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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.

46 Comments

  1. Aquanafrahudy
    January 22, 2024 @ 5:26 am

    Both brilliant and brutal.

    Reply

  2. Colin Logan
    January 22, 2024 @ 6:21 am

    I was expecting this entry to be a more abstract piece about how “Doctor Who meets Rosa Parks” is a fundamentally bad idea that should never have been attempted.

    I’m very happy to be wrong, because this might be the best, most vicious takedown of an episode in the whole Eruditorum.

    It’s still shocking to me that Chibnall attached his name to the story, even if he did write a good chunk of it. The horrendous optics of that choice should have been obvious.

    Reply

    • Gareth Wilson
      January 23, 2024 @ 1:41 am

      Execution aside, the three historical stories in Chibnall’s first season are to periods when Ryan and Yaz are in danger from racism, Yaz is in danger from religious bigotry, and Yaz and the Doctor herself are in danger from misogny. After these three, why do they want to travel into the past?

      Reply

  3. Einarr
    January 22, 2024 @ 7:05 am

    Masterpiece.

    Even as someone who is more positive about the episode than you (not unreservedly so, to be clear – I certainly have criticisms of it), this is an astonishing, vital piece of Doctor Who criticism that ought to have a place in the hall of fame for the way it captures so many of the failings of this era of the show — in such an inventive, stylish way, too. Brava.

    Reply

  4. prandeamus
    January 22, 2024 @ 7:46 am

    Ouch. I get it, but, Ouch.

    What I will say as a marginal defense is that it /did/ give a sense in the early scenes as to what it was like to non-white, non-male in that time and place. It’s so far from my lived experience I couldn’t dare comment on the details of who could sit and stand on the bus and whether Yaz would pass as part-white. I’ll leave that to others who know or who were there. There was a sense of banal evil at least as far as the “family viewing” would permit.

    But why bother including pointless fascist-from-the-future? Must we have a monster and lasers in every single episode?

    Attaching individual blame isn’t always a good idea, but I’d like to know how much of the fault is distributed with Chibnall’s original brief to Blackman (or did she suggest the topic and plot?), with the original script as submitted, and with the tweaks that the showrunner would generally be entitled to make?

    Reply

    • Einarr
      January 22, 2024 @ 7:58 am

      Summarising what we do know of the production process –

      it was a Chibnall goal from the very beginning, a statement of intent about the sort of historicals they would now be telling, to do a Rosa Parks story.
      when he first met with his writers’ room in 2016 (NB. it is by no means clear that Malorie Blackman was an active, regular member of this room in the way that Vinay Patel, Pete McTighe, Joy Wilkinson, and Ed Hime were, as well as one other writer called Tim Price who never ended up writing a script but created the Pting concept), he pitched “Rosa Parks, but in Speed [the film]/a thriller” and “get Rosa on the bus”, and he recounts how the group of about 10 people just stared back at him like “wat” (this is all on the RadioFreeSkaro podcast from last year’s GallifreyOne convention)
      as both Chibnall and Blackman tell it, the drafting process involved her writing her (presumably several, as is standard) drafts and Chibnall giving her notes, then him polishing it up into his draft and her giving him notes. We know from the DVD commentary that Claudette Colvin was originally mentioned in the script but cut for time (likewise the activism scene with MLK, Fred Gray, etc, had more to it, but was similarly cut); it was Chibnall, not Blackman, who wanted to get MLK in there; we know that “today not working out & tomorrow being all you have” is a thing Blackman’s mother used to say hence its inclusion here; and that Blackman feels the Ryan & Yaz scene behind the bins perfectly struck the balance between celebrating how much progress has been made and how far there is still to go (her sentiment, don’t shoot the messenger)
      we also know that Chibnall’s final draft included multiple asteroids of other famous 20th century people (JFK, Gandhi) and director Mark Tonderai overruled him on this, saying “look these guys are important but they don’t hold a candle to Rosa for black folks” (as Tonderai says in a Guardian article on Ncuti’s casting)
      Tonderai decided on “Rise Up” (the BLM anthem) to play over end credits

      Reply

      • Einarr
        January 22, 2024 @ 7:59 am

        ah bugger, formatting messed up. oh well, hopefully you get the drift

        Reply

        • prandeamus
          January 22, 2024 @ 11:39 am

          I think I do. Many thanks for such a comprehensive answer.

          …. he recounts how the group of about 10 people just stared back at him like “wat”

          Oh to have been a fly on the wall for that one.

          … [Blackman] feels the Ryan & Yaz scene behind the bins perfectly struck the balance between celebrating how much progress has been made and how far there is still to go …

          No shooting the messenger here, honest! Once a decision to include those sentiments in the story, there seems to be no other way to do it other than to exposit between the two non-white regulars. It wouldn’t have a hope of working with Graham without being hopeless condescending. Once again, the “tell not show” weakness. But to show effectively, you’d have to link it back to the known present-day lives of Yaz and Ryan. These were only sketched out briefly in TWWFTE and not as far as I recall in TGM. If it were a bit later in the running order and we knew more about the pasts and interiority of those two characters, Blackman would have had more to work with. We now know that exploring those characters in depth never really happened.

          Reply

      • Frances Smith
        January 22, 2024 @ 12:38 pm

        What’s interesting about the idea of this being a statement of intent is that, in the context of the whole era, it ends up being a statement of lost intent. Season 11 has this, and it has Demons of the Punjab, which is similar enough in general vibe that it carries on with the mission statement Chibnall wanted to make. But then, when you get to Season 12, there’s nothing like this, the historicals are all Davies-esque romps where the Fam hangs out with famous people and fights aliens. I’m not going to talk about Flux, because it’s obviously not at all what Chibnall intended for Season 13, but it does make me wonder what happened between S11 and S12 to cause this big course change, especially since I thought that the ratings and general opinion of S11 were quite positive.

        Reply

        • William Shaw
          January 22, 2024 @ 1:03 pm

          It really is remarkable how quickly the Chibnall era abandoned its most substantial and (potentially) worthwhile idea.

          Telling Mary Seacole to sit in the corner and look at Sontarans may be the single worst beat any historical has ever done.

          Reply

        • Einarr
          January 22, 2024 @ 1:11 pm

          Yeah, even with all the deserved reservations one might have about Rosa, the drop off from this (or as an even better example, Demons of the Punjab) to … Legend of the Sea Devils is insane.

          Reply

          • Rhy
            January 22, 2024 @ 1:40 pm

            the treatment of Madam Ching in LotSD is absolutely insulting, one of the few times the show has done a non-western historical figure, and all of her actual history is thrown out the window and we’re left with a character from a c-tier pirate movie

        • Doctor Memory
          January 22, 2024 @ 5:24 pm

          This is to me one of the central, baffling tragedies of the Chibnall era. S11 was not, on average, good. But it did have a few notably good episodes and another tier of near misses that maybe could have been polished to tolerability. It felt weird and different and very unlike the RTD or Moffat eras and sometimes it felt like the work of people who’d never seen a TV show before never mind Doctor Who and were trying to work out how you make episodic television from first principles. Chibnall’s decision to abjure all of the classic monsters until the first holiday special felt like a solid one. Its failures, in short, were occasionally interesting failures and if Doctor Who is going to suck I’d rather it suck while occasionally swinging for the fences or getting its freak on. You could just about wrap up watching Resolution and say “well, that was more crap than not but maybe now that they’ve got their feet under them the next season will be pretty good?”

          And then: nothing. Not a single one of the potentially interesting stylistic threads from S11 were followed up on, and instead we got a hard right turn into Generic Doctor Who Content. And what’s dispiriting is that it’s hard to get away from the idea that something like “Praxeus” was in fact Chibnall’s idea of Doing Doctor Who Properly.

          Reply

    • Camaveron
      January 22, 2024 @ 8:45 am

      Yaz could never pass as part-white because the One-Drop rule applied. Anyone considered mixed race was treated as non-white, no matter if white family far outnumbered the mixed race element. So no, Yaz was never going to be in the front of the bus if she looked in anyway not white. The same way that Graham couldn’t attempt to give Ryan any protection by claiming a relationship.

      Also, Loving vs Virginia doesn’t happen for another decade, so interracial marriage was illegal in many states limiting the very concept of a mixed race person.

      Reply

      • John
        January 22, 2024 @ 7:16 pm

        This isn’t true though. Plenty of people of mixed race passed as white. Whether Mandip Gill herself could have passed for white is maybe questionable, but people of South Asian descent certainly did (e.g. actress Merle Oberon)

        Reply

        • Camaveron
          January 23, 2024 @ 12:19 pm

          The question wasn’t “passing as white”, it was “passing as part-white”. Which wasn’t a thing you could do. Under the law there wasn’t “part-white”. There are plenty of people who passed as white, but they weren’t claiming to be mixed race at all. That also isn’t something the episode is exploring in relation to Yaz, who in every other scene is perceived as not white. Not just in the first scene, but in the conversation with Rosa Parks as well. So the final scene really does come across as Yaz getting to sit at the front of the bus entirely because she isn’t black.

          Reply

    • Ross
      January 22, 2024 @ 10:49 am

      From a storytelling perspective, Kresko is necessary to give the Fam something to do. Without him, the episode would’ve been “We seem to have landed next to Rosa Parks.” “Oh neat, we can meet a civil rights icon.” “Yeah but don’t say anything and don’t interfere with the racism.” “Can we watch her ride the bus?” “Only if you are willing to be an active participant in the racism.” “When you put it that way, it would be kind of crass for us to hang out here just to sightsee, wouldn’t it? Let’s go then.”

      Reply

      • Ben Barack
        January 22, 2024 @ 12:29 pm

        True, but if Chibnall had to add a superfluous villain to a story in order to pad it out, then maybe he should have realized the story is better suited to a short for the DVD or something.
        Y’know, the writerly part of my brain keeps trying to fix the premise, and… I feel like the episode would have been stronger if it took place at any other point in Parks’ life. Like, I think a story about what her life was like AFTER the one famous thing she did could’ve been an interesting idea! It probably wouldn’t have been good, but it could have interesting!
        Also, I think it’s notable that a whole three episodes of Chibnall’s first season was this type of historical edutainment. I remember a decent amount of press about this; the show was really making a big statement! Then, Series 12 also had three of those episodes – but two of them featured big villains like the Master or the Cybermen. And the final stretch had two – one Flux episode featuring the Sontarans, and one special featuring the Sea Devils.

        Reply

        • Ross
          January 22, 2024 @ 12:45 pm

          This use of Rosa Parks is crass, but “Rosa Parks is important and targeted by evildoers from the future” is a much easier sell than “The Doctor sacrifices the future of the universe to save Percy Shelley”. (The Timeline does not align properly, but man would it be awesome to hop between realities to consider how Submitted For The Approval of the Midnight Pals deals with the same historical events. By merging the death of Percy Shelley, Strangers on a Train, and Columbo)

          Come to think of it, The Giggle has elements of the pseudo-historical as well, though it’s surprisingly easy to not think about that.

          Reply

  5. Arthur
    January 22, 2024 @ 4:01 pm

    My main problem with this story is that the “we have to sit on the bus to spark the protest” thing implicitly buys into the villain’s logic, when a better version of the episode would have had the villain put all that energy into stopping Rosa getting on one particular bus, only for her to get on the next bus and pull the protest she had planned with the same overall effect, and the Doctor telling him she’d allowed him to waste his efforts because she knew it would pan out that way because she knows his Great Man/Pivotal Accidents version of history is nonsense and fails to take the power of activist movements into account.

    By making out that the time fascist’s plan might have worked, the episode implicitly endorses the time fascist’s theory of history.

    Reply

    • Einarr
      January 22, 2024 @ 4:30 pm

      We need a Like function for comments like this

      Reply

  6. Kate Orman
    January 22, 2024 @ 4:58 pm

    “a larger and more neutrally presented context”

    my everything clenched

    Reply

  7. Richard Lyth
    January 22, 2024 @ 5:06 pm

    This is up there with that Twitter thread which ended with Graham having to fly the plane on 9/11. (Can’t find it now, annoyingly.)

    Reply

  8. I love Tat Wood
    January 22, 2024 @ 6:15 pm

    Damn that George part alone was enough to fire the bullet. The rest of this is just disrespecting the grave site.

    Reply

  9. David Cook
    January 23, 2024 @ 10:17 am

    It’s odd, but in 50 years of watching the show, the only person remotely like me is Ryan, everyone else is “other”. Ironically it’s in perhaps the least engaging version of the show.

    Reply

  10. BG Hilton
    January 23, 2024 @ 5:02 pm

    With the protagonists trying to make sure a historical figure did their famous thing with little understanding of significance and no exploration of context, it felt like a very long, unnecessarily serious episode of Me Peabody and Sherman.

    Reply

    • Sean Dillon
      January 23, 2024 @ 8:41 pm

      Or, for that matter, a significantly po-faced and straight version of a Time Squad episode.

      Reply

  11. Arthur
    January 24, 2024 @ 7:49 am

    One more thought: this episode was the first instance of what I’ve come to think of as “Jodie Wikipedia”: bits where the 13th Doctor just rattles off potted summaries on a subject on the level of Wikipedia articles. The main instance here is that speech at the end and showing off the asteroid, but at least it’s something of an earned moment because, for all its other faults, it’s at least trying to put the consequences of the episode’s events into a wider context. (I’m not saying it gets that right, but it is at least trying.)

    Come S12 onwards, we’ll descend into the farce of her meeting someone and then quoting their wikipedia article to their face, and that’ll be the only significance of meeting that historical figure to begin with.

    Reply

    • Dave
      March 11, 2024 @ 6:29 am

      I guess this is a consequence of most of the famous historical figures being “done”. There’s only a few you can hand-wave to the audience like Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare etc. Rosa Parks fits into that category, but once you get into well-known but not universally famous characters like Ada Lovelace, you do kind of have to have a sop to the audience explaining who exactly they are and why they’re well-known. But it could definitely be more deftly handled than Chibnall’s preferred method of spouting the wikipedia entry.

      I think Baird in The Giggle is a good example. Not universally famous (my sister was confused that he had the same name as a pub in Hastings she frequents, not realising the pub was named after someone), but it’s pretty clear who he is and what he’s doing without needing the Doctor to show up and go “Oh, John Logie Baird? You’re brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I wouldn’t be able to watch EastEnders if it weren’t for you. Watch out for EastEnders, you’re going to love it. Oh yes!”

      Reply

  12. Dee
    January 24, 2024 @ 7:55 am

    That was exhausting.

    I guess because satire is counterfactual, and reading a long piece of counterfactual writing saps my energy for some reason. Too much make-up is never enough, but too much satire is just too much satire. Or something.

    Reply

  13. kenziie bee
    January 24, 2024 @ 11:32 pm

    yowza

    ive been rereading TARDIS eruditorum while rewatching my favorite DW stories and it’s been a real treat, and i’m glad you’re still critiquing it to this day specifically because of sharp, funny, structurally surprising essays like this

    This episode nearly killed me (for reasons you laid out here more eloquently than i could put together at the time) and then Kerblam came along and finished me off. didn’t get back into the show until the recent specials. I’m glad to be back round the same time as good ol Eruditorum Press 🙂

    Reply

  14. Anton B
    January 25, 2024 @ 8:31 am

    You portray a sobering and frighteningly possible future. Like all good SF and unlike Rosa.

    Reply

  15. Bernard the Poet
    January 26, 2024 @ 7:53 am

    I am reluctant to criticise this episode too much as it seems to be very openly and unapologetically aimed at small children. I am sure that many primary school teachers have pulled it out during Black History Month and found it a good way to engage kids in American civil rights movement. And from that point of view it should probably be viewed as a success.

    Now I am kind of baffled why Chibnall and the Beeb thought it was a good idea to reposition their globally popular Sci Fi franchise as a children’s programme, but I do think we need to acknowledge that it is what they are consciously trying to achieve. It isn’t an accident that this episode is childish and simplistic. It is designed to be childish and simplistic.

    Reply

    • Rei Maruwa
      January 26, 2024 @ 2:16 pm

      I think there’s lots of room to criticize a children’s program; as someone who was a child once, “schoolteachers probably put it on” feels like the opposite of a ringing endorsement to me.

      Reply

      • Bernard the Poet
        January 26, 2024 @ 9:29 pm

        Fair point. Well made.

        Reply

    • wyngatecarpenter
      January 28, 2024 @ 8:20 pm

      We watched it when it was broadcast with our son who was 6 at the time. My wife took teh opportunity to start explaining who Rosa Parkes was. He just said “I know who she was , I learned about her at school”.

      Reply

  16. David Cook
    January 27, 2024 @ 10:06 am

    To be honest, I doubt little of us outside the United States know of the fifties\sixties civil rights movement. After it it’s the history of a “foreign” country and people. I know of MLK and the freedom riders but little else (and what I do know wasn’t taught at school, but then why should it have been?). The show originally had an educational remit, that’s why it had trips to such places as revolutionary France and met the likes of Marco Polo. Also the past (such as the USA in the 1950’s) should be as “alien” to the TARDIS crew as Skaro or Karn.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      January 30, 2024 @ 3:00 pm

      I freely admit I had no idea who Rosa Parks was until this episode. But educational value is not what I want from my Doctor Who.

      Reply

  17. Przemek
    January 27, 2024 @ 10:17 am

    The whole thing is brilliant, but the “George” bit just floors me every single time.

    Reply

  18. Steven Grimster
    January 27, 2024 @ 1:26 pm

    Hindsight is the most depressing thing about this episode.

    This is the closest outside of the “fair play” speech in The Woman Who Fell to Earth in giving 13 a moment where she defines herself. The thing where almost other Doctors would have done it differently. The bit where she uses the exact words of her opponent without mentioning it “I don’t know anyone I’d describe like that”. At the time it felt like that would be her Doctor’s thing. But no. Never happens again. Just a fluke of a good line

    Reply

  19. Larry
    January 28, 2024 @ 2:20 pm

    The episode had one cute but short part.
    When The Doctor is writing on the wall in marker, Graham exclaims its vandalism.
    Doctor: Special pen, don’t worry
    Graham: You’re not Banksy!
    Doctor: or am I ?

    Reply

  20. Jesse
    January 28, 2024 @ 10:03 pm

    For the hell of it, I went and looked up what I posted on Gallifrey Base when this came out. Was I still giving the Chibnall era the benefit of the doubt? Yeah, but it was already fraying:

    Certainly better than the last two weeks, not that that’s a high bar to clear. It would have been much more powerful without the various stretches of dialogue included for the purpose of reminding us why we should find it powerful, not to mention the stretches of dialogue that feel like they were transcribed from a study guide, but at this point I think it’s clear that the Chibnal era isn’t interested in even gesturing toward subtlety. And I suppose it wouldn’t be a proper Hartnell historical if it never lectured the audience.

    It’s interesting to see “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!” being deployed on behalf of social change rather than against it. I will have to ponder what to make of that.

    In the meantime: If you’d like to see a good piece of television about the Montgomery bus boycott, I recommend Clark Johnson’s “Boycott.” In a better world, “Doctor Who does the Rosa Parks story” would be the Johnson movie with aliens in it. Not that I have any idea how that would work.

    [And then, in a followup:]

    [S]abotaging a single bus trip could have “nudged” events in a somewhat different direction, as the Doctor put it. But it’s doubtful that it would have prevented the boycott.

    For the record, I still don’t know how the hell the Clark Johnson movie with aliens in it would work. Honestly, that was just my polite way of pointing people to something better.

    Reply

    • Jesse
      January 28, 2024 @ 10:05 pm

      Whoops, the asterisks that I used to set off the old post seem not to have appeared. That last graf (“For the record…”) is me in the present, not me in the past.

      Reply

  21. Jay
    February 19, 2024 @ 3:29 pm

    Finally, I was worried we’d never see a new entry in the Dalek Eruditorum!

    Reply

    • Przemek
      March 2, 2024 @ 7:04 pm

      Underrated comment.

      Reply

  22. Lindy Orthia
    June 2, 2024 @ 5:50 am

    I loved Rosa primarily for one reason: it is the first time any of the (till then) all white Doctors actively owned their whiteness and self-consciously embodied the political significance of that. I thought the plotting was clever in getting the Doctor into a situation where, for once, she couldn’t jump up and be the white saviour. She had to be quietly but clearly white and be publicly seen to comfortably tolerate racism. It was a subtle but assertive departure from Tennant’s ‘walk around like you own the place’ and all the rest of the long history of the Doctors pretending they weren’t white. I think this aspect of Rosa deserves way more credit even if other aspects are easy to critique. I’ve always seen it as unsurprising that it took the show’s first writer of colour to come up with a scenario that could make that point. But I don’t know all the behind the scenes information you all seem to be aware of, so perhaps my view is naive?

    Reply

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