Haunt the Future

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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. Jarl
    July 16, 2018 @ 9:47 am

    I sorta lost track of the hospital story as it went along but my memory is that there should probably be a “(?)” after “accidentally” in the intro.

    “Haunted oil” is one of those ideas that feels like it clicks in and will never come back out. It’s obvious but not in a derivative way. It’s not, strictly speaking, geologically accurate but that doesn’t matter, it’s the image that counts.

    The fact that they’re “real ghosts” is so… I don’t know. The history of the franchise makes it clear that souls absolutely exist and can exist outside the body, so having to clarify that these are the first “real ghosts” the Doctor has encountered feels a bit convoluted, in except as it still fits together with all that ghost-lore in an absolutely perfect way and makes it feel all vaguely intentional. It’s just that there’s not a lot (not anything, honestly) really positioning them as different from, say, the ghosts in the wifi.

    The viking thing was so tantalizing. As was the fake Russian village part, during production. Oh, the speculation we all had…

    Anyways, here I am, standing alone in the cosmos, fists clenched against the sky, screaming to an uncaring and hostile universe that making a Vervoid out of bone and rotten flesh makes it a good monster. Color and silhouette are widely understood to be important, but texture is absolutely crucial to making a visual effect work and is so underrated. Vervoids aren’t silly looking because they are both penis and vagina, they’re silly looking because they’re penis-vaginas made out of felt.


  2. David Anderson
    July 16, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

    Both Fenric and Ghost Light seem ambiguous between hauntological and weird (assuming I’ve caught the distinction correctly).

    The most cynical bit of the story is when a ghost trails the axe on the floor for no reason other than to create tension because the deaf character can’t hear it. (The resolution of the sequence doesn’t help it.)


    • Aylwin
      July 16, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

      I’d say Fenric is pretty solidly Gothic, give or take the sea-monster look of the Haemovores. Ghost Light is more of a mixture, combining its haunted-house aesthetics and the Ace Dealing With Her Shit plotline on the one hand with, on the other, the coldly alien detachment of Light’s outlook, Redvers being driven mad by an encounter with an unknown associated with the un-European, and the focus on the thought-world-shattering terrors of scientific discovery. But ultimately it’s more a kind of anti-Weird, in which it’s the monsters who are terminally freaked out by being brought face-to-face with the unfathomable, uncontrollable, uncategorisable protean chaos of biological and social evolution.


      • Aylwin
        July 16, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

        Oh, and the wider implications of the present being haunted by the legacy of the Victorian era on the Gothic side, course.

        Generally just having one of those “Fuck me, Ghost Light’s good!” moments one has periodically.


        • Aylwin
          July 16, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

          That’s “of course”, of course.


        • David Anderson
          July 16, 2018 @ 9:34 pm

          As I understand it, the sea-monster look is the paradigm of weird. Putting anything reminiscent of tentacles on your monster is sufficient to shift it into the orbit. Add to that that the haemovores’ origin is in the future; and the invocation of Turing.

          I agree that in Ghost Light one of the monsters is freaked out by evolution. But I think that the thought that we’re as weird to the monsters as the monsters are to us is not alien to the genre.


          • Aylwin
            July 16, 2018 @ 11:31 pm

            In most respects, though, they’re vampires, albeit of an ecumenical persuasion. Linking them to the sea is surely as much about the Norse angle as anything – the Dead Men’s Ship, the venom-spewing Great Serpent trapped in a circle with his own tail in his mouth, all that.

            And that future origin is one in which the Ancient One is ensnared by the cursed consequences of his own wrongful actions in the timey-wimey past, creating a cycle of guilt which must and can be broken by his change of heart and self-sacrifice. That’s a quasi-Christian moral logic of personal responsibility and effectual repentance which is at home in the Gothic but surely very alien to the Weird. Similarly, they are all footsoldiers for an entity characterised by human-focused diabolical malice rather than by inscrutable purposes to which humans are of at most incidental relevance.

            On the Ghost Light point, while we may be weird to the monsters in the Weird tradition, it’s not generally the monsters whose minds snap in the face of the appalling incommensurability of our reality, while their own perspective can be shrugged off as blinkered and silly. That’s absolutely an inversion of Weird norms, which is only natural given the story’s progressive political outlook and the reactionary roots of the Weird.

          • Aylwin
            July 25, 2018 @ 1:00 am

            Basically I have decided I need someone to create a TV Tropes page called “Did You Just Freak Out Cthulhu?”

        • Daru
          July 28, 2018 @ 11:02 am

          “Generally just having one of those “Fuck me, Ghost Light’s good!” moments one has periodically.”

          Hell yes it is isn’t it? I had the amazing experience of watching it on the Twitch marathon and seeing the comments from people that swung between “??? What the heck is going on?” and “this is some of the best Who I have seen” was brilliant.


        • Aylwin
          August 4, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

          Yet again on Gothic in Ghost Light, a very belated realisation: Control is the Mad Woman in the Basement. It’s topsy-turvy world!


    • liminal fruitbat
      July 16, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

      (The resolution of the sequence doesn’t help it.)

      Is that the bit where she feels the vibrations on the ground rather than just turning around and looking at the ghost?

      God, that was awful.


      • Przemek
        July 17, 2018 @ 8:20 am

        Why was it awful?


        • David Anderson
          July 17, 2018 @ 9:37 pm

          The feeling the ground bit was what I was thinking of.
          It’s awful because, instead of turning around and looking, which she is perfectly able to do, she uses super-sensitive touch to feel vibrations; if you have a sensory disability it means you are Daredevil apparently. Quite apart from whether or not it’s offensive, it’s lazy writing.


          • Przemek
            July 18, 2018 @ 7:39 am

            Alright, thanks for clarifying that. Definitely lazy writing. Although not as lazy as the Doctor not knowing sign language despite speaking languages like “baby” and “horse”…

  3. prandeamus
    July 16, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

    I misread “Brân the Blessed, whose magical cauldron can resurrect the dead” as BRIAN BLESSED whose magical cauldron can RESURRECT THE DEAD.

    I know, unintentional. But it made me smile.


    • Sleepyscholar
      July 17, 2018 @ 11:58 pm

      You weren’t the only one.

      Altogether now: ‘GORDON’S….’


  4. prandeamus
    July 16, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

    What was the significance of the fake Russian village anyway? It went way over my head if there was a significance to it. Or it went under my feet.


    • Tin Dawg
      July 16, 2018 @ 12:46 pm

      It’s meant to be part of the Cold War background, but comes over as a howler of a research error. In the 80’s the standard western military thinking was that any WW3 would involve infinite numbers of Soviet Bloc troops pouring through Germany & towards the Channel. This was widespread enough to be in popular culture, such as spy fiction etc. Nobody thought that fighting would take place in Russia. This basic error just rankles over & over. If you want to make your village Russian then call it a spy training facility. If you want the army there then make it German looking. And it was only from reading Eruditorum that I found out the writer had just done a spy thriller before this.


  5. Przemek
    July 16, 2018 @ 1:30 pm

    I admire you for managing to squeeze so many interesting things out of this two-parter. I didn’t hate it as much as most people did – it had some intriguing bits, a great cliffhanger and was reasonably entertaining – but I struggle to think of a reason to ever rewatch it. None of the things I liked (the ghosts as a communication device, the return of the cowardly alien race from “God Complex”, the Doctor locked inside his own timestream) were developed sufficiently to work and none of them mattered in the end anyway. At least we finally got a deaf character in DW, so I guess that’s something…

    I find it strange how these episodes place the bootstrap paradox at the centre of the story, even going as far as devoting an entire kinda-fourth-wall-breaking scene to explaining it. Especially since we’ve had many bootstrap paradoxes in DW before and they were rarely if ever commented upon. It’s just standard SF plot device these days – hell, frikkin’ “Lost” had a time-looped compass and nobody bothered to explain it. I’m beginning to think Whithouse just added those extra scenes to make the scripts longer…

    As for the hauntological vs. Weird, I wonder what if would take to make those concepts merge again. I never quite understood why the Skulltopus is so impossible now. This essay shed some light on the issue, but not enough for me. Is it in part because the gothic usually tells us which monster created the ghosts that haunt us and how it happened… but Weird prefers its monsters unknowable and impossible to understand?

    (Perfect timing by the way – I just finished the “Skulltopus” series a couple of days ago. It’s well worth a read if you haven’t read it already, guys).


    • Peeeeeeet
      July 16, 2018 @ 6:01 pm

      I find it strange how these episodes place the bootstrap paradox at the centre of the story, even going as far as devoting an entire kinda-fourth-wall-breaking scene to explaining it.

      It gets worse – didn’t the Radio Times devote a whole article to explaining the scene that explains the plot? It’s unnecessary explanations all the way down…


  6. Chris C
    July 16, 2018 @ 3:48 pm

    This story, the second episode in particular, felt to me like some sort of inevitable putrefaction of the Moffat era. Whithouse seems to have accumulated a soup of cues about how Doctor Who is ‘supposed to be’ written in this period – time paradoxes, Big Bang-style time hopping, the Doctor’s death apparently being imminent, the Doctor’s morality being criticised, a love story going on with the side characters, 12 talking to himself/us in the TARDIS, some stuff that seems symbolic for fans to dissect, and (just about) a Series 9-specific sprinkle of the Doctor going out of his way to protect Clara – but is entirely missing the elements that bring all those things to life when Moffat and company do them, such as “mercury”, or “a fucking point”. It’s a series of half-remembered gestures reiterated without content.

    With the exception of the bit where a Tivolian turns up, which is purely masturbation on Whithouse’s part (albeit this would’ve been fine had it actually served any real purpose or been funny enough to justify itself).


    • David Anderson
      July 16, 2018 @ 6:26 pm

      I’d say New series in general rather than just Moffat. The fridging of the companion candidate, and the mirroring of the Doctor and the villain, are both Davies-era plot beats. Moffat’s done riffs on both but I think in cases where he’s consciously playing with Davies-era plot elements.


      • Przemek
        July 17, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

        I love both of those readings.


  7. Aylwin
    July 16, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

    I do know you’re being wilfully perverse, but I did boggle a bit to see you of all people reproving a story for failing to maintain consistency with the the established future-historical chronology of human technological development in the Whoniverse. Is no one safe from the insidious taint of Vulgar Lofficierism?!


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      July 16, 2018 @ 6:40 pm

      It’s mostly that “a nuclear reactor drilling for oil underwater” feels weird for a hundred years out period. The fact that this is supposed to be when Nightmare of Eden and Paradise Towers are happening is a fun way to gild the lily, but the underlying issue is that this is a twenty years in the future sort of story that’s inexplicably been set a hundred years in the future.


      • Aylwin
        July 16, 2018 @ 11:44 pm

        The fact that they take the Doctor’s description of Orion seriously suggests that their society has now lost the capacity for space travel due to no longer having the requisite grasp of rudimentary astronomy.


      • CJM123
        July 17, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

        Can we go further and chatise us for not having encountered Mondas yet?


  8. Ben Knaak
    July 16, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

    I’ve got to tell you, El, this might be your most impressive feat yet – you were able to write an engaging piece about a two-parter so thoroughly unimpressive that I had to bring up the Wikipedia page just to remember what happened in it. I mean, it didn’t air that long ago. I’ve seen it TWICE (once on air, once with Mark Oshiro’s live commentary). I should remember more about this two-parter than I do about The Space Pirates.

    The fall of Toby Whithouse has got to be the dullest Greek tragedy ever written.


  9. Daniel Tessier
    July 16, 2018 @ 6:29 pm

    Fossil fuels don’t come from dinosaurs. There could be a story about oil raising the ghosts of plankton, but I don’t imagine that would be as exciting.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      July 16, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

      Yeah, cause Doctor Who’s commitment to scientific accuracy is really solid everywhere else and this is definitely a thing they’d need to worry about.


      • Daniel Tessier
        July 16, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

        That is, indeed, a fair point.


  10. Daibhid C
    July 16, 2018 @ 7:17 pm

    I think my reaction to the first episode was “Some interesting ideas, but it all hinges on whether next week’s manages to bring it all together”. My reaction to the second episode was “Ah, well. At least there’s Vikings next week.”

    I did like the Doctor’s bootstrap paradox lecture, though. Completely unnecessary, but it did make it one thing the episode was doing that I hadn’t seen before.


  11. AuntyJack
    July 16, 2018 @ 8:54 pm

    Has anyone else noticed we never see Brân the Blessed and Brian Blessed in the same room? Makes you think, doesn’t it?


  12. David Ainsworth
    July 17, 2018 @ 2:57 pm

    There’s some potential for a redemptive reading here built upon the image of the Doctor as ghost: that the series itself becomes its own haunt, mindlessly repeating a list of thematic elements pertaining to the show itself. In that regard, at least, this two-parter could be read as a version of The Creature from the Pit, constructed as pastiche and critique not of another show or a genre but of Doctor Who itself. Though unlike that episode, it’s not clear that anyone, including the author, is actually aware of the possibility. Replace a commentary on sexism in the genre with a commentary on ablisim, and replace racism with… err… alien racism, and the connections become clear.

    Consider, too, the ways in which this story sets itself as a critique of Warriors of the Deep, from achieving the shadowy and menacing stage set that episode could not, to offering a giant and monstrous figure as a genuine menace (The Fisher King not being a Vervoid made right, but the Myrka 2.0), to preserving the ossified elements of the two-power political world while simultaneously rejecting that model (in favor of nothing, granted). It’s a New Series Underwater Base Siege done “right.”

    Which brings me to the Bootstrap Paradox in relation to the show, for Doctor Who is one of the few series which is subjected to its own future. Arguably from the first episode, and most obviously in the form of the Watcher from Logopolis, Doctor Who has been haunted by its own future, brought into being by what has not yet happened but what is yet to come. Of course ghosts are real on a show haunted by itself. There’s much more to be said on that point, and perhaps even interestingly about these episodes, given that Toby Whithouse himself doesn’t seem to have meant to do much of this work, implying that his script and production aren’t so much inspired as haunted or possessed by the ghost of Doctor Whos past, present, and future.


    • Przemek
      July 18, 2018 @ 7:58 am

      Interesting! But what future is this story actually haunted by? Is it the horrible (possible future of Whithouse Who? The Doctor as a ghost of his former self, mindlessly repeating some plot-related phrases just like this episode repeats “Doctor Who” tropes and cliches while reusing characters and settings? Perhaps this story banishes itself, briefly attempting to revive a long dead version of DW – a version that considers bases under siege to be the pinnacle of what DW can and should do – and then discarding it, telling us “calm down everyone, that particular ghost wasn’t real after all”.


  13. Kat
    July 20, 2018 @ 7:40 pm

    I love when a fascinating post comes out of a not-fascinating episode. Well done. I hadn’t heard of the hauntological before, but I’m interested to check out Jack’s Skulltopus series and the Mieville essay.


  14. Mark Pompeo
    July 23, 2018 @ 1:56 am

    I’m pretty sure this is actually my most rewatched episode purely because I can throw it on, pay zero attention, and still miss nothing. It’s the ultimate “background noise” episode.


  15. Daru
    July 28, 2018 @ 11:14 am

    “But we have 2000 words to spend on it all the same, so let’s see what we can do.”

    El I utterly adore the fact that you can as a norm, pull an amazing article out of a mediocre story, in fact create a piece that is in the a hell of a lot more entertaining! For one thing you were touching on things such as the Mabinogion, Bran the Blessed and the Cauldron of Plenty that are right in my wheelhouse, along with The Weird and Hauntology. Brilliant!

    Couldn’t we have had a near-future story about haunted oil involving Bran and his freaky cauldron? Wouldn’t that have been enough of a basic set-up?

    And the thing that really rankled me was the 4th wall break scene at the start of the 2nd episode that EXPLAINS how the story works. Ridiculous. My eyes rolled.


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