Monday, January 21, 2013

If There Were Stars Up There, We'd Be Able to See Them, Wouldn't We? (Unnatural History)


I’ll Explain Later

No, really. I will. But I’m traveling this weekend and forgot to bring the stuff I need to write this section.

——
It’s June of 1999. Shanks and Bigfoot are at number one with “Sweet Like Chocolate.” I have zero idea what this means. It’s overtaken a week later by Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” which is not by Kurt Vonnegut. Like a good novelty record it goes down after a week and S Club 7’s “Bring It All Back” takes over, then Vengaboys’ “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” So yes. Shania Twai, Sixpence None the Richer, Jamiroquai, Boyzone, Backstreet Boys, Geri Halliwell, The Chemical Brothers, Madonna, Britney Spears, and *Nsync also chart. Sadly the world fails to end six months after this trainwreck.

Since we left things off, Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest in the UK, much to Margaret Thatcher’s consternation. Hugo Ch├ívez was elected President of Venezuela. The euro was established, and there was a leap second. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were extradicted to the UK over the Pan Am 103 bombing. TV presenter Jill Dando was murdered outside her home in Fulham. And Manchester United win the Champions League as part of their treble-winning season. While this month, Napster debuts, George W. Bush declares that he’ll seek the Republican nomination for the presidency. And Thabo Mbeki is elected President of South Africa.

While in books, Kate Orman and Jon Blum’s Unnatural History. So, since she’ll be on her way out of the books as of the end of the month, we should probably talk a bit about Sam, this book being all about her. She is in many ways a legacy of the tortured birth of the Eighth Doctor Adventures. We’ve talked about how this left the Eighth Doctor himself as a hazily defined character subject to the whims of the writers. That, at least, began to settle out over time, with a reasonably consistent vision of him as a particularly energetic and passionate Doctor cropping up often enough to at least claim that there is a characterization, if not often enough to constitute a consistent one. But there was a second problem in all of this: the latest iteration of the Problem of Susan.

Sam Jones was consciously designed as the most generic companion imaginable. To the point of letting Terrance Dicks draw her up. The last time Terrance Dicks did this, however, someone failed to get the memo and inadvertently cast Iris Wildthyme as the companion, so that attempt at genericness went out the window. This time there are no actresses to enliven proceedings, and so over time Sam Jones has slumped into being the single blandest and most generic companion it is possible to imagine.

This is a problem by any measure. I’m not one for the view that the companion is the “point of view” character or whatever, but it remains the case that the companion is useful for having interesting reactions to things that advance the plot or provide unusual perspectives on it. These don’t have to be the audience’s perspectives, but they have to be non-standard ones. The Doctor, being mercurial, brings upheaval to any situation, but he also is able to adapt and fit into almost any situation. The companion’s job is to not quite adapt. In short, the companion can be anything but a standard issue sci-fi character, including, as we’ve seen, a somewhat snobbish Time Lady, a savage, or a pair of futuristic cops.

Unfortunately, Sam falls afoul of this. By 1997 the role of the companion had itself become a standard sci-fi character, at least in the context of Doctor Who. And so Sam, who’s defined purely as a Doctor Who companion, becomes the most boring thing imaginable. She’s outright unable to fulfill any interesting plot duties at all because her only character traits are that she does exactly what is expected of her. In this regard she’s essentially indistinguishable from a peril monkey. It’s just that modern tastes have evolved, so there’s less peril. I’d call her a pluck monkey, but it just sounds obscene.

Needless to say, Orman and Blum rebelled against this. Actually, it was Miles who started it, back in Alien Bodies, by establishing that Sam has two sets of biodata, and that there was an alternate version of her that should have been. But Orman and Blum end up being the ones to actually explore the concept. Mind you, it’s a slender concept. The idea is that exposure to the Doctor changed Sam’s biodata so that instead of what she should have been - an occasional drug user video store clerk with no meaningful prospects - she’s the perfect companion for him. The problem, and for a novel that’s meant to focus primarily on “Dark Sam” it’s a big problem, is that Dark Sam is defined as an uninteresting person who could be something special but isn’t. So while there’s an interesting critique of Sam in general there, it’s not a critique that fixes the character as such. Equally, there was no way that New Adventurish writers like Orman and Blum weren’t going to make the critique.

Ah, yes. The New Adventures. Because even here, two years into the novel line, their shadow hangs over everything. Especially when you’re on an Orman/Blum book. The most New Adventurish thing about Orman and Blum is that they want the Doctor to be at least partially unreliable. With the Seventh this was straightforward, since the character had been being set up as at least partially unreliable since Remembrance of the Daleks. But with the Eighth designed, in books at least, as a reaction against the Seventh this was trickier, since that was in fact a move almost consciously designed to stop people from doing Virgin-style novels, which is to say, to stop Kate Orman from being Kate Orman. They then loused it up a bit by promptly hiring Kate Orman to write for them. So Orman and Blum try very hard to develop a way to make the Eighth Doctor an unreliable figure.

Contrary to Miles’s insistence that they wrote the Eighth Doctor in such a way as to be obviously missing the Seventh, Orman and Blum do a credible job of this that is based firmly on the Eighth Doctor as a character. Indeed, there’s something a bit absurd about the accusation, given that Orman and Blum have put pretty serious work into developing the Eighth Doctor as a character. And they have a way to make him work as an unreliable and thus scary character. The key passage is the one in which Faction Paradox considers the Eighth Doctor: “this one was so close to being ideal for them… the joy with which he upset the established orders, his desire to leave his past behind, all fitted their aims precisely. Even so, he wasn’t ready to embrace the glory of Paradox; he was less interested in the beauty of the pattern, than in that of the one little girl’s life contained within.” It’s quite sharp, turning the way in which the Eighth Doctor is a reaction against the Seventh into a different kind of monstrosity. And bound up in it are the old frockish concerns; the thing that keeps the Doctor from falling to Faction Paradox is the fact that he’s more invested in the individual than he is in the grand scheme of things.

But, of course, there’s a perpetual hedge against this. Because the Doctor is, in practice, all too willing to sacrifice “Dark Sam” to bring back his Sam, with no attentiveness to the fact that this involves killing a real person. There’s a hubris here that sets the Doctor up for a tragic fall. And it’s substantive. The Seventh believed he knew better than everyone. The Eighth has what may well be a far more dangerous belief: that he can’t possibly make a mistake. Even within this book that proves disastrous, as he plays right into Faction Paradox’s hands through nothing more than his own belief that he won’t. And the only thing that takes the edge off of it is Dark Sam’s notes to Blonde Sam, in which she exhorts her not to go back to her ordinary life, proclaiming that “THERE IS MORE OUT THERE. If [the Doctor’s] magic’s good for anything, that’s it.”

There’s what is, if not a problem, at least an interesting wrinkle underlying all of this. The evidence of unreliability on the part of the Eighth Doctor is that he’s ideal for Faction Paradox. But this presupposes that Faction Paradox are villains. To be fair, Orman and Blum clearly do, giving the Doctor some stinging rebukes of their monstrous nature and the boy who serves them. But Miles, it is safe to say, has a somewhat subtler view on his own creation. One of the things he stresses about Faction Paradox is their similarity to voodoo, specifically the use of iconography designed to horrify people. But this is distinct from them actually being horrifying. In fact, Miles takes a relatively neutral view on the Paradox, save perhaps the general sense that they’re more interesting than either the Time Lords or the Enemy. Indeed, one of his eventual criticisms of The Ancestor Cell is that after having written three books in which Faction Paradox never actually kills anyone or does anything blatantly and horrifically evil they just made them into generic villains.

And the seeds of that are in Unnatural History, where Orman and Blum clearly think that Faction Paradox are black-hatted moustache-twirlers, albeit clever ones. Whereas Miles strenuously disagrees, and was in fact rather sharply critical of the use of them in Unnatural History, complaining that “the group we see in Unnatural History, it might as well just be a generic sinister-society-working-behind-the-scenes.” Which is fair enough when it comes to Unnatural History - Orman and Blum do just treat Faction Paradox as generic baddies whose flavor of bad is paradox, placing them adjacent to Griffin the Collector, also a fairly generic baddie, but one who wants to eliminate all ambiguity from the universe. So one gets the sense that they’re trying to thread some sort of a needle between Ian Levine and Paul Magrs.

Why one would do that is an open question. And to some extent we have to take Miles’s larger critique of Orman and Blum (with whom it can safely be said he does not get on at this point) seriously. The bulk of this critique, to use Miles’s own words, is that her (he does focus mostly on Orman, leaving Blum out of it) books are “almost suggesting that the universe really is on the side of the late-twentieth-century liberal.” The bulk of this criticism stems from his hatred of Walking to Babylon, a book we didn’t cover and I haven’t read, but which, in his telling (and Lars Pearson’s in I Who 2) all of the characters, including historical ones, act like they’re from the present day with no attention given to material history.

There’s a case for and against here. Against is that whatever the flaws of Walking to Babylon, Miles’s accusation just doesn’t hold up against the larger arc of Orman’s work, which has included some very historically sharp criticism that’s attentive to historical perspectives. Beyond that, the perspective Miles accuses her of is precisely what she treats as the fundamental horror of the Doctor, at least in the New Adventures. There the prospect of getting swept into the arc of history with the Doctor was overtly horrifying. Perhaps Walking to Babylon really was a bum note in Orman’s career, but the idea that Orman is fond of uncritically allowing a teleological view of history to steamroll everything in its path just doesn’t stand up.

Admittedly she’s flipped things - now it’s the Doctor’s rejection of structure and overconfident larking around that’s dangerous, not the Doctor’s belief that he knows how history should be written. So now instead of the wheel of history it’s the absence of the wheel - the possibility of a mad, unstructured, and paradoxical world. But in the end Orman’s investment is the same: the individual level on which the world is experienced. Far from being, as Miles accuses her of being, fundamentally in favor of a universal consensus and against individualism, Orman is fundamentally a champion of the individual. Her entire view collapses back to the feminist maxim that the personal is political, which makes sense given that the first thing we noticed about her is that she came out of feminist fandom.

But there’s something of a point lurking underneath Miles’s objections as well, and it’s something that’s been kicking around ever since Blood Harvest or so. There we praised Dicks because, for all the appallingly reactionary undercurrents of his politics, he was at least capable of viewing the world with nuance. But here, perhaps, it is time to turn that around. Note that, in making the transition from the Seventh to the Eighth Doctors Orman has simply flipped the ideology we view the individual in contrast to. Instead of the totalizing master narrative of history there’s the totalizing anarchy of paradox. But this begins to position the individual’s valued existence as nothing more than an endlessly compromising midpoint. It’s the classic and inevitably irritating perspective of the eternal moderate who believes that a position is inherently better if it’s an ideological compromise.

And in many ways this manifests in the basic dynamic that animates Orman - the fact that on the one hand she unambiguously and excessively loves Doctor Who and on the other hand refuses to do Doctor Who any way other than by soaking the Doctor in moral ambiguity. Because this is, for better or for worse, the default mode of social justice fandom: love the hell out of something while also ripping into it for its political failings. Which I’m not exactly going to sell up the river, since it’s a good, reliable model that allows one to function in a mass media culture while still retaining an ounce of progressive politics. But equally, why should we be able to? Isn’t this just how the anesthetizing nature of mass culture works in the first place?

Which is to say that while I’m not going to throw Orman and Blum under the bus suddenly after four months of near-constant praise, Miles has at least the general shape of a point here. There is a tacit embrace of the status quo underneath all the “all hail the tea and a nice warm bath” frockery. It comes perilously close to Debord’s depiction of the spectacle: what appears is good, and what is good appears. It’s not that the viewpoint is without any progressivism or belief in the possibility of social improvement. It’s not. But it fundamentally rejects the possibility of radical change. In that regard, while it might not require rejection, it at least requires opposition: an alternative.

Which brings us rather neatly around to Lawrence Miles. Which we’ll come back to on Wednesday. Well, sort of. But before that, let’s pause, as this is, in fact, the last time we’re going to deal with Kate Orman and Jon Blum on this blog. And while we’re ending on a bit of a down note with them that segues into future points, we ought also acknowledge that they are among the most important writers of the 1990s - indeed, probably the single most important Doctor Who writer of the 1990s not to have written for the new series. We’re chronicling a point in Doctor Who’s history where the concerns of feminist fandom and social justice heavily inform Doctor Who, and, in the wake of Buffy, one where those concerns heavily inform all genre television. Kate Orman was the first person to bring those concerns to Doctor Who. She did it extraordinarily well, and laid a groundwork that other writers, including Russell T Davies, built on. And she deserves a very fond and applause-filled farewell as we leave her in Doctor Who’s history.

20 comments:

  1. I noted in the Alien Bodies comments that one of the things which intrigued me was the Dark Sam engineering idea, so it's rather amusing that the next book I actually get through is the one that deals with it. And as I've only read three Sam stories in total, she hasn't come across as bland! Selectivity changes the observed phenomenon.

    This is the first book I've bought specifically because I wanted to read it before you got to this point in the blog - there are a couple more coming up. My selection was based partly on rankings (Shannon Sullivan's and the Gallifrey Base NDRs) but mostly on price and availability. And that means I'm dipping even more shallowly into the EDAs than the Eruditorum. And I'm realising what an effect that has on my experience of the era. Dark Sam was one example; another is the focus on San Francisco, with the TVM, Vampire Science and now this all set there. Of course, in actuality this was spread over three years, but to me it seems even more repetitive than the London-based stories of 2005.

    And speaking of the new series, what this reminds me of more than anything is the Cardiff Rift - just a Rift recognised by the public.

    Oops, got to dash - maybe more later. In case I don't get back, cheerio to Kate Orman, and thanks for some great stories!

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  2. I would say Sam is Rose Tyler without a show-runner to champion her. She's young, plucky, athletic, has no real skills or ambition, and eventually falls for the Doctor. She's a lump of clay to be molded by her time with the Doctor.

    And the writers being given no particular plan as to how to develop her (and Who having grown past the point where the Companion can remain the exact same character until the actor eventually leaves out of boredom), just did the easiest thing in the world: torture her.

    There's a cynicism at play in the EDAs which wasn't present in the NAs. Perhaps this is due to the authors getting up a bit in age, but the idealism of Sam seems to be something they instinctively want to punish rather than temper with a light dose of reality. In one of my recent reads (Longest Day), she's given the choice of letting everyone die or to savagely beat two men to death... she picks the secret third option, beating herself up.

    And this is by no means an isolated event. Her desire to see the best in people and do the right thing has a tendency to blow up in her face. As if the writers are saying "there is no hope, now that our beloved manipulative troll-man is gone".

    Which I think speaks to the deeper problem with the EDAs. The writers simply do not want to write about a Doctor whose most remarkable feature is his gentleness and enthusiasm. Something like Vampire Science manages to pull it off, but only by reminding us how at every turn how the Seventh Doctor would never have done this.

    I thought my most recent read, Legacy of the Daleks, was on the verge of pulling off the trick, with McGann's Doctor instantly getting through the defenses of a deeply cynical woman and helping to transform her... but the ending there also falls into the trap of punishing idealism. The Doctor fails to save his grand-daughter's husband and we're robbed of an "Earthly Child" bonding between the two characters.

    Which all comes as a pretty big shock to me, as I was introduced to the character via the Big Finish audio plays, where they seem to take the path that there is a price to pay for his idealism, but one that he gladly pays. Even when the story is about beating him down, its the 8th Doctor's essential goodness that eventually elevates him again. The novels seem almost embarrassed, slapping him reality over and over, asking him why he's not their Doctor.

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  3. probably the single most important Doctor Who writer of the 1990s not to have written for the new series

    Apologies for asking a dumb question, but does anyone know why this is? It's not like the new series has been otherwise shy about mining the novels for material and personnel; Orman's absence is pretty striking.

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    1. I suspect it's as simple as Orman not having any TV credentials (of the five writers who wrote anything for the Virgin/BBC novels and later got a TV gig, Moffatt, Davies, Cornell and Gareth Roberts all had long lists of TV credits, and Rob Shearman had at least written for "Born and Bred").

      It may simply be a case that she doesn't want to write for TV enough to learn to write on something the TV market would buy while Doctor Who was off the air - the gigs for Emmerdale, Coronation Street or Casualty that served as training grounds for a lot of New Adventures/8th Doctor adventures writers. Writing for the Australian equivalent (Neighbours, Home and Away etc) may simply be not what she wants to do.

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    2. Lack of TV cred is the big factor, yes. But I'll be a bit impolite and also suggest that IMO Orman's solo writing >> her writing with Blum, and perhaps the fact they're a package deal now is resulting in some less-than-inspired treatments/pitches.

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    3. I don't think that's fair. First of all, Jon Blum is actually quite a good writer. His solo short stories from the various Short Trips collections were highlights, and his lone Big Finish audio, The Fearmonger, was one of their better early offerings.

      It also doesn't strike me as fair because I see no indication that there's any "package deal" in the first place. Their writing collaboration basically ends with this book, which was released six years before the new series arrived. Kate Orman went on to write two more solo books (Blue Box and Year of Intelligent Tigers), and the lone major collaborative work after this is a Telos novella. They both maintain careers independently, and both are talented in their own right: neither carries the other.

      Kate Orman, simply puts, hasn't shown much inclination towards writing for television. There's also the fact that, unlike the other novelists-turned-scriptwriters to work for the new series, she's not British.

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    4. It is, I believe, entirely her lack of television experience. From what I understand even Rob Shearman was a tough sell for the BBC. Someone with no television experience simply is not eligible to write for Doctor Who. Which makes sense, as a perusal of Lawrence Miles's completely unfilmable proposed script demonstrates.

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    5. "Someone with no television experience simply is not eligible to write for Doctor Who."

      Erm... I think Andrew Smith would disagree with you, as would Steve Gallagher, John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, Eric Saward (unfortunately), Ben Aaronovitch, Graeme Curry, Kevin Clarke, Marc Platt, Rona Munro, and Victor Pemberton.

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    6. I am, of course, talking about the new series with that quote. And the BBC is reasonable, I think, in deciding that maybe it shouldn't hand over the keys to its expensive-to-make flagship drama to someone who hasn't proven themselves on something a little more low-rish first. This was, to say the least, not a problem with the classic series, where Doctor Who was instead the low-rent show where writers broke in instead of one of the jewels of the BBC.

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    7. Well, out of the eleven writers I listed, six of them wrote stories you praised to the skies, so... perhaps that decision wasn't as rewarding on return as it might've been -- but, then again, the new series did give us Stephen Greenhorn, Stephen Thompson, Helen Raynor, and Matthew Graham, so... hmmm.

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    8. Yeah, it worked great for the classic series. But the classic series wasn't spending a million quid every hour.

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    9. I've asked Kate, and she didn't want to write for TV. She doesn't like scriptwriting; she's very invested in the control which she has over the words in a novel or short story.

      It's that simple.

      Jon Blum wouldn't mind writing a script, but he wasn't invited.

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  4. Interesting point on the embrace of the status quo. I find myself wanting to give moderation itself moderation; I don't believe in the usefulness of radical action, but I also gotta say that ideological compromise is kinda shit. But, of course, this also includes the compromises people make for their ideology - ignoring real human experiences in pursuit of a political master narrative.

    What's the solution to this? Heck if I know. Personally, I go for continuous pressure on people's perception and expectations of society.

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  5. I'm about 30% (according to Kindle) of the way through The Year of Intelligent Tigers. It's really quite excellent so far, and really pushes the Eighth Doctor characterization you're talking to into the forefront. Perhaps because he's not on television, he can get away with losing himself in what appear to be the small things, with becoming attached to people who aren't his companions while said companions are in danger, with succumbing as entirely as possible to passion. I haven't read many of the novels, but this is unlike any of the novels I have read or any other Doctor Who story I've ever encountered.

    At the same time, the planet and culture it takes place on and in is almost comical in its groovy "late-twentieth-century liberal" paradise. There's no poverty! Everybody plays music and goes to each other's concerts! Check out the awesome library! We could stay here for months and months!

    Of course, I imagine that there's going to be some payoff to this, some snake in Eden, and that it's not just Kate Orman's idea of bohemian heaven as a self-serving backdrop. But even if there isn't, it's simultaneously one of the freshest-seeming alien planets I've ever encountered in Doctor Who, and one of the most risible if you're in the mood to ris.

    I'm really starting to like the Eighth Doctor finally, though, and yes, hats off to Orman for making that happen. Maybe if I see enough pictures of him without the Austrian composer's wig (is that where the inspiration for this world came from?) I might form a different impression of him, but for now this is the one that lingers.

    The Doctor, being mercurial, brings upheaval to any situation, but he also is able to adapt and fit into almost any situation. The companion’s job is to not quite adapt.

    I love this.

    Because this is, for better or for worse, the default mode of social justice fandom: love the hell out of something while also ripping into it for its political failings.

    I love this too. Not the act of doing it (though I'm often guilty, especially if you open the door for more than just politics), but the apt description.

    Also, I just finished watching The War Games. I thought you'd end up talking in your excellent essay about the striking allegory (too obvious?), but you went in a slightly different direction, a take on the Second Doctor I'd never read before. Bravo.

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  6. I'm rather surprised, Phil, that you didn't choose to talk more about how this book was received, at least among certain segments of fandom. It seems to dovetail nicely with your recent points concerning the TV movie and War of the Daleks. In short, I was active in online fandom when Unnatural History was released, and it was controversial, to say the least. The main antagonist, Griffin, was read as an attack on the trad/anorak fanbase, and Orman and Blum went through a lot of criticism on rec.arts.drwho for it, as I seem to recall. It was a reasonable point, I suppose, but I imagine a lot of the strength of the reaction had more to do with the feeling that the fan base was (finally) shifting away from the old-school, Ian Levine-style continuity obsessive. There had long been the "trad"/"rad" divide between stories and authors, but this wa one of the first books I remember reading that actually seemed to be addressing that distinction head on.

    Of course, I loved it to bits. I still do, actually: it's my favorite of Orman and Blum's books, and one of the defining stories for the eighth Doctor, IMO. Most of the commonly-cited criticisms fall flat for me. In particular, the complaints that "dark Sam" was "boring," all of which seemed to proceed from the basic idea that she was ever intended as a replacement for "blonde Sam." The fact that she wouldn't have worked as a regular companion was the point, I thought: she was someone who would never have traveled with the Doctor or Fitz of her volition. She was brought into an adventure that she was entirely unequipped to deal with, and sticks out like a sore thumb, basically doing all of the things that a companion traditionally doesn't do (like, for instance, sleeping with Fitz). And she was what the book so successful, IMO, because she provided the perspective of a true outsider.

    The reason that's so important, for this book in particular, is because of the dynamic you hint at here. There are three basic forces at work. On one hand, you have Faction Paradox, who are chaotic by nature. On the other, you have Griffin, who is obsessed with order. Both of them, however, are totally unconcerned with the individual. The Doctor sits between them, and is distinguished, as you suggest, by his care for human life. But his inability to acknowledge "dark Sam" as a person with her own past and identity muddies that position considerably. The Doctor is just about as uncaring towards her, and just about as dangerous, as everyone else. He's not playing the part of the hero. At best, he's just the least bad alternative.

    This is also why I think Lawrence Miles's criticism of the book misses the mark. I don't think Orman and Blum portray Faction Paradox as "mustache twirlers," honestly. The boy is single-minded and callous, but not uniquely so. He has his own agenda, just like Griffin, and just like the Doctor. That he appears evil is more of a result of what's at stake in the story. In that regard, I think Unnatural History is a superb opening salvo for the next year or so of novels, where the sort of destructive manipulation we see Sam go through here is experienced by the whole TARDIS crew, next with Fitz (in Miles's own Interference), and later with Compassion in the novels from The Shadows of Avalon through The Ancestor Cell. This is unabashedly my favorite period of the EDAs (though I'm not hugely fond of how The Ancestor Cell attempts to wrap it all up), and the only point at which I feel the range comes close to the sort of ambition and achievement that marked the best of the Virgin New Adventures.

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    1. There's some other wonderful subversions in the book. The Doctor describes all the weird alien stuff going on in San Francisco. Fitz asks, "So we're here to stop it, right?" The Doctor says, "Of course not!" Their agenda is simply to prevent the place from being blown up by the Kraken.

      The Doctor's biodata (biodata being a weird recurring theme of the BBC Books) is scattered around San Francisco. They never find out why -- nor does the Doctor seem to really care!

      Griffen's background is not explained nor are the source of his powers. We just deal with him as he is.

      It's an aggressively *non-explanatory* book in reaction to a many-years-long fan trend to try to close all the loopholes and explain all the oddities. It celebrates the weirdness. This is really good.

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  7. "The Doctor, being mercurial, brings upheaval to any situation, but he also is able to adapt and fit into almost any situation. The companion’s job is to not quite adapt."

    In a way, I feel as if this gets to the heart of the companion's role in Doctor Who, but also why the companion will always be inescapably problematic. Insofar as the companion is never quite comfortable with the diversity of the worlds she moves in, she will always be dependent during her travels in some way on the Doctor. Yes, she's invited along and is in the position of a friend and conscience to the Time Lord, but the TARDIS is still his ship, and her mal-adaptations will eventually get her into trouble from which the Doctor has to rescue her.

    The Doctor will always be in a superior position to his companions, no matter how the emotional relationship between them (especially in the new series, where Davies and Moffatt have focussed at times on how much the Doctor can learn from his companions, just as he did from Barbara Wright). So a companion's measure of success, given this context, is how much and by what means the character overcomes that inevitable imbalance of power.

    Barbara, Ian, and Vicki were successes because they made the Doctor part of their team, and Hartnell's Doctor never quite had the worldly power to measure up to his sometimes superior attitude to people. Levelling the field through attuning the Doctor to their personality is how Sarah Jane and Romana succeeded too. I'd say the same goes for Rose and Donna in the Davies era; Martha, in my view, never quite got out of the shackles of dependency, as so much of her character arc was dominated by unrequited attraction.

    Jo Grant is a weird case, where she was actively more mercurial and weird than the Doctor she worked with. What I loved about seeing her with Matt Smith in Death of the Doctor was watching the sheer weirdness of their personalities spark from each other. I think River in her best moments works this way too, being strangers and less predictable than the Doctor, putting him off his usual dominating stance.

    The way Sam Jones was put together, I don't think she ever had a chance.

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  8. I'm not a big fan of the "social justice" school of fandom where every discussion about a show has to become a poilitical debate or about race, sex, or gender issues. Granted, I am aware that nothing is really apolitical and that the politics of a show are important, but "social justice warriors" of the kind you find on Tumblr tend to get so bogged down in the minutia of that sort of thing that there's really nothing separating them from the kind of fan who gets obsessed with continuity. And that wouldn't be a problem if they didn't act like that was a better way of engaging with the show.

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  9. "The bulk of this criticism stems from his hatred of Walking to Babylon, a book we didn’t cover and I haven’t read, but which, in his telling (and Lars Pearson’s in I Who 2) all of the characters, including historical ones, act like they’re from the present day with no attention given to material history."

    This is actually an illiterate criticism on the part of Miles and Pearson, given that Kate Orman was a librarian who intensively researched her period for Walking to Babylon, while Miles and Pearson are dilettantes who, well, didn't.

    The past isn't what you expect it to be, sometimes.

    Now, did Kate specifically pick a place and time which was relatively comfortable to her sensbilities as a 20th-century liberal? Yes. Did she emphasize the comfortable parts and leave out the less comfortable parts? Yes. Is there a slight air of unreality to the whole thing, a bit comparable to Steven Moffet world? Yes, but that's largely because Benny is chasing time criminals.

    But Miles and Pearson's criticism is basically historically illiterate.

    Read _Walking to Babylon_ sometime. It's the most important of the Benny books, tied with _Beige Planet Mars_. It deserves its rating

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  10. "But it fundamentally rejects the possibility of radical change."
    That's not quite right. It's not that it rejects the possibility as a possibility, it's that it disapproves of it. This is a legit position: a position in favor of incrementalism.

    Please note that some of the other Doctor Who writers have criticized Lawrence Miles for his shallow naivete in believing that Black Bloc radicalism is effective, which pops up heavily in the really dumb bits of Interference.

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