotional level, many fans on this cohort expect the Doctor to be unambiguously heroic and for the narrative to justify his actions, and it's not surprising that they get upset when this doesn't happen. To fans more emotionally connected to Sylvester McCoy or William Hartnell, the dark side of the tenth Doctor is something they can take in their stride, but to fans who formed their attachment to the Doctor in the 70s and early 80s, this is harder to reconcile with the Doctor they grew up with.


  41. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

    Untrustworthiness (or to be more accurate to the nuance of the character, trust-skepticism) is, I would say, a perennial trait of the Doctor. The Doctor has always had dickish characteristics, mostly having to do with the various articulations of his arrogance. Even among the Doctors I could call, according to my schema in my last comment, unambiguously heroic, Pertwee could be an imperious prick, Tom Baker gruff and insulting, the same as Eccleston, Davison tetchy and irritable, the same as audio McGann and Smith. But in those five, I don't think those traits interfered with the Doctor's heroism, with his trustworthiness.

    In the early period of Hartnell, which Phil so beautifully described as the time before he learned to be a hero, the Doctor could be a coward and manipulative. Troughton was a tornado, and even his friends couldn't always be sure what he was up to or whether they'd survive his schemes. McCoy was similarly cagey. No Doctor was a bigger asshole than TV Colin Baker (even audio Colin definitely had his moments) to the point where his television stories and era were actively ruined by the character (and the writers who had no idea how to write a douche charismatically or a companion as anything other than peril monkey).

    Tennant has this arrogance that, when it operates on a particular scale, carries over into monstrosity: the wrathful god, the Time Lord Victorious. That arrogance is of a different character than the earlier Doctors' brands of dickishness. It's fascinating in that a writer who knows how to use this trait while maintaining the Doctor's charisma (basically just Davies and Cornell) can make a brilliant, intriguing story, like Human Nature/Family of Blood and Waters of Mars. But dickish arrogance taken to an epic scale becomes monstrous, and that alienates me a little from the Tennant Doctor. Not enough that I'd actively hate his era (I enjoy the Tennant era and own all the dvds), but enough that I stand a little more distantly from Tennant's Doctor as a character than I do over just about any of the others.

    The only more distant one was TV Colin Baker, because he was an asshole, and Davison whenever Eric Saward wrote him, because Saward seemed to have no idea how Davison's Doctor could be heroic without shooting something or having someone shoot something.


  42. Variaga
    September 18, 2013 @ 3:41 pm


    When I read House of Leaves, my initial assessment was "40% interesting ideas, 60% pretentious crap", however about 3/4 of the way through I decided to re-imagine it as a lost Doctor Who novel from the time war era after which it got much more enjoyable.

    — spoilers for House of Leaves, sort of —

    The house is a crashed TARDIS, damaged by the war. Its pilot is dead, and control console destroyed, but the TARDIS itself is still alive although blind and in pain.

    Its chameleon circuit is still active, letting it appear as an ordinary house. (One character more-or-less describes it as "not a hours, but something pretending to be a house" – can't be bothered to look up the exact quote). Its trans-dimensional nature persists, leading to the "bigger on the inside" character* with an (apparently) infinite range of corridors and rooms contained within. Explorers of the house occasionally experience dramatic shifts in the local gravity such as having a wall transition to a floor.

    Our crashed TARDIS retains the ability to reshape its internal topology and to "dematerialize" objects left within the house. Both actions are accompanied by a noise that is variously described as a "growling" or "groaning" – witnesses in the book are divided on whether it is an animal or mechanical noise.

    It also retains its telepathic circuits, leading to the observed behavior that the house seems to respond to the mental state of its inhabitants. For example a character that feels "trapped" encounters a series of smaller and smaller rooms. Other characters initially experience the a staircase (which they suspect might be infinite) as several kilometers high taking several days to traverse, while a later character who knows the staircase is finite finds the same staircase to only be a few hundred feet high.

    And of course the telepathic feedback between the TARDIS (in pain, desperate for escape) and the minds of the inhabitants leads to the depression and madness.

    I call it "This House Will Never Let Us Go".

    *Seriously: how can you hear "bigger on the inside" (a phrase which appears dozens of times in the book) without thinking of a TARDIS?


  43. Alex Antonijevic
    September 18, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    Also interesting that every time the word "house" is written, it appears in blue.


  44. BerserkRL
    September 18, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

    Writing a character as likable and even admirable, yet also an asshole, is tricky, but perfectly possible, as both Sherlock and Tony Stark attest. I would have loved to see Colin Baker's doctor get such a treatment.


  45. Toby Brown
    September 18, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  46. Toby Brown
    September 18, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

    It was actually this story that allowed me to enjoy stories involving Tennant's Doctor finally. For so much before this, it felt like the show genuinely believed that his Doctor was this wonderful, incredible person. This story carries that on, but in such a morally abhorrent way that it allowed me to dissociate Tennant from any concept of Doctor Who that I enjoyed. For me, series 4 was the 'Donna in the Tardis' show with David Tennant as a guest star because this story made me accept that I could never enjoy his Doctor, so why bother? Then it was followed by an episode Tennant contributes 10 minutes to and it's the best episode of his era, proving that Doctor Who would actually do better without this particular Doctor.


  47. encyclops
    September 18, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    I'm pretty sure I saw the TV version first and then sought out a used (and only slightly expensive) copy of the novel, which I'd missed the first time around when I started to lose interest in the Virgin line (which I regret, because I appreciate it so much more now). It might be the better order, because then you can be wowed by the TV version and even more wowed by the book, rather than superwowed by the book and then let down a little by the TV version.

    But there's still plenty of amazing left in the TV version, and some days I still think this is the best the new series has to offer. I don't particularly like the Tenth Doctor, and I'd agree with David Thiel and Theonlyspiral that this episode is exhibit A, and I'd agree with Adam and Seeing_I that this is a strength of the story and not a weakness. Plus the Tenth Doctor is essentially absent for almost all of this, and John Smith is quite charming, allowing us to enjoy Tennant without Ten.

    When I first saw this, it struck me for some reason as the most classic-feeling story we'd had so far. Partly it was the pace (a two-parter is closer to the length of most classic stories), partly the monsters (who feel trad in a way I find hard to pinpoint), partly probably the relative lack of modern-day references and flavors. And then of course it was mashed up with stuff the classic series never really did: romance, big themes at the forefront rather than the background, an absent Doctor.

    I'm pretty sure this was the story that convinced me I wanted to sign on for the long haul, after 2.5ish seasons of holding the new series at arm's length. I think now that I was nuts to remain unsold for so long, but hindsight is 20/20.

    I'm not sure I believe no other Doctor could have pulled this off onscreen. I actually think Matt Smith is the actor to beat in the new series, and maybe (I haven't seen enough Troughton to be sure) in the old series as well. But I think what Tennant does is indeed stunning and I don't think any other Doctor could have done it better.


  48. David Thiel
    September 18, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

    @Adam: Yes, I read your post. Did you not read mine? I simply do not care about whatever point this story is trying to make. It's a betrayal of a character who was once described, as noted above, as "never cruel or cowardly." Suddenly, he's both cowardly AND cruel, without cause or justification.

    People like to point out the First Doctor wanting to bash in a caveman's head, but that was literally the first story. The writers were still trying to figure out who the character was. And Seven was manipulative, but there's a huge difference between allowing the Daleks to blow themselves up and inventing exotic, ironic, eternal tortures.

    And yes, I understood the Doctor's plan. But again, the notion that one could outwait a group of time travellers is nonsensical. How would you ever know you'd succeeded? How many years would Martha have to had played a maid to John Smith's racist girlfriend before she could be absolutely certain that the Family weren't going to pop out of the Vortex?

    While the Doctor's punishments were indeed meted out in response to the Family's actions, the implication was that the reason he hid from them was to save them from himself, that if he was to deal with them there would assuredly be fire, blood and crushing of the lesser races. You know, as opposed to NOT doing any of those things. Soldeed was punching above his weight too, and the Doctor didn't build an infinite maze for him to wander forever.

    As I wrote above, if this is your idea of the Doctor, it's not one which I can in any way share. And the only reason that this didn't turn me off the show permanently was that by the next week they forgot that it ever happened.


  49. Mark Patterson
    September 18, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

    But as has been pointed out, "cowardly" isn't a part of the Doctor's motivation at any point in this story. You may not like or be convinced by the alternative explanation it offers – and I can see why, because it's not fleshed out as much more than a fig leaf covering the obvious fact that the real reason he does this is because the concept of the episode requires it), but it's still explicitly there. Cruel…yeah, that one I can see, but it's also notable that, as you point out, this only creeps into his characterisation on a tiny pair of extreme circumstances, and is counterbalanced elsewhere by any number of instances of extreme kindness, sympathy, and nobility.

    I'm not going to try to persuade you that you should like the Tenth Doctor, any more than I should like the Third (who I find similarly dislikeable, but try – like you – not to let it interfere with my enjoyment of his better stories). But I don't think it's accurate to define the Tenth Doctor as a character solely on these terms, any more than it would be fair to allow the occasional moments of misogyny, racism, arrogance (the latter of which has directly led to the deaths of far more characters than anything Tennant does in this story, under almost every Doctor), colonialism or selfishness that have occasionally marred the character of every incarnation to date.


  50. Mark Patterson
    September 18, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

    Gaah. I hate writing on my phone. Please assume that there's some form of meaning hidden behind the garbled syntax of the previous post.


  51. Mark Patterson
    September 19, 2013 @ 12:01 am

    Also also (and I apologise for post-spamming – I'll try to gather my thoughts and wait to respond properly from an actual computer next time)…

    "the implication was that the reason he hid from them was to save them from himself, that if he was to deal with them there would assuredly be fire, blood and crushing of the lesser races"

    Really? I didnt take it that way at all, and I'd be very surprised if that was the intent. I took it as him saying that if he'd fought against them he'd have ended up having to kill or imprison the Family themselves, and as their lifespan was so short, and their only hostile intent (at that point) was directed against the Doctor himself, that it would be kinder simply to let them live out their lives occupied with a fruitless search for him, during which there'd be less chance of them hurting anyone else. He was collossally wrong, of course, but that's par for the course.

    The chase-through-time concept doesn't make a lick of sense, it's true, but by that measure nor does almost any time travel story in the history of the show, from 'The Chase' through to 'The Name Of The Doctor'. The horse has, I fear, well and truly bolted on that one.


  52. David Anderson
    September 19, 2013 @ 1:43 am

    Troughton is frequently cowardly. Or at least, he has a far firmer belief that discretion is the better part of valour than, say, Pertwee has. Don't shoot me, I'm a genius, indeed.


  53. Dinah
    September 19, 2013 @ 1:43 am

    Delurking after everyone has stopped reading these comments to say that I like both Hartnell's and McCoy's doctors, and agree that the Doctor is not always straightforwardly trustworthy. He is not an entirely safe and one-dimensional hero – not even, always, in the Tom Baker era (Davison's was probably the most reliably nice, and Pertwee the most standard heroic leading man).

    I am also not particularly worried by his Family of Blood avoidance strategy, except to say that it does illustrate a problem with a interventionist strategy as opposed to a non-interference directive: if the Doctor gets involved a lot, he makes enemies, and thence becomes a target, and therefore is always a source of risk to those standing near him.

    But I agree with David Thiel in that I don't remember any other instance of the Doctor being gratuitously and never-endingly cruel to defeated enemies (calling it 'punishment' does not change this). That's quite different from Hartnell's panicked desire to bash in the skull of a caveman he's frightened of, or to McCoy's chess-playing. Personally I don't find the answers of the 'character is complex, show depends on variety, theme is interesting' quite enough here. Hartnell, Troughton and McCoy – and less successfully C. Baker – do show how the Doctor can be imperfect, complex, difficult and even scary, but for me the end of Family of Blood isn't an evolution, it's a complete rewrite. It doesn't make me dislike the tenth Doctor, it makes my previously suspended disbelief thump downwards while I think 'Oh look, the writers are hitting their hubris-leads-to-darkness theme again' (am I right in thinking that all people involved here are from the right generation to have seen Star Wars at a formative age?). Clearly a lot of people think his character can stretch this far, but if you don't it's very jarring. And as (too late) a final point: an appeal to the intrinsic variability of Doctor Who won't solve all problems: if the character shifts too radically in accordance with whatever theme a writer feels like exploring, the variety loses what it is playing off. A completely fluid character is not a character at all.


  54. Assad K
    September 19, 2013 @ 3:26 am

    A bit late to the party, but I am glad I was not the only person scratching his head over the Doctors strategy in this story.. and a bit perturbed by the Godfather-like montage of his vengeance (while he weeps over the Master.. something odd here..). So I am curious about what elements were Rusty's rewrites and what elements were Cornells? Is that clarified in the Writers Tale? Because the Doctors vengeance seems unlike Paul Cornells usual depiction of the Doctor (I will have to point out, though, that Love & War is the only Cornell Who piece I have not read…).


  55. Ross
    September 19, 2013 @ 3:43 am

    The situation with the Family is a bit of a tricky one for the Doctor's well-established moral framework; they're chasing him, and if they hurt other people, it's not because they're attacking those other people, but because those other people are in the Family's way as they try to get The Doctor.

    And this means that the Doctor's choice is to either kill the Family in self-defense, or to run away. This is the moral sticking point for the Doctor: if he kills the Family, it's not "Defend the helpless even though it might lead to the aggressors being killed," it's outright "Chase down and execute these bad people", and I have no problem with the idea that he considers that the moral line he's unwilling to cross — in fact, I think it's probably the line I'd draw too.


  56. Ross
    September 19, 2013 @ 3:47 am

    @David Thiel: People like to point out the First Doctor wanting to bash in a caveman's head, but that was literally the first story. The writers were still trying to figure out who the character was.

    And MacGyver used a submachine gun in the first episode.

    And yes, I understood the Doctor's plan. But again, the notion that one could outwait a group of time travellers is nonsensical. How would you ever know you'd succeeded?

    This is a non-issue; the idea that time travelers are tethered to each other in some way is so engrained in the series that it's always shocking when that isn't the case. It's entirely clear that when the Doctor says they'll die in a few months, he means "wherever we go in time and space, if we wait for a few months and don't see them, they're dead dead dead.


  57. David Thiel
    September 19, 2013 @ 5:24 am

    @Dinah: Yes to all of this. Tennant is still my favorite Doctor despite this episode, which I see as less about him than it is about whatever the writers felt they had to make him for the sake of the story they wanted to tell.

    What I'm saying is this: those scarecrows aren't the only strawmen on display. This fire and ice Doctor exists solely as a counterpoint to John Smith, giving Joan an opportunity to heap scorn on the character–and, by extension, the series–that the audience loves. Which might be acceptable if next week the show was renamed "John Smith" and was about a schoolteacher and his despicably racist girlfriend, who don't travel through space and time battling monsters, but rather sit at home making judgmental comments about the more interesting people they meet.


  58. John Callaghan
    September 19, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    Actually, BerserkRL, once I started using velcro shoes, I never went back!


  59. Andrew
    September 19, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

    Variaga, that is a fantastic idea (and the 40/60 interesting/crap ratio is exactly right).


  60. DN
    September 20, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    The theme of the Doctor's "cowardice" actually comes up rather frequently throughout the show, mostly in relation to his reluctance to kill. In Resurrection of the Daleks, Davros calls him a coward for refusing to kill him and thereby prevent the carnage he is planning. "Action requires courage," Davros tells the Doctor, "something you lack." The Ninth Doctor also opts for this sort of cowardice in The Parting of the Ways, when he has to choose between wiping out humanity and the Daleks or inaction. "Then prove yourself, Doctor," the Emperor demands, "What are you, coward or killer?" And the Doctor replies, "Coward. Any day." So Ten's reluctance to kill here is actually entirely in keeping with the Doctor's established character.

    And honestly, refusing to kill them straight off the bat simply is the better choice. His choice, he thought, was between hiding out for three months and allowing the Family of Blood to die without causing any damage, or fighting them and risking others being hurt. His plan backfired only because Tim took the watch, and he was unable to turn back into the Doctor in time to easily defeat the Family and prevent any sort of harm from befalling the people in the town. If it hadn't been for that, no one would've been harmed at all. He would have turned back into the Doctor the moment Martha saw the ship land.

    Additionally, as for classic-series Doctors being unlikely or incapable of the sort of behavior Ten displays at the end of Family of Blood, well, you're all entirely right. You know what the key difference is between Ten and the other Doctors is? The Time War. Fighting on the front lines of a war that bloody and violent, as a soldier, had an indelible effect on the Doctor's personality. You cannot expect him to behave as though he is the same person. Because he isn't. Ten's struggle to understand and accept the limitations of his power–his arrogance–is a direct result of the Time War. With the Time Lords gone, there is no one powerful enough to stop him from going too far, from overreaching. (In The Waters of Mars, Adelaide asks him, “Is there nothing you can't do?” And Ten replies, “Not anymore.”) Classic-series Doctors always had the threat of the Time Lords looming over them to prevent them from breaking the Laws of Time, for example, or to serve as a safety net in case they failed. Ten does not. The power vacuum left by their death is something Ten repeatedly struggles with–because he feels that it is his responsibility to fill it. (In New Earth, he says to Novice Hame, "If you don't like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, then there isn't one. It stops with me.") His character arc is the gradual realization that simply because he CAN do something, that does not necessarily mean that he SHOULD, that he risks becoming a monster if he strays too far in that direction. This flirtation with monstrousness was necessary in the aftermath of the Time War. It was a lesson the Doctor needed to learn, so that future incarnations could be content to be rather more humble. And it was, in my opinion, an interesting storyline for RTD to toy with, something that it had never really been possible to do before.


  61. peterbaker13
    September 22, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

    "with a tiny but significant assist from Steven Moffat (who plotted John Smith’s children’s fantasy book)"

    Hang on a second! Are you saying that the story in which the Doctor is a human inventor from Victorian England who builds a time machine, discovers primordial Gallifrey, and essentially creates Time Lord civilisation before fleeing the oppressive bureaucracy it becomes… was written by Steven Moffat? This holds fascinating implications for Moffat's conception of the Doctor's identity. Is there anywhere we could read more about this?


  62. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 22, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    Not really – it's on the acknowledgments page of the book: "Andy Lane, Steven Moffat, Helen Reilly – Criticism and structural advice. (Steven also plotted Dr. Smith's fantasy story.)" That's the extent I know about it.


  63. Jack Graham
    October 5, 2013 @ 2:31 pm



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