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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. Wm Keith
    October 26, 2012 @ 1:01 am

    Re: Immutability of history.

    There's also Whittaker's fascinating formulation in the novel "Doctor Who and the Crusaders", which isn't so much about the impossibility of rewriting one's own history as that (firstly) the Earth is a special case in which (firstly) all aspects of time are a unity and (secondly) there are fixed points in time which cannot be changed.

    (Ian asks why they can't right wrongs on Earth as they can on other worlds.)
    "You see, Chesterton, the fascination your planet has for me is that its Time pattern, that is, past, present, and future, is all one – like a long, winding mountain path. When the four of us land at any given point on that path, we are still only climbers. Time is our guide. As climbers we may observe the scenery. We may know a little of what is around a coming corner. But we cannot stop the landslides, for we are roped completely to Time and must be led by it. All we can do is to observe"

    (Vicki asks what would happen if the travellers tried to change history)
    "Once we are on Earth, we become a part of the history that is being created and we are as subject to its laws as the people who are living in that period."

    (Barbara asks if this means that they can never help anyone or avert horrible wars)
    "There is a story about Clive of India, which tells how he attempted to commit suicide as a young man by putting a pistol to his head. Three times he pulled the trigger and each time the gun failed to explode. Yet whenever he turned it away, the pistol fired perfectly. As you know, Robert Clive did eventually take his own life in 1774. The point is that Time, that great regulator, refused to let the man die before things were done that had to be done…All I am saying is that what is going to happen on Earth must happen."


  2. Abigail Brady
    October 26, 2012 @ 2:03 am

    As far as I can remember most interesting thing to happen in the UK in that month was all the telephone numbers changing on the 16th April, 1995. (phONEday, they called it) Oh, and the end of the fish war. This suggests Wikipedia isn't doing badly.


  3. 5tephe
    October 26, 2012 @ 2:30 am

    Nope – the mis naming you gave us was even more fun: Dodo de Carnac.


  4. daibhid-c
    October 26, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    I don't think that's a misnaming; it looks like an intentional reference to a hypothetical character who would be to Guy as Dodo Chaplet was to Anne Chaplet.


  5. Anton B
    October 26, 2012 @ 8:13 am

    There really is no problem with changing history in Doctor Who. If he changes the past it becomes the past we remember and if he changes the future it becomes the future we (or our descendants) will experience. If he messes about with an alien planet's history we'll never be any the wiser as we will never visit it. (primarily because it's fictitious)Couldn't the argument be that the Doctor cannot ever change history, past or future, because he is by nature historical, being both a character in a story and therefore diagetic and a part of that story and himself fictional. In other words the plot of each episode or novel along with its historical milieu exist as a meta-narrative which has an outcome that must always be the same. There's a synchronising of the Hermetic, alchemical and 'Land of Fiction' tropes in there somewhere. Is this perhaps what Moffat was striving to concretise as a Law of Time' with 'if it's written down it cannot be changed' in 'The Angels Take Manhattan'? If so it would be a fitting end to the so-called 'fairy tale' era.


  6. 5tephe
    October 26, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    Yrs – the word play is more obvious to me now, once I am no longer propping my eyes open to read the post.

    And that's even more fun!


  7. Alan
    October 26, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

    I think "Fires of Pompeii" answered a lot of my questions about what can and cannot be changed. The Doctor appears to have an actual sense about what is mutable and what is inevitable. He could perceive Vesuvius as an event which had to happen, even though the twist that threatened to prevent it was invisible to him. I like to think that when the First Doctor said to Barbara "you can't change history, not one line," he actually meant "you – meaning Barbara – can't change history because you are incapable of perceiving what parts of it can be changed safely and what parts will destroy your own future." Perhaps the First Doctor knew that he couldn't take Anne Chaplet with him because he sensed that Anne would have to stay behind and have children so that we could get Dodo (a big sacrifice for small reward, I know).


  8. Ununnilium
    October 26, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

    Excellent article. I have but one quibble: I think it's less "the past is completely unfathomable" and more "the past is not nearly so easy to fathom as, oh, your average history teacher would think".


  9. encyclops
    October 27, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    When I showed "The Aztecs" to my girlfriend, her reaction to the first episode title was "Already my people are maligned." She was half-kidding, but she didn't love it any more as it went on, and it wasn't just because of what she regarded as the story's racism. Oh well.


  10. Adam Riggio
    October 28, 2012 @ 2:51 am

    The recent explanations of how history works in Doctor Who aren't really of the kind "What's been going on all along," but more of "Given all the contradictory stuff that's been said already, this is what we're going with." And in my view, it's the first time that the show's producers have really given thought to the subtleties of how time travel works there.

    In the history of the show until about 2011, the relationship of the Doctor to the timelines of the worlds he's visited has been either to mess around freely with them, or meet some Aztecs-like boundary with them if the writer wants to use it for dramatic effect. I remember a story from the BBC books line, The Final Sanction, where the Doctor was constrained by "history" from interfering to prevent the destruction of an alien world. There seemed to be no reason for it, other than to watch the Doctor be helpless to prevent a terrible act and generate drama from it.

    Moffat and Davies explained Davies' idea of "fixed points in time" by introducing this epistemic dimension to the web of time, with Fires of Pompeii and various ideas that have followed up on it since. A time traveller can change history where there are gaps in her knowledge, or no causal connection of the traveller to that part of history. But it's a mistake to think of this as present all along; it's a best explanation for the hodge-podge that came before, but that doesn't deny the past's messiness in this regard.


  11. Ross
    October 28, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    Given how Moffat (and to a lesser extent Davies) enjoy playing with the fourth wall, I'm inclined to think that the notion of how fixed points in time work is a deliberate analogue to fan notions of "canonicity" — most obviously, the idea that things we have actually seen on-screen are more "real" and "fixed" than things which are implied or even stated to have happened off-screen.

    If I recall correctly, the Virgin understanding of how history works is similar but less personal — that as soon as a time traveller sets foot in a particular time and place, that moment in time becomes absolutely fixed. I think it was made explicit in 'Blood Harvest'. I never much cared for that explanation myself (A lot of the how-the-universe-works stuff in the Virgin books always felt to me like authors trying to stake their claim on things and force their pet theories into canon with a "No backsies" clause). The televised version, on the other hand, feels very natural to me, playing well with both the things that had been shown before and also with the structural similarity to a fairy tale.


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