Eruditorum Press

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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.

61 Comments

  1. David Anderson
    June 15, 2012 @ 2:38 am

    Yes. I was a bit underwhelmed by Dalek (for reasons why I was underwhelmed by much of the RTD era); Jubilee is just brilliant. The personality of the central dalek in Jubilee is just a good deal more interesting.
    I suppose though that there's a lot more that you can do with the ideas of daleks and the Doctor saving the day when you're writing for the target audience for Big Finish as opposed to the target audience for the reboot.

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  2. Seeing_I
    June 15, 2012 @ 4:08 am

    Great analysis. The other key point to this story, it always seemed to me, is that every single character – except Evelyn – is bending over backwards to deny taking responsibility for free will. Rochester and his wife both have their delusions of being forced to act a certain way, their lackeys are "just following orders," and the Dalek itself is driven mad by being forced to think for itself instead of just saying "I obey." (Much more satisfying than being driven mad by Rose's tasty DNA.) Key line in this story for me? "Take me back to my cell."

    In my view, Nicholas Briggs and Rob Shearman more or less singlehandedly rescued the concept of the Daleks and managed to turn them into credible, intelligent menaces on their own merits, freed (as much as possible) from nostalgia. First with "Dalek Empire" and then with this story, they blew off the cobwebs and stretched the parameters of what a Dalek was and how it could act and speak – Daleks whose vocabulary banks did know the word "pi-ty" and even better, could use the concept as a weapon. Great stuff.

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  3. BerserkRL
    June 15, 2012 @ 5:12 am

    Daleks whose vocabulary banks did know the word "pi-ty" and even better, could use the concept as a weapon.

    It won't work on River Song, though.

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  4. Adam Riggio
    June 15, 2012 @ 5:22 am

    In so many ways, this is what Big Finish (or what I sometimes think of as the Haigh-Ellery/Briggs era of Doctor Who) is for. It's not necessarily to be thought of as correcting the flaws of the Nathan-Turner era, or giving the 1980s-90s Doctors a chance to do more complete versions of their characters, though that revision is important to show the true potential of many of their characters. This is Doctor Who done with the respect it deserves.

    There have been a few moments in the course of the blog that Phil has quite poetically diagnosed the essential problem with Nathan-Turner's era of Doctor Who: The Five Doctors entry, the death segment of Logopolis, and the Why On Earth Was This Made? segment of Terror of the Vervoids last week. He thought of Doctor Who and its history as a series of superficial fetishes with no deeper meaning, and that all of which Doctor Who was capable was that superficiality. Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicolas Briggs, in the Jubilee case Rob Shearman, and many of the other best writers of Big Finish understand the complexity and power of the images and concepts Doctor Who has developed.

    A story like Jubilee can use the iconography of Doctor Who to show the power of an idea that has come to be treated superficially. And in the Eruditorum's narrative, it examines the social problems of refusing to take history seriously, which is also a look at the causes of the cancellation. The continual downgrade in quality from 1982-6 that resulted in the 1989 cancellation was based in having taken the show to be capable only of superficiality. In the larger political sphere, when one takes the ugly elements of one's history superficially, as empty signifiers that could never have had any weight, that's the greatest moment of danger of repeating those destructive acts.

    To overcome the mistakes of the past, you must never take yourself to have overcome them, and safely sanitize those mistakes as superficial toys and icons. Jubilee articulates the show as a living history, an ongoing process. And politically, we as humans have to understand history as a living process by which we are the products of our destructive pasts. Only by understanding this element of our current identities can we genuinely become a better society. Overcoming past ills isn't a matter of learning to forget them, but including them in your identity in a way that makes you stronger through accepting the possibility of weakness.

    I did not expect to have gone full Nietzsche when I started writing this.

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  5. Alan
    June 15, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    Sigh. I hate that scene so much. I consider the exact moment that River ceased to be an engaging and mysterious figure and became a Mary Sue.

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  6. Alan
    June 15, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    This is what stands at the heart of the Dalek's concluding paradox whereby the Daleks, to conquer the universe, must never conquer the universe.

    The scene where the Doctor persuades the Dalek that if the Dalek race exterminates all other races, it will begin self-extermination based on arbitrary intra-Dalek distinctions was brilliant and thought-provoking. And also saddening because RTD didn't think enough of the scene when he was reconfiguring "Jubilee" into "Dalek" to remember it when he was writing "Journey's End." I was practically begging the Doctor, Rose, Sarah or any other the other characters to ask Davros the following question: "So if you destroy the entire multiverse and disintegrate every atom that isn't Dalek, what will you do afterwards? What's the point of the Daleks if they don't have anything left to exterminate?"

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  7. Dougie
    June 15, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    Just listened to this again in response to her Maj's jubilee. I had forgotten much of the black, black humour at work in it. But equally, so much of what is powerful about it wouldn't fly in the Fear Factor/Scares world of TV Who: the elements of sado-masochism and domestic violence; Rochester's twisted logic, especially the grotesquerie of his tribute dwarves; the resonance of the names Rochester and Lamb; and the echoes and excesses of Jacobean Revenge Tragedy and "Silence of the Lambs".

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  8. BerserkRL
    June 15, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    There are River scenes I grump about, but that's not one of them.

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  9. Aaron
    June 15, 2012 @ 9:01 am

    Out of curiousity, how do you divide of Big Finish eras, and what does this "Haigh Ellery/Briggs" era consist of? It's just that I think that, of late, Big Finish has devolved into meaningless runarounds instead of Drama that has an underlying story purpose, like Jubilee, and I'm curious if those good early Big Finish's fall into a particular production team.

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  10. Alan
    June 15, 2012 @ 9:08 am

    I suppose I wouldn't have minded had they not actually had a Dalek actually grovel before her. There was something off-putting to me about the Dalek begging for "pity," especially when one of the most iconic moments in Dalek history was the statement "I do not recognize the word 'pity.' It is not registered in my vocabulary banks."

    If it had gone like this:

    River: I'm River Song. Look me up in your records.
    -beat-
    Dalek: (says nothing but slowly begins backing away)

    I'd have been fine with it.

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  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 15, 2012 @ 9:14 am

    For what it's worth, the River Song scene is based on the word "mercy," not "pity."

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  12. Matthew Blanchette
    June 15, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    Exactly; it's a key difference. 😉

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  13. Matthew Blanchette
    June 15, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. jane
    June 15, 2012 @ 10:21 am

    And the Dalek is so smug when it declares that a Companion of the Doctor would show "mercy" — a word that's croaked out with such disdain! It's smug, absolutely smug, and River takes that away. Which is saying something.

    What it isn't saying is that River is "Mary Sue," which these days is a cheap pejorative applied to any character who is both competent and smug — especially female characters. What she is is a mirror, and what she does with the Dalek is simply a reflection of the Dalek itself; all the directorial cues are lined up to enhance this particular juxtaposition.

    And the thing about "mercy" is that it isn't a feeling, it's an act. A Dalek is more than capable of understanding the concept of relinquishing power, having seen countless other civilizations practicing it. Of course, it would never choose to be merciful, because mercy is borne out of compassion, itself based in empathy, and that only happens when you can put yourself in the shoes of another, which Daleks never do since they are so bloody smug in their belief they're naturally supreme to all other beings.

    Until River trained her gun on its eyestalk, it had never been vulnerable before. In that moment, the Dalek receives enlightenment, coming to understand what its impact is on other people by finding itself in the position it usually relegates to others. It finally understands what it means to beg for mercy. And then River finishes the job, which is showing the Dalek its true nature — mercy is not granted; it has to understand the consequences of that, too.

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  15. WGPJosh
    June 15, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    I think it really depends on which writers you get; Big Finish is more than one or two major creative forces. Nicholas Briggs still puts on a damn fine show (his "Robophobia" from last year is a very, very strong candidate for my favourite Who story ever), old McCoy era writers like Cartmel and Mark Platt have done some decent scripts, as have writers like Jonathan Morris. I think it's mainly Big Finish does so many Doctor Who stories every month the law of averages takes over.

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  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 15, 2012 @ 10:46 am

    Yes. In the much-commented upon Moffat interview, I've always thought one of his sharper points was that he's never wanted 24 Doctor Who stories a year because that's simply too many. Heck, the new series has had non-trivial trouble with eleven (and I'm a bit nervous about their apparent desire this season to go to fourteen.) Big Finish did, by my count, 37 in 2011. Plus eight Jago and Litefoots and four Gallifreys. Their 2012 schedule seems set to be even bigger. So yes, that's probably a bit much.

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  17. Aaron
    June 15, 2012 @ 10:46 am

    Robophobia's good, but it's awfully trad, and I have a hard time pinning down what it is actually about. I mean, Jubilee, for instance, is about everything Phil said here: the celebration of false history, commercializing violence, etc. And many of the early Big finish plays seem to be about something, like this: Sandman and Omega are both about legends and how they get misinterpreted, Master is about the nature of evil, The Pirates is about the unjust nature of the world, and how to move on after loss. My problem with recent Big Finish plays is that they seem to be vacuous runarounds: they don't analyse characters anymore, as early Nyssa and Evelynn plays did, they don't play with the nature of storytelling or examine the character of the Doctor as a lot of the early 6th and 8th Doctor plays did, they just tell a story, featuring a returning villain, split into four parts with cliffhangers. Which is alright, but I've just really found them lacking.

    Robophobia, unless you could explain to me what you think it's about and why you find it so above average, I just found to be the best you could do a vacuous runaround. Fun, yes, but not really telling any sort of story, just acting out a plot. The only big Finish plays in recent memory that have been about something, as far as I can remember, are the superb-quite-possibly-best-doctor-who-story-ever Death in the Family, and the Kingmaker, which was a while ago now. Do you have any more candidates?

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  18. David Anderson
    June 15, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    I caught The Architects of History on BBC's iplayer last week. From 2010, which is more recent than Kingmaker. That was really pretty impressive, even if like me you don't care for the ruthless chessmaster interpretation of the Seventh Doctor. Perhaps especially if like me you don't care for it.

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  19. David Anderson
    June 15, 2012 @ 11:25 am

    Jubilee also succeeds in making good use of the coat.

    This blog, as it's covered seasons 21-23, has been one of the best explanations of Jubilee. The story turns on a playoff between the Doctor as Doctor Who can be or ought to be and Doctor Who as a nostalgia filled sf runaround. But in fact there's three Doctors – there's also the 1903 Doctor. Since the 1903 Doctor gives rise to runaround Doctor, perhaps can be said to be the Doctor as the Doctor was actually shown on television. Anyway, it's notable that it is the coat that identifies the present Doctor as identical to the 1903 Doctor and not the nostalgia filled sf runaround Doctor. So, read as a diagnosis of Seasons 22 and 23, Jubilee says that it was a failure and prone to exploitation as a nostalgia filled run around, but it was still bad Doctor Who rather than not Doctor Who at all.

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  20. Iain Coleman
    June 15, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    I haven't heard Jubilee, but I can well believe the coat works better in audio.

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  21. WGPJosh
    June 15, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

    Aaron: It's interesting to hear you describe "Robophobia" as "trad" because the reason I like it so much is precisely how unorthodox its structure seems to me, at least compared to the lion's share of Doctor Who. It effortlessly accomplishes something that, to me at least, is fundamentally important and very rarely done: Tell a Doctor Who story that isn't about The Doctor.

    Much like the story it's a sequel to, "Robophobia" sets out to tell a story about Kaldor City, the world around it and the ramifications of its dependence on robots. This is not a story about The Doctor's character arc or the consequences of his interactions with his companions; the well-worn kind the New Series has already mined to death IMO. This is instead a story about Nicola Walker's Liv Chenka, her feelings of social isolation and how the loss of those close to her motivate her to uncover corruption behind the scenes.

    It's also the story of Toby Hadoke's Chief Ferrel and how he's unable to move forward with his life after the loss of Alyssia and how people who have suffered or been victims of tragic circumstance tend to look for someone, anyone, to blame for their situation even when there's no-one truly responsible. It's about how different people react to and cope under extreme circumstances and finally it's about revealing the ultimate humanity behind all technology (as symbolized by the innocent robots) and how technology and society dynamically shape one another.

    What really seals this as a winner to me is The Doctor's role here. he's not the main character, nor even really a major player in the story until the very end. He pretty much knows exactly what's going on from the start, but he would rather leave subtle clues to help the real main characters figure things out on their own and grow from the experience. He's a trickster mentor to Liv and the extra help Ferrel needs to get closure.

    This is exactly the way I like seeing The Doctor used. His status as a transgressive character from beyond the narrative is literalized in the fact he seemingly dies at the beginning of Part 1 causing Liv to view him as a ghost for the first half of the story. Sylvester McCoy does what he's best at: Be the unpredictable and unknowable, yet ultimately wise and helpful literary magician who coyly inserts himself into other peoples' stories to keep them moving an an interesting direction. The fact The Doctor doesn't have a regular companion serves to really make clear the role he's meant to play here, emphasizes the purity of the experience and reinforces my belief the companion is not really necessary to the framework of Doctor Who.

    OK so maybe "Robophobia" is "trad", but only the way "An Unearthly Child" or "Ghost Light" is "trad" in the sense it cuts right to the heart of what Doctor Who is. But since it seems to me Doctor Who so rarely does this, I'll take it. Gladly.

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  22. Aaron
    June 15, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

    @ Dave – Architects of History is so frustrating to me. It gets all ready to tell us a really interesting story about changing history, wanting perfection and never being able to get it, questions about identity and how your past shapes you, but then it just utterly fails to treat any of that as interesting, instead focusing on a boring trad base under siege story with boring interchangeable aliens. I really wanted to see the world that Klein had created, and I really wanted to see her philosophy proven wrong. Instead all we got was a regular Troughton era generic story with some interesting trappings.

    This is a much longer conversation, but I've always imagined that that story would be more interesting if, at the end of part one, Klein does get away in the TARDIS, and that part 2 plays out the exact same way as part one, except this time Klein preempts the invasion that happens and defeats the invaders really quickly. Then something else goes wrong and she enters the TARDIS again, part three being about her trying to juggle both problems and fix them both. And then have part four about how the whole situation is crumbling around her, with the Doctor emerging at the end, explaining that she can't have her way, and having her willingly go with the Doctor so that she can face punishment. That would be the interesting way to tell the story, and not some sort of boring runaround.

    Also, I adore the chessmaker behind the scenes 7th Doctor, so maybe that biases me against Architects too 😛

    @WGP Josh – That's a really good defence of that story, I'll try listening to it again with all that in mind. I still don't agree that it's anything but trad though. Don't you think the Hincliffe era was all about doing what you just said, telling a normal story but having the Doctor distort it around the edges? I'm not a huge fan of the Hincliffe era, so maybe this is why I find this story good, not great, while you find it amazing. But thanks for telling me what you think the story is about, because that'll help me understand the point of the story a bit more.

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  23. WGPJosh
    June 15, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

    Aaron – I would say the Hinchcliffe era is the first era that goes out of its way to make this a primary goal of the show, yes. That said, it also shows this format in its early growing phase and unfortunately misses as much, if not more, than it hits. Part of Hinchcliffe's and Holmes' problem here IMO is that they weren't all that great at time management and delegation so only a handful of their stories lived up to their full potential. Also, they were saddled with Tom Baker who, charming and charismatic as he is, isn't so great at playing willfully marginal characters. He can't really help but put himself at the centre of the story no matter what material he's given so the overall effect suffers I feel.

    What most of the Hinchcliffe stories feel like to me, I'm afraid, are The Doctor, Sarah and Leela being tossed into a story and replacing the main characters instead of lurking around the edges subtly egging them on (c.f. "Pyramids of Mars", "Seeds of Doom" and "Talons of Weng-Chaing"). Production messiness and my overly critical reading aside, it's certainly a very important and influential era of the show as it's the first time something like that was attempted at quite that scale (though perhaps not the ur example of it in the show; David Whitaker probably did that). I maintain though it's the McCoy era, and in particular his Briggs-penned solo audio plays, that show this off the finest.

    And my pleasure-Glad I helped shed some light on the subject!

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  24. John Seavey
    June 15, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

    I dunno, I think you're being generous in suggesting that the ending is a bunch of po-faced lecturing because Shearman is making a subtle point about how obnoxious it is, and not because Shearman has forgotten completely about how obnoxious it is. 🙂 It really felt to me like the whole thing fell apart in Part Four, as opposed to 'Holy Terror', where the destruction was a masterful recapitulation of the theme.

    But then again, I think that Shearman's career with Big Finish is pretty much the art of self-plagarism combined with insulting anyone who calls him out on it as a Philistine who doesn't understand Art, so I might be the wrong person to talk to about it.

    (That said, 'Holy Terror' and 'Chimes of Midnight' are nothing short of brilliant, and I'm enjoying the heck out of 'Running Through Corridors'. So it's not as if he's all bad. But 'Jubilee' really did mark a turning point in his Doctor Who writing to me, and not in a good way.)

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  25. Andrew Hickey
    June 16, 2012 @ 12:08 am

    "The only big Finish plays in recent memory that have been about something, as far as I can remember, are the superb-quite-possibly-best-doctor-who-story-ever Death in the Family, and the Kingmaker, which was a while ago now."

    Those are two of the best things Big Finish has ever done, and certainly two of the best since Gary Russel left them. But they're not the only worthwhile ones (though yes, Big Finish's quality has gone seriously downhill in the last six or seven years).

    Peri And The Piscon Paradox is even better than A Death In The Family, seriously.
    Heroes Of Sontar is genuinely funny, as is Castle Of Fear.
    Robophobia is great.

    The great ones are coming much less frequently now than they used to, but they're still there on occasion.

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  26. Andrew Hickey
    June 16, 2012 @ 12:14 am

    I think Deadline, which came after Jubilee, may be the best thing Shearman's done for Big Finish myself. What makes you call it self-plagiarism?

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  27. Rob Shearman
    June 16, 2012 @ 2:47 am

    Gosh. I'm honestly genuinely sorry if I've ever come across as insulting. I'd never have intended to do that.

    For what it's worth, I think part four of Jubilee falls apart as well. I agonised about the ending for it, and I think it does become something of a mess. There are reasons for it – somewhat arrogantly, I think, I hoped to persuade BF to leave the whole time paradox thing as it stood so I could one day pop back and write a second story set in 1903 featuring the events remembered in Jubilee. Very wisely, they baulked at that – but it means that the ending I came up does become very pat. The Doctor's lecturing speech is rather awful. (Mind you, I love Phil's interpretation of it – it lets me off the hook!)

    I do understand the charge of self-plagiarism – I do work away at the same themes when I write! I suppose my point might have been that in other genres or media it's usually seen as something of a strength, because you're examining things you're interested in from other angles. But Doctor Who thrives basically upon being an action adventure anthology series, where similarities are frowned upon rather than embraced. I do understand that, and did – and that's why in 2003 I decided to stop writing BF audios before I became far too repetitive! I've often thought about doing another one, all these years later, but I'm not sure I wouldn't just get trapped doing the same thing…!

    Anyway, seriously, for the offence I must have given you in the past, I do apologise. I was probably having a grumpy day.

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  28. David Anderson
    June 16, 2012 @ 3:51 am

    I'd missed the first two stories in the trilogy leading up to Architects. So although I'd looked up Klein to see who she was I can't say I thought the story was about her. I thought it was about the Doctor and Rachel. And therefore, it was about the Doctor as a schemer and whether he was morally capable of what it looked like he'd done. And I suppose if I had to say that it was about anything non-sf it was about whether or not our judgements about what we're capable of match up with what we'd actually do.
    And Rachel is I think a new series companion who has found herself in a 7th Doctor expanded universe story, so the story is also about that.

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  29. Tommy
    June 16, 2012 @ 4:18 am

    "First with "Dalek Empire" and then with this story, they blew off the cobwebs and stretched the parameters of what a Dalek was and how it could act and speak"

    Fingers crossed for a piece from Phil on Dalek Empire sometime before we get to the revival. After all, it did have David Tennant in it 😉

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  30. Tommy
    June 16, 2012 @ 4:48 am

    Dalek had an overwhelming impact on me the first time I saw it. Of course it came right after Aliens of London/World War III, which even for RTD, was particularly awful and philistine and gave me an especially sinking feeling about the new show. Dalek however really got me fully behind the series and its new mythology again. It hit the right spot with me, and for a long time was my favourite New Who story.

    But rewatching it again recently I did find it far more flawed than I thought. Part of it might be that the first time impact had faded, and also the way that the New Series since, and especially The End of Time had completely demystified the Time War to the point where the concept just wasn't as compelling anymore.

    But I think the big problems with it are that beyond the Doctor and the Dalek, and even Rose at that point, the supporting cast come across as rather too two-dimensional. The entire premise seems to be based on the idea that evacuating and sealing the base seems to be treated as a last resort, when surely from the Doctor's perspective, that should be the first resort, rather than ordering the base personnel to stay and fight.

    Once we know of that easy solution, it becomes less thrilling, and also the ensuing deaths feel kind of pointless- why are they putting their lives on the line, when they could be making for the exit and then trapping the Dalek in? It'd be perhaps more thrilling if the Doctor had resorted first to the 'seal the base' option, the Dalek managed to break through anyway, and so the soldiers now have to stand their ground and fight.

    There's also the way the story seems to be building towards that ticking clock of what if the Dalek reaches Saltlake City, and I can't help but feel that was building towards a climax that never happened. The Dalek didn't even get anywhere near the city. Which is a shame because it would be an opportunity to subvert what the story had done thus far.

    So far the Dalek was a figure we were rooting for, all the way, with most of the people it killed seeming like they deserved it. Had the Dalek reached Saltlake City and started killing civilians, then that would be a great way of reinforcing that actually the Doctor was right all along. I know the point was that the Doctor was meant to be proved wrong, butgiven the Daleks' true nature it would surely be more honest to show both sides of the coin- that the Doctor has become something monstrous, but at the same time he is the closest thing to the voice of reason here.

    Other minor issues include the fact that even if the Dalek was coming to mutate into a more human form, I can't understand how it was dissuaded from killing Van Statten- the thinking being that 'Daleks kill in cold blood, therefore this Dalek has changed into a human who therefore won't', when most humans who'd been tortured by him would have killed him in revenge.

    I think ultimately the problem is the limitations of the show. You could do a lot more of the above in a full 90 minute story, and probably have that kind of climax in Saltlake City in an audio story, but all the business of cutting corners, and getting the characters across in this direct, and somewhat pact way, missed quite a few opportunities to do that kind of daring two-sided coin subversion.

    And one thing that always annoyed me was the Doctor's treatment of Adam came across like RTD was still venting fanboy issues with Adric (like the general audience was ever going to 'get' it), and the Doctor's line "What are you gonna do, throw your A-levels at 'em" is so unpleasantly, sickeningly anti-intellectualist, and a sign of RTD's aggressive philistine philosophy poisoning the show and the hero.

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  31. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 16, 2012 @ 4:56 am

    I'll sidestep the authorial intent question entirely on the ending – the story needed a failed moral stand there. At that exact point, as the thing that leads into the wall between 1903 and 2003 breaking down, in fact. Because we can pretty much safely assume that 1903 – an apparently completely traditional Dalek story – ended with some Terry Nation-style moral speech along these lines. And it was, obviously, a disaster. That's the key point to me – that the sort of moral speechifying the Doctor normally makes is one of the causes of this situation. It's not a particularly subtle point – it's the point the story's been making for three episodes at that point.

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  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 16, 2012 @ 5:02 am

    I'm certainly not going to criticize Dalek – I think it's absolutely fantastic. That said, Alan Moore has commented that he really doesn't think Batman: The Killing Joke is very good, because it's basically the same approach as Watchmen in deconstructing existing tropes, but whereas Watchmen is about the idea of superheroes and cold war paranoia and nostalgia, The Killing Joke is ultimately just about Batman. (That's actually not why I dislike The Killing Joke – I dislike it for the fact that Moore unthinkingly executes one of the worst women-in-refrigerator moments in the history of comics.)

    That's essentially my reason for liking Jubilee more than Dalek. Jubilee is about our relationship with the past, and reinvigorates the Daleks in service to that larger point. Dalek is about how awesome the Daleks are, and reinvigorates them accordingly. (Though it's helped by the fact that it's also a dramatic turning point in our understanding of the Doctor.)

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  33. Tommy
    June 16, 2012 @ 5:07 am

    "Great analysis. The other key point to this story, it always seemed to me, is that every single character – except Evelyn – is bending over backwards to deny taking responsibility for free will. Rochester and his wife both have their delusions of being forced to act a certain way, their lackeys are "just following orders," and the Dalek itself is driven mad by being forced to think for itself instead of just saying "I obey." (Much more satisfying than being driven mad by Rose's tasty DNA.) Key line in this story for me? "Take me back to my cell." "

    Indeed. At heart, the premise of the story, particularly through Mirian's 'battered wife syndrome' is about the idea of 'what if mankind overthrew its Dalek oppressors, only to find itself unable to function without them?'.

    It's about the idea of moral absolutism as both a 1984-style tyranny based on some needing some created abstract 'enemy', and a way of making 'morality' into something abstract that people don't have to take personal responsibility for. The consumerism angle also says a lot about our anxiety culture turning to consumerism as a form of aversion therapy.

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  34. Tommy
    June 16, 2012 @ 5:14 am

    "That's actually not why I dislike The Killing Joke – I dislike it for the fact that Moore unthinkingly executes one of the worst women-in-refrigerator moments in the history of comics."

    Could have been worse. He could have nuked the fridge too 😉

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  35. Tommy
    June 16, 2012 @ 5:31 am

    Architects of History I think was centrally about 're-doing' Boomtown right, in terms of really going all the way with the question of if Doctor could see through the role of executioner. There was a nice dynamic to it because throughout the trilogy (and also in the story 'Master'), the 7th Doctor had shown a more mellow, forgiving nature that hinted that in his old age he was kind of tired and weary with the 'ruthless manipulator' business and wanted to give his enemies a chance more.

    The story did do a lot of cramming of ideas, and it did take several listens to fully understand everything that was going on at once, but overall I thought it rounded off the trilogy nicely, as one of Big Finish's best runs of stories in a while.

    There was a point when Briggs took over, where the range felt like it had gone really downhill. With many stories coming across as complete filler dilluted by unfunny, smug humour and snark. Boy That Time Forgot and The Dark Husband being particular nadirs that almost seemed to have contempt for the listener. Which was surprising since I was a huge fan of Briggs' audios and felt he would the right man for taking over after Gary.

    For a while it felt like their best work was simply adaptations of the 'lost stories' and stageplays, which suggested a creative drought. But they have done a few really strong audios since- like the Klein trilogy (come to think of it, the Jamie and Stockbridge trilogies were pretty good too), Masters of War, The Mahogany Murders, Cyberman 2, and the more recent Silver Turk, Lucie Miller/To The Death and The Curse of Davros. But that still feels like the quality is being too thinly spread across too many ranges, and out of control spin-offs.

    I also have to say their business of excluding The Four Doctors permanently from non-subscribers did leave a very nasty aftertaste, during which I did spend a considerable period rigidly boycotting them.

    Reply

  36. BerserkRL
    June 16, 2012 @ 8:22 am

    I'm a bit nervous about their apparent desire this season to go to fourteen

    I'm not aure what you mean here. Isn't fourteen the standard number for NuWho — thirteen plus a Christmas special?

    Reply

  37. BerserkRL
    June 16, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    Oh wait, you're treating two-parters as single stories, aren't you? Never miiind….

    Reply

  38. Spacewarp
    June 16, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    I'll be willing to bet that RTD would have loved to have written that scene into "Journey…" However to do it justice you need a decent 15 minutes dialogue between Davros and the Doctor, and Journey's already bursting at the seams – there simply isn't room for it.

    The alternative is therefore to have Davros immediately dismiss the concept in typical Davros fashion, which would have fanboys asking why RTD even bothered to include it.

    The new series simply isn't structured in the same way, so unfortunately long meaningful two-handers between characters (e.g. Davros & the Doctor in the 6-parter Genesis of the Daleks )can rarely be fitted into a single 45-minute self-contained episode.

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  39. Matthew Blanchette
    June 16, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    Rob (if I can be so familiar with you), forgive me for asking, but… have you been offered any more chances to write for the revived series? Just wondering; you had Dalek, and then… nothing. 🙁

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  40. Rob Shearman
    June 16, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    Oh, hi, Matthew!

    It has been raised two or three times over the years, coming back to do another one. But in all honesty, I don't feel I'm an experienced enough TV writer! Russell took something of a gamble with me on Dalek – which was very good of him – and I think Cardiff were happy with the results. But it was a pretty steep learning curve, they took someone who at the time mostly wrote lots of theatre and radio, and patiently nudged me to write more visually. I've been sucked into the joys of prose fiction over the last few years, and I do worry whether if I got back on the conveyor belt now I'd be able to get up to speed with TV drama quickly enough before the production team tore their hair out! (And, it has to be said, I really like the laziness of just being a fan, and enjoying the show as a viewer, with all the inner smugness of knowing I wrote a story once! I was so lucky. It sometimes gives me a real buzz, I can tell you.)

    I mean, I'd never say never. And it does get discussed from time to time. But I hate to admit it, but I think John Seavey may have been right above – there's a chance I may have only so many Doctor Who ideas in me, and that I might just end up riffing on what I've already done. The biggest frustration of Dalek was seeing my friends around me writing entirely new adventures, whilst I was sort of stuck trying to squeeze Jubilee into a new shape. If I could come up with something wonderfully fresh, then that'd be exciting – maybe one day, if the production team are in one of their indulgent moods with me at the time!

    Sorry, I know that answer is irritatingly ambiguous and woefully self-contradictory…!

    Reply

  41. Matthew Blanchette
    June 16, 2012 @ 11:04 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  42. Matthew Blanchette
    June 16, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  43. Matthew Blanchette
    June 16, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    It's all right; didn't think I'd get a response so soon, if at all, but… what the heck! 😀

    Let me try to put it this way: In the past few years, they've been bringing writers back to write whom many think shouldn't have been given the chance at all after their first story; some (like Tom MacRae) have more than made up for that first stumble with new classics of their own; others, though (whom I am not naming, because you might know them personally, but who each had their second story aired in Series 5 and 6, and neither of whom is Toby Whithouse), have… well, not really redeemed themselves.

    What I mean to say, then, is that both were contracted, approached, etc., after rather disappointing first efforts, but you had a great first televised story, a thing of beauty… and yet were never approached again.

    That's the baffling thing about it; I'm sure you have ideas, but any new ideas (or even a BF remake) from a proven writer would've been better than, for instance, the pirate episode from last series. :-S

    …anyhow, thank you so much for responding! 🙂

    (P.S.: Had trouble posting; typos, etc. That's why I've deleted two of my own comments before this.)

    Reply

  44. J. L. Webb
    June 16, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    This wasn't one of my turning point moments with River, nor is it a scene I personally dislike (salthough i do find Moffatt's use of the 'calling on one's reputation rather than actually doing something' trick weak). furthermore i agree that there's a key difference between 'mercy' and 'pity'.

    However, I'll agree that this is an important moment in how River Song is presented to us; since her return in the Angel two part-er she'd been steadily lauded as someone with important foreknowledge, and a Romana (I not II) like knack for the practical things The Doctor falls short on.

    This however is the moment where that begins to crystallize where we get the first strong moment (it had a couple of little presidents in the previous episode) of the "it works because it's River" logic which usually only applies to The Doctor (compare her line to Tennant's defeat of the Vashta Narrada), furthermore I can see why, given the nature of the Daleks withing the mythos of the show, for many fans (especially River critics) it was something of an over-shot.
    After all one cannot simply make a character more awesome by having them do awesome things, it has to feel organic. This plus the fact that it's only implied awesomeness in this situation.
    Personally P'm on the fence about this one, but as i said it's only the beginning of this treatment of the character, and the accumulation begins to bother me.

    The term 'mary sue' has been over used and misused to the point of being a poor tool to resort to in rhetoric, even if it originally denoted a meaningful problem in self-indulgent writing styles.
    Whether or not it's appropriate in the case of Dr. Song, it must be said she is indisputably an author's pet, and one whom the author in question is using quite however he pleases, with rather little consideration for the diversity of his audience, and the opinions of those less enamored with her than he is…

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  45. Matthew Blanchette
    June 16, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

    …erm, you've just described Rose Tyler, J. L. 😛

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  46. John Seavey
    June 16, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

    …annnnd that'll teach me to be glib in an Internet comment. 🙂 I meant that there are a lot of themes that are hit with increasing intensity and less elaboration as you go through from 'The Holy Terror' on to 'Scherzo'…the idea of being stuck in a world you created, and forced to repeat a series of actions until you can't find joy or enthusiasm anymore. I think that by the end of 'Jubilee', and certainly by 'Scherzo', though, it was a seam that had been mined as much as it could be.

    'Scherzo' is, ultimately, the themes of 'The Chimes of Midnight' laid bare, and while I do understand Mr. Shearman's statements about it being worthwhile to examine themes from multiple angles, some of the interviews where he talked about that at the time and suggested that it was only a problem for Doctor Who fans touched a nerve. Still rude of me to descend to calling it "self-plagarism", though. I'm very grateful that he's classy and polite enough not to take offense. And very impressed that he has the kind of inner resiliency to critique his own work like that. Too many authors just assume everything they wrote was brilliant and leave it at that. 🙂

    Reply

  47. sleepyscholar
    June 17, 2012 @ 3:35 am

    Pardon me for butting in here. I have been greatly interested by your replies here, Rob. I'm in the weird position of being in a similar grey zone to our host here: an acafan, or possibly a fan-scholar. In any case, I'm teaching at a university and currently trying to research and write about this strange nebulous thing of being a fan and a pro, and what those terms can possibly mean (or rather how they are wielded).

    I'm also in the strange position of being there myself, in a far more humble capacity, having run a role-playing fanzine and also written Fighting Fantasy books.

    But what I'm really commenting about is to ask your permission to quote your comment in an academic paper. I know that it's nominally a public forum, but I believe it's good manners to ask anyway.

    Reply

  48. Adam Riggio
    June 17, 2012 @ 4:33 am

    Maybe I was just too young to see its original usage, but I've never seen the term "Mary Sue" used other than as a means to dismissively characterize any woman written as a complex or successful character in a sci-fi or related context.

    Her first few stories as we were getting to know the character (Library/Forest, Angels/Stone, Pandorica/Bang) were generally pretty fantastic. And because she still had some mystery to her, the case of her intimidating the Dalek was plausible: we didn't know at the time what it was looking up about her that freaked it out so much. So we could be tantalized by this hidden space in her character.

    And I think she had all the moments of the best pathos in Astronaut/Moon: we knew her well enough by then that we could understand how her knowledge of the Doctor's future put her in such a painful position with regard to his death scene. As well, she retroactively made the moment in Silence in the Library when the Doctor doesn't recognize her even more powerful when she foreshadows (for her) and recalls it (for us) talking with Rory in the Florida warehouse.

    I think River's only problem was that the secret ultimately didn't live up to the insanely high expectations Steven Moffatt set up through those first three two-parters. But she's not the first character in fiction whose big reveal didn't measure up to the portentous teasing, and she won't be the last. It's disrespectful and sexist to dismiss the entire character as a Mary Sue when all that complexity is present.

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  49. Jesse
    June 17, 2012 @ 4:43 am

    A "Mary Sue" refers to a character in fan fiction who serves as a supercompetent stand-in for the author. She (or he) is notable for having no notable flaws and no interesting story arc, for being loved by all, and for attracting the sexual interest of the cast member(s) that the author finds most attractive.

    River is competent and sleeps with the Doctor, so lazy fans call her a Mary Sue. But the label clearly doesn't fit her.

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  50. Adam Riggio
    June 17, 2012 @ 5:03 am

    Tommy, I'd like to know what you mean by "aggressive philistine philosophy." Because I read the Doctor's a-levels joke as being about Adam's lack of practical knowledge: he catalogued all this alien technology, but didn't know anything about how to use them or what to do in a problematic situation in the real world. Remember the other joke: looking through the stuff that looked like weapons, Adam didn't know a broken gun from a working gun from a hair dryer. He was intellectually smart, but had no clue how to use his intelligence, and when he did use it in the following episode, it was for selfish purposes that were anathema to the ethics of the Doctor.

    I viewed Dalek with entirely different character motives on the part of the museum staff. To me, they were basically all like the first guard that covers Rose and Adam's escape up the staircase: desperately trying to slow the Dalek down until they could get to the physical point in the base where they could seal it.

    One of Davies' recurring themes, especially in the first two seasons, was to root the cosmic drama of Doctor Who with the pedestrian drama of the world of the characters. He didn't always do this successfully: Parting of the Ways and some of Jackie's lines in Army of Ghosts dichotomously opposed the cosmic and domestic, which I don't think is the most interesting way to handle it.

    Probably the Ninth Doctor's greatest weakness turned out to be "I don't do domestics." In Father's Day, his inability to handle Jackie's freakout of confusion over who Rose is gets him eaten by a reaper (and I'm looking forward to Phil's take on what precisely those things are) when instead of calming her down, he gives her the space to throw baby Rose at adult Rose.

    And the first 15 minutes of Aliens of London I thought had more evolution of Doctor Who than some entire seasons: taking seriously the repercussions in the companion's own world of them disappearing without a trace, and forcing the Doctor to explain his cosmic lifestyle on a pedestrian level. And when I thought about it (it took me several years to think about it), the whole story was driven by very interesting ideas about these cosmic-pedestrian interactions, though the execution after those first 15 minutes dropped the ball so far, it was found floating in the Pacific months later.

    The most successful stories of that cosmic-pedestrian interaction were, in my view, Father's Day, Love and Monsters, Voyage of the Damned whenever they weren't re-enacting the Poseidon Adventure, and Fires of Pompeii.

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  51. J. L. Webb
    June 17, 2012 @ 7:54 am

    Haha, the Rose comparison is indeed apt, being as she was a clear conceptual precursor. that said she was a character who we were given time to attach to, who was handled by many writers, and who was given the traits and flaws of an ordinary human being now and then (bit of a chav, dropped out of school, doesn't always get all this space-time stuff), she still got over idolized as she progressed as a character, but things started out from a more balanced place.
    With river we only get her in short bursts, all written by Moff, in which her foreknowledge puts her at much more of a distance from the audience. Additionally the narrative bends around her to emphasize her impressiveness quite consistently.

    I agree that she worked best in S5, where her mystery was at it's height and the boldness of her character concept was impressive enough to keep me from wondering if it was actually a 'good' concept (lover for the doctor, story told out of order, etc.), S6 started off well but as stated the payoff was underwhelming.
    not uninteresting, but confusing, badly delivered, and ultimately meaningless. it didn't change anything about her or the show or anything, except to give her an increasingly contrived backstory and make almost all of the interpersonal character dynamics in the show more jarring and emotionally unrelatable.
    additionally any strong pathos/drama moments for river in the Astronaut two parter are rather undermined by the finale showing that she knew it was all an act.

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  52. Stephen
    June 17, 2012 @ 8:35 am

    Tommy it was UNIT, not Dalek Empire, that featured David Tennant.

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  53. Stephen
    June 17, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    "Her first few stories as we were getting to know the character (Library/Forest, Angels/Stone, Pandorica/Bang) were generally pretty fantastic."

    I beg to differ on the Library/Forest. But that's just because in that story she came across as a poor man's Bernice Summerfield. It's not until Angels/Stone that I started being able to see her as her own character.

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  54. Tommy
    June 17, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    "Tommy it was UNIT, not Dalek Empire, that featured David Tennant."

    Actually he featured in both.

    Your point?

    Reply

  55. Rob Shearman
    June 17, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    Oh, I'm sure you're very welcome! But if I can say anything more useful, do feel free to drop me a line on shearrob@aol.com and I'll try and help you out.

    Reply

  56. Tommy
    June 17, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    "I'd like to know what you mean by "aggressive philistine philosophy.""

    That the mindset was anything too 'brainy' about Old Who must be downplayed or jettisoned, incase kids/casual viewers didn't 'get' it, or found the Doctor nerdy and uncool. And that RTD had a serious fannish complex about not wanting to be seen as nerdy.

    "I read the Doctor's a-levels joke as being about Adam's lack of practical knowledge: he catalogued all this alien technology, but didn't know anything about how to use them or what to do in a problematic situation in the real world."

    The Doctor proved no more capable of stopping the Dalek than Adam. The scene doesn't prove anything. It's laughing at the nerd for the sake of it, and makes the Doctor a meathead.

    "they were basically all like the first guard that covers Rose and Adam's escape… desperately trying to slow the Dalek down."

    After DeMaggio's death, it's clear bullets won't stop the Dalek, so evacuating is the only choice. It makes sense why they stand and fight. But it feels dramatically like putting the last resort before the first resort. The military cordon getting electrocuted would dramatically feel righter 'after' sealing the vault failed.

    "One of Davies' recurring themes.. was to root the cosmic drama of Doctor Who with the pedestrian drama of the world of the characters."

    It was like he was fixated with the latter to the point of redundancy, and was bored or ashamed of the former. In End of the World, the bullish flippancy seemed to kill the mood, every time the story threatened to give itself over to the wonder of its concept. I just got a sense RTD was impatiently bored with this and would rather be writing something else.

    In the opening scene, the Doctor keeps dropping Rose off at various future destinations, then persuades her to go further- without her even taking a curious look outside at what she's missing. It wasn't believable for Rose's character. Like she was only so utterly disinterested in this because the writer was and he assumed the audience was too.

    It got more ridiculous from there. In Stolen Earth, Rose shares a cup of tea with Donna's family in their kitchen- in the middle of a global Dalek invasion. And most frustratingly there's the way Utopia sets up such a compelling predicament with humanity dying out, and the only man with the knowledge to save them being the Master, and how from there, the Doctor would have to somehow defeat the Master and restore him back to Professor Yana and then they'd have to team up to save humanity together. You could do a lot with the themes of identity, the power of the mind and criminality. But instead this all gets abandoned just to relocate the action to modern day Earth as though the casual audience (despite the fact that they've stuck with the show so far) can only relate to that particular setting, and so the whole story has to be sabotaged.

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  57. Tommy
    June 17, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    "taking seriously the repercussions in the companion's own world of them disappearing without a trace."

    Flight of the Navigator did it better.

    "though the execution after those first 15 minutes dropped the ball so far, it was found floating in the Pacific months later."

    I just think Jackie's character doesn't sustain the role the predicament demands. She was comic relief in Rose, a lovely link to home in End of the World and Father's Day. But the more we focused on her, the more she proved a cipher. In AOL she goes from allowing the Doctor in her house with the neighbour's kids, to calling a code red on him.

    Still, Jackie's distrust of the Ninth Doctor made sense given how his Doctor spells 'mad, bad and dangerous to know'. But when they tried repeating the same trick with Martha's family, it didn't work. It makes no sense why Francine is suspicious of the clean cut Tenth Doctor being with Martha. If Francine initially liked the Doctor, and then when the crisis happens he blows up the chemistry lab, endangering Martha, and then she feels betrayed, the audience could feel her sense of betrayal too.

    But I just didn't sympathise with Jackie, I found her utterly unlikeable and horrid. And really sympathising with a struggling, frantic mother should be an instinctive thing. To compare her to the mother in The Girl Frm Tomorrow- she was in a similar position, but she showed maturity and responsibility, and maternalism beneath the stern matriarch. And she had a story function and never felt like an unwanted pest.

    Jackie was an irresponsible armchair Hitler. But Rose's disappearance could have been a means for her character to grow- she could feel she failed her daughter, and decide to wise up, be more responsible and try to be a better mother- giving us a character journey we could care about far more. But instead she remains the same unlikeable loudmouth.

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  58. Aaron
    June 17, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    The biggest problem about Architects of History, to me, is that for a play called "Architects", we don't really see anyone making history at all. A lot of people talk about it, but no one actually does it. Instead, we get to listen to a lot of explosions and base under siege story with aliens that might as well be Sontarans.

    The rest of the Klein Trilogy was like that too. Why are we focusing on random monster runarounds when the interesting thing about Klein is how she sees the world differently than the Doctor. Why don't we have a historical with her, with the Doctor and Klein in ancient Rome or something? Why don't we have an episode where the Doctor and Klein get to really put her views of society to the test? Why instead do we waste our time with fighting moth monsters and giant bugs?

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  59. storiteller
    June 30, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    I just listened to Jubilee after being inspired by this blog post describing its brilliancy. I did enjoy it very much, but the one thing I particularly got a kick of, you don't mention in here. It's quite obvious, but the trailer for the Dalek movie at the beginning is hilarious to relisten to once you realize what it's advertising…

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  60. Nicholas Tosoni
    September 15, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

    In all fairness, asking "And then what?" would have diluted Caan's big pull-the-rug-out moment at the end.

    Everybody complains about "DoctorDonna defeats the Daleks with a keyboard."

    Who ordered keyboards on a Dalek ship? Caan, the Oracle.
    Who set in motion the plan to steal the planets and thereby eventually bring DoctorDonna to life? Caan, the Oracle.

    All he had to do was sit back and wait for the moment where he could say, "FOOLED YOU!"

    Reply

  61. Dan
    February 18, 2018 @ 2:58 am

    This post talks about prescience. It looks prescient right about now.

    Reply

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