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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.

23 Comments

  1. CJM123
    June 3, 2019 @ 4:13 pm

    This is a really cool peek behind the curtain. Thanks El and Thanks Peter Harness.

    Whilst I don’t want to say anything much, because this sounds like an almost unavoidable situation, it does seem like two-parters are best written by one person or writing team. I mean, Beneath the Lake/Before the Flood might well be no-one’s favourite episodes of Doctor Who, but it at least feels vaguely whole instead of being as disjointed and confused as Lie of the Land.

    Reply

    • mx_mond
      June 3, 2019 @ 4:28 pm

      Counterpoint: The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived is amazing.

      Reply

      • CJM123
        June 3, 2019 @ 4:50 pm

        I’m not convinced it’s a two-parter in hindsight. Because Me is in 4 episodes, it feels more like an origin story and an introduction to her.

        It’s the exception that proves the rule. There is one lingering thread that continues to spin further out from a base-under-siege story, and whilst the sieged-base isn’t that interesting by itself, it knows how to create an atmosphere leading to exactly the right moment.

        The Woman Who Lived almost doesn’t need a first part. It could be rewritten to be about an immortal figure the Doctor has known for ages.

        It certainly doesn’t have the whole issue that no-one ever seems to understand the Monks, and each script has to rely on assuming that the other scripts flesh them out. And I really like Extremis and Pyramid.

        Reply

    • Xaldel
      June 3, 2019 @ 6:29 pm

      I respectfully disagree on “Beneath the Lake/Before the Flood” not feeling disjointed. Apart from the location changing, the rules of the episode change wildly between the two episodes. There’s not really any way to justify O’Connell’s ghost suddenly appearing in the future in real time while Prentis’s ghost was allowed to roam well before the “temporal” moment in which he is killed.

      I think the real takeaway is that two-parters are a tricky situation no matter who maps them, and that they really only work when its writer(s) has worked out all the logistics of where this story is going to end BEFORE fleshing out the exciting build-up part of it. There seems to be quite a number of examples within New Who of two-parters that started off exciting, only to completely flop on Part 2. More and more, I’ve been convinced Moffat may have indeed been the only writer out of all of them who cracked the nut on how these types of episodes work.

      Reply

      • CJM123
        June 3, 2019 @ 9:10 pm

        The rules of that two-parter are a complete clusterfuck, but then again, so is a lot of Dr Who. (Though the real issue is more why the Doctor’s ghost appears when it does. Prentis was killed at that point in every timeline, O’Connell went back was how I took that scene.)

        But the characters stay the same, an arc is resolved (even if it’s lame and a border-line offensive cliche about falling in love with the signer), the mystery that begin the whole thing (what’s in the tomb) is resolved.

        Which isn’t much, but it’s a damn-sight more than Lie of the Land. I’m talking about actual skill here, but rather, the basics of a story at all. Which the Monks trilogy just doesn’t have. Or at least to me. I get the argument that non

        This isn’t the same, by the way, as when Moffat changes everything between parts of a two-parter. Even The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon kept Mark Sheppard around and Death in Heaven kept the plot of Dark Water even if it changed the scope and tone.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          June 4, 2019 @ 7:58 am

          “cliche about falling in love with the signer”

          I know that’s just a typo but now I kinda want to see a world where that’s a cliche.

          I agree with Xaldel about knowing the ending before you start building up to it – after all, the best writing advice I’ve ever heard just says “write the first draft, and then in the second draft make everything look as if it was planned”. But aside from the plot, one should also know the theme of the story. In that regard two-parters written by the same person are better simply because one person is unlikely to suddenly drop the theme they’ve been exploring before. Even when Moffat changes everything in part two, he’s clearly telling the same story e.g. about memory or accepting love or the power of stories. The monk trilogy doesn’t have that.

          Reply

  2. Vadron
    June 3, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

    Fascinating stuff; not quite what one expected of TARDIS Eruditorum, but your explanation of why you cannot do what you usually do is indeed a dilemma best avoided. We commenters are in a similar position, of course; so here’s what I’ll say: if the original decaying-monk-upset-about-tomb-desecration story had been produced unaltered, with that premise, then I would have been very disappointed if it hadn’t included a nod to “The Abominable Snowmen”.

    Reply

  3. Brian B.
    June 3, 2019 @ 6:28 pm

    Fascinating! I’d love to get to see a Harness story in full-on absurdist mode someday.

    In terms of ‘Pyramid at the End of the World’, I’ve seen it twice and had an identical opinion twice: that it’s as brilliantly performed and written and paced as Doctor Who ever gets, so it’s a pity the (nth-draft kludge of a) story is so dumb. On balance, I enjoy it, and it’s lovely to see a midget cast in a role where her being a midget is never mentioned and is 100% irrelevant to the story.

    But: I cannot, even for the sake of a goofy adventure story, believe in a simulation so accurate it would know when a dangerous beaker would break somewhere in the world. Or believe the auto-discharging system of the biochemical research station. Or believe in the military leaders of the U.S., Russia, and China — people chosen for patriotic national service who among other things have been trained in the “logic” of nuclear warfare — rapidly deciding to accept alien rule under any circumstances whatsoever.

    The purity of Bill’s love is also a little questionable. I really don’t mind the “We need consent” premise; consent is a good standard in many situations, after all. Why the monks think her gratitude would make her transfer the love onto them, though… seems a leap of faith, that.

    Reply

    • Brian B.
      June 4, 2019 @ 2:31 am

      It seems key to add that “the moon is an egg”, for example, is very easy for me to accept, because it’s wondrous and fun. Asking me to swallow impossible things only because it helps the author move the pieces from one square of the board to the next? That’s what i expect from much duller shows than Doctor Who.

      Reply

    • Przemek
      June 4, 2019 @ 8:04 am

      Yeah, the logic of consent here didn’t make much sense. Bill was clearly acting out of stategy, as well as the generals before her… And anyway, it’s not consent if they monks are basically holding a gun to everyone’s head…

      “it’s lovely to see a midget cast in a role where her being a midget is never mentioned and is 100% irrelevant to the story.”

      I loved that too! She was a cool character. And the first side character in ages, I think, who got invited to travel in the TARDIS and didn’t die 10 minutes later. So that’s cool too.

      Reply

      • Vadron
        June 5, 2019 @ 5:41 pm

        “Bill was clearly acting out of stategy, as well as the generals before her…”

        I’ve thought about this some, and I think the best way to rationalize it is that the generals were acting out of immediate fear or out of a ‘conceding now is the best option’ mindset, but not without the idea, in the back of their minds, that they’d betray the Monks first chance they got — what they called stragegy: a tactical retreat instead of a surrender. Whereas Bill was actually ready to sacrifice the Earth, no taksies-backsies, in exchange for the Doctor’s life, if that’s what it took. Not meaning she wouldn’t try to take the Earth back… but she would have done it again in a heartbeat even if she never did manage to undo what she’d done.

        Reply

  4. Riggio
    June 3, 2019 @ 8:47 pm

    Now that really is some very solid archaeology. Just like an archaeologist is supposed to do, delivered without judgment as to what was the best or not, only with the facts of the matter itself.

    From the time I first watched these three episodes, I thought the Monks arc was the most ambitious of Moffat’s entire time in Doctor Who – a set of stories and their antagonist linked by theme instead of plot per se. Not knowing any of these production facts at the time, I concluded that this was simply a Whithouse screw-up: a writer who already didn’t get a lot of the subtlety in Doctor Who continuing to fail to understand what the story is actually about. It makes for an excellent reminder of how difficult fantastic television really can be to make.

    Praise aside, I have to be a stickler about Trump’s toupee. He in fact doesn’t wear a toupee, but wears a double-combover. The only hair he has left is on the side and back of his head, which he grows extra long, and then styles up from the sides and back, sweeping down to his forehead. The whole assemblage is secured with enough hairspray and sculpting product to cause serious aberrations in the White House toiletries budget.

    If only his hair could come to life, and enfold him inside of the combover until he suffocates. On a fictional television show, of course.

    Reply

  5. Aylwin
    June 3, 2019 @ 10:58 pm

    This is intriguing, and a very well-placed coup in dealing with what must be the Doctor Who story/s with the most troubled gestation since Trial of a Time Lord. Probably no coincidence that it’s another multi-writer portmanteau.

    Presumably it was because of the satirical thrust of the first version that North Korea featured rather than China – which did indeed end up in the episode when the satire got dropped – Kim being a well-known grotesque, whereas surely few in the audience would even be able to name Xi Jinping. (Aside – has any Chinese leader since Mao really registered in Western consciousness as any kind of personality, as really anything much more than a name? Even Deng Xiaoping? It’s quite odd. I suppose that may change with Xi’s establishment of a Mao-style personal dictatorship, but there’s little sign of it yet.)

    On which topic, it’s hard to avoid some curiosity about how Corbyn was going to fit into this rogue’s gallery. Having only his writing to go on, I don’t know if Harness is a fan (could go either way), but it seems unlikely he’d get the kind of kicking the others would, especially in a story about an impending multi-sided war, given his peacenik credentials. But an actively favourable treatment would be liable to land up framing Britain as the sensible, mature country among a bunch of stupid, swaggering thugs, which would be an especially odd position to find yourself taking in the second half of 2016.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      June 3, 2019 @ 11:35 pm

      Oh wait, no, it was April. Teach me not to check.

      Also I did an apostrophe crime with “rogue’s”.

      [shame]

      Reply

  6. Lava Ghost
    June 4, 2019 @ 7:39 am

    I just wanted to say that I was over halfway through the essay before I realised you actually had the drafts and weren’t spoofing a la Henrietta Street.

    Which I guess says something about Peter Harness’s drafting habits?

    Reply

    • MattM
      June 4, 2019 @ 10:11 am

      I… was at this comment when I realised!!

      Reply

      • Lava Ghost
        June 4, 2019 @ 6:53 pm

        Well, crap, now I’m doubting myself.

        Reply

        • luna
          June 4, 2019 @ 10:37 pm

          In the podcast with El just after this episode aired, Peter Harness did describe pretty much exactly that first draft, and given his usual tendency to be kinda batshit insane and rather political, I see no reason to doubt it

          Reply

          • Lava Ghost
            June 5, 2019 @ 4:29 am

            You’re right, of course, I just always doubt myself after realising I’ve changed someone else’s understanding of the world.

  7. Kat
    June 4, 2019 @ 7:13 pm

    How generous of Harness to share those drafts with you! Very interesting look behind the curtain, and I love those originally titles (I also like Pyramid at the End of the World, which has a similar faerie aesthetic, a la Morris’ Well at the World’s End). Moffat’s public apology was also generous of spirit. This sounds like one of those unfortunate situations where it was no one’s fault, really. Just life.

    Reply

  8. Przemek
    June 11, 2019 @ 8:37 am

    This was one of the most fascinating EP entries I’ve ever read. I enjoyed this archeology a lot. Thank you.

    God, that first draft sounds so unappealing to me. Not objectively bad, but that sounds like something I wouldn’t be able to force myself to watch.

    It’s kinda fascinating to me how little sense the monks make as a villain. Knowing the behind the scenes story now, I’m not surprised, but it’s still a beautiful trainwreck. They have the ability to simulate entire worlds and can insert themselves into people’s thoughts but still require consent to take over? I mean, the only way to make sense of it is to assume the monks just have a kink for people begging them for help.

    Reply

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