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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. Bennett
    November 28, 2014 @ 12:52 am

    Interesting how you call out the superimposed code as total gibberish, as there do exist esoteric programming languages that are even less human-readable. BrainF**k, for instance, in which ++++++++[>++++[>++>+++>+++>+<<<<-]>+>+>->>+[<]<-]>>.>—.+++++++..+++.>>.<-.<.+++.——.——–.>>+.>++. is a valid program.

    I quite like McCarthy's appropriation of Sherlock's floating text, and the choice to replace parts of actual code with randomly changing characters (fourth-dimensional coding, at a stretch) made for one of the better duelling keyboard scenes I know of. Then again, it was still a duelling keyboard scene.

    But as trappings of the genre of the week, it's really just part of the fun. All the Hard Computer Science criticisms of this story bewilder me.

    As for the strange list of Not-Facebooks, I believe it was less the work of an out-of-touch fifty year old and more the work of corporate policy (other social networks are available).


  2. mengu
    November 28, 2014 @ 1:35 am

    It really is a wonderful episode at introducing Clara's characterisation. My personal favourite is the exchange "101 Places to See, but you haven't been to any of them, have you? That's why you keep the book." "I keep the book 'cause I'm still going." The refutation, the insistence on her ability to fulfil her own dreams that separates her from every other companion who's had a desire to see the universe among their primary motive, and the ambiguity latent in whether she would actually have separated herself from the Maitlands eventually.

    Then there's the book, by her bedside, with her age written in it every year but two, all the way into her twenties. Her openness about how afraid she was; the specific fear of not knowing where she was, of being lost. Ordering the Doctor to get coffee and let her find them; her pride at finding them, at being a hero. "So this is tomorrow then. Tomorrow's come early."

    Some of it jumps out specifically in contradiction to later: she says she 'might' go with the Doctor, then sits on the stairway in rapt anticipation the next day. She tells Angie she isn't trying to be her mother, but in NiS automatically refers to them as "my children". It's the facade in each case that we are shown first.

    Right from the beginning, she arrives as complex, intricate, and vitally alive.


  3. ReNeilssance
    November 28, 2014 @ 1:49 am

    Wasn't familiar with 'neoteny', but a swift Google reveals it means 'juvenilization', the retention of childlike characteristics into adult life. I'm not sure I agree with that, Jenna Coleman doesn't seem particularly childlike to me, and Clara as a character is more mature and responsible than Amy in a lot of ways. It's possible I'm just applying that in light of her barnstorming performance across S8, I suppose.

    The episode I loved when it first went out. I personally had felt the show had got a bit bogged down in S6 by the overarching Ponds/River plot, and although the first half of S7 had been a lot better in that regard, the clean slate of Clara was very welcome. On a superficial level too, I much prefer this version of Eleven's costume, Tardis desktop and opening credits.


  4. Froborr
    November 28, 2014 @ 3:51 am

    "Neoteny," which autocorrect thinks is a misspelling of "beignet," usually refers to physical features, not behavior.


  5. Jarl
    November 28, 2014 @ 3:54 am

    I agree with the conclusion of this essay, that Bells is destined to improve in fan estimation with age. At the time, and to this day, it seems like the "Showruiner" thing had gotten completely out of hand. Tumblr fangirls and GB and /who/ fanboys attacking the same characters and concepts for diametrically opposed reasons should go down as the prevailing "fandoms can be terrible" narrative of the Moffat era, I think. The show was still coming off the rocky fan reception of 7A in general and of The Angels Take Manhattan in particular, and it set out to do something very Sherlock adjacent, perhaps trying to lay out a different take on what "Moffat Who" could mean than the previous two seasons had. Series. Sorry. Whatever. Caught between the rock of 7a and the hard place of the 50th, 7b can't really breathe, it can't seem to get any slack from the fandom.
    And yet, here, right now, this might be one of my favorite episodes. The biting humor, the rewarding and effective plot, and the Moffat-characteristic willingness to play with the implications of the TARDIS are all on top form. The entire airplane sequence, in particular, is perhaps the best introduction to the concept of the TARDIS that the show's ever managed. It's like when they realized that dimensional transcendentalism meant they could do the "TARDIS run-around", where the companion steps in, then steps back out and runs a circuit around it to be sure they're not getting tricked. It's that same leap forward in understanding of how one of the central features of the show can work that makes this episode just… jump out, for me. I may just be carrying a torch for this episode for the rest of eternity, but I'm hoping when the showrunner hate machine moves on to start chewing up whoever else, that this episode rises in fan estimation. It's quick, it's got some great dialogue, some excellent scenes, and for my money it's hard to top it as an actual introduction point to the series.


  6. Harrison Cooper
    November 28, 2014 @ 4:11 am

    Neoteny can refer to behavior. Wolf puppies bark, while wolf adults howl. Dogs' retention of barking behavior into adulthood is therefore a neotenous trait.


  7. Harrison Cooper
    November 28, 2014 @ 4:16 am

    I remember the airplane moment specifically as a shining moment of an episode I wasn't impressed with at the time. In particular I love how it demonstrates the Doctor as a hero. He could have merely piloted the TARDIS away from the airplane, saving Clara (the only character in the scene we were caring about.) Instead he puts them both in MORE danger by piloting inside the crashing plane in order to save all of the unnamed characters on the plane and in the houses. I really love that.


  8. Pen Name Pending
    November 28, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    When BBC America aired "The Rings of Akhaten" the following week, one of the commercial breaks began with an ad for wifi on planes.


  9. David Anderson
    November 28, 2014 @ 4:28 am

    The frock coat doesn't work for me. I just can't envisage Matt Smith in a frock coat. It hangs wrong for the way Smith uses his body.

    Unlike ReNeilssance I also prefer the original Smith TARDIS interior (although I appreciate it was difficult for practical filming reasons). But I like the new title sequence. I grew up with the Nathan-Turner years, and, while it may not have many aesthetic merits, nothing says Doctor Who to me like a star field turning into the Doctor's face. That said, I think Season Eight titles are brilliant.

    We've had the Doctor brooding about a lost companion before now, with Tennant and Rose. It didn't work. It occurs to me that one thing overshadowing Clara with the mystery of 'how come she's already dead twice' achieves is that it means the primary question about Clara is not 'how does she replace Amy'. Which gives the character some room to find her breathe.
    But, for all the complaints about Clara's character not being clear in Season 7, I think looking back it's obvious that Moffat knew what he thought her character was.


  10. Pen Name Pending
    November 28, 2014 @ 4:35 am

    These first two episodes are some of my favorites for Clara. "Bells" struck me in particular because she functions as a critique of the typical Doctor Who companion. She's suspicious of why he wants to get in her house and the TARDIS. And then in "Akhaten" her past and characterization becomes more fleshed out (among other great things).

    The issue with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is that sometimes it is rightfully spotted, but then the critique of it as the story goes on is ignored, or those characters do actually have a life and grow as people.


  11. jane
    November 28, 2014 @ 5:41 am

    I was immediately happy with Bells on transmission. An 8/10 happy, at least, and I still feel pretty comfortable with that assessment. But my approach to the show is admittedly a bit idiosyncratic.

    First off, I love the Spoonheads. They're mirror-monsters, which is right in my wheelhouse. They're not just made of shiny silvery metal — they come to represent other characters themselves, and in so doing can represent or reveal what's going on "under the hood" — what's going on behind the "mask" that's initially presented to us.

    So, an obvious bit of imagery — a Spoon!Doctor has hoovered up Clara at the coffee shop. We see her face superimposed on the back of his head. And it's revealing of two characters at once: the real Doctor, of course, has been thinking about Clara a lot, he's got Clara on his mind and in his mind, down to the subconscious level. Less obviously, Clara's mask has been removed, as she desperately cries out about being "lost."

    Oooh, there's that word, "lost." It becomes a huge word in Rings, repeated ten times. A significant issue for Clara — and a key word for anyone who was obsessed with LOST back in the Naughts.

    The Spoonheads even continue the "monstering" of Amy Pond. Amy was obliquely monstered by the Ice Lady in The Snowmen given that the monster emerges from a pond. Here we get the representation of a girl who was initially seen on the cover of a book — a book written by Amelia Williams, "Summer Falls," where a little girl has to stop Winter from taking over a little resort town and turning it into snowglobe, with the help of a mysterious character called The Curator. Good times. (And yes, Chapter 11 can make you cry your eyes out.)


  12. Jarl
    November 28, 2014 @ 5:50 am

    Once I realized I should be looking for it, "I don't know where I am" started coming up everywhere in Moffat's Who. It's the central horror, for him, of what the Angels actually do to you (rather than how they look) and it comes out in dialogue in… hell… was it Silence in the Library? I forget when exactly, but it was a pretty big shock when I suddenly realized it had been staring me in the face all those times I watched it.


  13. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    November 28, 2014 @ 6:53 am

    @jane Summer Falls is a wonderful book. It's exactly the kind of book you would imagine Amy writing in the 1950s . I love how the idea of the Doctor being the curator of a museum was used again in "Day of the Doctor"


  14. Nyq Only
    November 28, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    Neoteny can refer to behaviour biologically but I think it is clear in context that PS is referring to Coleman's face – big eyes etc πŸ™‚


  15. elvwood
    November 28, 2014 @ 10:51 am

    Curiously, my own initial experience of Rings was somewhat like Phil's here. We were watching on a TV with very dodgy sound (and in fact missed the beginning while we were trying to get the sound working at all), which meant we had to concentrate to make out what people were saying. It didn't leave a good impression, but a second viewing later upped my opinion quite a lot.

    Bells was kind of mixed for me. There were great bits like the aeroplane and Celia Imrie at the end, but most of the James Bond stuff left me cold. And it was too fast, a problem with many of the episodes around this time. I think it's due a rewatch soon.


  16. Matthew Blanchette
    November 28, 2014 @ 10:57 am

    Sorry to pop in here with what might be a dumb question, but… Phil, I think you said we were getting a Pop Between Realities for Orphan Black — what happened to that? Are we still coming up on that, at some point, or was it eventually decided against? :-/


  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 28, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    Jesus. This is the third thread you've posted this to.

    That said, I meant to answer it last time. It was decided against. No fault of the show – just that I decided a Pop Between Realities as late in the day as that was planned didn't really jibe with the point of the Pop Between Realities entries, which have always been more forward-looking than backwards-looking.

    I can't imagine not doing one for the Capaldi book though.


  18. Dustin
    November 28, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    Do the Pop Between Realities posts stick to media that one can claim exerted an actual creative influence on the show (whether by pressuring the producers to respond creatively, or by shifting the sensibilities of viewers around the show,) or just any old thing that was in the cultural air at the time and happens to, however vaguely, share a genre, or a writer, or an actor, or even just a channel? I mean, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who both get thrown into the "nerd" box, but they don't actually resemble each other in any, and I don't think see how you can make a case that either show has measurably influence the other.

    If it's any old thing, does that mean we'll someday get a "Thick of It" post?


  19. Dustin
    November 28, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    Oh God, you've done that already, I now see. And I'm such an idiot.


  20. Matthew Blanchette
    November 28, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    My apologies; didn't mean to triple-post and annoy you. I'm sorry about that. πŸ™


  21. ferret
    November 28, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

    I love this episode, pretty much for reasons everyone else has described, but two more points:

    I like that the spoonheads selectively repeat their targets words back at them – conversationally it works, it's creepy, and it's exactly what the first Intelligent Snow-man did to the young Walter Simeon.

    Secondly, I'm curious as to how different this episode would have been had Victorian!Clara been the series companion. I can still see here getting uploaded and given a Computer Knowledge Upgrade (possibly along with other knowledge that would serve her well in future episodes no doubt, a plot/characterisation shortcut akin to the psychic paper to allow her to function easily in 20th/21st Century settings). A great deal of screentime in this episode is spent in getting the Doctor and Clara together as a team (i.e. everything featuring either of them up to the airplane sequence). Presumably this would have been used instead to introduce Clara to the wonders of the future, and put her in a position to be uploaded somehow.

    I'd love to see a draft of that script – I presume it exists to some stage?


  22. Douglas McDonald
    November 28, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

    "In this scene, Clara is cleverly disguised as Tumblr base code…"


  23. Anton B
    November 28, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

    If you count Caretaker as synonymous with Curator he's adopted the role in DotD, tWatW, and the eponymous The Caretaker.. At a stretch you could include his years looking after Trenzalore.


  24. Anton B
    November 28, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

    Not to mention his future incarnation as curator of the Van Gogh exhibition in VatD. (My head canon YMMV).

    Oh and adding my love here for Summer Falls too. It pulls off the great trick of being an evocative and readable fantasy story even without the Doctor Who references, which are minimal to non existent but lovely if you catch them.


  25. Ben
    November 29, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

    Aside from a few flashes, Clara wouldn't really come into her own as a character until the Capaldi era. That said, Jenna Coleman does well with what she has. This episode has some eerie scenes reminiscent of Whedon's Dollhouse (I'm thinking especially the office full of people all talking to the Doctor in one long sentence.)


  26. encyclops
    November 29, 2014 @ 11:57 pm

    Best opening credits of the new series, bar none. The Capaldi version isn't awful, and it's nice to remember each time it happens that a fan came up with it, but yeah, for me this was the best refresh since 1980/81.


  27. encyclops
    November 30, 2014 @ 12:01 am

    I really enjoyed this episode too. But I'm mystified at the idea that it's going to age well, and that it's a good intro to the series. Maybe I just can't get past the fact that the tech really will date very very quickly, or past the fact that so much of the Doctor's behavior here is almost inexplicable without knowing about "Asylum" and "Snowmen." I mean, it's a fine fun episode with some really beautiful moments and lovely dialogue, and for those reasons it'll last, but yeah.


  28. Steven
    November 30, 2014 @ 12:24 am

    the change has been so marked. I was never in the dislike camp, but going by the response online she's shifted from one of the least popular companions to one of the most totally beloved.

    I think the recent rumours that she's committed to at least another half year is the right move, and gives her a little bit longer to bed in and'll be remembered.

    Assuming Capaldi follows the Smith/Tennant tenure pattern it means that when she goes, in half a season's time, we could well be half way through his tenure. Which is genuinely a terrible thought. I hope he's here for as long as possible.


  29. Daru
    December 1, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

    I gotta say that I loved this episode when it came out (and still do). It was made much more odd by the fact that I was visually out of touch with the London landscape and had no knowledge of The Shard. That building then played a larger part then in the episode for me as I had literally never seen it before! It (along with it's name) felt like a deep intrusion into the landscape, a corporate dagger 87 floors high, dug deep into the earth, reminiscent of the spaceship used as a weapon in State of Decay. I thought that as the building loomed but no-one noticed it that there was another perception filter going on.

    So no other re-watch can quite compare to that first time, but still love the story.


  30. Katherine Sas
    December 23, 2014 @ 8:19 am

    Clara also repeats the phrase "I don't know where I am" when LOST in the Doctor's time stream in "Name of the Doctor."


  31. Katherine Sas
    December 23, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    The immediate reception of this always baffled me – I liked it from the first. I understand what you're saying about the datedness, though, and I think that might be what people were reacting to. I'm just not very sensitive to things like that.


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