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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

49 Comments

  1. Blueshift
    December 5, 2014 @ 12:17 am

    Cold War was one of those bang-on middle of the road stories. Didn't hate it. Didn't think it was amazing. Finished it, turned off, "Well, that was a thing that I saw on television". Which is really my issue with most of season 7b. The Ice Warrior looked great and was nice to see, but it felt like more of a pitch about 'here is why we should use the Ice Warriors again, look what they can do' rather than an actually worthwhile story. Clara felt like a complete non-entity in this story (it was only until Day of the Doctor I felt that she got a personality, and series 8 that she became a character) and David Warner felt wasted in that role. But, y'know, not terrible. Not great. Just a thing that happened for 45 minutes one Saturday.

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  2. David Anderson
    December 5, 2014 @ 12:56 am

    Despite Phil's valiant defence of this episode, I'd rather have an adorable moppet trying to sing a story-eating gas giant to sleep than lines such as 'I will turn earth into a second red planet'.

    I think the general charge against Season Seven B (if you leave out the general distaste for Rings and Journey that I don't share) is that it was playing everything slightly safe, and as a result never rose to any great heights.
    Which is fair enough (with the exception of Hide). This is the safest of the lot. I suppose there are worse aesthetic crimes than playing it safe. I can think of stories that don't even achieve safe. The story makes its case that the ice warriors could work.

    I wonder – the dialogue is just a bit camp, but the directorial style is fairly straight. Would the dialogue work better if the direction were camper, or would that be intolerable?

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  3. David Anderson
    December 5, 2014 @ 1:02 am

    While I agree Clara's almost entirely generic here, I do get the feeling that Gatiss has gone through the exercise of ticking boxes on Moffat's description of Clara's character. Once he's ticked the boxes he goes right back to generic, but I did get the impression that Moffat knew what Clara's character was, even if we don't.

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  4. xen trilus
    December 5, 2014 @ 1:14 am

    No disrespect to Mackinnon, but it's entertaining to imagine how a different Moffat-era director might have handled Listen. It seems to me right up Toby Haynes' alley, for example.

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  5. Blueshift
    December 5, 2014 @ 1:17 am

    Do we know what the internal description of Clara's character is? What hurts her for me is that Bells of Saint John does a poor job of setting her up, which is even more unfortunate, as in both Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen, the 'Clara' character is very well drawn in each case, with compelling personality and drives. In each case you could see how she'd function as a companion given her background and motivations and how she'd work. In Bells, she… is just sort of there. We know next to nothing about her, she doesn't really want to travel with the Doctor and she's pretty much an enigma.

    I really like Phil's reading, that the 'Impossible Girl' arc is more an admonishment to the audience and the Doctor for looking at the mystery first and the character second, but it doesn't work for me, as there's no character to look at. An episode like Cold War probably wouldn't even be remarked about character-wise had she had a firm intro (after all, it would be like criticising Victory of the Daleks for making Amy bland) but three episodes in to a new companion, there's still nothing to really tell the audience what she is like.

    Again, a real shame The Snowmen wasn't her actual introduction, as the Clara there was great. And she was great in series 8. Which begs the question, how did they fumble it so badly in series 7b (personal opinion, but a popular one regarding her character so it can't be dismissed out of hand).

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  6. Frezno
    December 5, 2014 @ 3:01 am

    I remember liking Cold War, but now I'm just confused because I can't remember what happened on New Year's Day 2014 that was Doctor Who-related. Anyone want to help me out here?

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  7. xen trilus
    December 5, 2014 @ 3:25 am

    Gatiss' Sherlock episode The Empty Hearse aired on that day.

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  8. Anton B
    December 5, 2014 @ 5:17 am

    Call me a pedant but it was the Ultravox gag that fell really flat for me. I just didn't buy David Warner's character being a fan of 80s synthpop and, from his delivery, I suspect Warner didn't either. It seems to me, in his eagerness to shoehorn in some kind of pop culture place-holder, Gattis didn't really think it through. A senior Soviet scientist in the 1980s of the age Warner seems to be playing would be more likely to be into some kind of 1960s agit-pop, the Velvet Underground, Zappa or even the Beatles rather than any western contemporary chart/dance fodder. Look at Vaclav Havel' s citing of Lou Reed' s lyrics as an inspiration in Czeckoslovakia's Velvet Revolution for instance. Notwithstanding that, the character's concern about Ultravox splitting up in the future comes out of nowhere as the band in question, unlike many others, were never one rumoured to be on the verge of splitting. In fact they lumbered on well into the early 2000s. I wonder if this is down to a kind of nerd/snobbery ignorance of pop history on the part of Gattis. His geek trivia knowledge perhaps stopping at Hammer horror and Doctor Who. The choice of Ultravox specifically struck me (and I'm older than Gattis) as a kind of wierdly 'Dad gets it wrong even though he was there' attempt at retro hipness.

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  9. David Anderson
    December 5, 2014 @ 5:52 am

    Clara spends a lot of Bells of St John either taking in that her world has suddenly turned weird or needing to be rescued.
    Then there's the two Cross episodes, where Cross is having to work out how to write a Doctor Who story.
    And Gatiss is doing his 'these women things didn't need distinct characters when I was a lad; I don't see why they need more than this now' shtick.
    I quite lked Thompson's script, but again it doesn't play to Clara's strengths.
    And I don't know what went wrong with Neil Gaiman – probably that cybermen don't really suit his strengths.

    Looking back at the season, you can see that she's meant to be someone who takes charge of a situation when she thinks she knows what's going on, and also that she's meant to be less brave and less likely to wander off on her own than other companions. But the plots don't always show that off.
    Also Matt Smith's Doctor is tolerant of just about everything and the Maitlands are children, so she doesn't get to play the double life thing that keeps the series arc of Season Eight going.

    (And making Amy bland is a perfectly good criticism of Victory of the Daleks.)

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  10. John Seavey
    December 5, 2014 @ 5:56 am

    Re: "…it’s also the case that Gatiss-bashing has become a shibboleth for certain fan ideologies to an extent that’s undeserved…"

    That's the worst thing about the man! You can't even hate him properly! He's just talented enough that you feel like it's unfair to really let him have it for his flaws, when his scripts usually come out as watchable at the very least and there are clearly far worse writers out there. Couldn't he at least have the common decency to be lousy as well as hopelessly over-cautious?

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  11. Seeing_I
    December 5, 2014 @ 6:57 am

    I am not sure exactly what he's talking about here. I just bash him because nearly all his Doctor Who scripts are utterly shallow "greatest hits" pastiches – they do what they say on the tin and nothing more.

    He also gets a huge black mark from me for his comment (in re: Victory of the Daleks) that Doctor Who doesn't have the scope for a complicated portrayal of historical figures (and, one presumes, eras) and that a "print the legend" approach is best. That's not the mindset I want out of any potential future show-runner.

    That said, he does seem like a lovely man, and it's always a pleasure when he pops up on-screen in something. Plus, his Sherlock scripts have usually been far ahead of his Who writing, which kind of baffles. Maybe with Sherlock he feels more free to totally re-invent, whereas his Who writing is too deeply bound up in his own nostalgia to really break free. Meanwhile "An Adventure in Space and Time" was excellent, maybe because he'd been thinking about and re-writing it for a decade. In that case, he managed to hit all the well-worn talking points as well as giving it some depth and emotional impact.

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  12. Seeing_I
    December 5, 2014 @ 6:58 am

    I liked this story better when it was written by Rob Shearman and starred a Dalek.

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  13. Seeing_I
    December 5, 2014 @ 6:59 am

    Not to mention, a scientist with such suspect taste in music is unlikely to be stationed on a nuclear sub.

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  14. Alan
    December 5, 2014 @ 7:29 am

    One thing that bugs me about the episode is that the Doctor seems to show admiration if not awe towards the Ice Warrior general for pretty much the same reasons he has thinly veiled contempt for every human who's ever worn a soldier's uniform.

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  15. Tymothi
    December 5, 2014 @ 7:41 am

    I thought Ultravox was actually pretty popular in the underground music network in the Soviet Union. I know that Midge Ure is (or was, anyway) super popular in Latvia, before they became independent from the USSR in 1991, to the point where the president of Latvia called him to tell him he was an icon there.

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  16. Nyq Only
    December 5, 2014 @ 8:52 am

    It was interesting to pair the Ice Warriors with Soviet Russia. The USSR and modern Russia often plays a role of an ambiguous bogeyman in pop culture – powerful, dangerous, the source of plot and intrigue but not so far off the scale of badness that there isn't the potential for detente or pragmatic alliance.
    I don't think the Ice Warriors have generally been intended to match with the Soviets in the way that the Daleks fit with Nazis – and if anything it is the Cybermen which have represented cultural fears of Communism. However, rather like the Klingons in Star Trek, they do represent an enemy that can center on plots of avoiding a war, or of preventing a nefarious plot against some kind of diplomacy.

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  17. John Seavey
    December 5, 2014 @ 8:55 am

    "I just bash him because nearly all his Doctor Who scripts are utterly shallow "greatest hits" pastiches – they do what they say on the tin and nothing more."

    But at least they do what they say on the tin. It's frustrating to see someone so obviously talented aim so low, but it's not as bad in practice as actually watching something made by someone untalented.

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  18. inkdestroyedmybrush
    December 5, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    While I actually enjoyed this episode from a safe, fun sort of way, I would take issue with the "three year" rule that Troughton came up with, as well Phil's assessment that Matt's performance bottoms out here.

    How about this for a start: after two years, give the actor something more to do and see if they rise up to the occasion. Lets take a look not at Troughton the actor, but the writing for the second season and third season of Pat's Doctor Who. I would make the case that he got bored with the part because they gave him little to challenge him. Bored, he decided that 3 years was enough. Matt's performance in the 50th special was his own War Games: the big hurrah where gets lots of great stuff to do and to show how good he is right before he shuffles off the stage. In many ways, matt's third season is problematic as he'd established his Doctor under two seasons of Moffat getting more and more experimental with regards to the linear aspect of season arcs and non-linear storytelling, and his third is rather… ordinary in many places. Just as Tom Baker didn't bottom out a Horror at Fang Rock, recently re watching the episodes from this season that i enjoyed, Mercy, Hide, Dinosaurs and most of Power of Three, I see nothing wrong with Matt's performance. I really think that weakness is in the writing of Jenna's character, which was generic and forgettable.

    (Does anyone else ;think that season 7 would ahve been better had there not been the 50th anniversay speical? I really think that it was too much, spread everyone so thin, that the season itself suffered as a result. Which, perhaps, is to be expected, but still…)

    so, no, i disagree that Matt had taken his performance as far as it could go. If the writing had given him some new directions in plot, i have no doubt that he could have gone there with them. Three years is only a limit, i think, when you're building the stories out of the character of the Doctor. When you build the stories out of interesting predicaments and let the Doctor warp the narrative, then you have very few limits to what you can do.

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  19. Richard Pugree
    December 5, 2014 @ 10:12 am

    I haven't rewatched it since it aired, so this may be me being an idiot, but I distinctly remember feeling there was something else going on with Warner's character, something Doctory, that would become a plot point at a later date. Perhaps I'm misremembering, or I've forgotten a really obvious parallel that was made or something, but I certainly remember something fishy about him and don't remember it being paid off. Perhaps it was just Ultravox.

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  20. John
    December 5, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    I guess we've still got one more Gatiss story to go, but I suppose this is as good a time as any to discuss the issue of "What would a Gatiss-run Who look like?" Because I think that, as much as nobody seems terribly enthusiastic about the idea, it seems like our most likely post-Moffat fate.

    I kind of feel like Gatiss would likely be perfectly fine at shepherding other people's scripts through – as I think Phil said on tumblr on the same question, Gatiss at least has good taste. But I have a hard time imagining what kind of season arcs we'd get. Davies and Moffat are at least as big fans of the classic series as Gatiss, but they also had very clear ideas of stories they wanted to pursue that the classic series never did. One never really gets that sense from Gatiss.

    But obviously Gatiss is a smart enough man to realize that you can't power an entire series of Doctor Who on a bunch of nostalgic callbacks and light romps. So what would he do with it?

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  21. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 11:49 am

    I don't know whether Ultravox specifically was the misstep, but I have to say if I could have changed one single thing about this story it would have been to cast someone else in the David Warner role. Rather than paraphrase it, I'll just post here what I wrote about it at the time:

    That ghastly exception is, of course, David Warner, thoroughly miscast as the supposedly charming and genial Professor Grisenko. We know he’s charming and genial because he enters the episode clutching a Walkman and tunelessly moaning the chorus of an Ultravox song (“Vienna”) whose lyrics (“This means nothing to me”) telegraph that he’s the one who’s above all this Cold War nonsense. He just cares about Science! which is why he has what is obviously a seven-foot humanoid in a block of ice but thinks he’s found a mammoth (we can assume he’s lying to the captain, but there’s no way to be sure). I don’t blame Gatiss here. On paper, this guy really could have been adorable and sweet, but either the director or the actor is unable to stop David Warner from being David Warner. He comes off as even creepier than the Ice Warrior most of the time, especially and most unfortunately when he’s trying to comfort Clara and/or convince her to join him in a rousing chorus of “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Someone else could maybe have pulled this off and turned this improbable goofy character into one of the darlings of the season. David Warner is a fine actor and he does his best here, but he’s just not what the doctor ordered.

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  22. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    Sometimes I wonder if he does what he does because he's the one that can do it, whereas when other writers come in with less of a solid Who pedigree they're never going to be able to go trad to any convincing extent. That is, I wonder if Gatiss is hired specifically to do this kind of episode because the showrunners believe there's a segment of fandom that craves it. And perhaps they're right.

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  23. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 11:54 am

    I wish Blogger had a Like button.

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  24. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 11:57 am

    Three years is only a limit, i think, when you're building the stories out of the character of the Doctor. When you build the stories out of interesting predicaments and let the Doctor warp the narrative, then you have very few limits to what you can do.

    I REALLY wish Blogger had a Like button.

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  25. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

    My best hope here is that my theory above is correct and he is typically asked for the nostalgia episodes, and that maybe there's something he's been holding back on so as not to invade the showrunners' territories. Seems really unlikely, but it's possible. I'm guessing he either goes deep into the horror realm or deep into camp — Hinchcliffe or Williams — or both, a la "The Crimson Horror."

    Or: maybe rather than being the one who writes all the pivotal we've-never-seen-anything-like-this-before segments of the seasons, he writes the nostalgic episodes and hires other people to do unusual things. Having never been a huge fan of the arcs, I wouldn't really mind this very much.

    Maybe he finally gives us a gay Doctor. Hey, I can dream.

    Worst case scenario to my mind is that he doubles down on the daddy issues and we finally meet Ulysses.

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  26. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

    Any thoughts on the Doctor carrying around a doll of Rose?

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  27. John Smith 5
    December 5, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    I've been fantasising about a Nick Hurran-directed version of Listen since the day I read the script. (Not constantly, mind you.)

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  28. John Smith 5
    December 5, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

    I recall coming across a particularly improbable fan theory that Professor Grisenko was the First Doctor, using a chameleon arch to hide out as a human on a Russian submarine… for some reason.

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  29. John Seavey
    December 5, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    I wish that were the case, but reading interviews, he is strongly of the opinion that there is a Platonic ideal of Doctor Who, and that it was achieved during the period that he was a teenage boy, and that everything they've done since has been a huge mistake and it's his job to go back to doing it The Right Way.

    There's a reason that one of his jokes had to be cut from the BBC's anniversary sketch, "The Pitch of Fear"–it's because it was insultingly derogatory to everyone who worked on the programme in the last six or seven years of its original run. He just can't get behind the idea that anything they did after about 1980 was worth a damn.

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  30. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

    He just can't get behind the idea that anything they did after about 1980 was worth a damn.

    Interestingly, apart from a smattering of McCoy episodes, Tat Wood seems to agree wholeheartedly.

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  31. William Silvia
    December 5, 2014 @ 5:36 pm

    My group had a simple verdict to "Cold War": great monster thriller, terrible Russian sub movie.

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  32. Leslie Lozada
    December 5, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

    That was a barbie doll.

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  33. encyclops
    December 5, 2014 @ 8:23 pm

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  34. Matthew Blanchette
    December 5, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    Adam Smith, myself. 🙂

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  35. Matthew Blanchette
    December 5, 2014 @ 10:15 pm

    Except Smith wasn't on for three YEARS — he was on for three SERIES. He'd been working on Doctor Who since 2009, so from his perspective, it'd been about four or five years for him. Might help understand where he was coming from — five straight years of work on the series would tire anyone out, I think, let alone a bouncy 26-year-old as he hits 30.

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  36. David Anderson
    December 5, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

    I don't know if this is part of what you mean, but the most interesting thing for Lt Stepashin to do, rather than spill the beans about the nuclear missiles to Skardak, would have been to get on the line to Moscow.
    A different story, perhaps, and perhaps more xenophobic from a Western perspective, but still, more interesting.

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  37. Anton B
    December 6, 2014 @ 12:34 am

    @ Tymothi
    Midge Ure is (or was, anyway) super popular in Latvia, before they became independent from the USSR in 1991, to the point where the president of Latvia called him to tell him he was an icon there.

    That's just the kind of crazy cold war fact that must be true and possibly Gattis was aware of that but it doesn't negate my feeling that the gag fell flat.

    Yes there was something oddly subtextual going on with Grisenko
    which, when it failed to pay off, I just put down to Gattis expecting the Ultravox gag to be more of a zinger than it was. maybe they did have something in mind for the character that that was lost in the final cut. I just assumed he was supposed to be a Soviet Pertwee analogue (dotty parascientific advisor to the military). I don't think Warner played it badly. In fact, I think the weight he brought to the role conspired to unbalance the overall effect, leading to those bonkers chameleon arch etc theories.

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  38. Ombund
    December 6, 2014 @ 12:34 am

    I think that's exactly the same point Phil's making though. The writing at this point in season 7B just wasn't pushing Matt Smith anymore and so that probably reinforced his choice to go. To push the Troughton parallel slightly further (and to be slightly unfair to Cold War) this is Smith's Dominators. Obviously Troughton and Smith both had high points to come (The Mind Robber and The War Games for Troughton and The Name/Day/Time of the Doctor trilogy for Smith) but it was probably the right creative decision for both them as actors and the show.

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  39. Daibhid C
    December 6, 2014 @ 1:26 am

    Less than 2 years and I had to google Paris Brown. Oh yeah, her.

    My recollection of Cold War is that I very much enjoyed it as a retro 80s Doctor Who thing (Warriors of the Deep done right, as Phil says), and I don't think I noticed if Matt was flailing a bit. I went to check what I said on my LJ at the time, and it turns out that was when the BT HomeHub was down, so I didn't.

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  40. Daibhid C
    December 6, 2014 @ 1:27 am

    There's a reason that one of his jokes had to be cut from the BBC's anniversary sketch, "The Pitch of Fear"–it's because it was insultingly derogatory to everyone who worked on the programme in the last six or seven years of its original run.

    More so than the ones they did broadcast? "Any f*cker with an Equity card".

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  41. elvwood
    December 6, 2014 @ 2:33 am

    Much as I adore David Warner, I do think the part was written for someone younger.

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  42. elvwood
    December 6, 2014 @ 2:38 am

    Yeah, I remember thinking on watching this that it was a very well done nostalgic base under siege – I think Gatiss did a good job on it (as did Mackinnon). My only real problem with it was that I wasn't particularly interested in what it was doing.

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  43. John Seavey
    December 7, 2014 @ 8:21 am

    That was the one. It was played on the original broadcast, and cut in all subsequent official releases.

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  44. BerserkRL
    December 7, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    That's the line that's been cut from subsequent versions, including the one on the dvd. Both the original and the censored version can be found on youtube.

    The line is not only insulting (i.e. objectionable even if accurate) but also inaccurate. That said, it's also pretty funny, and the whole sketch works much better with it than without it.

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  45. Adam Riggio
    December 7, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

    I was actually just thinking of this one promotional event that Matt Smith did shortly after his first season playing the Doctor wrapped. It was when he joined the Orbital set at the 2010 Glastonbury festival to play the Doctor Who theme with them. He was clearly having an amazing time, loved throwing improvised catchphrases at the audience. He was the Doctor and this was his moment.

    I compare that to his goodbye message to the Doctor Who fans as he was filming that Ryan Gosling movie in Detroit. Smith was thankful, but also solemn, like he had already said goodbye even though he still had a regeneration special left to film. The magic had truly gone for him.

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  46. Daru
    December 7, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

    The context in which I enjoyed this was indeed as a nostalgia piece that also attempted to touch on and improve on ideas behind stories such as Warrior of the Deep. I also basically loved the re-visioning of the Ice Warriors as wearing armour, as to be honest I'd never thought of that.

    I think Gatiss has a pretty fixed idea about what Who is, and I don't feel him as being showrunner material. Did love Crimson Horror though!

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  47. Blueshift
    December 8, 2014 @ 12:57 am

    The skills and assets needed to be showrunner aren't necessarily the same as what is needed to be an exceptional writer, though. I need only to point at the Moffat backlash to show that even the most anointed of writers can be a showrunner that is not to everyone's liking (I think he's great for the most part, but he's only human). Chris Chibnall may not be my favourite writer, but he has shown himself to be an amazing showrunner for other programmes, he'd probably be my choice if I'm honest.

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  48. Katherine Sas
    December 23, 2014 @ 9:10 am

    Gotta agree – Warner didn't work for me, either. Not sure why he's so unfunny in this. Humor's usually not a problem for him (see Time Bandits). Possibly the jokes were never that funny to begin with.

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  49. Taliesin B
    August 25, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

    It's funny – coming back to reread these now, well in the wake of series 8 and starting to think seriously about getting excited for series 9, I actually forgot that this was a Smith episode in the course of reading the first section of the article. It's so easy to imagine this episode done with Capaldi that I find myself vividly picturing him in scenes, and unable to imagine how Smith might have played them, even though he did.

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