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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.

43 Comments

  1. Lewis Christian
    July 29, 2013 @ 12:38 am

    The All-New Sandifer Torchwood Post Checklist of Repetition

    "Owen is a rapist. It really is the single worst thing Russell T Davies has ever written." ?

    If it's not in the rest of the posts, I'll be miffed.

    Reply

  2. Daru
    July 29, 2013 @ 12:56 am

    Thanks for your write up Phil in this and the last couple of essays on Torchwood. I am really taken with your expansion on the idea of the all-consuming job that leaks into one's home life and even affects those around us who are not in that job themselves. This has added a much wider perspective onto the show for me – I have always enjoyed it.

    I have experience myself of being in work that has felt like it took over my life – working within supported accommodation for adults and young people with what is often called 'challenging behaviour', where their emotions, due to certain disorders, are expressed through physical aggression. I certainly took some of that work home and had partners sharing it with me.

    I have for the last two years been on the other side too – when my partner has been working at two nurseries – where you ought to expect caring and supportive environments, but she has been consistently bullied and I needed to support her a lot at home (things are better now, new work).

    So I feel I could understand the story from both Gwen's and Rhys's points of view. I still find myself attracted to work that breaks its boundaries and fills other areas of my life, such as my Forest Schools and storytelling work where the drive comes from creating a new way of living, rather than just finding 'a job'. Be interesting to see what I get from the show when I re-watch Torchwood again.

    Reply

  3. David Anderson
    July 29, 2013 @ 1:10 am

    CSI has been a mainstay of Channel 5 for years, and I'd guess most British tv viewers would recognise it. 'MI-5' gave me pause. It's a bit jarring to refer to Spooks by its US name after introducing it with the phrase 'in British television'.

    Reply

  4. Prole Hole
    July 29, 2013 @ 2:36 am

    I think it's also interesting to compare the way that Gwen and Rhys function (erratically but essentially they're able to keep it going) with something like the first season of 24, where there seems to have been a genuine attempt to integrate the domestic (Jack's wife and daughter) with the more outlandish defeat-the-terrorists plotting. Of course Jack (Bauer's, not Harkness's) family get chewed up and spat out eventually leading SPOILERS to his wife's death at the end of the first season (in one of the best things 24 ever managed, back when it was more than just a punchline to justifying-torture discussions). Their domestic sphere inevitably got pulled into the main storyline, just as Gwen's does, but there's a fundamental difference between the resolutions, bleak vs… well, optimistic is probably overstating it since Gwen and Rhys go through hell together, but MORE optimistic at least. Whether this contrast is because Torchwood is more optimistic than 24 or because of the difference between a British and an American take on the same material I'm probably not qualified to comment on but it certainly proves to be a marked contrast.

    Reply

  5. peeeeeeet
    July 29, 2013 @ 2:42 am

    Agreed about Burn Gorman – he's the best actor by a Countrycide mile (which is like a country mile but far, far stupider). Have to say though that after finding the first two episodes OKAAAAAAY, this is definitely the one that would have turned me off if I hadn't been a Doctor Who fan already. I thought it was utter garbage. If even John Normington can't save an episode, you're in real trouble. Valiant attempt there at redeeming the gun scene, but even after all these years it sticks in my head as one of the most ill-conceived sequences I've ever seen on television. Judging by the ratings for the next one, I'd have been in good company.

    Reply

  6. Daru
    July 29, 2013 @ 2:52 am

    Yes interesting comparison, I have watched 24 also and found the juxtaposition of the domestic sphere with the job somehow a lot easier to watch in Torchwood. I certainly feel that it was more humanly portrayed. And yes certainly there is s definite contrast in approaches between this and 24 – good one to bring up as 24 seems to be a show where the domestic sphere is totally destroyed at every turn – and rather than singing "epic poetry of our everyday lives" 24 seems to in the end to be trying to hard to shout the epic chant of "stupid action hero movie".

    Reply

  7. Scurra
    July 29, 2013 @ 3:03 am

    It seems a bit harsh to dismiss Emma Peel as, well, an "Emma Peel", meaning some sort of superwoman eye candy/sex object. At least she's actually got some sort of character life, as opposed to John Steed…

    Reply

  8. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    July 29, 2013 @ 3:48 am

    Am I the only person in the world who liked Countryside? Why am I the only person who seems to have liked it?

    Reply

  9. Bennett
    July 29, 2013 @ 4:31 am

    You are not the only one, Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca. Countrycide is actually my favourite episode of Torchwood, if only for the wonderfully groan-worthy pun in its title.

    But I also agree with peeeeeeet about it being rather stupid.

    Reply

  10. Matter-Eater Lad
    July 29, 2013 @ 5:35 am

    The firing range sequence reminded me of Poochie showing off his rad skateboarding whilst Itchy and Scratchy stand off to the side watching it.

    Reply

  11. Spacewarp
    July 29, 2013 @ 5:55 am

    After reading the last 3 entries I've actually started re-watching this first season of Torchwood, and I'm quite enjoying it. Some programmes suffer when watched out of their original broadcast time and context, but Torchwood seems better for it. Although as a spinoff one would expect it to rely on viewer knowledge of the parent programme, in a Knott's Landing kind of way, but as Phil has pointed out, pains have been taken to distance it from Doctor Who and allow it to stand alone. Unfortunately being broadcast slap bang in the middle of Doctor Who's rising popularity meant it was unavoidably compared to Who and found wanting, which I now realise is utterly unfair.

    Sadly Torchwood's reputation (mainly from fan circles)is cemented now, and it is almost impossible to separate the reality from the myth. However, viewing it today, distanced in time and style from Doctor Who, one gets a glimpse into a universe in which Torchwood exists, but Doctor Who doesn't…and to this viewer at least the glimpse is favourable.

    Reply

  12. Kit
    July 29, 2013 @ 6:40 am

    prufreed: "hail from"

    Reply

  13. Ununnilium
    July 29, 2013 @ 7:13 am

    It's the most qlippothic aspect of the RTD era.

    Reply

  14. Assad K
    July 29, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    The title of Countrycide is indeed clever.
    And is pretty much the only clever thing about it.

    Reply

  15. elvwood
    July 29, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Yeah, I'm inspired to rewatch too. I may get a chance to see several episodes over the second half of this week while the family's away, various things permitting.

    Reply

  16. elvwood
    July 29, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    Ah! I don't watch a lot of TV, so I presumed there was some program called MI-5 I'd missed hearing about (heck, I even managed to miss hearing about the return of Doctor Who in 2005 until after the event, since I wasn't watching any at the time). But that makes sense now, though.

    Reply

  17. elvwood
    July 29, 2013 @ 9:04 am

    I'm one of the very few Brits I know (at least, outside of military or para/quasimilitary folk) who have had any gun training. It always surprises people when it comes up, supporting Philip's observation regarding this country.

    I was not like Gwen. After a number of sessions I got to the point where I could occasionally hit the piece of paper the target was printed on.

    So much for my image as a fat, male, middle-aged, Emma Peel, then. Guess I'll have to rely on my walking stick.

    Reply

  18. David Anderson
    July 29, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    With regards to the point that fiction is not gossip about imaginary people, can we explore the limits of that claim? If we take it too programmatically do we lose the ability to take fiction at an emotional level? One cares that the Doctor loses Rose; to care that one set of narrative signifiers no longer invokes another set of narrative signifiers seems harder to understand. Having the audience hope or fear for the characters is a useful technique in getting the audience interested in whatever other aesthetic aims you have.
    Now there's clearly an aesthetic puzzle here in that we need to explain what an audience is doing in hoping and fearing for characters that they know aren't real. However, it seems doctrinaire to think that the writer mustn't make use of such reactions or that a critical audience ought to discount them.

    (I take the application of the point about Owen. I think it's only a partial defence; the real knock is not so much to our opinion of the character (although first impressions are important) as to our opinion of the creative team who are capable of that kind of misjudgement in an episode in which they ought to be paying particular attention. But we've been over the ground.)

    Reply

  19. Matthew Blanchette
    July 29, 2013 @ 9:55 am

    How perfectly cromulent.

    Reply

  20. J Mairs
    July 29, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    The secret of ignominy is venereal despoiled congress.

    Reply

  21. jane
    July 29, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    Count me among those who adore Countrycide.

    Reply

  22. Adam Riggio
    July 29, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    In terms of its reception among Doctor Who fans, Torchwood might have to wait for a genuine generational change like the Great Re-Evaluation to rebuild its reputation. I always considered it a flawed show with very high water marks of where it realized its potential. I think as well, established Doctor Who fans weren't really used to all the shifts in Captain Jack's character from Doctor Who to here.

    I love your commentary on the episodes, though. It does point out elements that I didn't quite see the first time, especially the story structure. I should thank you, Phil, for educating me more deeply in televisual literacy through the Eruditorum, so that I can better perceive the narrative complexity of the show. I found I could never truly distinguish narrative from plot or character arc until your analyses taught me what it was.

    Reply

  23. Alan
    July 29, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    Personally, I liked Countrycide better when it was called Murdersville and featured Mrs. Peel in a skintight mauve jumpsuit.

    Reply

  24. Anton B
    July 29, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    And me. Though I haven't watched it since first broadcast so my memory might be hazy, but I believe it's unique in the way it sets up a standard, almost Pertwee Unit Era style 'strange goings on in an English Village' story and totally collapses that narrative. Can anyone recall another Sci-Fi/Fantasy plot where the twist ending was similar to 'Countrycide's'…

    MAJOR 'COUNTRYSIDE' SPOILER

    There was no 'alien' or 'outside' influence it was just the villagers liked being cannibals?

    Also Captain Jack literally demolishing the denouement in a bloody big tractor!

    Reply

  25. Matthew Blanchette
    July 29, 2013 @ 11:06 am

    "I should thank you, Phil, for educating me more deeply in televisual literacy through the Eruditorum, so that I can better perceive the narrative complexity of the show. I found I could never truly distinguish narrative from plot or character arc until your analyses taught me what it was."

    Surely it wasn't so bad as that?

    Reply

  26. Alan
    July 29, 2013 @ 11:09 am

    Just to play Devil's Advocate about Rapist Owen (because personally, I think he is a rapist but Devil's Advocacy can be fun):

    I have just rewatched "Everything Changes" and I think an argument can be made that he didn't rape anyone at all under any contemporary definition of that crime. If rape is broadly defined as sexual relations with someone without their consent (including minors who are legally too young to consent), then I think it is important to note that Owen didn't do anything to the couple directly. That is, he didn't spray a chemical on them or put something into their drinks or hit them with a sex-ray. Rather, he sprayed pheromones (or whatever) on himself to make him into someone that the man and woman each would happily consent to having sex with. Would it be rape if he'd used an alien device to make himself impossibly handsome? Or to cause people to intuitively believe that he was incredibly rich and/or famous? After all, we don't know anything about the workings of the alien spray other than the fact that it can immediately cause an onlooker to desire someone they'd previously found unattractive (and presumably overcome a straight male's natural lack of attraction to other men). You know, like Johnny Depp after the first Pirates movie came out.

    Reply

  27. George Potter
    July 29, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    Can anyone recall another Sci-Fi/Fantasy plot where the twist ending was similar to 'Countrycide's'…

    Supernatural Season 1, 'The Benders' written by John Shiban. Broadcast 2/06.

    Reply

  28. peeeeeeet
    July 29, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    I'm actually surprised Dr S didn't take this line, actually. I seem to remember – and apologies to her if I'm misremembering this – that Kate Orman put this case at the time.

    Reply

  29. peeeeeeet
    July 29, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

    Well, if the twist is that the biggest aliens are weird British yokels and their sinister old ways… does K-9 and Company count?

    (Also you could say every Scooby Doo ever, though I suppose since it's never really supernatural the wider context is different)

    Reply

  30. Chris
    July 29, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    I've never seen CSI or NCIS, so it may well be true that they don't show the detectives' private lives,but there are enough cop/detective shows where the detective's work clashes with their personal life that it's pretty much a cliche – Cracker, Prime Suspect and Between the Lines all did in the 90s. And in the first series of Spooks/MI5 a major plotline was the conflict between one character's work and his civilian girlfriend. So I'm not convinced Torchwood was revolutionary in this respect.

    Reply

  31. George Potter
    July 29, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    I'm pretty sure 'Countrycide' is (to be charitable) is inspired by the Supernatural episode I mention. I mean, both basically have the exact same friggin' denouement: when asked 'why?' (by female law enforcement officers) the leader of the clans say:

    (Countrycide): "Because it made me happy."

    (the Benders): "Because it's fun."

    The big difference is that in Supernatural the female protag puts a bullet through the freak's head. Oh, and the Supernatural episode is far better written, acted, directed and shot. 😉

    Reply

  32. George Potter
    July 29, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    Oh, and another fun fact: Davies later hired Shiban to write for [i]Miracle Day[/i].

    Reply

  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 29, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

    I think the timeline's a little too compressed for Countrycide to be directly influenced by Supernatural – The Benders didn't air in the UK until April of 2006. Torchwood started filming in May, and Countrycide would surely have gone through several drafts prior to The Benders even airing.

    Reply

  34. Pen Name Pending
    July 29, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    Sounds almost like The X-Files's "Our Town", though that one did have something supernatural in the sense someone had lived 100 years.

    Reply

  35. William Silvia
    July 29, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

    Interesting… the way you describe Torchwood, it's EXACTLY what the Rose era of Doctor Who is. Except, you know, with the sex happening onscreen instead of between episodes prior to telling one another that it was fantastic.

    Reply

  36. Daru
    July 29, 2013 @ 10:28 pm

    I really love Countrycide too.

    Reply

  37. Garth Simmons
    July 30, 2013 @ 2:12 am

    If you haven't seen it yet but want to best not to read this as SPOILERS………………

    Millienium had a very good balance between the domestic and the otherworldly as Frank Black became a member of what eventually turns out to be a ancient biblical cult obsessed millenial prophecy and the end of the world. This totally takes over his life gradually alienates him from his wife and daughter and leading to a really distressing ending to season two. Its a fairly thought provoking series and much better in terms of it's overarching story arc than it's mothership show The X Files. Season 3 kind of loses the plot a little but has a great conclusion so that was kind of worth it too.

    Reply

  38. That Guy
    July 30, 2013 @ 3:17 am

    It's pretty standard for, though, in those works for the domestic sphere to dry up, disappear or get increasingly hostile through the course of the series. And that never really happened with Torchwood – Rhys is never really a full level member of Torchwood, and his domestic support remains invaluable throughout the series.

    Reply

  39. Darren K.
    July 30, 2013 @ 5:47 am

    Late for the Countryside party, but it might be my favourite episode, if I squint hard enough. I certainly remember it being one of the handful of "good ones".

    Reply

  40. storiteller
    July 30, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

    It actually reminded me more of the X-Files episode Home, which was so controversial that Fox refused to play it in repeats. But it was definitely "creepy rural people doing awful things for no supernatural reason." (Although no cannibalism.) Also, for those who like the X-Files, Shaenon Garrity's Monster of the Week combined comics with hilarious critique: http://www.shaenon.com/monsteroftheweek/?p=347

    Reply

  41. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    July 31, 2013 @ 4:24 am

    I think Countryside is a model the Sarah Jane Adventures could have used – I don't mean the 'eating people' thing, but a resolution that sometimes it isn't aliens. BEcause Sarah Jane eventually became that one image meme "I'm not saying it's aliens, but…" and it always was. Ghosts? Aliens. The mail is late? Aliens. Her column not formatting properly? Aliens.

    Reply

  42. Kate Orman
    August 24, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    It would be more accurate to say that I racked my brains (and the brains of others) for some convincingly SFnal explanation of how the spray could work that made it consensual and not some sort of mind control. And never found it, alas. 🙁

    (I can imagine a neat "Twilight Zone" sort of story in which someone thinks they have a spray which will make them irresistable, only to get the desired person because the spray makes them a better person. "Groundhog Day" in a can. However, that is not this story.)

    Reply

  43. Jesse Butler
    October 11, 2013 @ 9:52 am

    I'm catching up on the blog after a long absence. I'm somewhat surprised that this post comes after Pacific Rim's release, and nobody mentioned in response to "Burn Gorman is absolutely phenomenal in this part" that he's fantastic in Pacific Rim. He's not even a headline character, but his "B-Plot" helps make the movie rise up above just being mechs fighting giant monsters.

    Reply

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