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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.

37 Comments

  1. Nick Walters
    March 18, 2024 @ 6:43 am

    This story more than any highlights to me the incompetence of Chibnall as a writer – in fact, it constitutes dereliction of duty.

    We have a Black companion. A Pakistani companion. We have had stories about Rosa Parks and the Partition of India. Race and racism is clearly a theme this season.

    And what are Daleks? Racists. They hate anything that is not like themselves.

    So what does the Doctor say about them?

    “A Dalek is the mutated remnants of a warring race, genetically created and housed within a metal case, designed to be a relentless killing machine.”

    That’s a Wikipedia entry, complete with clumsy unconscious rhyme. Not something anything the Doctor, or anyone, would ever say.

    She should have said something like this:

    “Daleks are the ultimate racists. Never mind the colour of your skin – Daleks don’t care. If you’re human – you’re dead.”

    Thus tying the story into the themes of the season. Like any writer would.

    Fox ache, Chibnall, you didn’t drop the ball – you just didn’t know what to do with it.

    Reply

    • Einarr
      March 18, 2024 @ 8:07 am

      IMO the failure to have the Ryan/Aaron and Dalek racial purity plot lines join up is even worse than not tying it to the stuff the wider S11 was saying about racism, because these are the two key halves of the same unit of television. Graham telling Aaron that “family isn’t all about DNA” is even quite close to getting somewhere on this front but… nope. Even a sort of hackneyed and sentimental “found family good, obsession with bloodlines and genetics bad” thing, however clunkily executed, would’ve been better than “uh, well I’m carrying around a microwave oven I guess”.

      Reply

      • John G Wood
        March 19, 2024 @ 7:48 pm

        What really got to me was realising (before I’d even finished watching) that the Sarah Jane Adventures – a kids’ show – had done the whole “absent black dad returns” trope much better in Mark of the Berserker, and that isn’t even a highlight of the series. Although the plot is paper thin there, the character work is pretty strong and it does things like showing how Clyde’s relationship with his dad compares to Maria’s and Rani’s with theirs. And of course it has characters that feel like individuals rather than hollow cliche spouters.

        Also, the inclusion of another facepalmingly perfunctory Bury Your Gays moment made me realise that it was going to be a Thing this era. But I quite liked the junkyard Dalek, so that’s alright then.

        Reply

        • Christopher Brown
          March 20, 2024 @ 3:22 pm

          Yes! The Sarah Jane Adventures had comprehensively outclassed Chibnall eleven years earlier. Maybe because they actually gave a shit about the theme beyond “well, time to tie this thread off then.”

          Reply

        • Einarr
          March 20, 2024 @ 7:36 pm

          Completely agreed, even if I would probably agree with the Eruditorum’s take that “Mark of the Berserker” IS one of the SJA highlights.

          Very curious indeed that twice that Who has dealt with the abusive/neglectful father trope (Idiot’s Lantern & here) it has ended up significantly less mature about it than the kids’ show was.

          Reply

          • Christopher Brown
            March 20, 2024 @ 11:11 pm

            I agree with you and the Eruditorum. I might suggest it has something to do with the genre – a kids’ show is more likely on an episode-by-episode basis to highlight its themes, and thus spend time prioritizing them in a way that episodes like The Idiot’s Lantern or Resolution don’t because the latter generally have more moving parts (not that those examples do much with them, mind). When the highlight approach doesn’t work you can end up with something more stilted and didactic as a lot of kid’s TV unfortunately is, but when the approach comes good you get stuff like Mark of the Berserker which revolves around the absent dad drama as its most essential ingredient.

            Of course, regular Doctor Who has episodes like Father’s Day or The Girl Who Waited that revolve around a similar emotional focus that are just as successful, so I don’t know if that argument particularly holds water. Whereas in Idiot’s Lantern and Resolution, the abusive father bits are very much secondary strands that could have been arbitrarily swapped for another plot thread without changing the texture of the main focus, “creature takes over early TV and steals people’s faces” and “Daleks are back but it’s kind of a surprise”. Neither of them, in other words, takes the serious theme seriously enough to structure their entire contents around.

    • Bedlinog
      March 18, 2024 @ 12:03 pm

      Oh, but it’s worse.

      What Chibnall does manage to do in this episode is have the Doctor say to the Dalek upon meeting it: ‘I still know a trick or two. Like I know you’re a refugee from the planet Skaro’.

      So there you go. The Doctor names the enemy, before going on to save humanity from it.
      Murderous, disgusting would-be conquerors that take over and use women’s bodies = refugee.

      Reply

      • Einarr
        March 18, 2024 @ 12:13 pm

        …and then repeats the blunder in Survivors of the Flux!

        Be afraid, humanity, because when there are disasters like “planets and stars being wiped out”, those nasty “displaced creatures who need a home” are sure to turn up on your doorstep, eager to find “somewhere to take over”… 🤮

        Reply

        • Bedlinog
          March 18, 2024 @ 12:22 pm

          Once is a mistake, twice is a …, etc. etc.

          Reply

  2. Ross
    March 18, 2024 @ 7:29 am

    It’s not that there aren’t options here. There’s undoubtedly a story to be told about the Doctor as a scrap metal identity, rebuilt and repurposed. That’s an entirely workable regeneration metaphor, and you could then readily extend it to a new and reworked Daleks by way of playing with the absolute and unchanging nature of the Daleks. There’s something there. There’s also probably something a bit more China Miéville to be done about salvaged identities. And those are, like, just what I can come up with off the top of my head. Fundamentally, it’s a pretty open-ended idea with which you can legitimately do a fair amount.


    Thinks ahead to what we know is coming. Thinks ahead to the realization that the Doctor is not about being born on Galifrey or having thirteen lives or being the reincarnation of the Other or some nonsense about looms or about not being a simulation created by the monks, but rather the Doctor’s fundamental identity is the person they built for themselves through their decisions out of the scraps and detritus of a million worlds and a million tragedies and a million joys.

    Thinks ahead to the fact that Chibnall will do absolutely jack with this.

    Now I’m angrier than ever.

    Reply

  3. Jesse S
    March 18, 2024 @ 8:04 am

    I thought that scene with the family (“What do we do?” “I suppose we’ll have to have a conversation.”) was an awkward nod to the end of “Vengeance on Varos”, without any of the political satire.

    Reply

  4. Przemek
    March 18, 2024 @ 8:07 am

    “An attempt at something” is what the Chibnall era, at its best, manages to be.

    Reply

  5. Joseph
    March 18, 2024 @ 9:27 am

    If we’re contributing “what does a Dalek built of scrap in Sheffield imply” ideas, maybe… the Dalek as Imperialism Manifest, a reminder that for decades or centuries Sheffield steel, as well as making nails and screws and tools, also made guns, cannons, and ships that enforced British imperialism around the globe? I dunno, I feel like there’s something there – the same nearly there that Victory could have done, if it had even one fragment of bravery about showing WWII Britain to not just be a good place of heroes. Daleks as Anglo-Imperialism is maybe kind of contrary to their committment to genocide at all costs, rather than exploitation? Though NuWho has done a bit of this, with the Emperor exploiting the vulnerable of Earth to find “Dalek” cells, or the Prime Minister of the Daleks (notable title there) using partial-conversion humans to enforce Dalek power.

    Reply

  6. Aquanafrahudy
    March 18, 2024 @ 9:33 am

    I think broadly this episode is very similar to Silver Nemesis, in that it’s a broadly entertaining and vaguely competent piece of television on the surface with nice visual/metaphorical trimmings, theoretically, that becomes an absolute train-wreck of an episode if you attempt to analyse or deconstruct it. The possibilities are sitting there in broad daylight, and then it just does nothing with them.

    This may, of course, not be a very sensible comparison, but it’s the first thing that springs to my mind, at least partly because, like Silver Nemesis, this is a piece of television that I find very enjoyable to watch, but is probably not a very good piece of television on the face of it.

    Reply

    • Einarr
      March 18, 2024 @ 11:28 am

      Certainly Wayne Yip – the only directorial talent brought back from the Moffat years, and someone whose previous work on two episodes of Class + two episodes of S10 was much better than it had any right to be – lifts it to significantly easier to watch than it might have been. Which doesn’t remotely save the story, but it gives it an energy almost entirely lacking from S11.

      Reply

      • Christopher Brown
        March 18, 2024 @ 11:39 pm

        It’s quite telling that by far the most successful direction on the Chibnall era to that point had been from the guy they brought back from the Moffat era.

        Reply

  7. William Shaw
    March 18, 2024 @ 9:46 am

    Can’t believe this essay overlooked the debut of a vital star of the Chibnall years:

    IMPACT FONT!

    Reply

    • Przemek
      March 19, 2024 @ 2:43 am

      And with it, the sort of “epic” planet-hopping that features prominently in “Spyfall” (and “Praxeus”, I think?) and which I think might be one of the very few genuinely new things that Chibnall adds to “Doctor Who”.

      Reply

  8. Corey Klemow
    March 18, 2024 @ 2:00 pm

    This is the story in which a Dalek angrily exhorts a human to drive faster, but doesn’t shout “ACCELERATE… AC-CEL-ER-AAAAATE!”

    Reply

  9. Arthur
    March 18, 2024 @ 2:10 pm

    As far as scrapyard fixup Daleks go, the ones from the Doctorin’ the TARDIS music video were better. They at least had heart.

    Reply

  10. BG Hilton
    March 18, 2024 @ 7:01 pm

    Once again, I don’t remember what happened in the episode. I do remember being profoundly disappointed by the ‘home-made’ Dalek, which I thought would at least look cool. It looks too much like a Dalek, and not enough like a pile of scraps. Commission a decent found object sculptor to make a scrap Dalek, and then you’ve got something.

    Reply

  11. Kate Orman
    March 18, 2024 @ 7:27 pm

    “It’s drama-shaped, as opposed to drama—built, in its own way, out of memories and remnants of other TV shows instead of out of any actual sense of character or story.” This reminded me of when you first start writing your own Doctor Who stories as a child, based on your vague impressions from the Terrance Dicks novelisations of what happens in one, rather than a knowledge of storycraft. What you do have, as a kid, is boundless enthusiasm. I wish that was coming through the screen in Chibnall’s stories; it would make it possible to forgive a lot.

    Reply

    • Paul David
      March 19, 2024 @ 4:36 am

      I think that observation around a child writing Doctor Who stories is spot on for this story (and certainly for later, when we get “And then the Daleks and the Cybermen team up with the Master, and Ace is there and she’s friends with Tegan and they meet their old Doctors and Paul McGann and Colin Baker are in a mystic void and the Master wears the question mark pullover and plays Troughton’s recorder…..”

      What I think is sad is that Series 11, for all it’s faults, tends to step deliberately away from that. It doesn’t have much, but it has freshness and it avoids nostalgia. There’s something that happens from this point on where the show focuses on massive lore-building and returns from the past and, worse an expectation that people will just get those returns without explanation.

      (I’m thinking of Fugitive of the Doctor where there’s no reference to either Human Nature or Utopia, and just an expectation that the Chameleon Arch will be recognised from episodes over ten years earlier. I think you’d have to be a fan to make that connection, and even then lots missed it with surprisingly few realising that’s what happened to Brendan/the Doctor upon leaving Division)

      I’d love to know if the BBC mandated the shift (“Last season tanked so bring back Gallifreyan lore and the Master and the Cybermen etc…”) or if Chibnall lost confidence in quite a bold new vision when the ratings came in, or it was Chibnall’s aim from the beginning (which the early reference to the Timeless Child suggests)

      As much as I struggled with Series 11, and as much as the fanboy part of me had his cockled warms by McCoy and Davison cameos in Power of the Doctor, there feels such a whiplash between the feeling of possibility at the opening of Whittaker’s era and the continuity-fest of her finale.

      Reply

      • taiey
        March 19, 2024 @ 5:36 am

        I assume the BBC mandated the lack of nostalgia in series 11.

        Reply

        • Paul David
          March 19, 2024 @ 7:48 am

          I don’t know. I’ve not seen that mentioned except on comments here. I am going to continue to assume it was a Chibnall idea as, without that, he did not bring anything at all to the table that appeals to me.

          I will say, however, I would be surprised if the Beeb gave him such a restrictive mandate. He was the only choice for the role by all accounts which should have given him a lot of bargaining flex, and as the showrunner of Broadchurch, a hugely popular show at the time, it would surprise me if execs were not willing to give him a lot of space to achieve his personal goals for the show. That’s only guesswork, however.

          Reply

      • Cyrano
        March 19, 2024 @ 6:22 am

        I don’t think it did have freshness though. It didn’t do anything instead of having Daleks and Cybermen and the Time War. It just had a gap that it didn’t fill. Stepping away from telling old stories is potentially a great idea, but you have to tell new ones instead.

        When it looked like the 2005 series couldn’t have the Daleks, Russell T came up with the Toclafane – the nihilistic, murderous remnants of humanity from the end of the universe. Another story to tell. Given his own blank canvas, Chibnall simply failed to even try to fill it.

        Reply

        • Paul David
          March 19, 2024 @ 7:42 am

          No, you’re right, it was a massive missed goal, and didn’t do anything with the freshness, but nonetheless it was there for me. I loved the Moffatt era but after Mondasian Cybermen and the John Simm Master and the return of the first Doctor etc, I did feel like Doctor Who felt “new” again in a way it hadn’t for a while. That in itself felt good even as the series failed to do anything with that “newness”

          Reply

      • Einarr
        March 19, 2024 @ 6:24 am

        Let’s not forget that RTD quite literally described Power of the Doctor as being like a script by a child. In his usual effusive manner, but also…

        “It’s like a 10-year-old’s fantasy version of Doctor Who but with muscle and punch and light and colour” (direct quote).

        Reply

    • wyngatecarpenter
      March 19, 2024 @ 5:26 pm

      I always think of The Chase as the kind of Doctor Who story you would make up as you go along as a child, and I actually like it for that reason, it at least feels fun, more so than the Chibnall years.

      Reply

  12. Riggio
    March 18, 2024 @ 7:34 pm

    If we can learn anything from the Chibnall era (and we need to learn something, if only to justify having had to experience it at all), it’s that Doctor Who only really works well when the stories are about some theme or idea beyond the particular details of the adventure, and that all the moving parts of the adventure are structured to express those concepts. Otherwise, the particular tropes of Doctor Who storytelling don’t hold together as sensible narrative elements: alien encounters, manic genius protagonist, running up and down corridors. They don’t say anything on their own, and unless there’s a concept or set of meaningful ideas that the story is supposed to express, it just falls into emptiness.

    Reply

  13. Paul David
    March 19, 2024 @ 4:41 am

    What makes me feel a bit sad about this episode is that I really really enjoyed it. I watched it on broadcast and loved it pretty much from start to finish and was buzzing that quality had returned to Doctor Who.

    Then I rewatched it and realised I had kinda been conned. I think Series 11 was so poor on the whole that a competently directed episode with Daleks and some great set pieces (I liked the police chase scene and the way the Dalek spoke in a slithering charming way rather than the robotic staccato voice we’re used to) really fooled me into thinking it was a return to quality which, upon second viewing, clearly wasn’t the case.

    (I felt the same with Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I left the cinema buzzing at how good that film had been, but the more i thought about it, I realised they’d just directed the right music cues at me. It was a film cynically engineered to appeal to the man in his 40s who’d watched Ghostbusters as a kid, rather than a decent film in it’s own right, and I felt it was completely hollow without the nostalgia factor. Whisper it, but Answer the Call is the better film because, like it or loathe it, it stands or falls on it’s own merit.)

    Reply

  14. Jake
    March 19, 2024 @ 11:17 am

    Using your family TV show to mock families who be on they dang screens too much is uhhhh… well it’s certainly a bold move.

    Reply

    • Ross
      March 19, 2024 @ 12:57 pm

      TV Writers complaining about the moral peril of television is, at least, something with a long and respected history.

      Reply

      • wyngatecarpenter
        March 19, 2024 @ 5:21 pm

        It used to be quite a common theme on TV. There was the (UK) kids TV programme Why Don’t You? geared towards encouraging children to be more active and creative that’s theme song used to run “Why don’t you turn off your TV and do something less boring instead”. I used to regularly oblige.

        Reply

      • BG Hilton
        March 19, 2024 @ 7:47 pm

        “By the way, I’m aware of the irony of appearing on TV in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.”

        Reply

  15. Madeline Jones
    March 20, 2024 @ 4:41 am

    Like everything from the Chibnall era, I haven’t seen this episode since broadcast and the only thing I fondly remember about it was thinking the idea of a Dalek being able to possess someone, and the fact that it happens gradually so Lin has to deal with the horror of realizing something is now in control of her body before it overtakes her completely, was a really cool new idea for them.

    But that just draws upon the common theme I’m realizing looking back on Chibnall Who is that I remember the ideas better than the execution. I’m sure if I was to go back to this episode now, it would be a lot duller than I remembered.

    Shout-out to my candidate for the worst moment of the episode, which is the guy who makes that quip about “I’m pretty handy with my fingers, at least my boyfriend thinks so” before the Dalek blindly lasers him. Coming off of Not-Trump’s “niece’s wife”‘s death in Arachnids of the UK, and the woman mentioning her lesbian wife in passing in The Ghost Monument, the best gay representation we get for Series 11 is every single one of them getting senselessly murdered, OR! They get to exist for a sex joke a second beforehand if they’re lucky.

    The nostalgia of the 80’s truly is complete…

    Reply

  16. Jarl
    March 23, 2024 @ 3:13 pm

    I like the “pilot” Dalek as an antagonist. He’s got a sensuality to him, a dominance that’s lost on most usual Dalek foes. He should have piloted Yaz (the archeologist ends up dressed as a cop anyways, it’s clear it was on their minds), and helped unlock her feelings for the Doctor via some sick Hannibal-esque identity melting “We feel for her, don’t we?” situation.

    Another example of the “almost makes a point” problem is the Dalek being, basically, Iron Man throughout the episode. He builds his Dalek casing in a shed with a box of scraps, then has an almost shot-for-shot copy of the tank fight scene from the first movie. Really not hard to chart a course from Iron Man to exploitation and imperialism but idk maybe I just think about things too much for Chibnall Who.

    Reply

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