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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. Aaron George
    January 1, 2024 @ 1:24 pm

    Can I ask, out of curiosity, if you think Discovery got better or worse as it changed creative hands and premises another couple times in the next three seasons? Because, given what you’ve said above, I very much see you going either way.

    Reply

    • Scurra
      January 1, 2024 @ 1:55 pm

      Yeah, I’m now cautiously interested in finding that out as well.
      Not to mention whether or not the clear fact that Discovery also enabled them to try such a successfully broad range of other spin-offs helps to justify it at all. But that’s possibly for later?

      Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 1, 2024 @ 1:56 pm

      I didn’t watch subsequent seasons.

      Reply

  2. Camestros Felapton
    January 1, 2024 @ 2:35 pm

    Decent cast, lots of interesting ideas, really, really confused direction with muddled themes. I didn’t regret watching Discovery and it got better (didn’t watch season 4 after it went to Paramount+ rather than Netflix internationally) but it was a show that didn’t know what it wanted to be. There was scope for a really interesting series led by Jason Isaacs about a Federation ship with a genuinely evil captain who can get away with it because the Federation is at war. There was scope for a more 1940’s camp evil space empire show with Michelle Yeoh running an evil space empire. That Discovery eventually spun off the most dull idea the show had (just update the original Star Trek and follow the Enterprise under Captain Pike) but that dull idea (Strange New Worlds) works much better is a good advert for the quality of the execution being more important than premise.

    Reply

    • Scurra
      January 1, 2024 @ 7:28 pm

      But surely at least part of that is due to the modern streaming world in which you get 10 episodes to do three seasons worth of stories just in case you don’t get a second season. Once it became clear that Discovery wasn’t going to be a fail, they could do single stories over six or ten episodes instead of trying to squash it all into their one shot at glory. I mean, yes, I too would loved to have seen both of those stories (Lorca and Georgiou) run full seasons or more, but I can also understand the dilemma they had. Consider, for comparison, the pretty much perfect construction of the Eccleston season of Doctor Who – it might well have been the only one, so RTD had to make it work as a single unit whilst also including everything and the kitchen sink. Whereas S1 of Strange New Worlds feels a lot more relaxed by comparison.

      Reply

      • Camestros Felapton
        January 2, 2024 @ 1:13 pm

        Yes, absolutely. Part of the messiness of S1 Discovery is them working out how to do Star Trek in the streaming era. I think Fuller’s plan before being dropped was for a shorter season 1 with a stronger overall story arc, which would make more sense for a binge-able streaming show.

        Reply

  3. Alowishes
    January 1, 2024 @ 4:47 pm

    Michael Burnham’s character arc is the most unpredictable, chaotic and rewarding of all the Starfleet captains – journeys that alternate dimensions and timelines, demigod hood, assimilation into cybernetic hive minds and alien species, galactic wars, and being stranded across time, space, and reality.
    What the gatekeepers overlook is Discovery’s greatest strength – evolutionary change of not just the main characters, random societies and empires, as well the entire Federation itself. By the end of season four Discovery looks at its universe through eyes that have been through upheaval, betrayal and renewal. Discovery is the Roddenberry ideal: humanity discovering the best version of itself through imagination and hope.

    Reply

    • Scurra
      January 1, 2024 @ 7:30 pm

      Yeah, it was great seeing Discovery getting to do Andromeda, but properly.

      Reply

  4. Austin G Loomis
    January 1, 2024 @ 6:37 pm

    You can’t turn Star Trek into the Culture because what people want is for you to turn Star Trek into fucking Marvel.

    If, by “people”, you mean
    (a) the specific subset of “people” whom Terry Pratchett coined “the other lifeforms” (the sort of bipeds who told him “This Mort looks good, but lose the whole Death angle”);
    (b) the other specific subset for which Harlan Ellison (may his memory be annoying) either coined or popularized the term of art “the Great Wad” (whose tastes the Other Lifeforms have so starved that they are now “capable of nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise”);
    (c) the deeply unholy combination of the two;
    then yeah, I’d say that’s which “people” want that.

    Reply

  5. mimhoff
    January 1, 2024 @ 8:23 pm

    Sometimes I think a series lives too long.

    Reply

  6. lamenick
    January 2, 2024 @ 11:40 am

    It’s slightly jarring when you not only refuse to engage with the work in detail, but miss parts of the cultural context it was released in that you do engage with. It absolutely has a coherent and complete point of view. The context it was released in was a strange intersection where they launched an mcu with a good television show, which are actually two very contradictory briefs. It could only have happened in that couple of years long window. The show is as much about Star Trek as it is about a revisionist take on the worldview of Star Trek. While the themes are expanded to their radical endpoints at the end of season 3 the first season stands on its own as a singular work. In short it is about a deterministic theory of mind seeking best case scenario under extremely coercive circumstances. All good artworks have a deterministic theory of mind aside from Doctor Who.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 2, 2024 @ 1:30 pm

      “ All good artworks have a deterministic theory of mind aside from Doctor Who” is a truly amazing sentence, in that it is both completely incoherent and self-evidently untrue.

      Reply

      • lamenick
        January 2, 2024 @ 2:17 pm

        I challenge you to a duel on this hill.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          January 2, 2024 @ 3:16 pm

          I mean you’re in my comments section and have my attention, if you want to take a shot take a shot. Your first was cryptic at best.

          Reply

          • lamenic
            January 2, 2024 @ 4:59 pm

            I hazily recall reading an essay about West Wing and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Don’t you think the legitimate culture shock of Discovery presenting a world that is catastrophically falling apart because of its institutions, and making depicting this an aesthetic virtue is valuable?

          • whycantianon
            January 4, 2024 @ 2:17 pm

            The idea that the whole show might be about para experiences was suggested fairly strongly when Ash Tyler/Voq started acting like a sex offender after being brainwashed by a sex abuser. I picked up that it was probably about abuse around the time the opening credits of the first episode rolled and every image was meant to drive home that it was doing Star Trek as Hannibal. Then they kept driving the point home every time he appeared on screen in the second season. And then “Grey” happened.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            January 4, 2024 @ 4:21 pm

            In both cases, I point to my complaint about ceaseless incident. Yes, there are themes you could unpack out of these plot details. But that requires slowing down and actually exploring the space around plot events instead of moving on to the next one. If this is supposed to be Star Trek as Hannibal then where are the lengthy scenes of character work in which Lorca and Burnham speak in cryptic philosophical aphorisms while nothing actually happens? If it’s about a world disintegrating because of the failures of its institutions then where are the planet of the week episodes in which we actually see that world and its consequences?

            They’re nowhere, because every episode of this show is an Event Episode. And when your show is simply constantly throwing events at the screen in a desperate attempt to get headlines and social media engagement, the irony is that it largely feels like nothing is actually happening.

          • whycantianon
            January 5, 2024 @ 1:05 am

            Part of the reason why the pacing might seem off might depend on whether you saw it in one go or an episode a week. I like to think of the first season as a 12 hour movie but I saw it an episode a week which leaves time to reflect on the subtleties. With Flux on the other hand you can’t wait a week between episodes. And I like some pretty good movies. Refn and Trier and things like that.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            January 5, 2024 @ 1:08 am

            I watched it at an episode a week.

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          May 31, 2024 @ 10:17 pm

          I do not find reopening this discussion edifying.

          Reply

    • Lambda
      January 3, 2024 @ 6:29 am

      I don’t know what a “deterministic theory of mind” is supposed to be, but I can at least observe that “Doctor Who” is not an artwork, it’s more like a gallery in which artworks like “Full Circle” or “Aliens of London” can be found.

      Reply

      • Gnaeus
        January 3, 2024 @ 8:05 pm

        If it’s an art gallery, it’s one in which every single painting, no matter the style or period, seems to involve at least one dog playing poker.

        Reply

    • changingusername
      January 7, 2024 @ 3:15 pm

      The last two sentences fell a bit too much into the register of schizoposting to appropriate a term (I don’t actually have schizophrenia).

      Reply

  7. Boomer Kingsley
    January 2, 2024 @ 8:41 pm

    “… everything designed to be shouted in capital letters, but no actual content to the message.”

    This right here, on a number of levels. It only got worse as the show went character’s, with characters exchanging aphorisms about science and faith and resilience and belonging. They wanted so much for the show to be ABOUT SOMETHING but had no idea how to make it happen through storytelling…it was as if they took a bunch of notes from the tone meeting and transcribed them directly as dialogue.

    There are a million other things about this show that drove me nuts like that. In subsequent seasons Burnham goes from being a stoic near-Vulcan to making extravagant emotional displays all the time. Nothing inherently wrong or strange about that – characterisations change on a new show, and in some ways that was a smart choice, as Sonequa Martin-Green is much more of a Shatner than a Nimoy as an actress (not a diss). But the show never does the work to make it land as real character growth. In contrast, Burnham’s penchant for insubordination remains a constant throughout the series, and by the time the show time jumps to the far future she is actively rewarded for disobeying orders with her own command. There was great potential in there to interrogate the militarism of starfleet and experiment with new structures of authority, but nope, it’s just that Burnham is the main character, so she’s in command now. I checked out after season three so maybe it got better, but it was exhausting to try and connect with a show where stuff just…happens.

    Reply

  8. Boomer Kingsley
    January 2, 2024 @ 8:43 pm

    *got worse as the show went ON, I meant.

    Reply

  9. unnamedmedicalprofessional
    January 3, 2024 @ 12:56 pm

    I’m now curious as to your overall opinion on the marvel cinematic universe. In the pop between realities on Captain America: The Winter Soldier made you seem neutral to positive on it, but the way you have referred to it in this article makes it seem like you quite intensely dislike it.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 3, 2024 @ 1:37 pm

      I’m a lot more sympathetic to it in 2014 than I am in 2018, and a lot more even still than 2023.

      Reply

      • unnamedmedicalprofessional
        January 3, 2024 @ 1:55 pm

        I’m curious what you think makes 2018 mcu worse than 2014 mcu. I personally think the four movie stretch of Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, Spider-man Homecoming, Thor Ragnarok, and Black Panther is probably the best the MCU gets on the whole. Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 hits quite hard emotionally for me, Ragnarok is one of the frustratingly few times they let a director have their own voice rather than keep to their own style, Black Panther gets points for probably being one of the more theme driven marvel movies, and while there’s nothing that particularly stands out about Homecoming, I personally think it’s charming and has quite good characterization.

        Reply

        • unnamedmedicalprofessional
          January 3, 2024 @ 1:57 pm

          Edit: When I said keep to their own style, I meant to type “the mcu house style”

          Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          January 3, 2024 @ 3:57 pm

          Three films a year versus the already “gosh they make a lot of these” two, an increasing degree of house style and sense that these are an assembly line instead of a neat trick of tying a couple bespoke film series into a whole.

          I suspect a big problem is that each new sub-series, even if it had its own distinct vibe, still did more to strengthen the sense of homogeneity than it did to break it. Like, sure, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man were all similar, but they felt more different from each other than anything felt different from anything else once you added in Guardians, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the impending Captain Marvel and once you’d dramatically dialed up the amount of cross-film connections.

          By 2018 it was clear to me I was going to stop watching with Endgame. By 2023, I’ve not once regretted that.

          Reply

  10. Zeg Must Prove Brains
    January 7, 2024 @ 4:05 am

    For me, NuTrek comes close to fulfilling the old Lawrence Miles prophecy about nuWho: that it would come back, get cancelled, then come back successfully as animation.
    I don’t think any of the live action series, Picard, Discovery or Strange New Worlds, can hold a candle to Prodigy or Lower Decks, which offer unique takes on the formula not hemmed in by previous characters or continuity.

    Reply

  11. Allyn
    January 10, 2024 @ 11:13 pm

    Where, of course, we got similar flowchart-based storytelling for the absurd Time Lord Victorious crossover, which, impressively, nobody could actually explain to me what the fuck was about even when it was about 2/3 over. (The Dark Times and abolishing death, apparently.)

    Time Lord Victorious is the story of the Pearl Harbor of the Time War. The Daleks travel back to Rassilon’s time and attack Gallifrey. The TARDIS manipulates one Doctor (the tenth) and pulls two more (the ninth and the eighth) out of time to defeat the Daleks in the Dark Times and also to teach the eighth Doctor that, at some point, he’s won’t have any choice, he’s going to have to fight.

    The James Goss online short story from the TARDIS’s point of view is the key that explains it all, and the various threads (the Dalek animation, the eighth Doctor audios) were mainly just backstory. The key pieces are the Goss story, the Una McCormack novel, and the eight/ten audio drama. It does hang together, but making each strand self-contained also made large parts inessential.

    The marketing for the event was poor and made it sound like a tenth Doctor event about “abolishing death.” The Koturrah (the bringers of death from another universe) are just a Macguffin, the Dark Times didn’t feel appreciably different than any other time or place in the Whoniverse, and the eighth Doctor does the heavy lifting against the story’s real foe (ie., the Daleks).

    Reply

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