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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.

24 Comments

  1. Aquanafrahudy
    May 11, 2024 @ 3:31 pm

    Not particularly insightful or erudite, but I read “Gatwa and Gibson, at least, prove solid cooks.” as “Gatwa and Gibson, at least, prove solid cocks.” This is why one does not stay up until four in the morning watching Doctor Who.

    Reply

  2. WeslePryce
    May 11, 2024 @ 4:17 pm

    Was really surprised at how Moffat-y this episode was. It’s a bunch of little similarities rather than any direct cribbing, but a lot of this feels like RTD being heavily influenced by Moffat, and not really always in a good way. The part where he saves the bogeyman literally feels like RTD saw “The Beast Below” and said “I can do that better.”

    But imo there’s also a bunch of subtle things in the script that stick out and make it seem Moffat-y. I’ll just make a quick list, but I’m definitely missing some things, and also probably understating how much RTD did these things in his original run.

    The way that the technobabble was the big reveal instead of an interjection (RTD favored the latter approach in S1-4).
    The way that Ruby played a super active role in the technobabble and puzzle solving (even when it didn’t necessarily make sense for her to be involved). The attempted sidelining of a companion followed by their (usually her) active rejection was also always more of a Moffat beat than a Davies one, not that Davies never did it.
    The specific way the humor is emphasized as a key component of the episode’s pacing rather than a side product. Imo RTD1 usually had the jokes coming in between the lines of dialogue that propelled the episode forward, whereas this episode would use the jokes to push the episode along.
    The doctor’s manic pixie energy is definitely closer to Smith than Tennant/Eccelston.
    The way the companion is presented as a mystery the doctor must investigate (the ending where he scans her is literally straight out of the Amy Rebel Flesh arc).
    The narrative acceleration that you pointed out in your review.

    This really does feel like a Moffat-y Davies episode, and I’m both a little disappointed by that and excited to see what variations he’ll bring to it.

    Reply

    • Richard Pugree
      May 12, 2024 @ 8:48 am

      Yes, agreed, there’s lots of this that it is really Moffatty – I’m finding post-Moffat RTD really interesting. Because then The Devil’s Chord, whilst including some Moffatty elements, is not an episode Moffat would/could have made.

      Reply

  3. Christopher Brown
    May 11, 2024 @ 4:22 pm

    El, given its sudden relevance to the subject matter of the show, will you be doing a Capaldi-book Pop Between Realities on the 2015 DTV film Baby Geniuses and the Space Baby, directed by Sean McNamara aka the auteur behind Bratz: The Movie, Casper Meets Wendy, Cats and Dogs 3: Paws Unite!, and the upcoming Reagan biopic starring Dennis Quaid, currently due for release on August 30 after sitting on the shelf for three years?

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 11, 2024 @ 4:28 pm

      I think such a weighty topic would not fit well into a single Pop Between Realities. It really requires an entire project unto itself, which I tragically lack the time for.

      Reply

      • Christopher Brown
        May 11, 2024 @ 5:44 pm

        Very understandable. It would completely pull focus from the Series 9 entries for sure.

        Reply

  4. William Shaw
    May 11, 2024 @ 9:43 pm

    Getting a lot of “Boss Baby” vibes from this episode…

    Reply

    • Sean Dillon
      May 12, 2024 @ 12:50 am

      Now I wonder what Marla Frazee thought of the episode.

      Reply

  5. PriorMarcus
    May 11, 2024 @ 10:22 pm

    So, I wonder if the “stepping on a butterfly” bit was another example of superstitions becoming true? If so was the switch a lie invented by the Doctor or was it wibbly-wobbly Time Lord tech compensating for it even though its a new quirk of time travel.

    Reply

    • Ross
      May 12, 2024 @ 4:49 pm

      Wasn’t there a whole thing in the BBC books where it had been the Time Lords that enforced time being stable enough not to go all butterfly-effecty, and in their absence, there was a lot more of that sort of thing going on?

      Reply

      • Harlequin
        May 12, 2024 @ 11:15 pm

        I noticed that the de- and re-translated display was still measuring ‘mavity’. That could be something already butterflyish the Doctor doesn’t seem to have noticed.

        Reply

    • Dan
      May 18, 2024 @ 1:22 pm

      It’s not really a superstition…

      Reply

  6. Cyrano
    May 12, 2024 @ 4:40 am

    It’s an interesting one. It felt a bit insubstantial for a launch – which this an amusing premise without much of a story to back it up. But as El points out this gives space for Gatwa and Gibson to really show off and establish their dynamic. And there’s some interesting stuff going on in the margins:

    The babies being condemned to death by a pro-life order is very American politics, but the stuff about them being refugees who need to reach a safe shore is a dagger in the heart of the British Parliament. Excellent.

    I wonder if the butterfly gag was, as well as a gag, establishing Ruby as a part of Earth? Someone who was found mysteriously as a baby in an episode about a sci-fi baby farm in the future might suggest that Ruby is a sci-fi person, grown in a vat and sent back in time or something. The butterfly gag shows us Ruby as a sci-fi person and says she’s not that?
    Interesting that even with Disney’s money, this episode feels smaller than RTD’s traditional third episode trips to the future. Fewer and less diverse characters than The End of the World, less expansive than New Earth, Gridlock or Planet of the Ood. Even the solar system the station is in is only scene as a stylised map. No CGI and not a glimpse of the world the babies are going to. It doesn’t feel expensive, though I’m sure it is. But maybe the money has gone into making this closed world absolutely rock solid rather than a bigger world that might look a bit wobbly around the edges.
    On this point, perhaps interesting to compare with Shardlake, a series I started on Disney+ after watching Doctor Who on the BBC. Absolutely stuffed with sets and locations, crawling with purposeful extras that build out a sense of the historical world it takes place in despite it ultimately being a locked room murder mystery in a closed, static location.
    Not sure the production playing the revelation of what the bogeyman was made from as seriously bad with a straight face worked for men. My mind went to either shit or…frankly, dead babies. Not the comic bodily fluid!

    Reply

    • Harlequin
      May 12, 2024 @ 11:58 pm

      “Not sure the production playing the revelation of what the bogeyman was made from as seriously bad with a straight face worked for men. My mind went to either shit or…frankly, dead babies. Not the comic bodily fluid!”

      I feel I must apologise for my own thoughts leaking out and contaminating your brain, although the reveal did work for me.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        May 13, 2024 @ 12:18 pm

        Ah, glad I’m not alone in that. Had started to worry I was a bit weird. Also your quoting me has put that unfortunate typo front and centre – “it didn’t work for men”? Well, never mind. Screw ’em

        Reply

    • Ross
      May 13, 2024 @ 9:21 am

      My wife objected when I pointed it out, but I felt the foreshadowing was done really well here: I believe the first time they name it as “the bogeyman” is IMMEDIATELY after the nose-blowing scene. Soon as that happened, I figured it out. (At least, the bit about what it was made of; the rest of it about it being the result of the birthing machine having generated it based on an overly literal attempt to recreate the plot of a children’s story I thought was really clever, and even with Ruby mentioning the children’s story angle, I didn’t piece the whole thing together until the Doctor explained it). The whole thing was a really well-paced reveal. Or maybe it’s just because we caught up on the Chibnall episodes we’d skipped last week and the bar for “Actually have your plot build up instead of piling on pointless plot twists for the sake of being surprising” is very low right now.

      The theme of a children’s story becoming real makes me wonder if they’re building toward a return to the land of fiction – much as I hope they’d leave that one alone (I used the land of fiction as the season 4 plot arc in my “What if Doctor Who had been brought back powered entirely by commercially plausible bad ideas” art project), it feels kind of inevitable to me these days that the ultimate payoff of the Timeless Child is that they’re going to make the Doctor literally be the thing he’s always figuratively been.

      Reply

  7. Narsham
    May 12, 2024 @ 7:53 pm

    I thought this was as good or better than Devil’s Chord at being what it was: DC was some callbacks to The Giggle and to the classic series but largely forward looking (apt for the “historical” that wasn’t), while this future story felt like it was jam-packed with references to earlier New Who episodes (plus Alien). That makes this episode a grand statement for new watchers about what the show is, while a reiteration for those of us who can catch all or some of the call-backs.

    And on some level, it felt like where The Five Doctors opens with that Hartnell clip, this one should have opened with a clip of Andrew Cartmel talking about wanting to bring down the British government.

    Reply

  8. Ross
    May 13, 2024 @ 9:10 am

    The thing I noticed the most is that this is the first time we’ve had a Doctor with a rhotic accent and it’s making me super aware of the fact that for the first 60 years, they’d been pronouncing it “Tah-dis” instead of “TaRRRRRRdis”.

    There is a LOT for those sorts of people to be upset about – the unsubtle “Our politics require that we force babies to be born but our capitalism requires us to leave them to die immediately after”, the stuff about found family, the refusal to kill the monster, and the Doctor’s big speech about how being different makes you special rather than “wrong”. There felt like a permeating queerness to this episode despite the fact that there’s nothing gay in the literal sense here. I somehow feel that almost all of this will go completely over the heads of the people most likely to care (insert King of the Hill “If they could read subtext they’d be very angry right now” meme), especially with the big shiny of Jinkx Monsoon in the next episode to be mad about.

    One thing I note: Ruby is of the right generational cohort that I wish she’d explicitly pointed out that “The hero kills the bogeyman” is a LESS COMMON kid’s story trope – for at least a generation, modern kids’ stories are far more likely to do exactly what this story did, and have the hero come to understand the monster and ultimately befriend it.

    Reply

  9. Shannon
    May 13, 2024 @ 11:51 am

    I took the butterfly bit as a variation on “introducing a new audience to the world of Doctor Who.” The butterfly question is always the first question that gets asked about time travel, so they bit was a “don’t worry about that, we’ve got it covered” to the audience, especially because the next episode is a sort-of historical.

    Reply

  10. Jesse
    May 13, 2024 @ 7:31 pm

    Where things stumble is the first quarter, labored as it is with “explain the lore for all those Americans on Disney+.” Gatwa and Gibson’s energy is enough to keep it out of trouble, but you find yourself thinking that maybe “two hearts” could have been saved for later in the season.

    I felt like RTD was almost making a joke of rushing through some of those welcome-to-the-show beats, with some winks to the audience by way of callbacks to 2005 and 1963.

    Reply

  11. Christopher Brown
    May 14, 2024 @ 9:31 pm

    Having just caught up with the episode, those first twenty minutes are rough. I’m not happy, at all, that we’re back at “last of the Time Lords” or having to be reminded that the Timeless Children happened…but, I think settling on “adopted, and survivor of a genocide” and the way Gatwa performs those beats are the best possible way to handle them, and make good on Gatwa’s goal of inhabiting a fictional hero with a background that touches on his own life story. (Hopefully we’ll encounter a community of fellow Gallifreyan refugees that the Doctor can help set up to take care of themselves and then just go on adventuring.) And the way the script threads together the themes of abandonment, survival, and forced migration is really quite neat. I quite enjoyed myself in the second half…once we got past the majority of the talking baby scenes.

    Jesus Christ, I brought up the Baby Geniuses series as a bit above but I never thought they would actually go for the “babies speaking with digitally-tweaked mouth movements” effect. Just an absolutely horrifying experience and I cannot fathom why they thought it would work given the long, long history of media attempting similar visuals and plunging into the bottom of the uncanny valley.

    Anyway, onto the Devil’s Chord.

    Reply

    • Ross
      May 14, 2024 @ 11:39 pm

      Having replaced the abstract end of the timelords in war with a very straightforward and literal “a very bad man murdered every last one of them”, and having hired a Rwandan man to play the Doctor, you’d have to be Chris Chibnall not to write the Doctor with “survivor of a genocide” at the core of the character.

      Reply

  12. Chris
    May 15, 2024 @ 8:52 am

    Gatwa Is the worst doctor who there has been yet hurry up and fire him already and bring back the great show doctor who was

    Reply

    • Einarr
      May 15, 2024 @ 10:09 am

      Bad look, Chibnall.

      Reply

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