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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.


  1. Ross
    January 15, 2014 @ 2:28 am

    Decades after The Hand of Fear, she has no living family, no romantic attachments, no friends, a job that exists only to justify starting a plot

    Anyone else thinking of "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith" now? The Trickster tried to get Sarah Jane hitched by turning a dude into a Doctor Who companion for her.


  2. Seeing_I
    January 15, 2014 @ 4:03 am

    Decades after The Hand of Fear, she has no living family, no romantic attachments, no friends, a job that exists only to justify starting a plot

    I KNOW. Brendan was robbed!!!!!!


  3. liminalD
    January 15, 2014 @ 6:49 am

    I'm a 34 year old man and I love The Sarah Jane Adventures but I was never very fond of this one, and yet I couldn't quite articulate why. I quite like the other two Trickster stories in the series, but this one just rang false to me for some reason. But I think you've laid it out for me here… I never felt that Sarah Jane was suited for a tragic emotional backstory, she always seemed to me to be one of the most well-adjusted and level-headed Doctor Who companions, and so the insertion of the sorts of childhood traumas this story and the previous Trickster story introduce just doesn't feel right to me.

    As always, great article, awesome blog 🙂


  4. Galadriel
    January 15, 2014 @ 7:25 am

    Sarah Jane not so much making a foolish decision to change the past but rather making a series of small decisions, each time edging a little bit closer to the big one, but never without a sensible reason.

    That sentence finally clarifies why I prefer this story to Father's Day. Rose jumps into a situation, despite being warned. Sarah tries to warn herself, but there's no one moment where the audience goes "what an idiot!"

    And I liked the police box joke. My response was "So policemen did come in boxes!" I thought people just went to the boxes to call policemen, like a phone booth.


  5. Ross
    January 15, 2014 @ 7:37 am

    It's a bit more complicated than that for me. For me, Father's Day works because I can believe "Even though she knows it's wrong, come on, it's her dad and he's about to die and she can save him. Of course she'd do it, who wouldn't?"

    In that sense, The Temptation of Sarah Jane feels a bit contrived: why does Sarah need to justify this? They're her parents. Of course she should try to save them, causality be damned.

    But the reason this episode has to be this way is because this isn't Sarah Jane Smith the Doctor Who companion: it's Sarah Jane Smith the nominal star of The Sarah Jane Adventures — in this show, she has to be Above All That.


  6. Froborr
    January 15, 2014 @ 8:39 am

    This is a tricky thing to do well – as we’ve previously observed, the “changing history is wrong” plot runs into significant trouble due to the fact that all morality surrounding it is necessarily invented wholesale for the plot, as the actual nature of changing history is unknown to us.

    I'd add–which I believe is an issue with this type of plot you've covered as well–that all of us change history every day, and to declare changing history to be wrong is to endorse the status quo.


  7. Froborr
    January 15, 2014 @ 8:47 am

    "Even though she knows it's wrong, come on, it's her dad and he's about to die and she can save him. Of course she'd do it, who wouldn't?"

    slowly raises hand

    I love my dad very much, and it took me years of struggle to come to terms with the fact that my life is materially better for him having died 19 years ago than it would have been had he lived. I miss him tremendously, and if there were any way to have both him AND the positive developments that occurred as a direct consequence of his death I would take it in a heartbeat, but I know that's impossible. More importantly, I know this is the way he would have wanted it.

    Some day I will write the story that fictionalizes all this, the flipside of "Father's Day." I even know what I'd title it: "Untitled Story about Time Travel and Fairies."


  8. BerserkRL
    January 15, 2014 @ 11:03 am

    Why isn't that an argument by equivocation?


  9. BerserkRL
    January 15, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    One of his great innovations in Doctor Who was the injection of more emotional content. But The Sarah Jane Adventures is the show that his usual tricks work worst in.

    I think the next three seasons may challenge that claim.


  10. elvwood
    January 15, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

    One of the things we enjoyed about the episode was that we already had a couple of the devices that SJS used with the time window! They were reading lights, and we'd been given them as gifts. We've not managed to mess about with time using them, unfortunately.


  11. Daru
    January 15, 2014 @ 11:12 pm

    Interesting that you pick up on the idea of emotion content being an issue within Sarah's character in this episode. That may explain why this one did not leave much of a lasting impact on me, or that I do not feel that inclined to visit it again.

    As for issues with a time travel story, I don't mind that much, as it as much as an unknown as it changing history.


  12. Froborr
    January 16, 2014 @ 3:33 am

    Because the method by which we change future history is not substantively different from the method by which the time traveler changes past history, so any moral argument regarding the latter is applicable to the former.


  13. Josiah Rowe
    January 16, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

    I have that reading light too, and was very amused to see it used as a sci-fi gadget!


  14. Theonlyspiral
    January 17, 2014 @ 6:36 am

    I disagree. The injection of emotional content unquestionably has turned Doctor Who into the creative and critical juggernaut it is currently. And not to beat a dead horse, but the show has never been better than series 7.


  15. Theonlyspiral
    January 17, 2014 @ 6:37 am

    You have to admit however Froborr, you're a bit of an outlier here.


  16. Ross
    January 17, 2014 @ 6:53 am


    The second half of season 7 they didn't bother doing stories, just 45 minute long movie trailers. Even in the darkest days of Colin Baker's era, they actually bothered to include a coherent plot and story rather than just doing a quick montage to say "Here's what it might have looked like if we'd told you a complete story"


  17. Theonlyspiral
    January 17, 2014 @ 8:33 am

    The only story there that would have been improved by more time is "Rings of Akaten". Maybe "Name of the Doctor" if you're a pedant that really needs to see how the Doctor and Clara get out the Time Stream. I honestly don't know what get's added to "Bells of Saint John", "Cold War", "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS", "Nightmare in Silver". "Hide" is masterfully paced. Absolutely Masterfully.

    Season 7 guts the padding. It's the logical end point of Buffy style acceleration which is to cram your episode full. And I think it works. I don't need a scene of the Doctor escaping a cell and getting recaptured in "Cold War", nor do we need to see the Doctor come up with a failed device in "Hide". It doesn't go anywhere, it doesn't make the story any better.

    Now this isn't to say there is no value in two parters or taking your time. But Series 7 is a non-stop thrill ride and the series has never been better.


  18. Ross
    January 17, 2014 @ 9:40 am

    They don't just "gut the padding" and it's not "pedantic" to want some godsdamned explanation for how they go from "No, please my love, save her but not like this because if you jump in there you will be absolutely gone forever no change of escape no matter what no way no how don't do it no no no" to "Never mind; that episode's over, reset to status quo ante bellum"


  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 17, 2014 @ 9:44 am

    To be fair, the danger appeared to be in heading into the wound. The fact that he retained his coherence and identity, rescued Clara, and appeared to be set to be leaving seems to resolve it. I mean, at the end of Name of the Doctor the Doctor does not appear terribly worried about getting out. Once he's rescued Clara, he seems to be fairly confident, saying "let's get back" like it's nothing.

    So I don't think given where that episode ends that the escape is actually terribly worrisome. The danger seems to be that entering the wound fragments you through space and time, not that it's hard to leave. The entire final scene seems to treat leaving as not a big deal.


  20. Theonlyspiral
    January 17, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    Can you tell me what you'd add to "Hide"? or "Cold War"? Scenes of the Doctor wandering around, captures and releases or failed solutions? Padding. Pure and simple.

    Doctor Sandifer hits it on the head here with the escape scene, but I'll go structurally. What does that scene add to the episode? What does a scene of jargon or technobabble or expensive CG add to the ending of "The Name of the Doctor"? All it would do is rob the ending reveal of it's strength. We could add it to the start of "The Day of the Doctor", but that episode is Jam PACKED with content. It's really not up to the scale of the epic there. There just doesn't seem to be any good reason to see that scene.


  21. BerserkRL
    January 17, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    Was Theonlyspiral's "I disagree" intended to be in response to my post?

    If so, let me clarify: By "The next three seasons may challenge that claim" I did not mean "The next three seasons of Doctor Who may challenge the claim that one of RTD's great innovations in Doctor Who was the injection of more emotional content." I meant "The next three seasons of SJA may challenge the claim that SJA is the show that his usual tricks work worst in." I wasn't criticising the inclusion of emotional content; quite the contrary.


  22. BerserkRL
    January 17, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

    the method by which we change future history is not substantively different from the method by which the time traveler changes past history

    There's no substantive difference between a method of changing history that involves wiping out billions of lives that already exist and one that doesn't?


  23. Ross
    January 17, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    Cold War is close to properly paced. Its major failing is that we spend approximately thirty seconds out of the entire episode actually having the ice warrior do anything threatening. Like the worst of the Saward era, it seems to think that it's good enough just to say "It's these guys from decades ago back again! Name Recognition!"

    This is the core of my problem with season 7: it relies almost entirely on telling us about how threatening things are. We're told that the ice warrior is legendary, and we're told that he's desperate and dangerous, but the middle part of the story is clearly meant to be Alien only without the alien actually disembowling anyone. And do youi really want to sit there and tell me that it wouldn't have benefitted from giving David Warner more to do?

    Hide is even worse. We get a few moments of "Look how scary this is!" followed by everythign being easily solved. The TARDIS insists that hopping universes will kill it, but, y'know, then just do it and it's really easy. So easy that they go back and do it again later. We've gone at least as far as Charmed levels of "makes it easy", if not all the way to Stephen Rattliff. (Of the "Every romulan ship ever is attacking. No problem, mary sue is so good she'll just blow up everysingle one of them with a stern look and a couple of bricks. And then she did with no casualties or even moments of tension") All season, over and over again, it's "Oh no, an insurmountable threat so big and scary that there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY OUT. Just kidding, the solution is so trivial I won't even bother showing it to you." (I'll exempt Crimson Horror from this. That one felt like it had a whole plot.).

    It seems like the half-season was writtewn by someone who read Marville and took it to heart: everything screams "Pay no attention to the story! The story doesn't matter! Just love these wacky characters!"


  24. Ross
    January 17, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    Also, I object to your repeated pretending that the thing I am claiming to be missing is "padding".

    Take Day of the Doctor. The Big Reveal on which the Name of the Doctor cliffhanger hinged was the fact that there was one secret Doctor who'd "broken the promise". That sounds interesting. What could he have done?

    Turns out it's just "fought in the time war. Fought in it the exact same way The Doctor does everything." For all they talk about the promise of THE NAME, do we ever see the War Doctor act "Cruel or cowardly"? Do we ever see him revel in destruction? Hell, do we even see him act the "warrior" as much as in the very next story we'd see Matt Smith's Doctor? Nope. We see him fly his TARDIS into some Daleks. We see the Man Who Never Would pick up a gun and… Carve a vague threat into a wall. We're told that he "broke the promise", that he was a "warrior", that the Doctor refused to acknowledge the terrible things he'd done in that life… But we see him… Not actually participate in a battle and (not quite) perform one act that he's never rejected his culpability for.


  25. Theonlyspiral
    January 17, 2014 @ 10:21 pm

    @BerzerkRL: I completely misunderstood. I assumed you meant the emotional content in Who related shows overall. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Ross: In "Cold War" Sardak kills some Russians and arms the nuclear arsenal, threatening WW3. I feel like that's pretty threatening. Also the point is that he's not a monster; he's a sentient being, with his own code of conduct, so the resolution doesn't come off hollow. Quite the opposite of Saward; rather than the Doctor wishing there was a better way, there actually is. "Hide" is brilliant; the Doctor solves the wrong plot, realizes he's got different rules and some more run time and fixes it. Maybe it should have been rougher on the TARDIS to switch dimensions but it almost kills Emma to keep the door open. That's about on par for what it usually takes,

    In terms of threats that are considered "insurmountable" we've got the God-Parasite, and the GI in the season finale. God-Parasite gets wiped out by Clara and her very human life, which seems perfectly satisfactory considering a running theme of the new-series seems to be that a key part of the Doctor's alieness is his very different emotional connection compared to the human average. As for the GI…of course he's built up and then is kind of bunk. The entire episode is a prologue for the two that follow (The So-Called "Doctor Trilogy"). Of course his threat is bunk; it's a shell game so you don't realize that we're sorting out Clara's mystery so she doesn't overshadow the 50th. The rest of the threats are very standard and the stories treat them as such.

    Now when it comes to the reveal, I think there is an implication that the War Doctor has committed some pretty dark acts; he's gotten to the point that he considers a double genocide the best thing he can do. Moffat's Who requires you to connect some dots. Not everything is spelled out, which is a problem for some people, but I digress. To go from any Doctor to an omnicidal, judge is pretty freaking far to fall. Murdering billions of innocent children, extinguishing untold life, erasing two entire cultures…seems both cruel and cowardly. He gives up, he gives in (the other part of he promise) and is willing to take innocent life with the guilty…if that's not darker than what we've seen from our Doctors before, I don't want to see your version of a Dark Doctor. He takes responsibility for it, but only because there is no one in the universe who can make him answer for what he's done.

    I think the details you feel are missing are unimportant and trivial; the stories we have are just not any better with them. I am not pretending that they are padding; I honestly feel they are unimportant and not required for a full enjoyment of the story.

    I am not saying these things hyperbolically or to get a reaction; I honestly believe, right down to my core, that Doctor Who has never had a better season. If that belief causes you personal offence then I apologize. It's not my intention. This whole conversation started because I misunderstood BerzerkRL.


  26. Ross
    January 17, 2014 @ 11:04 pm

    Moffat's Who requires you to connect some dots. Not everything is spelled out, which is a problem for some people, but I digress.

    Could you please stop arguing from a position of "The reason you don;'t like it is that you're stupid"?

    Moffat doesn't require you to "connect the dots"; the dots don't go anywhere and he just wants to laugh at you for thinking it was about the dots when really he just wants you to love his quirky characters.

    The eleventh Doctor orders the deaths of everyone in the cloud, he murders the pirate on the Silurian ship, and he singlehandedly fights a centuries long war, but the War Doctor is the one who did some 'pretty dark acts'? No. I saw zero evidence of these alleged "dark acts". We knew all along that the Doctor deliberately wiped out gallifrey, that it wasn't an accident, that he chose to do it to stop Rassilon and the Daleks from destroying the universe. There is absolutely nothing about the "War Doctor" that wasn't already established as stuff the Doctor doesn't hide out of shame or deny, except that "I kinda looked like that rather good actor who was inexplicably in that shitty interactive DVD game about psychotherapy"

    Everything Moffat did over the course of the season was designed to systematically take everything from the preceeding seasons and then go "Actually forget that; it's not important." Moffat isn't telling stories; he's just randomly throwing scenes at the screen as a cheap trick to generate emotions. And it doesn't work not because I'm a pedant or can't "connect the dots", but because when it is so blatantly clear that "Oh it was the crack the Doctor saw in room 11" was a retcon, that the Doctor being out of regenerations was absolutely 100% not the case in season 6, when the Doctor tells an outright lie right between two scenes that hinge on the fact that he can't lie, when five minutes of 'Time of the Doctor' show a "war doctor" twice as convincing as John Hurt's "Exactly the Doctor in every way, doing what he has to do in a terrible situation", then it ruins the emotional connection because all I see is that I'm being manipulated.

    You can't just have characters march on-stage and shout they're feeling at the audience. I feel anger at this!

    I have spent decades defending this show. Explaining why continuity "errors" don't matter or why what seems like a deus ex machina isn't or how everything works with everything else, and it is driving me crazy now that everyone seems to have drunk the kool-aid and is convinced that Moffat is some kind of genius when he's clearly writing these stories with some kind of roulette wheel.

    He's taken this whole "The Doctor Lies" thing so far that how am I supposed to invest emotionally in a show where the solution is always "Nevermind. Changing the rules now." — and that's what it is. Maybe Doctor Who is the show that can "be anything", but Moffat's made it into the show that isn't anything: next week he could decide that "Oh, now the Doctor isn't a time lord at all but a big city lawyer who falls in love with a member of the janitorial staff. And then next week he's a slasher-movie killer! No rules ever! Whee!"


  27. Triturus
    January 18, 2014 @ 6:34 am

    it is driving me crazy now that everyone seems to have drunk the kool-aid and is convinced that Moffat is some kind of genius when he's clearly writing these stories with some kind of roulette wheel.

    Isn't that getting close to a position of "the reason you like it is that you're stupid", i.e. the same you were accusing Theonlyspiral of?

    I like season 7 a lot, and it's not because I've "drunk the kool-aid". I've read all your criticisms above and I just don't see them as valid. That's fine, we're all allowed different opinions, and it isn't about who has been eating the stronger brand of stupid pills.


  28. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 18, 2014 @ 7:10 am

    "Moffat doesn't require you to "connect the dots"; the dots don't go anywhere and he just wants to laugh at you for thinking it was about the dots when really he just wants you to love his quirky characters. "

    This is self-evidently untrue. The assumption that Moffat is writing stories with some sort of active malice and desire to laugh at people he's cruelly and deliberately mocking is not a hypothesis worth taking seriously.

    It is true that in Doctor Who (much like Sherlock) the mechanics of how to solve a given puzzle are not generally the focus. This is not a surprise – as Poe pointed out when inventing the detective story, "where is the ingenuity of unravelling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unravelling?" Which is not to say that "solve this puzzle I've created to be solved" is unworkable as a story structure, but that there's something valid in deciding that the tension of that is largely immaterial.

    In both Doctor Who and Sherlock, what matters is not the solutions to the puzzles, but the consequences and implications of solving them. The fact that every puzzle will eventually be solved is taken for granted. And instead we get stories about the people who solve them. In Sherlock we get a story that's basically superheroes told with emotional realism but without the deconstructive urges of Marvelman or Watchmen.

    In Doctor Who we get a story about living in the same world as a madman with a magical box.


  29. David Anderson
    January 18, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    Certainly the coda of Hide is a bit perfunctory given the sense of crisis of the previous visit to the pocket dimension. Is that enough of a flaw to outweigh the merits of everything else in the episode? I don't understand the set of scales being used to weigh them if so. Nightmare in Silver has a couple of plotholes that are genuinely problematic (the important one could largely be filled by a scene between Clara and Porridge). I'm curious as to why Crimson Horror gets a pass – the leech gets a big sell as the ancient enemy of the Silurians that goes nowhere, and the plot is little more than a homage to one of the least coherent Bond movies. For that matter, I'm curious as to why the Davies-era and the classic series are getting passes here. The Davies-era is regularly far worse. Pyramids of Mars suddenly gives up on making sense five minutes into the last episode.


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