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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.

40 Comments

  1. Abigail Brady
    February 5, 2024 @ 7:03 pm

    this is the first of the episodes – I say first because I suspect there will be more – where I couldn’t remember whether I’d watched it. having now caught myself up on Wikipedia I still don’t know whether I’ve watched it. maybe I would have had a little higher regard for the season had I seen it, or maybe it’s that I remember this season mostly by the individual flaws each episode had, and by being merely middling it was indistinct.

    Reply

    • Bedlinog
      February 6, 2024 @ 3:45 pm

      Same!
      This episode remains my most-watched Chibnall episode, and the only one I’ve rewatched. My first rewatch was because I literally couldn’t remember even having watched it in the first place, and out of an odd sense of duty, decided to give it another try. That also went by in a weird sludgy blur, so I watched it again, before finally giving up.

      Reply

  2. Malk
    February 5, 2024 @ 7:25 pm

    I’d likely agree with your assessment that this is one of the Less Shit ones if I rewatched it now, but I have to mention what I intensely felt halfway through it on first broadcast. The feeling of being utterly bored of the showrunner’s writing style and repetitive use of their personal well of tropes, starting to hope for another one to show up and shake the show out of its doldrums. For the record, it wasn’t until late Series 4/the specials until I started to feel that way towards RTD, and Series 7b (with a massive upswing in interest by the next series, mind) to think I was sick of Moffat. It took exactly four and a half episodes into the first series of the Chibnall era for me to feel like I’d exhausted everything it had to offer. Discounting the three decent (non-Chibnall penned) episodes that come later, I don’t think I was wrong.

    Reply

  3. Austin G Loomis
    February 5, 2024 @ 10:47 pm

    I’d stopped keeping up with the show by this time, but I had a P’ting POP in Funko POP Blitz!, before my Tab A stopped being able to run it (along with Sarah Jane, Four, Nine, fez Eleven, Twelve, and regular and goggles Thirteen). As always, the Mgt. apologizes for any convenience this may cause.

    Reply

  4. David
    February 6, 2024 @ 2:25 am

    At the time this was an episode I disproportionately enjoyed. After three weeks of disappointment, this felt somehow more like Doctor Who, especially following ‘Arachnids’. It’s always baffled me, therefore, that this got and gets so much criticism. The observation that this strays too far into silly is fairly standard for a lot of Doctor Who that I’m more fond of than DWM readers, but noting that this lost love because it overtly plays with gender is suddenly so obvious and frustrating.

    Reply

  5. Arthur
    February 6, 2024 @ 4:22 am

    This one lost me in the opening scene, where the Doctor activates what is obviously some sort of bomb and none of the companions react like that is what has happened, in a scene where the passivity of the era zooms into self-parody. Imminent explosion? Better stand around like lemons, after all the Doctor is talking and that’s what we do when she speaks. Careful, gang, don’t react too much, only one person gets to convey character at a time in Chibnallworld!

    The rest of the episode is… inoffensive. I have big time reservations about “a man is pregnant” being played as “this is a weird and wacky sci-fi thing” rather than “this is just a thing that happens”. The big problem with the main body of the episode is that every strand feels like a halfassed B-plot, nothing feels like an A-plot that the episode commits to fully.

    The apogee of this is the bit where the ship navigates through the asteroid field and they simply… don’t bother to have a single exterior shot showing that. We just have our hero space pilot narrating what she’s doing. We know they had budget for some external CGI shots of the ship, so the assets clearly existed, but apparently using that to show us how the pilot’s actions translated to control of the ship was either too tall an order or something that didn’t occur to them.

    Reply

    • Dan
      February 6, 2024 @ 3:46 pm

      Great point about the lack of exterior shots. I never even thought of that.

      Anyone remember the first filmed sequence of Whittaker as the Doctor – the beautifully reveal with the Tardis and the dark costume? I was expecting an amazing era.

      Reply

  6. David Cook
    February 6, 2024 @ 6:21 am

    The Doctor is a “white man”? I have never thought of the character as a “white man” or “woman” (whatever those terms mean) just the Doctor, as an autistic person I don’t see the world like that (most folk are “other”) and the only character remotely like me is Ryan, who I am not supposed to identify with because his skin is darker than mine? It’s a weird world out there, full of stereotypes and labels.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      February 6, 2024 @ 1:02 pm

      At the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that you do not consciously see the world in terms of race or gender does not mean that these are not very big factors in how the it works, that people do not find these concepts to be tremendously important parts of their identity, nor even that you are correct that you do not see and respond to these things.

      Reply

      • David Cook
        February 6, 2024 @ 4:04 pm

        Yes, but it’s a concept that I find difficult to grasp (my autism kicking in). As a kid, Peter Parker was just as “other” to me as Luke Cage (perhaps even more as I as found Luke to be a bit more relatiable).) Come to think about it, my favourite Marvel characters were Power Man, The Thing (orange), Hulk (green), Daredevil (blind) and Captain Mar-Vel (an alien), but then I am weird.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          February 6, 2024 @ 4:07 pm

          I cannot encourage you strongly enough to never again treat race and the color palates of fantastical characters as basically the same concept.

          Reply

          • David Cook
            February 6, 2024 @ 4:32 pm

            Well, we are discussing a fictional, fantastical show and people identifying (or not) with them? As an autistic person to me Ryan’s the only character in the show’s history that I could emphasis with and see as being like me (being Northern, working class British and on the spectrum)

  7. Nick Walters
    February 6, 2024 @ 7:28 am

    I’ve always thought that it’s a shame that the first female Doctor was served so poorly and has compromised further such ventures.

    You have said it far more eloquently than I ever could here.

    This needed the genius – over-used word, perhaps, but compared to Chibnall – the savvy, catholicism, and sheer balls of an RTD.

    It needed Helena Bonham Carter.

    Or if not her – no, her.

    I sometimes cannot sleep for wondering at the majesty Helena Bonham Carter as the Doctor in a series overseen by RTD. Or Charlie Brooker.

    It really is a shame.

    Nick W

    Reply

    • PriorMarcus
      February 6, 2024 @ 11:16 am

      I really don’t think HBC would of proved anymore worthy than Whittaker, whose a great actress and looks great as the Doctor.

      Anyone other than Chibnall, yes, but I wouldn’t recast the role along with the showrunner.

      I will say that I think it’s a real shame that RTD didn’t stick with a female Doctor and establish it as the new norm, but from a 60th Anniversary, getting back into the public conversation, bringing back Tennant was 100% the right choice.

      Reply

    • confused
      February 6, 2024 @ 3:58 pm

      Catholicism? Isn’t RTD an atheist, and if was catholic, why is that relevant?

      Reply

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        February 6, 2024 @ 4:00 pm

        I suspect Nick was using the word in its lowercase sense, where it simply means “universal” or “having broad appeal.”

        Reply

        • Nick Walters
          February 9, 2024 @ 11:45 am

          Yes that’s it – not the religious sense.

          Seems to suit RTD’s writing, he has a way of making the audience feel ‘in on it.’

          Reply

  8. Ross
    February 6, 2024 @ 7:46 am

    The “cute monster” could have worked so much better if they’d revealed things differently. They could have become aware that something was on the ship, tension could have been built up until it was revealed , everyonme breathes a sigh of relief , only to find out shortly afterwards that it’s got a taste for spaceships and they are in real trouble – in other words it could have been something like the Monty Python and the Holy Grail white rabbit scene. Instead we get shown the Pting and then the Doctor does a big tell-not-show info dump.
    This was a rare occasion of son really enjoying Doctor Who though. My wife picked him up from school a few days later and was subjected to a barrage of questions about the Pting all the way home. Every so often after that he would ask if the Pting would be appearing again.

    Reply

    • Anton B
      February 6, 2024 @ 12:08 pm

      So basically ‘The Star Beast’.

      Glad your son enjoyed it. Which is, I suppose, what the show is for in the end.

      Reply

  9. Anton B
    February 6, 2024 @ 12:22 pm

    The pregnant man could have been a moment but was written like a joke with no punchline.
    The P’ting was as annoying as any cute CGI alien, established as a threat but treated throughout like a cute CGI alien, would have to be.
    Essentially, as I said in my reply to Ross above, it’s ‘The Star Beast’ done backwards.
    Once again the Fam have no reason to be with the Doctor, show no interest in being there and are in a constant state of impotence. This is Ian and Barbara or, God help us, Tegan, done badly. Those companions were stuck with their Doctors. This bunch are, apparently there by choice but not enjoying it much. So why should we?

    I may be wrong of course, I’m relying on memory as there’s no way I’m gonna rewatch this shit.

    Still doesn’t deserve that ‘worst of the season’ rating though.

    Reply

  10. Prandeamus
    February 6, 2024 @ 1:37 pm

    I’m uncomfortable with the way some people speak of role models. Before an MP, or anyone in a public role, opens their mouth to complain about the Doctor or David Beckham or Taylor Swift being a role model, they should ask themselves “How about me? Am I leading by example? Is anything I do worthy of emulation?” If your society fails because a fictional character or pop star doesn’t meet elevated expectations, maybe something is off kilter in society.

    Reply

  11. Camestros Felapton
    February 6, 2024 @ 1:53 pm

    I liked the Pting and didn’t hate the episode at the time. However, it is here that it becomes clear that Chibnall has no idea what to do with a larger Tardis crew.

    Reply

  12. Arthur
    February 6, 2024 @ 2:14 pm

    On further thoughts, and on the topic of “first woman to play the Doctor” in particular, I do in fact know people who have insisted, quite firmly, that they believe it’s wrong to criticise the Chibnall era because that implicitly means you’re throwing Jodie under the bus, and have outright said they regard criticism of Chibnall as providing cover for people who want to sneak in an misogynistic, reactionary agenda.

    I can’t agree with them, for pretty much the reasons you outline here El: anyone who genuinely recognises the importance of Whittaker’s casting and wanted the best for her should be criticising Chibnall and company all the more for woefully mishandling her. No Doctor can succeed without a capable cast and crew backing them – Colin Baker proved that during his TV run, and that really should have been the sole and only time we had to learn that lesson.

    In other words, any Doctor begins their run by taking a leap of faith and trusting that the production team will catch them. It didn’t happen for Jodie, and there are profoundly valid, feminist, and progressive reasons why we should acknowledge that and interrogate why it didn’t happen. That’s true regardless of whether the failed catch was due to malicious refusal, or because the production team weren’t up to the task of the catch in the first place.

    Reply

  13. kenziie bee
    February 6, 2024 @ 2:19 pm

    oh i remember i kinda liked this episode, entirely for the p’ting and the pregnant man, but i also completely forgot which one it was until reading this entry because of that fucking Venture Bros ass title. good thing someone stopped Chibnall here, before he could go on to give his 1st season finale a completely nothing sci-fi gibberish name oh wait

    Reply

  14. Riggio
    February 6, 2024 @ 2:36 pm

    What I wonder about most often when I think about the Chibnall years is how he built a career as a television writer in the first place. It seems that most of his previous work was pretty constrained by other factors, so that we only really saw the full flower of his awfulness once he fully took over Doctor Who’s production. As far as I could tell from Wikipedia at least, the BBC recruited him from the independent theatre world around Edinburgh Fringe to develop a period medical drama in 2001, which was a pretty good stepping stone into becoming a contributing scriptwriter for Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Being part of the Doctor Who community and working as a television writer led to RTD and Moffatt capping him for a few individual episode scripts, and he’d become a good enough television series producer (at least in terms of logistics and management) to run Torchwood. Then came his run as a producer for Law and Order: UK, and the Camelot show starring Eva Green. After that, Broadchurch blew up so huge in 2013 that he gained a lot of prestige, but as you’ve said, it seems that Broadchurch succeeded in spite of Chibnall’s instincts rather than because of them.

    I actually liked this episode quite a bit, and I think there’s a lot of interesting potential in the way it shows the Doctor as an observer and problem solver exploring a world, the way she is here. I’m also retroactively glad to see a pre-Lasso Bret Goldstein getting some work. But it seems that whenever Chibnall is in a position where he doesn’t have any restraints (small scale early in his producing career, being a lower-ranked part of a production team on Law and Order, or having very tight genre constraints like on Law and Order and Broadchurch), he doesn’t really have any vision.

    Reply

    • mimhoff
      February 6, 2024 @ 11:26 pm

      One of the biggest problems with the show these days – any producer who is good enough to be the showrunner these days, can actually just go off and do whatever they want anyway. We’re very lucky that for RTD and Moffat, what they wanted was “to see my ideas for Doctor Who on TV”.

      Maybe soon we’ll get the kids who grew up with Rose and got into television, and they’ll have their turn.

      Reply

      • MikeL
        February 9, 2024 @ 3:32 pm

        “Another line of argument roots itself in the nature of Doctor Who in order to argue that Whittaker/the Chibnall era violates them in key ways. This can sometimes manifest as five hundred page books making cod-structural analysis of the nature of the Doctor as a character that attempts to argue for the inherently gendered nature of this while also arguing that the series has not historically been political.”

        Is there a specific book being referenced here or am I reading too much into a generalisation?

        Reply

  15. Daibhid C
    February 6, 2024 @ 4:43 pm

    Being reminded of Nick Fletcher reminds me of a Doctor Who themed monologue I saw at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe (Peter Fleming Meets Doctor Who!), which opened by quoting Fletcher and commenting that this was about a series which, back in the sixties, had a female Jewish producer and a gay Muslim director.

    “I daresay that if they did that today, Mr Fletcher would call it ‘woke nonsense’. But, on the other hand, if he’d been around back then, he’d probably have called it something much worse.”

    Reply

  16. taiey
    February 7, 2024 @ 2:50 am

    Arachnids was funny and the TARDIS looked beautiful at the end of Ghost Monument, so I do put them above this.

    Mostly I remember this for the anti-characterisation of the Ryan’s-dead-mum-interrogation, the Doctor joining the funeral, and this anti-call back to Thin Ice:

    DOCTOR: In your time, generating anti-matter cost a massive amount of money. This is progress. Things get smaller, faster and cheaper. This is like the iPhone version of CERN, accelerating enough particles to power this entire craft.

    Long way from “progress is the value you place on an ordinary life”.

    Reply

  17. Christopher Brown
    February 7, 2024 @ 5:41 pm

    Without wishing to re-instigate a comments thread that seems to have been closed above, I’d just like it out there as a person on the autism spectrum that being neurodivergent in no way indicates that one is incapable of grasping the niceties of racism, any other form of systemic oppression, or the niceties and complexities thereof. Indeed, as neuroatypical people living in a society where ableism is one form of oppression, it’s in our best interests to learn about those issues and be allies to each other wherever we can.

    Anyway, hopefully everyone reading this already knows that autism doesn’t guarantee privilege-blindness, but I hate that I feel like I have to say this anyway. Sigh.

    Also, it’s bizarre that the P’Ting, of all things, is the rare concept-aesthetic combination that more or less worked in a Chibnall-penned script.

    Reply

    • David Cook
      February 9, 2024 @ 8:49 am

      Oh, I understand it, I just can’t see why the Doctor can’t be a woman or why the colour of one’s skin somehow makes you better or worse, or that if you have pale skin you must identify with other people with pale skin who are vastly different from yourself. As a child I read books set in vastly foreign countries (such as the USA) or watched tv shows like Dr Who where everyone in the cast was different to me. I understand “Majority Privilege” and know it’s an evil, but I can’t understand why people can’t see that everyone is different and unique. Perhaps because I not part of the majority and not sure how\why they think and act.

      Reply

  18. Przemek
    February 9, 2024 @ 5:27 am

    Perhaps part of the reason why this particular story is so widely disliked is that it killed any remaining hope that the Chibnall era might get better. “Woman” got the benefit of the doubt, “Monument” was awful, “Rosa” was at least interesting, “Arachnids” was once again awful… and then you get to “Tauranga” and it’s just another boring pile of crap. Midway through the season even my usually hopeful brain had to admit that this is it. The best Chibnall has to offer.

    This was the last bit of the Chibnall era my wife watched. I kinda regret not following her example.

    Reply

    • Einarr
      February 9, 2024 @ 8:10 am

      At least next week is considerably better, though, indeed an era highlight.

      Reply

  19. AuntyJack
    February 9, 2024 @ 8:10 am

    I’m probably alone in this (zero people I’ve brought it up with have agreed with me so far) but while everyone was speculating about who was going to be the first woman cast as the Doctor, I (on the back of Fleabag and the first series of Killing Eve) thought why not cast Phoebe Waller-Bridge and get her to run the show as well?

    My fantasy was she would be this louche Doctor, skiving off throughout history to catch up with all the gigs she’d promised she’d see one day but would annoyingly stumble across the usual shenanigans needing Doctorish attention. I guess she’d be a bit Fleabag, Benny Summerfield and Iris Wildthyme….

    Reply

  20. Bill Reed
    February 9, 2024 @ 3:12 pm

    This one is cromulent, unspectacular Doctor Who. I like the Pting. I think it was someone in the comment thread of your previous review for this episode who pointed out that the Pting is a goofy-looking creature that’s actually an endlessly voracious devourer of power, and dismantles a galactic health service. So kind of a metaphor for some of the more ridiculous conservative politicians in Britain at the time. This metaphor may be accidental on Chibnall’s part, but it’s something.

    Reply

  21. MikeL
    February 9, 2024 @ 3:33 pm

    “Another line of argument roots itself in the nature of Doctor Who in order to argue that Whittaker/the Chibnall era violates them in key ways. This can sometimes manifest as five hundred page books making cod-structural analysis of the nature of the Doctor as a character that attempts to argue for the inherently gendered nature of this while also arguing that the series has not historically been political.”

    Is there a specific book being referenced here or am I reading too much into a generalisation?

    Reply

    • Einarr
      February 11, 2024 @ 1:02 am

      It’s definitely a real and specific book but I can’t now recall the author’s name or find any search results.

      Reply

      • Einarr
        February 11, 2024 @ 1:05 am

        Wait, no, I can:

        “Identity Lost: A Critical Analysis of the Transformation of the Beloved Television Hero Dr. Who” by Gian-Luca di Rocco

        “The 2018 series of BBC Television’s Doctor Who introduced viewers to a female incarnation of the character for the first time since the programme began in 1963. Fans and dedicated viewers of the series were reassured that there would be no changes to how the character would be written following the change in gender. Long-time Doctor Who enthusiast Gian-Luca Di Rocco examines the veracity of this claim. He takes a methodical approach, examining in detail the character of the Doctor as he existed from 1963 through to 2017 (using all adventures broadcast on BBC television and radio as his sources) and then analyzes to what extent the most significant and prevalent character traits were retained in the first female Doctor.In doing so, this book provides an identification of the Doctor’s 20 “core” character traits which made the character a unique male action hero. It recounts some of the Doctor’s most endearing and cherished qualities, including his cleverest moments, his funniest witticisms, endearing instances of arrogance and rudeness, the finest examples of his eccentricity, and his most heroic and moral actions. Di Rocco also attempts to analyze what changes have been made to the character starting with the 2018 series and the underlying factors which have caused the change. He also suggests a route that can be taken for the series going forward based upon the analysis of what made the character so beloved, unique and successful for over 50 years.”

        Reply

  22. Ross
    February 10, 2024 @ 11:12 am

    If anything, the P’Ting is not silly-looking enough. I mean, yes, he’s tiny and has a bit of a neotenous look to his proportions, but he still looks fundamentally more like a “Big scary monster” that’s just been scaled like a Funko Pop. He’s built for a reveal like the Fear Demon from Buffy: you see it, you are horrified by it, and then the camera pulls back to reveal that it’s quite small. And on top of that, the P’Ting is meant to really only be indirectly threatening – it’s toxic to the touch and having your space ship eaten around you will give you a bad day, but the P’Ting oughtn’t to really care about living intelligent beings. Yet it stalks around like any other big scary man-eating monster.

    Compare to the Rabbit of Caerbannog. Or better yet, the incredibly obvious point of comparison in 2024: Moopsy. Moopsy is a cute furry space axolotl who hops along saying its own name like it’s a Pokemon. And it drinks bones. It never stops being cute, even when it is leaving deflated boneless corpses everywhere. That’s just a better gag than “Normal big scary monster, but chibi-sized”.

    RTD of course gets us a lot closer by bringing Beep the Meep to the screen, but I’d still say that Moopsy has a slight advantage here because the Meep will pull out the Meep’s scary murder-face when the Meep isn’t trying to hide its evil nature.

    Reply

  23. Kevin B
    February 11, 2024 @ 2:23 pm

    Afraid this one still pings as an era lowlight for me, regardless of this very good argument. From a narrative standpoint certainly it’s less offensive than Arachnics, but Arachnids is made well by a good director and has a sense of direction to the narrative. Tsuranga Conundrum embodies a lot of the era’s worst characteristics for me, but chief among them is just that it’s really badly made. There’s so many glaring production issues. The difference in how injured the leads play things after getting blown up. The climax involving flying a spaceship through obstacles with no cuts to an exterior effects shot. The way the Pting, itself delightful, barely appears in the episode, presumably due to being quite an expensive effect, and so large swathes of the episode have no tension or sense of purpose. Like, surely you could do some shadows or pov stuff?! And just bad direction generally. Astos’ death at the start is just bafflingly shot.

    For me, Tsuranga Conundrum is somewhere around the level of Ghost Monument, Ranskoor, and Legend of the Sea Devils. And it marked the point for me where I realized that much as I wanted this era to work, the people making it were just not competent.

    Reply

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