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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.

30 Comments

  1. Lewis Christian
    June 4, 2014 @ 1:49 am

    I absolutely love this entry, Phil (and Ben). Brought back many vibes I had from reading The Writer's Tale. Throughout university, that book was my bible; I found myself relating to Russell in terms of how I wrote and, even when I didn't, I found myself debating with a book. Such a great idea of yours, Phil, to email Ben for this entry – and I just wanna read it all over again!

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  2. Scurra
    June 4, 2014 @ 2:08 am

    And thank you. That's all.

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  3. ferret
    June 4, 2014 @ 2:17 am

    "And then you e-mail me, Phil. The lights in the sky! It’s a sign!"

    That Ben magic is back 🙂 The only problem I have with this post is that it had to end. Much like The Writers Tale I wish it could just go on and on.

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  4. Seeing_I
    June 4, 2014 @ 4:06 am

    Hear, hear. In the true spirit of The Writer's Tale, you two really should do an expanded version of this post at some point.

    I simply adored The Writer's Tale, and "inhaled" to use Phil's phrase both editions. It's a book I gladly dip into now and again, and am always amused, fascinated, and enlightened. Honestly, one of the best books on writing I've ever read, and anyone who's not read it can't claim to know a thing about RTD or his era.

    BEN: "one MASSIVE thing that I can never talk about, I don’t think…" Oh, go on. It's just us here!

    Seriously, though, you do realize that at some point you'll need to write a memoir of your life with Doctor Who, right? Because you've had an absolutely unique perspective on the new series and its creators, and it's one that, someday, we'd all love to hear more about.

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  5. Katherine Sas
    June 4, 2014 @ 5:24 am

    "Which is the added problem for TARDIS Eruditorum: in my mind, it has a plot, and sometimes I have to sacrifice my opinions of a story in favor of getting the plot to go where I need it to."

    Yes, yes, YES! Thank you for that sentence, and for writing your blog with this critical ethos in mind. It's what separates thoughtful, intelligent criticism from…everything pretending to be that. That criticism itself is a form of storytelling. It's why I can read my favorite bloggers with respect and interest even (and often especially when) our opinions on the work conflict. Thanks to both of you for a beautiful blog entry. I've been vaguely wanting to read The Writer's Tale for some time now, and this has inspired me to run out and buy it immediately!

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  6. Spacewarp
    June 4, 2014 @ 5:37 am

    To anyone planning on buying The Writer's Tale, be aware there were two editions. The first edition (hardback) has lots of glossy photos but only goes as far as "The Next Doctor".

    The second edition – "The Final Chapter" – contains all the text of the first edition but continues on to the end of RTD's tenure, with The End of Time, David Tennant's farewell, and the move to LA. It has no photos but is by far the more essential buy.

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  7. SpaceSquid
    June 4, 2014 @ 6:14 am

    I've had people suggest from time to time that I should do a post on TARDIS Eruditorum, and I've always found the idea amusing, but I've never quite liked it. It always felt egotistical. I'm not the person who should document my own impact on the culture or on Doctor Who.

    Why not do it as a guest post? Get someone from Gallifrey Base to write it. Then surround the area with a thirty-foot concrete wall guarded by starving Tetraps and never speak of it again.

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  8. SpaceSquid
    June 4, 2014 @ 6:19 am

    My thing here is how to ensure the story doesn't end up requiring twisting individual entries into unfair/ridiculous readings. I mean, not presenting one's actual views, fine, but there are many excellent reasons why this sort of narrative-driven approach is viewed as a terrible idea in political journalism, and I'm wondering – from a position, I freely admit, of near-total ignorance – where the difference between that and Phil's approach lies, other than the ideas that a) I approve of Phil's twists more than most, and b) reshaping events to feed a political narrative can be more destructive than reshaping stories to feed an aesthetic one.

    If, indeed, that last proposition is even true…

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  9. Aylwin
    June 4, 2014 @ 6:51 am

    "I was so busy being thrown that it wasn’t what I expected on the first pass."

    Given how central the idea of Moffat setting the audience up to expect one thing and then giving them another is to your interpretation of his era, and the fact that that interpretation was presumably pretty well-formed by the time of Time (especially in the light of the remark on AGMGTW in this post, since the notion of him setting up the expectation of something epic and then undercutting it is so prominent there), I would be interested to know what you were expecting.

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  10. TheSmilingStallionInn
    June 4, 2014 @ 8:09 am

    My paperback of the Final Chapter does have glossy photos in several places. And it doesn't actually have all of the text–apparently they edited out some of the scripts from the first version.

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  11. Spacewarp
    June 4, 2014 @ 9:10 am

    Ah yes, actually I forgot that other people are actually interested in scripts whereas I'm not and I just skip over them to get to the next email conversations. In which case yes you do need both versions. And funnily enough I am actually half way through re-reading it again (he's just finished the script for Journey's End).

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  12. Andy
    June 4, 2014 @ 9:31 am

    I've just read the Nash Grier entry on Wikipedia. I didn't understand most of what it said. I may be quite old now.

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  13. Katherine Sas
    June 4, 2014 @ 9:46 am

    Thanks Spacewarp – I did have that question, so good to know the difference between the two editions.

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  14. Katherine Sas
    June 4, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    SpaceSquid – That's very true, and good for the writer and reader to keep in mind. Maybe that's the difference between criticism of fiction and something like political commentary, though. In the latter you do have obligation to approach the material from (as much as possible) an unbiased, journalistic point of view of presenting the facts as they are. When explaining a work of fiction, however, it's often about more than just the "facts" as you (or I) see them. It's about something more. Not sure what that something is all the time, but good criticism often gives glimpses of it.

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  15. Bennett
    June 4, 2014 @ 10:01 am

    Though the scripts were edited out of The Final Chapter (to keep the book from being large enough to draw in orbiting satellites, I assume) they were made publicly available at http://thewriterstale.com as recompense. Sadly, the URL now redirects to a page on the Doctor Who Encyclopaedia so newer readers might be out of luck. And now I'm off to make backups of the PDF files I saved from that site…..

    (Oh, and to avoid making another comment just to heap on glowing praise – The Writer's Tale is probably my favourite non-fiction book. I owe a debt of gratitude to both of its authors for writing and sharing a work that has profoundly influenced the way I see the creative arts and life in general. And to parody its structure for this blog post was genius – I can't think of a better way for the Eruditorum to close the loop on its own pre-history).

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  16. Froborr
    June 4, 2014 @ 10:56 am

    I've had people suggest from time to time that I should do a post on TARDIS Eruditorum, and I've always found the idea amusing, but I've never quite liked it. It always felt egotistical. I'm not the person who should document my own impact on the culture or on Doctor Who.

    You could do what I did, and do a sort of cross between self-parody and massively self-indulgent public self-flagellation.

    On second thought, yeah, your first instinct is correct. It's high on the list of posts I regret writing.

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  17. Lewis Christian
    June 4, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    I believe the scripts from thewriterstale.com can be accessed using those fancy internet 'wayback' things.

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  18. encyclops
    June 4, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    I love this entry, both concept and execution. Thank you so much for it.

    I'm in the midst of The Writer's Tale now. I don't usually read books of its kind (I'm not sure how many of its kind there actually are) but I absolutely love this one. That sense that both Davies and Cook are really just putting it out there, that this really is just what occurred to them to discuss and what they actually said about it (as opposed to being ruthlessly edited, shaped, forced to fit), is a key part of its appeal for me. It's fascinating and a little bit shocking to see how duff some of the germs of the episodes were, compared to how sparkling they turned out. It's a little inspiring, too, because I hate editing and this book makes such a good case for it.

    I'm enjoying the hell out of the book and even though I'm taking it very slowly I can feel the urge the devour it. It's so cool of you and Cook to have paid homage to it for this entry.

    Reply

  19. Bennett
    June 4, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    You're right, Lewis – they can. Thanks for that.

    "Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered, it can come back."

    Reply

  20. John Seavey
    June 4, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    I love the hell out of this entry. I loved the hell out of that book. It was so wonderfully raw and personal and fresh and loving and amazing that I think I spent most of it astonished that these people were actually telling me this much of the truth about their feelings. You don't generally get that much honesty in a book about a TV show. Everything's always carefully sanitized. I respected Russell and Ben both for that book SO MUCH. And I'm glad to see it respected and loved here as well.

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  21. Adam Riggio
    June 4, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

    A wonderfully appropriate entry for a beautiful book. I wasn't sure what to think of it when I first heard the concept, but on reading The Writer's Tale, I was entranced. And I once had a professor friend tell me that email had killed epistolary relationships. If anything, it offered the opportunity for even greater intensity and detail, and this book is the living example of modern literature of friendship.

    "The Williams era and especially the Davison stuff is rough. I’m revising it now for the book, and I’m really having a tough time making it feel like a book. . . . it’s possible it’s something about the material, as opposed to me – that Horror of Fang Rock through Caves of Androzani is just a hard stretch of Doctor Who to get a grip on."

    I actually loved your entries from this period, I think because of the tension that made them so tough to get a firm critical grip on. My mother always said I liked making things more difficult for myself, and I guess that includes things that make other people's lives difficult. But I think there are themes in these eras, which your posts have made clear, even though their presence in the show is more complex.

    Hartnell: the amorphous idea of Doctor Who coming together. Troughton: Doctor Who and psychedelia (even though the execution in the show tended to fall short). Pertwee: Doctor Who and glam (even though the action style of the show tended to clash with it, it was a productive schiz that itself generated more glam). Hinchcliffe: paranoid horror. Well, how about these ideas, which I see in your work.

    Williams: Hyper-meta self-parody of the show, sci-fi, and Doctor Who's own production circumstances. Davison: Doctor Who's first crack at soap sci-fi, JNT's best aesthetic idea. One common thread in both these concepts is that the show couldn't quite get the talent together in its bullpen to succeed at these concepts consistently. Williams had his revolving door of script editors, and only someone with the talent of Robert Holmes or Douglas Adams could spin all these meta-textual plates at once (your Armageddon Factor essay would be key to this analysis). Adams himself was not the best person to have as a script editor, loving the whooshing sound of deadlines, after all. Moffat himself said so in the City of Death DVD documentary.

    And the Davison era suffered a similar lack of writers talented enough to handle such a sophisticated network of character relationships as necessary for the Season 19 cast and the Turlough concept to really work. It didn't help that Eric Saward was too green as a script editor to seed small moments of growing conflict across multiple serials, as you noted in Planet of Fire. Saward also brought his own aesthetic to Doctor Who, which was totally incompatible with the Davison era's tendency to skirt true serialization, as Earthshock and Terminus would show. Describing Saward's aesthetic would seed one element of the shit hurricane of the Colin Baker era.

    I hope this helps.

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  22. Froborr
    June 5, 2014 @ 3:42 am

    The only other book of its kind I know of is The Odyssey File, which collects the e-mails Peter Hyams and Arthur C. Clarke sent back and forth during pre-production on 2010.

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  23. Mike
    June 5, 2014 @ 7:01 am

    People should really watch Ben's Becoming YouTube. It's how I first knew about Ben (I've been meaning to read The Writer's Tale for ages) and I was really impressed. While I have effectively grown up with YouTube (I turned 20 a few months ago), I learnt a lot about it and it is very accessible to those who know nothing about the site.

    I imagine that The Writer's Tale resembles Becoming YouTube in that way – providing an insight into a subject people assume they know all about it, and revealing the intricate details involved and how passionate creatives in those areas are.

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  24. encyclops
    June 5, 2014 @ 7:15 am

    I was thinking more generally of books about the making of movies and TV. I have a hard time making myself sit down and watch DVD commentary as well. But I'll bet The Odyssey File is pretty interesting.

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  25. Pen Name Pending
    June 5, 2014 @ 9:50 am

    You guys got me all interested, but according to Amazon the book is out of print in the US?

    So…I guess I'll wait and get it secondhand someday, or spend $15 for it on Kindle (which I usually don't do for books that would be cheaper in print for the real thing I can display on my shelf).

    Oh well.

    Reply

  26. Zoe Anderson
    June 6, 2014 @ 1:34 am

    What an entrancing post, in concept and in execution. The Writer's Tale is an extraordinary book: so raw, so scarily honest, so intelligent, so brave. This is a lovely evocation and tribute.

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  27. encyclops
    June 6, 2014 @ 6:00 am

    I'm glad I own it in physical form, but it's over 700 pages long and I'm worried the paperback is going to rip itself in half before I'm done reading it. It's definitely worth $15 and you might find it easier to manage on the Kindle.

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  28. John Seavey
    June 6, 2014 @ 10:29 am

    To be honest, I think Saward was too green a script editor to be able to properly cultivate talent. Apart from Robert Holmes, who he actively courted throughout the end of Holmes' life, he tended to simply rewrite the scripts himself until they looked like what he wanted, then avoid that author instead as they didn't give him a script that suited his needs. That made for a lot of burnout, a lot of turnover, and a tiny stable of writers who could work on the program.

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  29. Daru
    June 15, 2014 @ 5:17 am

    Oh Phil and ben I adored this post utterly. I could so easily take the journey with you two through a dialogue similar to, but different from the original. You made my day when I read this, thank you.

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  30. Kyle Edwards
    October 29, 2016 @ 3:49 am

    Wow. I have to say, Phil, that the comment on the plot of the blog really gave me a lot of perspective on how I enjoy Doctor Who. See, in 2013, Entertainment Weekly published a 50th anniversary Doctor Who special. I flipped through it, mildly interested (my favorite memory of the issue was seeing David Tennant for the first time and thinking, “Why is this skinny weirdo so popular?”, which may in fact be the perfect description of Doctor Who as a show and a cultural phenomenon). After that, I decided to give the show a go. The first episode of Doctor Who that I ever watched was The End of the World (1×02). It was fine. I’d seen clips of Matt Smith on YouTube, so I decided to watch one of his episodes. I picked, quite randomly, Asylum of the Daleks, and it blew me away. The thing is, it wasn’t even an exceptionally good episode of the show (or, one could argue, a good episode at all). But being an episode of Doctor Who, it was still fifty times better than anything I’d ever seen. The horror, the acting, the comedy. Brilliant stuff. From there, I watched the whole of the Smith era, and from there backtracked to Eccleston and Tennant. I loved the Smith era wholeheartedly, and was stunned when I saw the hate he got in fandom. When Capaldi debuted, I didn’t even want to watch it, I was so attached to Smith as an endpoint of what Doctor Who could be. My brother coaxed me to watch it, and of course it was absolutely brilliant, but that small sliver of time when I was just attached to Smith made me realize that that was the start of my opinions of Doctor Who. Holding Smith up as a pinnacle led me to frame every argument in terms of how Smith improved or contrasted with it, and framing stuff past and present i the context around it. Since then, I’ve never allowed myself to watch Doctor Who on its lonesome. And thinking about it so thoroughly has made me love it more than ever. It’s probably why I’ve been drawn so thoroughly to TARDIS Eruditorum; someone who had similar (but crucially not the same) opinions as me, who thought of Doctor Who in same terms (though broader and more thoroughly considered), and who was a hell of a better articulator than I was. Bravo on all of this, Phil. It’s truly beautiful.

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