Literary Archaeology: Books within Books – Part 2

Jon Black

This is the second part in a series I began back in March ( examining real books that may be useful for writers of HistFic or other genres.

Not only are books excellent vehicles for exposition and an intriguing element of stories in their own right, they play on the inherent bibliophilia of most readers. We love not just good stories in books but good stories about books.

I contrasted this with classic fictional tomes such as the Necronomicon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, or Cultes des Goules. There is nothing wrong with using such devices (I recently submitted a shorty that prominently features the later tome). The purpose of this series is to highlight the existence of actual works which offer backstories, mysteries, and possibilities every bit as rich as their fictional counterparts.

My first article focused on three works largely academic or scholarly in nature: Frazer’s Golden Bough, Murray’s Witch Cult in Western Europe, and Fry’s Pantographia. This time, we will examine three texts that are more esoteric: Donnelly’s Atlantis, Jung’s Red Book, and the anonymous Voynich Manuscript. As a caveat, these books may be better suited for historical fantasy or weird tales and pulp with a historical setting than conventional HistFic.

Atlantis: The Antediluvian World

Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World

Author: Ignatius Donnelly. Congressman and Lt. Governor from Minnesota. Author of a variety of unconventional works on topics ranging from Atlantis, to the Great Flood being caused by comet colliding with Earth, to Shakespeare’s plays actually being written by Francis Bacon.

Publication: 1882, Second Printing 1920.

Summary: The book sets forth Donnelly’s theories about the O.G. of lost continents. Much of the “New Age” conception of Atlantis originates in this book with Donnelly’s ideas of Atlantis as a cradle of lost ancient wisdom as well as an imperial power whose subjects (including Mayans, Egyptians, and all the usual suspects) retain “hidden” evidence of their Atlantean colonizers/overlords. He uses archeological evidence that was groundbreaking (pardon the pun) in the late 19th century but now appears highly suspect. Donnelly theorized the catastrophe destroying Atlantis was the same one responsible for the Biblical Flood and that the Irish are decedents of the original Atlanteans.

I probably don’t need to add that nearly every word in Atlantis has since been dismissed as pseudoscience.

TANGENT ALERT: The inside covers of my copy of Atlantis are stamped with “Grace Baptist Church,” making me wonder that particular place of worship was getting up to back in the day (Was there a Grace Baptist Church in Innsmouth, MA?).

Possible Uses in HistFic: The tomb becomes a source of inspiration (or places to insert interesting information) for stories about sunken continents and civilizations, kaiju, Cthulhu, R’yleh, Deep Ones, and underwater weirdness in general. The various works of the British explorer, occultist, and eccentric James Churchward are the usual go-to in this capacity. Donnelly offers writers a fresh alternative.

Text Online:

The Red Book

Carl Jung’s The Red Book

Author: Carl Jung (yes, that one)

Publication: Compiled circa 1915-1930, not published until 2009.

Summary: The Red Book began in the years following Jung’s final split with Freud. During that association, Jung actively suppressed his mystical bent and fascination with myths and mythmaking. Finally free from his domineering Austrian mentor, Jung’s interest in dreams, myths, and mysticism returned with a vengeance.

In addition to carefully recording his dreams, Jung actively plumbed the deepest depths of his psyche through exercises which combined aspects of meditation, guided visualization, and actual auto-hypnosis. Scholars often tamely refer to these exercise as “imaginative journeys” but, based on Jung’s descriptions, it seems appropriate to describe them as mystical journeys or even vision quests.

Frequently, Jung met “beings” on these journeys and would not let them go without asking who they were and what the purpose of their crossing paths was. The results of many such encounters were recorded in the Red Book.

The book is also remarkable for its physical characteristics. Arguably, nothing like this folio had been created since the popularization of the printing press. The text was hand-written on sheets of parchment by Jung in elaborate calligraphy using German, Latin, Green, and English. It is hand illuminated with multi-colored inks and gouache paints. Jung’s original Red Book was bound in hand-stitched red (obviously) leather accented with actual gold.

Possible Uses in HistFic: Any sort of mystical, occult, or illuminated secret might be concealed within the Red Book. Jung’s elaborate illustrations could include clues to magic spells, the lost temples of the masters, or even something as prosaic as a cache of Swiss gold. Through stories of Jung’s encounters, information about who knows what beings might be available. Finally, parallels between Jung’s journeys preserved in the Red Book and Lovecraft’s Dreamlands are self-evident. As such, it may contain practical “how-to” information on entering the Dreamlands or similar parallel realms.

Text Online: (scroll to bottom of page).

The Voynich Manuscript

A page from the Voynich Manuscript with its mysterious language and distinctive illustrations.

Author: Unknown (possibly Wilfrid Voynich)

Publication: Unknown. Materials carbon dated to early 15th century. First mention, early 17th century.  Continuous provenance from 1870. Purchased by Voynich in 1912.

Summary: The Voynich Manuscript may be the most mysterious book in existence … assuming the whole thing isn’t an elaborate forgery or hoax.

The codex is handwritten using an unknown alphabet or cipher. A translation or decryption remains elusive, despite a century of attention from linguists and cryptographers. This leads some to speculate that the characters may be a written form of glossolalia (the technical term for the phenomenon known as “speaking in tongues”) and have no actual meaning. That interpretation is far from universally accepted.

The Voynich Manuscript is equally known for its elaborate, colorful, and diverse illustrations that include plants, astronomical or astrological images, animals, mythological creatures, images suggestive of occult themes, and, of course, a considerable number of nude women.

Many believe the manuscript is a pharmacopeia, medical text, or treatise on natural science. Though why such a text should need to be made so inaccessible remains unexplained. As an interesting twist, a few experts allege the codex depicts New World plants that should have been unknown at the time of its composition. Conversely, plant illustrations combined with astrological imagery might make it a grimoire or book of magic. Certainly, that would better explain the author’s need for secrecy.

Possible Uses in HistFic: Almost anything could be contained within the codex. An actual grimoire is an obvious possibility for historical fantasy. Preserving a record of pre-Colombian contact with the New World is another. It may contain information about forgotten herbs or medicines offering a “miracle cure” for a medical crisis confronting the modern world. The manuscript might be full of information deemed dangerous, damaging, or heretical but the Church a la Dan Brown. Or maybe the whole thing is just an elaborate red herring.

Text Online: or, if you really want it, on .pdf at

Longdog Library: Sherlock Holmes versus The Thinking Machines

John Linwood Grant

Welcome to our newest column on, John Linwood Grant’s Longdog Library. It’s an ecclectic collection of history, genre fiction, and nearly forgotten books and genres. Check it out on every second Thursday!

There’s something about a classic detective whose approach – or even mind – is a touch off the beaten track.  Most people know their Holmes, and many have flirted with Poirot, Father Brown or one of those other quirky fellows. So today we’re going to visit three lesser known crime-solvers. I’m conscious that I’ve picked male detectives here, but it wouldn’t be too hard to do the same for female sleuths. Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley (from the 1930s onwards) would have done just as well. A peculiar and erudite woman, she was described as “an alligator smiling gently while birds removed animal irritants from its armoured frame”.

However, I’ll stick to the chaps for now. Our tireless trio are Edgar Wallace’s Mr J G Reeder, Roy Vickers’ Detective-Inspector Rason, and Jacques Futrelle’s Professor Augustus S F X Van Dusen.

J G Reeder

Edgar Wallace

We start with my absolute favourite, Mr J G Reeder. It’s strange in a way that the character is so little known nowadays, as he stands out amongst his contemporaries in fiction. His creator Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was already known for his thrillers, and was prolific, being described as being able to write a full novel in three to four days. Prior to Wallace, most British thrillers had featured amateur or private detectives as their main protagonists – Wallace almost single-handedly popularised the use of a police officer as the main investigator.

J G Reeder is a former police investigator with considerable experience in money-related crimes such as forgery, counterfeiting and bank heists. Taking up a position in the Department of Public Prosecutions, he is assigned a number of cases where officials are rather stumped. The character was first introduced in Edgar Wallace’s novel Room 13, but really took off in a series of short stories published in 1925.

This might be seen as a standard set of crime stories for the period, except for the nature of Reeder himself. In appearance and surface behaviour, Reeder is a mild-mannered civil servant of nineteen twenties fiction, polite and unassuming, described at one point as looking more like a rabbit than an officer of the law. He speaks gently and tries not to stand out. His mind, however, is extraordinary. He himself puts it down to being able to think precisely as his opponents do.

“I have that perversion,” he said. “It is a terrible misfortune, but it is true. I see evil in everything… in dying roses, in horseshoes – in poetry even. I have the mind of a criminal. It is deplorable!”

The Poetical Policeman

The end result of his ‘criminal’ mind is that whilst the investigator is orthodox in every visible way, his approach to investigations is often highly unorthodox. The mysteries themselves are novel and quite interesting, but Reeder’s character elevates every tale.

Hugh Burden as J.G. Reeder

It’s difficult to cherry-pick, but for me one of the most enjoyable is ‘The Green Mamba’, originally entitled ‘The Dangerous Reptile’. An “uncrowned emperor of the underworld”, Mo Liski is persuaded that Reeder must be taken down. The story which follows is a wonderful exercise in subtlety as the investigator misleads and misdirects everyone around him, a non-criminal mastermind at his finest.

“The world is full of sin and trouble,” he said, shaking his head sadly; “Both in high and low places vice is triumphant, and virtue thrust, like the daisies, underfoot. You don’t keep chickens, do you, Mr Liski?”

The dangerous reptile is, naturally, J G Reeder. My recommended Sleuth of the Month.

Associated trivia – The stories were turned into a UK TV series between 1969 and 1971, and rather well done. Doing an excellent job as Reeder was the actor Hugh Burden, who conveniently also starred in Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb, one of my favourite mummy films.

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Wallace links to my own writing, as well. As a young man he enlisted in the Royal West Kent Regiment, transferred to the Medical Staff Corps and ended up South Africa during the second Boer War. In 1898 he left the army to become correspondent for Reuters, then correspondent for ‘The Daily Mail’. He wrote a series published as ‘Unofficial Dispatches’, but due to his viewpoint and criticisms, Lord Kitchener removed Wallace’s credentials.

Wallace was therefore operating at the same time that Henry Dodgson and Redvers Blake, from my novella A Study in Grey, became disenchanted with aspects of the war, especially the concentration camps. And yes, Wallace and one of my characters did meet, but that’s for another time…

Detective Inspector Rason

My next detective, who is given no first name, is not in J G Reeder’s class, but he and his cases are curious enough to deserve a mention. His creator, William Edward Vickers (1889-1965) was an English mystery writer better known under his pen name Roy Vickers, (he had five or six other pseudonyms as well).

The Rubber Trumpet, the first of Vicker’s thirty-seven stories featuring the fictitious Department of Dead Ends, appeared in Pearson’s Magazine in September 1934. Partial collections of the stories were later made in 1947, 1949, and 1978. I have the 1978 Dover Edition, introduced by E F Bleiler (who also edited science fiction and fantasy fiction anthologies).

The “Department of Dead Ends” is Scotland Yard’s dumping ground for unsolved mysteries – some serious, some mundane. It’s a classic cold case set-up, with the expectation that most will never be looked at again or ever solved. The stories are described thus:

“That repository of files which were never completed, of investigations without a clue and clues which led nowhere. From time to time, quite illogically, Inspector Rason finds a connection between happenings in the outside world and the objects in his Scotland Yard museum, a rubber trumpet, maybe, or a bunch of red carnations. Then events move inexorably to their appointed end.”

The central investigator, Detective Inspector Rason, is not a character on whom to dwell for too long, although the stories are themselves interesting. He’s neither as clever nor as ruthless as Mr Reeder. Instead, he acts as a collector of trivia, one who sees tiny links between people and items. Some of his cases are solved entirely by accident, or via an afterthought.

These are not detailed forensic investigations where science and team effort prevail. Rason might hear something in a corridor, and remember an item on a shelf. And that’s it. It’s an unusual way of doing things, and Vickers emphasises the random nature of existence above all else. The most casual action or incident in one town on an unimportant day might easily link to an horrific crime elsewhere a week or a year later. The connections are sometimes ingenious, and might make you worry a little if you’re a career criminal. Did you leave a discarded ticket on a train three years ago?

Although Vickers wrote over 60 crime novels and 80 short stories, it was on the basis of the Department of Dead Ends that he developed a reputation in both the UK and the US as an accomplished writer of “inverted mysteries.”

“One of the half-dozen successful books of detective short stories published since the days of Sherlock Holmes.” Manchester Evening News

The Thinking Machine

Jacques Futrelle

Finally, the earliest and most weird of our three sleuths for the day. If there is a cold, calculating challenger to Holmes, one who shares his irascibility, his disdain for others, and his logical bent, then it is Professor August S F X Van Dusen – also known as The Thinking Machine and in the press, ‘the American Sherlock Holmes’.

Van Dusen was the creation of Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912), an American writer and journalist. Rather tragically, Futrelle died on the Titanic after insisting his wife take her place in one of the lifeboats. Despite having written a number of novels, he is best known for his tales of Van Dusen, who is in some ways a monstrous central character – Holmes with less redeeming features. Our sleuth this time is no Holmes in appearance, either:

“He was slender with the droop of the student in his thin shoulders and the pallor of a close, sedentary life on his clean-shaven face. His eyes wore a perpetual, forbidding squint – the squint of a man who studies little things – and when they could be seen at all through his thick spectacles, were mere slits of watery blue. But above his eyes was his most striking feature. This was a tall, broad brow, almost abnormal in height and width, crowned by a heavy shock of bushy, yellow hair.”

Where Holmes had his Watson, Professor Van Dusen had American journalist Hutchinson Hatch, perhaps drawn from Futrelle’s experience working for the Atlanta Journal.

1905 drawing of Van Dusen

Acclaimed science fiction and fantasy author Harlan Ellison says of Van Dusen, in his introduction to the 2003 collection of Thinking Machine stories:

“This irascible genius, this diminutive egghead scientist, known to the world as “The Thinking Machine,” is no less than the newly rediscovered literary link between Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe: Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, who—with only the power of ratiocination—unravels problems of outrageous criminous activity in dazzlingly impossible settings.”

It’s tempting to think that Ellison, who is sometimes described as an irascible genius himself, felt a certain bond with Van Dusen.

A number of the short stories were originally published in The Saturday Evening Post and the Boston American. They’re a mixed bunch, and some are exercises in the most unlikely uses of logic, to the point of being rather unbelievable. If you ever questioned Holmes’ ability to make logical deductions from limited evidence, then you can have a field day here. The most widely anthologised tale, ‘The Problem of Cell 13’ (1905), relies on a chain of arrangements and events which stretch credibility about as far as you can go.

They’re still rather enjoyable, though. Because of their age, the full text of many of the stories can be found on-line.

Incidentally, Van Dusen is odd enough to have cropped up in other media a few times. The professor appeared in two episodes of the 1970s Thames Television series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Douglas Wilmer portrayed Van Dusen in “Cell 13” and “The Superfluous Finger.” This is rather appropriate, as Wilmer played Sherlock Holmes himself in the first series of the UK sixties production of Holmes’ exploits. Peter Cushing was to take the role for the second series. Despite much criticism of production problems by both actors, Wilmer is actually a rather good Sherlock.

Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes

In addition, the character appeared in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s graphic novel Nemo: Heart of Ice (20130. Van Dusen aids explorer Janni Nemo when she encounters H. P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods in Antarctica.

There you have our three lesser known detectives, and if there is one who might have genuinely rivalled Holmes, it would have to be the annoying Professor Van Dusen. Although they’re all worth a look, Mr Reeder is the true delight. Do explore…

If Walls Could Talk: Setting Your Work Free

M.H. Norris

I remember the first time I let a group of people read my work. This was just at the beginning of the period of time where younger me considered that, hey, maybe this hobby of mine could be something more.

Two Roads in a Wood

One thing I still clearly remember is the fact that I was completely and utterly terrified. This was my work, something I’d spent ages on, and now I was just going to read it for these people–and throw myself at the mercy of their critiques?

I’ve done it quite a bit since then. But every time I take my work to a writing group to have it critiqued, I get that feeling. Granted, it’s smaller than it was that first time, but it’s there all the same.

But from what I’ve witnessed over the years, it’s better than the alternative.

And just what is that alternative?

The alternative is letting it sit there, letting yourself make edit after edit after edit trying to make it “perfect” and hope that one day you’ll share it with the world. That alternative is having half-started project after half-started project.

I’ve seen both versions of that alternative play out, and I can tell you neither is good for a writer.

But Mary Helen, you don’t understand. You’re just saying it’s hard for you to release your work.

I’m really not. I even admitted it in this week’s Raconteur Roundtable.

So what are ways you can set your work free?

1) Start a Blog

Or write a column for an existing blog (like yours truly does). Either way, it has two benefits. The first is that you are getting in the habit of writing regularly. The second is that you are putting your work out there for the world to see on a semi-regular basis.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be fiction. It can be articles, thoughts on what’s going on in your life or in the world, or reviews of your favorite books series or TV show (if it’s this option and it has time travel, shoot me a message and maybe we’ll talk about getting you to write for the Time Travel Nexus). It doesn’t really matter what it is, it matters that you do it.

2) Find a Writing Group

I’ll admit, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to one. Life does get in the way. But I did find this beneficial. You can find these in three places.

In the Community

There is a local group here in my hometown. I went for years, before life just got in the way and my schedule became a bit hectic. But for a while, week to week, I took a bit of my work to this group and let them help me find ways to make it better.

They pushed me. I needed to write every week so I would have something to show them. It also got my work out to a small audience and allowed me immediate feedback.

And sometimes, you really just need that.

At Your School

Yes, this one really only applies to students. But considering James and I met at our alma mater’s creative writing club I can’t help but point out that that is one place you should look.

If nothing else, you might find a friend for life. I did (two, counting the always fabulous Nicole Petit).


I was actually a part of an online writing site for a while. It was fun because it pushed me in a different way, and also gave me a place to go on a daily basis that allowed me to not only get feedback but build friendships with fellow writers.

I sometimes miss those days. It was like Cheers.

That being said, it isn’t necessarily hard to find somewhere to go to share you work and by doing it with a small group of people, it makes the big releases easier.

Here’s Another Confession

The week Badge City: Notches was released I think I was checking Amazon every hour on the hour while I was awake to see how it was doing.

I needed that validation to tell me that people were actually reading something I wrote. I had written a book and it was out there–and people liked it and read it.

But if you don’t let your work go then you don’t get to experience that feeling of relief and joy.

And what’s almost worse is that this idea, the one you’ve dedicated a lot of your time to, that you are probably really passionate about, won’t ever have the chance to shine.

So let it go.

Let it go out in the world for all to see.

It might not be perfect, it might have spots you regret down the road (yes, I’m eyeing my first ever short story).

But it’s your journey as a writer.

And unless you make that first step, your journey won’t go nearly as far as it could.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

A lot of people write in their spare time as nothing more than a hobby. Shoot, until about five years ago, I was one of them. But then, with the encouragement of some friends, I took the road less travelled and let my work out into the world.

You can too.

Because I will be the first to tell you, it makes all the difference.

The Raconteur Roundtable #14 – The Dos and Don’ts of Indie Film – Fraser Coull (Cops and Monsters)

Fraser Coull, award-winning indie filmmaker, joins M.H. and James to discuss his series Cops and Monsters. They cover everything from indie filmmaking in general to Cops and Monsters‘ conception, to on-set anecdotes, to the trials and tribulations of crowdfunding, to their shared experiences in the 48 Hour Film Festival. He gives a great overview of what you should know, and should do, when it comes to indie filmmaking

After that, M.H. takes a look back on the indie film projects she’s worked on, telling you what you must notcould not, and should not do.

Literary Archaeology: Slang Shots

By Jon Black

So, I have a new crush. A new book crush, I should specify. At a second-hand bookstore in San Antonio, I discovered copy the Dictionary of American Slang: With Supplement, edited by Dr. Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner (Crowell, c.1967). Since then, I have been utterly enchanted by this look into American slang of precisely half a century ago.

My New Crush.

So, rather than starting with some overarching theme, as most of my Literary Archeology posts do, I’m going share some of the thoughts and reflections this book has prompted and see where we go from there.

Revolving around slang, this post explores some of the same themes as my Words, Words, Words post from April. While that post dealt with mainstream language, this focuses on slang. It should be recognized, of course, that there is a revolving door between the two. Many words come into mainstream usage from the slang of some demographic or subculture. Less commonly, a specific population will retain a word (possibly with its original meaning, possibly not) long after it has fallen out of common use.

Slang offers all the advantages and pitfalls for HistFic that period language does in general. It also allows for the representation of specific subcultures or regional or ethnic demographics. A short listing of sources for the words appearing Dictionary of American Slang include “hobos and tramps,” immigrants, jazz musicians, the military, “narcotics addicts,” “show-business workers,” students, and “the underworld.” Interesting how even the names of those categories show the passage of time and evolution of language.

For all slang’s ability to bring sub-groups to life, it can be a double-edged sword. Even more than most period language, overuse of slang can slide into stereotype and caricature (How many books/movies/TV shows have we seen featuring one-dimensional portrayals of characters speaking Cockney, Jive, Valley-Girl, etc. that are a subtle as an iron maul to the brainpan?).

In fairness, the Dictionary of American Slang is not the beginning of my love affair with period slang. It’s something I’ve dabbled with in writing HistFic before.

In my novel Gabriel’s Trumpet (scheduled for release later this year from 18thWall), an entire chapter revolves around a group of Hep-Cat musicians teaching the protagonist the elaborate slang of jazz-age Harlem. It is more than just a colorful interlude or fish out of water moment, the lesson is essential if the protagonist to be able to communicate and make sense of the alien (to him) environment in which he now finds himself.

In another recent project, I found myself dealing with the slang of two different (if often interconnected) subcultures in 1910s Paris: the bohemian set and the criminal underworld.

reefer, gage, Indian hop, pot, tea, etc.

Most of us know the anecdote about the Inuit/Eskimos have X number of words for snow. Depending on who’s telling the anecdote, the number of words varies. The real point is that each of those words has a slightly different meaning. And that those (to us) relatively trivial differences are worth communicating indicates how important snow, and being able to describe very specific properties of snow, are to the Inuit.

A similar process is at work with slang. Early jazz culture had a seemingly endless number of terms for marijuana and its aficionados. Likewise, I lost count of Montmartre’s euphemisms for prostitutes and places where alcohol was served. And these weren’t synonyms; each term had very specific connotations setting it apart from the others. Likewise, the underworld argot of the ladies and gentlemen of the Parisian milieu used terms that were often frighteningly specific for thieves, murders, etc. (The word for a thief who stole watches was entirely different from one who stole goods from unattended wagons, etc.)

And, because I’ve got a little space left over, I thought I would share some of my favorite discoveries from Dictionary of American Slang.

Some Ham-And-Eggers in their Meat Grinder.

Beard: an intellectual or egghead; conversely a beat, bohemian, or other “far out” person.

Bug Man: A circus or carnival concessionaire who sells lizards, turtles, or insects.

Ham-And-Egger: an average or dull person, a worker competent only at routine tasks

Know one’s beans/Know the beans: to be well-informed on a subject or skilled in one’s chose field.

Meat Grinder: an automobile (1940s, student slang).

Red-light or Redlight: To push a person out of a moving locomotive, specifically to intentionally kill someone by doing so.

Suffering Cats! A socially acceptable expletive (allegedly in place of Suffering Christ!).

Sunday Thinker: A self-proclaimed genius, an impractical person, or an eccentric.

Yesterday, Today, and Forever: lunch-counter slang for the house hash (implying that the daily leftovers had been added to the same hash pot since the establishment’s opening).

If Walls Could Talk: Doctor Who’s Two-Part Finale According To M.H. Norris and Mark Twain (Series 10)

M.H. Norris

On an episode of The Raconteur Roundtable, James and I sat down and broke down the first half of Series 10, taking a look from both a content and a writing standpoint. I would like to extend that look today, and examine the last two parts of Doctor Who’s tenth series.

“World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” were the two-part finale that all but ended both Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s time on Doctor Who.

As I get started, I’d like to put my traditional disclaimer up. Peter Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who had many problems. Yet, I do not blame Peter Capaldi for a single one of them. If nothing else, I can see where he tried so hard to save it.

To assist me in analyzing the two-part finale, I’m going to pull Mark Twain’s nineteen rules governing literary art, from his classic essay, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”

Serious spoiler warning for the two-part finale of Series 10 of Doctor Who, “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls.” To illustrate the rules, I will not be withholding spoilers up to and including the last minute of the show. If you have not had a chance to watch and do not want to be spoiled, I’ll see you back here in a couple of days after you watch.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1) That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

Take an honest, objective look at the episode and tell me where this went? If you say from one end of the ship to another, I’m going to stare at you.

What did it accomplish?

In fact, “World Enough and Time” could have not existed, and could have been shoved into the first five minutes of “The Doctor Falls.” We would not have lost a lot.

The same thing can be said of “Extremis” earlier in the season. Though, with “Extremis,” that was glossed over in a line in the second part.

The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole go through this whole adventure, shoot there are even two Masters running around too. But at the end of the day, when the dust settled and everyone more or less moved on from this, what was accomplished?

Absolutely nothing.

The Cybermen are still on the ship. Nardole is stuck there. Bill is…. Well we’ll save that one for a later rule. And the Doctor… actually we’re going to save that one for a later rule as well. No-one has changed, as characters. The Masters are fundamentally the same, shedding whatever attempts at character development the series has given them. Nardole is the same. The Doctor is the same. Bill is the same.

The plot is static. The characters are static.

Two hours of footage have gone nowhere.

2) They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.

As already stated above, we could have done without the first part of the two-parter. The sole purpose of this episode was to remind us that time moved faster at the bottom than it did at the top of the ship.

Let me state that one more time in case you didn’t notice it here or in the episode, time moves faster in the bottom of the ship than it does at the top.

In fact, Whovians have taken the time to diagram this.

But seriously, what happened in “World Enough and Time”? Bill is killed (in the most obnoxious and unrealistic way – if you’ve seen the scene in question you know what I mean). But then she’s not killed, she’s partially and then later fully converted into a Cyberman.

The Master is around, two of them. One, Missy is with the Doctor the other is in disguise helping Steven Moffat leave his mark on canon by changing the origin story of the Mondasian Cyberman (keep in mind these are the Cyberman who we meet in the 1966 serial The Tenth Planet).

And of course, countless references to  time moving faster in the bottom of the ship than it does at the top.

This entire episode could have been condensed and added in, giving Part 2 some much needed tension and help.

3) They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.


Oh Bill…

We first met both Bill and Heather in “The Pilot” where Heather ends up (according to the Doctor) dead due to a weird space oil thing that’s not fully explained and is the one vague point in the only solid episode of Series 10.

Is she dead?

According to the Doctor, yes.

Is she living?

According to Heather, yes. It’s just a different kind of living.

Either way, the distinction isn’t made clear.

4) They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

Heather, who came to assist in Bill’s exit is an excellent example of a violation of this rule.

We never saw any sign of her and her puddle all season long.

Until we did.

Until, such a time as it was convenient to the plot for her to show back up. And convenience to your plot is not a sufficient excuse to randomly throw a character back into a story. Her presence was unestablished. She is the worst kind of Deus Ex Machina.

5) They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

There’s a balance between character-building dialogue and cutting into your action sequence with needless dialogue that really doesn’t belong here.

There’s two particular times where the dialogue really stood out as unnecessary and did nothing more than to further bog down an episode that was already bogged down.

Let’s take a look at  the first one.

MASTER: You can’t win.

DOCTOR: I know! And?

MASTER: Come on, Lady Version. I honestly don’t know what you see in him.

MISSY: Likewise.

Both turn and begin to walk away.

DOCTOR: No! No! When I say no, you turn back around!

The Doctor runs, catching up with them before cutting their path off by standing in front of them.

DOCTOR: Hey! I’m going to be dead in a few hours, so before I go, let’s have this out, you and me, once and for all. Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because, because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun and God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do, because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind. It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point in any of this at all, but it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it till it kills me. You’re going to die too, some day. How will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?

MASTER: See this face? Take a good, long look at it. This is the face that didn’t listen to a word you just said.

He walks off.

DOCTOR: Missy. Missy. You’ve changed. I know you have. And I know what you’re capable of. Stand with me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

MISSY: Me too. But no. Sorry. Just, no. But thanks for trying.

First, let me take a second to point out that I’ve never been a fan of this buddy-buddy thing that Moffat has been doing with the Doctor and the Master. They were friends once upon a time, but that ended a long, long, long, long time ago.

All through classic Doctor Who, the Doctor and the Master fought each other. There were plenty of times where if he’d had the chance, both would have killed the other.

The Master didn’t hesitate to torture him in Series 3, now did he?

Yet, all of a sudden the two are all buddy-buddy.

If the Doctor knew he was going to die (and he did) and got to have it out with the Master one last time, this doesn’t seem to be what they would discuss. Especially not after all the lead up Steven Moffat has planted all season long.

Another example of this happens a few minutes later and this one has been annoying me just as much. Take a look:

DOCTOR: Yeah. This is it, I’m afraid. So, if there’s anything we ought to be saying?

BILL: I can’t think of anything. Can you?


BILL: But, hey er, you know how I’m usually all about women and, and kind of people my own age.


BILL: Glad you knew that.

Both know this is the last conversation they’ll get to have with each other and this is what they spend it on?

So much potential for one last touching character moment. And that’s how they say goodbye.

6) They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

Series 10 was almost completely void of characterization. The Doctor was never consistent episode to episode. Besides being gay and the bit with her mother, we never see a lot of what makes Bill Bill. Writers bounce back and forth between portraying her as intelligent, or so stupid that, as a physics student, she doesn’t know what CERN is.

The Doctor acted in and out of character the whole series. In several episodes, I would see him act in a way that he never would have (siding with the emoji bots in “Smile” is a good example of this).

Another thing that was extremely out of character were the Masters. Let me make one thing perfectly clear.

The Master would never shoot himself.

In fact, all through classic Who, most of his arcs were about him finding ways to prolong his life. Shoot, the entire Doctor Who TV movie (1996) exists because the Master just won’t die.

So he/she goes and stabs themselves in the back, twice?


It’s not in the Master’s character to do something like that.

7) They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.

This requires a character to have consistent characterization which is something Twelve is noticeably lacking. I get the character shifting a few times in the first few episodes, he’s getting a feel for his own skin as well as the writers getting used to him.

But for three seasons for his character to shift, rather dramatically at times and then flip flop back to previous versions for no reason?

8) They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.

Why on Earth would the Doctor set the Cybermen databanks to target him, Missy, and the Master. I get the idea of trapping the two of them, but he also traps himself.

And why does he keep fighting this battle. I get it’s because it’s “Kind,” but it’s pointless. For the first time ever, I find myself agree with the Master on something.

But because the Doctor claims it’s who he is, it’s suddenly okay.

9) They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Heather is another point. She magically comes in at the last minute to give Moffat a cop out of actually killing Bill.

Actually, why didn’t Bill die in the explosion the Doctor set off?

Another thing was that the Doctor suddenly expected the Master to change after millennia of the two bashing heads and fighting across the cosmos?

Talk about exploiting miracles.

10) They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

It has been years since I’ve felt like I’m invested enough to care what happens to the characters in Doctor Who. I honestly felt nothing during “Angels Take Manhattan,” and while “Face the Raven” was a good exit, said exit was later voided—thus promptly voiding any emotional impact it had.

Why should I care if Bill was shot? We’re really not given a lot about her character. She couldn’t afford school, she sold chips, the Doctor decides to take her under his wing. She’s gay, she lives with her Aunt. Her mother died when she was little.

All of this information was given to us in “The Pilot.” But none of this is built or expanded on or really presented in a way that makes me want to care. The only thing we learn later is she’s really into the lost Roman legion, which hardly gives us anything else to latch onto.

Even with all that time with the Ponds, it was such shallow character development that I had nothing to latch onto and be interested in.

All these goodbyes are happening and I felt nothing. I was not invested.

11) They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

Yes, to an extent, part of the Doctor’s character is that there is a certain degree of unpredictability.

But this surpasses it.

He wants to have a heart to heart with the Masters. He lies to Bill. He tricks Nardole in basically waiting a few extra years and then dying anyway because he is in an impossible situation.

12) Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

All through Series 10, the Doctor and the Master have seemed to be attempting to rekindle their friendship. They dance around it, especially in “Eaters of Light,” as we lead into the penultimate.

Another place where this rule may have been broken was with Bill and the Doctor as they said goodbye (see dialogue with rule 5).

Series 10 seemed to love to beat around the bush and never actually give you a moment to get attached to the characters.

13) Use the right word, not its second cousin.

All of a sudden, the Mondasian Cyberman developed a laser canon on their heads. Bill discovers this by getting angry with the Doctor.

Off and on, he got her to use it a couple of times and referred to it as “could you get angry on this.”


14) Eschew surplusage.

Be clear.

That’s all that that means. And look, I saved you a trip to Google.

Moffat bogged down his entire last season in the need to be technical and make himself appear clever.

Let’s be clear on something. Nothing makes you look less clever than someone being able to tell you were trying to be clever.

By bogging down a  script with useless things that only hide the point of your episode (or book or whatever it is you’re writing, you find yourself in the position where someone like me is making this list.

15) Not omit necessary details.

For this one, I’m going to go back to “Oxygen” for my example. What was this mission doing? Why were they there? How and when did the suits malfunction? Why did no one remember Nardole is a robot and could handle the vacuum of space better than Bill? Why would any company supposedly interested in making money kill its highly-trained employees, when getting new ones would surely cost more? How is bringing down one company supposed to end capitalism forever? Why are the employees seemingly familiar with films from thousands of years beforehand?

One necessary detail from the two-parter that would have been included, especially because it would have been a fun technical detail, is more on the relation of time throughout the lower parts of the ship. It seemed as if each floor worked on a different speed of time but how much did they differ?

16) Avoid slovenliness of form.

Quite frankly, Doctor Who slovenly this entire two-parter. Yes, usually the Doctor is coming up with and executing a plan on the fly. But usually it’s not so slipshod as he was here. Yes, in one way, the Doctor was being written towards his regeneration, but you can write him there without him actually going there.

Look at Three, look at Nine, look at One and Two. The others (besides Ten and Eleven who were intentionally omitted from the list) I’m not as familiar with their regeneration stories to be able to make the comparison.

But while they would end up at their ends, they still kept on the adventure like normal.

For some reason, the tenth Doctor got it in his head to throw himself a giant episode long pity party about regenerating and every regeneration since has also had it.

And I’m quite frankly over it. But that’s a post for another time (and maybe for the Nexus instead of here).

All of this is beside the true slovenliness of form that’s haunted the entire 10th series—broken pacing, here in spades, of overly-long set-ups and rushed conclusions.

17) Use good grammar.

The one rule that “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls” manages to avoid.

Mainly because this rule is meant for other mediums.

18) Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Everything has to be this big ball of complicated. Look at the River Song arc. It lasted from 2008 to Christmas of 2015. Sure, for binge watchers, this approach may work, but for causal watchers and for posterity—who might not watch this in a straight line—this approach is not beneficial to the show.

It shoots Moffat’s Doctors in the foot because some of their notable serials will have trouble translating to posterity in the way classic Who does. Twelve has three good episodes. Husbands of River Song is bogged down by her plotline. The Return of Doctor Mysterio to an extent because they constantly mention the previous episode. Which leaves “The Pilot” all alone for clear, heavy-continuity-free, recommendations.

Overall, the two-part series finale to Series 10 was flat, lackluster, dragged in its pacing, and often made truly inexplicable decisions.

Truly, the best part was the last minute where we get the first on-screen appearance of the first Doctor since the 1983 serial “The Five Doctors.”

Hopefully Christmas will do him justice.