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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.

17 Comments

  1. Aaron
    June 6, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    What's frustrating to me is how the Bidmead early 1980s Who, and the early Saward Who are such a step backwards from the storytelling techniques we see done well in Hartnell and Troughton Who. Despite 2011 storytelling generally doing a better job with emotions, and creating emotional throughlines like you said, Hartnell and Troughton Who at least has these from time to time (Victoria here, Ian and Barbara's exit in the Chase). But for some reason Bidmead and JNT decided that it was "science fiction" not a "soap" which meant that Romana gets almost no exit, and characters like Tegan and Nyssa react to things like the TARDIS and regeneration like they're the most normal occurrences they've ever seen. Say what you will about the Sixth Doctor and Peri, but at least Peri reacted to events in a reasonable, emotional way. It's frustrating, because I'd love to give early JNT Who a pass, since it was made in the 80s, except that everything they're doing in it was done better in the 60s. So, despite storytelling getting better each year, it's weird and frustrating how there are such obvious dips in how simplistically stories are told.

    Anyways, that rant got way off topic. You really think Utopia/Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords is the weakest RTD finale? Weaker than Stolen Earth and Doomsday? I mean, I don't like the Dobby doctor anymore than the next guy, but that story strikes me as one of the great triumphs of the RTD era.

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  2. Spikeimar
    June 6, 2011 @ 11:48 am

    As always this blog remains one of the most thought provoking of the few I actually read these days. I may not always agree with you but I never come away not mulling what's said over in my mind. As Lieutenant George might say in a loud and annoying way "BRAVO!"

    Not being as erudite in getting my thoughts down as you forgive me if this wanders a bit.

    I think trying to compare 60's (or even 70's and 80's) Who to New Who is a difficult thing to do, if not impossible. The Beeb (and television in general) was such a different animal then, programes were rarely made to enhance drama, or be world changing but were generally made to pass a pleasant half hour before the pubs opened. I can't remember who it was that said the main aim was that there would be 'something' on the screen after the results.
    Occasionally the right people would come together and something special would come out of the sausage factory approach and the fact that so much Who remains entertaining is a miracle in itself when compared with much of the rest of tv's output in this era. I'm not saying we should go easy on it but I'd rather have milk in my tea that's gone a bit cheesy than have it with rancid camel's pee in it instead.

    Much as I love the Troughton years I think the line from 'Tomb' sums up what's wrong with it when the Doctor says something like "Victoria will have to wear something sensible if she wants to join us on our adventures…" Real people don't generally think their lives are a series of 'adventures', there's a falseness, a 'World Distributors' feel to the characters, they are 'spacemen' on 'adventures'. For whatever faults the Hartnell era had there was a reality to the regulars that this era lacked. Does that make sense?
    As for the casual racism, have you seen "Love thy Neighbour"? Spike Milligan's "Q" series etc? Again while it shouldn't be ignored I think Who at this time was no more racist than most of the Beebs output(and far less than a lot of the supposedly more 'with it' ITV channels)

    As to why 80's Who seemed to go backwards, well we could learn a thing or two from Gerry Anderson here, his 60's shows were sublime but his 80's out pourings were uniformly terrible mainly because we think of everything as a smooth path, going upwards all the time but of course in reality the people making the shows in the 80's were not the people making the shows in the 60's and had different skills which were sadly sometimes just not as good as their predecessors. JNT staffed the show with almost all new people (and the psychological reasons for that are worth a blog on their own) who had to learn from scratch.

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  3. Who+
    June 6, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    Responding to Spikeimar, on the subject of "real people" not "thinking of their lives as adventures" – if I ever get hold of a police box that can take me to any point in time and space, and I at no point think of my life using it as "a series of adventures", then you have my full permission to take out a gun and shoot me.

    Extraordinary people always think of their lives as a series of adventures. This is a sci-fi adventure serial, not a dour kitchen sink drama in the industrial north of England. And besides, in what sense were Russell T Davies's Doctor-companion pairings not off "having adventures"? I'd say 99% of Doctor Who adventures stem from the TARDIS crew having curiosity and a spirit of adventure; the very rare exceptions being Hartnell trying to get his companions home, and Pertwee being stuck (much against his will!) in a tedious military job on a backwater planet…

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  4. BatmanAoD
    June 6, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

    Aaron–what's wrong with Doomsday? I mean, yes, it has its flaws, but of the 5 RTD finales (including End of Time), I'd say it's the second-best, after the aforementioned End of Time.

    Though I agree that Stolen Earth is pretty bad. I feel that Davies' set-ups got better and better and his resolutions weaker and weaker (with the exception of End of Time).

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  5. Aaron
    June 6, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

    I don't know, I don't particularly like the Rose/Tenth Doctor thing for the first thing, and I don't particularly care for Cybermen on the second hand. But mostly I think that there are a lot of things going on in that episode that all don't really connect in any meaningful way. There's the Army of Ghosts, which gets overshadowed by the reveal of Torchwood, which gets overshadowed by the Cybermen vs Daleks fight, which gets overshadowed by the real story of Rose and the Doctor, and how they can't stay together. And none of these plot threads have anything to do with each other, even thematically, they just seemed mashed together because they were good ideas for episodes. I also don't like how the hinted hubris of Rose and the Doctor never actually was signposted as the reason they were broken up, and I don't like how it's really just incidental that Rose falls into the parallel universe when it really should have been something that was integrally related to the Dalek/Cybermen plotline going on. I also think it's one of the worst RTD reset switches in the show. The fight between the forces should be a really big deal, but before we see hardly any of that fight, they all get cleanly swept back into the void. And like Phil is explaining in this post, Rose's emotional state should be a throughline of the entire episode and the thematic link that binds all these pieces together. And it isn't. It's just an incidental ending.

    Bad Wold/Parting of the Ways is the best episode of the New Series to me, and I adore the Sound of Drums three parter. I also don't mind End of Time, thought I've only seen it once, and probably need to rewatch it before I can come to a clear conclusion about it. And I despise Stolen Earth because it's manipulative bullshit that tries to trick it's audience into liking it with meaningless gimmicks. While I don't hate Doomsday, I do feel like it's a poorly scripted episode that fails to connect all the important plot threads in any meaningful way. But again, I'm not a huge fan of the Tenth Doctor and Rose, and I really didn't like what Series Two was trying to do artistically at all (except for Girl in the Fireplace and Love and Monsters, which are perfection). As a result, I might be biased, since someone who really did like Rose might find that ending far more heartbreaking than I did.

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  6. Elkins
    June 6, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    "But mostly I think that there are a lot of things going on in that episode that all don't really connect in any meaningful way."

    This is an interesting criticism of Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, and one I find particularly compelling in light of the conversation I had with one of my not-fan housemates just the other night. We saw some Cybermen, and he asked me if we were supposed to know who they were, were they some Old Who monster or something? And we had a dialogue that went a bit like this:

    ME: Those are Cybermen. I'm pretty sure you've seen them before. Didn't you see that one where they went into the alternate universe? I could have sworn you watched that episode with me.

    HIM: Did I? I don't remember it.

    ME: Okay, well –oh, wait. I know you saw Doomsday. They were in that one, too. The season finale with Rose?

    HIM: The one where she gets possessed by the TARDIS?

    ME: No, no, no, the one the year after that. With Tennant. The one where she winds up trapped in another universe and separated from the Doctor forever and ever — or anyway, until they brought her back for some cameos a couple of years later. You really don't remember that?

    HIM: Of course I remember that! Rose cried her eyes out against a wall. It was heartbreaking.

    ME: Right. Well, that one had Cybermen in it.

    HIM: It did?

    ME: Yeah. They invaded Earth. They looked like ghosts at first? And then they got into a comedic bitch fight with a handful of Daleks.

    HIM: Seriously? I remember Billie Piper crying. I don't remember there being ghosts or Daleks or those stupid-looking robot guys–

    ME: Cybermen.

    HIM: Whatever. I don't remember them being in that episode at all. Are you sure you're thinking of the same story?

    So indeed, it would seem that your feeling that those plotlines weren't integrated very well is absolutely borne out in how one casual viewer, at any rate, remembered that episode.

    Reply

  7. Spikeimar
    June 6, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

    In response to Who+

    No I agree the series is a show about adventures and people having adventures (and given the chance I would have adventures in the TARDIS) but my problem is that real people don't refer to their lives as "a series of adventures"

    You wouldn't refer to your last holiday as 'that adventure we had in Spain' or 'remember the adventures of getting the car through it's MOT' (Actually you might say that last one in an ironic way if your car is like mine)

    I personally don't like the kitchen sink drama of the Rose era etc but when your characters behave as if they know they are in a sci-fi teatime show then a certain amount of reality (or as real as Doctor Who gets) is lost. That was my complaint. Perhaps I didn't explain it properly.

    Reply

  8. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    June 7, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    The problem with End of Time is that, other than the beautiful scene with Wilf in the cafe, End of Time PArt 1 is ENTIRELY POINTLESS. Remember when they meet up with the Ood at the beginning, and the Doctor is shocked that something has interfered with their development, they're a hundred years on and way too advanced? or something? Remember how that was important too the plot? Remember their Naismiths and their dastardly scheme to… give the Master some pretty infrastructure to screw around in? And hey, remember how the Doctor notes how strange and significant it is that he and Wilf keep crossing pasts, and that that must mean something? And then it doesn't? At all? End of Time PArt 1, and everything up until the master's sacrifice is all style and no substance, those few beautiful scenes between Wilf and the Doctor notwithstanding. Let's bring Wilf back. He's so amazing.

    I don't think any RTD finales past PArting of the Ways end up holding up very well on re-watch, although Journey's End stands out for being particularly awful. Phrases like "Meta-Crisis Doctor" make me weep.

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  9. landru
    June 8, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    "Last of the Time Lords. Last of the Time Lords may be by far the weakest of Davies's season finales, but it goes out of its way to earn Martha's departure at the end. Martha goes through absolute hell, and the whole story revolves around the fact that she has to do this because the Doctor, Jack, and her family are all captured. Every plot development extends from Martha going through awful things, so that when she finally says this is too much and she has to go, we believe it and know why. And yes, it's clumsy and has an awful moment where Dobby the House Doctor metamorphoses into a magical love Jesus through the healing power of Doctor Who fandom, but it's still a better handling of an emotional journey than Fury From the Deep."

    Whereas in real life, the opposite would be true. The story is absurdly about Martha's departure to its own detriment. In fact, the previous 2 brilliant installments Utopia/Sound of Drums was so ruined by this ending that its actually hard to imagine loving them as they went out.

    I really am disagreeing with you on this premise the stories should revolve around the companions … This example (and the ever decreasing quality of modern season finales) seem to prove this.

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  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 8, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    Oh, I wasn't trying to say that the story should revolve around the companions so much as that the emotional payoff and the spectacle payoff should not be treated as distinct parts of the narrative process. One of the major advances of the new series over the old one has been that the new series doesn't treat emotional catharsis and monsters as separate jobs, but instead sees its mission as being to tell emotional stories about monsters.

    But the emotional stories don't need to be about the companions. The Doctor's Wife is a fantastic emotional story about the Doctor. Both Doomsday and Parting of the Ways are ultimately about the relationship between the Doctor and Rose more than they are about Rose's emotional journey. The Doctor slipping the universe-crossing device on Rose's neck without her consent or answering the "coward or killer" question in what is obviously the wrong way out of shame are, I would argue, as important, moreso even, than anything Rose does in either episode.

    In fact, I'd go so far as to say that generally speaking, stories in which the Doctor has the primary emotional arc (Girl in the Fireplace, Dalek, The Doctor's Wife) interest me more than ones where the companion does, although there are certainly some companion-centered pieces I adore (Father's Day, The Big Bang, Amy's Choice).

    Reply

  11. Jesse
    June 11, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

    I generally like the Davies era, but in pretty much every season of his the final episode is the weakest. The man is good at setting and character but simply cannot write endings (), a fact he displayed right away in Rose and The End of the World and reminded us at the end of every story arc.

    ( Oh, all right. He did give Children of Earth a great wrap-up.)

    Reply

  12. Jesse
    June 12, 2011 @ 4:29 am

    On reflection, actually, the one Davies finale that I don't dislike is Last of the Time Lords. The resolution of the story may be dumb and anticlimactic, but it makes up for it somewhat with (a) the Scissor Sisters sequence at the beginning, one of the best scenes in the history of Who, (b) John Simm in general, and (c) the reveal (or maybe-a-reveal) about the Face of Boe, which made me laugh. In a good way.

    No, the weakest Davies finale was The End of Time. What a mess. Thank goodness Moffat came along.

    Reply

  13. landru
    July 11, 2011 @ 10:23 am

    Having just watched the Loose Cannon recon of this I found the story very lacking in all kinds of things that a classic needs. I thought the novelization was very well done, but as a concept I don't really know if I care.

    Reply

  14. SK
    August 23, 2011 @ 2:21 am

    You know, I'm not sure I can ever think of Victoria the same way after seeing Danger UXB.

    It's just… wrong.

    Reply

  15. Henry R. Kujawa
    August 8, 2012 @ 10:46 am

    Aaron:
    "What's frustrating to me is how the Bidmead early 1980s Who, and the early Saward Who are such a step backwards from the storytelling techniques we see done well in Hartnell and Troughton Who."

    YEAH. And everything else that came before it.

    "for some reason Bidmead and JNT decided that it was "science fiction" not a "soap" which meant that Romana gets almost no exit, and characters like Tegan and Nyssa react to things like the TARDIS and regeneration like they're the most normal occurrences they've ever seen."

    Not sure that quite sums it up, as JNT also had so many stories run right into the next, like a soap-opera (or BATMAN's 3rd season) that few stories were allowed to stand on their own. And yet, virtually no character development (until Sylvester & Sophie teamed up).

    Spikeimar:
    "we could learn a thing or two from Gerry Anderson here, his 60's shows were sublime but his 80's out pourings were uniformly terrible mainly because we think of everything as a smooth path, going upwards all the time but of course in reality the people making the shows in the 80's were not the people making the shows in the 60's and had different skills which were sadly sometimes just not as good as their predecessors."

    NOT quite right. Anderson had wonderful writing on FIREBALL XL5 and nearly as good on STINGRAY, but beginning with THUNDERBIRDS, his obsessin with machinery completely over-ruled Sylvia's desire for characterization. She threw her hands up, Gerry "won", and each subsequent show became more mechanical, cold-blooded, "serious", and LESS human. CAPTAIN SCARLET, JOE 90, SECRET SERVICE, UFO, THE PROTECTORS, and, God help us, SPACE: 1999 (the show I used to laugh AT rather than WITH).

    And then… Gerry & Sylvia got DIVORCED. And something happened. Because TERRAHAWKS had real "characters" in it, was fun to watch, and in places was actually funny!! The most "human" character on the show, ironically, was "Sergeant-Major Zero", the commander robot who was shaped like a basketball, was in love with Mary Falconer (a dead ringer for Barbara Bain) and delighted in confounding his superior, Doctor Tiger Ninestein (who similarly reminded me of Martin Landau).

    And then SPACE PRECINCT was just his masterpiece– though nobody at the time seemed to realize it. GREAT characters, GREAT writing, GREAT ideas, action, suspence, drama, humor, fabulous music and the best use of "old-fashioned" special effects (miniatures) I've ever seen on a TV show. This thing, in my view, totally blows every late-model STAR TREK revival completely out of the water, and is the only show I can think of where I can honestly say that I love every frame of every episode of.

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  16. Henry R. Kujawa
    August 8, 2012 @ 10:47 am

    Aaron:
    "someone who really did like Rose might find that ending far more heartbreaking than I did."

    As it hyappens, I did, but, I find myself in total agreement with you on that story. It had its best impact on me because I had actually managed the incredible feat of AVOIDING any spoilers in advance, including the stupid ones the Sci-Fi Channel kept running all the damn way thru part 1!!!!! Nice job, guys, BLOW the cliffhanger before your audience has a chance to see it. (I kept shutting off the sound and averting my eyes at every commercial break.) So when THE DALEKS show up at the end of Part 1– I screamed at the TV– both in horror, and, in delight!!! For me, they WERE a surprise!

    Somehow I never quite liked Rose as a character as much as it seemed I should. My best friend suggests it may have had to do with how badly she treated Mickey. Maybe. But anyway, her departure just seemed contrived. Oh, Billie Piper's leaving, let's find a reason for her to do so, and since things got so emotional, let's make it so she can "NEVER!!!!!" come back!! Hahhahahahahah.

    "SCHOOL REUNION", however, did leave me in a very emotional state for 2 whole days. I think I finally "got over" Sarah then. So when we lost Lis, somehow, incredibly, it DIDN'T hurt as much as I'd have thought it would have. (I never saw her spin-off show… dammit.)

    Landru:
    "the previous 2 brilliant installments Utopia/Sound of Drums was so ruined by this ending that its actually hard to imagine loving them as they went out."

    "LAST OF THE TIME LORDS" is so far the last one I've been able to see. And frankly, I DIDN'T care for it. Maybe that's why I haven't quite "missed" the show since then as much as I might have.

    So, are you eventually going to tackle "DOWNTIME"?

    Reply

  17. ladysugarquill
    July 5, 2017 @ 3:36 am

    Here we are. The one story in the entire Doctor Who that I found MINDBREAKINGLY BORING. The beginning and the end with Victoria are well done, but the rest is 120 minutes of: “go check the rigs” “no” “go check the rigs” “no” seaweedfoam “go check the rigs” “no”.

    One thing that gets overlooked is that Victoria getting to scared and bailing out was, according to her actress on some DVD extras, always the plan, and was being established since the beginning of the season. Victoria is the first companion to have an actual arc. Sadly, it wasn’t done too well.

    Reply

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