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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.

36 Comments

  1. Bob Dillon
    July 4, 2012 @ 2:55 am

    First: Happy Independence Day to you as well!

    I hope that next in the pipeline is "Bang-Bang-A-Boom", an audio which is both thematically similiar to season 24, and really uses Mel in a much more appropriate way (and is funny to boot). I too never saw what the fuss was about in Fire of Vulcan.

    Bob Dillon

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  2. Abigail Brady
    July 4, 2012 @ 5:08 am

    Afraid not – Phil has already told us that his Big Finishes for the Seventh Doctor are this, Thin Ice and A Death in the Family.

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  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 4, 2012 @ 5:11 am

    Did I not say Shadow of the Scourge? Because Shadow of the Scourge on October 10th.

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  4. Adam Riggio
    July 4, 2012 @ 5:52 am

    On top of being a sort of perfect storm for analyzing Steve Lyons' problematic conception of history, The Fires of Vulcan might also work as a tool to help understand fandom's relationship with Season 24. By the time Big Finish released this story in 2000, the New Adventures series was long finished, and the image of McCoy's Doctor it created for its primary, or at least most visible, audience of Doctor Who superfans was well established. The reputation of Season 24 as the silly season was so canonical by then that for fandom, there were two Seventh Doctors: 1) the "authentic" McCoy who began in Season 25 and whose character arc developed to Lungbarrow; and 2) the silly McCoy of Season 24 whose existence was rather regrettable.

    Fires of Vulcan can be seen as an attempt in the producer-fan dialogue that produced much of Doctor Who during the post-1996 wilderness years to erase, at least partly, the silly McCoy. You've done a great job, Phil, of showing how the stories of Season 24 are actually very good overall, advancing solid reasons why the season has its terrible reputation in fandom, and showing why there really is only one Seventh Doctor. The question is, why the long-standing belief among fandom that there are two McCoys, the authentic and silly? I think it comes down to two key properties that Season 24 had which other McCoy seasons and eras didn't.

    1) Time and the Rani. As you mentioned in that essay, this story was a terrible way to start the season, a campy, overlong Pip and Jane runaround that, while having some interesting ideas, following the general disastrous reception of Trial, was exasperating. The negative reaction to Time and the Rani coloured fandom's perception of the whole season.

    2) Mel. You hit the essence of the matter: she's a programmatic character of the lone girl in a boy's world who serves as a moral conscience. Her character has such a simple morality that she wouldn't be able to comprehend the complexity of the situations that characterized the style of the "authentic" McCoy. Removing Mel from the show allowed Cartmel and his writers to craft more morally complex stories like Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric, and set the conditions for the further development of this direction in the New Adventures. Would I be right to guess that we'll hear more about this in your essay on Head Games over the autumn?

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  5. elvwood
    July 4, 2012 @ 6:52 am

    Ah yes, Steve Lyons. although I've given below-average ratings to all the books of his that I've read, I've always enjoyed his audios – and this is no exception. I'm currently in quite a bit of pain; hopefully that will ease tomorrow and I'll be able to come up with a coherent response. We'll see.

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  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 4, 2012 @ 6:53 am

    Regardless of whether you can come up with a coherent response, I hope you feel better. 🙁

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  7. Stephen
    July 4, 2012 @ 6:58 am

    Firstly, as it's that anniversary, can we have our tea back, please?

    Secondly, this gives me the chance to disagree with what you wrote about The Witch Hunters. Your problem with the message seemed to be that the coda sequence was there to justify that what happened ultimately turned out for the greater good. In fact, it's just there to ensure that Rebecca Nurse got a glimpse of hope before she died. It doesn't have to be read as anything more than a lie the Doctor tells her to give her one last comfort. And even the most basic contextual knowledge of why the Crucible was written would surely make that interpretation plausible, if not compelling.

    It seems that there are some stories where you either can't see the redemptive reading, or you choose not to follow it.

    As for comparisons between this story and The Fires of Pompeii, the TV story foregrounds a runaround with monsters who didn't need to be there, and fails to honestly portray the society of the time – pretending that slavery (which was an all-pervasive institution) didn't exist. The Fires of Vulcan, however, tries to portray that society honestly – warts and all. It's basically a tragedy in which a complex and interesting society is completely destroyed by an unstoppable natural disaster. Yes, the plot point that keeps the Doctor in Pompeii is fairly weak, but it's mostly incidental to the heart of the story.

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  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 4, 2012 @ 7:08 am

    I have dutifully returned all of your tea to India.

    I forget, did I mention in the Witch Hunters essay that I think The Crucible is one of the worst plays ever written? 🙂

    More seriously, no, I see the redemptive reading of both. It's more accurate to say that I can't bring myself to follow them. To my mind a redemptive reading has to be one that first acknowledges all of the possible critiques of the story and then pushes through them to find something redemptive. I picked the word "redemptive" consciously, implying as it does a descent through the negative prior to an uplift.

    Ultimately, with both of these stories, I can't quite bring myself to push through the vision of history involved. I see what the stories are going for, yes, and I agree, it's terribly interesting and compelling, but I think the vision of history that Lyons requires is just… too ugly to be justified by the conclusion. I can't quite get out of the mire on these.

    This is something of a limit to redemptive readings, I'll admit. Production difficulties can often be worked through, especially with a script smart enough to work as camp. The existence of an entire and long-standing aesthetic of camp and kitsch detourned to subversive purposes makes it easy to work through production difficulties. Ethical difficulties are harder to work through – there's the absurdist/existentialist defense in which the work is trying to disturb the audience via a confrontation with the ethically problematic, but that doesn't work often. And so when redemptive reading fails, it does tend to be on ethical grounds.

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  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 4, 2012 @ 7:12 am

    Actually, on this topic I ought link Shabogan Graffiti's rather fabulous attack on my redemptive reading practices: http://shabogangraffiti.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/beyond-redemption.html

    Although I disagree with it (I commented on the post), I think it does a very solid job of summing up the things that redemptive readings must be cautious about.

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  10. Matthew Blanchette
    July 4, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

    Hmmmmm… surprised you never responded to this, then, Phil: http://shabogangraffiti.blogspot.com/2012/04/opposite-reaction.html

    Reply

  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 4, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

    You know, I think I wrote around 800 words in response to that before deciding I didn't like the reply and abandoning it. 🙂

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  12. Matthew Blanchette
    July 4, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

    …well, I'd certainly like to hear it. 🙂

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  13. Matthew Blanchette
    July 4, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    …by the way, July 4th, 1776 was not actually when Britain "got rid of us idiots", as you say; it was actually either on September 3, 1783 (when the Treaty of Paris was signed) or January 14, 1784 (when the Treaty was ratified by the American Congress) that such happened… so, you've got a few months to go until the anniversary, either way. 😛

    Also, I would not be so hasty in extolling the virtues of Britain (as you did in your last entry); they may be far ahead of us in social progress, quite true, but the whole business with a monarchy, a state church, and absurdly bad libel laws… well, you can't say Thomas Paine didn't have a point. 😉

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  14. Henry R. Kujawa
    July 4, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

    Philip Sandifer:
    "It's one thing to do a Seventh Doctor/Mel story that tries to repair the perceived mistakes of Season 24."

    What's funny is that I actually did "cast" both Sylvester & Bonnie in one of my stories, and I did them a LOT like they were in "DELTA". Except it wasn't a DOCTOR WHO story at all. (Except for the time machine, but I treated his character more like Peter Cushing's.) So, obviously I didn't have any problem with their characters, just a lot of the writing in the stories they appeared in.

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  15. Eric Gimlin
    July 4, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

    You really didn't, Philip. Your mention of The Crucible mentions "unsubtle cudgels of moral judgement", which perhaps would normally be taken as negative. But I think most references to The Crucible seem to view that aspect of the play as, if not actively positive, at least necessary and proper in context.

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  16. Eric Gimlin
    July 4, 2012 @ 11:54 pm

    Aargh, I somehow managed to take something I meant as a mild "you did not quite make your dislike clear" and turn it into what now feels like an incredibly hostile statement. I apologize.

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  17. Iain Coleman
    July 5, 2012 @ 3:59 am

    Only one of those is a real problem, and a libel reform bill is going through Parliament as we speak.

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  18. Nick Smale
    July 5, 2012 @ 4:53 am

    I'd thoroughly recommend that every nation have a state religion – it's absolutely the best way to neuter the power of the church. Having a state church guarantees that religion is as attractive to join as the civic service, and as effective a force as a public service union…

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  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 5, 2012 @ 5:10 am

    No apology needed. 🙂

    Reply

  20. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 5, 2012 @ 5:11 am

    I was going to say, I am, in point of fact, a royalist. 🙂

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  21. Abigail Brady
    July 5, 2012 @ 6:19 am

    My membership card for Republic arrived today, along with a note apologising for the delay. Apparently there was a large backlog of memberships to process, what with the Jubilee.

    Reply

  22. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 5, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    One of these days I'll hit a post where a digression about my views on monarchy makes sense. Certainly The Beast Below, if nothing earlier presents itself.

    Reply

  23. Matthew Blanchette
    July 5, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    …so, "Liz Ten", something something, "I'm the bloody Queen, bint"? Yeah, that sounds about right. 😉

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  24. Matthew Blanchette
    July 5, 2012 @ 8:02 am

    Anyhow, Nick, that's all well and good today, but back in the day when the colonies were seceding, "state church" meant "rabble rabble rabble, burn the heretics; ribble ribble ribble, the king rules by divine decree and is never wrong"; that's the entire point of Jefferson's "wall between church and state", not to mention Roger Williams's own promulgation of it…

    Philip, if you're a royalist… then you truly are a self-hating American, innit? (Only half-joking, sorry.) 😛

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  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 5, 2012 @ 8:18 am

    Oh, I certainly am. Ideological preference for democracy to be overlaid onto a monarchist structure is, in fact, one of the reasons I'd like to emigrate in the future. (Short form – I think having a static text as the fetish object upon which the moral legitimacy of the state is founded is pragmatically disastrous. Human beings change and are mortal, whereas the written Constitution provides an all too compelling reason for people to insist that the ethics of the nation are permanently rooted in the 18th century.)

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  26. Matthew Blanchette
    July 5, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    Well, I suppose that's a plus for having an unwritten Constitution, I guess. 😉

    Personally, I like having what government can and cannot do written; they can even be overwritten and cancelled, if that's the case, but only by a large majority — and, fortunately for all Americans, Constitutional "traditionalists" do not rule the debate. The Constitution is pretty much free for a learned mind to interpret within reasonable grounds. 🙂

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  27. Adam Riggio
    July 5, 2012 @ 10:53 am

    "The Constitution is pretty much free for a learned mind to interpret within reasonable grounds."

    It's just too easy to make a joke about this these days. Said the Canadian.

    Well . . . said the Canadian whose current Prime Minister is a male Margaret Thatcher.

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  28. Matthew Blanchette
    July 5, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    …hence, "REASONABLE grounds". Not "batshit crazy" ones. 😛

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  29. Nick Smale
    July 5, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

    back in the day when the colonies were seceding, "state church" meant… ribble ribble ribble, the king rules by divine decree and is never wrong"

    I'd be surprised if that was the case. Remember, we fought a civil war and beheaded a king in the 1640s to free England from dictatorial monarchy – by 1776 Parliament's supremacy over the king had been established for nearly a century. The job of a state church would be to support that status quo, not challenge it – any priest still preaching the divine right of kings would likely have been out of a job sharpish…

    the entire point of Jefferson's

    I've often thought there was a lot of propaganda in the American revolutionaries statements. It obviously served their purposes to pretend that the Britain of 1776 was a lot less free, modern and democratic than it actually was…

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  30. Abigail Brady
    July 5, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    Remember there were state churches in the immediate post-colonial period. The Bill of Rights is not to be understood as some absolute prohibition on established churches, but a way of making sure that the existing established churches could not be interfered with by the Feds. The 1st amendment did nothing to affect those until the 14th amendment was held to incorporate those rights against the states (by which time they'd all been disestablished anyway…)

    I agree that the fetishisation of the U.S. constitution is a bit odd. At this point it has become effectively a religious text in its own right. You even have exactly the same arguments about "we should do literally what God/the founders said" vs "this is a living document" – often made by the same people! Amendments are getting harder and harder despite the entire system having ended up in perpetual constitutional crisis.

    This is particularly hilarious when you bear in mind that Jefferson REWROTE THE BIBLE.

    There are even analogies between side-texts like the Federalist Papers and the Hadith, and the early Supreme Court rulings and the Torah.

    Er, so, volcanoes and stuff.

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  31. Matthew Blanchette
    July 5, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

    Well, Nick, despite that, there's still a level of intolerance built into the British crown; even today, if an heir to the throne is not a member of the Church of England, their claim automatically becomes forfeit.

    You can't say that's just.

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  32. Nick Smale
    July 5, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

    despite that, there's still a level of intolerance built into the British crown; even today, if an heir to the throne is not a member of the Church of England, their claim automatically becomes forfeit.

    Yes, that's in the Act of Settlement (1701). You can absolutely understand why Parliament wanted that at the time – only ten years earlier James II had attempted a Catholic counter-revolution, and had been deposed and kicked out of the country for his trouble, so there would have been a desire to ensure that could never happen again. But it's clearly anachronistic today.

    You can't say that's just.

    Absolutely. My understanding is that the Act of Settlement is very hard to change (as the Queen is head of State in sixteen different nations, a change would have to be enacted by all of their parliaments, not just the UK one) but nonetheless the current government have said they want to have a go at updating it.

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  33. elvwood
    July 5, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

    Thanks. It's eased a little, but I'm still a little fuzzy in my thinking. I decided to listen to Fires again in the light of your post, and I won't be getting to a response while it's topical. I might post something anyway Sunday or Monday; again we'll see.

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  34. BerserkRL
    July 6, 2012 @ 12:26 am

    I love England, but I wouldn't want to be in London right now.

    And as an actual anarchist, I feel no obligation to choose between democracy and monarchy.

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  35. elvwood
    July 10, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    OK, this is way too late for the general discussion, but having spent some time thinking about it I decided to post anyway.

    There are a few areas where I disagree with you on this one.

    "In a nutshell, Lyons treats the past largely as a series of morally suspect or outright appalling cultures whose sole value is that they lead to the present."

    I don't really see this in The Fires of Vulcan. It is Mel's conception, sure; but there are plenty of indications that her viewpoint is narrow and simplistic – the means she chooses to attack the slavery issue, for instance, are well-meant but ultimately would have been harmful for her friend Aglae if it weren't for the eruption. And this is obviously deliberate. There's a lot of Mel in me, and while she is the closest to a viewpoint character in the story, part of it for me is noticing some of the wince-worthy things she does and says that I might well be guilty of in similar circumstances.

    (The nearest I've come is when my family were in Nepal for six weeks during the Maoist uprising. We were staying with some Nepali friends we first met when they were living in England, and there was a disconnect between the time we spent with them – helping around the house, meeting family, getting involved in their work – and when we went out and about without them. Going into Kathmandu I felt totally like a tourist, and indeed was treated as such by the people I met.)

    There is also a sense in this story that the people of Pompeii have lives outside of the plot, something that I never got from The Witch Hunters. There's always going to be a bit of a tourism aspect to a story with a real, not-modern-Western setting, but the humanity of the inhabitants (yes, even Murranus, a character that Steve Lyons added only reluctantly) mitigates that. You call them "idiotic heathens"; I don't see the idiotic part at all. Unless you swallow Mel's viewpoint whole, in which case you would be too polite to come right out and say so.

    What about the heathen part? You have more of a point there, because, yes, the story pushes a scientific outlook; but at no point does the Doctor tell the people that their gods don't exist, just that the eruption isn't their punishment. You see a message of people being killed because of their outmoded belief system, I see them dying because of circumstances they don't understand.

    As for the Doctor's behaviour… Yes, he saved a family in Fires of Pompeii, but he had considerably more experience – and he had Donna to push him. Mel is much less pushy, carrot juice notwithstanding. And anyway, the Doctor did tell a number of people what they needed to do (and not do) to have the best chance of survival without a TARDIS. I'll agree his initial fatalism is not particularly good characterisation – neither the season 24 nor the season 25/26 "versions" are like that – but the realisation that he could do something forms part of a retrospective character mini-arc that leads from the Doctor of Paradise Towers to the Doctor of Remembrance. It starts with his confrontation with Gavrok in Delta, losing his temper in the face of such open, wilful evil (thanks jphalt). This story then teaches him that he can do more than he thinks, and facing Kane in Dragonfire shows that he has an even greater talent for manipulating people than he had hitherto believed. OK, that's a bit contrived, but no more so than some other fan theories I could mention!

    Still, one of the things we agree on is that Simon Guerrier's take on the malleability of history is much more fun than Lyons'.

    Phew. That'll have to do.

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  36. Froborr
    October 4, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

    I'm Jewish. Historically speaking, we have not fared well in states with official churches. I'll stick with that separation of church and state, thanks muchly.

    Reply

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