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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. crossie
    June 12, 2017 @ 9:13 am

    Detail I liked; Bill is always bringing up sci-fi horror movies, but the only movie the Doctor brings up is a Disney cartoon. Bill becomes the “fan” as companion for a while, saying well obviously ‘Doctor Who’ is about science fiction and monsters, so he’ll like that, but the Doctor’s all like, actually, I’m the star of a kid’s show, too, and I really don’t have a problem with that. Quite the opposite.

    That being said, makes me regret the fact that Gatiss didn’t bring up the Disney version of Robin Hood in “Robots of Sherwood” even more.


    • thesmilingstallioninn
      June 13, 2017 @ 4:02 am

      Oh, that one made me laugh.


  2. Jarl
    June 12, 2017 @ 9:25 am

    You wanna talk awkward continuity callouts, an episode set two years after Tooth and Claw and under the polar ice caps from The Waters of Mars features not a single reference to the Torchwood Institute or to the Flood, but found time to include hamfisted references to both The Curse of Peladon and Sleep No More.

    Gatiss come back.


    • Roderick T. Long
      June 12, 2017 @ 6:25 pm

      Speaking of Tooth and Claw, notice that the portrait of Queen Victoria is not the real Victoria but rather the actress from that episode.

      (By contrast with the last Monks episode, where the real Churchill and the McNiece Churchill inexplicably both figured on the giant viewscreen. As did Trump, despite the U.S. president previously appearing not to be Trump.)


      • Kaan Vural
        June 12, 2017 @ 7:56 pm

        Possibly the simulation, finding Trump’s hair too implausible, was unable to adequately mimic it.


  3. CJM
    June 12, 2017 @ 9:36 am

    I didn’t like this precisely because it felt so unambitious. The Crimson Horror might have been a Victorian romp, but it at least had a strong supporting cast, and a highly comedic script that made it feel different to the rest of 7b in a good way. Cold War might have been a base-under-siege with Ice Warriors, but it was committed to doing something slightly different by just giving the rest of the cast to relatively well-known actors, giving the Moffat era a rare one-episode supporting cast.

    This on the other hand has a set-up that could precisely show the British Empire at its worst, and doesn’t. Instead, it goes paint-by-numbers with a premise that is almost too silly to be paint-by-numbers. Friday as a servant was interesting, but nothing comes of the implied racism and everyone is forgiven at the end. The rest of the cast are forgotten after the “Evil” soldier is shot, as is the danger of running out of supplies. So, a story that becomes boring despite its premise precisely because it refuses to engage with its premise.

    The British Empire was treated as some quaint, honourable achievement, as opposed to the brutal system it actually was. Even the opening plays like we’re supposed to cheer that us Brits beat the Yanks at their own game.


  4. Chris G
    June 12, 2017 @ 9:37 am

    Similarly enjoyed this episode, but I think it’s problems can be summed up in its lack of Victorian attitudes to race. Gatiss has the second black companion (who’s last adventure historical made a point of Victorians being racists), a critique of imperialism, an alien called Friday after Man Friday, soldiers who’d been posted in Africa and a black soldier marrying a white woman.

    And there’s nothing. It seems to be borne out of a similar urge as the Churchill as hero story; let’s not get too politically complex in Dr Who. But as with there, pointing out the Victorians were racists (especially in a story about colonialism) is the apolitical option and this is whitewashing the horrible nature of the past. Was the one big problem in the episode for me.


    • Harlequin
      June 13, 2017 @ 4:58 am

      I feel I should point out that Bill had never previously visited the Victorian era 🙂


    • James Taylor
      June 13, 2017 @ 2:12 pm

      I just read an interview with Gatiss about his initial opposition to including the black soldier (he didn’t write him as any particular race). He backed down when he discovered that there was a black soldier in the army at the time (though he was more of a mascot than a soldier, at least to begin with). He did in fact marry a white woman.

      I too thought it was a stretch while watching though.


      • Planet of the Deaf
        June 13, 2017 @ 3:39 pm

        In this story, the soldier came across as a “white character” played by a black actor, rather than a “black character”.

        The way he spoke, the way the other characters interacted with him, wasn’t of an African solider fighting with the British army like the example Gattis found afterwards…


        • Daibhid C
          June 13, 2017 @ 6:43 pm

          …Meanwhile on my Twitter feed, people are saying “Oh, FFS, Gattis” over the fact he ever had any problem with the character being black.

          There were Black British people in the Victorian era. There were, apparently, black soldiers in the British Army. If there was nobody in the intersection of this venn diagram, I’m not sure there couldn’t have been.

          (Or maybe the idiot on Twitter saying people of African origin are never really considered Scottish, which is why America is The Best Country, has left me more defensive on the subject than I realised. As ever, my conclusion is “I dunno, it’s complicated, probably”.)


  5. Mark Pompeo
    June 12, 2017 @ 10:55 am

    I thought this was wonderful, warts and all. My favorite Gatiss story, I think.
    As an unabashed 3rd Doctor lover, this one really hit the spot for me, and the Alpha Centauri was a great bit of fanwank to pull out (they even got the original voice actress who’s now 92 years old)!


  6. Max Curtis
    June 12, 2017 @ 11:00 am

    For me, the biggest problem with Empress is Gatiss’ studious avoidance of race as a factor in imperialism. There’s no mention of WHY the Victorian soldiers think they have a right to conquer Mars, or to make a green-skinned guy their servant. The funny “don’t shoot him” joke is at odds with that: to what extent do they see him as a person, or just another non-white creature to be ruled over?

    And the worst thing is the Doctor and Bill never ask Friday what his real name is. Which is really offensive when you think about it.


    • CJM
      June 12, 2017 @ 11:34 am

      I had a similar problem with THIN ICE, where it felt like only the cartoonishly evil were racist, ignoring how a figure like Trump can only exist in world with men like John McCain who don’t fight it.

      But this was on a whole new level. It felt rather romantic towards empire in a way that the original scientific romances Gattis is homaging with the Victorian setting weren’t.


    • Daibhid C
      June 12, 2017 @ 10:59 pm

      The funny “don’t shoot him” joke is at odds with that: to what extent do they see him as a person, or just another non-white creature to be ruled over?

      The thing about the British Empire is that it wouldn’t have even understood that to be an either-or question. That’s how you end up with Kipling, who’s very keen on Indian culture and thinks the natives are wonderful chaps when you get to know them, but at the same time has no doubt that the British are supposed to be there, and supposed to be in charge.


      • Max Curtis
        June 13, 2017 @ 12:39 am

        Exactly! And to me, that’s the episode’s most interesting idea, and Gatiss doesn’t run with it.


  7. John
    June 12, 2017 @ 11:15 am

    But this is what the series actually was – a quaintly stagey morality play in a cave.

    This is a brilliant line.


  8. Riggio
    June 12, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

    I found this to be the best Gatiss episode in a long time – including the mistakes of not knowing what to do with Nardole, including Alpha Centauri for any reason other than that he could, and not really knowing what to do with Friday after Queen Iraxxa shows up. But I also thought its politically enraged content was more front-and-centre. And the Pertwee-style virtue moralities were the main drivers of that content.

    Basically, the cruelty, racism, and petty greed of the soldiers like Catchlove and Jackdaw carry a wider political message – the world-conquering ambitions of the British Empire encourage this kind of cruelty and thievery. Catchlove isn’t just a prick, he’s a prick who’s clearly entitled by the morality of his time. Because they’re such visual caricatures of the romanticized imperial British army, they become walking symbols of Brexit’s pathological ambitions to resurrect the Britain of the empire’s height.

    More details for my piggybacking on Phil’s blog again.


  9. Anton B
    June 12, 2017 @ 3:19 pm

    If one was approaching this as an entry in the TARDIS Eruditorum one might be obliged to point out that the scariest allegation thrown at Jeremy Corbyn by the right-wing British press in the weeks before the election was that he wanted to take us back to the 1970s. To which most young voters said “Yaaay!” Thinking only of Ziggy Stardust and, yes, possibly Pertwee era Doctor Who.

    So, on cue, we’re given Gattis’ 1880s, viewed through the nostalgia smeared lens of the 1970s. Or maybe a mildly steampunk (already an outdated trope surely?) ripping yarn set in an alternate past that only exists at some intersection of Boys Own Paper and Amicus Films. It’s tricky, this psychochronography.

    BTW The opening sequence was a crib from the 1967 movie ‘First Men on the Moon’ where a Union Jack flag is found on the moon by American astronauts leading to the revelation that the British got there first in the 1880s.

    Gattis revels in Victoriana like a 1960s hipster in Portobello market but never allows for consequences. His over researched period dialogue was remarkably tin-eared and weightless.

    Merely presenting Victorian values is not to interrogate them. The ‘joke’ line –
    “I’m going to make allowances for your Victorian attitudes. Because, well, you actually are … Victorian!”
    As spoken by Bill, a gay woman of colour just won’t do. Would she let a Confederate slave trader off the hook because ‘well, actually he is a plantation owner’? At least Hitler and Lord ‘Thin Ice’ got punched.

    ‘Friday’ was explained with a throwaway reference to Robinson Crusoe but not unpacked, leaving Pearl Mackie once again to carry the scene with just her facial expression to uncover the colonialist subtext, how the renaming of slaves is one way of demonstrating ownership of another human being. That she does all this with a single raised eyebrow and slight tilt of the head is testament to Mackie’s acting talent.

    At least Alpha Centauri was carefully framed by the Doctor’s space monitor so that newer viewers were spared the full phallic horror of the original. The lolz for us old timers was in what was not revealed.

    Crazy Speculation Time!

    Michelle Gomez is pitching her performance rather oddly and I have a theory. Steven Moffat won’t be able to resist one final game-changing twist. There has been no announcement as to who the new Doctor actor might be. What if it’s someone already in the show? What if the regeneration, in some kind of timey-wimey way has already happened? What if we’re finally going to get a female Doctor? Played by Michelle Gomez.


    • Planet of the Deaf
      June 13, 2017 @ 3:50 pm

      Surely you DO have to take into account the morals and customs of the period? Especially in a time travelling show.

      Imagine if TV had been around 150 years ago, and Doctor Who had actually been a Victorian creation…the equivalent would have been the Doctor and 19th century Companion flying to the 2010s and being deeply offended and hostile to modern people because they didn’t go to church (never mind modern attitudes to sexuality and equality etc).


      • CJM
        June 13, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

        Take them into account, maybe. But in a world where people gain an awful lot from hearkening back to these eras, refusing to engage with them at all I’m less sure about.

        I wasn’t convinced by THIN ICE, but at least that said “We acknowledge this would be an issue, but it won’t be”. It felt braver than doing an episode about a colonial force rendering an alien into a man-servant and avoiding acknowledging anything else.


      • Lambda
        June 14, 2017 @ 8:44 am

        A better equivalent would be to take a modern prejudice which wasn’t so much a thing in their time, like that against various drugs. Locking people up for nonconforming drug choices is pretty darn offensive.


        • Harlequin
          June 17, 2017 @ 10:06 pm

          Rona Munro now seems to have done just that in portraying polarised sexuality as a modern prejudice.


      • Kaan Vural
        June 14, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

        Making allowances is one thing…but you can feel the episode’s gears grind as Mackie is forced to go from offense to complete indifference in the course of a sentence. Totally undercuts the moment. Transitions like that should be considered cruelty to actors.


  10. numinousnimon
    June 12, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

    Interestingly, this apparently was originally intended as political in precisely the same way the Peladon stories were – as transparent allegory for the present. The original pitch (and possibly early drafts?) was supposedly a Peladon story about Brexit, with Peladon debating leaving the Federation. That got whittled down in the editing to a single joke about Brexit, which was cut from the final transmitted version.


    • Lewis
      June 12, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

      In the Fan Show, Mark Gatiss says one very subtle allusion sneaked in: the line about “this [is] the start of the Ice Warriors golden age” being a joke about the Brits who are championing Brexit.


  11. Matt
    June 12, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

    Minor point re. Gatiss not wanting to write for Nardole, I suspect that this episode was written before he was confirmed as a regular, and rather than go for a complete rewrite, they just added in a mysterious HADS variant at a late stage of story production to get Nardole out of the way.


  12. Roderick T. Long
    June 12, 2017 @ 6:32 pm

    One of my favourite bits — so underplayed that it’s easily missed — is when the apparently clumsy Friday quickly catches a falling dish in midair, thus revealing that his earlier bumping against Catchlove’s chair was deliberate rather than clumsiness.

    But otherwise, Friday was dreadfully underused. And the Queen was a bit over the top for my taste.


  13. Lewis
    June 12, 2017 @ 8:23 pm

    At the end, when Missy asks the Doctor if he’s alright and looks to his hearts, I swear Murray’s music is eerily reminiscent of the sound effects that play over the Hartnell regeneration.


    • Tom Marshall
      June 12, 2017 @ 10:42 pm

      Isn’t the music there just the Death in Heaven Missy theme?


      • Lewis
        June 13, 2017 @ 7:44 pm

        Initially, yes, but then it turns into what sounds like the ramping up of the TARDIS engines in the closing moment/s.


  14. Daibhid C
    June 12, 2017 @ 11:03 pm

    (Why did the TARDIS take off, other than Gatiss apparently not wanting to write Nardole? Why wouldn’t it go back? Why is she so worried about the Doctor?)

    I suspect at least some of that may All Make Sense In The FInale, unless Moffatt has decided not to write his final season like that, which I find unlikely.


    • Daibhid C
      June 12, 2017 @ 11:05 pm

      Oops, I meant to italicise the quote, not bold the whole thing. I’ll take that as a sign I should get some sleep.


    • theoncominghurricane
      June 13, 2017 @ 4:16 am

      I don’t think it will, because as far as I got it it thinks it already has: it left purely because if this was how the Ice Warriors became part of Peladon and the beginning of the Martian Golden Age, it’s probably a fixed point in time and the TARDIS often leaves those alone


      • Harlequin
        June 13, 2017 @ 5:07 am

        I think we’re going to get an explanation, at least. I suspect either the Tardis leaving of her own will (perhaps for the reason you suggest) or being manipulated by Missy.


    • Przemek
      June 14, 2017 @ 9:34 am

      I just assumed, based on the ending, that the TARDIS wanted to avoid a paradox. The Doctor had to stay on Mars long enough to create the “God Save the Queen” message which made him go to Mars in the first place.


  15. 5tephe
    June 12, 2017 @ 11:33 pm

    Look – patchy and problematic for all the reasons people have mentioned above, but this so far exceeded my expectations for a Gatiss episode that I really enjoyed it.

    I think that if you were to give the proper political critique that Victorian Colonialism deserves, you’d a) have to take at least three episodes to scratch the surface, and b) end up with a pretty dire and dark stretch of Doctor Who. (Although that would still make it better than the three parter we just suffered through.)

    All of which is probably the very reason you shouldn’t attempt A Victorian Romp in Doctor Who. But if you’re going to do it, give it to Gatiss, and let him set it on Mars.


  16. Kazin
    June 13, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

    At the very least, this episode seems to imply that Rona Munro will be writing for the Master again 😀

    I liked it. Going back over the list of Gatiss episodes, there’s only a few that I think are really bad. I like his Capaldi era episodes the best, I think (Sleep No More is at least an interesting failure, not a bad, boring one like Idiot’s Lantern).


  17. Derik
    June 13, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

    Jill, who’s never seen a Peladon story, initially thought Alpha Centauri was going to turn out to be a front for some season-culminating evil.

    Is it too late to vote for this? The series ends when Alpha Centauri… PULLS A GUN?
    (The shoots the Doctor and apologizes profusely through the entire regeneration in increasingly histrionic tones.)


  18. BeatnikLady
    June 13, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

    Interesting change in tone from the three-parter and in general I quite liked it. It is politically too simplistic (but almost all Doctor Who – and most mainstream series, in fact, are. Moffat-era stuff is no different.) I had predicted more violence and bloodshed before the peace settlement at the end, so the fact that there weren’t more deaths was quite pleasing. I was also relieved that the Empress was played in a semi-restrained way – compared to, for example, the Empress of the Racnoss. You could imagine her as someone who might lead her people to a better future.
    A tribute to 1970s Doctor Who? I don’t know. I’d say it was basically Mark Gatiss doing the kind of thing he enjoys and making something of it.


  19. Przemek
    June 14, 2017 @ 9:57 am

    I really liked it. The main idea was good and the execution was fun. Especially coming after last week’s disaster “The Empress of Mars” was a pleasure to watch. Not a brilliant episode but a fun one.

    I think the various problems with this episode’s portrayal of the Victorian era people pointed out here exist mostly because it’s not really set in the Victorian era. It’s set in the realm of pop culture Victoriana. Gatiss is clearly playing with action figures here. And it’s all good fun of the sort 11-year-old me would probably declare “the best episode EVER!” (and the adult me really enjoyed as well)… but it’s not particularly well-suited to the task of critiquing the morality of the era.

    I didn’t mind Nardole not really being in this episode but I do think it’s a shame “The Empress of Mars” pretty much threw his characterization out of the window. After weeks of him scolding the Doctor for not guarding the Vault more carefully he just… lets Missy out? The weirdest part of it all is, this would’ve worked in the previous episode. The Earth is conquered, the stakes are really high… it would make sense to use a dangerous but valuable asset like Missy then. But here? The whole situation just didn’t feel dire enough to justify such a move. Like I said, a real shame.
    (And yeah, I also didn’t get the last scene with Missy. What was that weird music and dialogue about?).

    I also wanted to add that having seen none of Pertwee episodes, me and my girlfriend initially thought that the Alpha Centauri bit was a build-up to some strange plot twist, like maybe that was Missy’s voice, just distorted. But then the… one-eyed monster… showed up and it looked like an old special effect so we decided it was probably some sort of reference to the old series. But it definitely stood out from the rest of the episode.

    Oh, and the “turn-people-into-cubes” guns were cool. In the trailer the effect just looked a bit silly. But in the episode itself it was strangely creepy. Very cool.


    • Lewis Maddo
      June 15, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

      After weeks of him scolding the Doctor for not guarding the Vault more carefully he just… lets Missy out?

      Annoyingly, this could’ve been handled better if only they’d given an extra scene or two to Nardole and the Vault. Hard to fit it into the episode without interrupting the main action, but we maybe should’ve seen more of Missy and Nardole discussing whether or not she should be let out, etc. Nardole wavering on what to do; Missy bargaining with him; just something!


  20. BeatnikLady
    June 15, 2017 @ 8:55 pm

    There is an unfortunate pattern of companions having trouble using the Tardis when the Doctor isn’t there. I suppose Nardole hasn’t really had much chance to learn, but he is made to look strangely helpless. Having said that, the sight of Missy standing by the Tardis controls in a faux-innocent way was quite an effective way to hint at what might happen next.


    • Kaan Vural
      June 16, 2017 @ 5:42 am

      I thought it wasn’t that Nardole was having trouble piloting the TARDIS, given the controls moving by themselves, but rather that it was being taken over by an external force – Missy, I assume.


  21. UrsulaL
    June 16, 2017 @ 1:53 am

    Regarding the two new spacesuit designs, I suspect Moffat is having a strong housewifely urge to leave things in good order before he moves on.

    The Doctor has a fresh new set of regenerations, no looming crisis of running out, because Moffat chose to push the issue by adding the War Doctor. He’s gone out of his way to break down barriers that he found objectionable – there is now no question that the Doctor is a sexual and romantic being, and that he can regenerate without limits on race or gender.

    The same thing with the spacesuits – after watching the budget for most of his tenure, and frugally reusing the old design, he’s leaving his replacement with a variety to choose from and modify as needed.

    The house will be left swept clean and tidy, with flowers on the table for the new owner, and fresh milk in the fridge, along with a kettle ready to go by the stove and tea, sugar and cups laid out, so the new owners feel welcome moving in.


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