Monday, December 31, 2012

My Dear Doctor, You Must Die (The Eight Doctors)

I'll Explain Later

The Eight Doctors, by Terrance Dicks, is the launch of the Eighth Doctor Adventures line. Instead of getting all the Doctors together as you might expect, it’s got an amnesiac Eighth Doctor going linearly through his previous incarnations to regain his memories, meeting them during 100,000 BC, The War Games, The Sea Devils, State of Decay, The Five Doctors, Trial of a Time Lord, and immediately prior to the TV Movie. Plus you’ve got the Master three times, Rassilon, Borusa, Flavia, and the solutions to any stray continuity errors Dicks was bothered by. Dave Owen calls it “overambitious, perhaps, but nevertheless immensely enjoyable.” In the same issue of Doctor Who Magazine he rates all the New Adventures and gives Human Nature a three out of ten. So, moving on to sane critics, Lars Pearson calls it a “clusterfish.” It is merely the third worst of the seventy-three Eighth Doctor Adventures, but it is the worst one we will cover with a rating of 46.2%. DWRG Summary. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide entry.

——
It’s June of 1997. Hanson are at number one with “Mmmbop.” That lasts until the end of hte month, when Puff Daddy takes over with “I’ll Be Missing You.” Radiohead, the Rembrandts, the Cardigans, Bon Jovi, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Blur, and Echo and the Bunnymen also chart. In news, there was a month gap in which Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasparov and Tony Blair defeated John Major. In the month itself, Timothy McVeigh is convicted of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the House of Commons votes to ban handguns in response to the year-ago Dunblane Massacre. (The US should be so wise.) And the first Harry Potter book comes out. 

In books, meanwhile, The Eight Doctors. Oh dear.

It is still, over a decade later, difficult to quite wrap one’s head around what went wrong. The TV Movie was awful and looked to have killed any chance of Doctor Who returning on television for the foreseeable future, yes. But most of us had merely allowed ourselves to be optimistic about that. It wasn’t as if anyone thought an American remake was a sure bet of success. Nobody could sincerely say they were surprised by its flaws, or that the series did not come back after it. For all its flaws, it wasn’t even the worst case scenario. Once word of the Leekley bible came out the merely terrible TV Movie started to look pretty good, and there remain those of us who are battle-hardened enough to allow ourselves to remember when the consensus rumor was that David Hasselhoff was going to be the Doctor. The TV Movie was positively merciful. It was merely disastrous. 

In context, The Eight Doctors felt far more glaringly wrong. We expected bad things from Fox. But this was Uncle Terrance himself come to deliver the killing blow. The man who had stepped in to show that the Virgin line had potential with Timewyrm: Exodus. A man about whom just about the worst thing that could be said was that Shakedown was a bit weak, but given that his brief there was to produce a novelization that wasn’t surprising. What should have been the absolute safest pair of hands to put the novel line in following the wreckage of the TV Movie and to get things back on track. And instead we get a legendary train wreck. What happened?

Two explanations present themselves: what we might call the Terry Nation option and the Robert Holmes option. Following The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Terry Nation’s Doctor Who writing career did not so much go off the rails as go to sleep. Subsequent efforts included half-completed scripts, shameless self-plagiarism, and other things that suggested that his only interest in writing Doctor Who was the paycheck. But in the middle of this painful period of abject laziness came Genesis of the Daleks, the best script Nation ever wrote for Doctor Who. This is, in practice, surprising. But it’s also explicable: he had a strong editor in Robert Holmes, and material that pushed him to do more than rely on his standards. Under those circumstances he excelled, but was otherwise turgid. 

In this analogy Dicks switched onto autopilot somewhere in the Nathan-Turner era, probably while revising a five-year-old script to Christopher Bidmead’s specifications. By his own admission he abandoned plot logic in The Five Doctors in favor of just checking all the boxes asked of him. In this interpretation Timewyrm: Exodus is his Genesis of the Daleks, a story where the mixture of Virgin’s emerging editorial vision and the opportunity to cut loose and write for adults led to a perfect storm where his best attributes got accented and enhanced whereas his worst got minimized. Since then he’s had bland but fun books like Blood Harvest, but has basically been coasting on his reputation and doing exactly what’s expected of him. 

And now The Eight Doctors is a perfect storm in the other direction. BBC Books started with an empty suit with no Doctor Who knowledge in charge. Its only creative vision was “less adult than Virgin,” a vision that ensured banality. And Dicks was picked as a safe pair of hands into which the launch could be entrusted. Give him a title and an order to introduce a new companion and send him on his way, basically. And with nothing to push him and no mandate whatsoever for innovation Dicks revealed himself as burnt out and past his prime. 

The other option, of course, is the Robert Holmes option. Like Nation, Holmes burnt out on Doctor Who with The Power of Kroll and basically walked off of it. Unlike Nation he had the dignity not to phone in efforts, or, worse, not actually remember to call. Instead he came back some years later and, told to produce something great, did exactly that. Subsequently, when given a horrible assignment, he simply began trolling the series, writing The Two Doctors as a conscious attack on the series. As, in hindsight, The Power of Kroll and The Space Pirates were. In this interpretation, The Eight Doctors is a cynical lark through the series’ history that serves as a bleak parody of what people ostensibly expect when they say they want a book called The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks. Certainly Dicks’s later career lends credence to this - it is, after all, the explanation we used to explain Warmonger.

But if The Eight Doctors is Terrance Dicks trolling it is the first real and thorough effort at it, and two major problems arise. The first is that nobody at the time had seen Dicks in troll mode, which meant nobody read it that way. Second, if it is the case then Dicks ended up with a strange case of first novel syndrome, mixing in an excess of snark and swipes at additional targets that end up detracting from his point. Either way, the result was the same: The Eight Doctors went over like a lead balloon. As such, in a practical sense, it was a titanically awful launch to the Eighth Doctor Adventures - one far worse than the Virgin line mustered. Which was, to say the least, a bit of a problem. The Virgin line at least had the advantage of launching with no discernible alternatives, and to an audience of fans to whom a generally poor quality of Doctor Who was at least familiar. By even the most generous of standards Doctor Who had been routinely problematic as recently as 1986, and the fact of the matter is that most fans thought it didn’t pick up until 1988. To launch a novel series three years later and after the series had been cancelled was fundamentally easier, carrying with it a low weight of expectations.

But the Eighth Doctor Adventures debuted after a botched effort at reviving the series and supplanted a popular and successful series of novels. The expectations were substantive. If these books weren’t going to be at least in the same league as Virgin’s efforts than what was the point? In this regard, even if Dicks was trolling it would be ill-advised. This just isn’t the book to do it with. This is a book that has to be regular good, not mocking genius good. 

And really, even as a mockery there are problems, simply because the breadth of mockery is too great. The swipe against the TV Movie as “full of improbable, illogical events” and the swift retconning of the “Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS” business is, at least, understandable. But the obvious disdain for the Fifth and Seventh Doctors is far more unfortunate. The Fifth is overtly portrayed as weak and useless, and the Seventh is absolutely skewered as bitterly depressed and borderline suicidal over his own actions. On top of that, Dicks goes out of his way to retcon out the New Adventures, or at the very least Lungbarrow, which just seems inordinately petty. That Dicks contradicts the end of Lungbarrow and its setting up of the TV Movie is, at least, excusable - after all, the two books were written around the same time. But Dicks was surely aware of the Loom mythology and the Romana Presidency, and yet goes to unnecessary length to contradict both. 

In the face of these bouts of cynicism the things Dicks does opt to focus on become at once perplexing and frustrating. Only the Third Doctor - i.e. The period Dicks script edited - gets all of his adventures to date explicitly listed, a tedious bit of ego-stroking. Indeed, it’s conspicuous that for every Doctor Dicks has written for the Eighth Doctor meets him during the story Dicks wrote. On top of that, the Seventh Doctor goes to Metebelis 3, and the Sixth Doctor section harkens back heavily to The Five Doctors. It’s frankly a wonder the Eighth Doctor didn’t meet the First in a rose garden right before a black trapezoid tumbled from the sky, but instead Dicks decides to smooth out the prickly bits of 100,000 BC and slap the Doctor around a bit for the skull-bashing incident. Very small favors.

Similarly bewildering is the decision to try to patch up the continuity errors of Trial of a Time Lord. That these exist is, of course, not in any dispute. But is there anyone who would even attempt to argue with a straight face that the kickoff to the Eighth Doctor Adventures is the place to try to resolve a decade-old continuity snarl. Except, apparently, for Terrance Dicks. 

For all the criticism of the Nathan-Turner era that Dicks unleashes here and elsewhere, the fact of the matter is that The Eight Doctors resembles nothing so much as The Twin Dilemma. It is a book that does not merely fail to do the job set out for it, but one that fails in such a systematic way at to leave the reader slack-jawed and trying to figure out how anybody thought this was a good idea. You even have the sense of moral outrage, with Terrance Dicks managing to be more prone to waxing poetic about the need for great and noble leaders to rule over the common rabble than ever. The stuff with the Shobogans in the Sixth Doctor segments is absolutely vomit-inducing, with Dicks establishing them as the Gallifreyan working class/criminal underworld (these seem to be the same thing in his mind) who the Doctor enjoys getting drunk with and dispensing favor to. With astonishing creepiness, Dicks ends their plot by saying “even the Shobogans were content with their lot” and leaving it at that, a line that comes horrifyingly close to just saying that the working class are just meant to be poorer than the nobles. 

Despite this, it’s tough to say that this is entirely Dicks’s fault. The entire enterprise is utterly misbegotten, from putting Nuala Buffini, who by her own admission knew little about Doctor Who, in charge of the line to taking the line away from Virgin with no actual ideas of what to do with it. The entire plan, it seems, amounted to the observation that Virgin was making money off a BBC property, so the BBC should probably do so instead. So other than taking out the thing that apparently some people objected to about the Virgin books, that they were too adult, there were no ideas beyond “cash in on the stupid anoraks.” Given this, is it any wonder that we got a book so insipid and downright insulting as The Eight Doctors? 

But the BBC has, within barely a year, managed to level Doctor Who to smoldering wreckage with even more efficiency than the Nathan-Turner/Saward team could muster. After selling Doctor Who to a Canadian liquor company so that Rupert Murdoch could air it in the US, putting out an execrable TV Movie as a result, and cancelling the actually very good Virgin series, they replace it with the most breathtakingly cynical novel line imaginable.

And so, in less than a year, the great relaunch of Doctor Who craters in the most spectacular of fashions. Seven years of progress and improvement in Doctor Who are effectively wiped out, and wiped out in a way that actually moves the series measurably backwards. There is next to no way to imagine how the series could possibly come back in the foreseeable future, and less of one to imagine how it could possibly be any good when it does. We have, in effect, reached the single darkest point in Doctor Who’s history. 

So now what?

57 comments:

  1. The other thing about The Eight Doctors is that the plot completely fails to make any sense, with scenes like the Fourth Doctor blithely explaining that the person who just gave him a blood transfusion was never really there. "Full of improbable, illogical events", as it were...

    So the idea that he's in Robert Holmes troll mode fits: he's writing a story for a Doctor who only appeared in a nonsensical farrago with pointless and confusing continuity references, so he'll write him a nonsensical farrago with pointless and confusing continuity references. But, as you say, if that *is* what he's doing, it doesn't improve it as a book.

    And "1990s Ian and Barbara" doesn't even work on this level, so I've no idea what he was thinking there.

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  2. "But the obvious disdain for the Fifth and Seventh Doctors is far more unfortunate. The Fifth is overtly portrayed as weak and useless,"

    It's hardly Terrance's fault that he succeeded in getting the character spot on.

    "Only the Third Doctor - i.e. The period Dicks script edited - gets all of his adventures to date explicitly listed, a tedious bit of ego-stroking. Indeed, it’s conspicuous that for every Doctor Dicks has written for the Eighth Doctor meets him during the story Dicks wrote. On top of that, the Seventh Doctor goes to Metebelis 3, and the Sixth Doctor section harkens back heavily to The Five Doctors. It’s frankly a wonder the Eighth Doctor didn’t meet the First in a rose garden right before a black trapezoid tumbled from the sky."

    But pragmatically speaking, what's really wrong with a writer writing from what he knows intimately? Surely if you're planning an arc type story, it helps if you yourself once authored the stories you're using, and have full artistic licence to do so.

    Was it similarly 'ego-stroking' when Holmes concluded the Trial by completely ignoring Pip and Jane Baker's 'genocide' charge and going back to the Ravalox business, *and* sidelining Mel in order to make his own creation Sabalom Glitz the story companion, *and* brought back his own creation, the Master to explain things?

    Or the fact that Wedding of River Song uses mostly only events and tropes seen in previous Moffat-penned Series 6 stories, and ignores The Girl Who Waited, The Doctor's Wife, Curse of the Black Spot, Night Terrors, etc?

    For that matter, if Terrance didn't constrain himself to that list of his own stories, wouldn't you be complaining that the story was too laden and indulgent, like Attack of the Cybermen?

    "Similarly bewildering is the decision to try to patch up the continuity errors of Trial of a Time Lord. That these exist is, of course, not in any dispute. But is there anyone who would even attempt to argue with a straight face that the kickoff to the Eighth Doctor Adventures is the place to try to resolve a decade-old continuity snarl. Except, apparently, for Terrance Dicks."

    Is it possible that this novel, like War of the Daleks soon after it, is a validation of everything the show had been doing wrong post-Logopolis and that had that era not existed, then this novel might have not had a reason to degenerate into the continuity mess it did in trying to make sense of a messy TV era?

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    1. Or the fact that Wedding of River Song uses mostly only events and tropes seen in previous Moffat-penned Series 6 stories, and ignores The Girl Who Waited, The Doctor's Wife, Curse of the Black Spot, Night Terrors, etc?

      I thought it was. Similarly, a lot of people were frustrated that he completely left Jack Hartness out of A Good Man Goes to War. Plot-wise, he really belonged there.

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    2. "It's hardly Terrance's fault that he succeeded in getting the character spot on."

      Do you have to make a comment like this whenever Five's character comes up? >->;

      "For that matter, if Terrance didn't constrain himself to that list of his own stories, wouldn't you be complaining that the story was too laden and indulgent, like Attack of the Cybermen?"

      Well, the thing is, a story called "The Eight Doctors" is naturally going to be continuity-laden and indulgent. It's not that there can't be good stuff that relies heavily on past continuity - see Remembrance of the Daleks. But this book is... well, it's... It's something, anyway.

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    3. "Do you have to make a comment like this whenever Five's character comes up? >->;"

      Well it does seem a bit unfair that Paul Cornell got a pass to throw the Sixth Doctor under the bus in Timewryn Revelations, but Terrance gets condemned for doing the same to Fivey.

      I mean who actually decides which Doctors can be criticized or vilified and which can't?

      "Well, the thing is, a story called "The Eight Doctors" is naturally going to be continuity-laden and indulgent. It's not that there can't be good stuff that relies heavily on past continuity - see Remembrance of the Daleks. But this book is... well, it's... It's something, anyway."

      Maybe, but surely if someone like Dave Owen prefers it as a book to Human Nature, it's no basis on which to impugn their sanity for not following some myopic elitist notion of what a fan should like and should not like.

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    4. Well, Owens did end up changing his mind about the book, it seems, so... I don't know what exactly that means, but it's a point to bring up, I suppose.

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    5. @Tommy:

      "Was it similarly 'ego-stroking' when Holmes concluded the Trial by completely ignoring Pip and Jane Baker's 'genocide' charge and going back to the Ravalox business, *and* sidelining Mel in order to make his own creation Sabalom Glitz the story companion, *and* brought back his own creation, the Master to explain things?"

      Given the...tumultuous circumstances of Trial's production, I hardly think that's a fair comparison. And given that Trial turned out to be so bad it killed Robert Holmes, "Trial did that too" may not be terribly effective as a defense.

      "Is it possible that this novel, like War of the Daleks soon after it, is a validation of everything the show had been doing wrong post-Logopolis and that had that era not existed, then this novel might have not had a reason to degenerate into the continuity mess it did in trying to make sense of a messy TV era?"

      No.

      Actually I'm not sure how to respond to this. I'm not quite sure what you're getting at; could you explain? Are you saying that the unbearable crapness of T8D and WotD is a reaction to the crapness of the JNT era on television? Why would "reacting to the JNT era" even be a thing the Eighth Doctor Adventures should be doing so early in their run? Or at all? What audience is that meant to appeal to?

      "Maybe, but surely if someone like Dave Owen prefers it as a book to Human Nature, it's no basis on which to impugn their sanity for not following some myopic elitist notion of what a fan should like and should not like."

      I think it's fair to say, without elitism, that if someone in fandom likes T8D more than Human Nature, then they and I are looking for such radically different things from Who novels that it's not clear there's any real benefit to bridging that gulf of understanding between us even were it possible.

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    6. a lot of people were frustrated that he completely left Jack Hartness out of A Good Man Goes to War

      Not Moffat's fault; he's said he specifically wanted Harkness for "A Good Man Goes to War" but couldn't get him because Barrowman was filming Miracle Day.

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    7. "Given the...tumultuous circumstances of Trial's production, I hardly think that's a fair comparison. And given that Trial turned out to be so bad it killed Robert Holmes, "Trial did that too" may not be terribly effective as a defense."

      Personally I don't think Trial was that bad, it just didn't pull together in the end and tried too hard to lighten up to the point where it overdoses on a re-injection of whimsy. A one-trick viewing and little more, but I think the worst of its fan reception was down to how many hopes rested on it being a brilliant comeback that would leave Grade with egg on his face, and it just wasn't.

      But to me the point still stands that if an author looks to their own bibliography for their intertextual narrative, it's not necessarily a sign of ego or hubris, so much as working with what they know.

      "No.

      Actually I'm not sure how to respond to this. I'm not quite sure what you're getting at; could you explain? Are you saying that the unbearable crapness of T8D and WotD is a reaction to the crapness of the JNT era on television? Why would "reacting to the JNT era" even be a thing the Eighth Doctor Adventures should be doing so early in their run? Or at all? What audience is that meant to appeal to?"

      Well because the novels are always going to be in some way subservient to the TV series, as the master narrative. The books can't have the authority to officially regenerate the Doctor, only the TV show can. And there was probably no better candidate for the new Gallifreyan President than Romana herself. A character we knew intimately from the TV series.

      There are of course authors who did daring new stuff and created new mythologies in the books, but by and large the TV series is the source and the fallback to defer to.

      In this case this was moreso true because this was a blank new slate and all the Ace and Seventh Doctor mythology had been jettisoned.

      But of course if the TV show as a master narrative has a dark patch, or a long running malaise, or a spiraling descent of continuity, then somewhere along the line it's going to be an elephant in the room to the author and they're possibly going to be unable to resist trying to reckon with or exorcise it (bearing in mind writing is often essentially about working through personal frustrations), before they can build what they feel are stable foundations out of the rest of the master narrative. Even though this tends to amount to the kind of excessive canon vandalism that only make things worse.

      I guess what I'm saying is that the show can't always escape its shameful past, especially when it comes to the secondary texts. And that maybe a curtailed master narrative, circa 1981 would have been a better one to work from.

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    8. So, ironically, it's RTD's fault -- and it's therefore also RTD's fault that, instead of Jack being in an awesome, kick-ass Who episode, he was in an entire series of bizarre suckitude.

      Whaddaguy.

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    9. @Tommy:

      Would you say that the Eighth Doctor Adventures, highlighting T8D and WotD, were making more of an effort to engage faithfully with the TV series as a master narrative than the Virgin NAs generally did?

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    10. I think those two particular books marked a very reactionary start, an aggressive return to the old guard view of Doctor Who as a continuity exercise, coming from what were very old guard authors. The NA's before them had been at best radical and new age, and at worst adolescent.

      They were perhaps more faithful to an idea of old school Doctor Who, and that there was a block universe canon to the show's continuity with a mapped out dating system. Whereas as Philip highlighted, the NA's often seemed almost ashamed of being Doctor Who or any nerdish stigma. War of the Daleks obviously wasn't, but clearly it was a case of being stringent to the canon, or rather entrenched in it, whilst actively vandalizing and vilifying even the old stuff on TV that they felt was a betrayal, and rewriting the canon, but from a perspective that held the existence of a canon to be sacrosanct.

      So like Ian Levine, the view to the TV show was both evangelical and combatitive and smiting. War of the Daleks wasn't so much faithful to the post-Genesis Dalek stories, as a dragging of them through the mud.

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    11. Or to put it less generously, Peel and Dicks were writing from a position outside of Cornell's own elitist clique of 'right on' NA writers. And so they were part of a different philosophy and school on the show, and on what was 'cool'.

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    12. The old guard view of Doctor Who is surely that you should never let continuity get in the way of a good story.
      (Is there any evidence that any creative team prior to the JNT era gave continuity more than a passing thought?)

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    13. By old guard, I was referring more to old guard fandom. It does seem to me that it was the older fans, often children of the 60's who were the most staunch about continuity keeping, or at least the most fascinated in that aspect. Ian Levine, Gary Russell, Jim Mortimer, Jan Vincent Rudzki and of course John Peel.

      The fact that fans of that generation believed continuity to be so sacrosanct suggests to me that the show was getting the continuity right enough of the time even before the JNT era made it a focus. It wasn't a JNT decision to bring back the Thals in Planet of the Daleks and Genesis of the Daleks, and cast them all as blondes to maintain the look of the last time we'd seen them, after they'd only appeared once before in a story ten years prior.

      The irony is that the high profile fans who aren't so fixated about continuity tend to be ones who became fans in the 80's, so perhaps ironically the show itself during that time gave them their fill of continuity and left them with the realisation that it wasn't that interesting or fulfilling, or maybe stories like The Two Doctors, and the revisionism of the later McCoy era, made them realize the idea of a solid canon just didn't hold up.

      As for Terrance Dicks, whilst he always held the belief that every new Doctor Who story could potentially be someone's first, and that it's a mistake to make it too much for the fans at the expense of alienating newcomers (sadly he could have told the JNT production team their way was a mistake long before we had to learn the hard way), he's still a very parochial writer, and canon keeping is a very parochial thing. And at the end of the day, much of the show's mythology and continuity is in his blood.

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  3. I think Owens changed his mind about this book later, since in his review of War of the Daleks, he describes a new game: one player has T8D and the other has WotD, and they either read a passage aloud, or make up the most overblown, ludicrous, continuity-heavy scene they can think of. The other player then has to guess if the scene is real or not.

    The problem with the game, according to Owens, is that it's completely impossible to guess.

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    1. Just noted that I've called Dave Owen "Owens" twice. Less embarassing than that argument I got into with him on radw many years ago, where under the influence of heavy flu medication I wrote a long, ranty peice that probably didn't make much sense even allowing for the fact it was based on having confused him with Dave Stone...

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  4. It's an excellent article, but I feel you're in danger of missing a lot of the contex of the period by concentrating on T8D as the whole future of Doctor Who. Yes, it was a new start and it was awful, but it was only one of two books released that month. The other, the ludicrously titled 'Devil Goblins from Neptune' was far more like what Virgin was publishing (and I seem to remember being shocked at how violent it was, which I wasn't expecting, though this could be the memory cheating).

    Yes, one of the two books published was a duffer, but the other showed a clear way forwards and was hardly the show's darkest hour. I imagine it depends if you prioritise the future of the show as the 'adventures of the current Doctor' rather than 'any new material being produced.


    Also, as an aside, which was the lowest rated EDA? You should probably take time to review that one just as an opportunity to look at the times when everything really does go horribly wrong.

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  5. I think, as with the TV Movie, the ultimate influence of The Eight Doctors was negative - a realisation amongst anyone with any sense that this must never happen again. And once this and War of the Daleks were out of the way, BBC Books never did fall down this particular pitfall again, and by their second year were generally OK if rarely stellar. Indeed I think it's too the credit of the fandom of the time that they weren't prepared to lap this kind of thing up anymore, showing that they weren't all the "cult TV"-obsessive stereotypes that it's easy to assume in hindsight.

    You make a very good job of exploring Dicks' motivations, which are tough to explain. But in terms the overall range, I'd be inclined to call this more of a Time and the Rani than a Twin Dilemma - something that is better explained through "shit happens" production circumstance; the absence of a vision rather than the presence of a bad vision. And, as with Cartmel, once the editorial vision shows up the range never turns this bad again (at least not in this particular way), even if it doesn't necessarily achieve the regular quality of later McCoy or the NAs.

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  6. I've never read it... but it sounds like I should, since I'm much concerned with Shabogans. They're definitely not happy with their lot.

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  7. But on the plus side, the cover was pretty nice.

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    1. This is an odd period for covers, where the design brief for all the books seems to have been "have a circular thing on it"...

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  8. And not a mention of Sam Jones. Which is probably for the best; at this point in the EDAs, it's hard to quantify a zero. At best, Sam comes across as a Public Service Announcement (Drugs are bad, mmkay?).

    Mind, I actually like this book far more than Peel's Dalek novels. If this is the panning the Eight Doctors got (deservedly, admittedly), I can't wait to see Friday's post.

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    1. Actually I'd say at best Sam comes across as Dark Sam, when the tedious campaigning side of her character was away and the more interesting side of her came out. It was recognizably the same character, just much more interesting.

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  9. Even though I'm deeply critical of the New Adventures years (lots of great idea, often poor execution pretty much sums it up), one thing I was absolutely amazed at was how well all the fanboys played with each other despite their having very different ideas about what Doctor Who was. And that probably had everything to do with there being a pretty clear idea of what Doctor Who (at least as it pertained to the Seventh Doctor) at the editorial level. If someone didn't like the Loom nonsense, then they didn't mention the Loom nonsense.

    This is very clearly not the case with the EDA I've read so far. When Doctor Who Magazine killed off Ace just because they could, it became the opening shots of what is clearly a pretty massive fanboy Civil War, opening the flood-gates for authors to do massive (and illogical) ret-cons on stories they didn't like, toss other versions into a bottle universe, overtly contradict other people's stories, and so on. I've caught the fringes of the fight in my previous readings/listenings of DWM and Big Finish, but nothing prepared me for the open warfare I'm seeing in the first dozen Eighth Doctor novels where they can't be bothered to come up with a particularly consistent version of who the Eighth Doctor is, unlike the comics and audios.

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    1. I remember thinking, at the time, the same thing about what you described as "fanboy Civil War" I always described it myself as fiefdoms. EDAs were one, DWM another and BF will have its own in a few years. Each had its followers & some seemed to think you couldn't be a fan outside your "chosen side."

      The NAs were the last time when it seemed everyone pulled on the same rope. A good example of the attitude of this time can be seen in some of Lawrence Miles issues with other DW writers.

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    2. What's sad is that all those divergent views are fairly easily reconciled with each other, because Doctor Who isn't terribly concerned with Continuity in the first place. These guys had to go out of their way to step on each other toes. Ace hadn't appeared in the comic strips for a couple of years prior to the story that kills her, and the author flat out stated they did it to divorce themselves from the novel line.

      Why are mommy and daddy fighting? :)

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  10. Also, I note the link to the Whoniverse Guide is the DWRG one again.

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  11. So... as everyone is on this page now, and will be until Wednesday, perhaps I should ask... what did you all think of "The Snowmen"?

    Something tells me Phil was none too impressed by the ending revelation (and, no, I don't mean the Clara bit)... :-P

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    1. I liked it. The decision to use the Great Intelligence was cute without being distracting, and falls squarely into the "continuity as playground" approach that I enjoy.

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    2. Oh! Oh, my... I'm pleasantly surprised, Phil. :-)

      What did you think of the rest of the story?

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    3. I hated it.

      Just when I thought New Series companions couldn't get any worse, I'm introduced to Clara.

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    4. I wonder whether Matthew Celestis is demonically possessed.

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    5. Just when I thought New Series companions couldn't get any worse, I'm introduced to Clara.

      Hm... A cute girl from the contemporary UK who thinks she's clever, has "attitude" and some kind of strange relationship with time.

      I'm not sure if you put all of them in a line I'd be able to pick Clara out.

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    6. I loved it, of course. Very alchemical, tons of mirrors, and The One Word Test was absolutely brilliant. But I'll rarely complain about an Ascension story.

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    7. Then I might be demoniacal possessed myself, because I thought it was below average (gave it a 4/10 on GB). We will get to it in time, but it featured most of what I don't like about Moffat DW. Oh, I will add that Ross is spot on about Clara.

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    8. *raises a glass*

      Incidentally, a Happy New Year to all of you at home! :-D

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    9. I thought it was a lot of fun, very appropriate for a Christmas special - and it was definitely a bonus that they brought back what was quite possibly the first villain I ever encountered, back in '67. And if we have to have a "timey-wimey" companion, Clara was at least different in the way she functioned, though I agree it's getting repetitive.

      It wasn't perfect - the link between the crying and the thaw wasn't clear until I thought about it afterwards - but like A Christmas Carol, it captured the mood of the day. Which is what it's all about, really.

      Happy new year, everyone!

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    10. I happened to read the Telos novella "Time & Relative" a couple of days after watching the Christmas special.

      Talk about deja vu. London in the past, intelligent snow, killer snowmen, young woman telling outrageous tales to children, courageous young woman having to talk a relunctant Doctor into saving the Earth.

      Only with the First Doctor and Susan. The two stories are actually quite different but it's shocking how many bits they have in common.

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    11. It's quite funny how different elements of the Hartnell era's approaches are filtering into Moffat's writing, especially at the Xmas specials. I remember how much The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe struck me as very much like Phil's description in Eruditorum book one of the archetypical Hartnell story. And now we have a Moffat-Smith story that harkens back to a Hartnell ear Telos novella.

      I must say, though, I find some of the critical discussions of Moffat very interesting in tone. I get the feeling that some folks just get generally peeved with Moffat, so they express simply being tired of his tropes. Yes, Clara is another timey-wimey companion, as Amy, Rory, and River were, though she'll have a different mechanism to her mystery. But if Moffat were to introduce another plucky young companion with no mystery at all, the same critical voices would be grumbling about how we're supposed to be interested in someone with no mystery. Quite a few of us at least think through what we're grumbling about, but I sometimes get that contrarian for the sake of contrary vibe from some of the commenters here.

      Oddly enough, the winking reveal of the Great Intelligence in The Snowmen (and check the sly reference to The Abominable Snowmen in the title) is the perfect way to bring back a returning villain like that. Looking back at those two Troughton stories, they were thought of as Yeti stories, and in the JNT/Levine image factory the Yeti were the primary villains because they were the scary monsters who got the most screen time. But really, the Yeti were just foot soldiers, and those were Great Intelligence stories. Moffat brought it back properly because he knew who the real villain was. He saw past the catalogue of facts to what was really happening.

      One can take it as a wonderful antidote to The Eight Doctors. The book failed because it was an empty catalogue of past continuity with a Doctor whose character was still an empty shell. And after filling himself with a catalogue of facts about his past, he's still an empty shell. Because a character isn't just a list of past events, but an active movement, memory serving present action and development.

      I've been reading some Bergson lately, and this is the idea of his that makes the most sense to me. Who knew it would become so useful to Doctor Who criticism?

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    12. And another thing!

      I take exception to the idea that the entire classic series after Logopolis was a waste. Increasingly flawed through 1982-6, yes, but a period of unrealized potential. Davison had the acting chops to do a great performance, and his best stories (Kinda, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead, Enlightenment, Awakening, Frontios, Planet of Fire, Androzani) show his talent. The better scripts of the Big Finish audios let Davison do Doctor Who stories that put his talent to its full use.

      The concept behind his two companion teams of introducing drama and conflict to the dynamics of the TARDIS crew was brilliant. But in the actual writing, that drama never got above the level of sniping because the writers continued to focus on the adventure/monster plots as the main points of the stories, instead of exploring the character drama. But the potential for greatness was there, just as Phil described openly in the Terminus essay.

      Some of the Davies era approaches played into that dynamic, using a focus on the domestic and family lives of the companions to introduce character conflict into the TARDIS crew. But only with the more languid pace of the novels could the Virgin line explore actual, detailed, slow-burning character conflict among the regulars. That, I think, was a serious loss when we move to the approach of the EDA line that streamlines the storytelling to focus on simpler monster/action narratives, at least until Lawrence Miles gets involved. And I still don't understand what goes on when Paul Magrs shows up.

      I really think Tom and I are going to become regular sparring partners as we get closer to the Davies era (not ear, as in my previous typo).

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    13. I generally like Moffat's run so far, although he's not well suited to longer arcs, as his best stories are the ones that he re-wrote several times to line everything up just so.

      With his on-going arcs, it's just kind of hard not to notice him tossing more and more stuff in with the hope that it'll all work out at the end. And predictably enough, there's big gaping holes in the logic at the other end, as happens every time someone uses that approach (Lost, Battlestar Galactica, etc.)

      The biggest problem with the Moffat Era is that he doesn't have someone who fills the same niche he filled during the RTD Era, where his stories were often the high-light of the year. Instead, Moffat is off writing character introductions and the arc stories so we don't get this magical little story in the middle every year. All the regular writers are a bit inconsistent.

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    14. To be fair, though, Neil Gaiman and (surprisingly) Tom MacRae have been shaping up to be the Moffat Era's Moffats... I'm eager to see what they've got to offer this next half-season. :-)

      "I really think Tom and I are going to become regular sparring partners as we get closer to the Davies era"

      Oh, I do hope so... :-D

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    15. Both of those gentlemen have delivered one excellent episode. It's not that there aren't high-lights, several people have delivered Moffat Level Gold... but no one that just did it every year like clock-work. Moffat was something genuinely special during the RTD years.

      I think the closest Moffat has to a Go-To Guy is Gareth Roberts who can always be counted on to deliver a funny, reasonably good episode every year. But he's not in the same league.

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    16. "I take exception to the idea that the entire classic series after Logopolis was a waste.... Davison had the acting chops to do a great performance, and his best stories (Kinda, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead, Enlightenment, Awakening, Frontios, Planet of Fire, Androzani) show his talent."

      I found Bailey's work contrived, sterile and clunky. Grimwade's was rather meandering as though running out the clock until characters conveniently walk into the fray i.e. the two Brigs meeting.

      Enlightenment is a masterpiece let down by the larger arc rendering it episodic and spoiling its standalone power. Caves is brilliant, but a part of me feels that unlike Genesis of the Daleks or City of Death, the show would be no less complete without it. The Davison era would feel incomplete without it, but only because the era was such a regression. Maybe the show already was 'complete' by City of Death.

      Yes there's good 80's stories where the show briefly seemed never better, before proving to be a freak anomaly as normal service resumes. But it's cancelled out by the overwhelmingly awful, ugly anti-quality. Stories corrosive to the show, its hero and mission statement.

      A casual viewer who turns their nose up at Death to the Daleks was probably never going to be a fan anyway. Someone put off by Warriors of the Deep might have potentially become a fan with the inclination to appreciate its admirable hero, but were put off by a betrayal of all that.

      Even Caves, where the noble Doctor faces twisted, snidey humans who continually dishonourably stab him in the back, could be subverted by adding 'before he could do them all dirty first, like he did 5 stories ago'.

      Davison's acting strengths, and Colin's, made this worse by making such reprehensible characterisation of the Doctor as a liability all the more sincere and defining. The era's moral malaise actively turns even the show's virtues against it.

      "The concept behind his two companion teams of introducing drama and conflict to the dynamics of the TARDIS crew was brilliant. But in the actual writing, that drama never got above the level of sniping"

      The sniping was so ugly and unpleasant. Frontier in Space and Genesis of the Daleks had valued kindness, respect and open-mindedness. Now we got appalling, disrespectful behavior and dysfunctional socialising of how boys and girls must be antagonistic to each other.

      And amidst Kinda and Four To Doomsday's weird, far-out plots and visuals, it's Adric and Tegan verbally attacking each other out the blue that beg what's going on and why are we watching this?

      Doctor Who's prior idealism, about learning, growth, betterment and human endeavour, was now akin to watching reckless misbehaving kids ignoring everyone who tells them to stop, or to be sensible and just carrying on until someone gets hurt, and sometimes ending with their obstinate senseless recklessness getting everyone killed.

      JNT got rid of Romana for this, and somehow thought this represented progress. I doubt there was an intent at anything worthy here. It just smacks of JNT burdening the era with extra characters, believing more cast additions will generate audience interest.

      Keeper of Traken could have been a template for a new UNIT family set-up. If JNT wanted to reuse Sarah Sutton and Anthony Ainley, surely it would make sense to make Traken a guest star planet with the Doctor making occasional return visits to Tremas and Nyssa, rather than dumping Nyssa on the Doctor as another companion.

      And coupled with the neutered Doctor, and old monsters being brought back in overwhelming force, it led to the show feeling suddenly out of balance, with the Doctor feeling marginalised and swamped. The very balance that made him the hero he was is lost. It's only come Revelation of the Daleks and the Trial season that it begins to feel back in balance again.

      Basically I feel this all hints how the show and its fan loyalty in the 80's was being kept going almost out of spite alone.

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    17. I generally enjoyed "The Snowmen" and found it among the most agreeable of the Christmas specials, which is an extremely low bar. Clara being yet another clever, "feisty," beautiful twentysomething apparently-contemporary white woman is a drag, but what are you going to do? If she's going to be a mash-up of Amy and River Song, at least she's good at the job. The Sherlock Holmes references were awkward and pointless (I liked the Mary Poppins bits, though) and the plot was vacuous nonsense even by Christmas special standards, but there were so many good moments along the way that I forgave it.

      More here, if anyone cares: http://encyclops.com/the-snowmen/

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  12. I simply must share an old story about 'The Eight Doctors'. I was on a mailing list with quite a few Who fans and not a few writers, and Jon Blum (who had just moved to Australia to marry Kate Orman a few months prior, and was working on 'Unnatural History', IIRC) posted, "Could someone look up (continuity detail I don't remember) in 'The Eight Doctors'? I'd check myself, but my copy is currently on a steamer trunk floating somewhere in the vicinity of the Panama Canal."

    To which another poster responded, "How involved. I simply burnt mine."

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    1. Ah, that explains why you were Tuckerized in Vampire Science. I was wondering about that.

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  13. I don't know there's a great mystery as to why TED turned out like it did - Terrance's brief was probably to do a potted history of Doctor Who, a kind of dramatised version of the highlights of the programme guide, and so he decided to take a tour of places that either were significant in the history of the character, or that he knew well. Sam's absence for the main body of the book was probably because they didn't know whether they'd get the rights to use Grace or not - ISTR Vamp Sci had her in the first draft. Bookending the novel with a section that focusses on the new girl was probably a reasonable save, as was linking her to Coal Hill School, thus giving this rudderless Doctor an anchor in the dead centre of the show that he can throw down (I kinda like making Totter's Lane a personal motif for the Eight Doctor, with the thematic emphasis on a fresh start and a return to an earlier, less complex figure - neither of which I thought were necessary or desirable, but if they're going to be done... this probably leads to Interference being my favourite EDA). Fake Ian and Fake Barbara are terrible, but I quite like Sam. She's a different character in every book, though.

    Ultimately, the problem, despite people like Paul Cornell lauding Dicks' classical virtues and solid storytelling instincts, is that the guy doesn't know how to write prose (THERE, I SAID IT). Every other line is "tell not show", which is understandable in some of the visits to the past, but is also there when it has no reason to be (e.g. Sam's athleticism). It reads more like a synopsis than a novel. Give the same basic brief to someone like Cornell, or Gareth Roberts, or Lance Parkin, and you'll get something that works nicely at least, and possibly something that finds things totemic and magical on the journey.

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    1. At least in the first ten, Sam strikes me as what Rose would have been had she existed in the Classic Series. Young woman, athletic, not particularly bright or ambitious (i.e. a normal girl), kind of fancies the Doctor... okay, make sure the writers mention at least one of those things in every story and we have a companion.

      Even the stuff with Dark Sam and her guilt over killing an alien feel completely divorced from the character on the page. They just give her a bit of angst for a few pages, completely unrelated to anything going on in the story, and that's it. Even in Alien Bodies, it never felt like Lawrence Miles really cared at all about the character and her dark origin was just some bit of grist to toss in there in hopes that it turned into a pearl somewhere down the line.

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    2. It seems to me that deliberately conceiving Sam as a walking Grange Hill stereotype could have been a masterstroke, since every decent British writer ought to be able to hit that on the nose with minimal effort, thus avoiding the problem that even the best novel companions often take a few books to settle down to some consistency. Problem is, the ex-Virgin writers were an uppity bunch, and weren't about to write a stereotype without a fight, so they end up each giving us a version of what they think the character should have been, so she ends up as inconsistent as any of them, at just the point when it was most dangerous. Thinking about it, Miles comes out best here, since of the first half dozen or so, he seems to be the only one writing Sam how he thinks Terrance would have wanted her written. In that sense, Dark Sam seems less like an attempt to graft more characterisation onto her and more just a way for Miles to sufficiently subdue the part of his own brain that hates stereotypes.

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    3. See, I disagree on Dicks's prose. Usually, terrible books are slogs; this one, I zipped through at high speed. It moved fast and felt light even in the most WTF bits.

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    4. Pete, that's pretty much what happened with Fitz (my favourite of all the novel companions BTW - yes, even over Benny), he was drawn in initially broad stokes and every writer was able to hit that, as you say, on the nose.

      It still amazes me how bad Sam was and how she hobbled the early run of the EDAs (and entirely played in to the hands of the "they-shouldn't-have-taken-it-from-Virgin" crowd). And even though this book is horrible, by four books later (Genocide) they've already got one that pretty much knocks it out of the park (sadly, Vampire Science and The Bodysnatchers are the only two EDAs I've not read so I can't comment on them). And by book 6 (Alien Bodies) they've got as strong a novel as there is in any Who line.

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  14. Not owning or having otherwise read The Eight Doctors, I haven't had much to say; but it occurs to me that this is a valid place at which to make a general complaint about the change from the Virgin to the BBC books.

    They changed the font size.

    Specifically, they changed it from one which is comfortable for my old eyes to read, to one which is an effort. What's more, they haven't fitted in any more lines per page because they've added more whitespace, so they've lost half the benefit of doing so! They could have gone for something in between if they wanted to save on paper. Hmph.

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    1. Agreed. I don't know how I read as many of those things as I did as a teenager without going blind. Of course, these days, I can take refuge in illegally downloaded PDFs, which is how I read The Eight Doctors. The PDF I have is rather poorly proofread, full of OCR errors that added an additional layer of surrealism to the proceedings. The Time Lords were constantly talking into "corn-links" (I'm sure Lawrence Miles could come up with a perfectly good magickal explanation for Time Lords speaking into ears of corn), and the Doctor at one point metamorphoses into a "Tune Lord." These typos add to the sort of off-brand, bootleg charm this book has at its best. It is, as far as I'm concerned, the ideal way to experience this particular story.

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    2. I remember it being mentioned somewhere at the time (either an issue of DWM or perhaps even rec.arts.drwho) that BBC Books made it a point that each book was the same physical dimensions on the shelf. Which, considering that the length guidelines were clearly never that strict, meant that they would just adjust the font size from book to book in order to fit everything on the same number of pages. So one month you could have a book that was practically large-type (Steve Lyons's "The Witch Hunters" springs to mind) while the next you'd need a magnifying glass to read (Lawrence Miles's "The Adventuress of Henrietta Street").

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  15. I do have some mental health issues, but seem fairly even-keeled, and recall being so in 1996. I wonder what on Earth possessed me to award "Human Nature" 3/10. Was this the "Game of the Year" where I'd been asked to assess whether each book was better or worse than it's predecessor? That's such a broad metric as to be meaningless, and becomes positively misleading when successive increments and decrements are carried forward. I did enjoy almost all of "The EIght Doctors", but recall taking the piss out of it a bit a few months later when it was joined by "War of The Daleks". This may be the first time I have posted here. Your wit and rigour make me wilt with shame at the shallow pieces I used to get away with. D.

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