Eruditorum Press

The struggle in terms of the strange

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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.

56 Comments

  1. John
    May 28, 2012 @ 12:29 am

    You've really got me feeling sorry for poor Eric Saward. Any suggestions on who would have been a better choice for Script-Editor? You hinted that you're going to cover 'The Singing Detective'; can't wait!

    Reply

  2. MAWH
    May 28, 2012 @ 12:33 am

    At the time, I really loved that era of "Who", but looking back, I can see that I was in a minority (as I usually seem to be with the general population) and that era now seems "out of time" somehow as the wildly eccentric adventurer motif just doesn't seem to gel with the rest of the drama that was playing on our screens then. After all, Granada had just launched their "Sherlock Holmes" series, and we were on the very brink of "Inspector Morse", both TV eccentrics battling a kind of "evil" in their own, unusual ways, and I was still able to appreciate the novelty of the "Who" style without appreciating that the very strangeness I liked seemed "odd" to the general public. With a few minor tweaks, mostly due to cutting down on some of the "silliness" in the production design, and a more "keeping the monsters in the shadows" psychological terror approach, I still believe that this particular era could now be thought of as one of the better ones, instead of the reputation it still has in some quarters, but what do I know?

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  3. David Anderson
    May 28, 2012 @ 2:41 am

    In the interview with Pat Mills on the Song of Megaptera CD Mills says that Saward and Nathan-Turner described Davison's Doctor as an action hero, which Mills found puzzling since nothing else they said backed that up. I would guess that it was Saward who wanted the Doctor to be an action hero and Nathan-Turner who had qualified the idea out of existence.

    But this is one of the points about Doctor Who and SF that you've been raising. Doctor Who is not like Star Trek, Star Wars, or Blake's 7 – the protagonists aren't military (regular or guerilla). I think Saward wanted to be writing something more like Blake's 7. He wasn't alone. From my memory of the university SF society in the early nineties, the people there who were slightly older than me pretty much all liked Blake's 7 and would have liked Doctor Who to be more like Blake's 7. (And one of the things they liked about Blake's 7 was Avon being cynical and bullying, which I suspect may point to an explanation of the characterisation of Colin's Doctor.) There was an even harder core who liked Sapphire and Steel as well, but I don't think the Doctor Who / Sapphire and Steel but not Blake's 7 constituency would have had any takers.

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  4. Iain Coleman
    May 28, 2012 @ 4:58 am

    A fair and sympathetic account of Saward, but I don't think his inexperience as a writer is the whole story here. After all, Andrew Cartmel was even less experienced – he was hired on the basis of some, doubtless impressive, unproduced scripts. And yet Cartmel managed to find a fresh and exciting direction for Doctor Who that proved fertile for long after the series itself had been cancelled.

    I think that even a more experienced Saward would always have been the wrong man for this particular job. He wanted to be writing cop shows, or Blake's 7. Maybe with a couple more Doctor Whos under his belt as a freelancer, he could have done fine as a jobbing writer on a range of TV drama series. But I doubt that he would ever have developed into the right guy to steer the creative direction of Doctor Who.

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  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:01 am

    I think the fact that Cartmel was as good and successful as he was is a minor miracle. The odds of that appointment working were as low as those of casting of an ostentatious comedy roadshow actor as the Doctor.

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  6. Zapruder 313
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:11 am

    For me, the importance of Slipback lay in the idea that, if the TV series went away, the series could simply move to radio and carry on as if nothing had happened, which is what I remember thinking at the time was probably the plan, with Slipback as a pilot to test the waters before a full transfer to audio-only adventures took place.

    As it turned out, the TV series did return, but the template was set for the Virgin New Adventures novels, Jon Pertwee radio shows, and then Big Finish CDs to step neatly up to the plate and save the day.

    Slipback may not have been very good itself, but what it did was present us with a new story that was explicitly "the Official New Doctor Who Adventure, it's just not on Televison any more", carving a path for what ultimately proved to be the future of the show.

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  7. Iain Coleman
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:21 am

    Speaking of McCoy – no doubt we'll have a chance to discuss his casting properly whenever the blog gets to Time and the Rani, but I think it's important to recognise that he wasn't just a clown who put ferrets down his trousers on the telly. Prior to becoming the Doctor he had already been headhunted by Joan Littlewood for her Theatre Workshop and had played the lead role in a new play at the National Theatre. All the physical comedy stuff was only half the story.

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  8. Zapruder 313
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:35 am

    While that is a very good point and well worth remembering in the face of his detractors, I actually rather like the idea that my favourite Doctor was previously a clown who put ferrets down his trousers on the telly.

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  9. Iain Coleman
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    To be fair, it beats doing funny voices on the radio any day.

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  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:51 am

    And, more obviously, he could act. I'm sure that came out in his audition. His acting experience was scant, and his training was as a clown, but he had talent. And that talent matched very, very well with the fact that he was extremely experienced at getting audiences to like him at any cost.

    Still, on paper "let's hire a roadshow clown without a lot of acting experience and an inexperienced script editor" ought to be a recipe for total disaster. That it wasn't, and how fantastically interesting a moment in Doctor Who that is, is the fact that's getting me through the last dregs of the Colin Baker era. 🙂

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  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:55 am

    Chris Boucher would have been the obvious choice. Or "not driving Bidmead away," obviously.

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  12. Zapruder 313
    May 28, 2012 @ 5:59 am

    I was only reflecting this morning that the best album I've bought recently was a blues piano record by Hugh Laurie, a man I previously associated with pulling funny faces and doing silly voices on Blackadder, before he shocked us all by going on to star in the highest-rated US drama series of the decade.

    "The Prince Regent Sings The Blues (and looks set to give Jools Holland a serious run for his money)" is just as unlikely (and as pleasing) as "That Ferret Bloke From Tiswas Will Turn Out To Be Your Favourite Doctor". I love it when stuff like that happens.

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  13. Archeology of the Future
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:03 am

    On the subject of McCoy it's really worth covering 'What's Your Story?' the interactive programme he hosted on Children's BBC. He anchored a programme where after an initial set up episode, children submitted their ideas for where the story would go next. Watching clips of it back it's incredible to see how Doctor-ish he is, a simultaniously undermining and confirming presence who knows what might be coming next but is on the side of his children's audience. There's a lot of the seventh Doctor in his taking the audience into his confidence to share snippets and comment on what is unfolding as the kids take the story in odd directions. He has that kind of subversive verve that certainly makes it into his first season.

    After covering The Adventure Game, I really hope Philip is going to cover it before we get to Time and The Rani.

    On the subject of Saward, it's worth looking at his novelisation of 'The Twin Dilemma' where he pads the slim script out with loads and loads of unassociated sub Hitchhikers stuff

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  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:06 am

    Certainly not before Time and the Rani – it didn't debut until 1988. But it's not going to be ignored.

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  15. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:29 am

    I will concede that Eric Saward is a good DOCTOR WHO writer, but remain resolute in my opinion that he was the worst possible thing for the show as a script editor.

    Based on your analysis, I can see why JN-T appointed Saward as the new script editor, but heartily wish to gawd that he hadn't…

    Reply

  16. Alan
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:30 am

    John Nathan-Turner, having presided over the quite good Bidmead and Cartmel years, can't absorb all of the blame, though he certainly gets given a large portion of it.

    Stupid question, perhaps, but wasn't JNT responsible for hiring and overseeing the script editor? Or am I misremembering the BBC chain of command? Because if Saward's problems came down to (a) being promoted way too early and (b) having a vision for the show that was at odds with what the show had traditionally been about, then I think a lot of the blame for Saward's missteps should go to the person who hired him and then failed to maintain oversight and step in when things started going pear-shaped.

    Also, this quote — "the names of writers you quoat are novalists. Infact one of them has attempted to write a Doctor Who script with disasterous results. That is why we don't use novalists" — has an unusual number of misspelled words. I normally don't worry about typos in blog posts, but here, you are quoting someone else who is knocking on the writing abilities of his more successful writing peers. I actually did wonder whether there should be a [sic] or two in there. It would be strangely hilarious if Saward were knocking on Chris Priest while not knowing how to spell "novelist."

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  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:31 am

    The typos are present in the original, it seems.

    Reply

  18. John Callaghan
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:59 am

    "I don't think the Doctor Who / Sapphire and Steel but not Blake's 7 constituency would have had any takers."

    Me! Me!

    Reply

  19. Adam Riggio
    May 28, 2012 @ 7:08 am

    Chris Boucher would have been an excellent idea. He established his talent in Doctor Who through his scripts in seasons 14 and 15, and through creating one of the show's most popular companions in Leela. He showed with Blake's 7 that he understood the tone and style of science fiction in an action-adventure mode. The characters of that show also demonstrated how to do bickering among a large crew right, handling character development and tight adventure plots at the same time.

    What kept him from coming back to the show? Was he too busy wrapping up Blake's 7 at the time? If so, could he have been held on a part time or more advisory basis until season 20? Or did it have to do with JNT's reluctance to return to older Doctor Who writers? Phil's analysis of JNT's aesthetic in The Five Doctors showed a motivation to paper over the Tom Baker era. Some earlier discussions of Saward showed that he had to fight JNT over the return of Robert Holmes. If JNT wanted a break with the past regarding the T.Baker era, would that have put Boucher out of consideration?

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  20. Archeology of the Future
    May 28, 2012 @ 7:45 am

    Cripes, I got my chronology all mixed up! It's funny, watching it as a child I don't remember thinking 'look, there's Doctor Who hosting a telly programme!'

    It was a brilliant experience to watch it as a kid, though. I seem to remember either the first or second series taking a very odd and frightening existential dread direction for at least one episode.

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  21. BerserkRL
    May 28, 2012 @ 8:16 am

    one of the things they liked about Blake's 7 was Avon being cynical and bullying, which I suspect may point to an explanation of the characterisation of Colin's Doctor

    But Avon got such better lines to do it with ….

    Reply

  22. BerserkRL
    May 28, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    Speaking of McCoy

    McCoy? I assumed the "ostentatious comedy roadshow actor" reference was to Eccleston.

    Reply

  23. BerserkRL
    May 28, 2012 @ 8:31 am

    It's generous to call them typos. Two uses of "novalists" in a row is just a straight-up mizpeleng.

    Reply

  24. Matt Sharp
    May 28, 2012 @ 8:47 am

    'Hugh Laurie, a man I previously associated with pulling funny faces and doing silly voices on Blackadder, before he shocked us all by going on to star in the highest-rated US drama series of the decade.'

    Were people shocked? He's actually been a more-or-less permanent fixture of British television since about 1982, including the odd bit of piano and guitar playing on 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie'. But I suppose that 'household name in Britain' can easily translate into 'suddenly appearing from nowhere' in the USA.

    I was more shocked to find that you seem to be completely unaware of 'The Young Ones' (he's in that, too) across the pond.

    Reply

  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    Apparently Bryan Singer – a high profile director – was wholly unaware that Laurie was British when he auditioned and in fact praised his Americanness when seeing his audition tape. In the US he was probably best known for the Stuart Little movies.

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  26. Iain Coleman
    May 28, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    It's not a stupid question, though I don't know the answer. Given the byzantine nature of BBC bureaucracy, and the fact that (as someone noted in comments a few entries ago) JNT was acting as producer but still technically only a production unit manager, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were a lot more complicated.

    Reply

  27. Iain Coleman
    May 28, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    I for one would love to hire Chris Boucher as my personal dialogue consultant for real life.

    Reply

  28. Iain Coleman
    May 28, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    Boucher was busy throughout the period in question: he went from Blakes 7 to Juliet Bravo to Bergerac to Star Cops to The Bill.

    Reply

  29. Adam Riggio
    May 28, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    It's so disheartening when talented people become so in-demand and successful.

    Reply

  30. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    Equally, though, the gap between Blake's 7 and Anthony Root's departure was almost perfect for Boucher to step in. The final episode of Blake's 7 wrapped five months after The Visitation did. The gap that would have needed to be papered over was a few months. It was June when they learned Root wasn't coming back to Doctor Who, and the decision was made to elevate Saward permanently then. Had they wanted to they could surely have used Saward as a bridge and approached Boucher to take over when he finished his work on Blake's 7. But there's zero evidence whatsoever that Boucher was ever even considered.

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  31. Henry R. Kujawa
    May 28, 2012 @ 10:14 am

    I've long felt that Eric Saward was a better writer than he was a script editor. Whatever their faults or eccentricities, Dicks, Holmes, Bidmead & Cartmel; apparently improved scripts by other writers. Saward repeatedly made them worse. and he had nobody to pick up the slack for his own.

    I liked Colin Baker, but hated most of his 1st season ("TWO DOCTORS" and "REVELATION" the exceptions). I was shocked when he was fired, not over the hiatus, but at the end of the Trial. Sheesh.

    Then I saw an interview with Sylvester McCoy on PBS. He said something along the lines of, "They brought me in for an interview with the producer. Then they brought me in with an interview with the head of drama. And then they brought me in for an interview with the head of programming. And they hired me ANYWAY." I loved him before I ever saw a single episode. This may explain why I never found "TIME AND THE RANI" that particularly bad. ("DRAGONFIRE", yes. That was awful.)

    JNT did a lot of promotion on Channel 23 in Trenton / New Jersey Network. At the SAME time, perhaps the biggest promoter during fundraiser weeks was Floyd Vivino. I'm convinced JNT and Vivino MUST have crossed paths. I mean… LOOK!!!

    http://www.tvacres.com/images/puppets_oogie.jpg

    You can see what for the whole of Season 24, I kept calling Sylvester "Doctor Floyd".

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  32. Zapruder 313
    May 28, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    Matt Sharp, I meant more "shocked that a comedian/sketch performer who had done the occasional bit-part in costume dramas, often as comic relief, proved to be capable of carrying the lead role in a major drama series".

    To the best of my knowledge, he'd certainly done little before that to suggest the depth of dramatic skill shown in House, a couple of scenes in Peter's Friends being the only instances I can call to mind.

    As a Brit myself, I've been a big fan of Mr Laurie since his early days with Mr Fry, but I certainly never expected him to become a major US dramatic actor (or even a pianist signed to Warner Brothers, even though I've known he played piano since the first series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

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  33. Matthew Blanchette
    May 28, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    Unfortunately… it would appear that hiring Saward was completely Root's idea: http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/serials/5x.html

    Reply

  34. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    Though to be fair, Saward was being hired as an interim script editor at the time. Assuming they wanted an internal hire that meant that, from Root's experience, the options were Saward or Terence Dudley. So yes, from that perspective, of course Saward was suggested. The decision to keep him permanently would not have been Root's.

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  35. BerserkRL
    May 28, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

    Here in the u.s. I first became aware of Hugh Laurie in the 90s through Jeeves & Wooster.

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  36. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 28, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    Well yeah, but you're an NPR rat like most classic series Doctor Who fans in America. 🙂

    Reply

  37. Warren Andrews
    May 28, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    Yeah, Philip Martin has said he was told to write the Doctor as "James Bond", he started Vengeance with this instruction for the 5th Doctor and it didn't change when writing for the 6th.

    There's no sign of a cohesive vision from either JNT or Saward, it's no wonder that the era is such a mess.

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  38. Matthew Blanchette
    May 28, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    Hmmmmm… looking at the Shannon Sullivan site again, it seems to me that Saward was kept on as a result of the fracas over "The Enemy Within" in mid-June. I wonder how serious that damn payment disagreement over the rewrites really was… shame Priest and Nathan-Turner came to blows over it. 🙁

    (Oh, and the failure "Sealed Orders" seems to've been entirely down to Chris Bidmead's worries over Priest's inabilities to translate his writing to television scripting… apparently, Priest didn't take very kindly to Bidmead's attempts to guide him to a workable set of scripts.)

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  39. jane
    May 28, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

    I'm hoping for a redemptive reading of Delta. I think I see something wonderful there, but I really struggle with the discourse.

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  40. Alan
    May 28, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    Wow.

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  41. Alan
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

    I agree. I've always been fond of Delta despite its obvious flaws. I think it's the fact that it's set in 1959, a "historical" which is set only four years before the series' real life debut. And after all those loving homages to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a story with a rock-and-roll soundtrack was delightful.

    Reply

  42. BerserkRL
    May 28, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

    Philip Martin has said he was told to write the Doctor as "James Bond"

    What a marvelous idea! I hope Moffat accepts my equally brilliant suggestion to write Sherlock Holmes as the Incredible Hulk.

    Reply

  43. daibhid-c
    May 29, 2012 @ 1:54 am

    Agreed about the Twin Dilemma novelisation. As a 14 year old, I was only vaguely aware that Adams had worked on the show, let alone whether Saward had an opinion on this. But as soon as I got to the bit about the Time Lord who regenerated from jaw-droppingly handsome to average, forced another regeneration, and became a monster, I thought "Is he trying to do the Guide? Why?"

    IIRC, What's Your Story? was in the Jackanory slot, so the presence of someone we recognised from some other programme would have seemed entirely natural.

    I was a bit surprised when the new companion was the woman from Corners, though.

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  44. Matt Sharp
    May 29, 2012 @ 2:43 am

    I'm so sorry, Zapruder, I thought you were a colonial 😉 ! And I think you may have missed Jeeves and Wooster, it may have been a comic part (sort of) but it demonstrated his range and ability pretty well.

    As an aside, my grandma always referred to Stephen Fry as 'That Abdul Abulbul', after a part that he didn't play in an advert for beer in 1982…

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  45. jane
    May 29, 2012 @ 3:32 am

    I like that the mercenaries turn out to be the real monsters, while the "monster" monster turns out to be closer to divine. And I like how Billy becomes a monster, too.

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  46. Brad Cast
    May 29, 2012 @ 4:30 am

    Hate to point this out, but "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" wouldn't be out until 1986. However, that still leaves him with two radio series, three stage productions, three novels and a computer game to his name, so it doesn't really change the fact that he was now a Big Name.

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  47. Gnaeus
    May 29, 2012 @ 5:34 am

    "After all, Andrew Cartmel was even less experienced – he was hired on the basis of some, doubtless impressive, unproduced scripts. And yet Cartmel managed to find a fresh and exciting direction for Doctor Who that proved fertile for long after the series itself had been cancelled."

    All well and good, but Cartmel's first season was a disaster, and his initial vision of a clown-Doctor simply didn't work. Not everything wrong with the programme at this stage is his fault – orders from on high and Keff McCulloch must take a large part of the blame – but the programme only really returns to a decent level of quality with season 26, and even then it involves reinventing the world around the Doctor as that of a comic-book.

    On McCoy: When he's good, he's really good, but all too often, the writers seem to play to his weaknesses (in particular, his inability to act and shout at the same time), and put next to the disastrous character of Ace (Aldred's acting is, I think, fine on the whole; she's been landed with dud material, though ["bogbrain", etc.]) you've got a variable actor next to a wobbly character. Neither of whom you can hear above the horrendous music.

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  48. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 29, 2012 @ 5:41 am

    Gnaeus – I cannot wait to get to the McCoy era and explain in meticulous detail why almost every sentence of that comment is wrong. 🙂

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  49. Zapruder 313
    May 29, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    I'm so sorry, Zapruder, I thought you were a colonial 😉 ! And I think you may have missed Jeeves and Wooster, it may have been a comic part (sort of) but it demonstrated his range and ability pretty well.

    No worries, Matt! I married a colonial and now live and work in the colonies, so maybe that has rubbed off on me more than I thought! I was born and bred in Dear Old Blighty, though, and still fondly remember Stephen and Hugh's early appearances on Saturday Live as formative influences during my college years.

    You are spookily spot on in deducing that I somehow missed Jeeves and Wooster, though! I had no idea why it had passed me by until I just Googled it: the 1990 to 1993 run co-incides almost perfectly with my "playing lead guitar in a band at University" years! I must track the DVDs down …

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  50. John Seavey
    May 29, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    Sorry, but Saward's "Short Trips" story absolutely killed any kind of ability in me to see merit in a redemptive reading of his qualities as a writer. 'CHAOS' (in 'Short Trips: Past Tense') is pretty much a straightforward embarrassment, and coming as it does after he had as much time as he did to polish his supposed craft, it strips away all the excuses that are trotted out in this blog.

    Put it this way: If he's still turning out stories that would be bad for a first-time writer, it's hard to claim that he would have been better if he'd just kept at it. 🙂

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  51. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 29, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    Did he do much of anything between 1986 and the Short Trips anthology, though? I mean, I thought his career largely derailed and that the return for the Short Trips anthology was him going back to writing. I assumed he'd gone and become a teacher or something.

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  52. solar penguin
    May 29, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

    With hindsight, the interesting thing about Slipback is that it shows the Time Lords acting as a safety net for the Doctor at the end. Possibly the ONLY time we see (or in this case hear) them do this.

    When BBC Books gave us The Ancestor Cell, one of the justifications for events of the climax was that it would mean future stories would be more exciting because the Time Lords could no longer act as his safety net, as though they'd been doing it all the time.

    Without Slipback, that argument would have been complete and total bullshit, instead of just 99.9% bullshit.

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  53. drfgsdgsdf
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:55 am

    I've heard he worked a lot in radio, particularly in other European countries.

    He wrote several Tom Baker narration audios for missing stories in the 90s. I've never heard them myself so I can't comment.

    After Jon Pertwee died he was supposed to be writing a radio play for Tom Baker to do instead-apparently called Genesis of the Cybermen

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  54. Gnaeus
    May 30, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    Dr. Sandifer, I look forward to disagreeing with you vociferously on at least some of the points. 🙂

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  55. Jarl
    May 29, 2015 @ 10:38 pm

    Jumping on three years later to the day to add: It also happens in The War Games, and look how it worked out for him there.

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  56. Daibhid C
    July 9, 2015 @ 2:33 am

    Flicking through the book again recently, I was reminded that one of the sub-Adams digressions is about how cats are more intelligent than humans and secretly rule the world. Choice of animal aside, at that point you might as well introduce the Unlimited Unlikeliness Engine and be done with it.

    Reply

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