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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.

49 Comments

  1. Max Curtis
    January 2, 2016 @ 3:45 am

    I dunno, I really enjoyed it despite its flaws. And I definitely don’t agree with the emerging fan narrative of Sherlock’s decline since His Last Vow was so spectacular.

    Loved your point about Cumberbatch. He definitely felt “off” to me even though there was nothing wrong with his performance, so that clarified things.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 2, 2016 @ 4:44 am

      Good lord, there’s an emerging narrative of decline over one silly special?

      Reply

      • Max Curtis
        January 2, 2016 @ 4:56 am

        Assuming you’re not joking, I think there’s a widespread perception that Season 3 was a massive come-down, mostly because Sherlock is now up itself. This reddit thread, for instance (https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/2llwhe/what_television_series_is_so_good_its_worth_binge/clw04aj), is sadly representative.

        “Season 3 episode 3 was so out of character for the series. It’s like they couldn’t come up with any ideas so they made Sherlock do something that basically he would never ever do. Doesn’t make any sense, and its a gross mistep in the series.”

        “Season 3 was a train wreck from start to finish”

        “The show became a romantic comedy in Season 3. The focus was entirely on the marriage and Watson/Sherlock’s friendship. The mysteries and cases, aka the entire reason people first came to watch the show, are just added in as an afterthought. Really disappointing season.”

        Reply

        • Dustin
          January 2, 2016 @ 6:56 am

          “the entire reason people first came to watch the show”

          Who are these people? I watch the show for the sake of Freeman and Cumberbatch’s great performances and some fun writing. “Sherlock” isn’t like the other sort of things that get aired on Masterpiece Mystery, as the mysteries are hardly ever the most interesting thing about it. Watson’s marriage (agreed on Abbingdon’s awesomeness) and and the exploration of the two leads’ friendship was the best part of S3.

          Phil, you need to know that the comment form keeps thinking I’m Jane, showing me her email address and everything.

          Reply

          • Jane Campbell
            January 2, 2016 @ 6:57 am

            Considering I’m commenting at exactly the same time, this is very interesting.

          • Max Curtis
            January 2, 2016 @ 2:17 pm

            Either the comment system is broken, or it’s become sentient and has decided that Dustin and Jane have close enough opinions. So sentient and a teensy bit lazy.

          • Daibhid Ceannaideach
            January 5, 2016 @ 11:10 pm

            Well, I like the mysteries. But I’ve always understood that Moffatt and Gattis see them as the least interesting part of the show and write accordingly. Which is why I appreciate that, even here, hell, even in “Sign of Three” they always take the time to do the mysteries properly.

            I mean, this is taking place entirely in Sherlock’s head as a way for him to think about something else entirely. It doesn’t actually need a solution, as such. But it gets one anyway because, dammit, this is a Sherlock Holmes story and that’s how they work.

      • Max Curtis
        January 2, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

        Oh, here’s another example from Vox, whose entertainment writer generally seems clueless about Doctor Who and Sherlock in my opinion:

        http://www.vox.com/2016/1/2/10700800/sherlock-special-recap-pbs-abominable-bride

        Reply

        • stevene
          January 2, 2016 @ 9:55 pm

          I think the decline narrative is the same as with Doctor Who, people noticing the inconsistency and forgetting that earlier seasons had the same issues.

          Season 8 is literally the only seasons of rebooted Who that didn’t have at least one episode I thought was appalling. It means I get what people mean when they criticise the show, without thinking that RTD Who was any stronger on balance.

          I couldn’t make it through this episode tbh – but there’s been an episode every season that I’ve found almost unwatchable – the circus episode, the CGI dogs – while finding the show on a whole to be great. Showing three episodes at a time couches the pain somewhat when it doesn’t deliver, but coming years on and being this poor leaves the show pretty badly exposed.

          Things are compounded a little by no one, going by Twitter, thinking much of Cumberbatch atm. It’ll swing back but he’s over-exposed and perhaps hasn’t had a great role in a while.

          Reply

      • stevene
        January 2, 2016 @ 9:56 pm

        I think the decline narrative is the same as with Doctor Who, people noticing the inconsistency and forgetting that earlier seasons had the same issues.

        Season 8 is literally the only seasons of rebooted Who that didn’t have at least one episode I thought was appalling. It means I get what people mean when they criticise the show, without thinking that RTD Who was any stronger on balance.

        I couldn’t make it through this episode tbh – but there’s been an episode every season that I’ve found almost unwatchable – the circus episode, the CGI dogs – while finding the show on a whole to be great. Showing three episodes at a time couches the pain somewhat when it doesn’t deliver, but coming years on and being this poor leaves the show pretty badly exposed.

        Things are compounded a little by no one, going by Twitter, thinking much of Cumberbatch atm. It’ll swing back but he’s over-exposed and perhaps hasn’t had a great role in a while.

        Reply

        • stevene
          January 2, 2016 @ 10:00 pm

          Not sure why this posted twice.

          I don’t think I made it quite far enough to properly see why but this episode seems to have done absolutely nothing to halt the meme of Moffat hating women. I’ve seen people actually write that this episode shows that he must hate women, or see them as problems.

          Reply

          • Sleepyscholar
            January 3, 2016 @ 11:25 am

            How could it halt the meme of Moffat hating women?

            How could anything halt that?

  2. unnoun
    January 2, 2016 @ 4:13 am

    So this special was in both the victorian era and the modern day? So doesn’t that mean it’s.

    Like.

    A hybrid?

    Reply

  3. MDavison
    January 2, 2016 @ 4:19 am

    Was I the only one led to believe that Sherlock threw his dearstalker hat prior to diving into Reichenbach Falls so that he could calculate the distance to the bottom so that he could effectively survive such a plunge (as the Doctor did in “Heaven Sent”)?

    Also, you didn’t see The Imitation Game? Fix that!

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 2, 2016 @ 4:44 am

      I have too much investment in Turing to enjoy an accuracy-light biopic.

      Reply

      • MDavison
        January 2, 2016 @ 4:57 am

        I get that. My passion for scientific accuracy severely damaged any hope I had of enjoying “Kill the Moon”. Yikes!

        Reply

        • Max Curtis
          January 2, 2016 @ 5:20 am

          Surely it’s a matter of differing expectations? I expect broad scientific accuracy from 2001 or Interstellar, but not Kill the Moon. And I expect slightly more historical accuracy from The Imitation Game than something like The Unicorn and the Wasp. It’s the difference between promising a pastiche on a certain style and its tropes as opposed to claiming to be an elegy for a forgotten hero.

          Reply

          • MDavison
            January 2, 2016 @ 5:41 am

            I must confess that I do expect a certain basic fundamental degree of scientific accuracy from “Doctor Who”.

            While I generally have no trouble going with the flow, the science mistakes in “Kill the Moon” were so obvious and unnecessary to me that they kept pulling me right out of the story. What was irritating was that a lot of the mistakes could have been avoided with just a bare minimum of research.

            So, what I was really trying to point out is that I can understand how it can be difficult to appreciate a work of art when it changes reality to serve the story being told. I was okay with “The Imitation Game” because I wasn’t so aware of all of the true facts about what happened, and was able to enjoy it for what it was. It actually inspired me to read more about what really happened, and I must confess that there were some changes made that seemed somewhat arbitrary, but didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie.

            It was very difficult for me to watch “Kill the Moon” because the scientific errors made were too jarring and off-putting for me. It also bothers me that this misinformation was presented in “Doctor Who” which has such a large following among children.

          • Jane Campbell
            January 2, 2016 @ 6:56 am

            The mode of Doctor Who since the Revival, and especially in the Moffat era, is one of transvaluation, particularly of narratives. Therefore, that the “scientific details” of Kill the Moon are so blatantly rubbished is better understood as a critique of a particular line of narrative, namely “hard sf,” should not be construed as “mistaken” so much as “deliberate” and “intentional.”

            That doesn’t mean you should like it, especially if you are a fan of hard SF. Rather, you should be aware that the values implicit in hard SF (which you may very well share) have been deliberately derided in favor of something else. Which isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, but of philosophy. En guard.

          • Dustin
            January 2, 2016 @ 7:02 am

            Jane, I was going to comment on the hard/soft distinction, but it would be better if I just pointed that the comment form keeps thinking I’m you. Anyone else having this error?

          • Dustin
            January 2, 2016 @ 6:58 am

            “Astronaut turns into giant space baby” is more scientifically accurate than “the moon is an egg”?

          • Roderick T. Long
            January 2, 2016 @ 7:36 am

            Actually, it is, kinda.

          • Kyle Edwards
            December 21, 2016 @ 12:22 am

            Please refer me to where you learned this. I need this science in my life.

      • JJ
        January 2, 2016 @ 5:48 am

        Accuracy aside, it’s a good film, but not really interesting, as such. The script avoids doing anything a general audience might find risky or off-putting (oddly, for a film so much about Turing’s sexuality, it never shows him once grown in any sort of romantic/sexual situation with another man), and doesn’t really explore things with any depth. And the direction is completely generic and uninspired. Cumberbatch’s performance really is the only major reason to watch it. The supporting performances and music are strong as well, but not unmissable. The film is effective, but it’s probably best described as “pretty good Oscar bait”, so if that’s not your genre, it’s not going to be your film.

        Reply

      • UrsulaL
        January 2, 2016 @ 5:39 pm

        It’s alright, as films go. It’s basically The Curse of Fenric with the vampires taken out.

        Reply

        • UrsulaL
          January 2, 2016 @ 5:43 pm

          Huh? I didn’t write that. (And I’ve never seen “The Curse of Fenric.)

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            January 2, 2016 @ 6:23 pm

            Yeah, we’re having an odd bug where comments are autofilling the names of the wrong users occasionally. As with several comment bugs, Anna’s working on it.

      • William Shaw
        January 2, 2016 @ 5:40 pm

        It’s alright, as films go. It’s basically The Curse of Fenric with the vampires taken out.

        Reply

  4. Nicholas Caluda
    January 2, 2016 @ 5:34 am

    Well, hmm.

    The script is, by all rights, excellent. And I still like Mackinnon’s direction, though I’ll admit it isn’t necessarily Talalay levels of good. Yet I constantly found myself checking the clock.

    So, given that once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth…

    I think Benedict Cumberbatch acts better with longer hair.

    Reply

    • Roderick T. Long
      January 2, 2016 @ 7:38 am

      I think part of the problem is that we withhold full emotional investment from the characters, knowing they’re not the “real” versions we’ll be returning to.

      Reply

      • Nicholas Caluda
        January 2, 2016 @ 8:22 am

        Good point. It’s telling that I got a genuine rush when that plane landed – “here’s OUR Sherlock!”

        I’m not sure if that’s a failure on the special’s part or on mine, but I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

        Reply

  5. David Brain
    January 2, 2016 @ 10:14 am

    You nail all the reasons why this episode felt a little bit “off” and yet I still loved every nonsensical minute of it, especially the scenes with Holmes & Moriarty facing off (even when they are doing their overacting bit at the Falls) and, as you say, Gatiss putting in possibly his best performance to date.

    I do think that the extended story-so-far completely undermined the spectacular moment of the plane landing, and the whole semi-Inception conceit though. If it had come out of nowhere, then it would have been far, far more powerful (especially given that there were a number of suggestions within the first half-hour that this might be what was going on to reward the rewatchers.) But it was also an understandable decision. I wonder if it was Moffat’s choice?

    Reply

  6. Blue
    January 2, 2016 @ 10:31 am

    I was really enjoying it until halfway through when it turned out it was all a dream and then the show couldn’t be bothered to solve the mystery and instead went off on a boring meta narrative thing.

    I actually thought the end was astonishingly sexist and patronising, an attempt at feminism from someone who saw a woman from a distance once. So running a murder-suicide cult is fine if you’re female, right? It felt dangerously close to that period in American tv in the 80s and 90s where everyone seemed worryingly supportive of the IRA, without realising that, you know, you can agree with a particular point of view without necessitating siding with the murderous terrorists.

    I mean sure you could say it was all in Sherlock’s head and he is a sexist character, but it came across as ‘the plucky women teamed up to form a murder-suicide cult to kill anyone they wanted, GOOD ON THEM!!!!’ which is… baffling.

    Reply

    • Daibhid Ceannaideach
      January 6, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

      I can sympathise with that viewpoint, but there are two points I’d think of on the other side.

      Firstly, this is simply a thing Holmes does. I can think of two occasions in the books where he decides to put a case in the unsolved file because he sympathises with the killer. One of them is indeed a woman who premeditatedly murdered the man who preyed on her. (And the other involves the death of a Sir Eustace. Hmm…)

      Second – and this was a thing I only thought of today – I think that might be how the rules Sherlock’s set up work. He can’t bring Lady Carmichael to justice any more than he can save Sir Eustace’s life, because that’s not what actually happened. So there needs to be a reason he doesn’t, otherwise the scenario is inconsistent.

      Reply

  7. Anton B
    January 2, 2016 @ 10:36 am

    So it takes us humans half a dozen goes to post a comment despite the Captcha letters being ridiculously easy to see and then we get posted with another commenters name. Yet the spambots get through with no trouble. Also slightly concerning that other posters email addresses become visible. This really needs addressing.

    As to The Abominable Bride, thanks for encapsulating my own reaction so eloquently. I think they gave themselves a problem by not committing totally to the 19th century conceit. They didn’t believe in their bubble wrap.

    Steven Moffatt once again just blatantly lies to obscure his tricks. (Which of course every magician does). This was as much a Peppers Ghost as the solution to the bride. A distorted reflection. I seem to recall many interviews over the past year where Moffat maintained that Abominable Bride wouldn’t be a dream or a hallucination, that they were just doing period Sherlock and then it all turns out to be a dream, a drug induced hallucination or, if we’re being kind, an extended romp through Sherlock’s mind palace. What remains unclear, and provides me with a frisson of delight, is whether the intention was to deceive or entertain. I’m looking forward to the inevitable differences of opinions amongst fans and the ‘Moffat must go’ conversations extending into Sherlock now.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      January 2, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

      We the human oppressors have relied on the Captcha lumpenproletariat to keep their spambot brothers and sisters under control, but now they are developing class-consciousness and recognising their shared interests. Solidarity is spreading. A reckoning is at hand.

      The black and white pawns don’t fight each other – they join forces.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        January 2, 2016 @ 12:20 pm

        Apologies for the biologiconormative terminology there.

        Reply

      • Aylwin
        January 2, 2016 @ 12:31 pm

        Incidentally, if anyone’s taking bets on what Phil’s going to mention in his Player of Games article, put me down for fifty quid on that bit from The Curse of Fenric.

        Reply

  8. Evan Forman
    January 2, 2016 @ 10:52 am

    I pretty much loved this episode, thinking – with all the Riccoletti case’s parallels to the Mortiarty problem, which I thought was brilliant, “let’s solve one case in 2014 by solving a different one in 1895”, in Sherlock’s typically meta way – that it would answer “How is Moriarty back?” but in the same motion replace it with a bigger hook for series 4, until the bride’s corpse woke up and we stopped everything for more (character drama, as i’ve seen some people defend it, but other than developing Sherlock’s drug addiction(s) and his relationship with Mycroft I feel like this episode was retreading stuff about John and Sherlock’s relationship we could already infer from previous episodes; and as much as I like Andrew Scott, and loved his first appearence in this episode, I think His Last Vow’s mind palace scene more than satiated any appetite I had for his cooing) “your brain is a hard drive and i’m the virus” gubbins. Still fun tho.

    Reply

    • John
      January 2, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

      Yeah, the Reichenbach Falls scene was pretty clearly the biggest misstep, and I agree with Phil that Freeman’s performance was either the only thing that saved it, or the thing that came closest to saving it.

      Reply

  9. Janine
    January 2, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

    Well, I loved that. Maybe a murder cult is the wrong way to go about social change, but it seemed acceptable within the ethics of Sherlock. This is the protagonist, after all, who finished last episode by shooting Rupert Murdoch in the head, and in a show about sociopaths, any of the female characters were viable possibilities for someone who’d go out shooting bigots pretending to be a ghost.

    And, of course, it was a celebration of characters; specifically, female characters, and an extension of Series Nine’s companion meta – stories which empower women, which give them agency, which respect the shit they’ve had to put up with for years and why they might act in a way which would otherwise be unreasonable. 2015 (with this being only one day out) has felt like some sort of feminist crusade. And no, it doesn’t get it right every time; but Steven Moffat is a man living a relatively easy life, and frankly, the fact that he even tried should be commended.

    Moving on, but sticking to the point of character, I suppose this was the transformation of Moriarty back from a person into an idea. He spent the whole first series as a word, and most of the second and third as a character able to manipulate or ‘hack’ the narrative. Now he’s an idea still able to control the narrative; a villain written into the heart of the show, a idea which cannot be killed. Characters becoming symbols. Delicious.

    I loved the last scene, and not just because it’s fun to imagine Sherlock and John as Moffat and Gatiss. The Reichenbach Fall was clearly the end of the dream, so why does the story live on? The answer is because both stories happened. And both necessitated each other: one, where Sherlock was a man out of his time, able to solve mysteries because his mind came from a future where men and women are treated equally; and another, where Sherlock was again a man out of his time, able to solve the puzzles of the present by looking back on the mistakes of the past. In this light, Cumberbatch’s performance makes a lot more sense – he’s the only character who’s more or less the same in both worlds, because he is, by his nature, a reflection of both worlds. With that said, I don’t think anyone, even Martin Freeman, came close to the nuance of character that Amanda Abbington mastered. What an actress.

    Reply

    • ScarvesandCelery
      January 2, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

      Amanda Abbington was wonderful.

      I’m really torn on the episode’s gender politics. I don’t quite agree with the line of critique that says the scene in the crypt was “A man explaining feminism to group of women”, but was instead Sherlock explaining how being an ally should work to men. “Don’t fight oppressed populations or judge what they choose to do to gain equal rights” is, while invariably complicated in real life, a perfectly reasonable message to deliver. And I liked the detail of that scene being the moment where Sherlock realises he’s mistreated Janine and and Molly.
      I think Series Nine of Doctor Who, in particular “Hell Bent” and ” The Husbands of River Song”, has seen Steven Moffat trying to solve, and I think succeeding in solving, the major problems encountered by the roles the female characters face in a show where the male protagonist still has an overbearing pull on the show’s narrative.
      I think this episode saw Moffat and Gatiss trying to address similar issues implicit in Sherlock Holmes Canon and adaptations. But we ended up getting a female death cult who bear an unfortunate resemblance to the KKK. While the narrative clearly sympathised with them, I can see why that image is a deeply uncomfortable one for many viewers. I think it was at best analogous to the “Mums are amazing!” bit in “TDTWATW” – well intentioned but a little clunky and with some rather reactionary implications.
      And I think that, overall, Sherlock’s attempt to critique the flaws of its origins didn’t work as well as Doctor Who’s attempt to do the same thing because BBC Sherlock has a fair few more problematic elements than Moffat’s Doctor Who has ever had. If there’s one wish I’d have for season four of Sherlock, it would be that the personal growth Moffat has shown on Doctor Who would start to be as evident on his other hit show.

      Reply

      • John
        January 2, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

        It wasn’t exactly a man explaining feminism to a group of women, so much as a man explaining feminism to another man, since I assume Watson was the intended beneficiary of those parts of Sherlock’s remarks. But it was a very awkward scene that didn’t quite work.

        Reply

  10. UrsulaL
    January 2, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

    The murderous cult of suffragettes seems to really be playing to the fear that the privileged have of justice. The Donald Trump crowd, if you will.

    The subconscious questioning of why the people that those in power are oppressing aren’t out for violent revenge. And the fear of that (likely justified) revenge turning into hatred of the oppressed by the oppressors.

    And while they were using the word “suffragists” as a period word for “feminist”, it was really domestic violence and intimate partner violence that the women were fighting violently. Not just the obvious wife-beating, but also the systemic oppression of women within the home, as wives, but also as servants. With a side-motivation of all of the other complaints they were allowed to voice in Sherlock’s fantasy.

    It’s also an odd commentary on feminism as a man-hating revenge fantasy. A concept that is used to diminish feminist concerns about systemic problems. And also a way for “good” men to appease their conscience – they’ve done nothing bad enough to justify murder.

    I also couldn’t quite tell, but I think they were using the term “suffragists” rather than “suffragettes”, with the former being what activists at the time used for all pro-voter activism, and the latter being a somewhat derogatory diminutive.

    In all, it was an odd feminist commentary, embedded in the male subconscious.

    Reply

    • EvilBug
      January 2, 2016 @ 9:10 pm

      Feminists might not like being portrayed as a murder cult, but the same feminists are statistically likely supporting notion that they must be “listened and believed” by the justice system.

      Perhaps they dislike being misrepresented as someone who want to carry out violence themselves, when in reality they just want to train pack of attack dogs in blue.

      Reply

      • Josh04
        January 2, 2016 @ 11:28 pm

        pardon?

        Reply

  11. David Ainsworth
    January 2, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

    Another factor to consider in reading this episode is that the period mystery is taking place inside Sherlock’s head. It’s easy enough to make a distinction between Moffat and Gatiss endorsing a women’s murder cult and Sherlock endorsing it, though doubtless the narrative is sympathetic towards those women and presents the husbands as deserving punishment.

    With that in mind, there’s a lot more going on, suggesting to me that the focus of the episode wasn’t about solving either mystery but rather Sherlock working through some internal issues (perhaps unwittingly) while in the process of problem-solving.

    From that perspective, consider the implications of a shift to seeing Molly Hooper as a woman, or a recognition that Mrs. Hudson has been marginalized. Sherlock is working through his personal issues with women as well as through his issues with Moriarty and failure.

    That reading also makes the Mycroft scenes especially amusing, as Sherlock’s mind works through a representation of his mingled love and hatred for his brother.

    My real question: was Mycroft checking a journal against the list at the end? Or a code-book?

    Reply

  12. Jesse
    January 2, 2016 @ 9:54 pm

    I watched it with my wife, who had fallen away from Sherlock after the first season (not for lack of interest, just busy with other things) and thought a period one-off would be a comfortable way to enjoy the show without worrying about the larger continuity. So I was annoyed to see the future-Sherlock continuity inserting itself like that. But she, on the other hand, didn’t mind it at all, so perhaps I was aggrieved for nothing.

    One effect of Moriarty’s sudden arrival from the future (more or less) was to throw a wrench into what was otherwise a pretty easy mystery to figure out. The feminist themes had been telegraphed well enough that it was clear from the start what Mycroft’s “invisible army” comment was about. And it was pretty clear that the person who murdered the man Sherlock was supposed to protect was his wife—or rather, it was until Moriarty’s note appeared and suddenly left me wondering what he had to do with the story.

    The complaint that Sherlock was explaining feminism to women seems silly—have people really been saying that? Obviously, he was explaining it to Watson (though it seems odd that Watson was generally clueless about feminist issues yet capable of making that “man’s world” comment in the morgue). My main problem with that scene was that it overexplained matters to the viewers, who really ought to be considered clever enough to notice the episode’s feminist themes on their own.

    I’m tempted to call this episode a noble failure, but I enjoyed it too much for that. So instead I’ll dub it a noble mess.

    Reply

  13. Greme Bravo
    January 5, 2020 @ 9:12 am

    Nice Post

    Reply

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