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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.

28 Comments

  1. Janine
    November 30, 2015 @ 6:53 am

    What’s particularly interesting from his Doctor Who episodes is the way Harness sets up moral dilemmas. Keep in mind that Kill the Moon aired after dark in Britain, so the majority of the viewers would have had their lights on. It’s clever enough that Harness thinks up the lights off/lights on idea in the first place, but he takes it a step further. Our default position is to let the creature live. If we want to kill it, we ourselves have to flick a switch.

    Which is true for large swathes of Doctor Who. The act of war is always the act. There’s always a button to be pressed, a trigger to be pulled, a light to be switched off. But peace is a meaningful social and psychological shift. It’s beyond buttons – it’s about changing ourselves and the way we think, as opposed to nuking a village or a giant lump of rock.

    Reply

    • Richard Pugree
      November 30, 2015 @ 7:13 pm

      See, lots of people said this at the time and it really threw me. I’d assumed everybody else, like me, watched Doctor Who with the lights off, in the dark.

      Reply

    • taiey
      November 30, 2015 @ 7:25 pm

      And of course it doesn’t even occur to you that this could be a factor in the episode if you’re on the other side of the world, watching it on Sunday afternoon.

      Reply

      • Janine
        December 2, 2015 @ 6:01 pm

        But that’s not exactly the primary audience Doctor Who is written for, is it?

        Reply

  2. Max Curtis
    November 30, 2015 @ 7:53 am

    I think there’s also an important point to be made that Harness’s interest in political vision and political violence largely reflects the fact that those two things have collapsed into one in the past few decades. War is a media enterprise, and the goal isn’t just to make a particular conflict more appealing, but rather to shape our broader norms and values about political violence. That’s what really interests me about the Zygon two-parter: it goes from mirroring the trends and debates in popular politics to suddenly trying to actively change viewers’ international norms.

    Reply

  3. Elliot R
    November 30, 2015 @ 8:07 am

    Interesting that Moffat claimed to have written the Zygon Inversion monologue in a recent radio times interview. Harness may well not agree that diplomacy is a solution and alternative to all conflicts (rather than simply a solution in that particular case).

    Reply

  4. EvilBug
    November 30, 2015 @ 11:00 am

    As far as political allegories go, speculative fiction usually end up divorced enough from reality its message becomes inapplicable. It’s hard to bring out any real world message about racism, for example, from Lord of the Rings, unless you are a Nazi, because it extensively features evil subhumans that must be eradicated.

    Now going with Harness, I find his message in Kill the Moon rather ill-conceived, unsupported and hilarious accidentally pro-life.

    But the absurdity of Zygon Inv… is something I’d like to highlight now. The narrative of the story strongly supports Bonnie. There’s no questioning, at all, that humanity will try and murder every Zygon they see. And yet it’s Bonnie who’s vilified for wanting to reveal Zygons. The same Bonnie who’s strangely not vilified for at least several dozens of humans and Zygon collaborators she and her followes murdered and the same Bonnie who is considering the one to give forgiveness after that killing spree. Personally, if I went on killing spree and in the end I was the one whom people ask for forgiveness, I wouldn’t find in unfair at all. Did writing just forgot about all that Bonnie did, or did offence against her was so grave even rivers of blood won’t wash it away? And finally, what did Doctor propose? He chastise Bonnie for lacking a plan, but does anyone in the room actually have a plan? Are they going to wait for the next incident, rinse and repeat, offering blood sacrifice to the idol of status quo?

    Reply

    • Prankster
      November 30, 2015 @ 11:53 am

      Yes, most of the casual viewers I’ve talked to interpreted Kill the Moon as pro-life, and frankly I can’t escape the suspicion that Harness wrote it so that it could be read both ways and he could walk between the raindrops on that one.

      I admit to bias here, as Harness personally attacked a friend of mine on social media for daring to suggest that KTM was anything less than the bee’s knees. If you’re going to write political message fiction you have to a) have a clear sense of what you’re conveying and b) be a little more thick-skinned.

      Reply

      • EvilBug
        November 30, 2015 @ 11:59 am

        What bothers me is that there are people who interpret a story where good women force evil woman to keep the baby that threatens her well-being as pro-choice.

        It really doesn’t make sense if you think of women as individuals.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          November 30, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

          Two major problems with that reading.

          1) It doesn’t threaten Lundvik’s well-being.
          2) Lundvik isn’t actually pregnant, and so she’s not being forced to “keep the baby,” but rather prevented from performing the abortion on someone else’s baby.

          Reply

          • EvilBug
            November 30, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

            1) It looks like it does. You never know if something’s going to kill you until it does
            2) She’s not the only one suffering from it, but she’s one of many. Unlike Clara and Courtney who are outsiders bossing her around. She’s carrying mandate of all the people endangered by a giant space baby that was planted at them without their consent.

          • Janine
            November 30, 2015 @ 1:16 pm

            I mean, expanding on that point, it’s worth asking the question of what would have happened if the consequences had been negative – if bits of the moon had gone plummeting into major cities and the creature had wrecked the gravitational balance between the Earth and the Moon, or something (pardon my sci-fi). Would Clara’s actions have been acceptable then? And if not, are we saying that an action is good based on almost unpredictable consequences? That it’s good because it happened to have a good outcome?

          • EvilBug
            December 1, 2015 @ 9:58 am

            I think important source of my derision for the story is, in fact, what I would call retroactive validation of Clara’s position.

        • Jim
          December 2, 2015 @ 5:58 am

          The story also implies, to me at any rate, that (a) the decision to let the baby live is the right one, and (b) that the Doctor is doing something rather unpleasant in forcing the humans to make the choice rather than simply stepping in and preventing the Moon’s destruction. I think it can very easily be read as anti-abortion* for these reasons.

          *I am anti-abortion myself, but have no time for the ridiculous “pro-life” label.

          Reply

          • EvilBug
            December 2, 2015 @ 11:56 am

            Doctor was a dick for withholding vital information for some reason. This episode really only makes sense if Doctor was bullshitting the whole time to prove some kind of point.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            December 2, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

            The script goes out of its way to establish that the Doctor has no special information to impart here. He’d just be another participant in the emergent democratic decision-making, and in his opinion he is not a citizen and ought not be given voting rights.

          • EvilBug
            December 2, 2015 @ 12:56 pm

            The whole episode consists of stream of revelations that makes no kind of sense of any kind. Culminating with Doctor’s assertion that “Birds don’t usually destroy their nests”.

            I find it easier to believe that he was masking prior knowledge with this nonsensical deductions.

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        November 30, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

        I take Harness at his word that he was not consciously writing about abortion as such; simply put, it’s just not that big an issue in the UK and Sweden. I have little trouble believing it could simply not spring to mind.

        As for your friend, did your friend @reply Harness in his criticism? Because I have to say, people who deliberately @reply the people they’re criticizing don’t get to bitch when they get pushback.

        Reply

        • Prankster
          November 30, 2015 @ 5:47 pm

          He did not @reply. I think he may have embed-linked to one of his tweets. I don’t get the need for a successful writer to respond to criticism on social media, personally, but I guess if it was his first realized screenplay he might be defensive of it?

          Anyway. I’ll take his word that he didn’t intend an abortion metaphor but so many of the reviews I read of that episode, positive and negative, brought it up. (Bearing in mind I’m not very deep into Who fandom.) At a certain point it seems like even if a theme like that emerged 100% spontaneously a writer ought to own it.

          I guess I’m a little gun-shy about writers who seem to be trolling the audience at times with reactionary politics and then claim innocence. Certainly Moffat himself sometimes seems to be guilty of this in regards to his depictions of women…and I like Moffat, when he’s on.

          Reply

          • Prankster
            November 30, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

            That is to say, “I’m perhaps too likely to assume writers are trolling because I’ve seen it done before”, not that Harness personally is doing it necessarily. I actually agree Kill the Moon seems intended as a pro-choice metaphor but I’m not sure it came off.

      • Peter Harness
        November 30, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

        I have never attacked anyone on social media. Occasionally people have included me on tweets criticising me and my writing, and if I’ve ever responded to that it’s to ask people to be a bit more polite in what they say and not to include me directly if they wish to say that my writing is shit or that I should be killed before being allowed to write for Doctor Who again. Which I think is reasonable. However, these days, I don’t engage at all. Which is think is even more reasonable.

        Reply

        • Janine
          November 30, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

          Please continue to engage on here, though, because most of us love you and you just brighten up the room.

          Reply

        • Max Curtis
          November 30, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

          Do you engage with people who think Kill the Moon IS the bee’s knees? Because man, it’s a revelation. I’m trying to figure out if I have enough room to include it in my dissertation.

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            November 30, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

            Well, I mean, he’s given me two interviews. 😉

          • Max Curtis
            November 30, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

            Yeah, but you’ve also written something like a million words on Doctor Who, so… I mean, jeez, I once had a dream that I could write insightful points about politics and Doctor Who, and then you go and write blog posts like this!

        • Yellowpaper
          November 30, 2015 @ 8:22 pm

          I’m furious.
          I @ed Peter Harness at least 5 times to tell him he was great for Kill the Moon, Episodes 4 + the finale of Norrell & Strange, and also for TZI/TZI and I got nothing. Bupkis I think one of them got a fave.

          Told Gareth Roberts I liked The Lodger, the man treated me like a welcome guest.

          If you’re reading this Mr. Harness, do tell us about the Doctor’s final speech, was it all written by Moffat or was it a collaboration

          Reply

  5. Chris Kelley
    November 30, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

    The thing I love about Harness is that things always rest on the human characters. Gorgeous as Doctor Who is, people are always more important.

    Reply

  6. Jack Graham
    December 1, 2015 @ 5:55 am

    Just to be clear, my critique of ‘Zygon Inv’ was basically coming from perspective which tests its politics against a radical political analysis. That isn’t necessarily a reason to damn it as a piece of art… and, indeed, I go out of my way in the critique to point out that, for all of what I perceive as its political deficiencies, I think it’s an exceptionally well-crafted piece of television. I think the same is true of ‘Kill the Moon’. I think Peter Harness is a very talented and interesting writer.

    Reply

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