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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. elvwood
    March 11, 2013 @ 1:38 am

    I think you said everything I was going to (and a whole lot more, of course!). In particular I agree with the comment about accents – even as a Brit the accents in Minuet were annoying, whereas they fitted perfectly here.

    Can we reclaim the word 'romp', do you think? I have never thought of it in a negative light, but I can see how it could be viewed like that. I've always parsed it as something with no other ambition than to amuse and entertain, though I can see the "tropes and signifiers" thing now you mention it.


  2. Daibhid C
    March 11, 2013 @ 3:47 am

    "To do audio Doctor Who without any larking about in classic audio genres would be strange, to say the least. And US old-time radio is an obvious pool to play in."

    I'm now trying to think of other audio genres they could do. They did 24-hour news stations in Live 34, of course. Doctor Who as lighthearted panel game, perhaps?


  3. Bob Dillon
    March 11, 2013 @ 4:25 am

    I'm sorry, I haven't a Doctor?


  4. Jack Graham
    March 11, 2013 @ 5:21 am

    This is by far the thing of Gatiss' that I dislike least. Possibly because it's got Jessica Stephenson (as she was then) and Simon Pegg in it, possibly because I'm a Welles fan and Gatiss seems to have done his research… I suspect he read the excellent biography by David Thomas.

    BTW, what do we think about Cosmo Devine? An openly gay, parodically camp villain? I was going to say 'what do we think about a gay writer creating such a character?' but that'd be unfair pidgeonholing… even so, doesn't Gatiss' open gay sexuality change the context a bit? Or not? Does the fact that Devine victimises other gay men change things at all? For the better? For the worse? Is it wrong to judge a writer's work by his sexuality? Can it be avoided? Surely we wouldn't want to say he has a 'duty' to present gay characters a certain way because of his own sexuality…? I'm genuinely undecided about this and I'd be interested to hear views.


  5. Abigail Brady
    March 11, 2013 @ 5:40 am

    Not quite pure audio, but they've done the DVD commentary: in John Dorney's "Special Features".


  6. jane
    March 11, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    "For one thing, the fetishization of radio is odd for Big Finish to do. Invaders from Mars got run on radio eventually, but it’s an audio drama."

    I didn't find it odd at all. Yes, radio is a different medium than CDs, but they're both mediums of audio. So it's the audio drama itself that's fetishized, and making radio and CD kin. Finally, that bit of self-awareness that's been with Doctor Who from the beginning! And it's a self-awareness that's played up in several of the subsequent stories in this range, to often beautiful effect.

    So I think it's rather crucial that the Welles story is threaded through the larger drama. It's the constant reminder that this is a story of tropes, done in a tropistic style, but without the clumsy attempts to remind us of that as Miles does in Henrietta Street. In fact, I kind of prefer it this way, because the channels of "story" and "discourse" are in balance, and more effective as a dual-voice technique. As such, I think it's perfect that the Welles story only collides with the Doctor in the final part.

    Which brings us back to the "point" of this story. Yes, the Welles broadcast is turned into "a strange fetish object with magical powers," but because this is the counterpoint and eventual fusion with the Doctor Who story, the effect is to say that Doctor Who is a strange fetish object with magical powers, a magic that's concretely extended to the audio dramas. It's not unlike Moffat's more abstract "ideas that can think for themselves" — a kind of magical spell that begs for the world of the fantastic to breach the world of the real.

    Well, except that way lies madness. The other thing Gatiss does here is to subvert and somehow exploit that breach by having the Doctor screw up the broadcast — everyone's so busy congratulating themselves afterwords (so smug!) that the aliens realize they've been conned. Yet this is mirrored by the smug Professor Stepashin emerging from the holding tank on the spaceship to wonder in wild-eyed… er, wild-voice glory if he's the first man in history to build an atomic bomb. Talk about fetishism!


  7. Steven Clubb
    March 11, 2013 @ 6:45 am

    It had never really occurred to me that people would use "romp" as a criticism. For me, it's more a difference between a sprinter and a runner. A romp just goes for it, never letting itself get bogged down by plot logic.

    Which isn't to say a romp has bad plot logic, but that it's not really interested in explaining all the hows & whys and depends on the audience to go with it for the sake of a good time.

    Sort of like how in Grindhouse's Planet Terror, they intentionally lost the reel which featured a lot of linking exposition, highlighting how unimportant these kinds of character reveals are in movies such as Planet Terror. Simply that the plot works best in the first two acts if the hero is at odds with other characters, while the third act requires this tension to be put aside. In a romp, this needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    In another movie, that translation would be the meat of the story, but a romp is much more concerned with taking a step back and enjoying the operation of a well-oiled machine.


  8. jane
    March 11, 2013 @ 6:49 am

    I don't think it's wrong to consider authorship when reading a text, especially when we're studying the potential effects of how minority characters are depicted. The fact that Dave Chapelle is black, for example, changes the context of his work enormously. Context is relevant — it doesn't determine how we a judge a work, in the end, but it can help to inform our evaluations.

    I think the fact that Cosmo Devine has targeting other gay men is a necessary salve, because it's showing that he is an outlier, not representative of other gay men; rather, he serves to remind that even the gay community has its predators. No one's perfect.

    Also, this is a work that's playing with some outlandish tropes. In the context of the rest of the story's discourse, Cosmo ends up getting the same kind of treatment afforded to the other tropes that have been smashed together here — Cosmo is a walking, talking trope. But it's not his sexuality that brings about his downfall, it's that he partakes of the violence and greed of mobsters and alien con-men.

    BTW, John Arthur, who plays Cosmo, has some brilliant timing!


  9. Alan
    March 11, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    Wait a minute! If the Doctor was on hand during Orson Wells' "War of the Worlds" broadcast, how did he fail to notice the invasion of New Jersey by Lord John Whorfin and the Red Lectroids from Planet 10 that was going on at the same time?!?


  10. Archeology of the Future
    March 11, 2013 @ 8:10 am

    Erm, police radio scanner, CB radio recordings, Longwave radio wafting over from Europe and the rest of the world, answer machine messages, ethnographic library recordings, audio interview, cutups and mashups, on-the-spot reporting, radio phone in, hospital radio?

    Writing those down, I'd like to hear Doctor Who done as any of them!


  11. Jesse
    March 11, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    Thank you for not repeating the standard mythology of the Welles broadcast.


  12. Pen Name Pending
    March 11, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    By the way…why isn't there a cover image in this post? (Although I am on the mobile version.)


  13. Rob Shearman
    March 11, 2013 @ 11:56 am

    I've always thought 'Invaders of Mars' was a sublimely clever idea. I remember (thirteen years ago, my God) being back at the pub meet, where all the writers for this McGann season met to tell everyone else what they were up to. I envied it immediately. It was the best sort of 'romp', one that had a genuinely witty premise behind it.

    I think poor old Invaders has come in for a bit of stick over the years due to its placing in the season. There was a bit of a gap between the first McGann set of audios and this one, and expectations were set very high – and (until Russell did the same thing with the TV series, and we all began to get used to it), as an audience we expected our seasons to begin with something big and epic, not slight and frothy. I ought to say it was my fault, really. 'Chimes of Midnight' was supposed to be the season opener, but I pushed the Charley story arc along further than it should have been pushed – and so my story was bumped back, and Mark's was put in the front line instead. Context is everything with these audios, especially the way this blog studies them – I've always suspected Invaders might have had an easier time of it had I fulfilled my writing brief more accurately…


  14. Ununnilium
    March 11, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

    Frock is so rarely appreciated in its time.


  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 11, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Because I apparently forgot to upload it. Fixed now.


  16. elvwood
    March 11, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    Another thing they've done, now I think about it, is a story almost entirely made up of 'wrong number' telephone conversations: Urgent Calls. That wasn't quite an 'audio genre', but it was certainly a successful experiment, in my book.


  17. elvwood
    March 11, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    I think poor old Invaders has come in for a bit of stick over the years due to its placing in the season.

    Its tone is so different from every other McGann audio in those first two seasons, though, that I think it might have been given a hard time whenever it was released. It's like a Williams/Adams serial suddenly appearing during the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era: so surprising listeners have to switch mental gears too quickly to really appreciate it properly. It's probably closest to Time of the Daleks, but (a) that's only really in the whimsy and nostalgia departments rather than the humour, and (b) TotD came later and so couldn't help soften IfM's welcome.


  18. Rob Shearman
    March 11, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    I think that's probably true!

    What's often forgotten (well, I often forget it, anyway!) was that all the plays in the second McGann season were written long before we'd heard any of the stories from the first! We had to write them very hastily in the autumn of 2000, for recording in the New Year of 2001, with releases not starting until a whole year later. The knock on effect of this is that it wasn't just the first four stories that were written blind, as it were – it was the first ten! And each time all we writers were trying to scrabble about finding our own fresh take on a brand new Doctor, with only the TV Movie to hinder us. Tonally, we were all trying different things with the stories, and finding different things to bring out with our characterisations of the Doctor and Charley.

    Invaders doesn't feel like much else around it, probably. But then I'm certain Seasons of Fear doesn't either, or Embrace the Darkness come to that. And I know that with Chimes I was just holding on for dear life and hoping I wasn't getting it all wrong. I remember going to the recording of Chimes, which started minutes after Mark finished directing Invaders – God, did that overrun – and I looked at the Invaders script in the green room, and my heart sank, because it just seemed so much more witty and fun than anything I'd come up with. And there really hadn't been time for cooperation or sharing between writers: we'd have loved to have done that, but we were all just trying to get our scripts out as soon as possible.

    Nightmare times, looking back. Fun, though!


  19. sleepyscholar
    March 11, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    Although its tone is different from every other McGann audio in the first two seasons, that isn't such a big deal, considering that there is a massive variation in tone anyway. I mean Chimes of Midnight also has a very different tone, yet is equally wrapped up in manipulating a genre (doing the Agatha Christie cosy somewhat more successfully than the TV Agatha Christie story: and in a distinctly uncosy way!), and doesn't class with Invaders. And since he's here, we could skip ahead to the same author's Scherzo which follows on from Zagreus with such a rupture in tone, you might almost say it was a universe away.

    I've been listening to these audios recently, without any particular awareness of them being in "series" (in my case the year long gap came between Stones of Venice and Minuet in Hell), and I disagree with you. I listened to it as if it were in the middle of a season, straight after Minuet in Hell, and it benefited greatly from that positioning. And I listened without knowing that it had Simon Pegg and Jessica (then) Stevenson in it, which might have biased me in its favour.


  20. sleepyscholar
    March 11, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    D'oh! While I was typing, Rob slipped in a comment, so it's not clear that my "you" is actually Elvwood's suggestion that Invaders would have had trouble wherever it was. I was actually agreeing with Rob that if it feels like it's in mid-series (especially directly after Minuet) it is easy to appreciate.


  21. Rob Shearman
    March 11, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    Ha! Yes. I'm sneaky like that.

    It's an interesting question, though – do we better tolerate the 'light' episodes, knowing that they're part of the rhythm of a TV season which might want us to catch our breath for a week? (From my point of view, I find 'Planet of the Dead' much easier to swallow when I see it as the last piece of whimsy before the Tennant stories go all angsty and apocalyptic. If only there hadn't been, what, eight months between that and the next story, its contrast might have seemed more obvious!)

    But the danger with the Big Finish CDs was that they all have to feel sufficiently important that they're worth your £13.99. It was harder, I found, to get the audience's trust behind the range, if you produced a deliberately inconsequential story when you knew that the Daleks-blowing-up-Gallifrey or whatnot was a story just before yours. And the danger of that was that you'd end up turning out stories which were all big and explosive – and all sounding exactly the same.

    My defence of Invaders is that it knows it's part of a big arc that's going to climax a few months later with Gallifreyan mythos stuff in Neverland. And it just wants to provide a calm before the growing storm. If it were a TV story – and let's be honest, that's what we writers were all dreaming they were, back in 2000! – then it'd be seen as something necessary. But when you buy the things individually, and sometimes out of order, its throwaway nature, and the fact that from the accents upwards it's clearly wanting to be a spoof, is perhaps rather more irksome.

    Maybe. I don't know. I'm just pontificating. I shouldn't pontificate. I look silly.


  22. John Seavey
    March 11, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    I understand completely what Rob is saying–it's always very easy to forget that any drama is being made to a schedule and a budget–but at the same time, I find it unforgivable that a story about the Welles broadcast of 'War of the Worlds' can't have its climax actually involve the Welles broadcast of 'War of the Worlds'. To me, the key element of a successful "romp" in Doctor Who (and I do think they can be quite successful) is a certain elegance to the plotting…the Doctor is forced to come up with the Trojan Horse, for example, or accidentally gives Nero the idea to burn Rome. Having the Doctor…sort of get famous people to re-enact major historical events…it just doesn't have the same ring. 🙂

    Also, to be blunt, I didn't think the comedy names and accents were funny. That is to say, they were not inherently funny to me, and the audio clearly assumes that they are inherently funny with no need to embellish the humor. That was a dealbreaker to me, simply because one of the fundamental rules of comedy is that anything that thinks it's funny and isn't (to a given audience) rapidly moves past "unfunny" and into "annoying". If a joke fails once, it will fail harder the second time (…and third, fourth, et cetera.) So this one was rough for me.

    And also, clearly Rob doesn't have enough confidence in himself. 'Chimes' is one of the best pure scripts Big Finish ever did.


  23. Rob Shearman
    March 11, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

    Oh, thanks, John. But I promise you, I'm brimming over with confidence! I'm very fond of 'Chimes', honestly.


  24. Ununnilium
    March 11, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

    I'm generally a bigger fan of "light" episodes, so… probably I should buy this?? (After finally finishing my listen of Love and War, of course.)


  25. Ununnilium
    March 11, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

    Damn but that sounds interesting.


  26. elvwood
    March 11, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

    Yep – I rate it 9/10, but I can't say too much more without spoiling it. I think what might be a problem for you in particular, Ununnilium, is that it's a single episode story on a release with the three-part I.D., a bog-standard "base under seige" which has a couple of neat ideas but is otherwise fairly earnest and run-of-the-mill – I rated that 4/10, and I suspect you'd be even less impressed (though you never can tell).


  27. elvwood
    March 11, 2013 @ 11:58 pm

    Rob Shearman: Although its tone is different from every other McGann audio in the first two seasons, that isn't such a big deal, considering that there is a massive variation in tone anyway.

    Yes, there's a huge variation in tone, and maybe I overstated the case by including the first season (Stones of Venice doesn't support my argument, and Storm Warning is borderline); but the key difference for me is that all the other stories are going for heightened tension. Whether it's through off-kilter creepiness, body horror, epic scale and consequences or just a sense of immediate personal peril, they all keep you on the edge of your seat (squirming in some cases) rather than snuggled up on the sofa with a mug of Ovaltine like Invasion. I dunno, for me that's a different class of variation.

    Having said that, like sleepyscholar I first experienced them without a gap between Minuet and Invaders (and in some cases out of order); so maybe I'm missing the impact that wait has. I was certainly glad that by coming in late I avoided the buildup of expectation in the wait between Neverland and Zagreus!

    (Incidentally, there is one other story set before Neverland which doesn't go for tension: Living Legend. But that came out later, so I wasn't including it.)

    (Chimes is one of my top three audios, quite often my favourite, though it depends on my mood. But I did eventually listen to The Holy Terror, and that's great too.)


  28. Ununnilium
    March 12, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    Hmmmm, fair. Does Big Finish ever do collections of that kind of shorter stuff?


  29. Alphapenguin
    April 23, 2013 @ 3:02 am

    "Unlike Gatiss’s worst moments, it is at least not blatantly offensive. It avoids, for instance, accidentally backing the British National Party."

    Wait, what?


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