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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. Whittso
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:05 am

    Sigh. I quite like WotD… I know I am wrong and alone in this.

    So what, assign each story a score based on it's variance from the mighty DWM poll position and then modify your votes accordingly?


  2. Carey
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:20 am

    This serves a dual purpose in giving us a forward glance to a hint of some of your views on stories from the Matt Smith era. There's one in particular that I would have given a 10 to that I'm astounded that you've given a 1.

    Looking forward to reading that essay.


  3. SpaceSquid
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:41 am

    I'm not seeing how this is a normal distribution, my good Doctor,

    (I'm not seeing how The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang can possibly outdistance Curse of Fenric, either, but it makes a change from people drastically underrating it, at least.)


  4. dirkmalcolm.com
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:52 am

    The Girl Who Waited

    "Oooo", and also, "What?". Looking forward to that one.


  5. Alex Antonijevic
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:58 am

    Some interesting rankings there. Very interested to see why The Girl Who Waited is in the lowest scoring group. A lot of Series 7 is in the higher end of your list, which I agree with, but I think a lot of people don't… people have been quite hard on that run, especially Clara's story.


  6. dirkmalcolm.com
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:28 am

    I suspect, given Total Voters >> Total Phil Sandifers, a first order strategy would be to look at where each story finished in the previous poll: if it was higher than your target ranking then vote 1, if lower then vote 10, if equal then assign your real target.

    Not very exciting, but has the benefit of being simple.


  7. elvwood
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:43 am

    Yep, that's not a normal distribution – but since he's not planning on assigning numerical scores based on it anyway, it doesn't really matter! and the good side (if you like that sort of thing) is that it got him to rank his stories in order.

    I did something similar when the Mighty 200 came around. I had seen fewer than 100 at that time, but I was already getting to the point where I'd look at my instinctive ratings and see stories with marks in the "wrong" order; so I photocopied the form, cut it into strips and then arranged them into an approximate high-to-low list. I then divided up the scores in what felt roughly right. Since then I've simply slotted new stories in next to the ones that felt most similar in terms of level of enjoyment. And often moved stories around a bit if my opinions have changed.

    It's all pointless – but fun.


  8. SpaceSquid
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:46 am

    Doesn't really matter!?! That's the sort of attitude to mathematical terms that Hitler probably had!


  9. itsrobertsblog
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:47 am

    Only 5 out of 10 for Amy's Choice and as much as 4 out of 10 for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship are the real surprises for me here.


  10. Anton B
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:47 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  11. Anton B
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:56 am

    I find lists uninteresting in the context of Doctor Who so I won't be joining in. YMMV and all that but I have to say The Girl Who Waited in the same league as The Celestial Toymaker? I'm guessing it's to do with sexism, ageism and possibly the almost irredeemable attitudes of the Doctor and Rory in that narrative. Even so I'd rate it a lot higher for the production values and Karen Gillan's performance alone. Still musn't fall into the list trap…must resist…Oh okay I'd rate The Keys of Marinus higher too.


  12. Thomas Lawrence
    March 4, 2014 @ 3:14 am

    The Girl Who Waited's positioning here is particularly odd given that on Tumblr when this list was posted earlier it was in 37th place. I suspect either an error or some sort of trademark formal trickery… πŸ™‚


  13. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 3:24 am

    It's interesting to watch Phil changing his mind, but even so I can't help quoting:
    The fact that there are people alive in the world who sincerely believe [The Pyramids of Mars] to be a better story than The Wedding of River Song is frankly a travesty of the modern education system. – Philip Sandifer.


  14. Bennett
    March 4, 2014 @ 3:42 am

    Number geek here wanting to add that the correct term in this context is "discrete uniform distribution".

    Take that, Jerry!


  15. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 3:45 am

    Big Winners since Phil last scored Doctor Who episodes:

    The Claws of Axos
    Galaxy 4
    The Daleks
    The Moonbase
    Talons of Weng-Chiang
    The Romans
    The Five Doctors
    Planet of Giants
    Spearhead from Space
    The Space Museum
    Frontier in Space
    The Time Meddler
    Marco Polo
    The Mark of the Rani

    (That's everything that's gone up in marks, which is against the general trend.)

    Big Losers:
    The Sea Devils
    The Masque of Mandragora
    The Hand of Fear
    The Keeper of Traken
    Colony in Space
    The Three Doctors
    Planet of Evil
    The Mutants
    Mission to the Unknown

    (That's everything that's dropped three or four marks.)


  16. Bennett
    March 4, 2014 @ 4:01 am

    Given that you're attempting to rank fifty years of stories from a television series that doesn't even keep a consistent metric week-to-week, you've acquitted yourself quite well here.

    While I don't want to pull you up on too many specifics (because I acknowledge that your opinion is allowed to differ from my own), I've really got to ask….

    How the hell did you find ten stories worse than Attack of the Cybermen?

    (I'd love to respond in kind with my own list, but I retired from story ranking after four years of Moffat's era screwed up my grading curve.)


  17. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 4:31 am

    Methinks it's been grossly misinterpreted.


  18. SpaceSquid
    March 4, 2014 @ 5:19 am

    "Number geek here wanting to add that the correct term in this context is "discrete uniform distribution"."

    Even that I have my doubts about, though mainly because I have a problem attaching the word "distribution" in its probabilistic sense to a situation where neither randomness nor uncertainty exists. If the stories listed above have any distribution, its degenerate. Or, given Phil's method of dividing into 10 chunks and then ordering within those chunks, it's arguably a two-dimensional degenerate approach.


  19. Theonlyspiral
    March 4, 2014 @ 5:44 am

    Does this take into account Strategic Voting?


  20. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 5:57 am

    I'm not. I don't like it when I strongly disagree with Phil.


  21. Bennett
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:00 am

    Err…in this context can't the 'random variable' be the observed score of a randomly selected Doctor Who story? In this sense, Phil's system means that the probability of observing a given score is always P=1/n where n is the number of scores – making it a discrete uniform distribution. As I understand it, a degenerate distribution would only apply if the rv considered is the score assigned to a particular story.

    I know that's sort of inducing randomness into a situation were none exists, but isn't that what the common parlance of "creating a distribution" implies?

    (I only did a first-year Statistics unit, and that was a few years ago, so I'm fully prepared to be wrong and corrected. I just thought I'd make the most of the chance to talk Maths in this comments section.)


  22. Seeing_I
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:01 am

    I assume you mean The Girl Who Waited; I am surprised to find it so low as well, especially as I thought it was one of the bright spots in an otherwise middling season. Look forward to hearing why not (maybe it's because the whole plot is premised on a huge "not that button!" gag so obvious even Katarina wouldn't have pressed it?)


  23. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:05 am

    I'm not as surprised with the latter — the naming of Solomon (should have been "Murdoch" or similar), the "dinosaurs" of Riddell and Nefertiti and their suspect gender politics, and the obvious influence of the Campbellian paradigm regarding Rory and Brian could all have impinged on his enjoyment.


  24. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:08 am

    Don't retire — rejoice in the new golden dawn!


  25. Aaron
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:11 am

    My guess is that it hinges on a false time travel moral and then acts like the Doctor transgressing this rule is somehow meaningful. Phil's already been very critical of episodes that try to tell us "time can't be changed…just because it can't," and this entire episode is based on that premise. Moreover, though I can't explicate it, I bet he has some reasoned reading of it in which the episode silences Amy's experiences just so men can get their preferred "young" Amy back, thus in some ways telling us women's own desires are less important than men's. But I'm sure if Phil has some problem with the episode because of a theme like that, he'll do a much better job making it plausible than I just did.


  26. Bennett
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:18 am

    "As I understand it, a degenerate distribution would only apply if the rv considered is the score assigned to a particular story."

    Or the set of all story-score pairs, just to pedant myself.


  27. Ross
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:26 am

    It rubbed me very wrong that there is not a single mention of Amy's daughter while she's angsting about all those decades she spent alone and missing her husband and her best friend.


  28. Daibhid C
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:34 am

    A huge "not that button!" gag which doesn't even make sense in context. The admission procedures for Two Streams were clearly designed by a madman.


  29. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:44 am

    Jane, I believe they're saying that Dinosaurs is surprisingly well regarded on this list.


  30. Daibhid C
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:45 am

    Ross- But there never is. Amy has already missed her daughter growing up with an inexplicable lack of angst, and I find it hard to believe she seriously thinks of Mels, who she grew up with, or River, who's older than she is, as being her daughter.

    From Amy's perspective, her daughter disappeared shortly after being born and she never really saw her again, and she seems remarkably unconcerned about that all the time.

    (Summer Falls makes a stab at salvaging something from this, with a suggestion that in the 1960s Amelia Williams spends her time trying to trace Melody and support her.)


  31. Ross
    March 4, 2014 @ 7:23 am

    But there never is

    This is true, and for me it's a nigh-mortal wound on the demiseason, but it is here that it is most acute, because this is the episode where Amy spends half of her character arc redefined by decades of lamenting her lost past.


  32. Turnip
    March 4, 2014 @ 7:31 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  33. peeeeeeet
    March 4, 2014 @ 7:50 am

    A while back I tried rage-ranking all of telly Who. It looks like I got all the way to New Earth before getting bored. Top ten:

    The Curse of Fenric
    The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
    The Mind Robber
    The War Games
    Remembrance of the Daleks
    The Time Meddler
    The Keeper of Traken
    Warriors' Gate
    The Seeds of Doom

    Bottom ten:
    The Twin Dilemma
    Revenge of the Cybermen
    The Invisible Enemy
    Edge of Destruction
    The Power of Kroll
    Attack of the Cybermen
    The Space Museum
    The Web Planet


  34. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    March 4, 2014 @ 7:51 am

    Daibhid C – You must be thinking of a different book as those events do not occur in "Summer Falls"


  35. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:16 am

    Ah yes. The reason I hate The Girl Who Waited.

    It's because somehow in the cell where I put the ranking I ended up with a formula that meant that it was just one higher than whatever was immediately below it in the rankings, and as a result it ended up drifting off to the opposite end of the spreadsheet from where it should be.

    I've corrected it.


  36. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:16 am

    I don't like it when I put typos in my spreadsheets, personally.


  37. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:20 am

    @Aaron: My guess is that it hinges on a false time travel moral and then acts like the Doctor transgressing this rule is somehow meaningful. Phil's already been very critical of episodes that try to tell us "time can't be changed…just because it can't," and this entire episode is based on that premise.

    That would be a weak argument on his part. This episode isn't based on a false time-travel moral; the timey-wimeyness is strictly a technical matter, and the moment of crossing time-streams is played heroically.

    Moreover, though I can't explicate it, I bet he has some reasoned reading of it in which the episode silences Amy's experiences just so men can get their preferred "young" Amy back, thus in some ways telling us women's own desires are less important than men's.

    Again, this would be a weak argument, on multiple fronts. First, it would be silencing younger Amy's experience and choice — certainly she gets a say in the shape of the next forty years of her life, yes? Second, it would be discounting the morality that both Amys possess, a morality based not on rules or politics but on empathy. Third, the discourse surrounding what happens makes it very clear that what happens to older Amy is tragic, implicating both the Doctor and Rory (and anyone who agrees with their choices). Forth, the story makes it very clear that older Amy is fantastic.

    Furthermore, such an argument completely discounts how the story functions as a metaphor for what just happened in Amy and Rory's life, which I'll address in a moment…


  38. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:27 am

    @Ross: "It rubbed me very wrong that there is not a single mention of Amy's daughter while she's angsting about all those decades she spent alone and missing her husband and her best friend."

    This whole story functions as a metaphor for what Rory and Amy have to face regarding their daughter. Because, of course, if they go back to rescue their baby daughter and keep her from being raised by Kovarian's faction of the Silence, they will effectively eliminate River Song from their lives. This story makes it perfectly clear what the emotional cost of such a choice would actually entail.

    It really should follow immediately after Let's Kill Hitler — which, if you'll remember, features another duplicate Amy (the Tesselector) who is completely devoid of emotional expression. This too is a metaphor for how Amy represses the traumas in her life, and if there's any kind of constant in the Moffat era, it's an exploration of repression.


  39. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:29 am


    But you've got another typo — surely a story that functions as vehicle for coming out of the closet doesn't deserve to be lumped in with racist dreck or continuity fetishism…


  40. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:35 am

    I will continue to believe that Dinosaurs has been grossly underestimated.


  41. Nyq Only
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:36 am

    It is quite reasonable to assume that IF the quality of episodes can be measured/quantified that there will be some sort of distribution to those measurements that reflects the underlying processes that influence quality.
    The uniform distribution proposed above seems unlikely(although it may be a good voting strategy). A normal distribution is an easy default guess. A power law distribution is another possibility – there are many, many mediocre episodes but a small number of vastly better episodes.


  42. Anton B
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:57 am

    Ah yes. The reason I hate The Girl Who Waited…I've corrected it.
    Blimey that nearly gave some of us heart failure! I loved the exercises in fast footed re -reading some of us had to pull so as not to lose faith in your critical faculties Doctor Phil.


  43. Ross
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:10 am

    His original ranking challenged half the readers' faith in his critical faculties, and his correction challenged the other half's.


  44. Theonlyspiral
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:15 am

    It's my favorite episode. I will argue loudly to people (at length) that it's the single best episode of Who ever.


  45. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:19 am

    And I will argue that it's easily one of the worst, since it's crass, misogynistic, horrendously unfunny, full of character contradictions, and requires everyone to be a blind fool for the story to work.


  46. Theonlyspiral
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    That got me as well. I think it's one of Gatiss' finer contributions to the series.


  47. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:24 am

    @Jane – Ohhh, I always quite liked Night Terrors, but I never even thought of it that way. I thought it was about adoption, because sometimes I'm a bloody great fool.


  48. Bennett
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:34 am

    @Nyq Only – Great points, but when I was 'proposing' a uniform distribution I was proposing it as the desired term in the sentence "I figured here I should go ahead and create a normal distribution of ratings so that there were 24 stories with a 1, 24 with a 2, and so on" and nothing else.


  49. elvwood
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:36 am

    SpaceSquid: "Doesn't really matter!?! That's the sort of attitude to mathematical terms that Hitler probably had!"

    Heh. I love maths – heck, I teach it to bright ten-year-olds, and introduce them to concepts I had to discover for myself years later – but in this case the fun for me is in the scoring, rather than the terminology. So I stand by my Hitlerian statement and await the Allied bombing.

    Nyq Only, I haven't analysed my scores, but as I rate more stories I am certainly witnessing a big bump in the middle scores. It's not quite normal, though – there are more stories above the bump than below.


  50. Adam
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:43 am

    I never understand why Death to the Daleks does so poorly. I've always enjoyed it.


  51. Theonlyspiral
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    I will be happy to discuss it with you when we get there. I anticipate a wonderful and spirited comment thread.


  52. xen trilus
    March 4, 2014 @ 9:54 am

    @Corpus Christi Music Scene: The anthology release 'Summer Falls and Other Stories' contains some additional material, such as a foreword by Amelia Williams, and an extract from a fictitious interview with her. Here can be found the reference to Melody that Daibhid C was referring to.


  53. Ross
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:00 am

    It's one of several stories which would rank higher if the others didn't also exist. (See also: Silver Nemesis. Which would under no circumstances be considered for the top 20, but would move up at least a few slots if it wasn't remembered largely as "Exactly the same thing as Rememberance of the Daleks, but with Cybermen. And Nazis for some reason")


  54. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    xen- Thank you for the correction. I only have the original ebook and the audiobook.


  55. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:09 am

    The one thing it's not is misogynistic — Amy gets to be Doctorish, with her own set of companions, and generally kicks ass; she's also better at holding a Ladder, an important motif in the Moffat era. Nefertiti gets to lay into Solomon, and ends up dominating Riddell (because she's the one with the very large gun.) Indira heads the Space Agency and never buckles to the Doctor's pleas. Three strong women, all of whom succeed at fulfilling their own agendas.


  56. SpaceSquid
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:11 am


    "I know that's sort of inducing randomness into a situation were none exists, but isn't that what the common parlance of "creating a distribution" implies?"

    I'm not sure whether "creating a distribution" actually means anything, actually, unless you're actively putting together a new probability density function. But I take your point that if one were to pick a random story from Phil's lists, the score of that story would have a uniform distribution. I tend to think of distributions as something you generate results from, rather than something you shape your alrady determined results around, but it's entirely possible I'm wrong in that. I tend to have a fairly idiosyncratic (read: slapped together) view of probability, considering it's what pays my bills.


  57. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:21 am

    I haven't seen it since broadcast, but what struck me at the time was that it felt like they were rewarding the misogynistic hunter guy with Nefertiti for being a hero.
    I was uncomfortable how they used a (racially coded) rape threat to make her into a damsel in distress. Her open and forceful sexuality is perverted onto her as a weapon that makes her into someone to be saved from the big scary man.
    And I found the treatment of Amy as a badass slightly condescending at the time, but I can't remember why.


  58. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:23 am

    Ooh, Chicanery, it functions well as a metaphor for adoption, too — thank you! Makes it even better. That's what's so great about mythological metaphor, it can function on several levels simultaneously.

    And, of course, yet again it's functioning as a metaphor for Amy and Rory dealing with their daughter (given that only River has been able to call the Doctor via psychic paper across a galaxy.) The story was originally supposed to air before the big reveal of Melody — it properly belongs somewhere between Day of the Moon and Rebel Flesh, where it can serve as foreshadowing for the alien nature of their child. However, even coming after Let's Kill Hitler, it's still apt for describing Amy's ambivalence towards child-rearing and the anger she harbors regarding her own childhood experiences, though it doesn't really fit with Rory's characterization.

    Even recognizing its deficiencies regarding class commentary, which I'm not entirely convinced of, it has plenty of redeemable social functions — which, I'd argue, are much more what it's going for in the first place. (Unlike, say, Green Death, which completely botches its target commentary.) Night Terrors is ultimately optimistic, not steeped in the misanthropic cynicism of the Saward era or the deeply reactionary tones of Wiles's mercifully short run.


  59. Ross
    March 4, 2014 @ 10:25 am

    The story was originally supposed to air before the big reveal of Melody — it properly belongs somewhere between Day of the Moon and Rebel Flesh

    Hence Rory directly referencing it in Let's Kill Hitler.


  60. Froborr
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:05 am

    I do not understand how Night Terrors ranks under Fear Her. Then again, I don't understand how any nu-Who episode except possibly The Wedding of River Song ranks under Fear Her. Or indeed, any episode of Who Classic except The Celestial Toymaker.

    Fear Her is vile dreck that has the Doctor actively endorse that maintaining a relationship with your abuser is better than breaking up your family. That's disgusting, very nearly as much so as the rampant racism in Celestial Toymaker.


    • Narre
      May 3, 2017 @ 9:05 pm

      What does everybody have against The Celestial Toymaker? It’s one of my favourite episodes. And so are many of the other episodes that are ranked as the worst (e.g. The Power of Kroll, The Hand of Fear or Underworld). And episodes I don’t like or even hate are ranked as the best (most (if not all) the episodes between The Eleventh Hour and The Bells of Saint John) – Yes, The Eleventh Hour is the only episode from series 5, 6 and the first half of 7 I like.


  61. Adam Riggio
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:07 am

    Everything that is both amazing and terrible about The Girl Who Waited is true.

    I, for one, absolutely loved this episode when it first came out for the timey-wimey construction of its story, Karen Gillan's brilliant performance(s), the intense relationships among the cast, the beautiful set and visual design, and the symbolic way it processed the emotional subtext of Amy and Rory having missed their daughter's life. After thinking about precisely what went on there in terms of ethics, I was also rather horribly appalled. But when I watch the episode, I see both the repugnance and the brilliance. The episode even acknowledges how ethically horrible its own ending was in Amy's final question: "Where is she?"

    One question I think one should consider when making sense of this story is whether, once the basic premise of the adventure is given (Amy lives three traumatic decades isolated from everyone she cares about and under siege by polite robots), it is even possible to return to the setup of the show without doing something ethically terrible. Or if the ethically terrible ending is actually the most affective one, if an ethically better ending where old Amy gets to survive and live somewhere else in the universe would preserve the sense of the tragic that makes The Girl Who Waited so emotionally powerful.

    I don't really know.


  62. Adam Riggio
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:09 am

    I thought that was The Idiot's Lantern, when the Doctor is okay with the son returning to his abusive father because Rose likes the imagery of children with their fathers. The end of Fear Her, I thought, was about a mother and daughter emotionally connecting to overcome their shared trauma of the abusive father/husband. That was really the only redeeming moment in an otherwise mediocre episode.


  63. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    I'm confused as to people saying it has class commentary, I don't really see any. What I do see is resoundly pro working class; with fears being represented with Victorian stately symbols, and their power to erase working class identity and replace the subject with a sanitised, Victorian/Edwardian, porcelain doll.
    I suppose in a queer reading, you could read that as a fear of straight assimilation and removal of non-cishet identities to fit a sexuality defined by Victorians.
    In an adoption reading, perhaps it's about genetic identity overwriting upbringing, but maybe that's too simplistic nature vs nurture stuff.
    I'm rambling here, none of this is thought through very far, but that the story has so many meanings and mythic resonances shows that it is worth far more than a 1/10.

    I also don't understand the complaint that the child acts poorly. He's supposed to, he's not strictly human. He has to be outside and different from the other actors or else the metaphor doesn't work. If he isn't an Other of some sort the whole production falls apart, and playing the character so they seem slightly off is a good way of signposting difference.


  64. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    The assumption that all random distributions can be usefully approximated by normal distributions is widespread. It is apparently one of the factors that caused the current economic crisis. (In the case of economics, it is easily disproved by comparing the expected number of major depressions per century under a normal distribution with the actual number of major depressions.)


  65. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:48 am

    My reaction to the Davies-era is a bit opposite to Phil's. If you leave out episodes by Cornell and Moffat, and Midnight, I find that the major event episodes make my teeth hurt. I can admire some of them (Turn Left, Love and Monsters) as format breakers; but there's a lot where I feel that the inventiveness is superficial and underneath it's slick and mechanical. Whereas when the series has apparently little ambition beyond a standard issue monster runaround I find the era either executes the thing solidly or at least ends up with an interesting mess.
    Journey's End may be far better constructed than Evolution of the Daleks, but Evolution is failing to do something worth failing at, whereas Journey's End is a cynical piece of sentimentalism. Who cares about the daleks trying to destroy the universe? The build-up of Waters of Mars is an effective behind the sofa exercise; whereas the climax seems to me tendentious and artificial.


  66. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    @Chicanery: I can see where you're coming from, and given these readings I'd probably feel like you do. However, I'd suggest a closer reading of the story might yield a different perspective.

    Let's start with Nefertiti and Solomon. It absolutely invokes the trope you suggest, but it's important to remember that Nefertiti was never a damsel in distress — she volunteered to go with Solomon to save her friends, an act of self-sacrifice. In this respect, the trope is already on thin ice, and it's subsequently shattered: as soon as the opportunity arises where such a sacrifice is no longer necessary (the disabling of the robots) she drops the charade and exercises her power, kicking Solomon to the floor and pinning his throat with a crutch, precisely reversing their positions. She's fully participatory in saving herself.

    Turning now to Riddell and Nefertiti, another trope is invoked and subsequently undermined. It helps to stay rooted in Nefertiti's experience — she has left her husband because he's a bore, a snore, not a man of action or passion. As such, why frame her coupling with Riddell as "his" reward and not hers?

    The power dynamics here are in part informed by some earlier dialogue, where Riddell (flirting) suggests that she needs "a man of action and excitement, one with a very large weapon." But this, it turns out, is Riddell speaking about himself — in the final shot with Nefertiti she is the one brandishing the very large weapon, standing over the seated Riddell. I think it's clear — she's dominant in this relationship, and it suits everyone just fine. At no point prior to this is it ever suggested that she would ever submit to Riddell, and to suggest this has somehow changed would be, I think, misreading the situation.

    It's all the more interesting, I think, that Amy's basically in charge of these two. She, of course, is the one who figures out that it's a Silurian ship, that the Silurians are all gone, that Solomon is basically responsible, and even gets that information to the Doctor in a timely fashion. When it comes to neutralizing the velociraptors, she takes charge after Riddell asks for help — and Riddell ends up following her lead. Sure, the dialogue is a bit on-the-nose, but in principle I don't think it's out of character for Amy, who often resorts to and even relishes violence.

    Most interesting, though, is her conversation with the Doctor while he's futzing with the ship's signal system. The Doctor says that she'll be there until the end of him, which she promptly reverses — another exercise of her power, which is ultimately fulfilled in Manhattan. The story ends with her setting the terms for when she and Rory will go home (immediately) and for how long.

    As to whether it's ultimately "effective feminism" to invoke problematic tropes before dismantling them is another question entirely. It's certainly messy, because simply raising them will push buttons, which can often blind one to their subsequent undermining. (Dave Chappelle certainly changed his position on this one.) But I'm not so sure that keeping such tropes hidden and unchallenged is all that great, either; that which is repressed inevitably comes out.

    AMY: I've spent enough time with the Doctor to know whenever you enter somewhere new, press buttons.

    NEFERTITI: What else have you learned from him?

    AMY: Don't stop at button pressing.


  67. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

    That's an interesting reading, I don't think I'll suffer through DoaS again to see if that's true mind. The possible misogyny that I perceived was only part of the reason I didn't like it. I found it unfunny and I can't stand bad comedy, I find it maddening; I didn't like the tonal clashes throughout (Soloman is a panto villain played too sinisterly to work as a panto villain); and I hate it when animals behave like they shouldn't (triceratops are not dogs, especially if they're undomesticated triceratops).


  68. mengu
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

    Although surely equally relevant is that Amy is not, in fact, relishing violence wholeheartedly: she initially rejects Riddell's offer of the guns, only acquiescing when she discovers they are stun guns, only anaesthetic. She becomes significantly less comfortable with violence after killing Kovarian.


  69. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    @Chicanery: "I'm confused as to people saying it has class commentary, I don't really see any."

    You might want to read Jack Graham's blog entry on it, and especially Phil's additional commentary. If that's too long, though, here's Phil's gist:

    "Here's the one story in Series 6 to even depict the working class and outright impoverished society out of which [the London] riots sprung. And it shows it as a source of horror, and, more to the point, class-based horror: the council estate is full of horrors that are functionally directed by the child's vision of poshness. So the child's fears initially appear to be justified class resentment: the rich people are coming out of his doll house and making his council estate world terrifying.

    Except in the end that's not what it is – it's just that he needs a more stable family unit and a better dad. And the Doctor, having fixed his family unit, cheerily bounds off into his glimmering TARDIS, leaving the boy in dire economic conditions as though nothing is wrong with the boy's life whatsoever except that he didn't have a strong enough family relationship."

    Which is a very interesting reading, and brings up some salient points, but which completely erases the queer coming-out story that's arguably closer to the heart of Night Terrors (especially considering the damn "cupboard.") As such, I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with his reading. George's anxieties don't stem from class-consciousness, but from his queerness, which is subsequently projected onto his environment. To say it is (or ought to be) the reverse is to deny George his identity.

    Actually, I'm not cool with that at all.


  70. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    @Chicanery: Can't help with the jokes, sorry! (Not so sure I'd say the triceratops was entirely undomesticated — it was, after all, a Silurian ship.) Anyways, I can accept not liking it for aesthetic reasons, I just strongly disagree that it's a misogynistic story.

    @Mengu: Good point on Amy's character development, which also makes sense of her choice to leave the Doctor so quickly at the end of the episode.


  71. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

    Along with The Myth Makers, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and Robots of Death, Death to the Daleks is one of the Target Novelisations I read as a child. So I'll always have a soft spot for it, although I'll never want to actually watch it.
    (I also read The Daleks, but I think that's a special case since I'd seen An Unearthly Child so I knew that was retconning what had happened on screen.)


  72. Froborr
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

    Dammit, you're right, I got the two completely mixed up. Okay, so just substitute "Idiot's Lantern" for everything I said about "Fear Her" in the above.


  73. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    I think you should have introduced a few more "errors" for trolling purposes. The "Girl Who Waited"-triggered comments have been super fun.

    This is a fun list for a lot of reasons, but I'll echo that its biggest joy is the sneak peek at your Moffat era ratings. I'd rate "Hide" and "Amy's Choice" higher for sure, though the former is buoyed for me by all sorts of aesthetic factors that don't seem to matter to you typically (and presumably let down by its politics and a few other factors that don't necessarily make or break a story for me). I'd rate "Vincent and the Doctor" lower, though there are again personal reasons for that which apparently struck almost no one else the same way.

    And I'm really looking forward to your defense of "The End of Time" and your case for "Pandorica/Big Bang" being the best televised Doctor Who story ever. I can guess at some of it, but wow. πŸ™‚


  74. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

    I completely disagree with almost all of that, as I'm accustomed to with Jack. I don't think it portrays the working class poorly, and I don't think it recasts the Doctor as a fundamentally Conservative figure, because he's not. The entire point of the story is a rejection of the heteronormative repressive culture and an acceptance of being queer, which the Doctor facilitates. He helps a queer boy self realise and repairs a homophobic relationship.
    Of course, that's my perspective as a queer, working class Irish person. I place importance on a queer reading over a class based reading. Writing that ignores queer aspects of a text grates on me (and Jack Graham's writing always irritates me, anyway).


  75. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

    There must be something wrong with me, because when I consider whether I would sacrifice my present-day self to allow my younger self to have lived a radically improved life, if I could do so without actually affecting anyone in my present life (because, say, I'd spent the intervening time utterly alone), I can't imagine I wouldn't opt to do it.

    I guess the ethical dilemma comes from the fact that Amy isn't me.


  76. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

    I will say that this is probably the story I admire most in the new series for even having the nerve to pose this question, and then to end on such a fantastically unresolved note. I think only "Midnight" is almost as daring. I'm not going to stick it on for pleasure (like "The Lodger," which I'm thrilled to see as high up as it is), but I think it's almost incomparable.


  77. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

    The problem I have with rating the "best" stories is that what I think intellectually is a finely crafted episode isn't necessarily what I consider my "favorite" Doctor Who. While I'd agree that "The Curse of Fenric" is much "better" on all sorts of levels than "The Horns of Nimon," for example, I have a sentimental attachment to "Nimon" that I'll never have to "Fenric." I can separate the two considerations if I have to, but it's difficult…and, for me, boring. It's fortunate that my three favorites ("City of Death," "Kinda," and "Enlightenment") are also generally of high enough quality in other respects that I don't have to be embarrassed of them.


  78. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

    From what I've read of The Writer's Tale so far, I feel as though "slick and mechanical" is probably the last pair of adjectives that could really apply to RTD's writing. πŸ™‚ But I hated "Journey's End" too, and though I'll never be a fan of "Evolution" I see where you're coming from.


  79. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

    I can't appreciate Vincent and the Doctor. I can see that if one gives Vincent and the Doctor the benefit of the doubt it's brilliant. But I simply cannot give the benefit of the doubt to anything written by the man who perpetrated Love Actually.


  80. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    I'm looking forward to the discussion of "Night Terrors" now. I'm queer myself and the "coming-out" reading flew right over my head, maybe because George seemed like such a peripheral and passive character in his own story, but I'd be interested to read an explication of it. I see where you're getting it, but I don't see much substance to it.

    I didn't think it was a terrible episode — certainly way better than "Curse of the Black Spot" — but I didn't love it, and here's the key paragraph from my own review of it (http://encyclops.com/night-terrors/, if anyone's interested):

    Two complaints about the way these themes are presented: first, the Doctor twice insists that “monsters are real.” However, the entire point, the only way they can be defeated, is realizing that they actually aren’t. You might argue that they are real, that they’ve been created from fear and now truly exist, but the way the doll’s house and its effects simply evaporate at the end doesn’t bear this up. If this is enough of a gray area that it doesn’t matter, why make a point of it? Second, the Doctor tells George that only he can stop the monsters (he’s gotta “believe”), but in the end it’s George’s father who has to make the leap and soothe George’s fears. The Doctor can be wrong (or senile, remembering the alien species he’s dealing with only at that point in the script where it’s dramatically convenient), the Doctor lies, but it seems a bit cheap to tease us that kids can defeat their fears through inner strength and then make George a largely passive victim all along.

    I'm hoping either the blog post or the comments will let me know why I'm looking at it wrong.


  81. Chicanery
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    @David, I wouldn't hold past work against someone (excluding ideologically horrifying work). Hide (mostly enjoyed) was a pleasant surprise after Rings of Akhaten (hated), and the guy who did Total Recall 2012 (joyless) does the TV show Sleepy Hollow (nothing but joy).


  82. Theonlyspiral
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

    I'm a straight middles class Canadian and the queer reading was the obvious one to me. The idea that the episode could be considered without the queer reading seems kind of strange. I mean reading Doctor Sandier's comment on SG I can see where they're coming from in condemning it purely on classicism. But I feel that's like a reading of Unquiet Dead as about endorsing the BNP. It's obviously not what it's about.


  83. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    Other ratings I wouldn't have predicted from the blog:
    Phil's valiant attempt to rehabilitate Time-Flight always struck me as faint praise, and now seems completely dead. Ditto Destiny of the Daleks.
    I wouldn't have expected New Earth, ('slender and digestible trifle', 'well-thought out fun') to rate alongside or even just below The Ark and The TV Movie, both of which Phil seems to rather think humanity would be better off without.
    Phil appears to have cooled off a bit on both The Awakening and The Mutants.
    Horror of Fang Rock has a low rating for something Phil describes in the same breath as The Ribos Operation and City of Death as a comprehensible choice for best ever Doctor Who story.


  84. David Anderson
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

    Love Actually is ideologically horrifying – under the sentimental sugar coating it's a ghastly piece of misogyny. As I gather is The Boat That Rocked. I don't remember Curtis' earlier films being nasty in the same way. But those two films are the context for Vincent.


  85. encyclops
    March 4, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

    I understand how you feel. I'm reeling a bit from "The Mind of Evil." I should go back and read his essay on it.


  86. Matthew Blanchette
    March 4, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    A number of the titles listed either mistakenly have "The" prefixed to them or have them left off; the former are these:

    "Arc of Infinity"
    "Nightmare of Eden"

    …the latter are these:

    "The Tomb of the Cybermen"
    "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel"
    "The Horns of Nimon"
    "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"
    "Utopia"/"The Sound of Drums"/"Last of the Time Lords"
    "The Name of the Doctor"
    "The Ambassadors of Death"
    "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone"
    "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"
    "The Evil of the Daleks"
    "The Day of the Doctor"
    "The Caves of Androzani"
    "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways"
    "The Time of the Doctor"
    "The Power of the Daleks"

    …sorry; my anal-retentiveness leaking. πŸ˜› Besides, how will they know which stories you mean if you haven't got the exact correct title written on the ballot? It's not as though the people who run the mag are super-fans themselves, you know; they could get "The Seeds of Death" and "The Seeds of Doom" mixed up, for all we know!


  87. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

    Not that a "The" would make a difference in either of those cases.


  88. William Whyte
    March 4, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

    Just because an episode's doing something you approve of doesn't mean it's a good episode. Cold War was worse though.


  89. jane
    March 4, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

    "Just because an episode's doing something you approve of doesn't mean it's a good episode. Cold War was worse though."

    It depends on how we go about qualifying "good" and "bad" though. Given that Phil's taken the position that part of what makes a Doctor Who episode "good" is its ability to stand up for oppressed populations, it rankles if he's going to pit class issues against queer issues. Especially when it's by no means clear that the class issues themselves are particularly egregious. I mean, the main supporting character is rather well-drawn and sympathetic, while the other three characters from the estate are all quite distinctive individuals and only one is particularly unpleasant; even he is humanized in the end. And hell, it's the "posh dollhouse" that's more horrifying than the uncanny estate. The episode is trying a lot harder than, say, The Five Doctors on this account.

    That's not to say that other considerations aren't in play, but even here I'm hard pressed to say why this story would be ranked so low given Phil's previously stated predilections. The direction is quite good, with interesting shot construction, moody lighting, a couple of snazzy monster transformations, and well-paced editing; there's nothing wrong with the aesthetics or the technical construction of the episode. Sure, the ending is schmaltzy, but that's never been verboten on this blog, where optimism is generally praised.

    The disastrous entailments of Victory of the Daleks, from the cynical redesign and empty spectacle to the unexamined mythologizing of Churchill, that makes sense for the cellar of Phil's rankings. I can't agree, based on the values professed in this blog, that Night Terrors is deserving of the same fate.


  90. Nyq Only
    March 4, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    @Bennet – noted, I meant the distribution that our host had proposed (and misnamed) rather than your post πŸ™‚
    @Elwood ooh maybe a log-normal distribution :). I was thinking that the good aspects of a show tend to multiply the goodness. For example a good supporting cast in an episode makes the episode twice as good. Hence if we have a bunch of parameters (dialogue, themes, direction, character development, cast etc) then the overall goodness comes from the product of these parameters (suitably weighted).


  91. Whittso
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

    I think if you attempted to rate stories based solely on novelisations rather than what was on screen you'd have a number of stories moving significantly, both up and down.


  92. SpaceSquid
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    We could use a logistic regression using the probability of an episode being good as the output. Multiply by ten and use the ceiling function and, hey presto, a score out of ten. Nyq Only's suggestion of interaction effects (which I heartily endorse) could then be reflected by how the covariates are considered.


  93. elvwood
    March 4, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

    I try to just go on how much I enjoy something when rating it, regardless of any close-to-objective measure of quality. Even then I get tripped up – I generally give Hinchcliffe stories higher scores than Cartmel ones, for some reason, but would generally prefer to watch the latter. I think there's a nostalgia factor which affects the scores but not what I want to watch…


  94. SpaceSquid
    March 5, 2014 @ 12:01 am

    I'm mainly with jane on this one. Not because I particularly find fault with either Phil or Jack's reading of the class issues (no amount of sympathetic characterisation can redeem the David Brooks-style idea that the biggest problem with contemporary UK council estates is the breakdown of the family unit), but because praising the queer narrative would seem to me to be the very definition of "redemptive reading". That at the very least demands a point or two be added on.


  95. Jack Graham
    March 5, 2014 @ 12:42 am

    It's important to realise, in reference to Night Terrors, that there is no contradiction whatsoever between the Tory attitude to class embedded within it and the 'queer reading'. The Right end of the neoliberal project can easily encompass a queer iteration (pardon my clunky language). As with 'neoliberal feminism' and other such things, neoliberalism can contain and utilise (and commodify) liberation struggles. It neuters and guts them in the process, but – as always with neoliberalism as a cultural praxis – form is everything, content is nothing. I don't think the right-neoliberal cultural embrace of queer politics is more evident anywhere than in the work of Mark Gatiss.


  96. Anton B
    March 5, 2014 @ 2:41 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  97. Anton B
    March 5, 2014 @ 2:42 am

    …sorry; my anal-retentiveness leaking.


    how will they know which stories you mean if you haven't got the exact correct title written on the ballot?

    I'm sure they'll work it out using a combination of common sense and, oh I don't know, reading ability? Don't sweat it.

    Other than that…


    March 5, 2014 at 4:41 AM


  98. jane
    March 5, 2014 @ 5:03 am

    I'm not so sure about that, Jack. At least here in the United States, the battle for queer liberation has been progressing despite all attempts from the Right to throw it under the bus. More and more states have legalized gay marriage (or blocked legislation to outlaw it), which confers more than social sanction, but tangible material progress: Social Security benefits, right of attorney, medical access, inheritance, even the material rights of divorce.

    Nor is this to say that social acceptance is just "form" — it too has "content," from making it easier to gain employment to being able to walk down the street in most (but not yet all) places without fear of immediate physical assault, and quite often with not just public acceptance but embracement.

    Furthermore, whence the antipathy to alleviating anxiety within a family? For George it's everything to be fully accepted by his parent, despite his queer parentage. For Alex it's also a huge relief, that he finally understands and accepts his son — one less anxiety (and a huge one at that) to weigh him down. No, this resolution won't "solve" Alex's economic situation, or class issues in general, but I don't think it was really positioned to address class issues in the first place — obviously that will have to come through collective action on a mass scale.

    Furthermore, to read the joy Alex and George experience after their interpersonal breakthrough as having anything to do with their economic situation is a huge stretch, I think, and becomes the very "containment" and "utilization" of their personal issues practiced by neoliberalism — you aren't taking that joy on its own terms, but politicizing it (albeit on a different trajectory).

    And it's not like Series Six decided to intersect family issues specifically with a working-class setting — the entire season was about coming to grips with familial issues. It's the arc for all the main characters, and there isn't a single story in the run that doesn't have the theme of family dynamics woven into it in some way.


  99. Daibhid C
    March 5, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    Should have been clearer. I'm sure I meant to say "The interview at the back of…", but I must have got distracted.

    Sorry for the confusion.


  100. Nyq Only
    March 5, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

    I'm thinking: set up a set of criteria (e.g. Plot, Themes, Cast, Growth, Novelty, Dialogue, Concepts). Rate each episode against each criteria with a score out of ten. Find the product of those criteria. Take the log of that product (pick a base that gives nice spread) and round to an integer. With a bit of tweaking it should give a normalish distribution of ratings on a scale of 1 to 10.
    The major task will be coming up with a reason as to why I would want to do all that πŸ™‚


  101. heroesandrivals
    March 5, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

    The Keys of Marinus
    >near the bottom

    You are dead to me Phil.


  102. Christopher Kelley
    April 9, 2015 @ 6:02 am

    Girl Who Waited was a technical error.


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