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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.

40 Comments

  1. mx_mond
    April 22, 2019 @ 11:27 am

    Bill is a black working-class lesbian prone to crushes at first sight and who, when we meet her, proceeds to tell us a story about on such crush in a very mundane situation. I’m convinced Moffat’s RTD inspirations in series 10 include Letita Wright’s character from Cucumber/Banana.

    In the Polish fandom, series 10 seemed to be the Capaldi series for people who disliked the Capaldi era or indeed the larger portion of the Moffat era. In that light, drawing from RTD seemed like a canny move.

    The love story at the core of The Pilot is also representative of what to me is one of the biggest strengths of this series, namely: that Bill is much more emotionally open than Amy or Clara. It’s another refreshing change and probably also helped more people connect to the companion and the series.

    Reply

  2. Chris C
    April 22, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

    The episode is structured a bit like a miniature The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor’s Alan Moore-ish “imagine your whole timeline laid out around you like a city, buildings made of frozen moments” monologue does some lifting for a series that’s nominally a fresh start but is nonetheless saturated in the past.

    Lawrence Gough puts in a great directorial turn here. It’s brimming with stylistic confidence in a mostly unflashy way, and makes a new play for “most ambitious TARDIS reveal shot”.

    Reply

  3. taiey
    April 22, 2019 @ 1:37 pm

    The series really did need any mention of Heather specifically at some point in the middle there. Her appearance in the finale was a strange mix of “I predicted this after the first episode” and “this was in no way built up to sufficiently”.
    And still… and still. If it works, it works because we love Bill so very much.

    Reply

  4. Sean Dillon
    April 22, 2019 @ 2:25 pm

    And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
    And you know that you can trust her
    For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind

    Reply

  5. Tom B
    April 22, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

    The professor/ magical grandfather role had a dry run in Listen. There it was a breath of fresh air from all the “Am I a good man?” claptrap that was building up that season. I guessed at the time that Moffat decided to not go that way since that direction wouldn’t be compatible with the angst he wanted the Doctor going through that year, and by the next year he and Capaldi decided to to with aging Rock God for a persona next. He eventually decided to come back to it for Capaldi’s 3rd season.

    The Doctor having the somewhat different personas each season seems to match up with what Moffat did with Clara, having her being a plot cypher the first season, Slappy McSlapperson with a bunch of angst the second season, with one episode of Doctor-in-training, with that getting picked up the next season as they decided she couldn’t spend another year slapping the Doctor around without (more) people wondering why the Doctor didn’t just kick her out the TARDIS doors.

    Reply

    • TomeDeaf
      April 22, 2019 @ 7:22 pm

      Truly insightful comment in the spirit of the Eruditorum – the sort of view one isn’t going to find anywhere else on the Internet, 10/10

      Reply

    • Przemek
      May 14, 2019 @ 7:27 am

      “Slappy McSlapperson with a bunch of angst the second season”

      Uhhh… I’m not sure we watched the same season. For starters, for me Clara’s emotions and behaviour seemed totally justified given how Twelve himself behaved in his first season.

      Reply

  6. Tom B
    April 22, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

    The professor/ magical grandfather role had a dry run in Listen. There it was a breath of fresh air from all the “Am I a good man?” claptrap that was building up that season. I guessed at the time that Moffat decided to not go that way since that direction wouldn’t be compatible with the angst he wanted the Doctor going through that year, and by the next year he and Capaldi decided to to with aging Rock God for a persona next. He eventually decided to come back to it for Capaldi’s 3rd season.

    The Doctor having the somewhat different personas each season seems to match up with what Moffat did with Clara, having her being a plot cypher the first season, Slappy McSlapperson with a bunch of angst the second season, with one episode of Doctor-in-training, with that getting picked up the next season as they decided she couldn’t spend another year slapping the Doctor around without (more) people wondering why the Doctor didn’t just kick her out the TARDIS doors.

    Reply

  7. AG
    April 22, 2019 @ 8:53 pm

    Moffat set up an AMAZING core characterization for Bill in The Pilot: she smiles when she doesn’t understand.

    It’s such a shame most of the writers for the rest of the season forgot about that. She’s basically a generic character from Knock Knock on, the most egregious anonymization of Bill being Eaters of Light. I just kept waiting for her vibrant character to return, but I don’t think really ever did, even in the finale episodes.

    Seriously, you could do such a great multi-season show rooted in the concept of “the protagonist is someone who smiles when confronted with the unknown,” and somehow most all of the subsequent writers couldn’t be inspired by that character!? Especially as such a character being a DW companion????

    Reply

    • TomeDeaf
      April 23, 2019 @ 1:19 pm

      I disagree that she’s generic in Eaters. Its the first story since Oxygen to really remember that she’s the Doctor’s student (apart from terrible lip service paid to the idea in Lie of the Land re: the essay on free will) – she’s curious about history and trying to make a point and the whole thing starts because of, essentially, an academic disagreement. Then there’s the foregrounding of her queerness in her scenes with Lucius and the Roman soldiers. I also like her twigging how the translation circuits work, although this does feel like it ought to be earlier in the season (pre hearing lots of people presumably talk in other languages in Extremis and Pyramid). In fact I think Eaters was originally meant to be earlier in the season, but was pushed back, though I could be wrong about that.

      Reply

      • AG
        April 23, 2019 @ 8:29 pm

        The moments in Eaters that you point out seem like a use of an on-paper description of Bill, though, not a natural extension of the Bill as executed in earlier episodes, as opposed to “take story with generic nondescript companion in it + add a conversation that references said companion being queer.” I didn’t feel that anything Bill did was uniquely Bill, versus how you could vividly imagine how a Clara/Amy/Donna/Rose/etc. version of the same plot points would go.

        Strong character writing is when you can toss a hypothetical ball into the room and know how the characters would react. Bill didn’t get the same kind of distinct character writing in Eaters as Nardole or Twelve did.

        Reply

        • TomeDeaf
          April 25, 2019 @ 9:15 pm

          Fair enough, that’s not really what I get out of it (especially not the plot being kickstarted by a teacher-student discussion). I think she’s even more generic in Empress, tbh, as though Gatiss only picks up on the line about sci-fi on Netflix and decides to make “she references SFfilms” the extent of her characterisation.

          Reply

        • Daibhid C
          April 26, 2019 @ 6:41 pm

          The moments in Eaters that you point out seem like a use of an on-paper description of Bill, though, not a natural extension of the Bill as executed in earlier episodes

          I have only a hazy idea of how episodic television is created, but might this be because Rona Munro only had how Bill is described on paper available at the time she was writing?

          Reply

          • AG
            April 28, 2019 @ 6:04 pm

            Yes, it is very likely, since they didn’t have a writer’s room. My impression is that before Series 11, writers would independently pitch their episode ideas to the showrunner, never contacting any of the other writers. Any season arcs/continuity would stem from showrunner notes to them, or the showrunner’s edits/rewrites of the episode.

          • TomeDeaf
            April 28, 2019 @ 7:41 pm

            Mind you, I was led to believe that Sarah Dollard was quite proactive about getting other S10 writers together and discussing Bill as a person, though I would have to go back and check the veracity of that.

  8. prandeamus
    April 23, 2019 @ 12:22 pm

    There’s something about this season that really appeals to me. It has some script clunkers, as any season will, but the characters make it work.

    I like Bill (Pearl is excellent) and Nardole, with Matt Lucas playing an harmless drudge with flushes of badassery. Capaldi’s characterisation is one I wish he could have started with. And Missy’s fine, although that’s a slow burn until the of the arc. The Pilot is fine, even if Heather is undeveloped. I love Extremis and the two-part finale, and TuaT. The only ones I really wouldn’t rate are Pyramid and LotL.

    I wonder if some of this is a kind of nostalgia, though? Knowing how the Chibnallypse will begin makes Season 10 shine even more brightly that did at the time.

    Reply

  9. MattM
    April 23, 2019 @ 1:37 pm

    I really liked series 10, felt fresh and exciting and should have done far better than it did. Felt a lot of this was down to the BBC just not pushing it at all. I wonder how Who would have done if 10 had been the start of the Capaldi era rather than 8. The fact it’s a lot more fun and not so reliant on eating its own tail in terms of continuity helps a lot.

    The big trip-up of series 10 is the monks of course. Half the problem is that the just look a bit rubbish – I feel like if they had looked cool and iconic it would at least have pushed some of those episodes up. As it is, they just look rubbish.

    Reply

    • TomeDeaf
      April 23, 2019 @ 4:09 pm

      i like their faces (especially in some of the more nightmarish sequences in Extremis), but the robes kind of suck, especially as they have a faintly Orientalist whiff about them.

      Reply

    • prandeamus
      April 23, 2019 @ 4:48 pm

      I’m not bothered by the look of the Monks, which fall within the usual parameters of a Doctor Who monster (to my eyes).

      For me, Pyramid just didn’t make sense in the way the representatives of the various powers behaved. It’s been a while since I watched it, but that’s what I remember thinking at the time.

      My reasons for hating LotL are more emotional. The fakeout regeneration sequence was just wrong. Bill was unlikely to have a reference point for regeneration, and I just didn’t get why the Doctor had to do it anyway. Maybe I just don’t like “the Doctor seems to be acting evil” plotlines. At least in “The Invasion of Time” you have the fun of watching Tom Baker eating the scenery. That’s the one I’ll be most interested in reading El’s thoughts.

      Reply

      • MattM
        April 24, 2019 @ 8:21 am

        The monk design was fine for a one-off but not a ‘support the centre of the season in a three-parter’ villain.

        Agree about LotL. Very weak ending too. There was a really good idea in there somewhere which was completely squandered, which hurts more than just a generic okay story (like Eaters)

        Reply

    • Przemek
      May 14, 2019 @ 7:35 am

      I thought they looked quite good, it’s just that the two thirds of the story featuring them was rubbish. But I’m still a bit disappointed that the amazing fan theory regarding the Monks actually being the Mondasian Cybermen in disguise turned out to be wrong. I mean, come on! They even said that the rotting corpses look was not their true form!

      Reply

  10. Benthesqid
    April 25, 2019 @ 1:13 am

    The thing that really struck me about Bill in this first episode was the answer she gives the Doctor when he asks why she’s been sitting in on his lectures.

    Or rather, the answer she entirely fails to give, instead going off on an unrelated topic, apparently trusting to the inertia of her speech to keep her going until she can assemble a suitably clever reply to the actual situation she’s been presented with.

    She doesn’t quite manage it, and has to admit she was just stalling for time, but her basic instincts are solid- “Keep talking until I come up with an answer,” is a pretty common tactic that the Doctor himself uses (especially Tennant, I feel).

    Reply

    • AG
      April 25, 2019 @ 5:11 pm

      Yeah, that’s another case where I was just completely charmed by the vivid and specific traits Moffat had imbued Bill’s character with…and then those traits were never followed up on in subsequent episodes.
      Perhaps one of the things that stands out is that this episode, Smile, and Thin Ice allow for self-paced conversations between Bill and Twelve to take center stage. Other episodes are more concerned with action. Twelve-Clara consistently found space to let the two be themselves with each other, and we lose that space in series 10 after the initial episodes. Maybe they just lost the balance between Bill and Nardole, and then later Missy.

      (There’s also a joke here for how Moffat’s taken the “Keep talking until I come up with an answer” approach himself to plotting.)

      Reply

  11. Rodolfo Piskorski
    April 25, 2019 @ 10:01 pm

    I really like this season, especially now with the crapfest that was Season 11.

    I didn’t really see the point of Nardole and some episodes were kinda meh, but some were just brilliant. I think one of those meh episodes could have use Missy as a villain. She could have escaped and created some serious mayhem before being put back in the box. The last episodes would have felt much more intriguing.

    Bill is amazing. I am especially struck by how amazing she is when compared to the bland “companions” of season 11. I guffawed at some of the dialogue between Bill and 13’s companions that some people wrote on Gallifrey Base for a laugh. The thing about Bill is that I liked her immediately. And I hated both Amy and Clara at the start and ended up being heartbroken when they left. Imagine how amazing Bill could be if she had stayed around.

    By the way, is no one going to mention the ugly look of having the two black companions lasting only 1 season?

    Reply

    • TomeDeaf
      April 25, 2019 @ 10:46 pm

      It’s… unfortunate, yeah. As is “the two major black characters in the Capaldi years both get turned into Cybermen”.

      Still, once Ryan and Yaz return in S12 that streak will have ended, at least.

      Reply

      • Tom B
        April 26, 2019 @ 5:51 pm

        At least RTD had black characters return for appearance later after spending their one season as a companion (Mickey, Martha). One even got to go over to Torchwood for some episodes.

        Also, Chibnall might have kept Ryan and Yaz around, but his first story as showrunner he fridged the black woman who looks from the story that she could have been a regular.

        Reply

    • Christopher Brown
      April 27, 2019 @ 3:53 pm

      I’m not a Gallifrey Base member – any samples of that dialogue?? That sounds hilarious.

      Reply

      • Rodolfo Piskorski
        April 28, 2019 @ 12:50 am

        I now feel I might have oversold it. It’s just that my imagination made it sound perfect and hilarious. We were in a thread discussing whether it would have been better to have kept Bill over Series 11, and someone wrote:

        “More importantly, ‘Bill’ inhabited a different kind of television programme/universe from the one we are now watching. I’m still trying to work out whether I like the kind of television Doctor Who now is, compared with the TV version I liked 2005-2017. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But I do know that Bill wouldn’t work in this one.”

        We were talking precisely about the lack of naturalistic reactions from the Yaz and Ryan, so someone added:

        “I can imagine her looking at the new ones in disbelief and saying “are you lot robots? Don’t you think what we’ve found out is a bit weird? No one’s going to say anything?! Don’t let us disturb your sleep, Yaz!”

        Reply

  12. Rodolfo Piskorski
    April 25, 2019 @ 10:03 pm

    This is also one of the my favourite episodes because it features Cardiff so much. I walk by most of these locations every day.

    Also, I hope El will pick up the thematic links between Cardiff and Thin Ice, as I asked her on Twitter! =)

    Reply

  13. John Biles
    April 26, 2019 @ 6:51 am

    I love Bill as a character, so even though this episode has a pretty thin plot, she’s good enough, with Capaldi backing her up, to carry it.
    It was especially refreshing for Moffat to create a companion who is just an ordinary person, and not half-human and half plot device.

    Reply

    • mx_mond
      April 28, 2019 @ 4:39 am

      All right, I’ll bite: what do you think was plot-device-y about Amy and Clara (to a larger extent than every character in fiction being a plot device).

      Reply

      • AG
        April 28, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

        Clara’s is more obvious, which is that Eleven’s interest in her is in unravelling the mystery of how she exists as different people across time.
        Eleven also had an obligation to Amy, for leaving her behind for years, and he was playing a long con with her false copy in series six, and then she’s the mother of his wife. Half of the time Amy is referred to by the Girl Who Waited title.

        Twelve is interested in Bill because of her personality (that she attends his lectures as a non-student, and smiles when she doesn’t understand), not because of any Sci-fi plot events that surround her.

        Reply

        • AG
          April 28, 2019 @ 6:27 pm

          Amy is also a plot device in Series 5 for the Cracks in her bedroom. Eleven is confident in her ability to remember at the end of Series 5 because he’s been monitoring her reaction to them the entire Series, including from the first episode.

          Reply

        • TomeDeaf
          April 28, 2019 @ 7:48 pm

          Is the Doctor a plot device too, given she gives him the moniker of “Raggedy Man” and he serves the function of getting her from A to B?

          Or is this critique just a teeny bit gendered?

          Reply

          • AG
            April 29, 2019 @ 3:40 pm

            The critique is rooted in “why does the Doctor take on these people as a companion?” Amy and Clara have plot-related reasons that are important to Eleven’s interest in them. Bill does not, Twelve is interested in Bill’s personality as demonstrated by her actions in a mundane setting. By this definition, Craig is also a plot device companion.

            The opposite direction, “why do the companions find the Doctor interesting/join him in travelling” rarely have plot reasons, with the exception of River and Nardole. The companions find the Doctor interesting as a person, and travel with him for reasons unrelated to the season arc plottiness.

            It’s not a gendered critique.

          • TomeDeaf
            April 29, 2019 @ 6:02 pm

            Nah, Amy choosing to leave with the Doctor in the TARDIS is absolutely rooted in plot device – she’s running away from her wedding because she doesn’t feel ready. The arc of Amy growing and choosing Rory and building to their wedding is as much the season arc as “cracks”. That’s a plot, it just isn’t a SF plot. And Eleven takes to Amelia Fairytale Pond long before any obligation, of course … She’s the first face his face saw, seared onto his hearts.

            More broadly, though, I just think it’s terribly reductive to describe characters as plot devices. Of course they are; they all are. That’s what characters are and do, they create plot around them because of their actions and choices and where they are on the board. Bill not having a moniker like The Girl Who Waited or The Girl Who Died or The Boy Who Lived or The Oncoming Storm or Raggedy Man doesn’t actually make her not a plot device, if that’s how one wants to break plots down in terms of devices and cogs, anyway. She gets the Doctor involved in the monster of the week story which later ends up saving him in the season finale: that’s a plot function. She drags him into the haunted house, thereby serving a plot function. None of this in anyway makes her not a character, much as Clara and Amy’s backgrounds don’t mean they’re not characters either. Characters ARE devices within a plot. Perhaps what you mean is Moffat hides this more with Bill than he does with Clara and Amy? In which case I agree.

          • AG
            April 30, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

            My first comment in this thread was in response to mx_mond, who said “what do you think was plot-device-y about Amy and Clara (to a larger extent than every character in fiction being a plot device)”.

            So, yes, the point was the Bill might still be as plot device-y as the Doctor in some ways, but that Amy and Clara were a little more plot-device-y than the baseline that Bill is at.
            For example, Amy was clearly more plot-device-y than Rory in the beginning. As per good writing, both Amy and Clara became less plot-device-y later, as they were fleshed out.

  14. Przemek
    May 14, 2019 @ 7:52 am

    I love Bill, but I remember being uncertain about her when “The Pilot” aired. I liked her a lot, but I was worried that her “asking meta questions about sci-fi stories she’s in” gimmick might eventually bite the writers in the ass: a character like Bill is openly inviting the viewers to notice the genre conventions and to question plot logic, which is really bad news for weaker stories. But apparently I didn’t need to worry because most writers just turned her into a generic companion anyway.

    I agree that this “new era of Who spanning a single season” concept felt liberatingly fresh at the time and proved to be a good idea. I think what made S10 merely “enjoyable” instead of “amazing” was how undercooked it ultimately felt. Both Heather and Missy needed way more screeen time than they got, the Monks trilogy was incoherent at best and Nardole’s relationship with Missy was all over the place (he chastises the Doctor for not guarding her enough and then he lets her out?). A bit more creative control over the whole and we might not even have needed S11 to love S10.

    Reply

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