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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. Adam Riggio
    December 17, 2012 @ 5:21 am

    Although I don't know anyone there personally, I do have a theory as to a lot of the founding impetus to Big Finish. Beyond nostalgia programming, they wanted to give the Doctors of the JNT and Wilderness eras stories they could be proud to be part of. The Saward era had such a flawed creative process, that Peter Davison and Colin Baker could be satisfied having stories like Spare Parts and Jubilee that they could really sink their teeth into. Nicola Bryant could play a character it was actually possible to respect. Paul McGann could play the Doctor in some form, period.

    But with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, the same mission didn't apply. It's relatively easy to do better than Earthshock, Vengeance on Varos, and the TV movie. Think about topping The Curse of Fenric? Love and War? McCoy's Doctor had twice received two interpretations that did justice to his potential. Davison, Colin Baker, and McGann never had television stories that satisfied those potentials. So the mission of Big Finish with respect to them was clear.

    Listening to the later audios, I think it's only now that they could do real justice to the McCoy characterization, by developing its own narrative, its own expression that could stand apart from and alongside the Cartmel and Virgin periods.

    I hope eventually, Big Finish can do the same for Tom Baker's audios. A man who already had the longest, most celebrated, most famous run of the classic series, which included the Hinchcliffe era, Douglas Adams, and the Bidmead era, isn't exactly a case of lost potential. But maybe now that they've had the practice evolving McCoy's audios, they can take Tom Baker into novel territory faster. Tom being in his 80s now, they have less time to do it.


  2. Matthew Celestis
    December 17, 2012 @ 7:55 am

    It really annoys me how Big Finish played with the character of Ace independently of the New Adventures. It's obvious that the Ace of the early New Adventures is the immature teenager in Season 26, yet Big Finish have put Ace through tonnes of character development. For me it cheapens and slights the Virgin line.

    In my personal canon, Timewyrm Genesys is set only a few days after Survival.


  3. That Guy
    December 17, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    That's true, but it's also impossible to avoid. The alternative is that Big Finish is required to not develop Ace in any way at all, and that's not only antithetical to good writing, it's also antithetical to one of the key good parts of the McCoy era (which was that Ace was a rare case of a companion who developed from her first appearance to her last and was obviously materially changed by her adventures).


  4. minkubus
    December 17, 2012 @ 8:05 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  5. Adam Riggio
    December 17, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    Ask yourself what's more important to creating quality art. 1) Fealty to remaining consistent with the storylines of largely out-of-print book ranges. 2) Using a set of established characters to develop your own narratives. Not changing the characters from how they existed in the continuity of the Virgin line when you're Big Finish 10-15 years later smacks of destructive Whoniverse thinking: prioritizing facts about the characters over the characters themselves.

    Big Finish doesn't cheapen the Virgin line by telling incompatibly different kinds of stories with the same characters. What cheapens the Virgin line is that so many of its books are out of print and largely unavailable for the public to compare and contrast with Big Finish. If that could happen easily, there'd be a lot more public interest in the Virgin line, which, outside the fan community and BBC Wales, isn't even really noticed in the history of Doctor Who.


  6. Sean Daugherty
    December 17, 2012 @ 9:21 am

    A few years ago, I realized that twenty years of spin-off media had fundamentally changed the way I viewed Doctor Who, as a property. When I think of the defining Doctor/companion pairing for each iteration of the series, my thoughts now go to the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem; the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn; the Seventh Doctor and Benny (and the Eighth Doctor and Fitz, but there's not much television to compete with, there). I'm so used to the Big Finish interpretation of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors (which, as you point out, outnumber the original television serials now), that stories like "The Visitation," "The King's Demons," "Attack of the Cybermen," and "The Mysterious Planet" feel like weird, and not entirely successful, side-steps compared to stories like "Spare Parts," "The Kingmaker," "The Marian Conspiracy," or "Jubilee."

    I think the biggest revelation of Big Finish was that it was possible to expand the franchise and explore new concepts and settings using familiar trappings. The novels always pushed forward: "Timewyrm: Genesys" picked up after "Survival," and proceeded from there. The Missing/Past Doctor Adventures were always, IMO, a pale shadow of the "ongoing" range. There were some spectacular books in there, but they weren't trendsetters, and they often seemed trapped by the legacies they sought to recreate. But Big Finish's audios were different. They didn't try to recapture the JNT/Saward (or JNT/Cartmel) eras. They did so much more than play to nostalgia.

    So I stopped caring about whether or not "The Marian Conspiracy" or "The Holy Terror" or "The Shadow of the Scourge" fit in with established continuity. I've long since come around to viewing the Big Finish audios as positing a different history where Peter Davison and Colin Baker came into the roles in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and continued along a different path than their characters had on television. As it happens, I like this path much more, and I'm not going to let an obsessive compulsive devotion to continuity detract from it.

    If I have to rationalize the discrepancies away, well, it's just a big ball of timey-wimey stuff, right? There's plenty of ways to fit it all together using previous stories and a bit of creative thinking, if that sort of thing bothers you.


  7. Ununnilium
    December 17, 2012 @ 11:11 am

    To me, it doesn't cheapen or slight it at all. They're alternate universe, alternate storylines, different branches off the same tree, equally strong, equally valid.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 17, 2012 @ 11:16 am

    More than that, Big Finish's maturing of Ace owes so much to Virgin once she becomes Dorotheé that it seems difficult to call it a rejection. Big Finish, after all, has done two Ace/Benny audios, and changed the Season 27 Lost Stories so that Ace doesn't depart in Thin Ice in order to set up the Virgin line "correctly." Everything still "technically" fits with the Virgin era.

    Compare to the EDAs, where the only acknowledgment to speak of is Fitz's appearance in one episode of one Eighth Doctor story, and the respect paid to the Virgin line is clear.


  9. Matthew Celestis
    December 17, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    Adam, can you separate the characters from facts about the characters?

    I don't see what is so bad about viewing Doctor Who as a single narrative about a fictional 'Whoniverse.'

    Like the viewers of soap operas, a lot of us fans have a certain level of emotional investment in the characters. We want to see them as we know them.

    When I listen to the Big Finish audios, I hear an Ace that feels very different from the one I experienced reading the Virgin New Adventures and that bothers me. It does not feel true to the story of Doctor Who as I have experienced it.


  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 17, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    It distresses me exactly as much as the fact that the Daleks never rely on static electricity floors in any subsequent story set on Skaro and the fact that the TARDIS crew isn't miniaturized in The Web of Fear following the doors opening at the end of The Enemy of the World.

    Which is to say that what's so bad about viewing Doctor Who as a single narrative about a fictional 'Whoniverse' is that the number of times in which anyone writing Doctor Who has actually treated the show as that are minimal. After about The Dalek Invasion of Earth attempting to read the show that way actively distorts what's on your screen.


  11. Matthew Celestis
    December 17, 2012 @ 11:46 am

    Phil, the Big Finish audios avoid any obvious contradictions with the Virgin line, but there are definite differences in character development.

    For instance in Timewyrm Exodus, Ace would quite like to watch a German soldier blow his head off with a grenade. In Colditz, she is horrified and disturbed by the gruesome death of a German soldier.

    More significantly, in Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible, it very much seems that Ace is having to cope on her own in an adventure without the Doctor for the first time. This is an inexperienced and insecure Ace. Yet in the audio Live 34, set before this, Ace has led a resistance movement on her own and suffered imprisonment and torture. It's very difficult to imagine the Ace of Time's Crucible having undergone those experiences.


  12. Matthew Celestis
    December 17, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    It's obvious that the writers of various televised Dalek stories had little interest in harmonizing the details of Dalek technology or history. That was never part of the deal for them.

    But Big Finish is produced within a fan context and their audios are sold to fans.

    A significant proportion of their customers are obnoxious obscurantists like me who believe in the inerrancy of the Doctor Who texts. For us, the singularity of the Whoniverse is a live issue.

    As a consumer of Big Finish I have every right to be bothered by the disharmony between it and the Virgin line.


  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 17, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    You have the right to be bothered by whatever you please. It just seems strange to me to believe in the inerrancy of something that doesn't even believe in the inerrancy of itself.


  14. Matthew Celestis
    December 17, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    Do you not feel any sense of joy in the idea that all these stories really happened? As the Doctor says in Gallifrey Chronicles, "It's all true, every line of every novel, every panel of every comic strip."

    It feels thrilling to think that the Sensorites exist in the same universe as Sil the Mentor and that the Doctor who plays the lyre for Nero is the same Doctor who feels despair at the senseless deaths in Seabase 4.

    I don't understand fans who talk about alternate universes of Doctor Who. That just feels uninteresting. I don't like the idea of Doctor Who as an anthology of stories with no essential narrative. That seems to take away the grandeur and vastness of the Doctor Who history.


  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 17, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Of course I do. But let's not forget the two lines following the Doctor's declaration:

    ""But that's just not possible. I mean some books contradict other ones and -"

    The Doctor was ignoring her."

    Which is to say that accepting that it's all true also means accepting that there are going to be scads of contradictions, multiplicities, and other weirdnesses.


  16. J Mairs
    December 17, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    I decided long ago that it's all true in the broad strokes. The little details that are incompatible are down to the perspective of the person who told the story…. and also accounts for the difference in SFX and general technology available at the time.

    Hence when creating my "Master Narrative of Doctor Who History" I enjoy referring to completely different ranges and incompatible stories in the same sentence, or suggesting that things like War of the Daleks actually takes place prior to Remembrance and Skaro-go-boom…. or leave hanging the implication that "The Doctor" who appeared in a particular story may not have been "The Xth Doctor" who we know undertook that particular story.

    But you're right: it's very hard with the prolific BF output not to start considering the TV show to be some weird sidestep into a universe where everything is going wrong. It's actually quite painful some of the time to listen to some of their more beautiful stories and then realize that this is intended to slot somewhere between Timelash and Revelation.


  17. Archeology of the Future
    December 17, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    I tend to see the various version of The Doctor and his companions in the same way I'd see various versions of Robin Hood or the various versions of superheroes over time.

    I actually think it's intensely pleasurable to see where else someone can take a story based on some particular building blocks of Doctor Who.

    One of the greatest pleasures I draw from Who now (I was a late starter on the extended range of Who, beinging about two years ago) is watching the life of particular ideas and concepts grow mutate and cross-pollinate across the ever-growing range of available stories being told.

    It's one of the areas where a knowledge of the ins and outs of the production of Doctor Who stories increases that pleasure. Knowing that there was nearly a ninth Doctor story where Rose finds out that the Doctor has been manipulating her life to make her the perfect companion increases the enjoyment of both Faction Paradox heading back and The eleventh Doctor's manipulation of Kazra Sardik's timeline going forwards.

    It's like Doctor Who is a Lego set for the imagination – a myth-field. (an idea that has increasingly obsessed Alan Moore in his career.)

    For me, it's not about reconciling it into one big linear story doesn't mean trying where everything fit together; (although there can be pleasures therein) but accepting it as a web of intertwining and glorious ideas, characters and concepts.

    It's like the way that you recognise a Sherlock Holmes story because it has Sherlock Holmes bits in it, regardless of how gar it deviates from the 'original' Conan Doyle stories, or the way that myths retain certain qualities while the specifics can have no shared thread between them.

    I tend to see The Doctor and his world as similar to Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius and his world, a kind of Harliquinade where the stock characters can remain themselves while movingthrough vastly altered versions of the settings and situations in which they are placed.

    Did Dr Sandifer ever do Jerry Cornelius? Seeing The Doctor, like Jerry, as the spirit-of-the-age would be a fascinating line of examination. (As an aside, I can't get over the fact that the eleventh Doctor is an embodiment of the current political climate in the UK in the same way that the seventh was of his.)


  18. Adam Riggio
    December 17, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

    For more detail on why the Whoniverse conception of Doctor Who is generally a bad position to take regarding the creation of the show, I'm going to cite Phil's post on Attack of the Cybermen again. And the post on the Doctor Who RPG helps explain it too.

    A world like Doctor Who that's constantly rewritten and has stacks on stacks of alternate timelines, different production houses, diverging takes on the same sets of characters is going to falter when its producers constrain themselves by fealty to all forms of past continuity. The creativity of the writers becomes increasingly constrained until there can't be any new stories told, and the Doctor becomes completely ineffectual. One of the central movements of Doctor Who is to break narrative consistency and coherence. Time is rewritten with every story.


  19. Adam Riggio
    December 17, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    Oh, yes, and the link to the RPG post, because I'm dumb and forget to splat-v.


  20. jane
    December 17, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

    "I don't understand fans who talk about alternate universes of Doctor Who. That just feels uninteresting. I don't like the idea of Doctor Who as an anthology of stories with no essential narrative. That seems to take away the grandeur and vastness of the Doctor Who history."

    And for me, the notion of an "essential narrative" flies against the alchemy of the show. There's no such thing as an "essence!" But if there was, surely that essence would be comprised of things like "contradiction" and "multiplicity." After all, this is the show that takes disparate genres and other bits of popular culture and smashes them together, blowing all the fuses in the process.

    But if you really want to retain a Whoniversal perspective, it's just a matter of leaving behind the "linear" thinking we associate with narrative and taking a perspective that's a bit more fifth-dimensional, or "wibbly."

    The Whoniverse is a series of layers. The stuff that gets rewritten still "happened" — we remember it, after all — but it gets buried, like an old temple after a volcano explodes. It might not look like it's there, but it's still shaping the landscape of the surface. Be an archeologist.


  21. Ununnilium
    December 17, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

    "The Whoniverse is a series of layers. The stuff that gets rewritten still "happened" — we remember it, after all — but it gets buried, like an old temple after a volcano explodes. It might not look like it's there, but it's still shaping the landscape of the surface. Be an archeologist."

    Yes, perfect.

    Honestly, I've never been a fan of thinking that there has to be one "main" version of a narrative. I grew up on alternate universes, multiple adaptations, retcons and rewrites. In the end, headcanon is the only canon that really matters, or, in other words, it's not true unless it's true for you.


  22. Ununnilium
    December 17, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

    "Various versions of superheroes" is exactly how I think about it. (Though I'm really glad they never did that Ninth Doctor story. That would've made the character seem really creepy really early in the new series.)


  23. elvwood
    December 18, 2012 @ 7:51 am

    Yes, that's a good way of putting it. I've used the phrase "a quantum superposition of timelines", my own bit of technobabble to describe the idea of overlapping realities. It's the only way to go if you don't want to discard some stories or mentally edit them to fit.

    I've enjoyed reading this discussion!


  24. Russell Gillenwater
    December 18, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    I actually know where Matthew is coming from because I felt the same way. Since I was (and let me say still am) a huge fan of the NAs I felt anything that ran counter to the way things happened in the NAs bothered me greatly. The EDAs & PDAs were at times just as guilty of this as Big Finish and I it did at the time effect my enjoyment of some stories. It just wasn’t inconsistencies with the NAs the whole Fifth Doctor/Peri gap (which Phil mentioned) also just bugged me.

    However, I not sure what it was, maybe it was reading some of the behind the scenes stuff (I mean it obvious that most of the people at Big Finish were fans of the NAs) or I had an epiphany, I just decided to start enjoying stories on their own merits. Heck, Big Finish isn’t always consistent anyway in its own stories (neither is the NAs or the TV series Original or Modern).


  25. Russell Gillenwater
    December 18, 2012 @ 9:19 am

    I forgot to add that I love the Ahistory series, but I don’t need everything to literally fit anymore.


  26. Anton B
    December 18, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    I favour the Cornelius harlequinade viewpoint too. I'm not sure if we've had Sandifer on Moorcock yet. I suspect he may get a mention when he does Grant Morrison and the Invisibles. (which must be soon). But he surely deserves A Pop Between Realities to himself. Apologies if moorcock has been covered, I recall mentioning how unimpressed I was with his recent attempt at Doctor Who in 'Coming of the Terraphiles' and how surprised I was that Moorcock, a self-professed fan of the show should produce such a poor attempt at a Doctor Who novel. Doctor Who gets a mention in one of the earlier Cornelius books (from memory, I think 'the Nature of the Catastrophe') as one of the guests at one of Jerry Cornelius's interminable parties and in a later book ('The Condition of Muzak') as an iconic English fancy dress choice (along with a Dalek) at yet another party. This indeed could be the first mention or appearance of the Doctor in an unrelated work of fiction unless someone can think of another.


  27. ferret
    December 18, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

    One point that's not quite been addressed is that all these continual "time rewriting" events usually occur to the universe outside of the TARDIS – the question here is of Ace's personal history while being a TARDIS occupant changing, rather than Ace changing the history of the universe while time-travelling around it.

    Which is not to say it's impossible, but it's less easy to square away – presumably there would be some event (time war?) possibly a knock-on effect of the actions of a different time traveller that would cause one or more alternate universes for Ace, the Doctor and the TARDIS to experience at great length in this instances.

    Which I have no problem with at all. To some degree I wish they'd pay less attention to the Virgin stuff – if Ace didn't leave in Ice Time, will she ever get a satisfactory end story in the Big Finish line? But then this IS the Big Finish timeline, not the aborted BBC TV timeline – so Ace leaving in Ice Time would be Big Finish failing to sufficiently ignore the alternate BBC TV timeline too!


  28. PirateOfRohan
    March 21, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

    I have a fix for that(good point, by the way). We learned in Series 2 (or Season 28, I'm not judging) that the companions' DNA is lightly irradiated with artron energy from background radiation. The TARDIS is powered by it and it assists in Timelord regeneration. But humans aren't made for that.
    I propose that artron energy is what allows travelers of the TARDIS to have their paths and timelines changed. If that energy is indeed at least partially from the Vortex, it should reason that it would allow humans touched by it to have their timelines shifted, be it giving Ace a different path and different character developement, or manipulating the Brigadier's life so thaat he dies in 2010 instead of 2050(or of natural causes instead of an implied boating accident).
    Does that make sense to anyone?


  29. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

    FWIW, the high point on "manipulative 7th Doctor" is Cold Fusion, which is actually pretty important in "mythology" terms, but it's in the "Missing Adventures" line. After that was published, all the authors started backing away from the manipulative Doctor. Perhaps because Lance Parkin made it clear that he's not really a character you want to read about.


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