Our Imposter Syndrome cancels out our Dunning-Kruger

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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
    June 4, 2018 @ 4:36 pm

    Tyger tyger, burning bright
    In the forest of the night
    What immortal hand or eyes
    Could frame thy fearful symmeTREEEEEEEEEEEEEEES

    This is one of your best salvage jobs since the Trial articles. Superlative.


    • Rodolfo Piskorski
      June 6, 2018 @ 10:43 pm

      Rebecca Clarke set it to music, it’s so good.


  2. David Anderson
    June 4, 2018 @ 4:57 pm

    I saw this post at half past nine this morning and at half past ten it had disappeared as if it had never been.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      June 4, 2018 @ 5:00 pm

      It would have been funny to do a 24-hour post that then vanishes and never appears again, but it was just an error in how I set some flags posting it, alas.


      • Echo
        June 4, 2018 @ 5:48 pm

        How do we know you haven’t done it before….hmm?


        • Prole Hole
          June 8, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

          The Silence are allowed to comment here as well you know. Did you not read the searing take-down they did of The Impossible Astronaut which suggests they were unfairly maligned and misrepresented in a way that almost borders on racism? Ah but of course you did, I’m reading your response right now…


    • Przemek
      June 5, 2018 @ 8:47 am

      It pointedly un-happened.


  3. EJR Tairne
    June 4, 2018 @ 5:37 pm

    I also like how the kids are written. This is one of the few pieces of TV where the kids don’t just say things that middle-aged adults think that kids do or should say, but rather that I can imagine actual children speaking, reflecting their own views on the world.


  4. Watcherrrrr
    June 4, 2018 @ 5:55 pm


  5. Tom B
    June 4, 2018 @ 8:09 pm

    This episode always felt like I had actually come in two thirds of the way into an Alan Moorish Swamp Thing story, with the Doctor playing the part of John Constantine on the sidelines instead of being the center of action himself.

    There were a couple of stupendous failures with the story. the lesser failure is just the scientific problem of expecting the plants to save Earth by pumping out a lot of extra oxygen. Raising the oxygen content should actually make the Earth burn faster when the flare hits, but that might have been the plant’s plan all along – incinerate the monkeyboys at the cost of the bulk of the plant life, but the seeds planted down in the soil would sprout again and the plants would once again enjoy dominion over the planet. Those bastards. At least that probably should have been how it played out.

    The more important thing is that this story wrecked the entire season arc by taking less than a minute at the end, presumably the part which Moffat had written. Seeing the Earth survive, Missy exclaims “well, I didn’t expect that.” What exactly did she expect, the solar flare to vaporaize everybody on the planet? That would mean that her entire scheme she had been working on all season didn’t matter at all, since she didn’t expect any survivors anyway (and most likely not enough corpses with surviving genetic material to turn into Cybermen, not to mention her own Cybermen getting vaporized). So, what was she really expecting to have happened?


    • Przemek
      June 5, 2018 @ 7:47 am

      Do you really expect Missy to have a coherent plan and not sabotage herself by being insane/stupid halfway through? We’re talking about a person who literally stabbed themselves in the back twice. I have no trouble believing she meticulously planned the whole Cybermen business but then saw the signs of the incoming solar flare and went “nah, I’ll just watch the planet burn”.


  6. Froborr
    June 4, 2018 @ 8:29 pm

    Oh, bravo, madam, bravo.

    Although, while you make a good argument for trees as emblematic of single vision, doesn’t mean that a forest, being comprised of countless trees, must similarly represent the multiplicity of vision. At least, that’s how I have always seen it: you climb the tree up and out into enlightenment, and then you come back down, share what you’ve learned, and climb another up and out into a different part of the sky. In the iconography of this episode, the forest speaks in a multitude of voices.

    I legitimately impressed you made it through this whole thing without using the word “liminal” once. I would not have been able to resist.


  7. Przemek
    June 5, 2018 @ 9:07 am

    I didn’t understand much of this essay but I appreciate its meticulous structure and its depth of thought,even if it proved too deep for me. Whatever I did understand I enjoyed a lot, so thank you.

    Knowing nothing about Blake, I can’t really comment on how the pairing of his ideas with “Doctor Who” worked on-screen. What I remember from this episode are mostly the two things that made me angry: the unfortunate implications of the “don’t take your meds, the voices in your head are magic!” plot (that the whole DW team apparently missed) and the Doctor telling Maebh she’s not important. I couldn’t help but flash back to Eleven telling Kazran Sardick “In nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important”. Well, apparently he finally has. A scared little girl looking for help. Good job, Doctor.


    • Aylwin
      June 5, 2018 @ 12:26 pm

      For me it was mainly the climate-change-denialist implications (presumably unintentional, but decidedly present), the banalising “this silly thing I made up is the reason why forests are psychologically and culturally important” stuff, and the paltry, parochial shrinking from nature, strangeness and upheaval, a failure manifested especially by the phones. A feeble betrayal of a potentially enchanting concept. I am not a fan.


    • mx_mond
      June 7, 2018 @ 7:17 am

      Although, as this site’s own Jack Graham noted, I think, in Christmas Carol the Doctor is perfectly happy to ignore the multitudes of fridged people, and even Abigail is only taken into consideration insofar as she’s important to Kazran. Whereas here the Doctor ultimately realises the importane of Maebh.


      • Przemek
        June 11, 2018 @ 7:59 am

        Ha. That is a very good point.


  8. Przemek
    June 6, 2018 @ 7:33 am

    “Likewise, the Forest of the Night is very pointedly not something that happens to the world. It pointedly un-happens, forgotten by everyone along with the solar flare it saves them from, even as it asserts its own Eternity. The Forest of the Night thus remains a dreamspace, where secrets can lie.”

    Given that “The Lie of the Land” gets forgotten too, could it be a dreamspace as well? A strange nightmare about fascism, the power of media and the irreducible, core dickishness of the Twelfth Doctor? It certainly makes much more sense as a dream…

    (Having said that, I love the idea of “In the Forest of the Night” being a dreamscape, a brief rupture in “Doctor Who” logic caused by an invasion of a different, higher, hidden logic of the world. Not many things can warp DW the way it usually warps every other genre it encounters).


  9. quixsilver
    June 6, 2018 @ 3:35 pm

    Lovely write-up even if I had to read it half a dozen times to understand it.

    “On a broader level, it is plagued by an aggressive superficiality in its relationship with Blake himself. It’s not just the literal tiger, but the fact that the title draws from Blake’s most anthologized work and offers a trite “if Blake were alive today he’d be medicated out of his genius” moral that’s as banal as it is offensive. It’s heritage theme park Blake, sticking to the most sanitized and basic points of iconography and carefully avoiding coming to any interesting conclusion, its hand adamantly declining to seize the fire. And yet as with Blake’s illustrations to Night-Thoughts the fire finds a way. ”

    This was what I felt about the episode as well. There is so much promise, but it falls away to banality for the most part. I wonder if you have seen the deleted scene from the episode, which has Capaldi in his poetic best and also foreshadows Clara’s decision to not be the last of her species. The Untempered Schism becomes the source of the Doctor’s visions and he sees the forest on earth as revealing a possibility that Gallifrey is out there.


    I also felt that is perhaps this is the only episode where Jenna Coleman is unable to inhabit the Clara that was required, and a lot of it perhaps because of the writing. Clara comes across as unnaturally prosaic (unlike Listen’s Clara, for example, who would be more suited to this episode), except until the very end when she is with the Doctor to witness the fire. The crucial scene where she makes the Doctor leave just does not hit the right tone for me. Or even in the end of the deleted scene, where I would expect Clara to be much more introspective on what it means to be the last of one’s species. But I really enjoyed reading the Luvah/Orc part and I can now understand what the episode could have been .. revealing truth or possibilities.


    • Przemek
      June 6, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

      I’ve never seen that scene before. Thank you! It’s beautiful and brilliant. Although I see what you mean about Clara – why would she just crush the Doctor’s hope like that, especially as she was there when he tried to save his planet?


      • quixsilver
        June 7, 2018 @ 2:42 am

        Yeah. Capaldi’s speech is beautiful, isn’t it? Perhaps, they cut it because they did not shoot a subsequent scene which would have dwelt on Clara’s reaction. Not only was she present when Gallifrey was saved, she actually saw Gallifrey in Listen and reached out to the the young Doctor’s loneliness. Somehow her reaction just did not fit and came across as quite callous, unless there was a subsequent scene which was not shot. But in the scene where she tells the Doctor to go, she does say that the Doctor is going home (to her student) just as she is, so she seems to think that there is the possibility of Gallifrey for the Doctor.

        That deleted scene could have emphasized that Clara’s choice to remain is not about Danny and mundane normalcy, but about leaving humanity behind to get destroyed. She would rather die with humanity (her duty of care side) than run with the Doctor to the stars. And based on that sentence, it appears she was thinking that she was sending the Doctor to his home.

        Capaldi’s speech should have been included as it would have worked in setting up a more ethereal dreamscape narrative and made the episode more poignant. More importantly, it also sets up the Doctor as a misunderstood outsider who sees things beyond narratives thrust on us, just like Maebh, which would make his plea to humanity to understand and listen to Maebh heartfelt, without needing that Blake line.

        It is unfortunate that there were flaws in the narrative and execution when (on second thought) it could have been a subliminal, perfect episode, matching Listen and Kill the Moon in its audacity and thoughtfulness.


  10. Rodolfo Piskorski
    June 6, 2018 @ 10:46 pm

    Two things:
    1. I thought initially that Clara was refusing to escape on the TARDIS because of Danny, but I found the reason she gives much more interesting and much more honest actually.
    2. I think you have to be a crazy Blake initiate to enjoy this episode.


  11. Daru
    June 17, 2018 @ 3:08 pm


    “Every Morn and every Night
    Some are Born to sweet delight
    Some are Born to sweet delight
    Some are Born to Endless Night”

    Nothing more to say, just one of my favourite of your entries now.


  12. mx_mond
    June 25, 2018 @ 8:35 am

    Very late to the party (the past few things have been hectic to say the least), but I can’t resist chiming in.

    In the Forest of the Night is my favourite episode of series 8, mostly because of its aesthetic. As someone fascinated by the mythic layer of Britain, I was bound to be charmed by this and that’s pretty much what happened. The episode swept me up so that I didn’t really mind any of the flaws.

    But as with Kill the Moon, what I particularly enjoyed was the post-humanist layer. We often say that human activity will kill the planet and I think it’s at the same time hubristic and anthropocentric. True, we can harm the planet, kill off entire species etc. But we cannot kill the entirety of life on the planet. I don’t think we’d be able to manage even all of the humans (though the climate change will probably afflict us to a huge extent). And I draw a sort of grim optimism from this. Even if we murder everything on the surface, with time something will crawl out from the unfathomable oceanic depths to try again.

    I also thought it was really fascinating that the solution to the problem in the story didn’t come from any human institution. I didn’t see it as advocating complacency, just a valuable reminder that not everything comes from us. Like the plastic-eating bacteria which seems like something that might help us combat the plastic pollution crisis. There’s still stuff we can do (like synthesising the substance that digests plastic, not to mention having a wider discussion about sustainability and how much plastic we should actually use), but nature still has the potential to surprise us and help us.


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