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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.


  1. Rei Maruwa
    January 15, 2024 @ 6:05 am

    False conflict in dialogue is something Chibnall uses a lot, which plays heavily into my impression of him as a guy who knows “how to write stories” in a theoretical sense, but has no personal feelings or ideas on the matter. He knows that you’re supposed to include conflict in your character interactions, because that’s an accepted fact, but his deployment of it makes zero sense in any context outside of “I am disinterestedly following the rules I read about how writing works”.

    I’ve been watching Torchwood for the first time recently, and in the season 1 finale Owen disrespects Jack’s authority and tells him off, which leads to Jack getting really pissed and angrily telling him to leave Torchwood. I truly can’t imagine Jack giving a shit in the slightest about this – surely he would just laugh off Owen’s grandstanding as usual – but that just doesn’t matter to Chris – the characters have conflict because “conflict is good in writing”, rather than any reason that extends out of their characterizations.

    I think it’s in the previous episode of DW that has Graham imply that he doesn’t actually believe that Ryan has dyspraxia, which is a pretty heavy way to characterize Graham, especially in his first episode! But AFAIK that doesn’t come up again either, does it? It’s just a line he threw in because “characters are arguing” – it paints Graham monstrously, but to Chibnall it clearly wasn’t intended to, and characters can say shocking awful things as long it’s part of Doing Conflict, which is Writing. (Though I guess “a dad says awful things he doesn’t believe for literally no reason when he’s mad” is, um, realistic. But surely not intentional.) And generically following the rules of writing is as high as Chris can imagine anyone ever reaching for, I think.


    • Soon
      January 16, 2024 @ 10:51 pm

      If he thought you always had to have conflict you’d think there’d be more conflict.


      • Bernard the Poet
        January 21, 2024 @ 10:39 am

        “If he thought you always had to have conflict you’d think there’d be more conflict.”

        Well, isn’t that the real mystery of Chris Chibnall? If he were simply a hack, then he could have made things so much easier for himself. Bring back the Daleks as the series’ Big Bad. Make one of the companions a gun-toting femme fatale in thigh-high leather boots, make another a cute robot. Give them some big operatic conflict that gets resolved in the tenth episode, when they realise that despite their differences they’re still “family.” Retain the stable of writers that Davies and Moffat had assembled, who could be relied upon to deliver six or seven above average stories per series. Hire established tv performers who have demonstrated the ability to chew the scenery as your protagonists. Give Ryan a disability that doesn’t hamper his ability to run around shooting baddies. I mean it would be hackneyed, but it would also be a perfectly adequate Sunday tea-time entertainment.

        Instead, Chibnall imposes all these limitations on himself. They make everything so difficult. Why have four protagonists? Why introduce all four in the first episode? Why have your companions come from the same time and place, and have the same ethical and moral viewpoint? Why insist that all ten episodes are standalone? Why no returning villains? Why set 80% of the stories on Earth?

        I am not saying it is impossible to make a good series within those limitations, but I do think it demands a higher level of skill from the writers, actors, directors and everyone else involved. Chibnall really needed a Jane Trantor type to say, “you’re not that good, Chris. Lets just keep it simple.”


        • Arthur
          January 21, 2024 @ 10:52 am

          I think, Bernard, we answer many (but not all of your questions) by looking back to El’s Broadchurch article and realising that Chibnall isn’t turning out a hack science fiction author’s version of Doctor Who, but a hack prestige drama writer’s version of it which is then, as a second step, put through a hack science fiction filter.

          So he wouldn’t have ever put in a sexy assassin in thighboots – that idea wouldn’t have arisen in stage 1 – but he would introduce a fam of people from diverse backgrounds in stage 1, and then brush away anything interesting which might come from that in stage 2.


          • Moon J. Cobwebb
            May 21, 2024 @ 9:03 am

            There’s a definite confluence of factors going on – when is there ever not, afterall.

            At one level Chibnall is a hack, and does hackish things, at another he’s clearly a driven writer who has aspirations of auteur creativity and the like. His milieu is cop shows, which have always been some of the most gentrified genre fiction, waves of faux-legitimacy cresting on their shores, about once a decade the same old tropes getting reinvented as ‘serious’ and ‘worthy’ by some fairly genuine work of art in the medium which then trickles down until all cop shows are using these tricks, and again someone gets to come along and break the paradigm. Chibnall, as noted elsewhere, got to play a big part in bringing Scandi Noir aesthetic to UK crime dramas, so has a sort of high second order status from that, but it’s a patina over just being a recycled old boots kind of storyteller. One suspects, though, that he may have fooled himself.

            Then again he never really wanted the job with Who, by all accounts he was cornered into it, and a lot of external impositions we might lay on him making things harder for himself were mandates from BBC studios, certainly the high creative turnover and lack of returning monsters in the first season (the former of which is a lousy idea but the latter has some merits). I think for all he could convince himself he has the edge to be an above average procedural generator his feelings toward Who are more mixed; he’s a fan but not a megafan, he was once, as a teen, but has mostly moved on in a way Davies & Moffat never have, and he knows at some level without that obsession he can reach back to nostalgia (cod neo-Davisonianism et al) and old ideas (TTC) but there’s no story in his heart he’s dying to tell, so he tries to turn the tricks of his trade to his childhood obsession and it all comes off in a mess.

        • Ross
          January 21, 2024 @ 3:04 pm

          I might say that there is a “journeyman” quality to Chibnall’s writing: he strikes me as someone who has practiced the craft by parts, studied hard, has many of the techniques down. But he isn’t a master of it. In particular, he is VERY lacking in the skillset of the big picture, of bringing all those techniques together to make a cohesive story. If you asked him to build you a chest of drawers, without someone else providing the design and directing the work, the scrollwork on the legs would be exquisite, but there would be seventeen of them, many not directed toward the floor. The dovetailing would be perfect, but the drawers wouldn’t fit into the carcase. The finish would be beautiful, but applied to the inside of the thing. (Been reading carpentry blogs recently. Sorry).


        • Rei Maruwa
          January 21, 2024 @ 6:25 pm

          For me it comes back to the same drive as why he includes false conflict in dialogue (as opposed to real conflict): because he knows intellectually what’s concensus “good writing”. He knows that making the whole thing pulpy would be “cliche” and “not good”, and he knows that including diversity and topical issues is, apparently, “good”. But it’s all purely theoretical, and he has no idea why anyone thinks any of these things – and most importantly, he does not know that he doesn’t know, and has likely never needed to.

          It sounds like I’m being really harsh on Chris as a person, but I’d actually say that kind of mental process is completely normal – typical, you might say – and probably very useful, socially speaking. It’s one that helps you get along with your coworkers and do your job reliably and predictably. It also does not tend to land you in an ambitious creative position, like running Doctor Who. The real story of the Chibnall era might not be that he’s a bad writer, but that they didn’t have (or didn’t THINK they had) anyone better they could’ve chosen instead.


          • Arthur
            January 21, 2024 @ 6:50 pm

            Yeah, a worthwhile parallel could be find with Eric Saward, who was promoted to script editor on the strength of having written a pretty good story once, and then we got the era we got out of that.

            The big difference being that Saward was not the apex of creative power in his era.

    • Arthur
      January 19, 2024 @ 12:17 pm

      For Graham being Wrong About Dyspraxia to come up again, Ryan’s dyspraxia would need to come up again fairly often, and of course it doesn’t.

      I strongly suspect Chibnall wanted to tick the “disability” diversity tickbox, but decided that a visible disability would cause writing and difficulties, so he gave Ryan an invisible disability and then ignored it most of the time.

      I hate that the people accusing Chibnall of indulging in diversity purely for performative fauxgressive cool points were right, but it’s really hard to refute the point when stuff like that happens. Chibnall shows every sign of understanding that diversity is something which is wanted by the fanbase and is a good thing, but no understanding of why that is, or even having much passion for it, because if he really thought the representation of disabled characters was important, he wouldn’t have made Ryan’s dyspraxia so utterly disposable.


  2. Cyrano
    January 15, 2024 @ 6:32 am

    I do wonder if that point on the secrecy of the show and sparsity of the previews in this era betrays a lack of confidence from the production team, as well as valuing secrecy and surprise for its own sake. After all Moffat and Russell T did plenty of their own highly concealed shock reveal storytelling where they heavily emphasised the secrecy of what they were doing.

    But for episodes like Mummy on the Orient Express (where there is no secret of greater scope than the episode’s plot) there was no fear that heavily previewing the premise would detract from the pleasures of the episode. The production team could talk about the setting and premise (even the twist that the Orient Express is IN SPACE!), the Christie-ish atmosphere, the supporting cast in the basic confidence that this would entice people to watch. That knowing about it would make people excited to see all these elements in motion, that ‘The Orient Express IN SPACE’ was going to be even more fun to see than just hear about.

    Whereas does the obsessive secrecy of the Chibnall era over even minor plots reveal a basic lack of confidence that anyone would care after hearing the elevator pitch? After all what does “The Doctor and her new friends are caught up in the universe’s most dangerous race across a deadly planet for the ultimate prize” substantially reveal that the limp official blurb does not? It sort of suggests to me some fear that the production’s got little going for it except a sense of mystery, and the more that’s given away, even in unimportant facts like ‘there’s a race in this episode’, the less people are going to tune in.


  3. William Shaw
    January 15, 2024 @ 8:23 am

    Remember the trailer for series 11 that amounted to ‘there will be actors in it.’


  4. Bedlinog
    January 15, 2024 @ 1:46 pm

    I guess it might have seemed at the time like the series was following the familiar old pattern of episode 2 being the one where the companions get to see alien worlds for the first time, and then episode 3 is the one where they see the past. I can’t remember this episode doing much with that premise. The companions just seem really thick and gormless most of the time, like they haven’t got much clue where they are. Or maybe that’s Bradley Walsh’s schtick that set the tone.


  5. wyngatecarpenter
    January 15, 2024 @ 2:24 pm

    The bit the really irritated me with this episode was near the end where they find a bit of graffiti that fills in all the remaining bits of exposition! I thought that was amazingly clunky, probably the prime example of Chibnall’s “tell not show” technique , although there are other candidates.
    I did think at the time that the “Timeless Child” reference was probably just referring to the Doctor having insecurities about being lonely and adrift in time or something and was amused that people were clinging onto it as evidence of a story arc, and I still wonder if that was all it was but Chibnall then panicked and though he better trying a cobble together some kind of story arc out of it because people were expecting it.


    • Aristide Twain
      January 15, 2024 @ 6:36 pm

      Mh, not convinced. Looking at the lines again (praise be to Chakoteya), they seem almost over-the-top in flagging that these lines are Foreshadowing about an Important Secret.

      REMNANTS: We see deeper, though, further back. The Timeless Child.
      DOCTOR: What did you just say?
      REMNANT: She doesn’t know.
      DOCTOR: What are you talking about? What can you see?
      REMNANT: We see what’s hidden even from yourself. The outcast, abandoned and alone.

      (By the way, rather funny in hind-sight that random bio-weapons made of old clothes can apparently pierce through the mind-wipe when a big bad mythical type like Swarm, two seasons later, will be forced to conclude that “there is not a tiny corner of [the Doctor] that remembers”. Moffat and Davies have done much worse in the way of foreshadowing not quite matching the punchline, of course. But still: funny.)


      • wyngatecarpenter
        January 15, 2024 @ 8:07 pm

        Yes , you’re probably right . Pity, I liked that theory.


      • prandeamus
        January 22, 2024 @ 7:23 am

        I saw the official Doctor Who annual at Christmas. Presumably written under the auspices of the RTD2 team. It’s quite clever really, as it does acknowledge the the Timeless Child thing, but also implies it may not be totally reliable – saying that for some people, the Doctor’s origin in the abandoned immortal orphan, and for other people it starts when this bloke left Gallifrey with his granddaughter. He’s trying to have his cake and eat it. Bearing in mind the primary audience here is kid fans, it’s a positive way to handle things while also giving the new team some leeway. I thought it was quite gracious.


        • Ross
          January 22, 2024 @ 10:41 am

          It still startles me how many people are confused and surprised that RTD didn’t explicitly decanonize the Timeless Child. That so many people thought that RTD, the dude who totally could have erased the Zarbi and the Quarks, but instead brought back the Macra, would “obviously” say “No but” instead of “Yes and”.


    • Cyrano
      January 16, 2024 @ 8:54 am

      I think the speculation at the time was the opposite – that was a hasty ADR in as Chibnall was planning his next series after this ostentatiously arc-less one.


    • Malk
      January 16, 2024 @ 7:20 pm

      How sorely I miss the brief window of fan discussion immediately post-Ghost Monument, where I was insistent that “The Timeless Child” wasn’t set-up for a story arc because it was clearly such generic filler dialogue, and that Tim Shaw wouldn’t be back for the finale because he was such an boring non-entity that had served any purpose he ever could have.


      • Richard Pugree
        January 21, 2024 @ 2:19 pm

        For some reason at the time I was fairly sure it was going to be Rahul’s missing sister (taken by the Stenza and, I don’t know, taken out of time or something).

        Then by the time of the series finale and Tim Shaw’s stasis technology being so central to whatever it was that story was trying to be about, it seemed like it was connecting something up…


    • Malk
      January 16, 2024 @ 7:21 pm

      How sorely I miss the brief window of fan discussion immediately post-Ghost Monument, where I was insistent that “The Timeless Child” wasn’t set-up for a story arc because it was clearly such generic filler dialogue, and that Tim Shaw wouldn’t be back for the finale because he was such an boring non-entity that had already served any purpose he ever could have.


  6. Kate Orman
    January 16, 2024 @ 8:31 pm

    “Who are the watchers? And do they mean the Doctor and his companions any harm?”


    • Corey Klemow
      January 17, 2024 @ 12:40 am

      “What is the secret of ‘Henrik’s’? And just who is Clive?” #thecurseofhenriks


  7. Karek
    January 17, 2024 @ 1:26 pm

    Great review! Loved it! I might actually force myself to watch the other two seasons just so I can keep understanding these


    • Przemek
      January 30, 2024 @ 3:17 pm

      Please don’t do this to yourself. It’s like getting through the pandemic without contracting COVID-19 and then purposefully infecting yourself with the coronavirus just to see what everyone is talking about.


  8. prandeamus
    January 18, 2024 @ 11:08 am

    A combination of faded memory and lack of lived experience may make me regret asking, but it’s a genuine question. I’m sure I recall Ryan, who is clearly labelled as dyspraxic in the previous episode, outrunning or dodging some shooty-bang-bang-laser people. At the time it was a minor discordant note, or maybe slightly intriguing. Was that right? Nothing much came of it, but I remember wondering if was “important” or whether it was a variation on “Stormtroopers are terrible at aiming” tropes. Does dyspraxia affect fine motor skills? Not that it ever really mattered.

    Art Malik’s character suddenly disappears without any sense that Doctor has put him in his place, or righted a wrong, or … anything. Last week she definitely did something with Tim Shaw. This seems the first case where she just shrugged and let the bad guy off the hook. Reader, it was not the last.

    There was a bit of emotion in the TARDIS reveal, but not particularly earned. I never really felt that I understood the interior layout. Maybe it was the dim lighting or whatever – couldn’t visualise it, not until next season. I was watching in standard resolution, not HD, on a not particularly big or bright screen. Seemed that the external door was far, far too far removed from the console. It didn’t cohere in some way Classic and Revival interiors did have a sense of space because they had boundaries. Taking the walls away makes it look smaller somehow.

    I like me a good biscuit, but why go the trouble of mentioning a custard cream dispenser and then pretty much forgetting it for the rest of the season? Or maybe they did and I was catatonic.

    Feel free to correct my faulty memory or lack of understand of dyspraxia by the way.


    • Ross
      January 19, 2024 @ 2:06 pm

      My main thought about the new TARDIS – beyond the fact that, much like everything else in this era, I think a lot of the individual elements are good, but they don’t cohere in any meaningful way – is the phrase that came into my mind to describe the ring of pillars that move in time to the column. I refer to them as “Genuflecting crystal dongs”.


    • TheWrittenTevs
      January 22, 2024 @ 6:37 am

      The fact that the Whitaker TARDIS exists in this black void with a few flat walls dotted around the console always made it look like a set in a soundstage rather than an actual room. I’ve never been able to buy it as a location that people would actually live in.


      • prandeamus
        January 22, 2024 @ 7:18 am

        Yeah, somewhere to live in. Classic TARDIS sets and scripts often had or implied “Living Quarters”. Not that they were particularly exciting in narrative terms, but there was an acknowledgement they they existed. Having recently watched “Mind Robber” and “Time Meddler” you see that. But where did Ryan or Yaz or Graham or whatever go to sleep? (As a child I wondered occasionally why you rarely saw characters in a serial use the bathroom. More sophisticated me understands narrative conventions.) Anyway, it seems the the lack of boundary walls on the Whitaker TARDIS set acts to reduce a sense of grandeur rather than enhancing it.


      • Ross
        January 22, 2024 @ 9:15 am

        There is a bit of me that enjoys the overt theatricality of “a few walls in a black void,” but yeah.

        I think it takes a longish time though for the show to be entirely explicit and settled on the matter of how the TARDIS interior is subdivided. Edge of Destruction seems to show a dormitory-style living quarters immediately off the console room, but nothing else. Planet of the Daleks has a pull-out bed off to the side of the console room itself. It’s not until the fourth Doctor period that they settle down on the idea of the TARDIS interior as an infinite rabbit-warren, and I think it’s only with that 4-5 crew that we ever actually see bedrooms. The new series hasn’t spent a lot of time outside the console room. Amy and Rory mention their bedroom, but we don’t see them. We have the two notable eleventh Doctor stories that tour the interior a bit, and Tennant has one scene in the wardrobe.


  9. Gnaeus
    January 18, 2024 @ 5:15 pm

    ” Notably, this description consists entirely of questions. More to the point, the questions are extremely stupid.”

    Oh, so it’s an EDA.


  10. Aaron
    January 19, 2024 @ 7:10 am

    I actually have dyspraxia so i might be able to help? Dyspraxia has a wide range of symptoms, so it would be impossible to depict them all, but this era of Doctor Who is ultimately pretty hopeless with illustrating what the disorder is. The most common traits are problems with fine and gross motor skills, reaction speeds, spatial awareness, organisational skills, time management and concentration.

    It would be very, very unusual for someone to be diagnosed with dyspraxia and not have difficulties with their fine and gross motor skills. Ryan does have those difficulties, as we could see with his attempts at riding a bike in the first episode, and his fear of climbing the ladder.

    Him suddenly being a crack shot with a gun he’s just picked up and has never used before, just because he’s played computer games, is like someone with one leg spontaneously re-growing a new one and then immediately outpacing Usain Bolt because they’ve played Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Wii.


    • prandeamus
      January 19, 2024 @ 8:14 am

      Thanks Aaron.

      Speaking as someone who hates ladders, took longer than my peers to learn to ride a bike, and not noted for exceptional motor skills, spatial awareness or time management, that’s certainly food for thought if nothing else. Mind you, I’ve managed for 60 years and still going. There are surely some people worse off than I am.

      I’ll give Chibnall credit for trying to raise awareness of things like that. Knowing how other people might think, act, and perceive the world, or discovering that one is not alone in one’s (dis)ability, is a fantastic goal and admirable, so full marks to Mr. C. The execution, less so. Given Doctor Who’s primary remit is to entertain, there’s obviously a ceiling on what could ever be accomplished with disability awareness. But for whatever reason (Writers Room, Series Bible, poor communications) it wasn’t handled with internal logic or a clear understanding of the condition.

      Speaking of which, two things come to mind for the present day and might be far-off additions for the Gatwa Eruditorum

      RTD2, Davros, Ruth Madeley and “disability-as-evil” tropes
      The ability of TV to still galvanize public debate. Will the ITV1 drama on the Horizon scandal (Mr. Bates vs the Post Office) prove to be an outlier, or will TV regain its ability to get people talking? I knew the basics of the scandal if not the details, only vaguely aware of the existence of the currently-running (Jan 2024) enquiry. Did ITV1 just get lucky in the choice of subject and release timing?

      I was going to come back from the future to edit this response, but that darned Mr. Blinovitch and his Limitation Effect …


      • Dan
        January 19, 2024 @ 10:41 pm

        I’m not sure what you’re saying and the Post Office scandal in relation to this blog, but I don’t think they got lucky with the timing. I just think it’s good they did it. It could have been done at any time in the last 20 years and had a positive impact similar to that which it has.


        • prandeamus
          January 20, 2024 @ 12:20 pm

          It wasn’t the most coherent thing I’ve ever said, and the formatting screwed up a bit.

          I was wondering, when El gets round to a “Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea” entry going into the Gatwa ere, it might be interesting to look at whether drama-documentaries and the like had a meaningful place in the TV landscape in 2023. Is the Mr. Bates thing a last attempt at linear broadcast TV to be meaningful, will this set a trend for the future? But now I’m just speculating.


    • Christopher Brown
      January 19, 2024 @ 7:33 pm

      I have to thank you, your comment educated me more about Dyspraxia than any Chibnall era episode I watched.


      • Aaron
        January 19, 2024 @ 7:58 pm

        For what it’s worth i think Chibnall’s heart was in the right place. The issue was the inconsistency throughout Ryan’s time on the programme. It’s like Ryan’s dyspraxia only occurs in specific scenes that are about Ryan having dyspraxia and then disappear the rest of the time because those scenes are about something else unrelated. The disorder was reduced to being a thing that is sometimes an inconvenience for Ryan but mostly has no real impact on his life.

        This isn’t a problem that is specific to this particular character aspect though. It happens to all of the companions and the Thirteenth Doctor with their motivations and character traits. They turn into completely different people from scene to scene. There’s criticisms to be made of characters like Tegan, Nyssa and Adric but at least they were coherent and consistent. We knew who they were. We knew no more about Ryan as a person after he left than we did in his very first appearance.


        • Arthur
          January 19, 2024 @ 8:05 pm

          It’s a very “can’t see the forest for the trees” writing approach, isn’t it? Individual scenes are devised and once they’ve hit the specific thing they need to do, that’s good enough, but there’s not enough big-picture thinking to really tie things together.


        • Anton B
          January 21, 2024 @ 10:22 am

          Isn’t that precisely the show-runner’s job? In which case, giving Chibnall any benefit of the doubt is sorely misplaced.

          This episode was the moment I gave up on the Whittaker era. I carried on watching but haven’t re-watched any of it.
          In fact, having just binged all of Nu Who with my wife (a new convert to Doctor Who) we made the joint decision to skip Whittaker after Capaldi and go straight to the RTD2 specials. Such a shame the first female Doctor was so badly served.


          • Arthur
            January 21, 2024 @ 10:42 am

            The showrunner’s job covers massive amounts of ground – I think to a point where it’s difficult to sustain and so not surprising when people struggle with it. (Really, it’s a shock the batting average has been this good.) There’d be something to be said for splitting it into something like the producer/script editor distinction of the classic show.

            That said… yeah, that was exactly my point, big picture stuff is unambiguously something which falls under the showrunner’s list of basic duties and Chibnall seems to have been very bad at it.

        • Anton B
          January 21, 2024 @ 10:27 am

          Isn’t that precisely the show runner’s job?


        • Alex B
          January 24, 2024 @ 8:47 am

          I don’t care where Chibnall’s heart was- I care that he produced an era of television that gave a character a disability and then proceeded to treat it as a joke and an excuse on the rare occasions he could actually be bothered to include it in the show.

          If the Chibnall era had come out when I was a dyspraxic little kid, I wouldn’t have felt represented or seen – I’d have felt absolutely humiliated.


          • Moon J. Cobwebb
            May 30, 2024 @ 4:12 am

            For all those interested in discussion of dyspraxia in general and its representation via Ryan in the Chibnall Era specifically I’d highly recommend the Who Cares episode on this which is easy to find – myself and my partner discuss our experiences with the condition, the rise and fall of our hopes with regards to Ryan, ways he’s still and important character, ways The Doctor and the TARDIS are better dyspraxic rep, and missed chances for disability to create rather than foreclose narrative opportunities.

  11. Riggio
    January 19, 2024 @ 2:18 pm

    I always got the vibe watching these years of the show, and reading your comments on it, that this would be the most difficult Eruditorum of all, because so many of the stories are so vapid. I wonder if it would be interesting to understand Chibnall as a kind of warped, tragic return of Ian Levine, with more direct power over what Doctor Who is actually becoming than he could ever have exercised through his own role with the show in the 1980s.

    Specifically, I’m thinking of how much both Levine and Chibnall care about the specific facts of the Doctor Who universe and Doctor Who’s narratives, and how it seems impossible that anyone could care about aspects of the narrative other than its specific facts. Levine thought it mattered more that a random spaceship whose name is mentioned once in a story not be the same as a random spaceship whose name was mentioned once in a story 15 years before. Chibnall thought the audience would genuinely care more about what was the battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos more than we would the reconciliation between Ryan and his stepdad Graham. I think it’s because Chibnall and Levine both cared about those facts as the parts of the show that excited them more than anything else. But Chibnall wasn’t writing an encyclopedia of Doctor Who’s universe and continuity; he was writing Doctor Who.


    • Ross
      January 19, 2024 @ 10:49 pm

      Oh that is a great way to put it. He comes off like he’s writing for the concordance. Lots and lots of facts and details that will make good trivia questions, but not much in the way of narrative.

      It makes me reflect on the fact that the first several generations of fandom effectively didn’t have access to the primary sources – almost everything was lost, and what was still around was at the mercy of reruns. For those generations of fans, the target novelizations, the concordances, the trivia books WERE the show, and fitting a pattern that could be represented in the structure of a spreadsheet really substituted for the structure of a cohesive narrative.


  12. Przemek
    January 20, 2024 @ 6:18 pm

    “the ludicrous overvaluation of surprise over other aesthetic reactions”

    In this single regard, at least, I feel like Chibnall is in synch with the zeitgeist. I feel like in the last few years, the anti-spoiler stance has gotten more popular and more extreme. To quote an example that really made an impression on me: I saw a post about the Smith era that advised new viewers to close their eyes when the title of the episode is shown on-screen because the titles sometimes contain spoilers, like “Time of the Angels”. You know, the titles that were purposefully put there by the creators of the show…

    (I also saw someone advising people not to look too closely at a family tree that’s clearly shown on-screen, in close-up, in one episode of “Dark” because, apparently, it spoils too much.)

    “ideas so coarsely and ineptly worked that they do not actually have the property of “aboutness” yet”

    Well put, and this is the most damning thing about the Chibnall era for me. Chibnall’s scripts fail at such a basic level that it’s hard to believe they came from a seasoned TV professional. He got paid for this shit? I would be embarassed to write something this bad for free.


  13. L
    January 24, 2024 @ 6:09 am

    My overriding memory of this one, other than a nice shot of the TARDIS at the end, is “don’t touch the water – it’s deadly” and a close up of… water. And then nobody ever mentions it again, nor does it ever become a danger to any character.


    • prandeamus
      January 24, 2024 @ 6:19 am

      “Tell not show” becomes “Tell me one thing and show another to no good purpose”.


      • Moon J. Cobwebb
        May 30, 2024 @ 10:27 am

        So, ultimately I think the infamous deadly water is a clue to one of the coarse and underworked ideas going on in the mix, and at the very least explains itself if not some broader sense of what’s supposed to be going on here…

        It’s The Keys of Marinus.

        Bit of an odd choice, all told, although not unheard of for a showrunner to start off their reign by retuning to some old classics and retuning them; as for instance under the hood The End of The World feels incredibly fresh and weird, but minus the Time War and the EastPowellStreet class content it’s pretty much entirely a synthesis of elements from The Curse of Peladon and The Arc in Space, two radically different takes on big intro to space stories but each with that common goal.

        Now, there’s something positively inspired about Davies’ decision, and layers of additional ideas over the top of it that elevate it from an insightful derivation to a breath taking new landmark with subtle debts to the past, while Chibnall… perspires at being Chibnall, as ever. But it’s not so hard at least to glimpse some sense of what he was going for in all of this, with that lens – after all the signalling was clear enough around the time: we’re toing a cod-Daviesian neo-Hartnaillain bit; large TARDIS crew, less camp, less gothic, more a sort of breezy crisp BBC vibe with educational value for the kids, a return to first principles. In which case actively returning to the first exploration of the Weird in the series history as inspiration for your Big Spacey One, traditionally the new series watershed for all-out weirdness is savvy enough. And a perfectly canny observation about The Keys of Marinus to a modern eye is how much it feels like a computer game, as El makes much hay of in her own essay on it from a million years ago. So, in updating it for the modern day what do you do? Make it more like a modern computer game!

        It’s… not the worst idea ever, particularly if one has any depth of relationship to modern gaming and can draw from examples that extend from the gaming tradition that Marinus is reminiscent of, there’s a lot of fun stuff in indie puzzle solving and platformer games with deliberately complex and beautiful aesthetic settings. It’s not the stock cultural perception of gaming but that’s no strict reason not to use it for inspiration, populism =/= genericism. Except, of course, that we’re talking about Chibnall, for whom the two are very much equal values, and whose fuzzy boomer perception of modern gaming extends no further than gritty beige FPSs, Call of Duty shoutouts, etc. all of which have no particular sense of wonder and the Weird, so out go the acid oceans, replaced with the far more scientific flesh eating bacteria infested waters! Nevermind that the structural purpose of riffing on Marinus was as an allusion to its functional role as a portal to weird spaces in a debut season, we’re pretty much just Markov chaining here; Early Season Spacey Weirdness – Keys of Marinus – Computer Games – CoD.



        • prandeamus
          May 31, 2024 @ 4:12 pm

          Well, perhaps the Great Chibnall Re-evaluation starts here and now. You make a good case for the idea, but I still feel the execution is lacking. But go for it, the world needs more positivity 🙂


  14. Dave
    February 28, 2024 @ 3:59 am

    Blimey. It shows the little impact this episode made on me that I have no recollection whatsoever that the Stenza were referenced in this episode. Normally that’s the sort of detail I really love about the show.


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