Friday, February 24, 2012

Time Can Be Rewritten 17 (Cold Fusion, Virgin Books, 1996)

As novels that I couldn’t possibly avoid go, this one ranks pretty highly. I’ve noted several times that, within the classic series, McCoy is “my Doctor,” so to speak. As the only Doctor (after my first three episodes) I didn’t originally know existed he was the one I got to discover without episode guides. But even still, when I got into Doctor Who it had been off the air for three years. The McCoy years may have been the televised Doctor Who that I came to freshest, but until the dark days of 1996 the only Doctor Who that I got to follow as it came out were the Virgin books.

I’m going to cover much of the Virgin and BBC books lines as if they were new episodes when the time comes. (I haven’t gotten a firm list together, but on a quick scan of titles I think I’m going to do about 30 Virgin books and about 15 each of the BBC Books and Big Finish Eighth Doctor stuff.) But my relationship with them was... interesting. I was reading them roughly from the ages of 11-13, which is just a bit too young for them. But this is in some ways the perfect way to relate to the Virgin books. Their darkness, complexity, and occasional jaunts into overt sexuality are as perfect for that age. The mixture of scandalous and salacious content with the fundamental safety of Doctor Who is as gentle a gradient to tackle emerging sexuality as they come - like having a copy of Timeframe with its Katy Manning/Dalek photo as your sole piece of pornography (which, for years, I did).

This book, in other words, merges two of my favorite eras. As Doctor crossovers go, this one is, for me, as good as it gets. Not just because it’s two of my favorite Doctors, but because there’s such an intrinsic contrast between them. The relative gentleness of Davison’s Doctor combined with the dangerous and manipulative nature of the Virgin Books version of McCoy’s are an inspired pairing that offers no shortage of drama.

All of which said, any multi-Doctor story is less about the particulars of a man meeting himself at a different point in his life and more about the comparison of two eras of the show. Doubly so in a book, where we do not get Davison’s Doctor or McCoy’s Doctor but rather their textual ghosts. The Doctors themselves are televisual performances - things created by actors, directors, and writers in a collaborative environment. These are purely literary characters, responding almost entirely to the whims of a singular creator. They are echoes. That does not diminish the validity of their stories, but this book belongs to neither the Davison nor the McCoy eras.

This gets at another issue with the Virgin books (and for that matter the BBC ones) that I’ve largely danced around. I poke at it a little bit in both the Man in the Velvet Mask entry and the Empire of Glass essay in the Hartnell book, and deal with it more extensively in the Scales of Injustice entry, but it’s been a while and it’s high time we tackled the issue of fanwank again. Because Lance Parkin is a master of it.

In the Scales of Injustice entry I distinguished between two types of fanwank. The first is what we might call explanatory fanwank - the sort of thing that tries to stitch together an extended explanation that resolves a host of alleged continuity problems over multiple stories. The second is what we might call value-added fanwank - the sort of thing that happens when, for instance, the minotaur at the end of The God Complex is referred to as being a relative of the Nimon. But this book introduces a third sort of fanwank - one that is not nearly subtle enough to be called value-added, but is not the sort of sprawlingly doctrinal mess that characterizes fanwank for the sake of explanations.
Take, for instance, the fact that the novel spends over a hundred words describing a bunch of people singing a drinking song consisting only of the line “we’re in a chronic hysteresis” repeated over and over again. It’s a deft little joke for fans, yes, but at 100 words it’s considerably more substantial than the Nimon reference or even the use of the Macra as the primary monster in Gridlock. Similarly, the near exact replay of the Third Doctor’s meeting with Sarah Jane in The Five Doctors as the dialogue between Roz and the Doctor after Roz mistakenly believes him to have regenerated into the Fifth Doctor is just a bit too large to be off-hand.

But this gets at something important to realize about continuity, particularly before we take our careening nosedive into the televised fanwankathon that is the stretch of episodes from Earthshock to Warriors of the Deep - a stretch of 38 episodes (counting the Five Doctors as if it were a four-parter) in which every single story features a villain who has appeared before. A lot of the nature of fanwank is dependent on what assumptions can be made about the audience for a given story. Fanwank is a different problem in a television series expected to go out to a general audience than it is in a book series that is overtly catering to die-hard fans.

In truth this is one of the appeals of the books. There are things you can do when you have access to the full and mad breadth of Doctor Who continuity that you just can’t do when writing for a general audience. Not things merely in the sense of a wealth of nods and winks, nor in the sense of broad explanations, but in the sense of genuinely clever and interesting commentary. Since we’ve been referencing Alan Moore a lot lately, it’s perhaps worth comparing to his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, a storyline that creates considerable sparks and depth out of literary history and that works only because of the extreme referentiality of the work. Doctor Who’s history is, at this point, deep enough to permit similar (though to date nowhere near as good) explorations - stories that work in part because of the sheer depth of history that Doctor Who can call upon.

Lance Parkin is particularly good at this (and it’s perhaps worth noting that Parkin has written a book on Alan Moore). And this is very much what Cold Fusion is about. Not in the references we’ve talked about so far - those are just cute little jokes that are the size they are because the book can safely expect an audience who will get them - but in the sections dealing with Patience.

Ah, yes. Patience. A character sufficiently massive in her implications that she largely overshadows the multidoctor nature of this story. See, Patience is an ancient Gallifreyan - explicitly not a Time Lord - who is strongly implied to be the Doctor’s wife. This may attract eyebrows from those who are not familiar with the Virgin era. Central to the Virgin era is the idea that along with Rassilon and Omega (who are, following from Alan Moore [who is easily the biggest influence on the Virgin era], contemporaries) there is a third major figure in Time Lord history: the Other. The nature of the Other is left mysterious for most of the run, but it is strongly hinted that it is, in fact, the Doctor. (I will not be the one to spoil the outcome of this, but we’ll cover it when we get to the book Lungbarrow, and again when we get to Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors.)

In a fundamental way, this makes sense. It’s an inevitable consequence of the narrative structure of the series. The more that the series, over time, flits about the nature of the Time Lords while focusing on the Doctor as the main character the more it becomes inevitable that the Doctor plays some central role in the history of the Time Lords. The fact that in the narrative world of Doctor Who the Doctor is always by far the most important of the Time Lords affects the nature of the Time Lords. No matter how much one loves the image of the Doctor as just a small little man who wanders the universe and does good things the fact that he is narratively at the center of Doctor Who means that the universe of Doctor Who will always revolve around him. Anything that doesn’t give the Doctor an implicit role in the nature of the Time Lords is simply fighting against the fundamental gravity of Doctor Who as a series.

Different writers handle the shape and implications of this differently. Parkin, however, is always one of the ones that fights most thoroughly against the idea of a singular Doctor Who. As the great and defunct Teatime Brutality points out, it’s Parkin in The Gallifrey Chronicles who most overtly sets up the “it’s all true” theory of Doctor Who continuity, having the Doctor declare that “every word of every novel is real, every frame of every film, every panel of every comic strip,” and then being uninterested when someone points out that this implies all sorts of contradictions. (Parkin also, of course, wrote AHistory, an attempt to create a fixed chronology of all events in the Doctor Who universe. The correct term for this project is “hilarious.”)

For Parkin, in other words, while it’s inevitable that the Doctor is in some sense at the heart of Gallifreyan history, it’s in no way necessary that this take any particular shape. (This culminates, for Parkin, with The Infinity Doctors, which is based on taking everything said about Gallifrey over the course of 35 years seriously while not bothering to try to come up with a way to reconcile it with the present state of Doctor Who at the time.) Hence the lengthy sequence in which the Doctor and Patience do a sort of mind meld and we get a bevy of accounts where we’re explicitly told that the Doctor can’t tell which ones are his memories and which ones are Patience’s.

What we get in this section is a mad smattering of references to past stories mixed in with allusions to a history that may or may not be the Doctor’s. The Brain of Morbius, An Unearthly Child, Creature From the Pit, The War Games, and The Mind of Evil are explicitly referenced, along with the existence of the missing episodes. It’s wonderfully bizarre. And at one point, it’s noted that “These accounts contradict one another,” but this is immediately followed by the observation that “memories often do.”

I have occasionally made half-joking reference to the fact that one of the basic premises of this blog is that Doctor Who is a quasi-sentient metafiction authored by an anarchic spirit within British culture. Some commenters have, very sensibly, suggested that I might want to explain this, a viewpoint that, while utterly reasonable, I have generally avoided catering to. Still, having now inflicted the Logopolis post on the world - a post that, like Logopolis itself, seems very much like it approaches some sort of limit point in that particular method of thinking about Doctor Who - and as we now make our step out of Bidmead’s neo-Whittakerian take on Doctor Who and towards something altogether less magical it is perhaps worth finally unpacking it.

The root idea is, for once, borrowed from Grant Morrison instead of Alan Moore. Morrison has several times suggested that the DC Universe line of superheroes is sentient and has an animating consciousness. My disagreement with Morrison is not on this point, but rather on the implications of it - Morrison seems rather to like this fact, whereas I think that the DC Universe is, while sentient, a dangerous sociopath (albeit one capable of moments of staggering beauty). But the underlying idea, obviously, appeals.

I don’t want to go too far into the comparison of Morrison’s Final Crisis with the nearly identical Season 4 finale of Doctor Who that was airing at nearly the exact same time, mostly because I intend for a Pop Between Realities on that point when we get there, but suffice it to say that the plot of that comic is a narrative collapse a la the Chase. And Morrison’s suggestion is that the DC Universe is able to, by its own intrinsic nature, repair the damage caused by the narrative collapse. I make a similar argument about the Chase, and I’ll repeat the phenomenon in Trial of a Time Lord, then again in the Davies and Moffat eras where narrative collapse becomes the default mode of storytelling for season finales.

But the point remains. Doctor Who has an odd ability to tend to itself both in an internal narrative sense and in an external social one. Internally, Doctor Who is capable of endless adjustment to its premise that allows it to adapt to what, at this point, seems safely describable as an infinite set of narrative circumstances. Doctor Who is one of the handful of fictional characters that it appears genuinely impossible to exhaust the stories about. Bad writers can still write bad Doctor Who stories, but good writers seem capable of redrafting the character into any format. Or, put another way, any narrative collapse you attempt to impose on Doctor Who will have some resolution possible within the world of Doctor Who. There is no way to write yourself irredeemably into a corner. (As evidenced by Davies successfully writing the series out of a seemingly intractable corner following its being not only cancelled but already the subject of a failed reboot)

Externally, Doctor Who shows a genuine ability to adapt to changing social circumstances. Though it does not always find an immediate response to the social conditions around it, in time it always manages to reinvent itself to be relevant to its present. It always maintains some connection with the larger culture.

I use the term quasi-sentient to describe this tendency because it appears to manifest itself absent any author. No single animating presence has kept Doctor Who relevant to culture for nearly fifty years now. Certainly no one, in 1963, designed a show to be able to narratively track the course of social history. And yet here it is. Much as the Time Lords appear to be keepers of a model of history that is based on a sort of historical gravity, Doctor Who appears to be created so that it organically shifts around to respond to history. It’s possible to tell a continual narrative - as I have been for over a year now - that treats Doctor Who as a continually evolving and linear thing even though it is pragmatically impossible for it to be so.

This is why there are Pop Between Realities posts - in order to firmly show the way in which Doctor Who fits into a historical narrative that is, of course, equally lacking in (or suffering from an excess of) authors. In order to occasionally come up for air from the story of Doctor Who and show that, no, the same story is playing out across the real world.

Likewise, this is why there are Time Can Be Rewritten posts. Because if Doctor Who is, in fact, a singular consciousness that is capable of responding to history as opposed to simply being an old thing that has tracked history just by virtue of being around for most of it then it must be possible to track backwards. It must be possible for the series’ future to intrude into its past in a way that is sensible. And so these entries are in many ways the checksums - the points where we see how the future interacts with the past and make sure that there is a coherent scope to this imaginary landmass we are mapping.

Cold Fusion, then, is a perfect instance - a book that is quite literally about the intrusion of the future onto the past. The whole Other theory of the Virgin books has nothing to do with the Davison era, which has its own rewriting of the Time Lords looming. And yet this book works. The Virgin Books version of the Doctor and a reasonably fair portrayal of early Davison interact. And the book is able to portray the Seventh Doctor as an extension of the Fifth. The book is full of lovely touches - the handling of Adric, and the hints at his tragic role in the Doctor’s later psyche are deft, and further set up the looming death of Roz in the New Adventures line.

But what is most interesting is the fact that the two Doctors never quite clash. The Fifth is horrified by the Seventh’s manipulativeness and willingness to destroy and punish his enemies, but is also made to tacitly accept that this is genuinely his future. He protests that other futures exist, but when the Feratu (the book’s main villains) suggest otherwise he accepts it. The Feratu themselves, defined by the inversion of Clarke’s law and the line between magic and science, are similarly the clear heirs of the play between the two concepts that has been going on in the just-concluded Bidmead era, and yet they are unmistakably the Seventh Doctor’s antagonists in this story, not the Fifth’s. After setting up a pair of Doctors that seem uniquely destined for a clash Parkin manages to write a story that reminds the reader that these two apparently different characters are, in fact, the same man. And in doing so gestures at the darkness that does lie ahead for the Fifth Doctor - not just in Adric’s death, but in his own relationship with violence and destruction.

The future, in other words, fits functionally into the past. Time can be rewritten without having to rewrite one line of history. All of the contradictions and absurdities of Doctor Who’s narrative fit into some larger, ephemeral whole.

And the story is damn good to boot.


  1. In my wild and reckless youth I was roadie for a group of fanzine publishers.

    In my garage is a (big) box containing quite a few (too many, the second print-run was over-optimistic) copies of Lance Parkin's "Chronology", his first version of "AHistory", which reconciles all the 63/89 TV episodes and has various additional chapters on Dalek history, UNIT dating, etc (but which doesn't examine anything not shown on TV).

    It's great fun to read and anyone who is willing to sell their soul for a copy is welcome to email me on wmkeithmatrix at [insert here the name of the extremely popular email service operated by google].

    This isn't a commercial message because I don't intend to charge anything except postage and packing, but, Phil, if this is not the sort of "comment" that you want on your blog, I shall not sulk if you delete it. I'll just go into my garage and spend the weekend reading fanzines. Same as usual, in fact.

    Incidentally, folks, I really am not Lance Parkin.

    1. It's *only* fifty-odd weeks after this was posted...

      But if you still have a cache, I'd be delighted to own one. It'd go alongside the Virgin edition and the three from MNP.

  2. 'No matter how much one loves the image of the Doctor as just a small little man who wanders the universe and does good things the fact that he is narratively at the center of Doctor Who means that the universe of Doctor Who will always revolve around him. Anything that doesn’t give the Doctor an implicit role in the nature of the Time Lords is simply fighting against the fundamental gravity of Doctor Who as a series'

    It had to happen. Finally you post something I fundamentally disagree with. I much prefer the Doctor as a little man against the evil/system in the British literary traditition e.g. 1984's Winston Smith, The Prisoner's Number Six, Brazil's Tuttle/Buttle, LOTR's Frodo/Bilbo etc. In fact I can't think of a decent piece of writing where the main character is actually implicit in the grand scheme rather than fighting/running away from it.I don't see why Doctor Who needs to approach this hubris.He may think he's the centre of the universe sometimes but it doesn't necessarily have to be proved.

    'I don’t want to go too far into the comparison of Morrison’s Final Crisis with the nearly identical Season 4 finale of Doctor Who that was airing at nearly the exact same time, mostly because I intend for a Pop Between Realities on that point when we get there, but suffice it to say that the plot of that comic is a narrative collapse a la the Chase'

    The above paragraph however redeemed you. I'm SO looking forward to that post. I thought I was the only one to notice the parallels between Morrison's FC and finale of Who season's 4 and the whole of season 5, putting it down to some kind of zeigiesty voodoo. If you bring Morrison's The Invisibles into this too my life will be complete.

    1. The Invisibles is guaranteed a Pop Between Realities.

      I don't think one's preferences about the Doctor matters much to this issue - I largely prefer a smaller Doctor as well. And I think it's telling that none of the characters you mention are characters from a long-form serialized work - the closest is The Prisoner, and even that's explicitly conceived as a finite story. The problem, for me, really is one of gravity.

      The Doctor is the main character in the story. Any story in which the Time Lords at large feature is thus going to be one where the Doctor is the most important Time Lord for those ninety minutes, and furthermore one in which he probably saves the Time Lords from some catastrophe or another. Already we have the Doctor as a former President of Gallifrey who solved the assassination of one of his predecessors, stopped the destruction of the planet, and to boot cleaned up that whole Omega mess while violating the First Law of Time. What Time Lord short of Rassilon himself is going to be more important than the Doctor at this point? And the situation can only deteriorate further.

      And that's the crux of the problem - the Doctor, for the audience, is the most important of the Time Lords and the plot of any story involving both will tacitly confirm that. Whether or not it's actually a good story. About the only solution is the one Davies hit on - make the Doctor the most important Time Lord because he's the end of the rest of them as opposed to the beginning, thus allowing you to draw a line under it and move on.

    2. I much prefer the Doctor as a little man against the evil/system in the British literary traditition e.g. 1984's Winston Smith, The Prisoner's Number Six, Brazil's Tuttle/Buttle, LOTR's Frodo/Bilbo etc. In fact I can't think of a decent piece of writing where the main character is actually implicit in the grand scheme rather than fighting/running away from it

      Your example of The Prisoner seems an odd one, since at the end the main character precisely finds out that he's part of the system. (Philip interprets that scene differently, but I disagree.)

    3. 'The Invisibles is guaranteed a Pop Between Realities.'
      *punches air*

      'Your example of The Prisoner seems an odd one, since at the end the main character precisely finds out that he's part of the system.'

      Hmm. You're right there. I'll have to re-read Phillip's and your take on ihe Prisoner. But I think my point is he at least thinks he's trying to escape - The clue is in the title. Come to think of it of course that's exactly what Moffat is threatening to deal with in his Adamsesque 'Doctor Who is the answer to 'what is the ultimate question?'' arc for next season.

  3. I've always maintained that attempts to reconcile different "eras" of Doctor Who with each-other are doomed to failure, leading to what amounts to endless futile fan battles between the twin evils of Retcon and Canon. The programme continually reinvents itself, sometimes gradually over two or three seasons as directors and script-editors change, sometimes startlingly suddenly, as between Hartnell and Troughton or Troughton and Pertwee.

    In particular "canon" annoys me immensely, as fans who insist on the format of Doctor Who being endlessly variable and wide open to change will then fight tooth and nail when anything contradicts what has happened twenty years previously. The architects of the new series are obviously aware of this, and have been brave enough to address it (incurring minor fan wrath in both cases) - RTD with his "time can be rewritten" comments, and Moffat with the Crack's more blatent wholesale erasure of almost everything (or at least anything that gets in the way of a good story).

    In fact even they both recognise and embrace the inherent contradiction of a series that continually changes while staying the same by insisting that "this is the same man who was portrayed by William Hartnell in 1963".

    Hence the Doctor can be both a little man wandering the universe, and a larger mythic figure of hidden import, at the same time. Depending entirely on what the production team want to do at the time.

    1. I'm certainly uninterested in reconciliation on the level of plot elements. That's just a boring game of trying to spin conspiracy theories for the sake of it - though in its more madly over the top versions such as AHistory it has a certain charm. What interests me more is the more philosophical shifts and the question of whether the concept of Doctor Who is actually bounded, and if so, by what. If Doctor Who can reinvent itself totally as often as it has, what is there that can fairly be called Doctor Who?

      I do think that question has an answer. But I think that treating that answer as reconciling eras misses the mark slightly. I'd suggest a better term than "reconcile" is "translate." It's possible to translate from Davison to Virgin NA and visa versa.

    2. I agree totally. I believe Doctor Who as a concept/programme/way of life/whatever to be truly unbounded. You only have to look at the audio series "Unbound" to see that absolutely anything is possible. In which case what is there that can be called "Doctor Who"? That's an interesting thought. I'd say the answer is that if we all agree to call it Doctor Who, then that's what it is. Where that leaves fans who refuse to acknowledge that certain aspects AREN'T Doctor Who, I'm not sure. And they do exist of course - the ones who disregard the MAs, the NAs, the TV Movie, the Cushing movies, the Classic and/or the New Series as not part of their own personal "Canon". Which makes one wonder...could someone who disregards everything after "An Unearthly Child" even call themselves a Doctor Who fan? Very probably.

      By the way, I wasn't saying that I attempt to reconcile eras, I don't. I treat the whole thing as what it is, a television programme quite unlike any other. Some bits I like, some I don't, but I don't dislike any of it on principle. I must admit that Davison is my least-watched Doctor but your entry into the Davison era has piqued my interest. I may watch a few more...

    3. could someone who disregards everything after "An Unearthly Child" even call themselves a Doctor Who fan?

      Only the unaired pilot version of "An Unearthly Child" is canonical. The aired version is not canonical, and neither is anything after that. The Doctor and Susan are weirdoes from the 49th century, and their spaceship's door doesn't work. So there!

    4. What is canonical in the TV series must be that which is described within the TV series as being canonical.

      So far as I am aware, therefore, canon in Doctor Who is limited to (a) "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville, (b) "The Water Babies" by Charles Kingsley, and (c) "UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose" by HM Stationery Office.

      I have read "Moby Dick" (and I read the climax of the book with awed fascination as Ahab quoted Captain Kirk at the whale).

      I have an unread copy of "The Water Babies" on my Kindle.

      However, so far as I can see, "UK Habitats of the Canadian Goose" has yet to be published.

      But the people of Marb Station called their planet "UK Habitat".

      I think, particularly within the context of "Trial of a Time Lord", this is Robert Holmes slipping us the message that continuity is a wild goose chase.

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    6. "Only the unaired pilot version of "An Unearthly Child" is canonical. The aired version is not canonical, and neither is anything after that. The Doctor and Susan are weirdoes from the 49th century, and their spaceship's door doesn't work. So there!"

      Actually, BerserkRL, you have pretty much hit on the closest definition of a "canon" of Doctor Who that I will agree to: Everything Until Verity Lambert Leaves is "Real Doctor Who", and everything else that comes after, in whatever medium, is a sequel/retcon/reboot/reimagining.

      Most of it is interesting stuff worth talking about, of course, but the idea that the BBC Wales relaunch is "canon" but Cat's Cradle or Death Comes to TIme somehow aren't seems utterly crazy to me. It's all a sequel/spin off/reboot once Verity leaves: the "real" (read: original) Doctor Who isn't a Time Lord, he's (as you say) a Weirdo From The 49th Century. People who get upset about Looms but not about Time Lords or the Master seem to me to be spectacularly missing the point.

    7. See that fan who doesn't think anything after the unaired pilot of Unearthly Child is canon? That's me that is.

      Seriously, I subscribe to the everything except Noddy is part of the Whoniverse and I'm even willing to include him if someone writes a decent story. As the Brig so memorably put it - 'The Doctor, splendid chaps...all of them!'

  4. Anton, you're definitely not the only one to have noticed that. Morrison himself posted a thing on his blog (which was unfortunately subscriber-only and has now been deleted) at the time pointing out the similarities between the season 4 finale and Final Crisis.

    Philip - Teatime Brutality still exists, but as a tumblr ( ). He only rarely posts longform stuff there - it's mostly the usual tumblr stuff - but when he does it's as good as ever.

    1. Andrew Hickey has won the comments section for the day by linking me to Teatime Brutality's new version. Everyone else may now go home.

    2. Bah! Andrew Sorry I missed that post from Morrison. Any chance of posting a lengthy quote or two? Always enjoy your stuff btw so I'll be checking out your intriguing sounding DCU/Who post. Also that teatime brutality tumblr site.


  5. "The mixture of scandalous and salacious content with the fundamental safety of Doctor Who is as gentle a gradient to tackle emerging sexuality as they come - like having a copy of Timeframe with its Katy Manning/Dalek photo as your sole piece of pornography (which, for years, I did)."

    Funny story about that: after a relatively sheltered, conservative, and somewhat parochial upbringing--which included lots of Doctor Who--the Virgin books really helped to de-Puritanize me in exactly the way you describe. Russell Davies' "Damaged Goods" is actually one of the first things during my awkward teenaged years that got me questioning my sexual orientation, so you could say...

    The New Adventures turned me gay.

  6. RTD with his "time can be rewritten" comments, and Moffat with the Crack's more blatent wholesale erasure of almost everything (or at least anything that gets in the way of a good story).

    Ah, but those allow alterations to Canon within the rules set by Canon. They're different from simply contradicting the past, and indeed serve as a sort of meta-fanwank that makes it easier for viewers who care about such things to justify any contradictions they've spotted.

  7. Rats. I was hoping you were going to cover more like 40-45 NAs, and 30-35 EDAs. Oh well, I'm still super excited for us to get to them.

  8. I've been trying to write a reply to the bit about the sentience of the DC Universe, but it's coming in at 1200 words so far, plus links for references, and I've not yet got to what I want to say, so I think I'll just post it to my own blog when it's done.

    If no-one objects I'll link it in these comments.

    1. Not only do I not object, I'll actually remember to claw your post out of the fucking spam filter as soon as I see it. (I looked for a setting to turn it off, since it has only correctly identified three spam comments in the entire history of this blog. There is no way to turn it off. Goddammit.)

    2. Hoping you are not disconcert, I am Zambian prince dying of spectrox poisoning and request your help transfer five $ million dollars U.S. to your bank account can I trust you, God bless.

  9. Here we go then. It's not as thorough an argument as I'd like, because I've trodden a lot of this ground before and get bored easily, and at 1600 words I think it's all my readers will stand, but a partial argument with part of your bit about Morrison:

  10. Hmph. Entryist new fans like you, Berserker, really annoy me. Everyone knows that the only *real* Doctor Who was Bunny Webber's unfilmed script. Once that hack Coburn got his hands on it everything went downhill.

  11. I haven't read Cold Fusion, but I have read The Infinity Doctors. I just loved Patience in that. She is so ethereal, like a lady from a Pre-Raphaelite painting. She is perfect as the Doctor's wife.

  12. Read the book, and make a sardonic and self-referential
    comment about the fact that I'm a bit sorry for the book.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. There is a fourth kind of fanwank, a non-continuity-based one - when fan fiction writers forget that the reason they're fans in the first place is because they find pleasure in something relatively simple, straightforward and fun, and attempt to darken and over-complicate it.

    And the problems come when this ethos feeds back into the series itself, and those making it lose sight of what it's all about. Doctor Who was always essentially the little guy standing up for the little guy... even Pertwee at his most arrogant and right wing was still sticking up for the small green planet against the alien hoards.

    But in the late 80s, you had the Cartmel Masterplan, in which the Doctor becomes the arch manipulator, some superbeing from the dawn of time; or the Lonely God from the new series. Conceptually more interesting, perhaps, but it kinda loses touch with why people connect with the idea in the first place, and what draws audiences in and makes them invest in the character.

    And much as I love the two-parter as a whole, I think the climax of Family Of Blood has to be the worst example, turning the Doctor into a tyrannical bully who has to brainwash himself in order not to exact awful vengeance. Again, conceptually interesting, but it loses sight of the fact that we love the Doctor because he *stands up to* the bullies... that he's compassionate and looks for a diplomatic solution where possible. Seeing our beloved Doctor punishing some low-level gangsters in a way that the Bush administration and Chinese government would baulk at is not a pretty sight.

    See also the Star Wars prequels.

    1. Well put. My misgivings about Ten grew into dislike at the end of Family of Blood, and I appreciated the show acknowledging my feelings with Joan's cold dismissal of the Doctor at the end. Her point was completely valid -- the Doctor did not want to bear the responsibility of killing the Family of Blood, so he fled to a boy's school in an isolated English village that was completely unprepared for an alien invasion. And after the Family murdered dozens of people, including children, the Doctor punished them for his misguided kindness by torturing them for eternity. I've often thought that Ten might well be the Doctor who comes closest to the Valyard in temperament, and one of the things I like about Eleven is how conscious he is of his own destructive potential.

  15. Pertwee's Doctor isn't right-wing so much as aristocratic. He's like a cosmic Bertrand Russell (if Bertrand Russell knew Venusian Aikido).

  16. Hm, 30 Virgin books, 15 BBC ones, and 15 Big Finishes? Sounds like it's time for some wild mass guessing.

    I'll skip guessing Big Finish, as I'm way, way behind on that range, and make the assumption that you won't be doing any novels that primarily feature a previous Doctor.

    So, here goes: for the NAs, I'll guess:
    Timewyrm: Genesys (an interesting misstep, but you get to talk about The Epic of Gilgamesh)
    Timewyrm: Revelation (most important non-TV Who story in terms of the franchise's history)
    Time's Crucible (another no-brainer)
    Warhead (first foray into Cyberpunk)
    Love and War (another no-brainer - for Benny's intro)
    Transit (why wouldn't you tackle the NAs most marmite book?)
    The Pit (because The Three Doctors entry showed you love Blake)
    Lucifer Rising (does interesting things with continuity, and introduces New Ace better than Deceit)
    Birthright (the first Doctor-lite story outside comic strips)
    Blood Heat (it's take on the Pertwee era and Doctor Who and the Cave monsters is interesting)
    The Left-Handed Hummingbird (similarly)
    Conundrum (there's no way you can resist this one)
    Theatre of War (the whole concept is right up your steet)
    All-Consuming Fire (for fun)
    Blood Harvest/Goth Opera (as a single entry)
    First Frontier (the mystery villain done fantastically)
    Set Piece (because of Ace's departure)
    Human Nature (unless you do that alongside the TV story)
    Original Sin (introduction of Chris and Roz)
    Sky Pirates! (because it's just bizarre)
    Head Games (for all that sixth Doctor stuff)
    The Also People (just because it's so good)
    Just War (again, because of its quality)
    Happy Endings (the Five Doctors of the novels)
    Christmas on a Rational Planet (it's Lawrence Miles)
    Damaged Goods (because RTD wrote it)
    So Vile a Sin (Roz written out)
    The Room with no Doors (there's quite a lot here to write about)
    Lungbarrow (you can't not do it)
    The Dying Days (just because)

    The EDAs (a much more difficult selection)
    Alien Bodies (a no-brainer)
    one of John Peel's dalek ones (can't decide whether you'll go for the offensive retcon or the fanwank overload)
    The Scarlet Empress (you'll find it hard to resist doing the Paul Magrs ones)
    Unnatural History (you can't resist such a postmodern book)
    Interference (you've already confirmed this one)
    The Blue Angel (you'll find it difficult to resist)
    The Shadows of Avalon (another obvious choice)
    The Ancestor Cell (the central pivot point of the EDAs)
    The Turing Test (lots and lots to comment on here)
    Father Time (revisiting the 80s will always be fun)
    The Adventuress of Henrietta Street (something this unique shouldn't be passed by)
    The Crooked World (it's a commentary on a whole genre of cartoons)
    Sometime Never... (just for the rewriting of the Doctor's origins)
    The Gallifrey Chronicles (the grand finale of the novels - and it has that line about the canon debate)
    The Infinity Doctors (again, you simply won't be able to resist)

    *hopes he hasn't miscounted in compiling his lists*

    And, going back to Cold Fusion, one of the reasons I think it's the only multi-Doctor story to really work is because it feels like it's a fifth Doctor story with the seventh Doctor hiding in the background, and also feels like a New Adventures era seventh Doctor story with the fifth Doctor ambling around in the foreground. Plus the whole character contrast thing that you've already pointed out.

    1. I'm probably going to not have this selection be guesswork for the readers, simply because these aren't bonus entries - these are me trying to cover an era of the show without derailing the blog for a year, and I want, there, to cover something that there's a rough consensus is a fair representation for what Doctor Who is in that era. So at some point in McCoy there will be a post in which we overtly discuss this. Your initial list is not entirely out of line with my thoughts. At a very, very rough stab of what my sort of "opening bid" in my lists:


      Timewyrm: Exodus (with Genesis dealt with in passing)
      Timewyirm: Revelation (with Apocalypse dealt with in even more passing)
      Cats Cradle: Time's Crucible
      Cat's Cradle: Warhead
      Love and War
      The Highest Science
      Lucifer Rising
      White Darkness
      Blood Heat
      Left-Handed Hummingbird
      No Future
      All-Consuming Fire
      Blood Harvest
      First Frontier
      Set Piece
      Human Nature
      Original Sin
      Head Games
      The Also People
      Happy Endings
      Christmas on a Rational Planet
      Damaged Goods
      So Vile a Sin
      The Room With No Doors
      The Dying Days

      Which is 33, a fair stab at "about 30."

      For the EDAs:

      The Eight Doctors
      Vampire Science
      War of the Daleks
      Alien Bodies
      Scarlet Empress
      The Infinity Doctors
      Unnatural History
      The Blue Angel
      The Shadows of Avalon
      The Ancestor Cell
      The Burning
      Fear Itself (The blog's final "Time Can Be Rewritten" entry)
      The Adventures of Henrietta Street
      The Gallifrey Chronicles

      But that's a rough opening stab and it'll be, as I said, something I actively solicit discussion on when the time comes.

    2. It's a pity you can't do them all; I'd be interested to see what you think of "Falls the Shadow", which I'm rather fond of in its excessive way, or of "The Pit", which I'm...not, but which has had a surprising influence.

    3. I'd just like to add my voice to that of Dr Happypants. The New Adventures were explicitly the continuation of the original TV series, and as such, I'd love to hear your views on them all. Missing any out would feel to me like missing out a Tom Baker TV serial, just because there were so many of them.

      I completely understand your not doing all the "spin-off" media, but the New Adventures weren't spin-offs: they were New Doctor Who, just as much as, if not more than, the BBC Wales revival.

      Is it too late to change your mind? My hard copy of the Sylvester McCoy volume will always feel incomplete otherwise!

    4. I intend to add a substantial number of NAs in for the book. But in the end... book posts get far fewer readers, are more time consuming to write, and would take up as much time to cover both lines in full as the entire first twenty-six years of the series will. I'm wary of the loss of readership involved in that long a dip into something that there's less interest in. I agree that the novels are vital, hence covering them, which other overviews haven't done at all. And I'd like someday to go fill all the gaps, but I don't think the first pass (or even the second) is where to do it. Maybe once I reach the end of the blog (which I plan to be when it catches up to the present - the blog won't cover new episodes as they air, simply because I don't think what I do works without the lens of history) I'll go back and do the rest.

    5. So long as I can look forward to reading "Philip Sandifer on the Complete New Adventures range" one day, that is surely enough to hope for! Completely understand that it might not be on the first or even second pass, but being able to look forward to it "one day" is a very acceptable reply!

    6. You might consider adding "Nightshade" by Mark Gatiss, primarily because it is the only one of the NAs formerly published on the BBC website and thus available for reading through the Wayback Machine not already on your list.

  17. But if the New Adventures count, then so do at least the McGann books, and the McGann audios prior to the start of the Welsh series. And arguably the DWM comic strips.

    While I prefer the books and audios to the post-2005 series, this blog has always been focussed on the TV series - and if nothing else, the NAs had a very limited audience and are out of print.

    (I *would* be interested to see at least a little bit of coverage of the spinoffery - Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme and especially Faction Paradox - though.)

  18. It's a shame the book posts get less traffic, as I think those are where your methods work best - the whole looking at the past from the lens of a slightly less past past thing works very well.

  19. Great article as usual, Phil! Figured this'd be an important post.

    Hm...I have a bit to say about the whole "small man against the universe" thing, but seems I addressed most of it in my needlessly tardy "Castrovalva" response, so, if I may be a bit presumptuous I'd direct curious fellow commenters there?

  20. Sorry, Anton, I don't have a copy of the post. It was a long, rambling thing talking about the Watchmen film (he liked it), the comics blog site The Mindless Ones (he liked it) and the project he was doing with Deepak Chopra's son for Richard Branson at the time. And in among this he mentioned the similarity of Final Crisis and the end of NuWho Series 4 as an example of his 'tapped into the zeitgeist' stuff. He didn't say more than a sentence or two on that.

    (Thanks for the nice comments about my own writing, BTW. I think I've been off-form for a few months, myself...)

  21. ...and here I always thought the correct one-word description of AHistory was "Bless..."

    For the record, I am now officially arguing that the current TV series is not, in any meaningful way, a continuation of the classic TV series. It is a continuation of the Virgin New Adventures. (Inspired by Phil, I'm working on a book on the subject...)