Christmas and Easter nihilists

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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. Eric Gimlin
    March 12, 2012 @ 12:52 am

    I haven't listened to any Doctor Who audio other than missing episodes, but I'll give this a go. One nice thing about Big Finish, it seems many of their programs are "first hit is cheap", so part one is only 99 cents. And unlike most of the books, the audios are actually available. Although some of the BBC books are starting to show up for Kindle, so that might be useful if more of the range starts showing up.


  2. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 1:43 am

    "The early Nathan-Turner era is fairly deliberately apolitical, but on the other hand, there is no such thing as apolitical fiction"

    From your political perspective, yes, but that's an all too conveniently sealed argument. From a Leftist standpoint, non-political is necessarily political because historical materialism allows no space for any extra-political thinking to be philosophically meaningful. If you think dialectically, then of course the concept of a non-politics is absurd. But if you think on the other hand that history is, say, randomly generated, or cyclical, or a series of expanding and collapsing soap bubbles, or if you think that God has already written down everything that has happened or will happen, then "politics", as in class struggle, the fight against dictatorship, for civil rights, for a fair wage etc. – well, it's not illusory, because however illusory the illusion it might have some necessary relation to the reality that projects it, but it's still not going to be any more significant that the need for an antibiotic or a warm bed after a hard day's work. It meets a physical need, but no more than that. As Burroughs said, "politics" is mistaking the cloth for the matador. Non-politics is what you get if you don't accept that history is going anywhere or if you do think that a God is orchestrating it. I think you are implying that there's something lazy or ignorant about an artist's refusal to engage with contemporary politics, and I think that's a very partial judgement.

    "They are nothing but puissant robots who strut around and gloat. Nothing of the original horror in their concept is retained."

    And yet they were brought back. They didn't come back for Pertwee, although I believe that was thanks to Terry Nation, and they were reduced to impuissant robots by Holmes. It's surely old-fashioned of you, and not very post-modern, to insist on the "original horror". Once the horror has gone, it's gone. Surely the Cybermen are no longer villains or monsters as the programme once understood the term. You could almost say that they've become anti-heroes. If Gene Hunt had dreamt of intergalactic villany back when he was a rookie cop, he might well have emerged on "the other side" as Cyberleader. And these new Cybermen will need Lytton like the Daleks at a particular historical point needed a Davros.

    "moral support to principles that rapidly showed themselves to be genuinely horrific."

    I watched "Yesterdays Enemy" last night (the Peter R Newman Hammer film about Burma). 8.5/10, very very good. What principles do you have in mind? Nothing horrific is ever called "genuinely horrific". Misidentifying the horror is the oldest way of avoiding having to think about the horror.


  3. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 2:07 am

    "a commitment to the ideas of social realism that have animated Doctor Who at its best".

    This I can't forgive. Social Realism has been the close to artistic death of British film and TV, not because it portrays working class life, but because it portrays it as a limiting example of the possible forms of portrayal. It's what blinded British critics to the later work of Ken Russell. It makes Ken Loach and Mike Leigh major directors, and how poverty-stricken does our national cinema have to be to allow that? "Even our dreams cower small". From Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to It's a Free World, I just find it tragic to contemplate the wasted talent and lost potential.


  4. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    It occurs to me that the Earthshock Cybermen are the first Dr Who monsters a watching child might conceivably "want to be".


  5. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 2:27 am

    "the death of Adric – is an ersatz simulacrum of drama."

    Whom to blame for just not being able to get the writers? Extraordinary that a programme that once had Holmes and Adams as script editors is now reduced to Eric Saward. I still don't know whether to blame changes in society, BBC management, JNT, ES, or the ability of the cast. The talent simply wasn't there – or wasn't hired – to do it any other way.


  6. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 2:30 am

    In the context of the claim that, 'Nothing of their original horror is maintained', it is interesting to remember that it was the 'Earthshock' costumes that were the first since 'The Tenth Planet' to actually include any reference to the organic origins of the Cybermen, with the insistence upon those clear plastic chin-pieces so that the (blackened) mouths of the actors could be seen behind them.

    In the plot, indeed, the important aspects of the Cybermen are ignored and they are simply Generic Intergalactic Villains. But there was clearly some recognition on the part of the production team that they were more than that, and that even if they couldn't get to it in 'Earthshock' because 'Earthshock' was an action story about generic intergalactic villainy, they were going to get to it sooner or later: and that's why you end up with the half-converted grotesques of 'Attack of the Cybermen'.

    (As for 'apolitical fiction'… I find it sad to think that fiction should be tied down to such a meagre realm as politics, which it ought to be addressing the deepest parts of essential human nature — of which the politics of any particular era, including our own, is merely a superficial reflection)

    (Anyone else find it ironic, on this and the 'Earthshock' entry, that you are constantly being asked to prove you are not a robot?)


  7. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 2:43 am

    Is it just me who can't wait to see what Dr Sandifer makes of Anji?


  8. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 2:52 am

    Oh, I see somebody did mention the robot thing over the weekend.


  9. Wm Keith
    March 12, 2012 @ 3:13 am

    It's not just from a leftist standpoint, though you use language which specifically identifies it as such.

    To take a different example, one method of analysing anything is to build up the big picture from all the little pieces (I forget the technical name for this model). It's basically the same as the closed-system ecology concept of the flapping butterfly in Iraq causing a mosquito to bite Donald Rumsfeld. In this system, everything impacts on everything else. Hence, everything is political.


  10. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 3:36 am

    That depends on how you define 'politics'. If you subscribe to this notion that 'everything is political' then yes, but only because you've defined 'politics' as 'everything anyone ever does ever'.

    Which is of course the progressive-left-liberal position: 'the personal is political' and all that. But that, pace Dr Sandifer, is rubbish.

    On the other hand, as soon as you have the idea that 'politics' refers to a specific bounded thing such that any action, whether personal or philosophical, can be non-political, you introduce the possibility that art can be non-political too.


  11. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 3:48 am

    I think the standpoint of "the necessity of making moral and artistic judgements based on a person's failure to understand the nature of the political" is overwhelmingly a Left one. As a closed system I think it's more like a reductive Freudianism: "You deny it because you're in denial". I would agree, say, that all things are interconnected in terms of their significance, but we might differ on the overall shape of the great chain.

    Now I'm here, I have to say I think Phil is afflicted by what I'm going to call "Oppositional Realism", which requires all opposition to be framed or re-framed in terms of anti-Capitalism, and then blames Capitalism for people being unable to think or dream outside the limits set by Capital. It's part of what did for Occupy IMO – letting Marxists in. And hence the on-going reinvention of the Facist Other, concealing the transformational potential of Fascism and thus the barbarities which follow on from revolutionary thinking. The usual fairytale is that Hitler was the tool of the Capitalists. This helps prevent people dreaming politically outside the Revolutionary scenario. The history of Crass as a popular punk phenomenon and the vilification they received by the UK music press sets out the whole of my argument, I'd add as a side note.


  12. David Anderson
    March 12, 2012 @ 4:39 am

    I would say that the political is what happens when people live together and have to work out how to do so.
    By that definition, the political is a fundamental aspect of human existence.
    I agree that, if by the political you mean the ephemeral arguments about whether to elect Coodle or Doodle, it is a fairly bounded realm, but it's not merely the left strictu senso who think that that's largely a sideshow distracting us from important questions. As for example, arguments over Team Edward vs Team Jacob shut out the possibility of Team These books are not much good.


  13. Wm Keith
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:00 am

    "as soon as you have the idea that 'politics' refers to a specific bounded thing such that any action, whether personal or philosophical, can be non-political, you introduce the possibility that art can be non-political too."

    You have to restrict your definition of "politics" to achieve that idea; for example, among the definitions listed by the Oxford dictionaries online is "the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing". Can art exist without assumptions or principles?


  14. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:05 am

    Certainly by that definition, which is one I'd accept, the political is a fundamental aspect of human existence.

    The point is that it is not the only fundamental aspect of human existence, or even the most fundamental. And art is quite capable of addressing those other fundamental aspects of human existence which are deeper than merely working out how to live together.

    (The usual Marxist argument against this is that in fact how to live together is the only fundamental aspect of human existence, and anything which is not about how to live together is actively trying to distract people from that, and therefore — because the only important part of any art is its effect — is counter-revolutionary because people distracted into thinking about other fundamentals of human nature are less likely to revolt. But this is rubbish.)


  15. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:08 am

    The Oxford dictionaries record use, so of course if some people (eg Marxists and Marxist-influenced academics like Dr Sandifer) use the word in a given sense, that sense will appear in the OED.

    That does not mean that that sense is a coherent or useful one; the OED specifically avoids making any such judgement.


  16. Sean Daugherty
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:44 am

    It's a spectacular story, as Phil says. I would also heartily recommend "The Kingmaker," another Davison audio which I'd really like to hear the esteemed Dr. Sandifer's opinion on, BTW, and both "The Holy Terror" and "Jubilee" with Colin Baker and written by Robert Shearman.


  17. Iain Coleman
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:45 am

    Marx is a bit of a Johnny-come-lately in the question of the fundamental importance of politics to human life. Aristotle famously concludes that man is a political animal, and there is a whole strand of political philosophy – civic republicanism – which stretches from Aristotle, through Machiavelli (and arguably Rousseau) to the present day.

    Lockean classical liberalism would draw a distinction between the public and private spheres, but this is an attempt to put limits on the legitimate powers and interests of the state – it does not necessarily imply that nothing in the private sphere can be political. Indeed, where Marx does come into this debate is in pointing out this problem in the standard liberal formulation of private action, and the tensions that this produces within liberalism can be seen in various contentious issues in the present day (such as whether private landlords should be able to refuse gay couples).


  18. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    SK – I am not sure where you are finding anyone claiming that politics is the only thing art can do. Certainly it's nowhere in my blog. But that does not mean that there is such a thing as apolitical art. It's not as though the political eliminates any possibility of other concerns.

    The other points I'd make have been made as well as I could possibly make them by other commenters.


  19. Sean Daugherty
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:51 am

    Anji is an interesting figure who suffered mightily from the fact that, as a young business professional, many of the writers were predisposed to dislike her out of the gate. So she doesn't have the most consistently flattering portrayal throughout her appearances. And I admit that I'm not exactly in love with the character, either in terms of concept or in execution, but I think she had more potential than was ever fully realized. Certainly, if she had been handled well she could have come off better than Trix, who suffered almost the exact opposite problem (a character designed to appeal to everyone who comes off as crass, IMO).

    But that's all quite a ways into the future.


  20. Sean Daugherty
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:54 am

    In this particular case, it seems a bit strange to accuse the production staff for not "being able to get" the intent of the writer, since Eric Saward sat on both sides of the fence here….


  21. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:56 am

    And likely to be given very short shrift – the current plan has coverage of the BBC Books line post The Burning as very, very patchy. It's possible Adventures of Henrietta Street will be Anji's only appearance in a book I cover.


  22. William Whyte
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:56 am

    Praise is obviously due to Nicholas Briggs, but I have to say Peter Hawkins and David Graham probably still just win the prize for my favourite vocal performance for episode 7 of Evil of the Daleks — that crazy chorus of "Why?"s, the childish delight of "I will NOT obey", and that death-scream that goes on for so long it stops being funny.


  23. William Whyte
    March 12, 2012 @ 5:58 am

    I think this is "not being able to obtain [good enough] writers."


  24. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    It's not even a matter of obtaining. It's a matter of willfully refusing to hire. Pat Mills, Tanith Lee, Christopher Priest, and PJ Hammond all had submissions for the Saward era that never got made. It's a fairly stunning list.


  25. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:03 am

    Even Aristotle was occasionally wrong.

    Dr Sandifer: I was unclear. I didn't mean to suggest you thought that saying that art of necessity must address politics meant that it could not address other concerns.

    I meant that claiming that art must address politics, if only by culpable omission such as you claim for 'Earthshock', places silly restrictions on art. If art can address politics without addressing, for example, the fundamental meaning of life; but is apparently barred from addressing the fundamental meaning of life without also being held to be staking some kind of political position; is that not circumscribing what art can do by privileging the political over other fundamental aspects of human existence?


  26. William Whyte
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:07 am

    Phil — would you consider giving a list of the Big Finish audios that you're planning to cover? It'd help those of us who haven't heard or got all of them. Even if you could give a week's advanced notice that'd be great. It'll be like a reading group!


  27. Sean Daugherty
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:07 am

    I think the point still stands, though, at least for Earthshock itself. It was tradition by the point for script editors to contribute at least a script or two per season, and would continue to be so until Cartmel takes over in 1987. Even if it had been surrounded by scripts by Mills, Lee, Priest, and Hammond, we'd likely still wind up with Saward's contribution. And it would likely still have the same basic problems.


  28. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:09 am

    Ah, so your only mention of Anji might be in the context of the book whose author most exemplifies the tendency identified by Lance Parkin as '[seeing] Anji working specifically in financial services as somehow making her complicit in the deaths of every baby in the Third World since the dawn of time. As opposed to, say, not.'

    You know, the one who wanted to write a scene 'in which she has the words I AM HUMAN FILTH PLEASE KILL ME permanently tattooed on her forehead, but […] didn't think [he] could get away with it.'

    I see.


  29. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:11 am

    Sure thing. This is the only one for Peter Davison. For Colin Baker, it'll be Ish… and Jubilee. 🙂


  30. Sean Daugherty
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:15 am

    That, coincidentally, was part of what I was thinking about when I mentioned "writers [who] were predisposed to dislike her" and the ways they didn't always afford her "the most consistently flattering portrayal[s]"….

    The thing is, I'm not sure how I'd approach the character using the model Phil has (quite reasonably, IMO) opted for. You can't really trace how different authors treat the character without a more complete survey. Plus, while I would be interested in seeing that angle covered, I'm not sure it's worth slamming on the breaks for the many months it would take to cover the entire latter half of the BBC Books run necessary for that sort of coverage.


  31. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:20 am

    I'm mainly interested in how far Dr Sandifer shares Miles's opinion.

    But I can wait. I am patient. That's how you can tell I come from a time before the internet.


  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    I should note that I know very little of the character, and my book selection has zero to do with her. It sounds like something interesting to flesh out when I go back and fill in the books range a bit more, which is the vague plan once the blog wraps, albeit possibly after a few months of actual freedom from writing about Doctor Who three times a week.


  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:23 am

    (Can I just note how strange it is to be called Dr. Sandifer on my blog? Because it really is.)

    I think it's misleading to phrase the view as an injunction. It's more a matter of basic necessity. Politics describes the system of social relations between and among people. Art necessarily contains a social relation between a minimum of two people. Ergo art is political. Much like all literature is necessarily concerned with the use of language, and all modern houses are concerned with wood. It's not a matter of privileging, it's a consequence of the raw materials.


  34. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:23 am

    Rather sooner, of course, we get to Big Bang: between parts 8 and 9 of 'Trial of a Time Lord', in fact.


  35. BerserkRL
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:36 am

    But I took it that the point about "Earthshock" was that its sin was more than "culpable omission" — that it deals with an inherently political issue and then places the Doctor on the wrong side of it (both objectively wrong and wrong-because-un-Doctorish).

    Incidentally, for a critique of the "authoritarian theory of politics" (our admittedly somewhat tendentious name for the view that the realm of the political is exhausted by the realm of state action), see section 2 of this.


  36. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:36 am

    But I don't feel "art is political" is at all the same, in practice, as saying (as I'd be happy to) "there's nothing about which one can't or mustn't speak politically".


  37. BerserkRL
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:37 am

    My last was intended as a reply to SK, not to Philip.


  38. Tom Watts
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:39 am

    That's terrible, all those unused scripts by real, inspired writers. And once you shoo them away, no-one decent wants to write for the show anyway.


  39. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:59 am

    'Politics describes the system of social relations between and among people. Art necessarily contains a social relation between a minimum of two people. Ergo art is political.'

    Ah, I see your two problems: first is the unspoken assumption in the first sentence.

    Politics describes the systems by which humans organise themselves into groups and live together more or less amicably.

    That is one aspect of social relations between and among people, but it is not the only aspect; there are social relationships which have nothing to do with the ways people organise their tribes, clubs, or states. (The progressive left disagrees with this, saying that 'the personal if political', but they are wrong).

    Second, it's the assumption that just because art necessarily contains a social relation between two people, it must therefore be concerned with that social relation. All literature uses language; that is not the same as all literature being concerned with the use of language. Simply because a work of art involves a conveying over a social relationship (and even that's not a given; what 'social relationship' is there between me and, say, El Greco?) doesn't mean that it necessarily has anything to say about that relationship, any more than an episode of Doctor Who is concerned with the principles of electromagnetism as a consequence of the raw materials by which it gets from the transmitter to my TV set.


  40. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 12, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    The personal is political, though. That's as basic a premise as they come for me. Alternative propositions descend into absurdism with alarming speed.

    I also think it's fair to say that an episode of Doctor Who is concerned, if not with the principles of electromagnetism, at least with the general scientific and technological circumstances that enable its transmission. That's been an underlying premise of this blog since day one – that the mechanics of transmission and production matter tremendously to what Doctor Who says and does at any given moment.

    What you're objecting to seems to me to be the idea that the politics of a given piece of art are necessarily particularly interesting. They're not, any more than the way in which the physical technology of videotape shapes how any given Doctor Who story is conceptualized is inherently interesting. It is, however, always present – always a part of what a given story is.

    I do, however, think that the politics of supposedly escapist fiction are particularly interesting, simply because they go to such overt lengths to hide themselves.


  41. SK
    March 12, 2012 @ 7:27 am

    Yes but your basic premises lead inexorably to phrases like 'quasi-sentient conceptual entity'. So, you know, pot calling the absurdist kettle a kipper.

    Certainly some episodes of Doctor Who are self-consciously referencing the technology of their own transmission, but by no means all of them do. But you'd be reaching to claim that of something like Waking the Dead.


  42. Spacewarp
    March 12, 2012 @ 7:57 am

    Although tantalising glimpses of flesh may hint at organic parts to the Cybermen, it still fails to make them horrific in any way. Troughton's Cybermen were almost completely robotic-looking and yet I remember as a child being terrified by the sight of their melting chest-units in "The Moonbase". The slow-motion ineffectual patting of their hands as the foam pours out of them was far more visceral than someone's chin poking through a glass faceplate.


  43. Iain Coleman
    March 12, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    In fairness, it's quite plausible that the Pat Mills and Christopher Priest submissions just didn't work – I don't think either author had experience of writing for television.

    Tanith Lee and P J Hammond, on the other hand, do look much more like a ball being badly dropped.


  44. srodney
    March 12, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

    Philip, Do you think that Nu Who only exists because Big Finish proved that there was still a fan base, for new Doctor Who stories?


  45. Simon Cooper
    March 12, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    It exists because Jane Tranter wanted it back as part of revitalising the BBC's Saturday Night schedule. The 'form' it came back in is clearly influenced by Big Finish and the New Adventures (as the writing credits for the first new Series attest), though.


  46. BerserkRL
    March 12, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

    I've had banter
    with Tranter
    your written word will be hailed
    in the ming mong mantra


  47. Aaron
    March 12, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

    Can I just ask, Phil, why you are covering the post burning EDA so sketchily? Is it because you yourself no little of the range past Ancestor Cell? Do you think that post-Ancestor Cell the range loses it's claim to being the official continuation of Doctor Who for some reason? Complete practicality? Just curious.


  48. SK
    March 13, 2012 @ 1:35 am

    The intention is clearly that we are to imagine rotting fleshy parts hidden behind the faceplate. That's pretty horrific.

    In execution, not so much. But it's simply not the case that the 'original horror' of the Cybermen has been totally jettisoned. Set aside for a story to make room for a generic space adventure, yes, but it's clearly remembered and will return with brutal force in their next story (assuming we don't count 'The Five Doctors' and, hey, let's not).


  49. SK
    March 13, 2012 @ 1:36 am

    The novels had been proving that for years; why would Big Finish make the difference?


  50. elvwood
    March 13, 2012 @ 9:52 am

    Phil, it just occurred to me: you talk as if there was just a single strand of Doctor Who during the 90s, with the Virgin/BBC novels; but of course the comics kept going during this period as well. Now personally I'm inclined to think of them as a "side dish", but I'm sure there are people who don't, and the form should rate at least a mention. If nothing else, when you say

    for the bulk of the McGann years there were two barely compatible versions of “new Doctor Who” being made

    that should probably be three barely compatible versions!


  51. WGPJosh
    March 13, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

    Great choice for the first "proper" Big Finish post (if even, as you said, it was a trifle obvious).

    Nothing to add to your illuminating commentary so I'll just, if I may, humbly suggest you check out (if you haven't already) the Wendy Padbury Companion Chronicle "The Memory Cheats" for Troughton and either "The Renaissance Man", the Lost Stories adaptations of "The Valley of Death" and "Foe from the Future" or the Lalla Ward adventures "The Beautiful People" and "The Pyralis Effect" for Tom Baker (the latter of which is a kind of pseudo-multi Doctor story).

    Out of curiosity, since you've now done "Spare Parts", do you plan to take a look at any of the other appearances of the Mondasan Cybermen in Big Finish, such as the Paul McGann/Mary Shelly story "The Silver Turk"?


  52. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    March 13, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

    I am of the opinion that Colin Baker and Evelyn Smythe is the best companion paring in all of Doctor Who, for which i will be forever grateful to Big Finish. The "trilogy" of Project Twilight/Project Lazarus/Arrangements for War is fantastic.

    On the flip side, Bloodtide is maybe one of the worst, most poorly written, transparent screeds I have ever sat through, and just thinking about it makes me want to put my fist through my laptop.


  53. William Whyte
    March 14, 2012 @ 4:17 am

    Adams and Bidmead tried to make Priest scripts work too and couldn't manage it (well, Adams started on one and Bidmead had another go at it). Saward sent a letter about Priest, reproduced in the relevant About Time, saying that it was hard to get good work from a "novalist". The letter reflects much worse on Saward than on Priest, but there are other examples of people who seemed qualified simply not being able to come up with something that worked, most recently Stephen Fry.


  54. William Whyte
    March 14, 2012 @ 4:18 am

    You should be able to prove you're not a robot by saying how much you like sunsets and nice dinners.


  55. Seeing_I
    March 14, 2012 @ 4:49 am

    So, am I the only one who found the faux-1950s and ersatz Christmas to be rather twee, forced, and undermining of the drama?


  56. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 15, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

    Priest I can believe, given the number of script editors, that there was a real problem. On the other hand, given that the problem with Song of the Space Whale was, apparently, that Saward objected to the idea that there would be class in the future… well, maybe I'll do the Lost Stories audio of that one and see for myself.


  57. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 15, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

    I know little of the range in general, actually. It's rather a sense that the controversial nature of The Ancestor Cell, which managed to piss off both traditionalists and the people who had been really loving the Lawrence Miles stuff, combined with the rise of the Big Finish stuff, which had actual actors in it, led to a shift in where the center of gravity for what Doctor Who was. I think up through The Ancestor Cell there's a fairly coherent continuation, but between the fact that it looked so unlikely that the series would come back after the botched TV Movie and the forking of lines it just seems to me that The Ancestor Cell marks a pretty good point to step back from that line and just lightly trace its wind-down. Certainly I see very few people raving about the tail end of the BBC Books line. People seem to really love The Burning and The Adventures of Henrietta Street, but my sense is that the popularity of the line kind of… fizzles out.

    Between that and the need to go over and cover the Big Finish stuff and my awareness that spending too much time in Paul McGann would be a mistake from a readership point of view… yeah.

    (And the readership issue is real. This post has 1170 views at present. The three before it have 1317, 1549, and 1331. That doesn't count viewers who just hit the main page or who read the post entirely in an RSS feed, but the tangible drop is apparent, and shows up for every other Time Can Be Rewritten post as well compared to the ones around it. They're always visibly unpopular compared to the posts immediately around them. So by doing the books for essentially six months I'm going to bleed readers. I expect I'll get them back by moving to the much more currently popular new series, but I don't want to try the Internet's patience too long.)


  58. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 15, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

    No more than the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie exists because of the novels.

    I mean, the idea of dusting off a once popular science fiction show for another go-around is hardly original to Russell T. Davies. I think Doctor Who would have come back on television eventually just because, at this point, everything else of even comparable size and several things much smaller have. I think it is, however, genuinely interesting that Doctor Who's spin-off material during its cancellation has proven so influential on its return. That's something I'm not sure is true of any other revitalized property.


  59. SK
    March 16, 2012 @ 1:09 am

    That's the second time in a row you've written, 'The Adventures of Henrietta Street'. So it begins to look less like a typing error.

    'As if a street could have adventures!' (Lawrence Miles)

    The single best book of the BBC range, The City of the Dead, was of course published after The Burning.

    Personally, I think you should just ignore the Big Finish stuff as, bad as the novels could sometimes be, my experience of the Big Finish plays is that their general level of quality (not counting Spare Parts) was lower even than an average Trevor Baxendale book.


  60. Sean Daugherty
    March 19, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

    I don't think that's entirely fair. There are a lot of really excellent Big Finish plays. "The Holy Terror," "The Marian Conspiracy," "The Fires of Vulcan," "The Wormery," "Jubilee," "The Kingmaker," and a number of others stand up well in comparison to both the novel range and the majority of the televised series.

    One problem, though, is that only a fraction of their output features the then-current Doctor. So they don't really fit the chronological narrative of Phil's blog, but they also suffer in that few writers are as willing to forge interesting new ground or travel off in uncharted directions when writing a story intended to slot cleanly inbetween, say, "Time-Flight" and "Arc of Infinity." The relatively recent switch to interlinked trilogies with the same main cast has helped enormously in that it allows for stories and characters to develop in a mostly organic way.

    The other problem is that when the producers tried their hand at longer arc plotting they generally showed themselves to be terrible at it. There are a number of spectacular McGann audios ("The Chimes at Midnight," "Seasons of Fear," "Scherzo," "The Natural History of Fear," and "Other Lives"), but they generally succeed despite the ham-handed attempts at arc plotting. The worst examples of the range are those stories most closely tied up in that mess ("Neverland," "Zagreus," "The Next Life," and, worst of all, "Minuet in Hell," which gets my vote for the most poorly considered piece of Doctor Who fiction in franchise history).


  61. Josiah Rowe
    March 16, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

    Yes, Martin, you are.


  62. Daibhid C
    November 10, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    Coming in late to this, but I'm reminded of two things.

    The first is a letter to Dragon Magazine in the mid-2000s complaining about the use of female pronouns in D&D as "a political decision", The writer has other, more sexist, objections, but fundementally he's saying that D&D shouldn't be making decisions based on political beliefs. The bit he misses is that not using female pronouns would also be a decision based on political beliefs, even if these beliefs were less "we actively want to be sexist" and more "we don't actually care about sexism one way or the other, and are going to do a sexist thing because it seems easier than not doing it". (See also: The Wikipedia Thing)

    The second is a Lenny Henry routine in which he mentions that his recent act has been criticised because "you're not getting political on us, are you, Len?". And he makes the reasonable point that he has strong feelings about race relations because he's black. For most people, the political is personal.


  63. Andrew Bowman
    May 10, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

    Presumably you'll be covering The Gallifrey Chronicles as the tail-end of the range? Some interesting developments in that novel.


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  66. William Silvia
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:39 pm

    What I find to be most interesting about this story is actually nothing you mentioned. You mentioned a lot of good parts, but what I find most interesting is the way the story plays with the Doctor. He comes in with all of these ideas and preconceived notions and conceives notions throughout the story, and is constantly proven to be wrong. "Not as far along as I expected; that's encouraging," says the man who has no idea where on the planet the real Cybermen are. He's sure that he gave the Cybermen a chance to be more human after destroying the Cyber Commander, without even noticing that he left the Zheng perfectly fine to continue. He deludes himself into thinking that even though he's caught up in the events and trying to change your own history is doomed to failure (a la "Day of the Daleks"), he is still so optimistic and hopeful that he lets himself think he can possibly make a difference and the story mocks him for that.

    Fun stories take the Doctor's traits and use them to make him heroic and enjoyable to watch as he wins. Powerful stories take the Doctor's traits and use them to tell tragedies about the best of intentions.


  67. John Carter
    April 17, 2015 @ 12:16 am

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