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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. Alex Wilcock
    October 10, 2012 @ 2:06 am

    I’ve always liked The Shadow of the Scourge, despite its terrible reviews (and NA-homage terrible cover), so it’s nice to see someone else being kindly to it! I think you’ve slightly missed the derivation of ‘gun’ and ‘frock’, though, despite admiring your clever rhetorical flourish to say the Doctor never carries a gun and always wears a frock coat.

    Surely it’s not ‘frock coat’, though, which is as you say far too loaded in its favour, but simply ‘frock’? Both terms could be taken as pejorative, sneering at the other as too macho on the one hand, too female, too camp, too gay on the other. A frock coat isn’t especially camp. A frock is a dress that can be put down as too frivolous. So here’s my touchstone. I don’t know who coined the terms and precisely what they had in mind, but I’ve always mentally pictured them by reference to Blake’s 7: when you imagine the Federation, do you think of dark, gritty dystopias and a faceless, helmeted guard firing a gun into a human face for ever? Or is your mental image Servalan striding across a quarry in an inappropriate cocktail frock and stillies, waving perfect nails?

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  2. Aaron
    October 10, 2012 @ 3:56 am

    I mean, I know you said it to be controversial, but I have a hard time buying that the New Adventures are more "Gun" than anything else. The New Adventures are basically defined by Cornell and Orman, both of which are the frockiest of frocks, as you point out with Cornell. Yes, there are some "Gun" novels coming up, but to say this you need to argue that The Also People, Original Sin, Head Games, anything Gareth Roberts and a host of other novels are somehow overly serious and macho and in doing so miss the inherent fun in a lot of them.

    I guess I'd say this. The New Adventures has a lot of "Gun" novels in it, stuff we've past and stuff that is still coming up. But the line is remembered primarily for its "Frock" stories. And it's more important to characterize an era by the stories its remembered by and not the stories that are forgotten.

    Also, Alex is right, frock doesn't refer to a frock coat, but to a woman's dress.

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  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:01 am

    To be fair, I said their reputation was very Gun, which is quite distinct from them being so.

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  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:05 am

    Interesting. Fancy dress in the general case is not my wheelhouse, but when I looked up frock coats to figure out what distinguished them from other sorts of coats I noted that they went out of fashion in the early 20th century. I took the willful anachronism of wearing one as a similar sort of camp overdress.

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  5. Christopher Haynes
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:17 am

    In a "Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies" interview Kate Orman suggests it's Gareth Roberts who coined the terms. Here's a snippet:

    Q: Who fandom a basic theory of forms, narrative and their ethics to apply as you are reading these books, and its called ‘Guns and Frocks’ [see below]. We know that there are different kinds of narratives and we know that they have different ethical priorities. In [Kate’s 1996 novel] Sleepy, at the end, Bernice says, ‘Frocks are the purpose of life …’. I think it’s interesting thinking about what Guns and Frocks means – and your commitment to the frocks. Could you just talk about that a little?

    KO: "The ‘Guns and Frocks’ thing dates back a few years now. I think it’s Gareth Roberts who said that Doctor Who needs less guns and more frocks…"

    You can read the rest of the interview here, although I imagine Dr. Sandifer already has a copy. 🙂

    http://eprints.qut.edu.au/14610/1/14610.pdf

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  6. peeeeeeet
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:19 am

    I may be misremembering this, but I think Frock / Gun comes from an interview with Gareth Roberts. He was asked about Rebecca Levene taking over the editorship of the range from PD-E and what it would mean for the tone of the series, and he answered "More frock, less gun".

    While I would agree that "frock coat" is a bit of a red herring, I think the derivation of the word is the same (and possibly this goes for "dress coat" too) and it's the addition of a "skirt" to a regular coat that makes the difference. So there's definitely something about gender and culture in there somewhere, even if you have to dig further into history to find it that usual.

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  7. Christopher Haynes
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:35 am

    Until recently I honestly believed the New Adventures were all "Gun" stories. Speaking from personal experience they do have an undeserved reputation for being "grimdark" novels where everything is so bleak and nasty it tips over into being ridiculous.

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  8. peeeeeeet
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:37 am

    Further to the above, the only other reference to a "frock coat" that I can bring to mind is Bowie's "Queen Bitch" from the Hunky Dory album, where it definitely has camp / gender bending connotations.

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  9. jane
    October 10, 2012 @ 5:03 am

    McCoy’s Doctor is, and this is too often forgotten, very, very good at the human level of things. Yes, he’s also glorious at the epic, but that’s the appeal: the Doctor can move back and forth between them.

    This is classic Master of Two Worlds stuff.

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  10. elvwood
    October 10, 2012 @ 7:11 am

    I, too, believed them to be predominantly "gun", based purely on reputation, so you can add that to the anecdotal support.

    (I've still never read one, but I recently picked up a copy of "Love and War" cheap, so that will change soon.)

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  11. nimonus
    October 10, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    I think the reputation of the NAs being mostly "gunnish" comes largely from the r.a.dw debates and the criticisms of those who had become disenchanted with the line. Those who looked at the series and saw a Doctor who, from their perspective was too harsh, too "dark", too manipulative, saw stories which were laced with supposedly "adult" themes and plots which were too grim were very vocal in criticising the whole line for this. Those who were trad and those who were frockish read a few books and were turned off by what they saw as excessively rad and gun elements. To many, it didn't feel like Doctor Who. It is an unfair caricature, but it is one that the series perhaps too often gave them fodder for.

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  12. David Anderson
    October 10, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    I associate the word 'grimdark' with W40K, which is so bleak and nasty as to tip over into ridiculous on purpose. And also the 2000AD aesthetic from which W40K derives. Whereas I'd assume that an aesthetic that thinks all Doctor Who aspires to the condition of Genesis of the Daleks would take itself too seriously for that.

    I don't quite see how Phil applies the distinction to the later Cartmel-era though. The Happiness Patrol starts with a camp premise and then treats its premise po facedly with deadly seriousness (which is a way of being subversive of that kind of seriousness of course). Whereas the Doctor having asking after cafe owners families is in Remembrance which Phil describes as more gun. I suppose I'd say that the distinction only really gets interesting when you have the two ends interact with each other.

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  13. Froborr
    October 10, 2012 @ 8:22 am

    I wonder how much of the darker element (which is present, even if it isn't as ubiquitous as fanlore might have it) is an intentional attempt to darken up Doctor Who, and how much is just that camp is a primarily performative aesthetic, and quite difficult to translate into prose…

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  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 10, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    I agree that Remembrance splits the difference interestingly. As does Battlefield, really. The Happiness Patrol is pretty frock, though. It's played seriously, but frock and insubstantial comedy are not synonyms.

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  15. David Anderson
    October 10, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Is it possible that 'gun' is being used as the defining term in this contrast? Father's Day, The Unicorn and the Wasp, and Vincent and the Doctor would I assume all be far to the frock end? – but they don't really have anything in common apart from that.

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  16. Froborr
    October 10, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding the nature of the division (I don't interact with fans much, just watch the show) but it sounds to me something like the Silver Age vs. Dark Age distinction in comics–wacky campy OTT vs. "realistic" stories about emotional complexity and human frailty (or, more frequently, their cheap substitutes sex and violence).

    I'd thus put Father's Day at the gun end, since it pretty much exists to show that (a) Rose has a dark side, and (b) time travel isn't always fun, sometimes it's dangerous and sad. I'd tend to put Vincent and the Doctor somewhere closer to the middle–most of it is very gun, but showing Vincent how the future will see him is quite frock. Unicorn and the Wasp I'd say is straight-up frock, with its metatextual Agatha Christie jokes and hammy acting.

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  17. David Anderson
    October 10, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    Hmm… looking at the Mighty 200 poll that Phil was giving a kick every so often last year, I think it's a gun taste. (Assuming I understand 'gun' correctly.) I'd have thought that the traditional fanbase would go for something moderately gunnish. From what Phil has described, the kinds of things that get knocked as too bleak – the Doctor who is either too manipulative or whose schemes don't always work – crop up in frock writers.

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  18. encyclops
    October 10, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    My impression of the NAs was always more frock than gun, probably because the ones I cherrypicked to read based on their reputations were more on the frock side. Also, I still thought of the Cartmel / NA era as a single frock piece in reaction to the gunnish Saward era. Of course, I didn't have those terms in my head; I just knew that while I admired stories like Earthshock and Revelation of the Daleks to some extent, I was never going to adore them because Doctor Who was the one show I watched where science fiction could work differently and not derive its power solely from the masculine, dark, violent side of the equation.

    I do think David has something of a point; while "Unicorn" does seem to me fairly frockish (and underrated, perhaps as a result), it's more often that you have an absence of gun rather than a presence of frock in the new series.

    The more I type those two words, the more reductive they seem. But it's a curiously interesting binary to probe, isn't it?

    Who do we think will be showrunner after Moffat? I wouldn't be shocked if it were Gatiss, but I find myself wondering how awesome it would be if it were Gareth Roberts.

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  19. encyclops
    October 10, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    The gun/frock distinction might be best tested by whether your favorite classic story is "The Caves of Androzani" or "City of Death."

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  20. Nathan
    October 10, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    Frock is a camp comedy word for dress, rather than a reference to the Doctor's frock coat. There's an interview I did with Paul Cornell in 1995, in which he describes himself as a 'very floral frock'.

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  21. inkdestroyedmybrush
    October 10, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

    all this points out, to me, how important "tone" is to the series, and how incredibly difficult it is to do. For all the people who criticize the williams era as too comedy (and i'm generally one of them) is to forget the deadly ernestness of to'm performance railing at the captain in the pirate planet, or pissed off at the drug dealers in nightmare of eden.

    i prefer it when doctor who lives up to its premise of being ANYTHING, which most people take as both sci fi and historical, but which i would like to describe as fun and then deadly serious. I seem to be one of the few people who liked the "romp" aspect of Delta, mixed with the seriousness of a Battlefield or Ghost Light. I think that is why i liked,in the current series, Dinosaurs in a spaceship followed by something much more serious. Or the mix the comedy and seriousness in city of death.

    tone people. and being open to having an episode that we can accurately describe as a "romp".

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  22. encyclops
    October 10, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

    I'm 100% with you on the spirit of what you're saying. I just want to call for a moratorium on the term "romp," in part BECAUSE of what you're saying. "Romp" implies that the story has no ambitions beyond being "fun," nor should it — and while I do think "fun" can be enough," I also think part of the reason it gets devalued is that people think a story can't be fun and also have worthwhile themes at the heart of it. "The Lodger" strikes me as the sort of episode that's vulnerable to being embraced only at the level of "romp" and yet has more actually to say about existence than, say, "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone". And you've already pointed out that "The Pirate Planet" and "Nightmare of Eden" are actually kinda sorta ABOUT something, and that often gets overlooked by people who feel the need to make excuses for robot parrots and cuddly drug monsters smuggled by a guy with a comical accent. I mean no offense to you personally when I say that the word "romp" is an excuse and I think the first step toward that openness you rightly champion is discarding the word we all use for it.

    Has anyone ever made a lexicon of words that comprise Doctor Who fandom cliché, such as "romp," "nightmare brief," and "gurning"?

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  23. Froborr
    October 10, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

    If there is, I'd love to see it. I have no clue what "gurning" is.

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  24. John Callaghan
    October 10, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    Reply

  25. Kit
    October 10, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

    "The Shadow of the Scourge is, in many regards, a book concerned with"

    ^heads up for subbing

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  26. nimonus
    October 10, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

    David Anderson,

    I think you are conflating rad/trad with gun/frock.

    I definitely wouldn't say that "too bleak" is a feature of "frock" Doctor Who. For "frock" read "Gareth Roberts", "Graham Williams" and "Glam Pertwee". A large subset of "Frock" fans were turned off by some of the tendencies in the NAs that Phil has been discussing.

    Trad fans disliked the NAs for different reasons than "frock" fans did. The more gunnish-trads didn't mind a lot of action and violence, but they didn't necessarily want the"rad" 90s psychodrama and angst that came with it, nor the mythologization of the character that began with Cartmel and accelerated with the NAs. Someone who loves Earthshock, Caves of Androzani, and Seeds of Doom could still hate the new emphasis on the Doctor as a manipulator and the tensions amongst the Tardis crew which result.

    The Mighty 200 does tend towards "gun" a bit – Caves is very "gun", certainly. But that doesn't mean that you can equate "the traditional fanbase" with "gun". There are Rad Frocks and Trad Frocks, Rad Guns and Trad Guns.

    Phil is right to point out that rad/trad are problematic categories, as the series has always re-invented itself, and thus the definition of "trad" really depends on what era you most admired. But it is also true that the NAs were continuing this evolutionary process, and just at every phase in the shows history from The Deadly Assassin on, there were definitely fans who disliked the news stuff for being different from what had gone before.

    Perhaps the fans most turned off to the NAs (fairly or not) were the Trad Frocks, which is why I think so many of the debates on radw centered around it "not feeling like Doctor Who anymore". There were many "rad gun" novels, and a few "trad gun" novels. As Phil points out, there were also some truly fantastic "rad frock" stories from Mr. Cornell and Ms. Orman. But for "Trad Frock" there was just Gareth Roberts, and even he was a bit "rad".

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  27. Aaron
    October 10, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

    Out of curiosity, when does Rebecca Levene take over? What are the last novels commissioned under the Darvill Evans era? We must be coming up to the transition soon, maybe after Parasite?

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  28. Ununnilium
    October 10, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    I want to make a superhero called Rad Frock now.

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  29. peeeeeeet
    October 10, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

    I can't remember exactly, but ISTR her first major editorial decision was to write out new Ace, so she's definitely in the driving seat by Set Piece.

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  30. Scott
    October 10, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  31. Scott
    October 10, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

    To be honest, I think this whole debate suggests the fundamental weakness / absurdity in attempting to suggest that a program like "Doctor Who" can essentially be divided into two binary opposite 'types' and then judged on those types; like 'rad' versus 'trad', it's taking two extreme ends of how the show's format can be realized and then tries to cram every single story into one of those two categories. Of course, some stories fit quite snugly into one category or the other — like someone says, "City of Death" is pretty nicely 'frock' whereas "Caves of Androzani" is fairly 'gun' — but there's plenty which could easily be classed as one, the other or both depending on how they were looked at and who was looking at them ("Revelation of the Daleks", for example, is has some very heavy 'gun' elements operating within some fairly 'frock' elements as well). And then it encourages false divisions based on which one's 'better' or not when the simple fact is that both can be effectively used to tell good Doctor Who stories.

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  32. David Anderson
    October 11, 2012 @ 12:16 am

    Father's Day is about an unheroic and not especially good man giving his life to save his daughter (and the world). It is exhibit A in the case that Cornell is indeed as Phil calls him a romantic sop.

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  33. Aaron
    October 11, 2012 @ 5:04 am

    That makes a lot of sense. I see a definite change of tone about there in the books. Better, for the most part.

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  34. Tommy
    October 11, 2012 @ 8:41 am

    "I do think David has something of a point; while "Unicorn" does seem to me fairly frockish (and underrated, perhaps as a result), it's more often that you have an absence of gun rather than a presence of frock in the new series."

    I tend to find New Who very gun orientated.
    Aliens of London/World War III (very military resolution, nuke the Slitheen), Dalek, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, Rise of the Cybermen, The Satan Pit, Doomsday, Planet of the Ood, The Sontaran Strategem, Journey's End, The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, Time of Angels, Let's Kill Hitler, Wedding of River Song….

    I think fans will excuse all that business of turning Doctor Who into merchandise and action figures, so long as it keeps the show popular with the kids.

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  35. Tommy
    October 11, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    In defence of Eric Saward, I think when it came to simply overseeing his own stories, he was very good at the art of visual storytelling, and of keeping the Doctor and the audience on the same page. However the longer he stayed the worse he got (Earthshock was ridiculously close to just being a one-off, before Season 21 came along and changed everything) when he sticks his oar into other people's scripts, especially when Ian Levine is involved, everything abut his judgement goes horribly wrong.

    I think he was finally beginning to get his best handle on the Doctor in the final part of Revelation of the Daleks. Fans who complain that the Doctor there is mostly absent from the action, seem to miss the point that when he does act, he shows a very Doctorish understanding of what his role is…. namely to do 'the right kind of a little'. And done with far less desperate overstatement than the Cartmel masterplan or NA business.

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  36. aralias
    October 24, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

    I like this article very much. It seems to summarise exactly why I love the bits of Who that I love, much more perfectly that I would have been able to. Have been quietly lurking for a while (second book now on Kindle), but thought I would emerge given how much I like what you wrote here.

    I'm still a comparative baby Who fan, in that I was not around for the NAs, so I'd never heard the gun or frock divide before, but it seems like a very important way of looking at the series, and I like it (whether or not frock is frockcoat or not – although I enjoy the idea that it is).

    Given that I am de-lurking, I feel I should also link you to this blog post I wrote as a direct result of your Pop Between Realities post on ST:TNG, which is here: http://aralias.livejournal.com/657242.html (it says that, unlike here, you are wrong).

    Anyway – thank you for this post, and others. Please enjoy my money in exchange for your book.

    Reply

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