TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 1: William Hartnell

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TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 1: William Hartnell

TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unofficial Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 1: William Hartnell

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None of this is wrong per se. The Green Death’s earnest environmentalism really has aged quite well, looking more like clear-headed moral certainty than po-faced lecturing. The story remains stylistically of its time, but in a way that feels like a reverse remake—a story from the 2020s that got a campy 1970s remake. This, however, is veering dangerously into Philip Sandifer territory. Let’s not get too wrapped up in supernatural implications. After all, this is scarcely the first oddly prescient Doctor Who story we’ve seen, and you can hardly be surprised that 1973 is more prescient than 1963. Watching the present emerge into focus is an even more boring way to watch Doctor Who than trying to decode the secret alchemical messages about utopia. I'm sure Moffat also realised this while writing it. This Doctor is very much his creation and much of his success is down to the writers (particularly in Series 6 and 7) playing to Smith's strengths. I don't mind it being about character moments so much as the balance has shifted where the plot is considered an inconvenience to those character moments.

Of the stories to be held as consensus greats by Doctor Who fandom, Pyramids of Mars is one of the most puzzling. In many ways, it is the least remarkable story of its era. There are stories that are remarkably good, a few that are remarkably bad, and several that are remarkable in the sense that they’re unusual and unlike the things around them. Pyramids of Mars is none of these things. It does a variety of things well, it’s true, but none of them to such an extraordinary degree that it stands out for them, while on a number of fronts it has obvious and glaring deficiencies, most obviously the profoundly stupid riddle solving final episode. And in terms of the basic scope of the episode, it is very close to the archetypal Hinchcliffe-era story. TARDIS Eruditorum tells the ongoing story of Doctor Who from its beginnings in the 1960s to the present day, pushing beyond received wisdom and fan dogma to understand that story not just as the story of a geeky sci-fi show but as the story of an entire line of mystical, avant-garde and radical British culture. It treats Doctor Who as a show that really is about everything that has ever happened and everything that ever will. But the volume doesn’t stop at the end of the Graham Williams era, it pushes on into Tom Baker’s last year, John Nathan-Turner’s first year as executive producer and Christopher Bidmead’s only season as script-editor. With its attempt to balance hard science and outright magic, this is clearly an era that fascinates Sandifer. (I’ll admit it holds a fascination for me too, as the first Doctor Who I can remember watching on TV as a child) and he really does the mine the seam for all its worth. I’ve been critical in the past of some of his most out there essays (‘The Invasion’ springs to mind with an involuntary shudder), but his ‘Logopolis’ essay is a thing of charm and beauty, even if does go on a bit. In a real sense, this is the appeal of Cornell’s approach. By going after one of the most straightforwardly appealing and consensus beloved stories of the era—one where its political foibles are quieter and its gonzo glam excesses are pronounced—Cornell goes for the throat. Complain about the politics of The Mind of Evil and you can semi-reasonably be answered “yeah, but it’s not all like that.” Complain about the politics of Terror of the Autons and the era’s defenders have relatively few retreats open to them. But Cornell does not actually go for the throat. Instead he takes drab swipes at the acting and production. As I said, it’s not that Cornell is wrong per se about the acting in the Pertwee era—almost everyone involved is various forms of dreadful. But what of it? The next era of Doctor Who is going to prove beyond all doubt that you can build a great show around a poor actor so long as you structure it to use their flaws.…

Part 2 of a consideration of John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness (1994), and other things via it. The ideas in this essay were partly developed in conversation with George Daniel Lea and Elliot Chapman. It also features a little self-plagiarism. This volume focuses on Doctor Who’s intersection with psychedelic Britain and with the radical leftist counterculture of the late 1960s, exploring its connections with James Bond, social realism, dropping acid, and overthrowing the government. Along, of course, with scads of monsters, the introduction of UNIT, and the Land of Fiction itself.

The first part of this argument—the sitcom memoir—functions as a sort of “I used to be somebody” windup to the sob story. And he did—a level of prominence roughly akin to what Steven Moffat had pre-Doctor Who, which is to say that he was well known among UK sitcom fans who paid attention to the writer’s name.… Working with Moore was Oscar Zarate, an Argentinian artist who grew up as a devoted fan of Alex Raymond and Hugo Pratt and worked as an assistant in the Argentinian industry before migrating to advertising and, in 1971, Europe, this latter move to escape the right-wing military government of Argentina. There he sought work and ended up working for the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, where he worked with writer Richard Appignanesi on Lenin for Beginners and Freud for Beginners, part of the collective’s iconic For Beginners series, which used comics as a medium to explain the thought of prominent philosophers and scientists. He went on to illustrating comics adaptations of Shakespeare and Marlowe before, in 1987, connecting with comedian Alexei Sayle for a graphic novel called Geoffrey the Tube Train and the Fat Comedian.… In the Mouth of Madness landed in 1994. In 1994 I was in my second year of an English & Philosophy degree. I was wading through Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Baudrillard, Kristeva… It was the high academic fashion of the moment. Elements of Paul Cornell's comic The Heralds of Destruction were inspired by Eruditorum's coverage of alchemy. (COMMENTARY: Heralds of Destruction) There’s a moment, about halfway through the episode, where the Doctor observes something about a seemingly dead soldier. We don’t immediately see what, but it’s clear that it surprises the Doctor, and we watch him draw a conclusion and take on a new course of action. It’s an extremely small thing. But it’s tight, logical storytelling. And it’s followed up immediately by having the laser beams failing to affect the taxicab—a moment that’s subtly foregrounded specifically to get the audience to go “ooh, that looks a bit cheap actually” in amidst a scene that’s otherwise showing off that Disney+ money—become an actual plot point, a modern day “the man in a rubber suit is secretly a man in a rubber suit.” All of this in service of keeping the audience engaged and thinking through the premise as the episode navigates its showpiece reveal. It’s good, sharp writing, textbook both in its mastery of the basics and in how good an example it makes of what competence looks like.

But neither of these stories compare with The Sea Devils, which elevates political confusion into an art form. On the one hand you have Hulke revisiting the concept of The Silurians. On the other, you have Barry Letts dictating that they do a propaganda piece for the Royal Navy. The result is a tangle of influences and directions. One case, pushed by Tat Wood, is that the story (at least as director Michael Briant conceives it) is about consumption, shot from a perspective where the Sea Devils are the sense of normality and the humans are the weird ones, as apparently evidenced by the (admittedly peculiar) frequency with which they’re seen eating and the odd camera angles. It’s certainly an interesting interpretation, but even Wood is forced to admit that it’s only marginally in the actual story. You certainly could do a story about the indigenous lizard people of the world and their horrified bewilderment at human consumption—it’s even a pretty good idea for a story.… In this sense, A Christmas Carol takes an old Davies adage about the Doctor to its most serious extent. It's the most extreme statement yet of Davies' idea that "the Doctor makes people better." Not just a shopgirl or a nurse, but the figure who has already been clearly identified as THE VILLAIN OF THE STORY. Most of the reasons I adore it are explicated with typical finesse in the essay. So I'll just note a few more that weren't mentioned or were brushed past, because I never tire of talking about how damn good this episode is. This volume focuses on the madcap final years of Tom Baker, looking at its connections with punk, British comic books, the Kabbalah, and more. Every blog post from Tom Baker’s final four seasons has been revised and updated from its original form, along with eight brand new essays exclusive to this collected edition, including a look at how the Guardians can be reconciled with the rest of Doctor Who, an analysis of the many different versions of Shada, and an exclusive interview with Gareth Roberts about his many stories set during the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who. Plus, you’ll learn: Within the innate conservatism of the Pertwee era, Malcolm Hulke remains one of the most interesting figures. At one point in his life, he was a member of the Communist Party, and while this membership at some point lapsed, he appears to have been a lifelong socialist and leftist. And yet the era of Doctor Who he’s associated with is one of its most resolutely conservative. More to the point, his stories are not the ones that most challenge that tendency. Three of his Pertwee stories are earth-based military action pieces that trend away from the era’s nominally progressive glam instincts. The other two are space-based stories displaying the most uncomplicated liberalism imaginable. The overall impression is of the sort of bland centrist who imagines himself to be progressive—a Buttigieg voter, to use a contemporary metaphor.

There’s a documentary, originally aired on British television in 1999, called Pornography: A Secret History of Civilisation . After a couple of quite decent episodes, the series starts considering the then-present and the then-future. It’s stuffed with comment from ‘cultural critics’ and ‘social theorists’, who generalise about what ‘we’ are becoming – with ‘we’ supposedly standing for all humanity while actually implicitly referring to the middle classes in the developed world in the era of pre-general crisis neoliberalism. A little surprisingly even in 1999, the oppression of women, the objectification of female bodies, patriarchy, sexism, etc., are issues barely touched upon. (I am resolutely Sex Work positive, but there are ways of talking about the exploitative capitalist and patriarchal power relationships instantiated in the pornography business without stigmatising sex workers.) Alongside the theorists, there are words from entrepreneurs or capitalists, and yet the word or topic ‘capitalism’ is barely properly mentioned. It is silently present as the ‘civilisation’ of the title. Despite the profound thinkerizing about porn’s supposed journey into ‘the mainstream’ there is precious little time left for wondering who sets the agenda of the mainstream. Media ownership is not a topic, except for the times when a handful of porntrepreneurs (presented as pioneers and farseeing cultural trendsetters) get to spout their self-seeking spin. In the midst of much pontificating about the meaning of things from the perspective of the business owner or the consumer, there is hardly any attention paid to the perspective of the worker, of the (if you’ll pardon me) working stiffs getting screwed. Porn is, apparently, an industry with consumers but no producers. To the extent that producers do appear, the emphasis is on the employers rather than the employees. When sex workers appear, the emphasis is firmly on self-employment, on the sex worker as a petty bourgeois individualist. You might argue that this turned out to be prescient, what with the rise of OnlyFans and the sexual gig-economy. And yes, the series manages to notice that the internet will change things. (There is nothing about the inequalities of internet access, or access to media more generally, in any of the discussion of porn consumption and ‘cybersex’.) But the series has an entirely mistaken idea of the context in which such changes will play out. Its idea of the future is an artefact of its own moment. That by itself is okay. Every idea of the future is an artefact of its own moment. The interesting thing about ideas of the future is precisely what they tell us about our own moment. Also, I’ve created a playlist surveying Baez’s career for anyone who’s interested. It’s up on both Spotify and Apple Music.

You Were Expecting Someone Else: Non-televised Doctor Who from the same time period. Though this qualifier was dropped during the eras where the program is off the air and non televised works continue to be made. For instance, Human Nature does not have this tag, but The Missy Chronicles does. I understand the central concept of this whole debate over whether the Doctor has the right to change someone's personality through timeline manipulation as he does here as something like this. Does my right to the autonomy to be a bastard trump the immensely destructive effects of my bastardly behaviour? The Doctor here answers, No. Of course, this wasn’t my introduction to stories about ghosts. But it was my introduction to Ghost Stories. There seems to be a stark difference between the Doctor warning the villain and giving them a choice, the villain ignoring this warning and making their choice and the Doctor then defeating them somehow, when compared to the Doctor warning them and giving them a choice, the villain ignoring the warning and making their choice, and then the Doctor changing their past and thus their current character, against their wishes, to ensure that they choose the other option. Third, I wanted to talk a bit about the Patreon. It took a pretty sizable hit earlier this year when I had to nuke and restart it—it went from paying our rent every month with some to spare to falling well short of our rent. That’s been rough. And so I figured now would be a good time to announce two things. First is that… well, you remember that time I accidentally wrote a book? This time I accidentally wrote a novella-sized essay on Joan Baez. Seriously, there’s a 26,500 word essay called “Queen Shit: A Defense of Joan Baez” up on the Patreon. It’ll be here next week, because I realized while I was writing it that there’s a big Joan Baez documentary out and given that I’m not going to embargo it for long.

In this first episode, the questions are obvious. Why is he running? What is he afraid of? Where has he taken Ian and Barbara, and what is going to happen to them? Already, in the first episode, Doctor Who is about its own mystery. About the question of what Doctor Who is going to be. It doesn’t know yet. It doesn’t know what it will become. Doesn’t know the history and wonder that’s coming. Perhaps it’s even scared of that history. Running from it. To this effect, Eruditorum engaged with other critical scholarship concerning Doctor Who and commented on their analysis as well, as part of the ongoing story. This included About Time, The Discontinuity Guide, Doctor Who Bulletin, Running Through Corridors and Peter Haining's Doctor Who: A Celebration.All of these, I think, are fun essays that I actually want to write. So hopefully we’ll plow through a good chunk of stretch goals and get to fill out the book with all sorts of goodies. There's a very uncomfortable removal of 'giving the baddy one last chance to do the right thing' here. The Doctor strips Kazran of that ability to make his own decision. This would have been fine if there was at least some suggestion in the episode that what the Doctor did was morally dubious, but if there was I don't remember it. The ethical question here doesn't revolve around one's freedom of choice. The Doctor could have treated Kazran as a straight villain and come up with some more directly violent way to commandeer the atmospheric controls, either ruining or killing him in the process. Looking at the other examples of characters we meet who are rather like Kazran in the history of Doctor Who, that would be the normal course of events. But instead, the Doctor tries a more convoluted, more difficult, much stranger new experiment: He tries to make Kazran a better person, changing particular pivotal events in his life so that his character is better disposed to doing the right thing on his own. The central moment comes when the bitter, jaded Kazran meets his younger self, and faces just how ethically horrifying he has become in the fear and repugnance of his own younger self. If a child could see the villain he would become, he would want to change his life so that he did not become so irredeemable. The Doctor provides that shot at retroactive redemption.

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