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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. David Anderson
    June 22, 2012 @ 12:22 am

    Is there a law that says that as the amount of fanwank in a piece of Who fiction rises, the prominence of material from seasons 20-23 will rise in proportion?


  2. Janjy Giggins
    June 22, 2012 @ 1:30 am

    "Epics, in other words, impose a master narrative on everything around them. By their very nature they imply unity and singular vision."

    I'm not sure I agree with this. It's pretty much the exact opposite to how the original epics worked. Absolutely fundamental to understanding things like the Iliad and the Odyssey is that they're fragmented and utterly lacking in a 'singular vision'. As the products of a series of writers building on and elaborating each others' work, taking it in different directions over decades and centuries, they're full of self-contradictions and different narrative strata. They never crowded out variant narratives, were never 'fixed' and probably never performed in their entirety. I think there are a lot of parallels with how the corpus of Doctor Who stories has accumulated and, while the modern, 'single-vision' epic is a thing and is, as you say, in tension with the basic concept of Doctor Who, I think that's a problem with a particular type of epic, not with epic per se.


  3. daibhid-c
    June 22, 2012 @ 1:55 am

    Possibly the other way round: the more a piece of Who fiction plays on seasons 20-23, the more fanwanky it becomes.


  4. Adam Riggio
    June 22, 2012 @ 2:37 am

    Wait a second. That's your actual theory about the content of Caves of Androzani? Because Robert Holmes and Graeme Harper's faces were in the mindbending montage in The Brain of Morbius, that makes those real-world people pre-Hartnell Doctors? So the Doctor of the television show escaped the 12-regeneration limit imposed by the line in The Deadly Assassin (and subsequently canonized by its being followed during the Nathan-Turner era) by entering our own world and becoming a producer of the show? Which means that the Doctor both wrote the throwaway line giving him 12 regenerations and filmed the story in which he escaped it? This is probably the most insane expression of your vision yet!

    When I started writing this comment, I was going to ask why you didn't include this in your actual post on Androzani. Then I realized what you were doing. The Valeyard Rewritten entries are about the powers and limits of fanwank. But the Davison entries revolved around diagnosing the mistakes of the Nathan-Turner/Saward era in a more historically dry fashion. That you plan to release the Davison/Baker years as a single book is the key. The Davison entries are the quotidian diagnosis; the Baker entries are where the analysis goes mad with exorcism and the explosion of canonicity. Only after establishing how the craziest narratives of fan speculation can exist, can you present the craziest fanwank theory yet: yours.


  5. Adam Riggio
    June 22, 2012 @ 3:01 am

    I think there have already become too many types of epic to have a practical conversation about the nature of epic, per se. Unless you want to be an originalist, and say that Greek epic poetry constitutes the epic per se. But origin doesn't necessarily equal essence.

    Even in Doctor Who or the Eruditorum. Phil talks a lot about the essence of the Doctor as a mercurial anarchist that was established from the first run of stories. But one of the major goals of the blog has been to show how the process of the show evolves that essence and makes it more complex. A story like The Wedding of River Song wasn't somehow contained in An Unearthly Child, but the latter began a process that eventually generated the former.

    I think the epic that Phil is talking about in this entry is the model generated in North American sci-fi where a complex, internally unified universe is put forth in a huge narrative sweep. The example that seems to me to suit best is Frank Herbert's Dune. And the problem he identifies in the blog is that Doctor Who can't do those kinds of epics because it always escapes the scope of any attempt to summarily sweep it into a single master vision.


  6. Tom Watts
    June 22, 2012 @ 3:10 am

    The orally transmitted epics, like the Iliad for example, are certainly a patchwork, but our texts are based on the work of ancient scholars who compiled the "official" versions. The singular vision in such cases could be understood as the ideology of the later compilers. Epics by a single author composed as poems, from Virgil to Milton and beyond, are surely absolutely about master narrative – "Imperium sine fine" for example. But epic is also about lists and exotic words, rare jewels which impress and which the poem "owns": Oxus and Cathaian Khan, Samarkand and Temir's throne, etc etc. Doctor Who is full of strange names and far away places too. Epic is wank too, of course, but the concept of fanwank is so laden with fannish self-loathing, the intrinsic sorriness and indignity of male masturbation. I'd rather see all this mad elaboration as a joy in plenitude.


  7. 5tephe
    June 22, 2012 @ 3:29 am

    Wait till he gets going.


  8. Dr. Tom
    June 22, 2012 @ 3:59 am

    "I might regenerate. I don't know. Feels different this time." This suddenly takes on a whole new meaning!


  9. Gavin
    June 22, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    "…our texts are based on the work of ancient scholars who compiled the 'official' versions…"

    This is a somewhat controversial area, and I don't think that you can assert "compilation" (as distinct from textual editing, which is not the same thing) as unequivocal fact. There are different views about the poems as we know them came to exist in the form that we know them, and not everyone would accept the Nagy model (and what you say is a bit stronger than even the Nagy model).

    "from Virgil to Milton and beyond, are surely absolutely about master narrative…"

    Milton I won't risk, but this an oversimplified view of Virgil, I think. At any rate, the history of Virgil interpretation over the last few decades pushes against it. The imperium sine fine passage shouldn't be extracted from its context in book 6, and – to start with the obvious – you shouldn't commit to a straightforward reading until you can account for Aeneas leaving through the ivory gate.

    More generally, epics are (mostly) long polyphonic productions whose generic identity is bound up with being in a ridiculously long tradition. They tend to be a little complicated.

    More on-topic: I think Mr. Riggio is probably correct that Dr. Sandifer means the US Big SF Story rather Homer through whenever. However, I wouldn't mind a bit of defining of terms.


  10. Gavin
    June 22, 2012 @ 5:10 am

    (Tried replying once, but it didn't seem to take. Hope this isn't the second time I'm appearing.)

    "…our texts are based on the work of ancient scholars who compiled the 'official' versions."

    This is a controversial area (just a little…) But "compilation" (as distinct from textual editing, which is not the same thing) shouldn't be stated as unequivocal fact like this. I suspect that, if you took a poll, most Homerists would still incline to thing that the poems originate somewhere in the eighth or early seventh centuries B.C. This is too early for "scholars" and we wouldn't be talking about "compilation" as the compositional process. Even if one does accept the Nagy model (and not everyone does, obviously), it's a good deal more complicated than what you describe.

    "..from Virgil to Milton and beyond, are surely absolutely about master narrative…"

    No more so than other kinds of extended composition by a single author, really. Epics are long polyphonic productions, which allows for plenty of complexity, especially as their generic identity comes to be located in a ridiculously long tradition.

    Milton I won't risk, but the history of Virgil interpretation over the last few decades pushes against (what I think) you're saying. The "imperium sine fine" passage shouldn't be extracted from its context in Aeneid 6 as a sort of tag that summarizes the whole poem. To start with the obvious, one needs to account for Aeneas leaving through the ivory gate.

    More on-topic: I think Mr. Riggio is right in thinking that this is not what Dr. Sandifer means in any case, but rather either Big US SF as Mr Riggio describes it, or else (seeing as Dr. Sandifer specializes in media studies) the self-consciously "epic" strain in 20th-century film and television (both good: "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and not so good: "Gone with the Wind"). Star Wars is obviously where both meet.


  11. Janjy Giggins
    June 22, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    "More on-topic: I think Mr. Riggio is right in thinking that this is not what Dr. Sandifer means in any case, but rather either Big US SF as Mr Riggio describes it, or else (seeing as Dr. Sandifer specializes in media studies) the self-consciously "epic" strain in 20th-century film and television (both good: "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and not so good: "Gone with the Wind"). Star Wars is obviously where both meet."

    Yeah, I completely agree. I know that's what he's getting at, but that's a particular flavour of epic, not 'epics… by their very nature'. Not that it really matters.


  12. Tom Watts
    June 22, 2012 @ 6:17 am

    These little off-topics seem to be a feature of the comments on this blog, and they can be so interesting and informative. Whether it's on Epic or Economics, no generalisation ever goes undisputed.


  13. Iain Coleman
    June 22, 2012 @ 6:28 am

    "no generalisation ever goes undisputed."

    That's not always true.


  14. Stephen
    June 22, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    This is one of those stories which I appreciated at the time far more than I would re-reading it now. Here's an attempt to explain why the context made it read a lot better than it would be reading it on its own merits now:

    As one of the New Adventures generation of fans, I was somewhat gutted when the early New Series novels turned out to be far worse than the EDAs and PDAs books they replaced. Books that often had ambition to be good books were replaced by a series that felt dumbed-down for the kids. Whilst it was nice to have the TV Series back, it came at the expense of the books that had made me a fan in the first place. Times Champion felt like a brief return of the MA/PDA line. I loved the book mostly because there was a Doctor Who novel aimed at people like me again.

    In addition to that, there was the contrast with Spiral Scratch, which still felt fairly recent. Time's Champion was a sixth Doctor regeneration story that didn't ride roughshod over continuity. Spiral Scratch ignored the New Adventures continuity about this regeneration tying into their Time's Champion theme in favour of something far less interesting. But it also had scenes which were intended to show that the audios and the comic strips happened in entirely different fictional universes to the one I'd grown attached to – which is the complete opposite of the ethos of Time's Champion.

    As to why that difference matters: somebody who follows serial fiction as a fan tends to build up some level of emotional investment in the characters. All else being equal, I care more about stories with the Doctor in than I do about stories which do not feature any characters or settings with which I am familiar. Being told in-story that parts of the meta-story didn't happen is a direct attack on that emotional investment. Which is why so many fans were up in arms about books like War of the Daleks or Interference. Spiral Scratch attacks that investment, whilst Time's Champion – the book we could have got instead – validates it.

    In short, at the time I loved the book because it felt like my era of Doctor Who was briefly back, and because it showed that
    many of the things that made Spiral Scratch such a disappointing take on the sixth Doctor's regeneration need not have been there.


  15. minkubus
    June 22, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    "But it also had scenes which were intended to show that the audios and the comic strips happened in entirely different fictional universes"

    Interesting, he did the same thing in the BF story Zagreus, for what reason I can't really imagine. Trying to fit things together in a literalistic way by suggesting something about the stories-that there are altnerate universes involved somehow-that isn't intrinsic to the stories themselves.

    It strikes me that Interference was doing its major twist at the end for a completely different reason. It wasn't taking time out from being an actual book to meta-narratively scream at you 'here is how a bunch of stories I didn't write all fit together, you guys on rec.arts.doctorwho' but rather seemed more to be trying to be interesting in itself, to reach its own logical and quite brutal conclusion.

    To put it another way, I can't seriously believe that Larry Miles was trying to stop/control/order all the span of Doctor Who by wiping them out. He knew that those threads would be re-integrated into the 8DAs at some point, and indeed, that other story threads for the Pertwee to McGann Doctors would be made.

    In contrast, I don't think that the 'that's an alternate universe guys okay I said so' bits in Spiral Scratch and Zagreus can be interpreted as anything but trying to tie everything together in a really boring way. In Zagreus it's extremely irrelevant to the plot, such as it is, and kinda thrown in there with all the other stuff that is kinda thrown in there.


  16. Jesse
    June 22, 2012 @ 10:53 am

    "…for what is probably the first and last time, I'm writing up fanfiction here…"

    Thank goodness that time can be rewritten.


  17. Stephen
    June 22, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    Interference is trying to do something interesting with the plot twist. By showing that the Doctor's timeline can be rewritten, he establishes Faction Paradox as a real threat to the Doctor, and to a large chunk of the audience who care about continuity in and of itself, and/or that the Doctor they are reading about is the same character they know and love. I think the whole thing is fantastic, but I can see exactly why some people went apoplectic over it.

    Spiral Scratch and Zagreus come across as a rather mean-spirited **** you to fans who like the idea that the audios, the books, and the comic strips co-exist in the same fictional universe. That the Doctor who travelled with Evelyn is the same Doctor who travelled with Frobisher, and is the same Doctor who travelled with Benny. From what Gary Russell has said, he thought he was tying things together and allowing audio fans to not worry about anything that's happening in the books. He didn't seem to anticipate book fans taking offence at Zagreus. In any case, neither scene is about doing something interesting with the concepts, or enhancing the stories.

    Ironically, neither Zagreus or Spiral Scratch manage to do the job of establishing that the books, audios, and comic strips happen in separate universes. Zagreus gets some major details wrong in describing what's supposed to be the books universe. And Spiral Scratch simply shows us that there are some alt-Doctors still travelling with Evelyn or Frobisher at this stage in their lives.


  18. Iain Coleman
    June 22, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    "As for me, my favorite epic theory about Doctor Who remains that Graeme Harper and Robert Holmes are both, as The Brain of Morbius suggests, pre-Hartnell Doctors, and that the making of The Caves of Androzani is itself a multi-Doctor story that explains how the Doctor got around the twelve regeneration limit, namely by sneaking out of the narrative and cheating the rules."

    I tried out this theory on my wife, who is an enthusiastic Doctor Who viewer but not a dedicated fan, and she declared it "very cool".


  19. Matthew Blanchette
    June 22, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    So… let me be the first, I suppose, to say rest in peace, Caroline John. You were one of the best. 🙁


  20. jane
    June 22, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

    If Doctor Who is a genre in its own right, doesn't dropping the Doctor into his own narrative threaten to deform his own story?


  21. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 22, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

    Threaten? Promise, I should think.


  22. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 22, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

    Amusingly, I remember writing that line and phrasing it that way because at the time I couldn't track down an affordable copy of Time's Champion, which I knew I'd someday cover if I could.


  23. J Mairs
    June 23, 2012 @ 12:21 am

    Isn't that the end result of Moffat's Doctor?

    Silence in the Library might as well have ended with the line "I'm the Doctor – and you should go and watch some DVDs to find out whose story you're in and how they tend to end"

    The Big Bang opens with the Doctor escaping from a cliffhanger on the grounds that he is the Doctor and will always escape from a cliffhanger – no matter have contrived a solution.


  24. jane
    June 23, 2012 @ 2:44 am

    Promise, threaten, same thing, but the recursion is a bit, well, like setting two mirrors in opposition to each other. Shouldn't one of them break?

    Or is it more like entropy? There's this wonderful line in Tom Sheppard's Arcadia that sums it up: You can't mix things apart. It's just mixing more Doctor Who into Doctor Who, not changing the principle of narrative deformity so much as making it a bit more pink.

    Ah, I know: Making bread. The narrative isn't threatened with collapse just because it's folded over on itself, but let it cook and it can rise…


  25. Adam Riggio
    June 23, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    I was reading over this post again and an idea occurred to me. You said in the Requiem for Robert Holmes section of the Trial entries that there are three major writers who defined what Doctor Who is today: David Whittaker, Robert Holmes, and Russell T Davies. If Whittaker and Holmes each invented a style of epic storytelling suited to Doctor Who (Whittaker: destroy and re-create; Holmes: as above, so below), then do you consider Davies to have invented a third style? Or perhaps figured out some manner of hybrid of narrative collapse and cosmos-quotidian tension?


  26. Laurence Price
    June 23, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

    (De-lurks, lured by talk of Greek epics!). One of the fascinating things about the Iliad is the way it relates to our earlier discussion of the Seasonish, and missing stories in general. There are at least two attested continuations of the story of the Iliad after Hector's death. The first, the Aethiopis, was possibly written about 600-500 BC. It's not by Homer, but it took its place as part of the great epic cycle of which the Iliad is a part. It only exists in tiny fragments and quotes from other commentators, so we can't make any sweeping statments about what it was like. The second one, the Posthomerica ("Where Homer Ends…") is the real fan-wanky one- it was written centuries later, in a deliberately archaic dialect, apparently to fill in gaps left by Homer- essentially, to sort out continuity questions in the way that we're so familiar with from a thousand discussions, whether it's the Morbius faces or what happened between Hector's death and the Trojan Horse. It's literally myth making- or myth remaking through the eyes of the Homer fan. So the Posthomerica is much more self-aware, probably much more learned, and really quite rubbish. So which one is closer to Time's Champion?

    But the point that I'm making is that the issues that surround the nebula of Doctor Who texts is not unique. There are the gaps, whether it's ancient texts being lost or the BBC wiping tapes; the self-contradictions, whether it's the Doctor having one and two hearts, or the completely mad geography of Odysseus's wanderings; and the same desires for completeness on the part of the fans leading to new writing of dubious quality being tacked on to the original Epic cycle.

    Actually, the instincts that we've gained as thoughtful consumers of Doctor Who aren't a million miles away from what any advanced student of literature uses, and what got Dr Phil his hard-earned doctorate! So tell that to your friends next time they laugh at you when you suggest watching Underworld…


  27. Iain Coleman
    June 23, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

    I can't imagine what Phil will come up with, but after some seconds of consideration I would go for "There is no God, and Doctor Who is his prophet".


  28. Matthew Blanchette
    June 23, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

    I managed to find an online copy a few weeks ago; can't recall, for the life of me, where, though…


  29. jane
    June 23, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    I'd call Davies' style operatic


  30. Adam Riggio
    June 23, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

    As I think about it, the hybrid is more likely what Davies managed to do. I'm thinking particularly of the Utopia-Sound of Drums-Last of the Time Lords trilogy. It's a narrative collapse because the Doctor is essentially written out of an active role in his own show, and the Master's vision takes control of the Earth and the storyline (solve et coagula). But at the same time, it's telling this very personal story of how Martha and her family are caught up in all this craziness that they largely can't control. So the Master's taking control of the narrative disrupts the Doctor's cosmic point of view, and the Jones' quotidian point of view (as above, so below).

    I think Moffatt's used his skills at complex time travel plots and meta-textual tv writing to take the Whittakerian epic to a new level of intensity and reflexiveness. At the same time, he's mutated the Holmesian style of quotidian concerns in cosmic contexts by having the Pond family be this domestic drama whose major conflicts regularly put the universe at stake.


  31. Zapruder 313
    June 23, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

    "no generalisation ever goes undisputed."

    That's not always true.

    Oh, very good, Mr Coleman. Very good indeed 🙂


  32. Wm Keith
    June 23, 2012 @ 10:44 pm

    Don't forget inter-library loan. Last time I checked,there was one library copy in the UK.


  33. Matthew Blanchette
    June 24, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    Regardless, Utopia showed a lot of promise that the following two episodes decidedly did not take up on.

    RTD always did have the worst finales… climaxing, appropriately enough, in the cry-sturbation "epic" that is the bipartite End of Time.

    Hope you ravage it when we get to it, Phil. 😛


  34. Adam Riggio
    June 24, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    I actually think the 2007 season-ending trilogy worked quite well, though I only realized this after the second or third time watching it, and thinking through its ideas to write my essay for Doctor Who and Philosophy. It was the tonal shifts in each episode that made the story difficult to enjoy on first broadcast. Utopia a story written as an overly stereotypical optimistic far-future RTD story just like his New Earth series that's subverted by the presence of the Master. As an individual episode, it was probably the best because of how skilfully it subverted that expectation. Then The Sound of Drums is an episode of Torchwood that the Master subverts by winning, and Last of the Time Lords is John Simm's Master going absolutely mad with the show.

    The philosophical ideas running throughout the trilogy were intriguing, although I still can't entirely wrap my head around its narrative structure well enough to describe it in a single comment. That's what I'm looking forward to on the blog next year.


  35. Matthew Blanchette
    June 24, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

    The resolution is still dreadful, though, especially as "Master going mad with the show" got repeated not two years later.


  36. BerserkRL
    June 25, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    Liz Shaw's on my short list of favourite DW companions.


  37. Henry R. Kujawa
    June 26, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    I think, to some degree, I was able to enjoy or at least appreciate almost everything they dd on the show for the first 2-1/2 years… until those last 2 episodes described above. Maybe it's a good thing (at last for now) that I haven't seen it since.


  38. Ununnilium
    July 16, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

    I agree.

    Honestly? I LIKED "clap your hands and believe in the Doctor".


  39. Daibhid C
    September 9, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

    I just learned that the two characters in disparate time periods with the same name are called George Mackenzie-Trench.

    Mackenzie-Trench is, of course, the name of the architect who designed a certain structure for the London Metropolitan Police.

    Is that the most obscure in-joke in the book?


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