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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.

21 Comments

  1. Steven
    December 11, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

    Buuuuurn

    Reply

  2. John
    December 11, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

    Gatiss over Whithouse is, I think, a pretty unusual position in the fandom, which, from what I can gather, hates Gatiss above all things.

    I've not seen The Game, but from what I've seen of Whithouse (Being Human, his Who and Torchwood episodes), I think I might agree. I just haven't really loved any of it, although I've not rewatched The God Complex and don't really remember what I thought of it at the time.

    And I guess I have a very good sense of what Whithouse would be like as Doctor Who showrunner, and it doesn't seem super appealing. I actually kind of have no idea what a Gatiss-run Doctor Who would be like, which strikes me as at least potentially interesting.

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  3. Jarl
    December 11, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

    I've been seeing commercials for The Game, which I also just lost, for seemingly forever, and it just looks… terminally uninteresting. Maybe that's my own aesthetic biases butting in, but it just looks so dull in all the commercials that should be drawing us in. I don't know.

    I am, at this point, basically convinced that Gatiss Who is the future. For me, the interesting question is more of when than who.

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  4. Terry
    December 11, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

    While I definitely enjoy Whithouse's episodes, even A Town Called Mercy, which didn't really fit in with Series Seven but, at least to me, was well-executed enough to completely get away with it, cliche and all, I never could see him as the showrunner of Doctor Who.

    Whereas with Gatiss' episodes… I find them relatively boring. There's always the hint of something wonderful, a gem waiting to break through, but it never really makes it out of Gatiss' by-the-numbers episodes. I really would not like to see him as the showrunner of Doctor Who, but sadly, it seems more likely then not/

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  5. David Anderson
    December 11, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    Something else that has been hovering around my thoughts about Whithouse is that women in Whithouse tend to be underused. In particular, Annie in Being Human tends to be subordinated to Mitchell and George's characters, and it looks as if the same dynamic was being repeated with Alex, Hal and Tom. (In that regard I'm not at all surprised to discover that the mole in this series is one of the women.)

    Reply

  6. ferret
    December 12, 2014 @ 2:27 am

    So, I've just lost the game. So is anyone else reading this, I'm afraid, although unless you skimmed the title of this blog post you just lost the game anyway, so I don't feel bad. I think I lasted a few months this time, but of course it's notoriously hard to keep track, as that just encourages you to lose the game.

    Anyone else playing the game?

    Reset the clock.

    Reply

  7. Aylwin
    December 12, 2014 @ 5:43 am

    nuanced character pieces about flawed geniuses in worlds full of flawed incompetents who do terrible things in pursuit of noble goals

    Totally unjustifiable nitpick of a passing observation: as far as the Le Carres are concerned (never seen The Sandbaggers) I don't think "incompetents" is right. There are allusions to institutional incompetence, but as far as the actual characters are concerned it's more like "mediocrities, washed-up wasted talents, and Oleg Kirov". And even that requires ignoring the apparent implication that "flawed geniuses" refers only to the protagonists – George is the alpha genius, but people like Bill, Connie, and of course Karla are quite brilliant enough themselves. And Control is, if nothing more, extremely intelligent and doggedly efficient. One of the tragedies diagnosed by Le Carre could be expressed as "I watched the finest minds of my generation destroyed by spending their lives gambling with blank dice". Even someone like Percy, whose limitations make him a laughing-stock among his colleagues, would probably be the smartest guy in a fair few rooms.

    Not too sure about the noble goals either, in as much as Le Carre surely wasn't too sure about them even then, and while George is a man of indissoluble faith in the purpose of what he does, it's the kind of faith that walks hand in hand with doubt. Plus his motivation in Smiley's People is more personal vendetta than public service.

    Pushing the pedantry even further, I don't think George actually does anything particularly terrible in those two stories, though I suppose Smiley's People is suffused with a sense of the accumulated brutalising effect of his work on people. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is a different kettle of fish of course.

    Oh, and there's a significant comma missing.

    OK, stopping that now.

    Reply

  8. Aylwin
    December 12, 2014 @ 5:57 am

    Would I be right in thinking that Phil has observed that setting up a scenario based on familiar genre conventions and then subverting the implied expectations by switching tracks into a different narrative outcome is a very old standard of comedy writing, and more broadly that erecting a set of rules which instill expectations and then subverting them is the basic structure of a joke, and hence that his narrative substitution techniques can be regarded as a matter of Moffat the comedy writer bringing comic conventions to bear on drama?

    I think he probably has, but on the off chance he hasn't, I'm bagsying that observation.

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  9. Daru
    December 12, 2014 @ 6:54 am

    Initially on the basis of hearing and reading about The Game, I felt that it would be good to watch. Now after reading your essay Phil – which I did pay for via Patreon, and really enjoyed reading, thanks – I don't know if I want to bother. I had held out a lot of hope for Waterhouse's writing, but yes he has seemed to wane. In contrast, even if he does go down the nostalgia route a lot, I do enjoy Gatiss's experimentation a lot more.

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  10. Adam Riggio
    December 12, 2014 @ 10:31 am

    That's a very interesting way to think about narrative substitution and Moffat's sense of genre play. I think I'd been dancing around this notion in my own conception of what it is that he does narratively speaking, but I've never quite been able to put my finger on it as precisely as you do.

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  11. Adam Riggio
    December 12, 2014 @ 10:45 am

    Thinking on what you've said about Whithouse, Phil, it seems to me that he'd be a throwback for Doctor Who in more ways than just the sense of narrative and character priorities that you have here. Whithouse seems to be primarily interested, as far as his focus in a story's drama is concerned, on the angst of brooding male protagonists. You're right that this fits right in with the narrative conventions that were common to television in the 2000s, and with the cop and spy genres of the 1970s.

    But Whithouse's focus on male angst also fits rather too well for my liking with the central drama of the Davies era, the Doctor's regret over the Time War and having committed genocide against his own people. You were right to identify his last Doctor Who script, A Town Called Mercy, as a creature from another era. Whithouse is well suited to dramas about male angst and anger over terrible, regretful things in their own pasts. But Moffat's crowning achievement in ensuring the future of Doctor Who was having redeemed this moment in Day of the Doctor, and leading the show on from this obsessive return to the Doctor's moment of terror. Moffat also completed the full influence of Joss Whedon's innovations in female cult television characterization in Doctor Who. While Davies began this in the basic style of the stories, only Moffat has brought Whedon's innovations in popular female protagonists to full articulation with Clara.

    Whithouse would, while unable truly to destroy Gallifrey (yet) again, bring the storytelling of Doctor Who back to the model of angsty haunting from which Davies wrung so much drama. His myopic focus on male angst as a source of drama would undo all the progress of Whedon's influence on the program. He's precisely the wrong person, now, to take over Doctor Who.

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  12. Jarl
    December 12, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

    I swear I remember reading him say something about that, though it is possible I'm misremembering another time that Phil discussed the ramifications of a sitcom writer writing a sci fi drama.

    Reply

  13. Eric Gimlin
    December 12, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

    http://xkcd.com/391/

    You're welcome.

    Reply

  14. Daru
    December 13, 2014 @ 1:34 am

    Good points Adam. I think the fact as you say that Whithouse's style of drama focuses on the "male angst and anger over terrible, regretful things in their own pasts" is why I gradually found Being Human quite difficult to watch. For me the whole of the drama was about being consumed by that angst, and for me it just stopped being interesting or entertaining. I don't think now I could enjoy his take on Doctor Who – even if I did adore The God Complex as one of the highlights of New Who – as his vision feels somewhat limited.

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  15. Adam Riggio
    December 13, 2014 @ 1:49 am

    The God Complex was a highlight of new Who, a combination of Whithouse's writing and Nick Hurran's direction. But its own story model was very much of a pre Day of the Doctor era. Whithouse's is a Doctor who is constantly haunted by the casualties of adventuring, torn by the angst that there are so few times where everyone lives.

    Thinking on it now, I see another angle of Whithouse's retrograde style. Under Whithouse, Clara would have been right in Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline: the Doctor is ethically primarily about strategic decisions, and constantly weighs the value of the people around him by how they can solve the mystery of the week. And Whithouse's drama would come from that angst.

    If Whithouse's failure in The Game teaches us anything, it's that the era of the anti-hero is over. Moffat's vision of Doctor Who has shown how we can have heroes again.

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  16. Daru
    December 13, 2014 @ 2:01 am

    Indeed, The God Complex is one of those beautiful beasts that shows what happens when collaboration really clicks and alchemy is created. A great vision of the show haunting itself.

    In your last paragraph you really nail it for me. Since I read Phil's article something has been nagging at the back of my mind, the feeling of disappointment at the hollowness of the tortured heroic male. It is over isn't it? At least I hope it is, for the stories we need now I think need to be full of beauty, wonder and real inspiration – enough of angst.

    Reply

  17. ferret
    December 13, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

    I enjoy it in a way, I don't want to be free 🙂 But dammit, you just made me lose the game again.

    Reply

  18. Carey
    December 14, 2014 @ 12:09 am

    Thanks to the vagaries of the BBCOne scheduling department, I haven't seen The Game yet, but I m looking forward to it (although I've just spoiled myself on that front! Shouldn't matter: I've experienced Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as book, tv series, movie and radio adaptation, and enjoyed all three despite knowing the outcome beforehand). I can't comment on everything in the review because of this, but can add a note or two.

    Firstly, authenticity. It's well nigh impossible to maintain the authenticity of the tv series of Tinker Tailor (or The Sandbaggers) primarily as you so note because they were made in the era they depicted. Oddly this is something that comes to light in the movie adaptation of Tinker Tailor, which is scale: the movie is simply too big. The Circus depicted in the tvseries reeks of the 70's: claustrophobic rooms full of pained silences. The huge expanses of space and boxes filled with boxes, while fitting on a thematic level, misses that. I would imagine that visually The Game harkens back more to the movie than the tv series.

    Then there is authenticity in writing: Ian Mackintosh was not the only writer with connections with the secret service: David Cornwell also served within that department, and liked secrets so much that he didn't even write under his own name, but chose the more baroque Joh Le Carre instead.

    From reading your views on the male fixated narrative and the revelation of the mole in The Game, this seems very much a comment on Tinker Tailor and its sequel again. The two books are written as mirrors to each other, and Smiley's People sees Smiley adopt (and therefore become corrupted by) the same practices as Karla used in Tinker Tailor: find his opposition's weakness and exploit it. In both cases that weakness is a female family member (Ann, Smiley's wife in Tinker Tailor; Karla's illegitimate daughter in Smiley's people) who, for all they impact on the narrative, barely appear in it. The only other female character of note in either novel is Connie, a character who once again, although impactful on the narrative, appears in one chapter in each book, and is depicted as a physical and mental wreck of the person they once were. There is also an appearance by Irina, the lover of Riki Tarr, but again, she is there purely as a victim in the Cold War game being played out around her.

    It's also interesting to note that on transmission one of the episodes of Smiley's People was heavily criticised because it featured a long scene set in a strip club. In short, institutionalised sexism dominates the 70's source material, and I wonder how much this dictates the revelation of the mole in The Game.

    Despite your review, I am interested in watching it: I agree with you the Whithouse has his flaws as a writer: oddly they are the same as those of one of his heroes, Alan Moore since the failure of Big Numbers, in that he feels the need to look back at genres and deconstruct them, but without adding much more to them beyond that. Could this work as a show runner of Doctor Who? Possibly.

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  19. Aylwin
    December 14, 2014 @ 1:31 am

    Good thoughts, but would just say that the thematic impact of space can work either way. I mean, big spaces give you faded grandeur, that "giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief" idea, but small, shabby offices give you diminished fortunes and cramped horizons. Handled right, either one gets you to the necessary sense of the post-imperial condition.

    Oh, and digressing on the question of methods, the idea of the Karla-obsessed Smiley sinking to his enemy's level in order to defeat him makes a harmonious narrative shape in retrospect, which is to say it would have made sense for that to come at the end if planning it all out from the start. But the unplanned way that one book followed another means that George has already been a great deal more low-down and dirty before Karla is even conceived. What Karla and Bill do with Operation Testify and Jim is just a rearrangement of the gambit Smiley and Control play with Alec in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, not only in the form of the trick but in the betrayal of the pawn, while the latter actually has a whole lot of extra nastiness rolled up with it. The way George gets Karla is thoroughly innocuous by comparison.

    "I got him home, didn't I?" works as a grossly inadequate plea in mitigation on Bill's part, but the obvious parallel must also cut George pretty deeply, whether the implication is meant by Bill or not.

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  20. William Silvia
    December 16, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    Everybody who reads this blog lost the game.

    Reply

  21. Katherine Sas
    December 19, 2014 @ 4:55 am

    Dammit, you (and every comment above which references the game) just made me lose the game.

    I can't wait for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I'll be interested to see if that moves Peter Harness up in the list of show-runner to be.

    Reply

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