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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.

45 Comments

  1. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 12:49 am

    I seem to remember you saying you're not a fan of horror, Phil, and with respect, I think it's showing here. The mid noughties weren't by any means a bad period for horror. They were, just perhaps, a bad period for popular horror, by which I mean the films high-profile enough to have gotten on your radar. Even if we accept arguendo that Hills… and Hostel are terrible films, using them to defend "Countrycide" would be like saying the 1930s were a bad time for artwork because that's when children had widespread access to fingerpaints.

    Not that I do accept those views of either film, in fact. I'd not be particularly inclined to mount a defence of Hostel – though it'd be easy to do so on horror grounds at least than "Countrycide" is, in that it both managed some effective horror and was entertaining – but Hills… is actually pretty good. It's certainly not worth casually dismissing because it's a remake. Especially since the "God, why are the Americans constantly remaking horror films which were better in their original time/original language" strikes me as one of the most commonly applied and poorly justified criticisms one can make about horror cinema.

    How, exactly, the village manages to refresh its population every ten years and not notice the cannibalistic family is not made entirely clear

    "Hello! I see you've just moved in! Well, so have we. Very new to the area. We're not a cannibalistic family who ate everyone in the village last month, if that's what you're thinking!"

    Reply

  2. elvwood
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:38 am

    Watching this again (and knowing what to expect this time), it struck me as an adequate production from a genre I dislike. I like some forms of horror, but not the blood 'n' guts 'n' gore ones. Like Philip I was struck by the scene of Gwen trying to function while wanting to puke, to which I'll add various moments of the city folks' reactions to the countryside early on; but the only specific bits I remembered from first viewing were the ending – the "it made me happy" bit and the Gwen and Owen coda.

    I disliked this turn of events because it meant there was now nobody in Torchwood (except Tosh, who we hardly know so far) that hasn't done something stupidly, relationship-endangeringly bad, on screen. [Spoiler for next time: I've now watched Greeks Bearing Gifts in my rewatch marathon, and Tosh fares better than the rest. Despite the plot setting her up for a similar fall.] This, in turn, means that until they turn some characters around, I am reliant on "Torchwood viewed from the outside" episodes such as Small Worlds to be able to appreciate the program.

    It's not that I want a cast of perfect heroes/heroines. It's that some of them should be at less than epic levels of screwed-upness. The current message seems to be "you do have to be a dick to work here", and it doesn't help.

    Reply

  3. Julian
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:45 am

    Disclaimer: I haven't watched this episode since broadcast. But I do remember some feelings quite distinctly.

    This is mirrored in a large shift in the season’s metaplot, with the beginning of a proper affair between Owen and Gwen. This is awkward – the revelation at the end is not entirely sound, not least because the dialogue around it is pure cheese. Nevertheless, it works.
    See, I would argue it doesn't work, and it ties into a larger issue I have with the show, namely consistency. With a show like Torchwood, where you want to have an engaged fanbase, you need to really make sure the characters are not only interesting enough to invest in, but also have enough consistency throughout their arc to follow.

    And this, for me, is where Torchwood fails – the Gwen/Owen thing just doesn't ring true, and also doesn't really lead forward to Gwen's actions later in the season. But even more telling is Ianto – you'd imagine after Cyberwoman he'd harbor some resentment towards Jack and the team, but in Small Worlds he seems fine… and then all of a sudden in this episode he's scowling away. I remember feeling like the episodes had aired out of order it was that incongruous, and it really does grate when you want to engage with the show.

    Reply

  4. Arkadin
    August 5, 2013 @ 3:05 am

    "It’s really not hard to make the case that we’re living in a sort of twisted anti-golden age of horror right now where most of the innovation consists of doing things in more spectacularly and viscerally upsetting ways and on smaller budgets."

    That's really only true if you look at mainstream cinema. The last decade and change has given us some pretty dreadful horror movies but also House of Leaves, the ongoing Hellboy/BPRD saga, Welcome to Night Vale… And I'm sure there are more interesting independent horror movies that I'm not aware of. As far as short films go a friend linked me to this one

    Reply

  5. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 3:52 am

    Indeed. I think it would be much easier to put together an argument that says the late '90s resurgence of horror has simply led to more bad horror showing up on the public radar. Horror didn't get worse, it remained constant and became more visible.

    Reply

  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 5, 2013 @ 5:37 am

    I was talking about cinematic horror, yes – that being the genre that's meaningfully influential on Countrycide. I'll clarify in the post.

    Reply

  7. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 5:55 am

    That still leaves us with the problem that either we're talking about horror cinema in general, in which case I don't believe your position holds much water, or we're talking about the kind of horror cinema that has bled out into popular culture. In the latter case it's harder (though far from impossible) to refute that there was plenty of crap out there in the period under consideration, but the idea that it was particularly bad doesn't strike me as correct either.

    Reply

  8. peeeeeeet
    August 5, 2013 @ 6:12 am

    I agree, but I find the consequences of Ianto's inconsistency fascinating. It led to a nascent fandom dedicating a lot of effort to trying to pluck out the heart of his mystery (it probably helps that he looks nice in a suit), and since they were all reading each other's work, led to a broad agreement on who he was that was consistent from story to story and matched up reasonably well with what we saw on screen. Until RtD came back, reinstated his own version of Ianto which was significantly different from theirs (but not necessarily from what had gone before on screen), and then to cap it all, killed the poor sod off. The reaction from the fandom (and, brilliantly, they're still at it, with some people decrying PC's casting because they haven't forgiven him for being in Children of Earth) was something close to genuine grief; unlike when any old fictional character is killed off, they felt that something that was theirs had been taken away from them and killed. Someone they knew intimately, and whose killer didn't. It seemed to me like (one take on) post-structuralism in its purest form: the reader becomes the co-author by being creatively inspired by the very contradictions inherent in the text. But it also makes me think of the "moral hazard" that comes with this; that such consequences, fascinating as they might be from a social perspective, encourage the creators to be slapdash. Or it might just be that I lost my mother around the same time they lost Ianto, so the constant cry of "leave us alone to mourn" really got on my tits…

    (And yes, I am aware of the irony of criticising post-structuralism and then getting three captchas wrong in a row, thank you universe)

    Reply

  9. peeeeeeet
    August 5, 2013 @ 6:46 am

    … and should anyone be curious as to what I'm talking about, this particular period of "the anon meme" as we used to call it (OH GOD I'M SO OLD) makes for hysterical – in every sense of the word – reading:

    http://who-anon.livejournal.com/6299.html

    Reply

  10. Ununnilium
    August 5, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    Also, I'd note that the shape of "Hollywood horror" has changed not once but twice since this came out; the gorn era hit its most extreme with The Human Centipede and faded away, moving into the Paranormal Activity-inspired found footage era, and now that seems to have faded, leaving us in the vague time where people grope around for the Next Big Thing. (Which, whatever it turns out to be? Isn't The Purge. Yeesh.)

    Reply

  11. Callum Leemkuil
    August 5, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    If I'm not mistaken, the episodes were originally supposed to air with Small Worlds coming before Cyberwoman.

    Reply

  12. David Anderson
    August 5, 2013 @ 8:02 am

    Hadn't The Descent just come out? I don't know much about horror, but I remember it had got favourable reviews? (Sufficiently that although I haven't seen it I can say what it's about.)

    Reply

  13. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 8:31 am

    I miss the gorn area. Watching fleshy mammals get terrorised isn't nearly as interesting.

    Reply

  14. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 8:59 am

    The Descent was out at that time, and is a spectacularly good film. It's also British, which increases its likely influence upon UK writers hoping to come up with some interesting horror (anecdotal evidence, I know, but I rushed to see Neil Marshall's latest the weekend it was out, and caught neither Hostel nor Hills… until they arrived on DVD). I just don't see any way to work in "shitty horror films influenced 'Countrycide'" without some kind of idea of where Chibnall himself was drawing his influence.

    Reply

  15. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    This week I will be making spelling mistakes in comments gently mocking spelling mistakes. Yay.

    Reply

  16. James V
    August 5, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    Anyone see "The Conjuring"? I think I'd be just fine if that turns out to be the benchmark for the next wave of horror movies.

    Reply

  17. Nyq Only
    August 5, 2013 @ 9:50 am

    "For this he has an odd reputation – a despised writer where everyone seems to quibble on which one they hated, usually saying things like “Oh, I thought The Power of Three was kind of fun, but Cyberwoman was the worst thing ever.” For my part, I find myself unable to muster anything hate-sized about any of his episodes – he’s more or less the Bob Baker and David Martin (excluding the Graham Williams era) of the new series, producing consistent more-or-less-watchability."

    Interesting given the (justified) acclaim for Broadchurch. Perhaps Chinball's problem was he needed more time in which to tell a story.

    Reply

  18. landru
    August 5, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    I recall this being one of the episodes I actually thought was very solid. Mainly the lack of silliness helped. That being said, Torchwood just doesn't do a thing for me.

    Reply

  19. BerserkRL
    August 5, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    A "general and unfortunate trend in" what?

    Reply

  20. BerserkRL
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:02 am

    even in the mid-70s one can imagine that people who actually lived in the Scottish Isles might have been a bit miffed

    Well, I've read Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory and Ken MacLeod's Intrusion. I'm a believer!

    Reply

  21. BerserkRL
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:09 am

    It's not that I want a cast of perfect heroes/heroines. It's that some of them should be at less than epic levels of screwed-upness

    So, not a big fan of Battlestar Galactica then?

    Reply

  22. jsd
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    I thought the message was "working here makes you a dick."

    Reply

  23. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:14 am

    So, not a big fan of Battlestar Galactica then?

    The difference being that in BSG one understands why the characters aren't being fired and replaced with less difficult people.

    Reply

  24. David Thiel
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    I'm thinking that "gorn" was, in this case, an intentional portmanteau of "gore" and "porn." (As an alternative to the phrase more widely-used to describe "Hostel" and its ilk, "torture porn.")

    Reply

  25. Froborr
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    I don't think "gorn" was a spelling mistake. It's a portmanteau of "gore" and "porn."

    Reply

  26. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    Oh, OK. Never seen that before. Or maybe I subconsciously refused to compute it in favour of imagining innocent teenagers terrorised by bipedal murder-lizards.

    Reply

  27. David Thiel
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    Absolutely hated the Gwen/Owen thing. It wasn't just that she was cheating on what seemed to be a decent enough fellow, but that she was doing so with someone as repugnant as Owen. After this point, the only thing that kept me watching was an OCD-like need for completion.

    Reply

  28. David Thiel
    August 5, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    I'd never seen it before either; just assumed it from context. And I'm totally onboard with the murder-lizard thing.

    Reply

  29. SpaceSquid
    August 5, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    There's your next best thing, right there.

    Reply

  30. elvwood
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    jsd: You're right – it's definitely that way round.

    BerserkRL: I've never seen BSG. Given your comment, perhaps I shouldn't! It's the same with Eastenders, though there is a second category in the soap: the few people who don't do monumentally stupid things to screw up their relationships with each other are the ones that get dumped on from a great height, repeatedly. All in the name of "drama".

    David Thiel: I'd still have been bothered if she'd started sleeping repeatedly with a nice guy. Like, say…oh, hang on, there's got to be one in the show other than Rhys…PC Andy? One stress-related slip, maybe – even with prime douchebag Owen – that's just about supportable (and the sort of thing Eastenders could milk for months); but the new ongoing affair feels like it's only there to be edgy and post-watershed.

    SpaceSquid: Let me guess – Torchwood staff have better union representation than BSGers. I'm right, aren't I?

    Reply

  31. Josh Marsfelder
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    "… and the fact that Torchwood can take the 'rational explanation behind seemingly irrational events' motif from Scooby Doo…"

    I, of course, think this take on what Scooby-Doo does to be something of a potentially misleading oversimplification. The thing is the supernatural world actually exists in Scooby-Doo and a lot of the key tension and structure of the show operates under the assumption you're familiar with this premise. The takeaway isn't "there's no such things as ghosts because they're always dudes in bedsheets", it's "evil people will use intimidation tactics to increase their lot in life at the expense of yours by playing off of your fears".

    Of course, this reading primarily only holds for the original series. Once the franchise starts cycling through different creative teams and reboots/reimaginings, this theme becomes more fluid and less defined.

    Reply

  32. David Anderson
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    At least some of the characters in BSG are not entirely screwed up. More importantly the writers of BSG know how to present their screwed-up characters so that we care about them. Partly because it's a story about people under what we would consider extreme stress and so we can accept their relationships being sources of extreme stress as well. Partly because the writers take care to establish epically screwed-up as a character trait, rather than just assuming it as a normal state of being. Mostly because they work to make us care about the characters.

    Reply

  33. Theonlyspiral
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    Dinosaurs on a Spacship is my favourite episode of Doctor Who ever. I think it's the high point of the series. On that episode alone I would support Chibnall for show runner.

    Reply

  34. BerserkRL
    August 5, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

    I thought the premise was "no matter how many times they come to a haunted house, they're always surprised that it's haunted; and no matter how many times the haunting turns out to be fake, they're always surprised that it's fake; or, what if the guy from Memento were a ghostbuster."

    Reply

  35. Josh Marsfelder
    August 5, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    I concur with David's reading of BSG. It's not total nihilism. As with all of Ron Moore's work, it deals a lot with ordinary people pushed to the breaking point and how they react to that.

    There's also the mystical component, but that's a whole other thing unto itself.

    Reply

  36. Josh Marsfelder
    August 5, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    This is the reason why they're always surprised it's a false haunting (well, that and borderline negative continuity): They have no reason to immediately suspect the haunting is fake because if the supernatural realm exists than the logical first impression would be that the place truly is haunted.

    This is why the criminals are so reprehensible and irredeemable: They're exploiting people's justified fears of ancient and dangerous forces for profit and power.

    Reply

  37. James V
    August 5, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

    Someone should do an Eruditorum-style blog on Scooby Doo. I love Scooby Doo.

    Reply

  38. Josh Marsfelder
    August 5, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

    This was actually my plan before I was convinced, probably rightly, to do Vaka Rangi instead. I hope to still do that project someday: It would be a complete retrospective on the Scooby-Doo franchise from the premier of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! in 1969 (with skips back to 1968 to look at its origins as Mysteries Five) to the finale of What's New, Scooby-Doo? in 2005.

    If anyone's terribly interested, I wrote sort of a sampler of what the project might look like last year for my Soda Pop Art blog, which is temporarily on hiatus:

    http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/07/wherefore-art-thou-scooby-doo_10.html

    http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/07/don-tell-me-you-scared-show-that-could_12.html

    http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/07/american-gothic-scooby-doo-where-are-you.html

    http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/07/im-creamof-great-utopia-dream-daphne.html

    Reply

  39. Ross
    August 5, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

    If negative continuity is why they're always surprised that the haunting turns out to be a guy in a mask, is that also why every few years, when a new Scooby-Doo revival happens, the marketing is always framed around "But this time, the monsters are REAL!" as if it's the first time that's ever been the case, when the monsters in scooby doo have been real in at least 50% of the adaptations of Scooby Doo since at least 1985 (1972 if you count the fact that the Addams Family guest starred)

    Reply

  40. Anton B
    August 6, 2013 @ 1:49 am

    Isn't the fundamental difference between the 'Countrycide' denoument and the generic 'Scooby Doo' reveal that there is no profit motive and the family are not actively trying to scare people away (quite the opposite in fact). The twist is not 'There are no monsters' it is surely 'there are monsters amongst us'.

    Reply

  41. Anton B
    August 6, 2013 @ 1:52 am

    You're being ironic, right? Serious question, if not please explain.

    Reply

  42. Theonlyspiral
    August 6, 2013 @ 4:40 am

    No. Dinosaurs is a wonderful episode. It keeps moving, we have a mystery the segue ways into having an actual antagonist. We have Dinosaurs (always a plus) and some fun guest companions. We also have some very very human moments (Brian scolding Rory for not having a trowel) as well as a scene that sums up the series best (and brings on the tears: Brian eating his lunch over Earth. It's absolutely delightful. We need more episodes like this.

    Reply

  43. Anton B
    August 6, 2013 @ 7:16 am

    Okay, none of those things begin to redeem it in my eyes. We should agree to differ.

    Reply

  44. Theonlyspiral
    August 6, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    Sounds like you have a powerful disdain for it.

    Reply

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