Anarchist spank inferno

Skip to content

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. J Mairs
    March 25, 2013 @ 4:36 am

    Implicit in every argument about the definitive Doctor Who is “Doctor Who could totally succeed again if people just did it my way.” "

    …which, as of 25/03/13, are still ongoing in fandom.

    Because as we all know, thanks to RTD/Moffat/Gatiss/Chibnall/BBC/BBC Wales/Lack of Paul McGann-ness/No-promise-of-a-multi-Doctor-50th/TARDIS-on-a-cloud [delete as applicable] the series is currently failing in the ratings and is on the verge of cancellation any time soon.

    Fortunately, they're all wrong – I know how to fix this!


  2. Scott
    March 25, 2013 @ 5:16 am

    This, at least, is where the 'new series is hugely popular which therefore trumps counterarguments against it' perspective (as seems to have been a bit of a recurring theme in the comments section around here of late) actually does have some merit. For while a lot of these fan arguments and schisms and debates might held a lot more weight and might have been a lot harder to escape or dismiss in the days when the series was dead and gone, when the currently broadcasting series despite these flaws (or 'flaws') is still getting very healthy viewing figures, audience appreciation figures and rave write-ups and reviews, these arguments become a lot more easily and genuinely dismissed. In this environment, a fan can point out the series is dying on it's arse all (s)he wants, the evidence is clearly stacked against him/her, and the subtext of it being largely just pique because it's not being done his/her preferred way becomes a lot easier to expose.

    Say what you will about the new series and it's quality (or lack thereof), while it might be going through patches like any TV show it's clearly not dying just yet.


  3. J Mairs
    March 25, 2013 @ 5:24 am

    "Say what you will about the new series and it's quality (or lack thereof), while it might be going through patches like any TV show it's clearly not dying just yet"

    When the series does start to die, I imagine the doomsayers probably won't even notice – they'll be too busy singing it's praises.


  4. Scott
    March 25, 2013 @ 6:01 am

    Heh. I'm kind of reminded of Danny DeVito's speech in Other People's Money when he points out that people no doubt said that the last company to make buggy-whips probably made the best damn buggy whip ever: "You know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market."


  5. Ununnilium
    March 25, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    To be fair, every single fandom ever has that debate.


  6. J Mairs
    March 25, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    Yeah – but Doctor Who fans have elevated it to an art form. 🙂


  7. Matthew Blanchette
    March 25, 2013 @ 7:52 am

    So… um, what do people think of the, um, recent allegations against the late Messrs. Nathan-Turner and Downie? Personally… don't know what to think. :-S


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 25, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    You will note, if you go and look, a fresh header on the Fix With Sontarans entry. Short form, there's not an equivalence between it and Saville at all, though it's obviously a related phenomenon. The thing I'm most appalled by is the suggestion in an interview that Ian Levine knew about it at the time, which really confirms the worst suspicions about his priorities in life.


  9. James V
    March 25, 2013 @ 8:15 am

    Phil, if you ever start a band, you are required to call it "The Radtrad Frockguns"


  10. jane
    March 25, 2013 @ 8:19 am

    And "Timelash" continues to be an instrument of exorcism.


  11. David Ainsworth
    March 25, 2013 @ 9:04 am

    "The epic is the uber-story: the definitive one that captures all there is to say on the topic."

    I don't think I can agree with this claim. The Iliad hardly says all there is to say about the Trojan War, given that both the Odyssey and the Aeneid are haunted by it. The Aeneid isn't even finished! And Paradise Lost hardly qualifies as the last word on theodicy or on the Fall, opening up all sorts of room for further discussion and disagreement while ending with two whole books of future history.

    To the extent that the epic genre is a genre of genres, capable of encompassing alternate generic forms (Paradise Lost even manages to squeeze in the farce of the War of Heaven), it doesn't seem inappropriate for Doctor Who.

    This assumption you're making about Who and epic gets in the way of what I'd find a more interesting point, following from your past work, about the way in which Doctor Who permits for sometimes radical shifts in genre and tone from story to story. The problem here isn't that epic is unsuited to Doctor Who, so much as the desire of all these authors to one-up the others and write "the definitive Doctor Who story" in epic form leads to a long string of stories which are all the same story, generically speaking. And that's contrary to how you've demonstrated that Doctor Who works.

    The fascinating thing about Sabbath is that, when he works (which is rarely), he works by establishing that this new series is about him as the central character with the Doctor as a left-over, an intruder from a different paradigm, not so much a Master-figure for him as the equivalent of Virgin's Cthulhu monstrosities left over from the previous universe. As you suggest, that renders Sabbath a stabilizing figure of order and makes the Doctor a chaotic threat.

    But that won't work for the line, which still supposes itself to be the Doctor's story, not Sabbath's. And it's that requirement–that the Doctor is the main character of Doctor Who–that somehow needs to be challenged in order for the series to move forward.

    Miles' answer is to write Doctor Who stories without the Doctor in them. Davies' answer is to foreground the companion characters. And Moffat's is to make the show about the Doctor-as-memory or as perceived by others and set that in tension with the character.

    I think the result for other DW lines tends more toward a City of Death/Time Monster shattering of the Platonic ideal of the Doctor into a series of representations which pretty much bind themselves to the show's past, with some obvious exceptions which you may or may not treat on this blog.


  12. spoilersbelow
    March 25, 2013 @ 10:02 am

    Part of the problem with epics is that they often attempt to be the last word on the subject. Keld Zeruneith argues very persuasively for the Iliad being the "last hurrah" for the age of heroes, and the Odyssey being a new form of tale about the cunning and thoughtful hero who fights alone with his mind, rather than the burly and invincible scion of the gods who fights with brute force and alongside hundreds of allies. And really, after the final siege of Troy which leaves most of the cast dead, is there another story to be told about Achilles and Hektor and Co.? The Odyssey has very little to say about the siege of Troy; its a completely different story that happens to take up an existing character for its set up. Almost all of Odysseus' wartime cunning takes place off screen, since the other epics are lost, and the story can be read entirely independent of the Iliad.

    And, of course, the problem with trying to write the Final Word on something is that it kills the story. It ends it. After which no more can be said.

    Needless to say, this does not work for a serial medium, where there needs to be a new episode/book/audioplay/comic the next week/month/etc. "No matter how good you were last week, what have you done for me lately?" Consciously writing as though there won't be any more stories with these characters works very well for your own personal creations, but not so much a shared universe that will be picked up by those who come after.


  13. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 25, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    I think my main problem here is the rather puzzling idea that the Iliad is a particularly useful reference point for how epics work in 2002. The meaning of the word has obviously shifted over time, and I think the sense of the word that describes a particular type of Doctor Who is very different from the sense that describes a type of Greek poetry.

    Nevertheless, there is an interesting parallel here. You point out the way that the Odyssey and Aeneid are haunted by the Iliad. This highlights, I think, an aspect of storytelling that Doctor Who is particularly invested in. There is a desire for interminability in narrative that is at odds with the definitiveness of the epic. Both provide different sorts of narrative scale. Doctor Who is far better suited to one than the other. But we've already seen in the Whittakerian and Holmesian epics ways in which Doctor Who can find productive spaces within the epic. Davies and Moffat have found their own ways to accomplish that, and we'll get there.

    But in terms of the wilderness years there was a real problem with writers trying to do Doctor Who epics that were just like every other sci-fi epic of the period. And it never worked. It sometimes rose to the vaunted heights if pretty good, but there is only so much that can be celebrated.


  14. David Anderson
    March 25, 2013 @ 11:44 am

    Sabbath has only a cameo in Parkin's Trading Futures. I'd say he works better in that if seen as a new version of the Doctor/ Time Lords, rather than a Master knock-off. Bearing in mind that Doctor Who can't avoid being invested in the Doctor's values as normative.


  15. Stephen Jeffers
    March 25, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    That's the problem, isn't it? Sabbath's trying to be the protagonist of a series called Doctor Who. Now, it's possible that Doctor Who was an outdated concept with no modern relevance (spoilers: Larry was about as wrong about that as it's possible to be and remain baryonic), but (a) bet on Bond, not Bourne, for the long term victory and (b) even if Bourne were to win, it wouldn't see him become protagonist of the James Bond movies.

    I'm not sure I buy the central premise that there was a war between Big Finish and BBC Books for the soul of Doctor Who. But as a books guy, I'm happy to have a Camera Obscura v Neverland matchup.

    Also, you've missed the most exciting and interesting fact about Camera Obscura: we have photographic evidence that Kylie Minogue read it the month it came out.


  16. Stephen Jeffers
    March 25, 2013 @ 12:10 pm


  17. Stephen Jeffers
    March 25, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    In another piece of 'it's a small world' trivia, Kylie's costume designer, William Baker, who's a huge Who fan and was no doubt responsible for the photo and EDA, was at school with Lance Parkin.


  18. Ross
    March 25, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

    So is the idea with Sabbath that the Doctor was a chaotic, mercurial force in a universe where order was imposed by the Time Lords, and now that they're gone, it's an inherently more chaotic universe, so the Doctor isn't properly subversive any more, and what's properly subversive instead is someone like Sabbath who wants to impose order?

    Because that sounds interesting on paper, but, even leaving aside Who's name is on the cover of the book, "The guy who wants to impose cold rational order on the mercurial universe with an iron fist" is never seriously going to be a contender for the hero role in this kind of adventurey story.


  19. Adam Riggio
    March 25, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    I could go on very pretentiously about what I think of as the hangover of Greece worship in contemporary humanities. I think I see the worst examples of this in my own discipline of philosophy, but it's pretty pervasive and I think a real problem for intellectuals trying to engage with the world. Phil's right, and I'll take the idea to a further extreme because we're talking on the internet and this is where extremes belong.

    The world has moved on from Greek paradigms of thinking and acting to the point that understanding a phenomenon or a concept by reference to its Greek origin is at best misleading and at worst thinking with no links to the contemporary world at all. When Phil (and most people today) use the word 'epic,' we're referring to a story or an event that is a monumental last word, the definitive statement of a phenomenon. Star Wars is an epic cinema saga in that through its story, a conflict the size of a galaxy is displayed. I suppose another word could be operatic.

    But its status as an epic/opera is precisely what causes Star Wars problems. The Expanded Universe books have become ridiculous, because in order to continue the story of the main characters, the narrative has to remain at the pitch of opera, so their galaxy has always been embroiled in one all-consuming war after another. The Star Wars Expanded Universe didn't really expand the universe, just the length of the story of the Skywalker family and the associated galaxy-rocking events. That's why the only thing to get me positively excited about Star Wars was the attempt Seth Green made to make a sitcom set in the Star Wars universe: just some people on Corellia or something trying to make a living in a world of hover-cars and hyperspace.

    Doctor Who never worked operatically, and it was a fundamental mistake of the production staff in the 1980s to focus on that mode of storytelling (though it appeared at various points throughout the show). Ultimately, Doctor Who works at a personal level: he's one guy who travels around the universe making a difference. It can be of any size, depending on the story, but the point is that he leaves a world in a different place than it was when he entered.


  20. Ununnilium
    March 25, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    Honestly, I don't really see "epic" as meaning "an all-encompassing story" in the 21st century either. The two categories overlap some, but there's a lot on either side of the Venn diagram.


  21. Ununnilium
    March 25, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

    And, of course, the problem with trying to write the Final Word on something is that it kills the story. It ends it. After which no more can be said.

    Well, no. Actually writing the Final Word might, but I don't know that you can do that on stories above a certain level of depth – one that Doctor Who passed long ago, probably in the Verity Lambert era. Trying to write the Final Word just results in adding a new interpretation.


  22. Steven Clubb
    March 25, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

    I don't know. Trek fans can give you a run for the money. I still run into quite a few of them who can't believe they canceled Enterprise as the show was "just starting to get good". And it seems to have everything to do with them going full fanboy with the Continuity by explaining the new look Klingons, showing the Tholians for the first time, having Archer put on a classic uniform, bringing back Data, etc.

    And The Onion has gotten a good laugh out of Trek fans complaining that the new movie can actually be enjoyed by casual fans. Sadly, I've encountered fans like this, proving yet again that it's impossible to parody the clannish attitudes of fandom.

    Doctor Who fandom has its fair share of nutters, but the doctrine of "there is no canon" seems to keep it from being too much of a blood sport.


  23. Matthew Blanchette
    March 25, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

    Episode two, to be precise. Or so Mr. Marson claims.


  24. Scott
    March 25, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

    To kinda sorta play Devil's Advocate (in that I'm not entirely unconvinced by Phil's point, but am not really sufficiently up on my knowledge of the nature of the 'epic' to really challenge it one way or another), doesn't that just prove Phil's point in a way? That the idea — and problem — of an epic (in modern terms at least) isn't that it necessarily is literally a Final Word, but that it tries to impose a Final Word on something, even when such a thing is clearly not possible?

    To take Adam's example, the end of Return of the Jedi is clearly not the last anyone had to say about anything in the Star Wars universe, but even a surface reading of the text suggests that it's clearly intended to be so; the Emperor is dead, Darth Vader is dead, the Empire has fallen, everyone's celebrating, the ghosts are all happy, Luke Skywalker has achieved his destiny, Han and Leia are together, Chewie and the robots have … whatever they want, and so forth. Everyone's met their objectives, everyone's happy and content, equilibrium has been restored. The text is clearly trying to suggest that that's it, the story's over and it's all ended magnificently, and you can go home now.

    Obviously, the people who put the Expanded Universe together disagree, but (based on my limited exposure to said Expanded Universe, that is) they seem to be doing so primarily by welding bits on rather than the story continuing organically. It's not necessarily literally all-encompassing, but it's attempting to be all-encompassing, which is a problem if you have a format where people are going to be constantly continuing the story.


  25. David Anderson
    March 26, 2013 @ 1:36 am

    One could argue that the problem with whether the Iliad and the Odyssey are 'epic' is a sign of the problem with the modern desire to be 'epic'. That is, the kinds of story that established 'epic' as a term of prestige aren't the kinds of story that people try to tell when they want a story with that prestige. And that may be because there is no coherent way to tell the kind of story that people are trying to tell.

    (The Aeneid and Paradise Lost are closer to modern epic. But even there, they're stories of beginnings rather than endings. In that sense, the only epic Doctor Who has ever done on television is Genesis of the Daleks.)


  26. David Ainsworth
    March 26, 2013 @ 9:06 am

    Part of my problem, clearly, was in taking Dr. Sandifer's use of the word "epic" in this context as applying the literary term to this text, and while I agree with Adam Riggio's point about Greek hangover, literary epic hasn't recovered yet. If Joyce's Ulysses can't quite end the hangover, I don't expect to do better myself.

    Perhaps another way to put the original claim would be that the epic claims to depict a sea change, a paradigm shift, the start of a "new age" or new era? That fits literary epics which depict a beginning or ending, works for non-Greek-hungover epics like Lord of the Rings (which instead has a Norse hangover) or Star Wars (Joseph Campbell hangover) or Babylon 5 (Babylonian and, err, Tolkien hangover).

    With that perspective, one could theoretically claim that Doctor Who can either interact with an epic (the Doctor intruding upon that genre) or can embody one (in regeneration stories). In an interaction, the Doctor's ability to return to previous ages after a "new age" dawns undermines the epic form, although obviously there's ways around that through serial storytelling (does the Time War create a new era, or not?). A regeneration story, then, offers Doctor Who the chance to do epic up "right."

    That brings out what, to me, is the real issue with the amnesia plot. It's effectively an attempt to turn the whole series of novels into a single serial regeneration story, but it runs into the massive problem that the "new age" ushered in by regenerations results mainly from changes in who's running the show. In other words, epic within the form of Doctor Who itself transcends the text or show and references those who produce and perform it. Sustaining that epic across months or years actually defers it by delaying the advent of the new age; arguably, it also undermines it by elevating continuity over change as the defining element of epic. I'll gladly agree that doing so kills epic dead, whichever definition we're employing.

    In any event, I think there's a strong overlap between where this conversation about epic and Doctor Who leads and Philip Sandifer's brilliant piece on The Mind Robber. When epic works in Doctor Who, it works by drawing upon the Doctor as escapee from the Land of Fiction and allowing him to intrude, however briefly, into another world. Even the press coverage of a change in the lead actor in Doctor Who tends to refer to the Doctor as real…


  27. spoilersbelow
    March 26, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

    "The guy who wants to impose cold rational order on the mercurial universe with an iron fist" is never seriously going to be a contender for the hero role in this kind of adventurey story.

    I'm not sure I agree. The "Hero Who Imposes Order Upon Chaos" is a stock adventure character, and worked pretty well for Tom Swift, Solomon Kane, and Charles Marlow. Granted, all these characters are racist assholes who are scarcely better than the people they fight, and whose stories are only worth reading in spite of this, but…

    Perhaps King Arthur or Marduk would be better examples?


  28. Katherine Sas
    July 30, 2014 @ 9:05 am



  29. John Seavey
    January 29, 2015 @ 12:30 pm

    Looking back on this entry, it feels startlingly wrong to me. Because this does seem to be looking at 'Camera Obscura' as part of the tail-end of the old, dying Classic Who, rather than as part of the immensely creative crucible that produced the New Who. Saying, "That’s the end damnation of the wilderness years. They cannot possibly work, because they’re arguing over the nature of a dead series. Implicit in every argument about the definitive Doctor Who is “Doctor Who could totally succeed again if people just did it my way.” The fact that the series is cancelled and has no meaningful cultural capital or impact is still hanging over every single one of these wild reinventions. So we have a classic battle to the death for no stakes at all packed with people who lack the self-awareness to realize the sheer foolishness of what they’re doing," neglects the rather obvious point that someone (Russell T Davies) did in fact win that debate, brought back the series, did so in the manner of the Wilderness Years with its flaws purged through the wisdom of hindsight, and turned the show into one of the biggest successes the BBC has seen in the past decade. To ignore that in favor of a reading of, "By this point the series was in an irrelevant death spiral" seems massively misguided.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.