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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.

28 Comments

  1. James Whitaker
    May 19, 2024 @ 6:45 pm

    Oh I loved it – there’s nothing here that’s particularly innovative or revolutionary – but it’s Moffat distilling everything he does down into one episode, the technology glitches, miscommunication as a source of horror, then comedy, then triumph, the Doctor in Heaven Sent monologue mode, switching from hysterical rambling to anger and fury. It was actually genuinely surreal to suddenly be reminded of Capaldi and Coleman all of a sudden – at one point Gibson actually even looked and sounded just like Clara, which actually threw me for a second. It’s going to be interesting to see if this episode being the cheap one, despite all the technology – 90% of it on one small set – and Gibson’s absence setting up a Gibson heavy story later in the season; next week looks like it’ll be all her with little Doctor to speak of, although knowing this show it’ll probably turn out to be the most expensive episode yet.

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  2. Anton B
    May 19, 2024 @ 6:46 pm

    Like that bit in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan when the audience have to clap if they believe in fairies. This one’s all about belief, questioning that belief, demanding proof. We believe Doctor Who can survive standing on a landmine. And here’s the proof. The most Moffatty Woffatty of Moffat episodes.

    All the Moffat tropes are present and correct. A rogue AI, a small child searching for their parent, an army of clerics, a glitching hologram of a dead person, a surprise new companion early reveal, a repeated innocuous phrase becoming eerie (in this case we get a few – “Kiss Kiss”, “sharp scratch” “next of kin” etc.).

    There were also, unfortunately, a few too many of Moffat’s self-consciously ‘witty’ screwball comedy dialogue clunkers. “Had to deactivate one of these once, at a lesbian gymkhana. Underwater. For a bet.” ….Tumbleweed, followed by the sound of a lead balloon hitting the floor. In our house at least. But, to be fair, the few dialogue missteps were balanced and made up for by some lovely lines “It flips the stomach, doesn’t it? A brand-new sky,” the Doctor says. “Wait until you see the dawn.”

    The Meddling Monk? Now that would be a Susan Twist. Could they have been one of the Pantheon of Chaos all along?

    Nah, all this extra diegetic, fourth wall breaking, shizzle is just teasing the big reveal that it’s all an imaginary story (“aren’t they all?”)
    My money’s on the Master of the Land of Fiction.

    Reply

    • Scurra
      May 19, 2024 @ 7:06 pm

      Yeah, Master of the Land of Fiction is seeming more plausible by the week – there’s always a twist at the end, after all.

      Reply

  3. Jarl
    May 19, 2024 @ 6:56 pm

    Smh boomer who

    Reply

  4. Richard Pugree
    May 19, 2024 @ 8:47 pm

    If we’re making comparisons to Heaven Sent, I wish they’d properly committed to having it just be two-hander (or three if we need a Susan Twist) and just a really excruciating build up of tension on the landmine.

    Even Moffat has done perfunctory phoned-in side characters so much more effectively than this before, and it’s a huge part of RTD’s skill making characters completely people in a line and a half, but there was no Lynda with a Y or even fat thin gay Anglicans here – the romance/tattoo/dad subplot was just utterly banal wasn’t it?

    It’s admittedly charming that Dr Who in 2024 has used an inordinate amount of money to badly fake a quarry – it looked DREADFUL.

    Gibson and Gatwa are wonderful as ever – though actually I think Gibson is managing more nuance than Gatwa so far – in a way she’s got the easier (or at least less pressured) job, but she’s nailing it so far in a way that Gatwa I think is only almost-always nailing it so far: I’m very excited to see his second series performance and where he chooses to land some of these beats when he’s more settled into the role.

    God, it’s nice that Dr Who is fun again though, isn’t it.

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  5. Richard Pugree
    May 19, 2024 @ 8:59 pm

    I’m also wondering about what pay-off to Susan Twist would actually be worth doing.

    Of course, if you’re RTD, as soon as you know there’s an actor called SUSAN TWIST then you at Moffatt are joking in the pub about casting her for years, so there’s that. Part of me hopes it’s literally just that.

    But in-episode…

    I wouldn’t have noticed that she was the same woman were it not for people here and in other parts of the internet talking about it. The gaudete woman was odd enough to prompt a ‘wait, what was that all about’ (and not only because it’s my favourite carol), but the others I don’t think have been – possibly the Devil’s Chord one. I of course can’t day what I would feel if I didn’t know, butbecause of that my suspicion is that whenever it’s revealed that they’re all the same woman my reaction would be more liklley to be “oh, huh!” rather than “oh my GOD!!” , which seems a shame.

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    • Cyrano
      May 20, 2024 @ 3:59 am

      I think that’s alright isn’t it? It’s not an arc where you’re slowly gathering clues, it’s an arc where if you spot it you start wondering “what’s this woman/Bad Wolf” doing everywhere and if you don’t spot it you go “oh my god!” at a series of flashbacks in the season finale.

      Though it’s possible it’s an arc like series 5, where the Crack looks like it’s a Bad Wolf, doing cameos until the end of the series, then gets called out halfway through. In this case the next episode seems to be about a mysterious woman who follows people around….

      Reply

  6. Citizen Alan
    May 19, 2024 @ 10:26 pm

    Personally, my only big complaint about the episode was the fact that Caoilinn Springall was entirely too old to play Splice. And I don’t know how old Splice was supposed to be, but Springall is 11, I think, and the plot depended on the child being unable to tell the difference between her father and a hologram, and then be willing to sit placidly and look at pictures of an antelope while the area was under attack by the ambulance.

    I understand the flaws you folks have pointed out, but after the Chibnall era (and the endless and insipid claims about its “wokeness”), I found the savage political stances taken by the Doctor in this ep to be quite refreshing.

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  7. (Not That) Jack
    May 19, 2024 @ 10:26 pm

    My first thought, as I sat down to watch this on Saturday morning, was simply nostalgic: “Time for the Moffat episode!” Since “The Girl In The Fireplace”, knowing which one was the Moffat episode in an RTD season was a cause for celebration, since it would be knocked out of the park. When they all became Moffat episodes (even if he didn’t write them), there were still individual episodes where they were really Moffat episodes, the ones where he leaned into a concept hard and knocked it out of the park, like “Listen” and “Heaven Sent.” There was always an episode until series 11 where someone showed up and went “watch this” as a writer (usually Moffat, though Neil Gaiman got the spot for “The Doctor’s Wife”) and then Chibnall showed up and after Series 11, I just plain stopped watching. RTD’s return got my notice, and in fact one of my first thoughts was “if he brings back Moffat I will be shocked, but I’ll also be delighted.”

    And lo and behold he did it.

    And I was delighted.

    Now, I’m gonna be honest; “Boom”, to me, is like a new studio track on a band’s greatest hits album that a label mandates be on there for whatever reason. It might be good, it might be very good, but all it’s gonna do is sit next to the hits and make you go “yeah, okay, I’ve heard this before.” Formal high concept? (The Doctor ends a war while standing on a landmine.) Check. Sharp, snappy dialog? Check. Out of control technology? Check. A monster with a very particular set of rules? (Not only ‘don’t move or you die’, but ‘if the ambulance notices you’re injured, you die’) Catchphrases? (‘Kiss kiss’) Check. An ending that works far better emotionally than it does logically? Check, So yeah, you’ve heard it all before.

    But if you’re someone like me, who also has a taxonomy of Moffat episodes, you still love it. Because yeah, this is the sort of thing Moffat does in his sleep. But Steven Moffat doing things he can do in his sleep is still pretty good, because he’s Steven Moffat, and his B side making the greatest hits album is gonna be damn good. Throw in the fact that there was a chance that I’d simply never watch Doctor Who again after the clusterfuckery that was Chibnall, and getting back the thrill of sitting down to the TV and saying “time for the Moffat one!” means I’m only gonna be SO objective about “Boom.”

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  8. Ross
    May 19, 2024 @ 11:45 pm

    The obvious thing to say, for me, is that Boom is a rebuttal to the other explosion-titled episode. Kerblam said “The capitalist system isn’t the problem; we must eliminate the bad actors who stop the system from operating in the good and wholesome way it was intended,” and then Boom comes around and says, “No, the capitalist system is, in fact, the problem. It is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. That is why we must burn the fucker to the ground.”

    Reply

    • Einarr
      May 20, 2024 @ 7:59 am

      And they both have a side character M/F love story that is blown apart when one half is killed by the AI system.

      Reply

  9. Sofia
    May 19, 2024 @ 11:59 pm

    The repeated use of “thoughts and prayers” was definitely the most pointed piece of political commentary in the episode–though interestingly as with Space Babies it’s more of a reference to American rather than British culture–and clearly a particular source of anger for Moffat as he has expanded on in more than one of his recent round of interviews, especially the one by Cameron McEwan for The Hollywood Reporter.

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  10. Ike
    May 20, 2024 @ 1:05 am

    I enjoyed this review tremendously, as always, but it’s funny that you would ignore a performance by Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping — quirky leaders of protesting capitalist heartlessness for something like 25-30 years — to watch and review an episode that seethes with anger towards capitalist heartlessness.

    Reply

  11. Bad Magician
    May 20, 2024 @ 2:49 am

    at no point have we ever gotten an episode hyped as a Return to Villengard or whatever

    But what would we call it if we did? Kingdom of Killing? Province of Conflict? Domain of Ouch?

    President of something, I’m sure.

    Reply

  12. prandeamus
    May 20, 2024 @ 3:30 am

    This didn’t work for me, at all, and I’m struggling to articulate why. It was more technically competent than most of the Chibnall era, and Moff can do this stuff in his sleep far better than most. Yet I was bored. Maybe it’s the world-building. If Splice has seen AI holograms before, she would know at some level that they are at best an incomplete persona. If she’s not seen them before, the uncanny valley effect would be obvious. Technically, the writer has at least indicated in the script that the AI is not intended as a full simulation, as it would presumably be prohibitively expensive for Villengard. But this is a girl who has been brought to a war zone; she would know. Grief can make us crazy but … this didn’t convince.

    There was a sinking feeling about 1/3 of the way through “we’re going to be spending all our time in this bloody crater, aren’t we?”

    And the colour palette. I’m developing a real aversion to watching an episode in half-darkness.

    Just, meh. And it disappoints me to say that.

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  13. Anton B
    May 20, 2024 @ 4:44 am

    I’m a little distracted by the Doctor’s inability to pronounce the names of planets consistently.
    First Meta BEE lis/Me TAB elis and now VILL engard/Vil EN gard. What can it all mean?

    Reply

  14. John S. Hall
    May 20, 2024 @ 9:25 am

    Someone else has probably already mentioned this, and apologies if so, but…

    I discovered on Twitter yesterday that yes, Pertwee DID in fact own (well, co-own) a burger joint in Acton for about five years with fellow actor (and Camfield rep member) Walter Randall.

    Reply

  15. Kaan Vural
    May 20, 2024 @ 11:30 am

    Didn’t really connect with this one. Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord feel more coherent, somehow.

    The central conceit doesn’t really work. Why does the landmine bother to spend an hour verifying whether or not the target is living if it’s eventually going to detonate anyway? What does this accomplish other than giving its target time to think, plan, get help from the rest of their unit?
    Moffat’s an old hand at parent-child relationships, but here the pairing consists of a kid who doesn’t really emote at her father’s death and an AI simulacrum dad who by design doesn’t really emote on his daughter’s behalf. Bit of a blind alley there. And it’s odd for the episode to make the kid’s non-grief seem somehow wise or heartwarming; to me it read like she was emotionally alienated by her religion, the same way the Church was alienated from the very reasons for their war by their blind trust in the Algorithm. But the episode doesn’t show awareness of that parallel.
    The best thing going for it is the acting challenge to Ncuti Gatwa, which is a magnificent idea. Robbed of body language, he still manages to make his Doctor compelling and distinctive. His range is broadening. The only blip is the “lesbian gymkhana” bit, so not in tune with the tenor of the scene even Gatwa seems apologetic for it.
    On the other hand, Ruby, who is scripted as a reprise of Clara, gets so little to work with. Surely Varada Sethu’s pretty limp will-they-won’t-they was time better spent on exploring Ruby and Splice, both orphaned but in such different ways? Instead both Ruby and Splice basically sit out the last half of the episode. Imagine a version of Boom where Splice is torn between her faith’s dismissal of death and her own instinct to grieve – and this conflict, and Ruby and the Doctor’s efforts to get through to her, become the tipping-factor between the mine going off and the Algorithm being rewritten. That doesn’t just seem better to me, that seems more like what Steven Moffat at the height of his powers would have gone for.
    The reveal of the Church fighting themselves is a great idea, but it’s sort of lost in the mix, isn’t it? A landmine is a known quantity; this episode is centrally a survival thriller, not a mystery, so the Doctor rattling off the truth about the war is almost an afterthought. Again, I’m prompted to re-imagine this episode with a landmine designed by capitalists – a smart mine that can be bargained and even negotiated with, turned against its deployers for the right price, but unwilling to reveal battlefield information, even its own allegiance, because that’s proprietary.
    I had fun, but there’s something very throwaway going on here. If this aired in one of Capaldi’s seasons, it’d have been comfortably in the bottom half for me.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      May 21, 2024 @ 8:31 am

      I think the mine wasn’t design to spend an hour verifying the validity of the target. I think the mine was simply confused by the Doctor – both because he’s not human and because no other target would be able to stand on a smart mine for an hour without it exploding. From what we see of the mine killing that soldier at the beginning, I think it’s supposed to verify the target (or fail to do so and detonate just in case) in the blink of an eye.

      As for the rest of your comment, I agree that the changes you list would have improved the episode.

      Reply

      • Citizen Alan
        May 21, 2024 @ 2:02 pm

        I think the idea was that the landmine was designed to be smart enough not to waste its charges just because something that’s not a valid target (i.e. a living person) fell on it. It was confused by the fact that a living person stepped on it and then froze with such instantaneous precision that it could not immediately tell whether it was a living person or a rock.

        Reply

  16. Christopher Brown
    May 20, 2024 @ 8:38 pm

    It has it flaws, though mostly in the last third; I think sidelining Ruby and Gibson’s dynamic with Gatwa was a mistake, frankly, and Boom loses some air there. And yeah, some of the emotion at the climax and resolution feels under-earned.

    But man, I haven’t watched a new Doctor Who episode that left me feeling this reinvigorated and alive afterward since…well, since Steven Moffat last wrote for the show. It’s such a rush to feel that way again.

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  17. AJ McKenna
    May 20, 2024 @ 10:04 pm

    So the good points: great concept, good use of peril, blind Vater with his ragged blindfold, helmet and BFG is an image straight out of 2000AD, as indeed are the evil capitalist ambulances. As someone who considers The Greatest Show in the Galaxy a fave because of its similarly zarjaz aesthetics, I loved that. Ncuti continues to be amazing. I love that the Doctor calls people ‘gyal’ now. Also, I’m wondering which incarnation of the Doctor hung out with Larkin…

    However…well, people have mentioned the lesbian gymkhana line, and I would also ask that the off-camera Canto/Posh Graham interaction be considered another example of Moffat’s clodhopping, try-hard approach to queer inclusion. ‘Sad songs for heartbroken lesbians’ landed so much better in the Devil’s Chord because everyone in that scene reads as part of the queer community (even if we don’t know, yet, exactly which way Ruby swings), whereas these lines felt very much like those of an outsider. It’s giving Gavin and Stacey, tbqfh.

    What really unsettled me, though, was the Doctor breathlessly singing the virtues of ‘parent power’ at the end. Maybe that would have hit differently in another week, one where the UK government hadn’t just introduced a new Section 28 in the name of empowering the sort of parents who should have the least amount of power, but it just seemed a bit too close to reproductive futurism to me. And it gets worse the more I think about it. Oh, so you got special dispensation to bring your kid to an active warzone, John Francis? Who’s that for? Coz it reads to me like you putting your kid in danger to satisfy your own emotional needs, which is very much Not Cool. I would like to have seen that be interrogated more, and given how much older the actress playing Splice was than the way the character was written I think that could have been conveyed by making her a little curlier and a little less in awe of Daddy.

    On the other hand you can argue that it is a family show and it’s nice to give dads a hero moment, probably helps them and their kids bond a little…but then I come back to that Tom Baker story about meeting the kid who used to be in a boys’ home, whose residents were probably only too aware that no, actually, not all parents come through for their children. How would they feel, watching an ending like that? Would it still make Saturday good?

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    • Cyrano
      May 21, 2024 @ 2:25 am

      I don’t think getting special dispensation to bring your child to a war because their mum’s dead was meant to read as laudable. Or selfish. It seemed like the only option – partially because that’s the way the plot is constructed, partially because a world where Church of England vicars are galactic imperialists, themselves predated on by a weapons manufacturer’s algorithm and murdered by ambulances doesn’t strike me a place long on child care options.

      As to the parent stuff – unlike the slightly eggy The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, this doesn’t flirt with biological essentialism. It’s not about being someone who makes a baby, it’s about being a parent. Despite the gratuitous cruelty of the government that’s still something you can do without resort to biology or WASPiness in the UK.

      And of course stories about the power of love are difficult for someone with a sad experience of that relationship. Romcoms are difficult for people who’ve been in abusive relationships. I don’t know if “well done people don’t have parents” is engaging critically with the story or being a Twitter-ish scold.

      Reply

      • AJ McKenna
        May 21, 2024 @ 5:34 am

        It’s not that it’s necessarily presented as laudable so much that I’d have preferred it if it was presented as a source of friction between Splice and her Dad, which if the character had been written to be closer to the age of the actor would have felt more realistic, given said actor something to get her teeth into, given Pater Vater’s triumph over the machine real emotional weight and probably even been more inclusive of those poor parentless mites on whose behalf I am apparently being a Twitter scold.

        I agree with you about romcoms though, meet-cutes make me wince.

        Reply

        • AJ McKenna
          May 21, 2024 @ 5:50 am

          Sorry if this comes across a little snarky BTW, I’ve had a bad insomnia night and still haven’t got any sleep yet. You’re right that it isn’t strictly bio-essentialist and was nowhere near as bad as The Doctor, The Wombyn and The Closet. And as I say, in any other week it would seem fairly innocuous, but the way transphobes in UK politics and media have framed the debate around the new sex education guidelines has been as a battle between legitimate parental authority and proselytising, predatory outsiders, so it gives the line an uncomfortable edge in this context. And also, I find it a bit naff aesthetically, tbh.

          OTOH the singing of the Skye Boat Song did remind me of The Last of England, so there’s that.

          Reply

  18. AJ McKenna
    May 20, 2024 @ 10:06 pm

    *surlier, not curlier

    Reply

  19. kenziie bee
    June 12, 2024 @ 9:26 am

    if you told me that Moffat wrote this episode in a fugue state after watching Kerblam! (and palette cleansing with Genesis of the Daleks) i would 1000% believe you, right down to the onomatopoeic title. it draws the exact opposite conclusion: FUCK the system, the system IS the problem. Fuck the algo, fuck the military industrial complex, fuck capitalism for building a better landmine instead of hospitals. This episode was like an exorcism, i dont even mind that it was held together by cuttings from every prior Moffat script, i loved it. we’re so BACK

    Reply

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