Eruditorum Press

Watch this space, you poor doomed motherfuckers

Skip to content

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.

38 Comments

  1. mx_mond
    February 27, 2018 @ 10:30 am

    The link to the Kickstarter seems to be broken.

    Reply

  2. Lambda
    February 27, 2018 @ 2:07 pm

    The main problem in general with building up a cliffhanger for two years and then declaring that it doesn’t actually matter would seem to be that the hype will alienate people who think it doesn’t matter, and then your resolution will alienate people who think it does. (Said in complete ignorance of the details.)

    Reply

    • Lee
      February 27, 2018 @ 7:24 pm

      Lambda makes a fascinating point.

      In my view, the episode suffered tremendously from their choice not to explain how Sherlock faked his own death. It’s something we saw again with Moffat in ‘Listen’ (though I know Gatiss wrote Sherlock too).

      It was unsettling to see people speculating so feverishly on a particular mystery only to shrug afterwards and say it doesn’t matter. It was as though such people had been tuned to the Archangel Network.

      (A parallel can easily be drawn with Rian Johnson and his work on The Last Jedi. Like Moffat, here was another writer who was awarded control of a massive science fiction franchise and cultural touchstone, a man both revered and despised, who had failed to answer certain questions after two years of audience speculation.)

      Declaring that such a mystery does not matter is rather dangerous because, as an audience, we tell ourselves that it does matter. It’s how we are able to engage with it.

      Are we apply their alternative to other stories? Perhaps we should have Poirot abandon a case halfway through a novel and claim to Hastings that “it doesn’t matter”? Or maybe let him solve the case but not explain it all to us.

      There’s also a wider issue here, which is Moffat’s well-known habit of beginning a mystery and either never resolving it satisfactorily or never resolving it at all.

      Now, I’m not a Moffat-hater (such a shame it is so common for his critics to say that so they are not dismissed as irrational and determined “haters”) but I am aware he constantly moves the goal posts. If it’s the nonsensible hybrid mystery, or Sherlock saying in The Abominable Bride that “it’s never twins” when it turns out to be a lookalike.

      Of course, by the time we know there is no resolution, we have already watched the thing – which is the purpose of the mystery in the first place. In that regard, maybe the effectiveness of the mystery is all that matters.

      The good thing, of course, is that such writing lowers the bar and other, better writing can soar above it.

      Reply

  3. mx_mond
    February 28, 2018 @ 8:41 am

    There is definitely a problem with people expecting the mystery in Moffat’s writing to be the point. I remember the video that was making rounds a few months ago about why Sherlock was crap; one of the main charges was that it’s a mystery show that doesn’t care about the mystery, but the author didn’t bother to pause and think about the underlying assumption and whether it might be false.

    My problem with The Empty Hearse was a bit different, and it was that I felt that there was no reconciliation between Sherlock and John, that Sherlock (and to an extent the series) completely dismissed John’s feelings.

    Reading the transcript of the episode now, I can sort of see what they were going for: allowing John to express his feelings (through violence, because that’s what men do), having Sherlock demonstrate his care for his friend by recongising his need for adventures and offering a renewal of their partnership – and implying that eventually, with Mary’s help, they’ll reconcile. The problem with that is that it’s so stereotypically masculine: emotions cannot be expressed in a straightforward way, but only couched as a joke or mediated through the shared hobby, and touch between two men can only be violent. Elementary might be more plain and boring and obvious, but I like how that Sherlock is forced to vocalise his thoughts and feelings in an open way. The subversive potential of that is neutralised to an extent, because Watson is a woman, but we still have a vision of a man who has to analyse and talk about his feelings in a more direct manner.

    Reply

    • mx_mond
      February 28, 2018 @ 11:55 am

      I forgot to mention the most awful moment of the episode, which is John being emotionally manipulated by Sherlock into expressing his affection for his friend and forgiving him in the face of their impending death, then being mocked for it.

      Reply

    • BeatnikLady
      February 28, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

      It is interesting (and a little disheartening) that Holmes and Watson are both interpreted in Sherlock as finding ‘the emotional stuff’ problematic or unimportant. My first experience of the characters onscreen was probably unusual, being a video of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Stevens, but there are certainly more options than some assume for how to present these two. I suppose the Moffat/Gatiss approach is meant to add ‘grit’ for a 2010s audience, but there are ways it feels regressive.

      Reply

  4. Przemek
    February 28, 2018 @ 9:44 am

    My main problem with Moffat’s “mystery doesn’t matter” approach is the simple question: why can’t we have both? There are plenty of writers who both explain their mysteries satisfyingly and don’t let them consume the other aspects of their work. Moffat certainly has the skills for it. So why deny your audience the simple pleasure of a good answer?

    Reply

    • biggerontheinside
      February 28, 2018 @ 11:53 am

      I think the point our host is making is that Moffat is saying that the pleasure of a definitive answer is less than the pleasure of coming up with your own theory

      Reply

      • Przemek
        February 28, 2018 @ 2:11 pm

        Perhaps for Moffat it is, and I can’t really blame him for following his instincts and beliefs. But I think a large portion of the audience (me included) doesn’t agree.

        Reply

    • Aylwin
      February 28, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

      I think the reason why is because “solutions to mysteries don’t matter, and wanting them is bad, because doing so prevents you from caring about people, er, somehow” is a central moral/aesthetic message of Sherlock and of Moffat’s whole body of work over the last half-dozen years, and raising and then deliberately frustrating audience expectations of a satisfying resolution is central to his means of communicating it. And it would surely be hard to put that point across to an audience effectively while also giving them a satisfyingly-resolved mystery, in much the same way that packaging anti-violence messages in enjoyably spectacular and exciting violence-based entertainment tends to be ineffective.

      Personally, I find it both unconvincing and rather trivial as a message. The gambit would have been a bit tiresome even if deployed only once, so using it repeatedly and at length seems a real waste of both Moffat’s talent and the audience’s good-faith willingness to take an interest in things presented to them as interesting, or as the foundation for something that will become interesting later on. But for what it’s worth, that agenda is a coherent reason for doing things this way.

      Reply

      • mx_mond
        February 28, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

        In addition to your astute observations about the ideological layer of Moffat’s way of resolving things (because I think they usually do tend to get resolved in some way or another), I would like to add that from a perspective focused on craft, Moffat resembles a showman who sets the table with exquisite tableware, then in one quick motion pulls the tablecloth from under it. The audience is supposed to marvel at the speed and lightness of the motion (and I still remember the awe I felt at the swift resolutions of cliffhangers such as the Doctor being locked inside the Pandorica or the standoff with Moriarty in The Great Game) – but at some point the trick loses its novelty and, since the set-up is very lengthy and elaborate, people wish for something more spectacular.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          February 28, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

          Thank you, you both make excellent points (and mx_mond’s simile is amazing!). So Moffat does indeed have an understandable reason for his way of resolving things – that’s good. I just seem to fundamentally disagree with him when it comes to the perceived source of narrative pleasure. Oh well, I guess there’s nothing that can be done about that. I still enjoy his work immensly.

          Reply

          • Aylwin
            February 28, 2018 @ 2:29 pm

            Yes, that’s pretty much where I am too.

          • Rob
            February 28, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

            We don’t know this was Moffat’s thinking, however. He could well have thought, “The fans will twist it around until they find a way to make me look good regardless.”

            The Pandorica escape, as mentioned by mxmond, was a paradox which was widely mocked, so hardly something to awe over.

            I think the truth is he’s either lazy or simply not as intelligent as his fans give him credit for. It’s fascinating, but I have repeatedly seen such people wrestle with their own problems with his work before taking solace in another fan’s justifications and concluding, with some relief, that Moffat was wise and clever and right all along. The commonalities between this and religion is worthy of an essay of its own.

          • Przemek
            March 1, 2018 @ 9:24 am

            You sound like a very cynical sort of man.

            For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the Pandorica solution. It was fun.

          • Rob
            March 1, 2018 @ 7:36 pm

            I’m sorry you feel that way, but there’s really no reason to be offended. Ironically, most of the time, I’m rhapsodizing enthusiastically about a whole load of things. Friends are always saying how I call almost everything the ‘best ever’.

            I’m just giving this the same depth of analysis as others here. I’m pointing out how sometimes we simply can’t face it when a show we like doesn’t deliver. I suppose it’s natural enough, as we can invest so much time and affection into it, but it can be uncomfortable and annoying.

            It’s all right not to like every word a writer writes. Let’s be strong and know our own minds and not be pressured into changing it just because we’re being critical and not conformist.

            I like some of Moffat’s work. I liked The Lying Detective and love, love, love Deep Breathe, but I’m not blind to his flaws (the problematic hybrid arc, for instance, or the entirety of The Final Problem, though I haven’t noticed his alleged sexism) and I don’t need to put a spin on those issues before I’m at peace with them.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            March 1, 2018 @ 7:48 pm

            idk, I think when you’ve started asserting that the only reason people like something is because of a cult-like mentality of deluding themselves you’ve kind of traded depth of analysis for intensity.

            (Also, you’ve never seen the sexism? I’m as ardent a defender of Moffat’s feminism as they come, but give me a break; the argument that he’s sexist is not hard to grasp.)

          • Rob
            March 1, 2018 @ 10:46 pm

            I’m not saying that is why we like the show, just that certain plot points, every once and a while, give us difficulty and we try to remedy that because – well, such difficulties can spoil the fun, and there’s no fun in feeling a show is shortchanging us. I try, however, to accept it for it is and not try to see something which isn’t there.

            As for Moffat’s sexism, of course I see that most of his female characters are dominant and sexually assertive, and that Clara is a Mary-Sue, but I just figured he couldn’t write for women. (Though that doesn’t get the Eleventh Doctor off the hook). It’s a hot topic and something I don’t try to dwell on too much. Plotting is more my area.

            I’m looking forward to the Deep Breath essay. I’m a huge fan of that episode (my favourite of that season after Mummy On the Orient Express, which was also incredible!).

          • Przemek
            March 2, 2018 @ 9:39 am

            Alright, sorry for the unfair categorization then. You do sound like a cynic in that first comment though, so it’s good that you’ve explained what you meant. Thanks.

            I don’t know if what you’re describing is “putting a spin” on things. This expression implies insincerity, deluding oneself and others in order to feel better. I don’t believe that’s the case. When confronted with an issue in the work one likes one can either search for a redemptive reading or conclude that the issue is real and inexcusable. As long as the redemptive reading isn’t too far-fetched I think it’s a perfectly valid way of interpreting said work. And since people generally prefer liking things to not liking things…

            In this case it all comes down to whether one assumes that Moffat is, as you put it, “either lazy or simply not as intelligent as his fans give him credit for” or that he deliberately crafted a story in a specific way to achieve a goal one may or may not agree with. I can’t think of a reason to assume the former.

          • Rob
            March 2, 2018 @ 10:05 am

            I agree it’s much better to like something, and it’s the option I’d like to choose. It’s why I’ve tried my best to like the new Star Trek movies.
            I was mainly playing devil’s advocate, as I’m pretty sure Moffat is one of the most talented writers working in genre television.

          • Aylwin
            March 2, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

            Well no, we never do really know what a writer’s thought-process is [insert standard Death of the Author discussion here]. But the circumstantial evidence that he was thinking along these lines seems overwhelming (assuming, as we probably may, that his thinking was a major influence on this story – as so often, we need to remind ourselves that he didn’t actually write the script, but still).

            As I said, this same “people not puzzles” message is stamped all over swathes of Moffat’s work from about 2012 onwards. It was the thesis statement of Doctor Who season 7, which finished airing eight months before this episode was broadcast, and was touched on again in Deep Breath, seven months later. It’s the moral that suffuses Sherlock from start to finish.

            So when we come to a story in which the same writer was to some substantial degree involved, which deliberately and explicitly refuses to give a definitive resolution to a much-touted narrative puzzle, and lampoons fannish hunger for a totally watertight and somehow fulfilling resolution to such a transparently trivial and artificial fictional conjuring trick… well, frankly, the idea that you can maintain that that aspect of this story was somehow totally unconnected to that wider context is what seems to me like fanciful fan fantasism. An irrationalisation, one might say.

            It’s a feature, not a bug. And as I’ve said, it’s not a feature I’m terribly keen on myself, especially in its repetitiveness, and Przemek and mx_mond have expressed similar reservations, so I’m a bit baffled at how acknowledging it is supposed to constitute “concluding, with some relief, that Moffat was wise and clever and right all along”. But it’s no accident.

          • Aylwin
            March 2, 2018 @ 12:29 pm

            Now, if you want an instance where Moffat and Gatiss genuinely seem to have have simply muffed up the resolution of a Sherlock end-of-series cliffhanger, either because they didn’t actually have a plan or because they abandoned it in favour of doing something else, I would direct your attention to what happened between series 3 and 4 (or between The Abominable Bride and series 4).

          • Rob
            March 2, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

            I agree completely on the ‘people not puzzle’ thing. I certainly enjoyed the “Am I a good man” arc and was excited about a darker, spikier doctor in general, really. Looking forward to Phil’s essays on that series.

            In my own posts, I was referring more to myself than anyone else, and my own uncertainties with it.

  5. Aylwin
    February 28, 2018 @ 1:13 pm

    Speaking as someone who generally has little time for Moffat’s oft-repeated “shame on you for expecting a proper answer to the question I encouraged you to take an interest in” routine, or for the school of thought that represents narrative consistency, credibility or completeness as somehow incompatible with emotional or thematic depth, this is one instance that I can’t manage to get worked up about.

    There was never going to be any definitive answer to the question “how did this man survive jumping from a tall building to his apparent death?” that would offer greater satisfaction or interest than “yes, I suppose that’s a way that could have been done”. It’s not that a coherent argument cannot be made that the refusal to declare any of the answers on offer to be What Really Fictionally Happened was a let-down. It’s just that if it was, it was a let-down from such a short distance above ground level that you’d hardly feel the bump.

    Reply

  6. Aylwin
    February 28, 2018 @ 2:15 pm

    To editorialise on my previous comment responding to your comment responding to the article’s discussion of this story’s commentary on the cultural tradition within which it participates, I think your correct observation that it is possible to do both at once does not amount to a reason why this story could not have achieved its aim by doing both, but it does amount to a reason why that aim is a bit silly.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      February 28, 2018 @ 2:19 pm

      Yeah, sounds about right. Good point.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        February 28, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

        Just to add a further unnecessary layer of meta-commentary to the comical self-deflation of the previous comment’s commentary on its own place in a chain of commentary by its failure to actually appear in that place, as you have discerned, this was meant as a comment on my previous comment responding to your comment.

        I am now going for a lie-down.

        Reply

  7. Kyle Edwards
    March 2, 2018 @ 5:04 am

    Since the conversation seems to be dominated by the lack of resolution regarding Sherlock’s “death,” I thought I might chip in my two cents. First, I think that whether it was a good idea to leave the issue unresolved or not should only be talked about on its terms, not as a reflection of Moffat-y storytelling in general. His mysteries are genuinely different, and the way he resolves them varies on a case-by-case basis. Propose a theory on how he resolves all his mysteries, sure, but I think it’s a simplistic engagement with his work. Secondly, now that we’re committed to focusing on The Empty Hearse only, I’ve a rhetorical question to ask: what should they have done? And I can hear the protest that “the writer should come up with it, not me,” but I counter that with saying that you already came up with it. A billion times over. That’s the paratext of Sherlock season 3. There’s really no interesting solution to the question; it’d just be a fanwanky “oh, that’s how it happened.” There’s nothing of significance to how Sherlock survives character-wise, and a character-based show shouldn’t have to waste screen time on an answer that would at best elicit an “oh. Huh.” And as to the idea that the show could be a satisfying mystery and a character-based show, sure. That doesn’t, however, mean that it must be. It chose to be a character-based show, and just because you wanted a mystery show doesn’t mean it has to bend around to do so. It’s fine to dislike Sherlock on the premise that the character-based storytelling isn’t interesting to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a failing not to put more emphasis on the mystery aspects. No one would argue with a straight face that Taxi Driver’s a shit rom-com, to take the example to the extreme. Refusal to engage with the show on its own terms is a failure of the audience, not of the show.

    Reply

    • mx_mond
      March 2, 2018 @ 7:09 am

      I’d add to that that in my opinion they absolutely did provide a solution to the mystery of Sherlock surviving for those who feel that’s important. Anderson’s solution is blatantly (to me at least) the one they came up with – probably when they were creating the cliffhanger – and the fact that they chose to frame it a bit ambiguously (coming from a character who’s unlikeable and at this point in the story perhaps unreliable) doesn’t change anything.

      Reply

    • Rob
      March 2, 2018 @ 9:39 am

      I think it could have resolved the mystery in a character way by having Sherlock explain it in a dismissive, perfunctory manner, such as mentioning it when getting some food out of the fridge. It would be an amusingly low-key way of revealing something that the audience was waiting for with baited breath.

      Reply

      • Rob
        March 2, 2018 @ 10:07 am

        Phil, is it possible to remove my picture in the above post please? I’ve always hated it 🙂 Thanks.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          March 2, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

          Alas, that’s out of my hands—it’s something you set, deliberately or accidentally, with a service called Gravatar at some point in the past, and our comment system just loads the image from there.

          Reply

    • Lambda
      March 2, 2018 @ 11:25 am

      If there’s no interesting answer to the question, my suggestion would be to not ask the question in the first place, and do something which can be made interesting instead.

      Just like, if the writers of the show think mysteries are unimportant in general, my suggestion would be to make a show which doesn’t have mysteries in it. Or, for instance, if Moffat (quite rightly) thinks the name of the Doctor doesn’t matter, my suggestion would be to not write an arc asking what the name of the Doctor is.

      Reply

      • mx_mond
        March 2, 2018 @ 11:37 am

        But it does matter. His name is a promise.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          March 2, 2018 @ 2:22 pm

          Yeah, I’d defend the “name of the Doctor” solution. It was pretty clever and it answered a more important question about the character. Not so much with some other Moffat’s answers (“The Wedding of River Song”, I’m looking at you).

          Having said that, I don’t remember having a problem with the cliffhanger resolution in “The Empty Hearse”. Maybe I just wasn’t that invested in the cliffhanger itself.

          Reply

      • biggerontheinside
        March 2, 2018 @ 9:44 pm

        But there are interesting answers to the question. It’s just more fun to let us speculate than to provide a “definitive” answer

        Reply

  8. David Anderson
    March 2, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

    I don’t think the series is simply saying that the cliffhanger doesn’t matter. After all, it runs through three possible resolutions. Running through possible resolutions without endorsing them is not the same as not running through any resolutions. You can’t fault Moffat for not coming up with a solution to his own; he came up with a solution. In fact, he came up with two.

    I said: three possible resolutions. The second one would not work as something broadcast as ‘the resolution’. However, the show refuses to reject it on those grounds. So the show isn’t merely saying that the resolution to a cliffhanger doesn’t matter, as asking us to consider why and how cliffhangers and their solutions matter to us.

    This is not to say that anything that replaces ‘what is the solution to this enigma’ with character based stuff is good. For example, when we get to Doctor Who the solution to the question, ‘why is the Doctor endorsing the monks’ rule,’ is indefensible.

    Reply

    • Rob
      March 2, 2018 @ 9:19 pm

      You make an excellent point.

      There’s three plausible resolutions, including a comedy one, which gets a good laugh to dispel the tension. I still remember the shock I felt when Derren Brown appeared 🙂

      It also sets things up for The Sign of Three, which could well be the best episode of the show (or even any BBC drama that year), with the speech conceit as its core keeping everything tight and fast. It even allows the character to control his own show from within it.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.