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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. Matthew Celestis
    August 1, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    The Big Finish 'Season 27' was just so disappointing.

    The Virgin New Adventures was the real Season 27.


  2. Spacewarp
    August 1, 2012 @ 4:08 am

    I had not imagined there would be much for me in the blog from now until "1996", as I have never read anything other than original Target novels. How wrong I was. A very interesting post, giving me some perspective into what was still going on (both in the publishing world, and the collective mind of fandom) after Doctor Who (for me) had completely ceased.

    I look forward to the next 7 years!


  3. daibhid-c
    August 1, 2012 @ 6:48 am

    When I first read that Dave Owen article, I thought "completely surrounded by Daleks" was a big deal because it implied a large number of Daleks, all in shot at the same time, possibly some of them flying depending on how completely is "completely". The sort of shot which did indeed make people go "Oh my God!" when we eventually got it in "The Parting of the Ways". This is probably pure rationalisation on my part.

    My favourite example of Owen trying to string various nebulous ideas into a pseudo-Seasonish was that he took the vague description of the Doctor in a straitjacket deliberately triggering his regeneration, and then went for the fan-favourite "possible Doctor" Richard Griffiths without noticing that the two ideas don't work together; he's trying to sell us a quiet scene of underplayed horror, and instead we get a straitjacket exploding…


  4. Ununnilium
    August 1, 2012 @ 7:52 am

    See, I think a human becoming a Time Lord is an awesome idea that gets to the heart of what I think is the proper response to "The Doctor messes up civilizations and screws up companions' lives" – that the Doctor not only makes the universe better, but makes individual people better, stronger, able to be themselves more and affect the universe more, both when they're with him and afterwards.

    Ace literally becoming a Time Lord would be an excellent instance of this. (Donna doing so is the best one we've seen so far, even if it had tragic consequences.)


  5. Aaron
    August 1, 2012 @ 7:58 am

    Two things:

    First, there was a loooong thread on Gallifreybase concerning the supposed change in Thin Ice to make it fit with Big Finish continuity, including certain posters who will not be named going on and on about how Big Finish ruined Ace by changing the real Season 27 in favour of keeping it canon. But it's pretty clear from this conversation that Cartmel wasn't thinking about keeping this season meshing well with Big Finish in General- Dorney pointed out over and over that Cartmel's never listened to Big Finish and doesn't have a clue where Ace was going. Moreover, Cartmel says in a number of places that he was playing with the idea of keeping Ace around to work with the new companion for a few stories, then write her out. From that long thread, it becomes more clear that Ace didn't leave in this story because Cartmel, Platt, and Aaronovitch liked the character and didn't have to write her out. They rathered keep her on for all stories instead of getting rid of her when they didn't have to. Anyways, sorry to nitpick, but the people complaining that the original plan was changed to fit Big Finish were very frustrating and the worst type of continuity Whoniverse pedants, so I really just wanted to push the correct version of the story.

    As for the Season, I loved it, and I'm really sad it wasn't more popular, because all I really want is more Big Finish like this season. Thin Ice, yes, is absolutely average Cartmel Doctor Who, but a) I'll take average Cartmel Doctor Who over anything Big Finish does any day, and b) Crime of the Century and Animal are the absolute pinnacle of Cartmel Doctor Who. This focus of the season is very different- it's less surreal and odd, and more about interesting set pieces- but I really do think that those two work and show that the TV show may have been modernizing fast. And I love their concept of the Metatraxi- they're the exact sort of thing that McCoy Bashers would have attacked mercilessly had they been aired, but at the same time a ton a fun and perfectly in line with the aesthetic of the McCoy years.


  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 1, 2012 @ 7:58 am

    The problem, for me, comes in that being Ace's departure, not in it happening. If they wanted to elevate Ace to Romana-like status that could be interesting. But as a means of removing her from the show it seems to me deeply problematic… in much the same way that Romana's departure posed a real problem (and in some ways served as an odd prefiguring of the entire Saward era, in that it highlights the series misidentification of why the Doctor is interesting) – fundamentally, it's difficult not to want the camera to follow the departing companion, not the Doctor. And to have the camera follow the Doctor cheapens the companion, implicitly suggesting that they're less interesting than they are.


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 1, 2012 @ 8:04 am

    I've got the whole of Season 27, and I mean to listen to the rest of it – I'm glad to know that Crime of the Century and Animal are on target. And I'm rather excited for Earth Aid, which sounds like it's a pleasantly bare-knuckled piece of political Doctor Who.

    As for the keeping of Ace, I'm fine with keeping her – she is a great companion. I just find the middle ground this story took of keeping her departure plotline in but also keeping her rather unsatisfying. I can't imagine that if McCoy had signed up for year five and Aldred had agreed to stay on until partway through Season 28 that Thin Ice would have actually gone this way.


  8. Aaron
    August 1, 2012 @ 8:34 am

    Well, hopefully I don't get your hopes up too high: Crime of the Century is very "let's move the characters around until they hit all the set pieces I wanted them to hit" and you may find that, to your taste, it doesn't hang together like you'd want. I think it's very witty, Raine's a great character, and I love the Metatraxi in it. I also find the plot keeps pulling out interesting things often enough that I'm continually intrigued. But it's a plot almost impossible to sum up, because, well, it's not clear where the plot is. Which is fine, I love Cartmel's storytelling, but it's not to everyone's taste.

    (Also, pay attention to how they subvert 21 years of audience expectations for that safe cracking scene! Totally wasn't expecting what they did with it.)

    Animal, though, is a out and out classic. Bambera is great in it, the aliens are really interesting, Cartmel's normal weird children's show style morality is on display, and the plot moves around a lot in unexpected ways. Plus it perfectly characterises the Cartmel 7th Doctor – always has a plan, but at the same time, has to constantly improvise.

    I like Earth Aid a lot too, but it falls a little bit further into the Thin Ice camp. It is very fun, but drags a little at the beginning.

    But Thin Ice is definitely the Battlefield of Season 27. Nothing bad about it, super fun, but at the end of the day, a romp filled with set pieces, not a classic.


  9. David Anderson
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    Remembrance gets 'OMG daleks' out of the way half way through the first episode so that its first cliffhanger is 'these daleks can chase you up the stairs'. Really that ought to have been one of the scenes that define Doctor Who in the public eye (and it is definitely the scene that defines the story on this blog).

    Given what Ace does with the hat at the end of Survival, I would have really liked to have seen Ace becomes a timelord. Although for the reasons you give, it doesn't work as a way of getting rid of the character. Now if McCoy had been Doctor 13…


  10. Ununnilium
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    That's a good point.

    It would be really interesting if you planned out having a companion leave, then come back different. When Martha left, it seemed like they were going towards that, but it feels like that got subsumed under the "return of Rose" plot.


  11. encyclops
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    Thank you for explicating the reasons why "Ace becomes a Time Lord" was a problematic idea. Just typing the words makes me shudder a little. I much prefer (what I recall of) her trajectory in the Virgin books — to me it seemed a lot more plausible. Ace is about the last companion I could imagine becoming a Time Lord, and if that's meant to be some sort of irony, it doesn't work for me.

    I'm in the position of not particularly liking what Platt put in Lungbarrow OR the ongoing mystery angle. I don't find an unsolved mystery more satisfying than a solved one; I don't need everything explained, but if you're going to raise the question, it had better be because you have a worthwhile answer. That's why this business with "the question that must not be asked" makes me extremely nervous; there's no way that's going to have a decent payoff, and anything approaching one will almost certainly require a patented Moffat reset button. I don't feel the need for the series to dwell on the nature of the Doctor himself; with a show that can go anywhere in time and space, why not just tell the stories you want to tell and keep the focus there rather than making it a soap opera about demigods?

    Was it here that I've already made the comment that I don't need Doctor Who to be Sandman? I think it was. Sorry. πŸ™‚

    Anyway, I agree with Ununnilium about the theme of bringing out the best in the Doctor's companions and the people around him. This is paramount and much more what I love in this show than the Hellblazer rip of "everyone around me dies" that the new series wallows in. I don't agree that making Ace a Time Lord would be the best expression of this; if anything, it suggests that she has to become superhuman in order to excel, rather than becoming more herself.


  12. Lewis Christian
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:54 am

    Maybe, had Ace left to go to Gallifrey, they might've continued this storyline in a short series of books? Then we'd have the best of both worlds.


  13. Lewis Christian
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:59 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  14. Lewis Christian
    August 1, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    There was also an interview in a DWM this year regarding Ace and the Sarah Jane Adventures series. Had Lis not passed, and had the show continued, RTD was planning on bringing Ace into it. Apparently he would've had her roll up in a flashy car as some businesswoman, before suitably settling rather quickly into 'action girl' like she was in the show. I believe he also said, given the chance, he would've had a flashback showing her leaving the Seventh Doctor.


  15. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 10:47 am

    I think "Warriors' Gate" highlights the problem Doctor Who had in the 70s and early 80s where people other than Robert Holmes and Douglas Adams didn't realise who The Doctor was and how he was supposed to act.

    I still think the idea of Ace becoming a Time Lord is an interesting one, because of how it parallels with the shows' revival. I don't think we're ever meant to believe Ace would become a standard stuffy old Cardinal; she'dve become a renegade like The Doctor. I think the fact she was a rebellious, disenfranchised youth is the key here. In other words she's more "the student graduating the master" then Romana because Romana always had a complex narrative role that made her more than "the student" from the beginning.

    But yeah, "Thin Ice" itself is very disappointing. What did you think of the use of the Ice Warriors? I thought they were deeply, deeply problematic myself (but then, that they continue to be used at all post-"Curse of Peladon" may be the real issue here).


  16. Adam Riggio
    August 1, 2012 @ 11:13 am

    I've never read Dave Owen's article, but the quote you choose from the alternative history is illuminating. After the cancellation, Doctor Who's fan community was essential to its survival; the franchise had to maintain that continuing narrative to prevent itself from being just another sci-fi property that had seen its day. The Virgin line in the 1990s was the place where Doctor Who could still be creative and develop new ideas and directions. It was dependent on the community of fans for continuing to fund those developments with their purchases of books, so the creatives and the fans formed a positive relationship (finally!) to keep the series from being outright mothballed.

    The 1990s are going to be a difficult period to navigate, though, for the reasons that Dave Owen quote illustrates. Phil was right to identify a powerfully condescending attitude on the part of Pip and Jane Baker in their fan forum from the Trial of a Time Lord dvd extras. Their contention that all fans want is generic "Doctor Who" images like running down corridors and Daleks barking EXTERMINATE!!! was rightly hostile and patronizing to the fan community. But when the fan community imagines such flaccidly stereotypical "Doctor Who" images as Daleks confronting the Doctor and companion shouting EXTERMINATE!!! as the defining image of the show for the general public, Pip and Jane start to sound oddly perceptive.

    I think of this as a key tension in the Virgin years, although my knowledge of the books is spotty in its details (mostly having come to them after the end of their print run). There does seem to be a continuing thread in the narrative of the Eruditorum that the relationship of Doctor Who to its fan community is important, but also dangerous. That's the main tension of the wilderness years, in my view: Creative people who care about the series and want to push forward and experiment with what it does sometimes butting heads with the community of its consumers, many of whom are content with their nostalgic images of traditional Doctor Who.


  17. Ununnilium
    August 1, 2012 @ 11:26 am

    I'm rereading Lungbarrow (thanks to ) and quite enjoying it, but liking the ideas more as an AU than as anything that would affect the ongoing direction of the series.


  18. Adam Riggio
    August 1, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    Curse of Peladon was unintentionally progressive in a way, regarding how it treated alien races. More than a decade before Robert Holmes threw the entire concept of "generic monster race" back in all our faces with The Two Doctors, Curse of Peladon very quietly made that whole critique with a far less vitriolic story. As Phil said covering the Pertwee era last Fall, this only made the backslide in general quality of Monster of Peladon even worse.

    But I always liked the concept behind the Ice Warriors, especially as they were in The Dying Days novel: A dignified race having a long and legendary history, with stalled (if advanced compared to our own) technology and a dwindling or static population. I've wanted the new series to have the Ice Warriors appear, not to see them as generic monsters, but as the Doctor suggested in some of his lines in Waters of Mars. Thin Ice suggests the complexity of their culture in the background, but for the most part, they act as militaristic villains. The current series could do the Ice Warriors with the dignity, complexity, and budget they deserve.


  19. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    That point about "Curse of Peladon" is exactly why I think the Ice Warriors were so problematic here. "Peladon" treats them with so mush respect and fleshes out their culture so much it makes the Ice Warriors unique amongst the Doctor Who pantheon and "Peladon" incredibly progressive. In "Thin Ice" it seemed to me they were back in generic monster territory and their side of the plot, which amounts to a silly runaround to find a macguffin, reminded me uncomfortably of the "Oh, you think we're advanced and civilized but nope, that's a trick we're still savages" motif of "Monster".


  20. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    The concept of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan" as an artefact of fanon that Phil introduces here is part of the biggest problem I have with the whole Virgin era, though it certainly crops up in Big Finish from time to time too as this essay aptly shows. While I love the idea of reintroducing a lot of mystery to The Doctor's character and subtly implying there's far more to him then we've been led to believe, the sort of obsessive hyperreductive attempt to find a canon explanation for all of that mystery seems to me rather missing the whole point of it.

    What's more, in doing this the writers of this era went out of their way to play up the manipulative chessmaster angle of McCoy's Doctor and explicitly show how that hurts those around him in an attempt to render The Doctor fallible. I have a big problem with this approach to writing The Doctor, both here and in the New Series because, in my view, all it does is put him at the centre of the narrative again. Instead of being about The Doctor heroically saving everyone with wit, charm and improvisation a la Tom Baker, it just turns him into a dramatic antihero who has to come to terms with the effect he has on others. That's not really how I picture the Master of the Land of Fiction in Absentia.

    The Cartmel era got the nickname "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" for a reason, and I really like that moniker. I always felt The Doctor was an enigmatic Trickster Mentor, not a tragic lead, a "lonely god" or a cosmic gamesmaster. Hopefully Phil's take on the Virgin books, and those of my fellow commenters, will give me a new perspective on them.


  21. Adam Riggio
    August 1, 2012 @ 1:12 pm

    It's one element of the Virgin era that causes a problem with the character for sure, focussing on the negative impacts of the Doctor's adventuring lifestyle, the pain that always accompanies the good work that he does, whether that collateral damage outshines his positivity. I don't think the Virgin line ever overcame this; the line ends with the Seventh Doctor accepting it.

    I think moments in the Davies era struggled to find an answer to this, but couldn't. It was unfortunate, because Davies was so good at posing the problem that it left nagging doubts in my mind as to whether he believed in the character anymore with anything other than a childishly simple faith, contrary to the evidence of the character's life..

    Moffatt's was the first vision of Doctor Who, in my opinion, to engage with this idea and find a positive way out. And it fits rather well with what Phil earlier identified as the reason why the Doctor became a hero in the first place, back in Planet of Giants (I re-read his Hartnell book recently, so those essays are as fresh in my mind as the McCoys).

    The Doctor in the 2011 season goes through an arc where he genuinely considers that the universe is better off without him. The answer doesn't come from himself, but from his friends. No matter the collateral damage, the Doctor is always there to help, being a hero not out of his ego but because his friends ask it of him. The Doctor's life is worthwhile because of his love of the world and his friends, and because of his friends' love for him. No less than any of us can say about ourselves, really.


  22. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

    That's probably the nicest reading of the 2011 season I've yet seen. Certainly far more charitable than I would have been, seeing as I do little difference in the approach Moffat used then the approach used by Davies and the other Virgin writers. I suppose you could read much of the Moffat era as an attempt to use the Doctor to subvert the structure of Doctor Who itself, but again, that's been done before and better IMO.

    I guess my big issue is having to saddle the series with this idea in the first place. I personally don't find it a particularly interesting or rewarding discussion thread to pursue and at the very worst seems to risk ethically derailing the series a la John Wiles. It just seems hackneyed and far too played out a theme to me at this point: After all, it's been almost the default mode of Doctor Who storytelling for about 20 years. I'm much more interested in seeing the series return to its roots of deconstructing stories by overturning their narrative structure.


  23. jane
    August 1, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

    I think it's important for that tension to be present, because without it the show tilts towards unbridled hero worship, and think that's not just unsatisfying, it's a bit sickening. Characters with moral stains are so much more interesting, and so much more telling of the human condition; certainly more telling of who I am.

    And, I don't know, shying away from the negative entailments of the Doctor's choices is so Second Doctor, because there are always negative entailments. To play the angel is to play the beast, and to pretend there's no beast below just seems so, what's the word… dishonest?


  24. Ununnilium
    August 1, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    I'd love to see the post-Curse of Peladon Ice Warriors come back. I loved the carefully buried reference in Waters of Mars. Did that one imply they were extinct, or just not on Mars anymore?


  25. Ununnilium
    August 1, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

    I think the tension is important, but I think that we've pushed it too far to the "destructive" side. (Of course, the RTD era was what really did it, with the end of "Waters of Mars", but it was never properly dealt with there.) It may well be that, next season, we'll see a more proper balance once again.


  26. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

    Surely it's difficult to hero worship a character who isn't a hero? That's the fundamental difference I think: I don't feel The Doctor should be the main character or the hero. Focusing any kind of attention and action on him is misguided In my opinion.

    And the Troughton era "shyed away from the negative entailments of The Doctor's choices"? What about "Evil of the Daleks" where he almost loses Jamie's faith in him or "The Seeds of Death" and "The War Games", which were about nothing if not critiquing Doctor Who symbolized by The Doctor himself and at the end of which Jamie and Zoe are taken away from him and he's forced to regenerate?


  27. Adam Riggio
    August 1, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    Here's the difference between the Davies and Moffatt approaches to this problem. Tennant's Doctor, at most, had moments where he realized he had become too big for his britches, and while he sometimes lost confidence in his way of doing things, he never lost confidence in himself as a whole. Even in The Waters of Mars, his own thoughts were that he had made a terrible mistake this one time, not that his entire existence was no longer worthwhile.

    The show, meanwhile, presented far more extreme perspectives, Human Nature probably being the most the show itself has ever been against the Doctor. Joan tells him to his face that his existence is destructive, and Tim describes him as a terrifying force of nature. The only rejoinder is Tim's declaration immediately following this that he's "wonderful." That's flaccid and meaningless in the face of the profound critiques that surround it. And the story very much marginalized the contribution of Martha to all this, concentrating all the narrative weight on Joan and Tim.

    Moffatt, in contrast, went even farther than Davies did because the 2011 season wasn't just other characters challenging the Doctor; it was the Doctor challenging his own existence, and finding himself wanting. His redemption comes from his friendships and loves: Craig, Amy, and River.

    My hopes for next season is that, having been challenged by the Silence and by himself, the Doctor's friendships are tested and redeemed. He'll find something of the humility in his 'magical grandfather' persona from the 2011 Xmas special, and he can answer whatever crazy climactic epic challenge will appear next November in the 50th anniversary show.


  28. Ununnilium
    August 1, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

    Adam: Ten's behavior often feels like someone who really isn't sure of themselves bulking up with "well of course I'm awesome" to keep from collapsing, I say. (I'd have to rewatch Human Nature before being able to really comment on that aspect.)

    I agree on your last paragraph, though. <3

    Josh: The entire show is about focusing attention on him, if not necessarily action. Has been since before Ian and Barbara left, really. Which doesn't mean he can't slide out of that focus, subvert it, as Troughton did, but the focus has to be there for the subversion to mean anything.


  29. ferret
    August 1, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

    I have to admit I've not listened to "Thin Ice", but to me it would much more interesting for Ace to turn down the Time Lords rather than the other way around.

    That at least is character driven, and could conceivably lead Ace leaving the series: realising she wants to strike out on her own entirely – no Time Lords, no Doctor… do something interesting and worthwhile in cold war russia.


  30. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 1, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

    This is, of course, the point during the debate of which Josh and I will finally plunge, locked in a death grip, over the cliff and towards our final ends.

    I think there are several things that the new series does that blunt Josh's critique. The biggest is probably successfully completing what was initially offered by Ace as a companion and having a supporting cast with enough interiority to avoid letting the Doctor dominate everything. The Doctor isn't the center of the narrative in, say, The God Complex; Amy is. (My standard objection to that story persisting, of course.) The Girl Who Waited isn't about the Doctor being a bastard to Amy and Rory, it's about their reactions and experiences. And that's a huge, huge difference that I think evades the centrality problem. The Doctor isn't the center of the narrative – he's the device by which Amy and Rory's narrative becomes epic. Under Moffat the Doctor's fallibility becomes the latest solution to the "how do we make a Doctor Who epic" question, not an end in itself.

    Waters of Mars is a more interesting case, and it gets at why I'm in some ways more unnerved by the Davies era on this front. Because it's tough to say that the Doctor rescuing Adelaide is wrong. The audience is never really meant to sympathize that hard with "we must protect the timestream! Fixed points!" Indeed, usually (Fires of Pompeii, The Aztecs) the "you can't rewrite history" angle is used to make the Doctor less sympathetic and more alien. It's very easy to side with the Doctor on saving Adelaide. It's the "Time Lord Victorious" and "little people" stuff that goes wrong. But that comes down to the Doctor being a bit of a dick, not the Doctor being fundamentally and shatteringly wrong.

    A similar problem exists in Parting of the Ways, as the Doctor's unwillingness to stop the Daleks stands to kill far more people than he'd kill stopping them, including everybody on Earth, who are presumably dead either way. In both cases the actual ethical critique of the Doctor and the weight the series gives to it don't quite match. I feel like there's a sort of chronic tone-deafness to Davies in this regard. Whereas I feel like Moffat has done a better job of shifting the dramatic load over to the companions, and rendering the Doctor's failings a little more sharply, while also backing down from the sort of grandiosity of Davies' Doctor failings. "He said he'd come back and he didn't" is both more clear-cutly bad than saving Adelaide and doesn't threaten to undermine the entire morality of the character.


  31. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    See, this is where I'm not sure I agree. I don't think the show is about The Doctor; I think it's about what happens when you insert The Doctor into different environments. I read The Doctor almost as a constant, because his role is always to examine and subvert structure and order. The type of change he brings and the way he appears to people might vary from time to time, but that always ought to be his role in my opinion. You can give The Doctor some narrative attention, but he's not the main character or focus, the show's own premise is. If anyone's the main character, it's the TARDIS.


  32. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    So clearly Phil and I were writing our responses at the same time. My point still stands, though, despite my profound respect for his reading of the New Series.

    I would put that "The Girl Who Waited" and "The God Complex" are precisely about problematizing The Doctor's effect on his companions and that's still doing exactly what I was critiquing above. Even if the actual story isn't explicitly about The Doctor, he's a dominating, irreducible part of the narrative by virtue of how he screws up his companion's lives and that's absolutely something the writers want us to pay a lot of attention to. The show is still dragging up that old "The Doctor causes as much harm as he does good" chestnut and I just don't find it particularly interesting.

    Phil, it does seem then, that you and I are destined to do this forever.


  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 1, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    No, Mr. Marsfelder, I expect you to die.

    Wait. No. Wrong part of the script. /flips back a few pages.

    The stories are certainly about the Doctor's fallibility, but in the same way that The God Complex is about a hotel. It's not the center of the narrative. It's the weight of the narrative, certainly – the epic sweep of it is generated by the Doctor's fallibility. But the focus of the story – where the actual drama is – comes from the companions.

    I think, in fact, that Moffat is playing a very interesting game with the standard expectation of stories about heroes whereby we expect the story to be about their frailty. Certainly that's what I think Davies does with his "lonely god" Doctor, and fine – it hadn't been done before on television, and was worth doing in that medium. And there's more to Davies's run than just that – indeed, he starts scraping at the door of what Moffat ultimately does.

    Because Moffat may hold to the standard shape of what we do with hero stories now – fallible, frail heroes – but he's been consistently giving us a different view of those stories, where the extremes of epic drama play out on a human level. And not in the sense of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern style story where we see the drama from the perspective of the little people. No, he's using the fact that our default sense of "epic story" is now, basically, "the superhero who is shown to be a mere mortal," and then feeding those conventions back through the classic children's literature lens so that the soaring tragedies of a wandering god are, in the end, best understood as the dreams of a little girl who waited.


  34. Josh Marsfelder
    August 1, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

    But the companions' entire character arc is defined purely by The Doctor's fallibility. Indeed, they wouldn't have a character arc were he not fallible. Had the Doctor not blundered into Amy's house, she wouldn't have a story both because the narrative would not have involved her on a metattextual level and within the camera space The Doctor's screwups wouldn't have come to define her entire life. Amy and Rory have literally no other backstory than The Doctor-he's shaped their entire life. I get that's the point, but it's the issue writ large.

    And that I think is the thrust of my complaint, or at least one of them. We now have a show that's no longer about inserting The Doctor into stories but building stories directly out of him and his actions. That's too major an impact on the narrative for me to accept. When The Doctor ceases to be a clandestine intruder and becomes the most important figure in the entire narrative, even by association, something's gone wrong I feel.

    (And no, to hedge the expected response I don't think The Doctor was ever the most important thing about the narrative: That's the narrative premise itself, i.e., The TARDIS)

    I also do get there's a level of metacommentary going on here where The Doctor is the most important character in the universe because the show is Doctor Who and Doctor Who is the universe. I get it, I really do. I'm just not a fan of it. It's not the way to handle Doctor Who metacommentary because it confuses the role of The Doctor IMO. There's no real narrative outsider character because everything is the narrative now. I still think the Graham Williams era model is the best approach to that sort of thing I've yet seen, half-baked as it was.

    One day I need to stop faffing about and actually write all this up in a coherent essay somewhere.

    And If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me πŸ˜‰


  35. Nick Smale
    August 1, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

    I think it's true that there was a conflict between those who wanted to push Dr Who forward, and those who wanted it to remain unchanged (the "rad" and the "trad" factions, as they were known at the time). I'm not sure that this was really a clash between the creatives and the consumers, however: there were plenty of rad fans who loved the NAs and their attempt to be "too broad and too deep for the small screen"; and several trad authors who disliked them, and tried to write books (too narrow and too shallow for the page, presumably) that followed the pattern of the TV show. (Virgin tried to resolve the conflict by creating the Missing Adventures as a trad ghetto, but this was never entirely successful.)

    In many was the most interesting thing about the NA era is that the distinction between Dr Who's "creative people" and "consumers" disappeared. The authors were fans, and many fans (Cornell, Orman, Parkin, etc), enabled by Virgin's unusually open submissions policy, became authors.


  36. jane
    August 1, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

    Surely it's difficult to hero worship a character who isn't a hero? That's the fundamental difference I think: I don't feel The Doctor should be the main character or the hero. Focusing any kind of attention and action on him is misguided In my opinion.

    But this is exactly how fandom is! The Doctor is and has been a hero to so many people over the decades. People write reams and reams of stuff about him, debate which Doctor is the best; even Harlan Ellison sung his praises ("you too can be the Doctor.") long before the Revival.

    So the metacommentary isn't on the Doctor or how he's problematic, so much as it is on us and the impact the show's had on our generations. And frankly, I find this so much more interesting than exploring how he deforms abstract narrative structures or political orders, though I do find that interesting, too, even though it's been on tap for nigh on fifty years. There's only so much you can do with the clandestine intruder before it wears thin.

    I don't think the show is about The Doctor; I think it's about what happens when you insert The Doctor into different environments. I read The Doctor almost as a constant, because his role is always to examine and subvert structure and order.

    So what happens when you insert the Doctor into our lives? Because that's the most relevant environment I can think of, and in the end the one that matters the most. Environments are just context; character is content.

    People are stories, we are narratives, and Doctor Who deforms and reshapes our narrative structures. My nephews have become Who obsessed (I like to think I played a part in that) and so much of their playtime is oriented around these action figures, or the videos, and talking about every kind of monster conceivable. So I find it terribly important that the Doctor is always shown as flawed and fallible, problematic, yet still far and away a force for good in the world, so my nephews can internalize that despite their own flaws and foibles, they aren't monsters; the notion that the Doctor causes "just as much harm" is a gross generalization, and not really reflective of what we actually get.

    Of course, the other bent of the current run is recursive — how does the Doctor deform his own narrative? How does he change when he looks in the mirror? Which is what War Games was supposed to do, but it really wasn't explored in that much depth in the subsequent decades, despite the exploration of recursion itself.

    What I feel most certain of, though, is that the show need not go over the ground or return to the ethos of the Classic Series. This would be a regression. And what is this about being a constant? If the Doctor is an agent of change, then he can't be constant, and neither can his stories. His role can never be an "always."


  37. ferret
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:12 pm

    presumably that was the Doctor's entire escape plan: "Stop going insane for a moment, focus on a dress size"


  38. ferret
    August 1, 2012 @ 9:25 pm

    Josh: The climax of the 2011 series would seem to address the idea that The Doctor has become too central a driving force in the narrative in recent years.

    So you're going to do this, let them all think you're dead?

    It's the only way. Then they can all forget me. I got too big, Dorium, too noisy… time to step back into the shadows.

    However, whether or not this low-profile will last longer than the recent Christmas Special remains to be seen.


  39. Adam Riggio
    August 2, 2012 @ 6:18 am

    Phil and Josh, while I like both of your perspectives on this point, I think Josh's might come up against some limits, given what television is today. As I interpret your point, Josh, you take the Doctor (or more properly, the TARDIS) not to be a character in the narrative, per se, but to be a force to destabilize and reorder worlds. That's an important dimension of Doctor Who, and one that should always be a part of the show's narratives.

    However, the Doctor (and the TARDIS as well, especially, thanks to Neil Gaiman for making everything that's been implicit for decades blatantly explicit) is a character, and that can't be denied going back through the entire history of the show. He's changed in many different ways, and I don't think has ever really been just a pure force that way. Engaging with the internal conflicts of the central character is part of what we expect from narratives today — upending a social order isn't enough unless we get a sense of why the Doctor does it. He changes and adapts just as much as anything else in the show.

    I think one of the most important influences the Virgin years had on the new series was delving into the internal life, conflicts, and uncertainties of the Doctor. These conflicts weren't always handled perfectly, but Doctor Who has never been handled perfectly. I don't think the new series would have had the narrative and emotional power that it does if the Doctor's own feelings and motivations were off the table. He just wouldn't make sense as a character anymore without an inner life.


  40. Ununnilium
    August 2, 2012 @ 10:22 am

    Oooooh, yes. That would be perfect.


  41. Ununnilium
    August 2, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    Phil: Oh man, you are SO RIGHT on Waters of Mars. Like I was just saying to someone, they took a reasonable idea ("The Doctor overreaches himself in hubris and a Greek tragedy ending follows"), and does it in a way that doesn't make sense:

    The Doctor: "Yep I saved you. I'm awesome! It just might be that the responsibility of changing history isn't too much for me, because I'm awesome!"

    Adelaide: "I am going to blow my brains out out of a vague idea that you've done something wrong."

    It's just… such an overreaction.


  42. ferret
    August 2, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

    Adelaide could have just dyed her hair and moved to France under an assumed name. Design a lightweight-bicycle and make a killing in the space-dome industry.


  43. storiteller
    August 2, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

    The Doctor isn't the center of the narrative – he's the device by which Amy and Rory's narrative becomes epic.

    That's actually the major problem I had with Martha as a character. Despite all of the epic things that happen around her and to her, it was never clear she needed the Doctor to have an epic life. Every single other person's life of New Who has needed more excitement and fulfillment. They saw their life as a bit dead-end for a variety of reasons. But as Martha's character was presented, she already had fulfillment and a future. She was never presented as needing more out of life than the others did – she was just there because she had a crush on the dude. I could definitely see how they could have done the character for the Doctor to bring more joy and insight on the universe into her life via Tennant's Manic Pixie Dream Boy side, but they just didn't.

    I liked Waters of Mars, but that might have been in part because I heard people hated it and I was pleasantly surprised. Planet of the Dead, on the other hand…ugh.


  44. Josh Marsfelder
    August 3, 2012 @ 11:49 am


    Well, I did say awhile back my interpretation of the show is an anachronistic dead end. I don't expect anyone else to hold it. And believe me I'm as much a fan of character drama as anyone else, I just don't like it in the context of The Doctor or The TARDIS.

    Jane part 1:

    So Doctor Who is now about deforming and analysing its own fandom and history. I'm not disagreeing this is the point and the expected end product of the series but I differ from you in that I don't particularly find this all that interesting. If anything, I think that view will wear thin just as fast, if not faster.

    Jane part 2:

    Exactly. However, Amy and Rory don't really have lives or narratives, do they? The Doctor didn't reshape them, he created them. The fact Amy and Rory would have had spectacularly boring and uninteresting lives had they not met The Doctor is exactly the point of their arcs. That may be a metacommentary on fandom as many have read it, but it's not really satisfying character drama in my opinion.

    As for The Doctor deforming his own narrative, we've seen that before I argue: Look at Seasons 9, 10 and 17. Letts and Williams definitely didn't go far enough to be sure, but that's what I find almost the most interesting about the Classic Series: How many spectacularly good ideas it had that were never really explored to their full satisfying extent. Why revist the Classic Series? Because its themes and motifs feel so half-finished so frequently. I can't help feeling there's still work to be done, and that the show in the 21st Century isn't any closer to doing it than it was in 1989.

    And that really is all I should say about this for now. I've only managed to hideously derail the thread again and now I'm a day late to boot so all I'm doing is kicking a dead horse.


  45. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 3, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    Nonsense! There is no rail here! This is TARDIS Eruditorum! The topic of discussion is always whatever we are enjoying discussing!

    I'm hesitant to say that Amy and Rory lack their own lives or narratives. For Rory, in particular, that seems to me a hostile reading that the text is actively attempting to resist. The entire point of his character, I think, is that he doesn't have to stake his existence and self-worth on vast cosmic journeys. He's done quite well for himself in a mundane life – he's in a genuinely noble profession, he's a good man, and he doesn't need to galavant about the universe to validate himself. He doesn't even really want to – he just doesn't want his wife out there alone. Almost all of his strong character moments come from the fact that he doesn't have to be there, and that he has a real life in Ledsworth he would much rather be living.

    Amy is more complex, but even there, it's not like Rory's interest in her or love for her comes from her belief in the Doctor. That's something he doesn't mind, and is willing to indulge, but it's clear that the people around her value her for something more than that. And the show clearly values their individual lives. It doesn't consider them spectacularly boring and uninteresting at all. Not Doctor Who stories, perhaps – we're never going to get a sci-fi free episode of them at home. But Amy's Choice was pretty adamant that ordinary life in Ledsworth was inherently valuable and worthwhile.


  46. Josh Marsfelder
    August 3, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

    Alright then, but you asked for it πŸ™‚

    The problem with this, I feel (and I'm not disagreeing you're right in your interpretation) is that the show does this with them all the time. It's constantly reminding us Amy and Rory don't need The Doctor to live interesting and worthwhile lives and as laudable a message as that is, the series harps on it to the point I have to ask: "Well, if people's lives are just as satisfying without The Doctor, and much safer to boot because he causes as much pain and suffering as he does good if not more, then what, exactly, is the point in watching Doctor Who? Obviously, this show and its character are a waste of time'.

    Furthermore, what are we to make of the fact the show seems to be saying the Doctor does need to validate himself by gallivanting around time and space (putting aside, temporarily, my colossal resistance to the idea of treating The Doctor like another figure in a character drama)? Despite what Moffat seemed to be gesturing towards with "Closing Time", "The Wedding of River Song" and "The Doctor, The Witch and the Wardrobe" (all of which I read as a spectacularly unsatisfying version of "love is all you need") I don't feel he's comfortably resolved that problem.

    So, either the show is telling us that Doctor Who is worthwhile because it's fun and groovy and makes our lives interesting or it's saying The Doctor is a menace to himself and other people and should be ashamed of himself and stop to think about what he's done. The show seems to be striving for both, achieving neither and all options seem to be problematic ways of reading the show to me.


  47. Ununnilium
    August 4, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    "So I find it terribly important that the Doctor is always shown as flawed and fallible, problematic, yet still far and away a force for good in the world, so my nephews can internalize that despite their own flaws and foibles, they aren't monsters; the notion that the Doctor causes "just as much harm" is a gross generalization, and not really reflective of what we actually get."

    Old, but:

    This this this this this. So very this.

    An important part of having a flawed hero is showing that they're still heroic. This, I think, is where the Saward era falls down – but it's in good company; this was a recurring problem of the '80s, and for that matter, much of the '70s and '90s.


  48. BerserkRL
    August 4, 2012 @ 8:26 am


    whether or not this low-profile will last longer than the recent Christmas Special remains to be seen

    Judging from the new trailer, he seems not to have succeeded in remaining entirely off the radar …


  49. BerserkRL
    August 4, 2012 @ 8:28 am


    Planet of the Dead, on the other hand…ugh.

    Why ugh? You must be less fond of Michelle Ryan than I am. (Though admittedly her character was a bit too much like River.)


  50. BerserkRL
    August 4, 2012 @ 8:36 am

    So, either the show is telling us that Doctor Who is worthwhile because it's fun and groovy and makes our lives interesting or it's saying The Doctor is a menace to himself and other people and should be ashamed of himself and stop to think about what he's done.

    But there's truth to both, and the tension between the two is more interesting than just having one of those narratives dominate unchecked by the other.

    I remember seeing an interview with Alan Moore in which he was asked, about V for Vendetta, why he'd made his anarchist hero so morally problematic and also made several of the fascist characters so sympathetic. His answer was something like: "Well, I could have said, this guy's the anarchist, he's GOOD, these guys are the fascists, they're EVIL. But that would be BORING."


  51. Josh Marsfelder
    August 4, 2012 @ 9:46 am

    Perhaps it is, but that tension seems as if it's the only thing Doctor Who is interested in talking about these days and I rather think the show has said all it is physically possible to say on this topic, let alone all it actually needs to say, over the past 20 years.

    About 15 years ago my discipline, the social studies of knowledge/science and technology studies, went through a period of massive re-evaluation where we turned our postmodern tools of deconstruction in on ourselves. We were hurt badly by a period known as the Science Wars where a bunch of Big-Ass physical and natural scientists came down hard on us and basically questioned the legitimacy and purpose of any school of thought not their own, but especially us. This led to a trend of ethnographers doing ethnography on other ethnographers that is widely regarded in hindsight as a necessary temporary exorcism, but ultimately pointless and unproductive for any extended period of time. Watching Doctor Who today for me is like being back in the 1990s as it seems like it's having the same identity crisis. It seems like Doctor Who is about nothing except metafictional navel-gazing now and I find that boring. If the show has gotten to the point where that's the only trick in its wheelhouse now, to overanalyze itself, then maybe it's due for another hiatus-It can do so much more than that.


  52. jane
    August 4, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    Amy and Rory don't really have lives or narratives, do they? The Doctor didn't reshape them, he created them. The fact Amy and Rory would have had spectacularly boring and uninteresting lives had they not met The Doctor is exactly the point of their arcs.

    But couldn't we say the same about Barbara and Ian? They're just these schoolteachers, nothing interesting about them until we see them explore the Universe with the Doctor. Same goes for Jamie, or Liz Shaw, or any other character. But with the old series, except there's very little in the way of focusing on their character development, on their interiority (and so we don't have to look at ourselves very closely, either.)

    Since Phil's done such a marvelous job at highlighting Rory's life independent of the Doctor, I'll turn to Amy, because I think you've got it backwards. The Doctor didn't create Amy, Amy created Amy, and furthermore, she more than any other character in the history of the show has created the Doctor. After all, she's the girl who can invoke a household god into her life, to heal the cracks of her home that ate away her life… and I have a sneaky suspicion that she herself is the one responsible for creating that rift in the Universe to begin with. (We are the cause of our own suffering.)

    Dissatisfied with a life in Leadworth (like you, she finds it spectacularly boring by itself) she charts her own course — Closing Time shows us she's got not just a business sense, but a sense of having a large life, her face recognizable to little girls everywhere. Even in Leadworth, she was well known, an outward, gregarious woman who made people's lives more interesting.

    But she's not perfect. She wrestles with demons inside, struggling to accept the responsibilities that come with adulthood, be it marrying her childhood sweetheart or raising a child. Her inner demons manifest in the form of Monsters, whose aspect she takes on, be they night terrors or pirates or soldiers bearing guns. Everyone has a beast below, but at least she's got the gumption to face it, acknowledge it, and incorporate it into her life; as we learned from the Second Doctor, fighting monsters just makes us monsters.

    All of this is who she is, looking in the mirror; the Doctor doesn't create her, but mentors her as she comes to grips with the forces of the subconscious mind. And this is, perhaps, a fitting role for Mythology. It helps us to answer The Question, "Who am I?"

    Who are you?


  53. jane
    August 4, 2012 @ 11:21 am

    But there's truth to both, and the tension between the two is more interesting than just having one of those narratives dominate unchecked by the other.

    Yes, but this isn't the only tension explored by the show. It's interested in exploring the tension between every sort of dichotomy — it's as if it seeks to destabilize the very process of dichotomous thinking; in this it share much in common with most modern stories, from Buffy and Lost to The Good Wife and Breaking Bad.

    Gone are the days of simple Good vs. Evil, and may they stay buried for a good long time. So it is with the Doctor: going off on adventures is terribly interesting, but also terribly dangerous, but these aren't mutually exclusive as Josh paints them; if anything, they are kith and kin. The show strives for both and succeeds at both, wedding them together — and this is why there's so much wedding imagery in the Revival, it's a metaphor for the unity of opposites.

    And part of what I find so refreshing in the Revival is that it can invoke contradictory readings, even in the same person:

    The fact Amy and Rory would have had spectacularly boring and uninteresting lives had they not met The Doctor is exactly the point of their arcs.


    It's constantly reminding us Amy and Rory don't need The Doctor to live interesting and worthwhile lives

    Which is really a truth of human existence — our lives are interesting and uninteresting at the same time, and in both cases we are the ones who make it so.


  54. Froborr
    October 5, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    Barely started reading the article, let alone comments, but wanted to say: Among the (sadly numerous) episodes of Doctor Who that exist only in my head is one entitled "Conspiracy of the Daleks" where the first cliffhanger is ZOMG NOT DALEKS! Specifically, the opening shot is of a Dalek, then the TARDIS materializes, we get the usual 25 minutes of runaround… and then one of the Dalek shells is torn open and revealed to be just that–an empty shell, containing no machinery, no squirmy green thing, nothing. cue credits

    I gave up on that one, actually, because I could never think of what the rest of the story would actually be about or who or what was animating the empty shells.


  55. Froborr
    October 5, 2012 @ 11:48 am

    I come from the future to tell you: Not only does it last, they take it further.

    Asylum of the Daleks: The Daleks have now never heard of the Doctor.

    Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: Drop hints that whatsisname is specifically seeking the Doctor, then subvert it–he's seeking a doctor. Note that he explicitly does not mean a warrior. Also his computer doesn't recognize the Doctor, suggesting that somewhere between Wedding of River Song and this episode he's been erasing himself from records.

    A Town Called Mercy: Opening monologue suggests the town has a legend about the Doctor… but they don't, it turns out at the end their legend is about the cyborg.

    In short, we've gone from the Doctor in Eleventh Hour who can make the Atraxi run by revealing who he is, to the Doctor whom no one has ever heard of or remembers. And he's doing it on purpose.


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