A workers state with executive dysfunction

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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
    June 21, 2013 @ 2:43 am

    There’s also, it’s very important to realize, a matter of learning to write in a structure or style. Neil Gaiman has commented that looking through his early work he noticed that it was years before he actually had anything that sounded like his own work instead of like imitations of other people. The comics artist Neal Adams argues, not unreasonably, that an artist’s “style” is just the mistakes they never stop making – in other words, the things that stick out as they imitate other artists. Heck, I notice it in myself. Jill and I were on our way back from seeing Iron Man 3 a few weeks ago, and she commented that I was particularly manic, and I thought, “well, yes, I’ve just spent two hours listening to Robert Downey Jr. Dialogue, what do you expect?” The writing style of TARDIS Eruditorum changed when I started reading About Time a lot alongside the episodes, and it’s changing again implicitly as I start work on The Last War in Albion because I’ve been developing a different prose style for that. You learn to think in terms of style and structure.

    This would certainly explain how my inner monologue ended up talking in an overblown Eastern-European-Funny-Foreigner accent after I played 'Singularity'


  2. Spacewarp
    June 21, 2013 @ 4:34 am

    I'd like to say something unrelated to the entry itself (I've never seen "No Angels"…though I'm intrigued), but rather to the comment about Toby Whithouse being a "populist choice for showrunner." Fan speculation about Moffat's successor seems as limited in scope as it did about RTD's successor. Fandom seems incapable of thinking outside of the box when considering who should take over as Head Writer, with Chibnell, Shearman, Gatiss, et al, all put forward at one time or another. The the only criteria for a new Doctor Who showrunner seems to be that they are already an established Who writer (which Steven Moffat fits perfectly).

    This doesn't only occur with showrunners, but also when considering potential new Doctors – obviously "Doctorish" actors like Cumberbatch or Joseph are continually mooted, solely because they have previously played "Doctor-like" roles. Even Olivia Colman (who I suspect is in the running mainly some fans have seen her acting opposite Tennant and because she was in "Eleventh Hour").

    What makes it sad is that the narrow criteria some fans have would actually have excluded a very successful showrunner (Russell Davies, who was never a prolific Who author), and a phenomenally successful Doctor (Chris Eccleston, not renowned for his many "Doctor-ish" roles).

    Now I've got that off my chest, back to your regularly-scheduled thread.


  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 4:57 am

    My assumption has always been that there are two minimum requirements to be showrunner – having showrun something else and having written Doctor Who before. So that rules a lot of writers out, and gets you to a pool of about five or six writers.


  4. prandeamus
    June 21, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Oh yes, +1 there. I mean, Cumberbatch is a great actor, but the very thought that we've all "imagined" what he'd be like as the Doctor means we're not able to think outside the box. Consider these initial reactions:

    Troughton: Some Character Actor?
    Pertwee: He's a comedian, surely?
    Baker T: Who?
    McCoy: Surely not that bloke from Vision On? Ferrets?
    Ecclestone: Surely not a serious actor?
    Tennant: Wasn't he on that thing on BBC3…?
    Smith: Who?

    I'd argue that the "known" actors who ended up "vaguely playing to type" (Davison, Baker C, McGann) were not the most successful.

    I also realise that I've annoyed Pertwee-bashers and Davison-lovers, for which I apologise. I think my point though is that we need talent (of course) but a good deal of new blood. Which brings us back to Vampires.


  5. Bennett
    June 21, 2013 @ 5:10 am

    Spacewarp – "Fan speculation about Moffat's successor seems as limited in scope as it did about RTD's successor."

    To be fair, I think in the latter case the scope was limited to begin with. In an email from The Writer's Tale Davies wrote "Mind you, what if (Moffat) says no? He won't actually give an answer tonight. Months of negotiations, etc. But Christ alive, what happens then? I can't even bear to think about it." This seems to suggest that there was only one contender for the position in his mind as well.


  6. SK
    June 21, 2013 @ 5:13 am

    If 'having showrun something else' were a requirement it would rule out practically all British TV writers, as almost no British TV is made in such a way a to have a role which could be identified as 'showrunner' (and indeed, there is no such role on Doctor Who: Davies and Moffat have occupied the role, I believe, of 'head writer' and have had duties which overlap with, but are not the same as, those of the American 'showrunner').

    Moffat, in particular, had never, before taking on Doctor Who, ever been in a role that required him to commission and script-edit other writers (which is a 'showrunner's bread and butter, really). He had only ever worked on Doctor Who and on programmes where he was the creator and sole writer.

    Basically, the BBC is not going to entrust a flagship programme with a multi-million-pound budget to someone without a track record, but I don't think there's any reason to think they wouldn't bring in someone who hasn't necessarily written for Doctor Who (on the other hand, they may, if they have someone in mind, give them an episode or two as a sort of trial: Neil Cross anyone?).

    I suspect when it comes to the fans, they just suggest those kind of names because, being pathetic geeky types, they have only every heard of writers who have written for Doctor Who and possible Torchwood.

    Myself, I would love to see Doctor Who with Joe Aherne setting the tone. Never happen, but wouldn't it be wonderful?


  7. Spacewarp
    June 21, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    Admittedly my comments are mainly addressing fan thinking, as the BBC is a bit better at thinking wider of the mark. Fans would never have considered Eccleston in a million years, but the BBC of course did…which is why he ended up with the job.

    As far as showrunner criteria, again the BBC picked Davies because of his success as a writer of several popular and varied shows (and I believe because he bugged them for the job), but not because he had written Who before. Of course now we have a showrunner, the job of picking the next one seems to be down to the incumbent, whereas before RTD there was no incombent.

    At the end of the day anyone's perceived suitability for a job may not be a reliable indicator that they'll be good at the job, and vice versa. Bonnie Langford's stint as a companion probably helped sway opinion against Billie Piper's ability to perform the same role, and how wrong was that?

    Of course if only people previously involved in Doctor Who were suitable for Doctor Who, then the programme would never have been made? Bit like a requirement for every US President to be born American would fail when you considered George Washington.


  8. Scott
    June 21, 2013 @ 5:54 am

    Being a Pathetic Geeky Type™ I'm not really familiar with Joe Ahearne's work outside of "Doctor Who" to be honest, but I did love the episodes of of the show he directed. Possibly the best-looking episodes of series one (although he did kind of get handled the plum assignment, getting to direct Daleks about the place and all).


  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 5:55 am

    Notably, however, there was nobody of seriousness who had produced Doctor Who before in 2003. And while they didn't pick someone who had written Doctor Who, they picked someone who was a known Doctor Who fan.


  10. Spacewarp
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:09 am

    Do we know that the BBC considered the fact that Davies was a fan before picking him? I rather got the impression that his track record in making Very Popular Television was what made him desirable.

    His fan side may have been what made him want the job more than anything, but not why the BBC wanted him. Davies has frequently pointed out that the BBC have a bit of a blind spot towards DW fandom anyway, being unaware of such things as Big Finish.


  11. Pen Name Pending
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:17 am

    Wasn't it his idea to bring it back, though, rather than the BBC wanting to and then finding someone?


  12. Pen Name Pending
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:19 am

    It's funny, but here in America at my geeky school and elsewhere, I think I have only met 5 known Doctor Who fans who were guys, not including my brother and my dad (as our family all watches it together). Most of them (including me and an awesome person I met who hails from the Tom Baker PBS days) are girls, or perhaps they are the ones either more vocal about it or just savvier with Netflix.

    I'm also in the camp of hoping it will be Whithouse (and will be equally worried if it was Chibnall or Gatiss). I've loved all his episodes so far, particularly for the characterization. You have Sarah Jane, Rory calling out the Doctor on being careless, pretty much everything in "The God Complex", and the Doctor being pushed too far (building on the guilt and self-loathing from the previous series) and Amy pointing out how he needs his friends to keep him in check. With "A Town Called Mercy" he showed why the "movie poster" concept isn't inherently a bad idea, as he made a Wild West story (which was assumed by most would be a romp) into a morality play. No other guest writer did something like that in series 7 except for Neil Cross. ("Hide" took its genre tropes and twisted it, while "Akhaten" took what looks like a big space opera and made it about much smaller moments. Oh, and giving a little girl the courage to sing. If only Clara had been around to help me out on that one…)


  13. SK
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:22 am

    The BBC didn't exactly 'pick' Davies, in the sense of sitting down and asking themselves, 'Right, we're going to make Doctor Who, who should we hire to write it?'

    After the success of Queer as Folk at Channel 4, the BBC were interested in having Davies write something for them; they contacted Red and he came in for a meeting. He said he'd like to do Doctor Who. They said okay, we're not interested in that, any other ideas? (this is how these meetings usually go). He said no, it was Doctor Who or he wasn't working for the BBC (this isn't). So they shook hands and parted company on good terms (most of these meetings come to nothing, so the fact they couldn't find anything they both wanted to go farther with wasn't held against either side).

    Then later on the idea of reviving Doctor Who came up at the BBC, so they called in Davies and said, 'Remember ages ago you said you'd like to do Doctor Who? Well, we weren't interested then, we are now, how about you tell us what you'd do with it?'

    So Davies did his pitches, and they decided to go forwards with the idea.

    It's a fairly standard process: executives invite writer in, writer gives ideas, executives ask writer to flesh one or more out into a full pitch, writer does, executives decide whether or not to make the programme. This one took quite a long time but by no means an exceptionally long time (the idea of Life on Mars had been floating around for almost a decade, I think, since Ashley Pharoah, Matthew Graham and Tony Jordan had got talking one time and discovered they all really wanted to write The Sweeney).

    Once the programme was established and Davies was leaving, replacing him is, yes, more like picking a candidate for a vacancy. But the original process that led to the new series was much more like the process that leads to any new series, such as Luther or Spooks or whatever.

    So he wasn't exactly 'picked to do Doctor Who', it was more like he suggested an idea that the BBC initially rejected, and then, a few years later, decided might work after all.


  14. SK
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:34 am

    (What I don't know is how determined the BBC was to make Doctor Who: sometimes executives will come up with an idea and call in writers asking for how they'd approach it, until one gives them an answer they like and then is commissioned. That's how we end up with such commercial and artistic successes as The Deep. If that was the case, then if they hadn't liked Davies's pitch they might have started calling in other writers and picked one of them. But in the event, that wasn't necessary.)


  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:53 am

    SK – a few errors there.

    First, Queer as Folk wasn't that successful. Acclaimed, yes. Attention-getting, sure. But it was successful for what it was: post-watershed Channel 4 drama. Davies was a hot writer, but he wasn't some guaranteed hitmaker. His position was more akin to that of Steven Moffat, actually – a well-respected critical darling that got good ratings, but was never designed with "massive mainstream hit" in mind.

    Second, the BBC/Davies meeting in question was slightly more serious than that – Davies was called in to talk about Doctor Who, but it turned out that BBC Enterprises didn't want to give up the film rights. This was the so-called Doctor Who 2000 pitch meeting. Davies did refuse to go to the BBC for anything but Doctor Who.

    Then in 2003 Heggessey managed to convince Enterprises to give up on the film and let the BBC try, at which point they asked Julie Gardner to get Davies for them. He was flat-out offered Doctor Who at that point with minimal hoop-jumping. But the BBC wanted Doctor Who, not Davies – Heggessey went after BBC Enterprises and clawed the rights back, then contacted Davies.

    Whether the BBC had a second choice in mind for the "bring back Doctor Who" idea is unknown, so far as I know. But there were other pitches around – I know there was a set of four that have been discussed places, though I forget a lot of the details. So it was a matter of deciding they wanted Doctor Who in 2003 and then deciding that Davies, of the writers known to want to do Doctor Who, was the guy to go to.


  16. Theonlyspiral
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    I think I'm the only person who wouldn't mind Doctor Who as done by Gatiss or Chibnall. On the whole Gatiss only has one episode of Doctor Who that I loath, and indeed has several that I will often sit down and rewatch. Chiball's Doctor Who proper stuff is some of the most enjoyable (I still do not understand how people do not like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship). Whithouse would be good but so would the other two.

    Of course I wouldn't mind if Moffat stuck around for a few more years. I thought this last season was without exception, the single strongest season of Doctor Who Ever.


  17. Froborr
    June 21, 2013 @ 7:00 am

    Interesting. Not being too familiar with British television writers, I hadn't known the significance of bringing on Toby Whithouse.

    I think there's a growing trend to trying to make four-quadrant shows in children's and family television. Beyond Doctor Who, on the American side of the pond you've got AtLA, Korra, and MLP actively courting audiences outside their target gender and age group, and Adventure Time going outside its age group. Notably, it seems to be consistently resulting in shows that do better on every measure (audience appreciation, critical response/award, and ratings), so I'm hopeful the practice will spread.


  18. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    I tend to think Gatiss and Chibnall are not as bad as their reputations. Gatiss often rubs me the wrong way, but I recognize that it's at least 70% a personal distaste and not that Gatiss is a poor writer.

    I think Whithouse is far, far better than either of them though – and indeed one of the best writers on the new series.


  19. Theonlyspiral
    June 21, 2013 @ 7:09 am

    I would not object to Whithouse certainly. And out of the three he has the closes to an untarnished record. Ideally I wouldn't mind 3 more years of Moffat. But who knows? I also though we'd be seeing another year with the Eleventh Doctor.


  20. SK
    June 21, 2013 @ 7:12 am

    Okay, you've done a lot more research than my obviously half-remembered interviews from years ago. Thanks.


  21. Froborr
    June 21, 2013 @ 8:21 am

    Given some of the (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) comments I've seen Davison make about a multigenerational war between the Moffett-Tennant and Moffat dynasties for control of Doctor Who, the impression I get is that Moffat has no intention of stepping down anytime soon…


  22. Daibhid C
    June 21, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    "Cumberbatch is a great actor, but the very thought that we've all "imagined" what he'd be like as the Doctor means we're not able to think outside the box."

    From Neil Gaiman's blog, when asked what he thinks of Ian McKellan as the Doctor:

    I think that if you’d asked me who should be the 11th Doctor 5 years ago I wouldn’t have listed Matt Smith, because I didn’t know who he was or what he was capable of, and if you’d asked me who should play Sherlock Holmes in a modern day revival around the same time I wouldn’t have said Benedict Cumberbatch, because I didn’t know who he was either.

    I want to see The Doctor. I want to be taken by surprise. I want to squint at a photo of the person online and go “but how can that be The Doctor?”. Then I want to be amazingly, delightedly, completely proven wrong, and, six episodes in, I want to wonder how I could have been so blind. Because this is the Doctor. Of course it is.


  23. Pen Name Pending
    June 21, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    He said a little while ago that he was closer to the beginning than the end because it was such hard work. I'd say another series or so. There's also a new executive producer this year.

    I don't think Gatiss is a bad writer, but I don't feel that his episodes have the emotional and character connections that some of the other writers do. Chibnall is better with characters, actually.


  24. BerserkRL
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    I actually don’t want to make this next bit into a debate about the critic in question, so I’m going to go ahead and offer a quote without naming the critic. Google it if you must

    Hard to imagine any combination of words more likely to make us Google the critic.


  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:03 am

    I put my faith in your laziness. I suspect that for most of you my faith will be rewarded.


  26. Spacewarp
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    I see it as very like my job in the IT business. There's excellent Technicians who would not make good Chief Technicians, because their strengths are fixing things and doing their job, not managing other people like themselves. That's how I see a Head Writer/Showrunner. Everyone mentioned so far are simply writers. Moffat's carried several series himself, but I don't know about Gatiss, despite his work on LOG (which was mainly one quarter of a writing team). I think RTD made a success of it partly because of his ruthlessness in rewriting other people when necessary. Could Chibnell, Whithouse, or Gatiss do that?

    EDIT: a fantastic verification code that I'm going to use for a character! Antama Malmquist!


  27. Spacewarp
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    Sadly I have let you down. πŸ™

    But I'm not surprised.

    EDIT: Good heavens! "Qth Tryiscr" Another fantastic name! Has blogger been reading Scifi?


  28. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:23 am

    Actually, I thought my deliberately avoiding naming the critic itself risked giving it away.


  29. BerserkRL
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:37 am

    I've noticed that after watching a Shakespeare play or movie I find my own speech straining (incompetently) in a Shakespearean direction.


  30. BerserkRL
    June 21, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    No no, you're all wrong. RTD had no desire to do Doctor Who, and had to be bullied into it by Julie Gardner. I know because I've seen this fact-filled documentary.


  31. Froborr
    June 21, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    Yeah, between the uneven quality of Moffat!Who and the uneven quality of McCarthy!MLP, I am thoroughly unconvinced that "best writer on the show" necessarily translates to "would make a good showrunner."


  32. Froborr
    June 21, 2013 @ 11:44 am

    It did. I can only think of one critic you'd refuse to name, and that quote is a good match for what little I've seen of their writing style. I haven't bothered to Google it.

    I assumed that refusal to mention their name wasn't so much to conceal it from us, but because they're precisely the sort of person likely to Google themselves on a regular basis.


  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 21, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    Nah, it's just that I don't want to derail into another debate about them.


  34. Adam Riggio
    June 21, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    I want to put Phil and Lawrence in the same room together just so I can watch what happens. I presume Lawrence has obsessively read everything that Phil's written about him over the last eight months.

    This is a fascinating post, by the way, and not only because I knew next to nothing about Whithouse's career before he started writing for Doctor Who. I find it particularly interesting in that so many of the best current Doctor Who writers have such a strong background in comedy and comedic drama. I've never seen No Angels, but it looks rather fantastic, the kind of drama that makes you laugh. And that really is the best way to approach Doctor Who. One of the worst tendencies of the problem eras of the show is when the script tends away from humour and into entirely self-serious stories. Some of your comments about Terminus strike me this way: Saward's turning, "What do they think we are? Idiots?!" to "They must think us fools!" is a prime sign of the attitude that humour doesn't belong in Doctor Who, or in sci-fi more generally. But some of the most interesting and best sci-fi has a healthy sense of humour as well.

    And no matter how much I love Neil Gaiman and The Doctor's Wife, I still think The Girl Who Waited was the best single episode of that season and that the Hugos robbed Toby blind.


  35. Froborr
    June 21, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

    I want to put Phil and Charles Dunbar in a room so that they can argue about Campbell. It would be extremely informative and possibly violent.

    Captcha: "Istide Musume." Musume is Japanese for "daughter," so I'm choosing to interpret this as "Daughter of the Tides," clearly a reference to Aphrodite.


  36. Adam Riggio
    June 21, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    I'm a sad fool on this thread. The Hugos robbed Tom McCrae blind.


  37. encyclops
    June 21, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  38. encyclops
    June 21, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    I liked "School Reunion" and loved "The God Complex," but "A Town Called Mercy" really gave me pause. I would say he made a Wild West story into a shitty Star Trek episode, easily my least favorite story of series 7. But I'll save that for when we get to the wretched thing.


  39. Pen Name Pending
    June 21, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

    I didn't give any thought to the critic mention because I try to avoid fan debates and didn't think it really mattered…and now I'm wondering why that name didn't pop into my head.


  40. Bennett
    June 21, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    Philip Sandifer – Actually, I thought my deliberately avoiding naming the critic itself risked giving it away.

    What about pulling Moffat's trick of hiding in plain sight with something akin to "the most misplaced criticism of the new series I've read by miles"?


  41. George Potter
    June 22, 2013 @ 5:17 am

    Westerns are almost always morality plays, especially the more famous Hollywood examples: High Noon, Shane, The Searchers, Red River, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence etc. Leone's famous trilogy are stark, operatic morality plays that flirt with ambiguous morality. Even something as revisionist and bleak as Unforgiven is a morality play.

    Literary Western fiction follows the same pattern: L'Amour's novels are almost exclusively about the internal war between loving freedom (and being an outlaw) yet being utterly bound by self-accepted moral strictures. Lauren Paine (an even better stylist) concentrated on the morality of the individual as it conflicted with the dubious ethics of the group. Elmore Leonard's Western fiction, much like his crime writing, often explored the morality of even the hardest criminal.

    My problem with Town was that it was such a by-the-numbers example of 'Doctor Who Does A Western' and much simplified a very under-rated and often ignored genre (that I love very much you may have gathered. πŸ™‚ )


  42. Ununnilium
    June 22, 2013 @ 7:22 am

    Bennett: Oh, I like that.


  43. George Potter
    June 22, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    The Hugos robbed Tom McCrae blind.

    While I, personally, would have voted for McCrae, I wouldn't say he was robbed. And the outcome was never in doubt. Worldcon is the epitome of organized SF fandom and Gaiman has a huge and well established presence there on several fronts: comics, prose, tv/film and even web presence. Keep in mind that the only person who's taken one from Moffat/Who in the years he's been eligible is another similar multi-front fan favorite: Joss Whedon. πŸ˜€

    That McCrae (who is little known even in TV SF fandom) placed with that story is a testament to the sheer quality of the episode — one of those occasions where it truly was an honor to be nominated. πŸ™‚


  44. mengu
    June 22, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

             - these days the default sentence is &#8220;well I hope it&#8217;s Toby Whithouse, but I&#8217;m really afraid it&#8217;s going to be Chris Chibnall or Mark Gatiss.&#8221; - <br />Well, I hope it&#39;s Neil Cross, but Chris Chibnall or Gatiss could be okay. Whithouse, though... we&#39;re following the episodes of Torchwood in individual entries, right? I&#39;ll save it for nearer &#39;Greeks Bearing Gifts&#39;. 


  45. Andrew Bowman
    June 7, 2014 @ 4:07 am

    Jumping in phenomonally late here, by almost a year, but I wanted to suggest someone who hasn't really been seriously considered, but who has been going up the ranks, so to speak. From a handful of novels for both Virgin and BBC Books to writing Attack of the Graske, the TARDISodes, then branching out into the series itself, with a sideline for the Sarah Jane Adventures, and becoming a reliable, witty, safe pair of hands, I refer of course to Gareth Roberts. Yes, he hasn't been in charge of a TV project before, but his years of TV experience must surely stand him in good stead.

    Of the others, only Toby Whithouse holds any real appeal: Chris Chibnall is almost RTD-lite; Mark Gatiss has far too many things to do, and the idea of it probably fills him with horror; Robert Shearman hasn't got the requisite experience to be seriously considered (although I'm sure he'd be more than willing to give it a go). Just a few thoughts, really.


  46. Kyle Edwards
    March 4, 2017 @ 9:57 pm

    Hindsight is everything, isn’t it? This makes good points, but it’s clearly a “Whithouse is going to be the next show runner” post, when you probably should have waited for Broadchurch. I have to say, though, it’s interesting to see you get more and more frustrated with Whithouse’s limitations from here to your review of Under the Lake/Before the Flood.


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