Crash log of the Singularity

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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. Scott
    September 24, 2012 @ 6:06 am

    I wasn't anywhere near being a fan at this point, but seeing this book in a bookshop around this time is probably my earliest clear memory of Doctor Who. It had a dinosaur on the front cover, and I've always had a soft spot for dinosaurs.

    (Incidentally, the hardened Who fan in me is kind of tickled to see that the dinosaur depicted there is clearly a homage to the tyrannosaur in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", even if it does look several orders better.)

    I've also got a soft-spot for parallel world stories and the like (I'm actually doing my Ph.D thesis on alternative histories), but you do raise an interesting point about how they use familiar characters as easy signifiers-stroke-shock moment generators (although I agree that Blood Heat is at least, if memory serves, a stronger example of them).


  2. Stephen
    September 24, 2012 @ 6:31 am

    "But it’s still a book with no real ambitions beyond being a sequel to a twenty-three-year-old piece of television."

    Surely the Ace/Manisha subplot is about something other than just revisiting Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters? We get to explore the character of Ace through her interactions with her murdered best friend. And it highlights the theme of exploring what happens when racism is taken to its logical conclusion.

    Basically, I think there's quite a bit of substance to the novel that you've managed to miss.


  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 24, 2012 @ 6:39 am

    I think, thematically, that's what's going on there, but I have trouble finding much substance in the scenes themselves.

    Although I admit, the elision of how the alternate-Earth Ace died was quite clever.


  4. Tommy
    September 24, 2012 @ 6:47 am

    "But there’s a difference between Timewyrm: Revelation and Blood Heat, and a big part of that difference is that all Blood Heat has to say is a response to a single story from 1970."

    You mean it's a more focused exercise in continuity sequelitis than something like Attack of the Cybermen was? Well then I fail to see how that's a bad thing.

    As for the book's raison d'etre, I think it's clearly a necessary redemption of the Silurians after the dead-end butchering of them that was Warriors of the Deep- an apology for that story, of sorts (even if the Audio Visuals beat this book to it with Enclave Irrelative). Like Siskel and Ebert said of how the best way to criticise a bad film is to make a better film.

    I almost agree with Craig Hinton's criticism of this book being heavy-handed in its preaching, especially considering this was a year before the Rwanda genocide, and the book here essentially, as in Warriors, has the Doctor telling the human resistance who are fighting for survival against an enemy that wants to wipe them out as a race, that they should lay down their arms and try to negotiate, as though the ripe crop could appeal to the reaper, and in effect making the Doctor come across as no better than the U.N. who's idea of keeping the peace was to take no military action against the Hutu militia and let them do what they want.

    And yet the fact that the Doctor does achieve the impossible here and secures peace, rather than just being a snidey turncoat liability for the sake of it, makes this story feel good for the heart in all the ways that Warriors wasn't. It fulfills the promise that was utterly betrayed by the former story's inability to make the Doctor's stance even cohere with what was happening onscreen.

    More importantly, the book was a life-affirming experience where I could feel and live through the struggle for survival and feel triumphant in the end. Warriors of the Deep was the opposite- it was infact death-affirming in trivialising, pointless and scornful ways that demanded the question 'what is the point?', and seemed to make the audience want to feel ashamed for even having a survival instinct.

    I suppose beyond being a fix and add-on, with bits of envelope pushing, it perhaps didn't have enough of a central core, hence why everything of the surface was laid on so thick, but as a redemptive exorcism on the part of the Saward era disaster that tends to get otherwise ignored by either deflections onto Season 22 or excuses about the budget, I'd sooner have it than not have it.

    Incidentally Jim Mortimer seems to often use yonic symbolism when describing parrallel universes as being like a womb- Natural History of Fear particularly seems to make use of the dome imagery, and ultrasound, and the idea of the womb as a place of 'forgetting'- just like in Jim Henson's Labyrinth.

    A shame that this time the Doctor had to essentially perform an act of abortion on said universe.


  5. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    All righty, my main problem with Blood Heat:

    The moral/ethical core of the story MAKES NO GODDAMN SENSE.

    Apparently, despite the Silurians:
    a.) Unleashing a bioweapon that killed the vast majority of humanity
    b.) Terraforming the planet so that it's not just unfriendly to human civilization but to all life that isn't adapted to the Cretaceous
    c.) Actively hunting down the remaining humans for sport

    …the humans and the Silurians share equal responsibility for not making peace. And every single human other than members of the military agrees with this, including Dark Ace.


    Imagine this situation with – oh, let's go for the obvious comparison – the Nazis and the French Resistance. Yes, they both count as people with lives that matter, but that doesn't mean they have equal culpability. And yes, the Silurians have a leader who desires peace and has initiated a plan to get it, but the humans sure don't know that – and certainly, few of his kin seem to share his attitude.

    Seriously, I wanted to like this book, but constantly stopping every few pages to go "Peace! Peace is the only way!" or "Oh, Brigadier, you asshole, why aren't you trying to make peace" made it a slog.

    (Also, the whole "only one universe can exist" thing was weird, considering that anyone who remembers The Silurians will remember Inferno. But that's a more minor point.)


  6. Matthew Celestis
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:08 am

    One of the things I really like about Blood Heat is the way the Brigadier is presented as a brutal bully. True, he is taken to an extreme by circumstances, but he always had this potential as a character.

    I have a real problem with the way fandom has romanticised the Brigadier, particularly after the death of Nicholas Courtney. This book makes a great contrast.


  7. BerserkRL
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:13 am

    the US badly botches Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu

    What was Alan Moore even doing in Somalia?


  8. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    Ace/Manisha just wasn't built up enough, I felt, but it was at least a subplot that made sense and almost accomplished what it went for.


  9. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:18 am

    Re: the womb thing: Benny's "rebirth" was easily the most effective sequence of the novel.


  10. BerserkRL
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:18 am

    resulting, in later books, in some phenomenally awkward fake swearing

    I've had it with these monkey fighting dinosaurs on this Monday to Friday spaceship!


  11. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    I don't think he was portrayed as a brutal bully as much as someone for whom duty is the most important thing, even unto that duty possibly not making sense anymore. Which makes perfect sense with the character… and makes no sense with how the other characters reacted to it.


  12. Matthew Celestis
    September 24, 2012 @ 8:42 am

    Blood Heat definitely uses Ace a lot more effectively than some NAs. Ace is just brilliantly portrayed in this novel.


  13. Stephen
    September 24, 2012 @ 9:32 am

    the whole "only one universe can exist" thing was weird

    You're misreading or misremembering it. The Doctor draws a distinction between "natural" and "artificial" universes (those may not be the words used in the text, but it is the sense of his comment). An artificial one can't co-exist with the real universe, and he's worked out that this one is artificial. Which is somewhat important to the five book arc that this story begins.

    The Inferno universe, however, is clearly supposed to be a naturally-occurring one.


  14. daibhid-c
    September 24, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    Blood Heat is one of the few books where I'm out of step with fan consensus by not liking it. (It's more usual for everyone else to dislike a book and I'm thinking "It wasn't that bad".) And, yeah, it's what you were saying about parallel universes. Maybe I've just read too many issues of Marvel Comics What If? but "Look it's a parallel universe version of a character you know! She's like the one you're familiar with but damaged in a way we couldn't do with the real one! And now she's dead! Isn't that shocking?" doesn't strike me as shocking, or even interesting.


  15. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 10:36 am

    I'll recheck it when I get home, but I remember him saying that only one universe is possible…


  16. Archeology of the Future
    September 24, 2012 @ 10:41 am

    I tend to see all unfolding texts(!) as exercises in alternative universe 'what if / Elseworlds'. As with DC and Marvel, the essential pleasure is finding new conjunctions of old pieces to form exciting novel stories.

    One of the pleasurable things about stumbling in the NAs and 8DAs last year was finding the ways in which various authors had put together recognisable elements in new patterns.

    When I tried to describe the books to other people I fell back upon 'And this version of the Doctor…', in the way that I might describe the difference between different ages of Superman or Batman.

    I think there's a huge pleasure to witnessing the pieces of a fictional story universe being moved around and cast in new lights.

    I think there's a brilliant essay somewhere about the way that Alan Moore treats these breaks between different versions of characters and situations that are, in theory, in continuity. His trick is to make them aware of it somehow, going back to Marvelman where we find out that the continuity is if fact a story in universe that is being fed to Marvelman. It happens in much of his later work. Planetary by Warren Ellis does this too.

    I've been very, very much enjoying the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound plays, which I've just discovered this year, precisely because they are based on 'what if' and neverwere.

    I think the relationship between the NAs, PDAs, Big Finish, Comics even, give a strange charge of pleasure at exactly the points where continuity cannot be reconciled, where different people have taken archetypal parts of the Doctor Who mythos and spun them into shapes that can't possibly fit into a unified 'BIG STORY of DOCTOR WHO'.

    For me, I think, part of the whole pleasure of stories is that they represent a realm that is beyond the possible, beyond typical ideas of linear progression. That 'Human Nature' happens to both the seventh doctor and the tenth does not pose a problem, it underlines the amazing non-corporeal world of stories which we move through.

    I loved Blood Heat because of the 'wrong' Lethbridge-Stewart and the Silurian Earth.


  17. Tommy
    September 24, 2012 @ 11:00 am

    I agree that the morality here is bullshit.

    It's like a version of The Dalek Invasion of Earth where the Doctor tells Dortmum and his chums to try negotiating with the Daleks and tries to sabotage their resistance efforts…..which makes an odd kind of sense, because The Silurians in some ways was like a version of the first Dalek serial in which the Doctor tried arguing that maybe the Daleks who killed the Thal leader were just a few bad apples and that it was wrong to wage war and kill them all just because of the actions of a few. The trouble is, in the context of the first Dalek story that argument can hold water. Not so in the sequel.

    Infact it's almost worse than Warriors of the Deep, in that at least there you could put the Doctor's warped pro-Silurian sympathies there down to him favouring the endangered minority, and that he could maybe understand the Silurian's fear of not only man's nuclear dominance over the planet, but mankind's inability to even co-exist with itself without nearly destroying the planet. In this version mankind is the endangered minority, the Silurians have won and yet he's still condemning mankind.

    And yet I think once the TV show had gone down this morally confused route with the Silurians (rather than letting the final word of the Pertwee stories stand, like they should have done, hence my conviction that they should have ended the classic series either when Tom left, or on the 20th anniversary story), this book kind of had to go all the way with the moral lunacy in order to try and salvage something hopeful and optimistic from it that redeems the Doctor from his fanatical madness.

    And yes you do get the sense that the fact the book achieves that is more down to the author characterising most of the cast as Mary Sues who are all saintly moral hectorers and author mouthpieces and in favour of the author's 'peace' agenda, even turning the young villain Silurian of the original story into a peacemaker.

    Basically, in terms of following up the Silurian saga after Warriors of the Deep, this story really can only be progress, and despite its flaws, I'd sooner this story had been televised in 1984 than the abomination we got.


  18. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 11:58 am

    I disagree – I don't think you can salvage a warped story by doing another warped story.

    Indeed, this story seems almost like the logical opposite of Warriors of the Deep. There, they reduced the possibility of peace to nothing but the Doctor saying "There must have been another way!" while doing nothing to promote that way; here, they have war as just something people do because they're jerks and can't get over one little genocide, jeez.


  19. Ununnilium
    September 24, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

    Also, I couldn't find anything about natural vs. artifical universes in Blood Heat. Perhaps that was a later retcon?


  20. Tommy
    September 25, 2012 @ 4:03 am

    "I disagree – I don't think you can salvage a warped story by doing another warped story."

    I can't disagree. You're very right.

    The thing is though, for reasons that astound me, the bullshit morals of Warriors of the Deep made for not just a warped story, but became a warped part of the fan condition (hence why its one story I'd give anything to erase). As if in its corrosion of the show's mythology, it became a mythology and fan philosophy of its own. Fandom seems unwilling to revile the story beyond the production faults, as if desperate to believe there's something worthwhile about the pretentious 'message'.

    Some fans even claim the Doctor killing the Silurians at all is a character betrayal. This kind of madness makes no sense to me, though I could probably respect the Doctor a bit more for getting everyone killed over his pacifist principles if it wasn't for how these are principles he doesn't even end up standing by in the end, so he honours nothing and everyone dies for the most pointless, fickle reasons. Whilst the story angrily and illiterately tries to make out this is down to mankind's folly rather than the Doctor's.

    I'd like to think Blood Heat was an exorcism of that condition, or a cancelling out of that story, but in truth it was neither. Infact it gave a retroactive dose of undeserved credibility to the prior story by retconning a method in the Fifth Doctor's madness.

    This bias the fan writers had toward the Fifth Doctor era at the expense of the Sixth Doctor era does bother me. I think an actor like Davison brought a veneer of respectability and affability to what was just as much a wino's vision of the Doctor as Colin's was.

    Warriors is excused, despite how it bears all the worst aspects of Levine/Saward's approach. As with Attack of the Cybermen you know the Doctor's voice has been taken and co-opted by Ian Levine when he either recites inaccurate continuity details, or goes into appalling hissy-fits at the humans for not seeing things his way and not respecting this part of the show's past. Whilst that whole Saward routine of forcing drama by characters in a massacre blaming each other for the ongoing deaths being their fault for not trying to surrender to their enemy's mercy, gets a reprise early in Resurrection of the Daleks.

    Perhaps things would be different if the show had ended with the Sixth Doctor as still the current incumbent, either on Revelation of the Daleks or The Ultimate Foe. Maybe then the final word on the Doctor's character would be that he became like this for a good reason. He can't be a peacenick anymore, he had to adapt or die to a darker, more ruthless universe and there's some things he just has to do to survive. Maybe then the NA writers couldn't have thrown the Sixth Doctor under the bus as the regeneration gone wrong (and by extension this idea that the pacifist 5th Doctor was 'right;). Maybe the more deserving impotent 5th Doctor would have been thrown under instead and subjected to the exorcism.


  21. Spacewarp
    September 25, 2012 @ 5:43 am

    I've just looked up "Alternate History Cycle" on wikipedia. I've never seen such a huge amount of fanwank in my life.


  22. Adam Riggio
    September 25, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    An interesting discussion, but I think there's more to the underlying ethical ideas of the role the Silurians have in Doctor Who. Frankly, I don't think very many writers in the classic series (really only Malcolm Hulke) had a decent grasp of their complexity. Here we have two practically equal species with equal claim to the same world, neither of which is capable of understanding the claims of the other. Depending on when you intervene in a situation like that, the proper response changes.

    Advocating for peace would have been a very reasonable thing to do in the original Hulke story from 1970, and maybe in The Sea Devils from 1972. These were the early conflicts of Humans and Silurians, and so peace-minded individuals like the Doctor could have had a decent shot at setting the tone of relations between the two species. I think the problem with Warriors of the Deep and Blood Heat was taking the Doctor's approach of the 1970s stories and reading it as the only morally appropriate response universally. In Warriors of the Deep, it seems to be the Silurians' last desperate attempts at survival, as one can reasonably assume that their habitats are mostly all collateral damage of a dangerously heating human Cold War. In Blood Heat, the Silurians have already cleansed and conquered (not Terraformed, but Eoformed?) the Earth, and the dwindling humans are now desperate to survive. At that point, one or both sides have already become too villainous for the diplomacy appropriate to the setting of the 1970s stories to work. The writers don't seem to realize that.

    This is why (despite my near-continual problems with the character of his dialogue writing), I think Chris Chibnall's Silurian story was the best since Hulke's. Granted the setting and social context of the Silurian and Human groups was basically the same as Hulke's sped up to 90 minutes, so the Doctor could still play peacemaker and have it work. But for the first time since Hulke, the Doctor's moral attitude toward the Silurians matched the situation: at first contact, a hopeful tone can be set. Post-massacre, it's too late for that kind of hope.

    As for this "They should have ended the series at point X" talk, it all smacks of retroactive understanding, as if we could have seen the problems of the Saward era before he had even written for the show. I mean we can only barely forecast the problems Gatiss is going to have in his third year as showrunner in 2020 when the only other regular writer who understands Rupert Grint's Doctor goes to develop the Alphas sequel series in America. In the Bidmead season, no one even knew who Eric Saward was.


  23. Adam Riggio
    September 25, 2012 @ 6:08 am

    I largely agree with your assessments of the limitations of parallel universe storylines, Phil. (Unless, of course, we're talking about early Sliders, where the core drama of most episodes was built around the main characters discovering the different lives of their parallel universe doubles.) I tend to enjoy them precisely as exercises in "What if?" and the chance to see sometimes cartoonishly over-the-top takes on familiar characters, like Eyepatch Alastair.

    But it only makes me anticipate your take on the 2006 series storyline about Pete's World, and how it may fall to or escape the usual problems of parallel universe narratives.


  24. Ununnilium
    September 25, 2012 @ 7:39 am

    I don't think Warriors of the Deep is something that warps fan perceptions; I don't think it's something most fans think about much at all! IMHO, people aren't seeing the bad production values as the only problem and exalting the rest; they're ignoring the entire thing due to the bad production values, so they never get to the ethical problems.

    And I agree; the problem with Blood Heat is taking the morals of The Silurians and assuming they apply in every situation that has Silurians in it.

    Also, yeah – saying "They should have ended it, because shit happened after" is the worst kind of letting the future write the past.


  25. Matthew Blanchette
    September 25, 2012 @ 7:41 am

    So… Wednesday, Dimensions in Time, then? That ought to be fun… 😛


  26. Stephen
    September 25, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    Checked back myself, and you're right about the natural vs artificial universes thing not being in Blood Heat itself. It must have been later in the arc.


  27. Adam Riggio
    September 25, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

    One thing (among many) I'm looking forward to in the rest of this season is the return of Madame Vastra, the Victorian lesbian Silurian vigilante crimefighter.

    I loved writing that sentence.

    Because she's a chance for Silurians to develop as individual characters beyond the immediate plot functions of the stories. She's not defined by the Human-Silurian conflict, not completely, but just from her role in A Good Man Goes to War is an intriguing and singular individual. I especially hope the rumours that she'll be in three or four episodes beyond Xmas as well turn out true. I'd like to see the Doctor with a proper alien companion or semi-companion. That could be a wild new direction for the series to go. Or she could at least fill a recurring role throughout Moffatt's tenure the way Captain Jack did for Davies.


  28. Kit
    September 25, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

    Hopefully Phil sends all his early drafts to Ian Levine, who can cut-and-paste them into the longest possible version, to be kept in a special folder on his own laptop.


  29. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 25, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

    Dimensions in Time is actually next Wednesday, as I wanted to get tomorrow's post in before Left-Handed Hummingbird.


  30. Wm Keith
    September 25, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

    I shall be surprised if her character is developed other than in terms of lesbianism's status as "one of the four pillars of the male heterosexual psyche"


  31. Tommy
    September 26, 2012 @ 12:49 am

    "As for this "They should have ended the series at point X" talk, it all smacks of retroactive understanding, as if we could have seen the problems of the Saward era before he had even written for the show."

    I don't think any hindsight is required to say that remoulding a popular TV hero into someone who's required to fail and get it wrong and be ineffectual, as JNT dictated from the beginning of Davison's casting, was a fundamentally bad idea that threatened everything the character previously stood for. Not least because the show's core suspension of disbelief depends on the audience crucially being able to believe that this is a man who has survived 900 years righting wrongs in a dangerous universe.

    Nor is hindsight really required to say that aiming the show at fan continuity buffs at the exclusion of the casual audience who wouldn't remember seeing stories from 12 years prior was a ratings killer. One could simply look at the evidence of the drop in ratings between Season 19 and 20 and conclude that to carry on with this approach as they did in Season 21 and 22 was going to cost even more of the show's residual good will.

    I think there'd been more than enough past in the show by then to demonstrate what approach works best.

    What hindsight does tell us though is that the cancellation wasn't the death of the franchise, and infact opened avenues to some of the best Doctor Who of any medium (as if taking Doctor Who from a superficial medium actually improved the writing and characterisation by necessity), and it's possible even that an earlier cancellation might have meant an earlier revival if the show was remembered far better and with less embarrassment if the more corrosively ugly stories didn't make it to screen.

    "In the Bidmead season, no one even knew who Eric Saward was."

    Well that's kind of the point though. He was an unknown quantity who was suddenly given reign over all the scripts- the most important component in Doctor Who (and yet apparently he was still somewhat under the kind of petty constraints by his boss that kept him from doing his job properly, as he often couldn't do right for being wrong).

    I mean surely if you're going with such a radical change of the central character, it's crucial you get the kind of script-editor and writing team who are experienced enough to pull it off successfully. If not, then surely the former idea has to go.

    The whole JNT era seemed to be a domino effect of sudden promotions, starting with the man himself, leading to calamity and disaster. Even Ian Levine was someone JNT had been warned away from by his predecessor, Williams.


  32. Ununnilium
    September 26, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    On the other hand, an earlier cancellation without the McCoy era as a template might have meant a running out of steam and a revival far less faithful to the spirit of the seires. That's the thing – saying "there was a problem there" is obvious; saying "the answer was to get rid of the series early" was not.

    That said, I definitely agree on the domino effect. Oy.


  33. Seeing_I
    October 2, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    I agree that this story's morality was BS. And I just wanted to jump in with the only other major recollection I have of the book, which is how irritating I found it that the Silurians kept denying that humanity had any sort of real sentient intelligence. How'd we build all those technological artifacts, then??


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