Our Imposter Syndrome cancels out our Dunning-Kruger

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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. Christopher Brown
    April 16, 2019 @ 11:48 am

    Here are your medals for completing this monumentous task!


    Sorry they’re a bit small, and probably only viewable on mobile :/


  2. Dave
    April 16, 2019 @ 12:44 pm

    It does make a big difference but the first series of the Danish The Killing, if you can take the initial 20-episode instalment as one series, also has a terrible and rushed resolution with many of the middle episodes faffing about with red herrings that don’t progress towards the actual killer. In that sense, Chibnall did actually capture the structure of his primary inspiration quite well…


    • Dave
      April 16, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

      Sorry, that should say ‘it doesn’t make a big difference’


  3. David Anderson
    April 16, 2019 @ 1:29 pm

    I don’t think the BBC is entirely to blame for the failure of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
    One failing stems from the source material: the plot to put it kindly takes a while to get going. The book gets away with it if you are the sort of reader who takes pleasure in a pastiche of early nineteenth century prose being applied to high fantasy, and in the comic use of straight-faced mock pedantic footnotes. The other failing is that, while the book is about the problems of treating white male angst as a narrative centre, the television series doesn’t I think always successfully negotiate the gap between being about the problems of treating white male angst as a narrative centre and being about white male angst.
    Still, would have been a better choice than Chibnall.

    Season Two of Broadchurch is interesting… the trial subplot can be seen as a deconstruction of the standard police procedural: here is why the narrative conventions of the police procedural are a bad guide to real police work. Problem is that deconstructing genre tropes is not much fun to anyone except narrative theory geeks unless you have something better to put in its place. And Chibnall doesn’t.

    Back when you (El) were reviewing Chibnall’s Who you said that Whitaker had the longest run of stories without any turkeys of any Doctor barring the Third. But I suspect also the longest of stories of any Doctor without anything better than average. That really sums up Chibnall: low-level basic competence that comes acropper as soon as he tries anything ambitious.
    Even so, better Chibnall than Whitaker.


    • Christopher Brown
      April 16, 2019 @ 4:22 pm

      I’m assuming you meant “Whithouse”? :X because I would totally take an alchemically resurrected David Whitaker as head writer right now.


      • David Anderson
        April 17, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

        Um… yes.


    • TomeDeaf
      April 17, 2019 @ 6:11 pm

      “The other failing is that, while the book is about the problems of treating white male angst as a narrative centre, the television series doesn’t I think always successfully negotiate the gap between being about the problems of treating white male angst as a narrative centre and being about white male angst”

      I agree about this distinction between book and series, though I don’t think it’s really a factor in the series not doing well. If anything, “more white male angst” is a bit of a golden ticket to doing well with the general public, if anything. Folks still love that shit.


  4. Sean Dillon
    April 16, 2019 @ 1:37 pm

    Scandi-noir. As a television genre at least, these involve making grimly serious crime dramas with a focus on place, both in their fascination with the lush desolation of their landscape and in their interest in in looking at community and social structure, and the way in which a traumatic incident like a major crime leaves a wound that traverses social strata.

    Wait, so “Scandi-noir” is just everyone else finally deciding to rip off Twin Peaks?


    • Brian B.
      April 16, 2019 @ 11:18 pm

      Twin Peaks wasn’t “grimly serious”. It was deadpan — not the same thing. Also, frequently surreal and inexplicable-on-pupose, which I don’t think “Broadchurch” or “Dragon Tattoo” aimed for.


  5. Lambda
    April 16, 2019 @ 3:22 pm

    Was that “rapist is under duress” detail driven by the need to be surprising? Prioritisation of that seems to frequently undermine real dramatic values, since the reality they need to relate to somehow is so often not very surprising at all.


    • Przemek
      April 17, 2019 @ 10:52 am

      I would guess so. The same (probably) happened with “Kerblam!”, hence Dr. Sandifer’s choice of title for Act III.


  6. Adam Thompson
    April 16, 2019 @ 4:24 pm

    It’s Colman. No e. I’ve made this mistake too.


  7. Daibhid C
    April 16, 2019 @ 6:07 pm

    I’d forgotten Starz’s Camelot was even a thing. I don’t know if I’d ever known Chibnall was involved.

    (Did anyone else kind of get the feeling Starz’s USP was “adulty versions of things BBC is doing for a children’s/family audience”? (Camelot for Merlin, Da Vinci’s Demons for Leonardo, Torchwood obvs.) I was half-waiting for them to announce a gritty, sexy show about wizards fighting aliens…)


    • Set Spade
      April 16, 2019 @ 7:03 pm

      Well, they’ve got American Gods now…


  8. Ozyman.Jones
    April 17, 2019 @ 4:32 am

    I recall my parents telling me I should watch the original Broadchurch, and then telling me to avoid the second series. So I avoided them both (being busy with my business I skip TV that isn’t guaranteed to hit the spot) until the Chibnall/Dr Who announcement. And then decided to catch up, so to speak.

    And what a disappointment that was. And has continued to be.


  9. Przemek
    April 17, 2019 @ 11:22 am

    Holy shit, the way you titled the three parts of your essay is just on point. And it quietly sets up some important points of discussion to be had about the Chibnall era. Bravo.

    I’ve never watched “Broadchurch”, but my girlfriend has and it convinced her to give the Chibnall era of DW a try. Boy, was that a mistake. She often says that she can’t believe both shows were written by the same person. I couldn’t either, having heard almost nothing but praise for “Broadchurch”. But this essay does a great job of explaining the underlying issues that apparently plague both (all?) of Chibnall’s shows.

    Chibnall seems to me to be a writer without any interiority. He doesn’t write deeply personal stories that burned inside him for years before he started working on them. He doesn’t write strange stories full of idiosyncratic obsessions and quirks. He’s doesn’t even write purposefully bad, cynical “fuck you”s out of spite. He writes artificial, empty drama that the media will like. And they do. And so he gets to write more.

    Also, judging from this essay, “Broadchurch” has the same problem with villains as Chibnall’s “Doctor Who”. They are never fully confronted, never satisfactorily defeated, they just sort of disappear. The murderer ultimately walks free. The rapist turns out to be a tragic figure. Not all men. Evil people exist in a vacuum: the systems are not the problem, individuals are. And so even as we cure the symptoms, the underlying disease is either misidentified (pornography in “Broadchurch”, crazy terrorists in “Kerblam!”) or goes entirely unnoticed (Thirteenth Doctor’s passivity).


  10. mx_mond
    April 17, 2019 @ 1:54 pm

    “Drama is not a thing that extends out of his characters, but rather a thing that happens to them, and that they then dutifully inform the audience of.”

    Before series 11, I tried to be optimistic and said that if nothing else, people who complained about Moffat Who being confusing will enjoy the clarity of Chibnall, who always makes sure the characters explain exactly what is going on. Now I kinda want to go back in time and throttle myself.

    “The plot ends with David Tennant reassuring Olivia Coleman that not all men are like that.”

    And all the men who for seven episodes were shown to be implicated in misogyny in various ways, including the husband and boss who spied on/stalked Trish, are excused at the end. It was so disgusting and disappointing.

    To me, the mood and actors (even lost ones, like Eve Myles) were what carried Broadchurch. I thought that would be enough for Chibnall Who (and it almost was for The Ghost Monument, for instance). I guess I underestimated how great the Broadchurch cast actually had to be to pull that off.


  11. Andrew
    April 17, 2019 @ 3:25 pm

    I bailed after the first season of Broadchurch because, while I generally enjoyed it, I have a low tolerance for the sort of misery-porn that the show obviously set out to achieve.

    I managed to figure out the murderer 2 episodes early by foreseeing which character would cause the most damage by being guilty.

    In a proper mystery series, the killer would be the one with the cleverest motive and opportunity. In a thriller, the killer would be the most shocking person. Broadchuch wants the characters (and us) to wallow in sadness and self-pity, so it had to be Joe.

    That said, it is pointless to criticize a show for doing exactly what it aims. Broadchurch’s (at least season 1) real sin is being obvious.

    To change the topic slightly, I think Chibnall’s first season of Doctor Who will age better than its detractors assume. Maybe there aren’t any out-and-out classic episodes (although several are pretty good) but there haven’t been any real clunkers either. To be sure it is a change of pace, but DW really needed a shakeup.


    • taiey
      April 18, 2019 @ 5:12 am

      I really can’t grasp the line of thought that defines Ghost Monument as “not a clunker”. Battle of Rancour too. Kerblam! very enthusiastically goes clunk! in the last 5-10 minutes, and then there’s The Tsuranga Conundrum…

      [I’d call Demons of the Punjab and maybe Rosa outright classics, though.]


      • Przemek
        April 18, 2019 @ 7:25 am

        I’ve heard several people declare that Chibnall Who “rekindled their love for the show” and “is finally about the characters and the relationships between them”.

        I think they might’ve been disguised Slitheen. It’s the only explanation I can think of.


        • Andrew
          April 18, 2019 @ 11:48 pm

          I won’t go so far as to say my love of DW is rekindled but I’ll defend my comment. I don’t really understand the dislike of Kerblam! or Tsuranga, they seem very much on brand with the sillier (not using the word pejoratively) episodes in past seasons.

          The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos was the only real disappointment. The Ghost Monument was about 80% brilliant, let down by the weak villains.

          Part of the issue I think is that Chibnall is either less able, or less willing to paper over a weak plot point with a long speech delivered over a stirring soundtrack. Too many previous doctor’s episodes have huge flaws where the doctor basically shoves the audience into position to accept whatever ending the writer wants to shove down their throats.

          Chibnall has structured the show differently, and the best episodes have the companions discuss the issues at hand in a more organic way that I find more engaging. Thats not to say it is perfect but I am enjoying something new.


          • Przemek
            April 19, 2019 @ 8:22 am

            I’m happy you’re enjoying the Chibnall era. I really am. I didn’t mean to attack anyone who enjoys it. I just personally found nothing organic in anything the new companions do. They all feel like two-dimensional and, frankly, boring plot devices. (The actors are fine). I feel like I know them less after a whole season than I knew Amy or Clara after one episode – and at this point I don’t think I even want to know them more. Dr. Sandifer said it best:

            “Chibnall does not so much write characters as assert them. Drama is not a thing that extends out of his characters, but rather a thing that happens to them, and that they then dutifully inform the audience of.”

            And for me “The Ghost Monument” was about 80% shit, so I don’t think there’s much point in us trying to reconcile our points of view…

          • Andrew
            April 22, 2019 @ 9:00 pm

            I don’t feel attacked and your opinion is completely reasonable. Everything in this thread is a matter of taste.

            Can we at least agree that the new opening titles are great?

          • Rodolfo Piskorski
            April 25, 2019 @ 10:36 pm

            Two things save Ghost Monument from being just shit: the amazing first 5 minutes, and the fact the the TARDIS as the Ghost Monument is the only sci-fi idea in the whole season.

            I remember so clearly the feeling before the season started, that somehow this could be the best DW ever, bold and cinematic. I felt exhilarated during the first 5 minutes of GM, thinking I was getting what I was promised. And then everything goes to shit.

    • Rodolfo Piskorski
      April 25, 2019 @ 10:33 pm

      I’d say there were some real clunkers: Tsuranga, Spiders, Punjab, Resolution.

      But It Takes You Away counts as a classic for me.

      And then there were some cute, fun ones that you have fun watching despite the flaws, even though these fun ones feel extremely empty even when comparing to the boring ones of previous seasons: Woman, Monument, Kerblam, Witchfinders



  12. Grapes
    April 17, 2019 @ 11:22 pm

    I went into Broadchurch with so much goodwill. I love Colman and Tennant, and I’d heard nothing but glowing praise for it. So I was baffled to find it so thoroughly dull and awkwardly written. My partner (who knows the ways of crime drama) confidently picked the murderer in episode 2, so we didn’t even have suspense to lean on. By the end, it was only the amusingly permanent-late-afternoon cinematography and a dogged Colman/Tennant devotion keeping us going. But no force in nature could make me watch beyond season one.

    Nice critique, El. It was the memory of Broadchurch more than anything that made me apprehensive when Chibnall took the reins of DW, for all the reasons you state here.


  13. John G. Wood
    April 18, 2019 @ 7:32 am

    I remember reading an interview with Chibnall, shortly after the show had begun, in which he said it was designed as a single self-contained season and he didn’t think it made sense to do more. (There might have been some wriggle room since my memory’s not perfect, but it was certainly a strong implication even if he didn’t directly say that.) By the end of the season, when it was clear what a massive hit he had, he was backtracking hard and saying that what he wanted was to avoid Midsomer Murders syndrome and keep the focus in future seasons on the fallout from the one big crime rather than adding others. It sounds like his ideas had been further revised by season three.

    Everyone in our house thoroughly enjoyed the first season, but we got a couple of episodes into the second and then couldn’t be bothered to carry on. (To be fair, we’ve not watched the final Sherlock series either.)

    I think his initial instincts were good, but he should have stuck with them.


    • Dan
      April 25, 2019 @ 1:18 am

      I bailed after the opening of Season 2, episode 1.

      I think taking the detectives somewhere else to solve completely different crime might have been on the cards, and that would have been worth pursuing. The crazy trial revelation thing perhaps not so much.

      Liz refers to the teleological way Chris wrote the first season, and the alternative endings etc. She doesn’t mention the related fact that the actors weren’t told who the killer was until the end. I found that off-putting. (That they weren’t told, not that Liz didn’t mention it.)


  14. Daru
    April 21, 2019 @ 7:11 am

    I did watch all three seasons and in retrospect I prefer the third for its treatment of the rape case, at least in its initial stages. Overall though I think for the whole of Broadchurch it was the cast and the setting that was all that works in the end for me. Structurally the first season worked ok until it fell apart, and things like “the problems of pornography” and a whole lot more just felt heavy handed.


  15. Rodolfo Piskorski
    April 25, 2019 @ 10:39 pm

    Surely the best British response to Scandi-noir is Y Gwyll / Hinterland? It’s so desolate that it’s in another language, with subtitles!


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