Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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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. William Shaw
    April 16, 2018 @ 9:24 am

    It’s sad, but it’s pretty hard to argue with the idea that the novels line is mostly irrelevant these days. The most interesting thing about the new series adventures line is probably still that Naomi Alderman inexplicably wrote for it once. I wonder if the Chibnall era will even bother trying to reinvent them.


    • ScarvesandCelery
      April 16, 2018 @ 10:03 am

      Alderman probably wrote for the line because she’s a big Doctor Who fan – I’ve met her and she loves the show. It’s the only reason an acclaimed and successful literary writer would write for the book line – I don’t think she’s done a lot of TV (although I suspect she could turn her hand to TV, considering she successfully created “Zombies, Run!”), so she may have seen it as her best chance to write Doctor Who.


      • William Shaw
        April 16, 2018 @ 10:55 am

        That wouldn’t surprise me – certainly that book is about the only thing from the New Series Adventures line I’m at all interested in reading these days. Has anyone here read it? Is it worth bothering with?


        • Alex Moreland
          April 16, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

          Alderman’s book is probably one of the more straightforwardly very good novels of the line, yeah. It’s a bit of a time-y wime-y piece set in the banking world, where people are loaning and borrowing time, and paying back compound interest and such. (I only understand compound interest because of that book.) Got some similarities with Sleep No More, actually, in that a lot of it is about maximising the amount of time you can spend working and so on. Been a long time since I read it – probably not since it came out, actually – but I do remember very much enjoying it.

          (As to Alderman doing TV, an adaptation of her novel The Power is in the earliest of early stages at the moment, so it’s not impossible she might be involved with writing that, and in turn do a Doctor Who episode…)


          • Mr Axon
            April 19, 2018 @ 8:41 pm

            Of the small number of NSAs that I’ve read, I enjoyed Borrowed Time and The Way Through the Woods the most. Borrowed Time will be reissued in paperback this summer: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1785943723/

          • Steve Mollmann
            April 22, 2018 @ 3:52 pm

            Seems a little wacky to have both the logo and the subtitle “A Doctor Who Novel” on the cover. I wonder if it was originally supposed to be logo-free to pull in the literary Alderman fans, but the new branding guidelines scuppered that plan.

      • David Anderson
        April 17, 2018 @ 10:38 am

        Having read The Power, I am not surprised to hear she’s a Doctor Who fan. Actually The Power is a lot in line with El’s interests.


      • Paul M. Cray
        April 20, 2018 @ 11:29 pm

        At 2 o’clock in the morning on the last night at Arvon at Totleigh Barton in 2015, I didn’t feel I was in the position to defend Steven Moffat and his era of “Who”.


  2. Scurra
    April 16, 2018 @ 9:52 am

    Yup, this is an inescapable conclusion really.
    I mean, sure, this could be said to be a “golden age” for tie-in books, in that the spin-off titles we have had in the past few years (like the Companion-focused works) become viable because there is no longer a need for as many core line novels, and they do have some modestly entertaining ambition behind them.

    But it’s clear that this is because there is no space for core line novels any more. The prior incarnations of the novels all had excellent reasons for existing. These do not even have a good reason. (Nor does Big Finish, come to that, but audio has at least got a USP.)


    • William Shaw
      April 16, 2018 @ 10:57 am

      On that subject, James Goss is also behind the utterly bizarre Doctor Who poetry book Now We Are Six Hundred; the main reason for that existing was probably to get RTD his first pro illustrating gig, but beyond that it’s similarly toothless to what Elizabeth describes above.


      • Scriptscribbles
        April 17, 2018 @ 3:25 am

        I recall your take saying as much! It’s stange, Tibere and I are quite the Goss fans, and I’d say some of his work, like Fall to Earth or The Lights of Skaro, is anything but toothless. There’s probably a conclusion to be drawn here about the perils of the Doctor Who tie-in industrial complex pumping work so quickly out of fresh and exciting writers to get them to that point…

        I’m still amazed Fitton and Dorney have as many hits as they do when Big Finish is sticking them on pretty much every project… The expanded universe isn’t quite as dominated by wilderness years faces anymore, but they really should get more of them so the fresh exciting talents don’t get worked to death!


    • Prole Hole
      April 16, 2018 @ 3:53 pm

      “But it’s clear that this is because there is no space for core line novels any more.”

      I have to say, I strongly disagree with this. I’d argue that there’s no space for dull, mediocre core tie-in novels that nobody has any reason to care about any more. The post-2005 series novels have never been anything more than fluff and/or marketing – even the EDA’s at their worst had considerably more scope and ambition than anything the NSA’s have turned out (not that I’m advocating to returning to the halcyon days of amnesia and Sam, you understand). But I’m sure there’s plenty of scope for a line of novels which actually want to do something with the idea of Doctor Who as a written media. One of Doctor Who’s great strengths – indeed arguably one that guaranteed its survival – has been its ability to morph into other media and work just as well there, and there’s nothing inherently different about the new show to suggest that is no longer true. It just requires the desire to actually produce, you know, good novels.


      • David Anderson
        April 17, 2018 @ 10:32 am

        There has been a move to start doing novels that are not in the small hardback collectible series format but are in a more standard novel format; usually with writers who’ve made their names outside Doctor Who, sometimes with past Doctors. I think Moorcock’s The Coming of the Terraphiles was the first example. Jenny Colgan has written one, Stephen Baxter one with the Second Doctor, AL Kennedy one with the third.


        • Paul M. Cray
          April 20, 2018 @ 11:41 pm

          And a Alastair Reynolds one. I’m hoping this might be a line further explored in the Chibnall era. I suspect there are other writers who would be very happy to have the chance to tackle a Who novel. Adam Roberts springs to mind. By all accounts the recent Target novelisation have been doing more interesting things than they might have done, so there is still hope for novelised Who.


  3. Alex
    April 16, 2018 @ 10:46 am

    I wasn’t sure these novels were still a thing. In 2006 or so, I tried reading the 12 new series books that were available for Series 1 and 2 but they were short, disposable books that weren’t worth the cost (Usually around $20 in Australia). I tried a few from the library, but only managed to read a few books before I gave up. I don’t remember much about them.

    But even in 2006 I was probably too old for these. I just know that collecting all the books would easily be more expensive than buying all the DVDs, and I’d much rather be watching the DVDs.


    • Leslie L
      April 17, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

      Well, there’s always your local library. I haven’t had luck finding a physical copy of the recent ones with Bill, but that’s why there’s always a way to request them.


      • Przemek
        April 17, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

        Unfortunately not an option in many countries.


  4. Przemek
    April 16, 2018 @ 11:58 am

    Perhaps the decline of DW books can even be seen as a good thing. As you say, they have lost most of their functions – and that’s due to the fact that Doctor Who is now strong enough as a TV show and far enough from the trauma of the Wilderness Years that it doesn’t need the supplementary material as a crutch. With both the threat of past episodes being wiped out and the threat of no new episodes being made gone, it can go back to its primary form in all its glory.

    It’s interesting that the main weakness of this book seems to be its focus on the systemic evil and its disregard for the individual evil. I feel like it’s much easier (and I’d argue worse) for such works to fail by focusing on the individual evil without describing how it’s allowed and fueled by the system. It’s the old problem of depicting things like racism or sexism in the media: it’s always the flawed individuals who just need to overcome their personal prejudices. When you’re accusing the system while absolving the people within that system at least you’re painting a more accurate picture of where the root of the problem lies. Although that’s still choosing the lesser evil, I guess.

    As for the prisons themselves and how they’re too big and too real for the Doctor to handle, I was reminded of Season Six and its depiction of Nazi Germany. Some comedy involving Hitler in a cupboard and a bunch of not-very-successful German soldiers are apparently the closest we can get to the actual horror without breaking the show. Even in the season opener when we’re shown some snippets of the Doctor’s various adventures they cut the scene (present in the trailer for the season) showing the Doctor being discovered in the tunnel by three of the Nazis running a POW camp. Sure, it was probably cut mostly due to time constraints but it was still a decision to minimize the screen time given to the Nazis. River Song may blast them with regeneration energy and Rory can punch them but for the Doctor they’re a bit too real.


  5. Jesse
    April 16, 2018 @ 12:06 pm

    Presumably these books are still fulfilling the basic function Doctor Who books have had since David Whitaker and Bill Strutton invented the idea, namely giving kids something to read, but there’s nothing in any of them that’s going to have the impact of “wheezing, groaning sound.”

    I wonder, though.

    I mean, everything you say here makes sense and you are probably right. But it can be hard to guess what kids will glom on to. I have friends younger than me who love stuff that I dismissed in my twenties as silly trash, and I don’t argue with them because I know it’s no worse than stuff I embraced when I was under 15. Objectively mediocre stuff that nonetheless managed to feel sublime, maybe because it was the first time I had encountered some idea. Some idea that had been done before & had been done much better too, but I didn’t know that and in context it hardly mattered.


  6. Gallifrey_Immigrant
    April 16, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

    You say this, but it seems like Chibnall’s plans for the Thirteenth Doctor involves a re-invigoration of the novels. Also, the novels form a good niche of “content for fans during the time when the show is off.”


  7. Daibhid C
    April 16, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

    This is admittedly still three more novels than Line of Duty or Call the Midwife put out in a year

    Yeah, the Call the Midwife books reached their peak of “three in seven years” ages ago.

    Other “the Doctor is actually in prison” stories that occur to me are Orman and Blum’s Seeing I, which has a lengthy bit of the Doctor in a “hospital” he can’t escape from because their security advisor is an emulation of his mind, and which goes into a bit of detail about how horrific it is without actually becoming torture porn (although ISTR the guy running the place is again presented as a not unsympathetic character, who is genuinely concerned that the Doctor doesn’t seem to realise the reason his incarceration is so unpleasant is because he keeps trying to escape). And a Fifth Doctor audio I’ve forgotten the title of, but which ISTR largely plays it for laughs, complete with shout-outs to Porridge.


    • Prole Hole
      April 16, 2018 @ 3:37 pm

      Yeah I came here to mention Seeing I as well, a rare (very) good early EDA. I know I’m the last person left alive who mounts any defense of the EDA’s, but Seeing I was a genuinely inventive book in a range that took, way, way too long to get off the ground, and this does sound like it’s covering similar territory. Of course it’s Blum and Orman, so you know there’s going to be something interesting in there… It’s too bad that James Goss didn’t stick the landing on this though – he’s one of the few writers doing good stuff over at Big Finish (the River Song “Signs”, for example, which is excellent, or the Tenth Doctor “Death And The Queen”, which is open brilliant).


    • George
      April 18, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

      I’m glad someone else mentioned Seeing I. I do think it does what El described as not breaking the idea of the Doctor in prison, but exploring itso potential. I’m sure there’s even a solitary confinement bit… time for a reread.


  8. Voxpoptart
    April 16, 2018 @ 2:04 pm

    On the one hand, I’m much fonder of the novels, historically, than Elizabeth is — my kids and I have enjoyed reading “Timewyrm: Revelation”, “the Highest Science”, “Set Piece”, “Human Nature”, “Sky Pirates!”, and “Head Games” together immensely, along with “Oh No It Isn’t” and “Down” and “Walking to Babylon”, and I’m very much looking forward to sharing my favorite Orman/ Magrs/ Parkin/ Morris novels from the 8th Doctor. (“Adventuress of Henrietta Street” and Lloyd Rose will probably be too abstruse or scary for them.) But it does seem like the return of the TV show killed most of the point of continuing.

    There are already so many dozens of out-of-print Doctor Who books to read by ambitious writers who considered themselves to be the torch-carriers of a grand tradition, and also by Justin Richards. I can’t imagine having so much spare time, and so few competing ideas for things to read, that I needed yet more, written by people who knew the stakes were minimal.


  9. Voxpoptart
    April 16, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

    Roman’s “Set Piece” is semi-relevant by starting with the Doctor in a concentration camp (non-WWII), by the way. The first two chapters are roughly a miniature of the movie “the Grey Zone”, told basically from the viewpoint of sonderkommandos: human inmates assisting the torture and murder of other inmates as the price of their own temporary survival. Powerful stuff; not something I would likely have read to my kids in a different context, but it worked.


  10. Janine
    April 16, 2018 @ 2:21 pm

    Nice read. I remember enjoying this — I was extremely ill when I read it back in 2016, and it was a nice distraction that didn’t entirely hit the landing but still managed something that a new series novel hadn’t since probably ‘Touched by an Angel’.

    I wonder if you’ll cover the Target release of Twice Upon a Time as part of that entry — those new releases seem to have been really popular, surprisingly so, considering one of the main functions of Target novels (reliving Doctor Who stories in the absence of the DVD) is now pointless. Plus, it’s Paul Cornell.


    • Fantastic Alice Fox
      June 7, 2018 @ 7:30 am

      I hope she does. I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing both TUAT and DOTD were to read. I am curious to see if it will affect future rewatches of the two.


  11. Janine
    April 16, 2018 @ 2:26 pm

    Actually — here’s something I meant to ask, El — is this your first experience of a James Goss story?

    I don’t think I’d be wrong to say he’s the biggest figure in expanded universe material at the moment. True, he doesn’t have the story count that some Big Finish writers have, but he certainly has the scope. He’s in charge of the Big Finish Torchwood Range, he (as you mentioned) is getting minted on Douglas Adams novelisations, he’s written a couple of other tie-in novels, done material for Big Finish’s Range, its new series releases, and quite a lot more.

    I’m interested because the entry seems ambivalent to someone who (I’d certainly argue) is a very, very good writer 99% of the time. He absolutely does miss the mark sometimes (especially the recent Torchwood finale), but that doesn’t erase the fact that he’s written some of the best EU material in years — since the Shearman days, maybe. If managed to get his foot in the door within the BBC, I could picture him running the show in a couple of decades’ time. But he’s also an easy figure to overlook, so I wondered whether you’d crossed paths with his work before.


    • Scriptscribbles
      April 17, 2018 @ 3:30 am

      Oh, dear, that Torchwood finale. Such a good string of episodes, with that last set opening with two outright corkers, and then… An ending that has no concept of what the arc was about all along. Or even a concept of what it wanted to be beyond “buy the unannounced series 6.”

      I mean, I probably will, Aliens Among Us was largely a success. But dammit, I’ll be grumbling.


  12. Kazin
    April 16, 2018 @ 5:37 pm

    Of the three, this was the one that stuck out (though I also enjoyed Mike Tucker’s book, I found out later it’s extremely similar to his own “The Nightmare of Black Island”). It certainly is in my memory – I have no recollection of what happened in Silhouette at all.

    Anyway, you pretty much covered it all, El, but I just wanted to add that I love how few promotional pictures they had of Capaldi at the time – the cell door he’s pushing open seems to be absolutely confounding him 😉


    • Przemek
      April 17, 2018 @ 9:40 am

      Yeah, I noticed that too. Clara’s “that upper part of the wall sure is disgusting and scary” look is great as well 😉 And I’m pretty sure that space prison at the bottom is a slightly reskinned Shadow Proclamation/Demons Run asteroid…


  13. Leslie L
    April 16, 2018 @ 7:14 pm

    I wished we can get novels from the past doctors to fill in the blanks, the off screens adventures.


    • Janine
      April 16, 2018 @ 8:43 pm

      I mean, they literally did a range called “Past Doctor Adventures” once…


      • Leslie L
        April 17, 2018 @ 12:54 pm

        They could do so again with the New series Doctors, since, to me, given we’ve gotten such a short time with Nine and War. There are the audios and the comics to help supplement their short time, but reading the Doctor in prose is always a fun experience, at least for me.


        • Scriptscribbles
          April 17, 2018 @ 3:05 pm

          There’s been a bit, hasn’t there? Krikketmen, most recently. In the Blood went back to Ten during Twelve’s era. Also, there’s The Wheel of Ice, Harvest of Time, and, a quick Google tells me, Drosten’s Curse.


  14. Scriptscribbles
    April 17, 2018 @ 3:19 am

    Hello, yes! There is indeed at least a few who grew up on the New Series Adventures and have fond memories. I fell hard for Doctor Who during Martha’s run, and she just so happened to get be the most prolific in the novels, cementing her as my favorite Davies companion and the first companion I really connected with. It helps that she got some pretty great ones. Sting of the Zygons is one I remember mostly fondly. I read it long before I ever knew the Daleks even were a TV thing, and the lack of world-building complying to that book was quite a shock! The Skarasen was a bit of a let-down, too. Not a great book, far from the greatest, but enjoyable for me as a kid.

    Screw The Dalek Generation, though. A book about the Doctor making light of being accused of committing a hate crime really shouldn’t exist.

    All that said, it’s nice to see James Goss get a mention in the Eruditorum. I’ve not read this one, but he’s been one of the freshest faces of the expanded universe in recent years (it’s no surprise to me that he and Colgan were the ones to do Target novels), and has done some marvelous stuff in the niche reinvention of Torchwood.


    • Scriptscribbles
      April 17, 2018 @ 3:33 am

      The Zygons were a TV thing, rather. I knew Daleks. I did watch the show after all.


    • Leslie L
      April 17, 2018 @ 12:59 pm

      I remembered the Story of Martha like it was yesterday, and it was shy over two year since I’ve read it!

      You should read this one, Scribbes, how the story fold out, it could only be told this way through writing.


      • Scriptscribbles
        April 17, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

        I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying and reading a copy the other week, actually!

        It…didn’t entirely live up to all the hopes I pinned on it, but the Shearman section was astonishingly good.


        • Scriptscribbles
          April 17, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

          I should add, my sister, who also grew up on those Martha NSAs despite being less a Doctor Who fan than I, immediately demanded that I lend her it next time we see each other when I mentioned I had a copy.

          So yeah, the power of that era of books on my childhood was certainly potent, if the good Lady Sandifer is interested in knowing if that’s a thing beyond the worthwhile rhetorical question.


  15. darkspine10
    April 18, 2018 @ 8:11 am

    James Goss was responsible for the best audios in both first series of Diary of River Song and The War Master for Big Finish. His stories stood head and shoulders above the rest in those sets.

    His War Master story ‘The Sky Man’ was honestly one the best audio dramas to come out of Doctor Who, filled with an interesting dynamic with the Master, and wonderfully inventive basic concept, and some amazing character work.

    Having read the first 6 Capaldi novels, sadly The Blood Cell was the only really stand-out entry. Big Bang Generation has it’s moments, but not knowing Benny’s EU very well hurt my understanding somewhat.


  16. Marshy
    April 18, 2018 @ 11:55 am

    It’s funny – when people say “X writer gets Doctor Who”, what they really tend to mean is “X writer gets to the heart of what I believe Doctor Who is all about” and that seems to be James Goss for me, though I have to say I haven’t read this particular book. His Krikkitmen book though is extraordinary, and I’d love to see El somehow do a Time Can Be Rewritten entry on it at some point.
    He approaches things from a pretty character based angle but his plots are pacey too, which is a tricky balancing act to pull off. And also just the sort of thing that telly Doctor Who values.
    For those talking above about Goss more widely, you might want to have a listen to my interview with him here: https://soundcloud.com/user-86410751/episode-twenty-three-james-goss
    When I chatted to him he came across as a hilariously humble guy who was almost unaware of his own wit and outrageously in awe of the people who’ve granted him opportunities to write, particularly RTD.


    • Kazin
      April 18, 2018 @ 2:54 pm

      I really enjoyed your interview with Goss, thanks for linking it! I enjoyed your episode with Elizabeth from a little while back as well.


  17. Daniel Tessier
    April 21, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

    I’ve recently reviewed the latest batch of three NSAs – which actually came out about a year ago – although the mag containing the reviews isn’t out yet. I thoroughly enjoyed them, more so than I actually expected. However, the fact that it took me the better part of a year to get round to them, that needing reviews for a magazine was a major reason for actually doing so, and that I didn’t even buy the books, I won them, is perhaps a sign if how they’re just not an event anymore.

    The NSAs in general have often been better than their “fluff and filler” reputation suggests, although there has been plenty. Coming off “The Gallifrey Chronicles” to “The Clockwise Man” and its fellows was a bit of a letdown back in 2005, certainly. Of the NSA main line, the only ones I’d really say were definitely worth seeking out would be “The Eyeless” and “Prisoner of the Daleks,” although there are plenty more books that are good fun to read, if unremarkable.


  18. Steve Mollmann
    April 22, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

    Sixty-eight seems far too low for how many stories Justin Richards has written, by at least two orders of magnitude. (I feel like he’s BBC Books’s go-to guy for wasting good ideas; I’m currently suffering through Time Lord Fairy Tales, and literally any writer could have done this better.)


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