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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.

32 Comments

  1. Anton B
    March 6, 2014 @ 1:41 am

    Is there not the redemptive possibility that RTD is allowing his child viewers to question the assumption that the hero in fiction is always right? Again, I haven't watched this episode and from your description am rather glad I haven't but if we take this as part of the narrative collapse being perpetrated on the Whoniverse, first in Children of Earth with Captain Jack's questionable ethical choice leading to infanticide and soon with the tenth Doctor's hubris leading to not only the return of the Master and the Time Lords but a regeneration that nearly destroys the TARDIS and causes a new fairy tale paradigm to become dominant, the lovely Sarah Jane rejecting the other and demonizing the alien is about as final a collapse as you can get. I like to think at least a few kids watching, particularly in a multi-cultural UK made up of so many 'others' (of race, ability and gender) just shouted 'No' at the screen and went off to write thier own life stories.

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  2. Alex Antonijevic
    March 6, 2014 @ 1:45 am

    I didn't find it offensive or xenophobic because my brain is not usually in critical thought mode when I watch this sort of stuff, but I do feel that it is incredibly lazy and unoriginal, and is what everyone expects. The show could have been brave and had the central conflict of the episode purely be tension that turns out to be unjustified.

    But I know the format of the show requires action and a villain or monster to be fought.

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  3. David Anderson
    March 6, 2014 @ 2:07 am

    The idea that the Slitheen aren't an evil race but are evil people was always paper-thin anyway. The plot of Aliens of London/ World War Three would have been exactly the same without those couple of lines. There's little to no effort put into differentiating the Slitheen in terms of personality traits. If someone were to ask a question during those couple of lines you'd never notice you'd missed anything. The idea that the Slitheen aren't a race does a bit more work in Boom Town, but even there the Raxacoricofallapatorian government could be replaced by the Shadow Proclamation with little inconvenience.
    That doesn't make the 'are the obviously evil aliens who are pretending to be nice really evil?' plot any better, but it's not as if they did it with the Silurians.

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  4. Andre Salles
    March 6, 2014 @ 2:20 am

    Let's not forget as well that the lesson of the Slitheen is that all fat people are monsters. That's hideous in and of itself. Of every horrid thing Russell T. Davies has inflicted on this little corner of the universe, I think the Slitheen are his most odious creations.

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  5. Ross
    March 6, 2014 @ 2:22 am

    You know, while everything you say about The Gift is true, it seems strange not to mention that none of this actually matters to the story, because the whole totality of this story is just set-up for the punchline "But when it's Luke being threatened directly, Sarah Jane goes all Ellen Ripley, picks up a Big Alien Gun and storms off to actually shoot the bad guys for once. It's her version of climax of Dalek and the climax of The Doctor's Daughter and the second scene of Day of the Doctor, and the actual point of all the xenophobic garbage is really just to set the audience up with the fake "Will she actually pull the trigger? Will she cross that line?" dilemma that would be a legitimate moment of tension if the audience hadn't actually watched any television before in their lives.

    Not that it makes this story any better (I mean, they hit the hilariously low bar of "Best outing the Raxicoricofalloipatorians have had", okay.), but it's strange to not address the actual crux of the episode at all.

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  6. elvwood
    March 6, 2014 @ 2:40 am

    I'm half with you. I'm not really in critical mode either when first watching, and never felt the urge to watch this one again. However, the contrast of the rhetoric regarding nice aliens with the content of the program made me sit up and say, "hang on a minute – where are all these nice aliens?" – and that discomfort stayed with me for the rest of SJA's run.

    There had to be a threat, of course; but I remember at one point I was really hoping that the blathereen had been duped by someone.else. As it turned out, though…bleh.

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  7. Lewis Christian
    March 6, 2014 @ 2:53 am

    Rubbish.

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  8. jane
    March 6, 2014 @ 4:06 am

    "If we cannot bring ourselves to kill our own grandchildren, then, perhaps we can bring ourselves to kill our own childhoods. To wage war on them, rewrite them, reclaim some self from the wreckage."

    Memories. You're talking about memories. They're implants. Those aren't your memories, they're somebody else's.

    I don't blame my mother. Not her fault I paint myself blue. She did her best to keep the color out of house and home, but you can't conceal the sky. Still, I have to say, it was a good thing my eyes are brown. But that will change. It has to.

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  9. J Mairs
    March 6, 2014 @ 5:23 am

    "We could even take inspiration from the third-season finale of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Mona Lisa's Revenge, and embrace the possibility of becoming art and story ourselves."

    So… what you're saying is… we're all stories in the end? 😉

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  10. Theonlyspiral
    March 6, 2014 @ 6:47 am

    Which part?

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  11. Bennett
    March 6, 2014 @ 6:51 am

    I don't know if the lesson is that 'all fat people are monsters' was intended, but the Slitheen's additional traits of being childish, gassy, selfish, greedy materialists makes it troublesome. Not to mention that the weight of the politicians and policemen is played up as part of a joke, even though every single one we see has been murdered, skinned and vilely desecrated.

    Combined with Partners in Crime, and the lack of any sympathetic obese characters (the Duke of Manhattan…maybe?), it makes me wonder whether the "fat politics" of the Davies era are worth examining, or if it's just another one of those things us obsessives read into a text that isn't there.

    In either case, it still gives me one more reason to love The Wedding of River Song which manages to fit two obese characters into its plot, and give both a major role and substantial dialogue that wasn't dictated by their size (though admittedly, one of them had lost a considerable amount of weight since his last appearance).

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  12. Bennett
    March 6, 2014 @ 6:54 am

    Oh…but I should pull you up on that last sentence, and add that I in no way feel "inflicted" by Davies' writing, and remain grateful for and appreciative of his tenure. Hell, when Moffat steps down I'd be more than happy for Davies to have another go (though I think Davies himself might have other thoughts on that matter).

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  13. Theonlyspiral
    March 6, 2014 @ 7:05 am

    I think it's possibly the emptiest version of the "crossing the line" moment I can recall. I'm more worried about Batman than I am about Sarah Jane, which says how ridiculous the proposition is.

    I can see why Doctor Sandifer would not want to engage with the episode at all given his very strong feelings on xenophobia and racism in Who and related works. If he engages with it, he grants it a level of legitimacy that he's uncomfortable with given it's connotations. See Also: The Celestial Toymaker

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  14. eternaly relyneat
    March 6, 2014 @ 8:26 am

    A masterful post, you've really made my day!

    Although, to my horror, upon first viewing I read The Unquiet Dead the same way Miles did and it really worried me. It's not THAT buried of a subtext and I was, and am, abhorred at people's reaction to Miles calling it out.

    At any rate, now I guess now I'll have to pop my Obverse cherry and pick up A Romance in Twelve Parts…

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  15. Daibhid C
    March 6, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. Daibhid C
    March 6, 2014 @ 8:55 am

    I remember watching this. I remember having distinctly mixed feelings at the revelation the Blathereen were the bad guys; on the one hand, where are the nice aliens, but on the other, at least the idea that Raxicoraphalipatorians could be neatly classified by family seemed to be getting kicked into touch.

    And then they pulled the "Oh, but they're Slitheen really" and I think I actually groaned aloud.

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  17. Daibhid C
    March 6, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    As I recall (and I could be mistaken) the reaction wasn't so much of Miles pointing it out, as of Miles assuming it was meant to be there and therefore Mark Gatiss is racist, rather than Gatiss writing a scene without thinking through its implications.

    I know, I know, (lack of) intent isn't magic. But by the same token, you can't base a criticism on an intent that you don't actually know is there. I believe Miles actually rewrote his piece, and I can't see him bowing to internet pressure unless he thought they had a point. (But I could be wrong; I have no insight into what he thinks…)

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  18. Andre Salles
    March 6, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    The only sympathetic obese characters I can think of are the couple from Voyage of the Damned. And of course, they both die.

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  19. Chicanery
    March 6, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    Miles did rewrite after admitting he was overly harsh and overly drunk.

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  20. encyclops
    March 6, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    But by the same token, you can't base a criticism on an intent that you don't actually know is there.

    That's a nice thought, but it invalidates a frightening number of essays on this blog if it's true.

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  21. Bennett
    March 6, 2014 @ 10:18 am

    How did I forget about Voyage of the Damned? (And more importantly, how can I forget about it again?)

    I don't think the fact that they died is too significant, given that they're in a disaster movie. That they tick so many stereotypes, and that so many of their plot functions revolve around their weight, may be. (And I think it's fair to say that their deaths, as well as the death of the red midget, would never have been played the same way as Kylie Minogue's was.)

    But they were clearly flagged as sympathetic, so that does run counter to my point.

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  22. liminal fruitbat
    March 6, 2014 @ 10:43 am

    And even when sympathetic they're still comedy fat people like the disguised Slitheen and the Abzorbaloff and the victims of the Adipose gestation.

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  23. liminal fruitbat
    March 6, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    However, the contrast of the rhetoric regarding nice aliens with the content of the program made me sit up and say, "hang on a minute – where are all these nice aliens?" – and that discomfort stayed with me for the rest of SJA's run.

    See also the wondrous future of The End of the World compared to every future/space story until Akhaten.

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  24. Adam Riggio
    March 6, 2014 @ 10:58 am

    "Why not be colonized by weirdness. Why not abandon ourselves to the pleasures of the text so completely and hedonistically that there is no more human, only the everlasting strangeness of what was called the alien, back when there was still a barrier between us and them to maintain. It is, after all, a simple move – a case of taking the pleasures of the text more seriously than the text itself does."

    Essentially, this would be Davies' conception of a utopia, the overcoming of one's own identity to become something other than what was. It ties in to the nature of Jack's pansexuality (and the implied pansexuality of most humans by the 51st century) that we saw in The Doctor Dances, the visions of humanity progressing through the stars by radical bodily modification and interspecies marriage and breeding (essentially taking the principle of Spock's lineage to its limit) that are spread in stories all over the Davies era. Really, Jack Harkness would embody the utopian vision of Davies in a single character: he's the pansexual man who gives up the conservative definition of humanity in reproductive futurism through the brutal exorcism of killing his own grandson, and eventually radically transforms himself in however many imaginable ways to become the Face of Boe.

    In Children of Earth, we saw the most terrifying articulation of this utopia of constant total transformation. With what we saw of Jack's biography of Doctor Who, we see a more hopeful version of that. And Phil's collision of Faction Paradox's appropriation of marginal SJA characters with this, probably the worst and dumbest SJA episode, constitutes a more hopeful version of that utopia than Davies every managed himself on television.

    Nice work.

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  25. Josh Marsfelder
    March 6, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

    I have to say I approve mightily of this.

    The last 3-4 paragraphs were brilliant. Could be used for my blog just as easily.

    Wish I had more to add than that.

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  26. Josh Marsfelder
    March 6, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    I, of course, dig your mention of Spock, Adam. And agree.

    I have more to add, but I'm keeping my cards close to my chest for the moment…

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  27. BerserkRL
    March 6, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

    Phil, do you have any comments on Rossgate? All I know about it is Gaiman's post and the two pieces he linked to; I know nothing about Ross's reputation apart from that.

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  28. Dave
    March 7, 2014 @ 1:59 am

    Shit, I've missed this sort of post. My favourite material is always that which is constructed around odd readings of objectively naff (or outright reprehensible, in this case) objects (still go back to read the NES post about Cabal from time to time). Something something qlippothic enlightenment, eh?

    Maybe it's my inner postmodernist crying out to be liberated from my (not-actually-)positivistic marxist epistemology.

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  29. Daibhid C
    March 7, 2014 @ 8:36 am

    I can't think of many – most of the entries that are critical of a story for racism etc, say something along the lines of "the writers probably aren't actively racist, they just made no effort not to be racist". The Dominators maybe, but that's not even subtext.

    Actually, what it might invalidate, now I think about it, is Phil's defence of The Unquiet Dead on the grounds that someone like Gatiss couldn't have meant to write anything like that. Which means my argument destroys its own point…

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  30. David Anderson
    March 7, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    I think it's not so much that Gatiss couldn't have meant to write that. I think it's that it's obvious from the story itself that Gatiss wasn't trying to draw the moral. (Or that if he was trying to have the audience draw the moral he was going out of his way to make it difficult.) Up until the betrayal all the signals are that the Doctor is doing the right thing, rather than that he's being unduly credulous. (The aliens don't put on shifty expressions when he's not looking; Rose loses the argument fair and square, and so on.) So what we get is reasonable trust betrayed rather than ill-judged credulity getting its come-uppance. That suggests that Gatiss does not intend the message that there's no such thing as reasonable trust when it comes to funny aliens.

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  31. encyclops
    March 7, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    I can't think of many – most of the entries that are critical of a story for racism etc, say something along the lines of "the writers probably aren't actively racist, they just made no effort not to be racist".

    Oh, sorry, Daibhid, I think I get what you mean now. In other words you can still argue "'The Unquiet Dead' is racist because it easily lends itself to an analogy with asylum seekers," but you can't argue "Gatiss himself is definitely a racist because how could he not intend this analogy with asylum seekers." Is that the idea?

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  32. Daibhid C
    March 8, 2014 @ 12:48 am

    @Anderson: Good point.

    @encyclops: That's it, yes.

    Reply

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