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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.


  1. Froborr
    December 19, 2014 @ 12:54 am

    Have you described the Impossible Girl arc as a shell game before? Because that's such a perfectly, jaw-droppingly obvious description of it, yet I can't remember seeing it anywhere before this.


  2. iWill
    December 19, 2014 @ 12:59 am

    What strikes me as particularly weird about the kiss is that Matt Smith seems to me a person possessed of a reasonable intelligence, such that the idea "I think I'll improvise a kiss with the character established as being in a same sex relationship who has shown absolutely no sexual interest in men in general or my character in particular" would be shot down immediately. Ugh. I really didn't like that bit, and I think Jack Graham was right to pick up on it in his case for the prosecution, even if I get your argument here.
    The rest of the episode, though? I remember you describing Scherzo as the most Robert Shearman-y story Robert Shearman has ever done, and I think The Crimson 'Orror can be safely described as the most Mark Gatiss-y story Mark Gatiss has ever done- it consists of a massive, colourful romp through all of Gatiss's obsessions, tics and fetishes, and the result is kind of ridiculously fun. Where Cold War was a bit of a damp squib, The Crimson 'Orror sees Gatiss abandoning all restraint and simply wallowing in self-indeulgence. Which, it turns out, is more entertaining than a rather dull and poorly-lit remake of 'Dalek' set on a submarine (speaking of Robert Shearman…).


  3. Blueshift
    December 19, 2014 @ 1:21 am

    I never thought Gatis's episodes were as awful as everyone else seems to think. At the end of the day, he writes fun, excting stories that are often bright and colourful and that kids will like. Often when fans clamour for something dark and gritty they forget that this isn't really what gets the youngsters enthused. He writes fun stuff! And it doesn't swamp the series, it is only one episode a year, nothing wrong with that! Honestly, I think his only duff story was Night Terrors, which suffered from trying to be too serious, and having monsters where the imagery just wasn't that exciting (I seem to remember that in an interview he thought fear of peg dolls was more widespread than it was). Running around a tiny dolls house isn't the worst idea in the world though.

    I loved The Crimson Horror. Again, great fun and it was refreshing to have an actual villain for a change. Moffat Who seems to be full of a lot of 'misunderstood monsters', 'inscrutable alien armies' and 'strange situations to unravel' rather than an evil character with an actual plan who the Doctor has to outwit.

    I hate how people throw the word 'sexual assault' around with this episode. Yes, it is an inappropriate kiss, but he is chastised for it straight away. I didn't like it, but to bandy about words like that is bordering on a hysterical reaction. If you use 'sexual assault' to define a kiss, then you devalue the word when it is used in conjunction with actual serious crimes. (Much like, I'm afraid, when you repeatedly call Amy being kidnapped 'rape' )


  4. Blueshift
    December 19, 2014 @ 1:23 am

    Yes, it is odd to point the blame for that bit squarely at Matt Smith, as if he has the final sign-off on script and filming and finished cut.


  5. Blueshift
    December 19, 2014 @ 1:28 am

    But the appearance of the Maitland children at the end highlights another aspect of this

    Oh wow, I forgot about this! That really was a squirmingly awkward scene and seemed to exist for the sole reason of setting up Nightmare in Silver (why they couldn't have found a way to put that in the actual episode is beyond me). It's just so out of place and awkward in its construction and believability.

    That said, I can't really think of any other time since the 60s when a non-arc episode has been 'cliffhangered' in such a way into the next normal episode, or am I wrong?


  6. elvwood
    December 19, 2014 @ 1:42 am

    I don't think Phil was laying any of the blame for the kiss at Smith's feet, just for the follow-up erection gag (and the accusation of blame also targets the director). And I had more trouble with that gag than the kiss, myself; because the kiss was signaled as inappropriate, but this was then undercut by the screwdriver joke, which does mean that the scene overall ends up objectifying Jenny.

    So sexual assault, no; but definitely a sour note in an episode I otherwise thoroughly enjoy.


  7. Anthony Strand
    December 19, 2014 @ 1:49 am

    Another Gatiss-related one comes to mind – "The Beast Below" ends with the TARDIS getting a phone call from Winston Churchill.


  8. Jarl
    December 19, 2014 @ 2:05 am

    The first half or so of season 5 segues from one episode to the next cleanly and plainly, the practice basically ending with the Vampires of Venice. I was going to add The Almost People as an exception until I noticed the words "non-arc". For a given value of "arc", The Poison Sky ends with the TARDIS dragging Martha along with the Doctor and Donna to meet The Doctor's Daughter, that's gotta count…


  9. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    December 19, 2014 @ 3:26 am

    You seem to have missed noting that this episode is so boring I keep forgetting it exists, but you're usually so observant, doctor, I'll give you a pass.


  10. Lewis Christian
    December 19, 2014 @ 3:43 am

    And the way it's written is so 'off' from the rest of the episode – was that a hastily-added Moffat-penned scene? I'd bet so. It ruined the end for me, mainly because the kids just immediately jump to "you're a time traveller, I'm telling!" rather than something more believable like "you been messing on Photoshop, Clara?"


  11. John Anderson
    December 19, 2014 @ 3:46 am

    Why would anyone need to detect fake bombs anyway?


  12. prandeamus
    December 19, 2014 @ 3:47 am

    As you move towards the end of Eruditorum, Dr. S, (the moment has been prepared for) I'd like to thank you for the gracious positive comments about Gatiss. I see the problems that others have with his work, and he's not my favourite writer either. But your positive and redemptive readings some of the troubling aspects of the programme do you credit.

    No, I'm not asking you to like the Toy Celestial Ark … 🙂


  13. jane
    December 19, 2014 @ 5:14 am

    The kiss makes sense within the context of what the Doctor had just gone through — and that sense only becomes apparent with what the Doctor says after he gets slapped: "You have no idea how good that feels."

    Consider: The Crimson Horror leaves the Doctor completely stiff — muscles, fingers, and especially the skin, which is completely hard, like a candy shell — they point this out with the "tapping" of it that's accompanied with a drumbeat-like sound effect.

    So, I think the Doctor snogged Jenny knowing full well he'd get slapped. He did it just to remind himself how much better it is to feel pain than nothing at all. I think Smith would have been aware of this, especially given how much he'd been slapped during the course of his run — it was practically a trope. The point of the scene was never the kiss, but the slap itself.


  14. jane
    December 19, 2014 @ 5:19 am

    I loved the Crimson Horror too, but for entirely different reasons — namely it being loaded with all those alchemical references I'd been jabbering on for years. And the chairs! Love the chairs.

    Likewise, those who'd been paying close attention to Clara and had formulated the hypothesis that she had "control issues" were delighted to have that confirmed with her whole "I am the boss" bit in the denouement.


  15. Lewis Christian
    December 19, 2014 @ 6:28 am

    This is my favourite episode of 7B – and I never thought I'd be saying that about a Gatiss episode. I never thought my fave ep of a series would've included the Paternosters either! I just found Clara's mystery to be complete naff, I felt Smith was on auto-pilot and I wasn't a fan of the 'all change' (TARDIS, costume, etc), and the blockbuster approach (which seemed to carry on post-Ponds) fell flat for me. This was a relatively low-key romp, something I'd been missing and hoping for (though Bells is equally refreshing and straightforward, and that comes in 2nd place for me).


  16. liminal fruitbat
    December 19, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    I hate how people throw the word 'sexual assault' around with this episode. Yes, it is an inappropriate kiss, but he is chastised for it straight away.

    I'm not sure how being chastised for it would negate it being sexual assault? I mean, regardless of whether the narrative approves it, it still makes the Doctor someone who kisses someone he knows is not at all into that sort of thing. (Also you may want to avoid using the term "hysterical reaction" in this context.)


  17. Steven
    December 19, 2014 @ 6:30 am

    Startling that this was never a contender for best of the series, because it absolutely is the best of the series. I have a few friends who I watch Who with and we were pretty much all in agreement on this point.

    This is the episode that tides me over when I have concerns about what Gaitiss-led DW would look like, because if it looks anything like this I would be thrilled.

    The TomTom sat-nav joke is an all-time favourite as well, and one of the weirdest gags the show's ever done.


  18. Leslie Lozada
    December 19, 2014 @ 6:48 am

    Well, I just assumed at that time that, given that there's been so many monster attacks, baddies running amuck, that time travel has been consider a viable option.

    Also, it has been shown repetedtly throughout the new series that children have an open mind, so.. why shouldn't the Maitlans consider it when they see a picture of their nanny and her boyfriend in different time zones?


  19. unnoun
    December 19, 2014 @ 7:05 am

    I could have sworn the kiss was also Matt's idea. One the director sort of ran with.

    It's the impression I got from the behind-the-scenes video anyway.


  20. Lewis Christian
    December 19, 2014 @ 7:11 am

    It's just so rushed, they immediately jump to that decision based on one or two photos (which, as per for the show, are promo pics IIRC), and tacked on. It just feels really forced and fake to me, like they did it at the eleventh hour. I feel it would've been better had they done it for a Nightmare pre-titles sequence.


  21. elvwood
    December 19, 2014 @ 7:41 am

    unnoun: "I could have sworn the kiss was also Matt's idea."

    Oh, OK – you have more knowledge than I. I'd just assumed it was all Gatiss up until today, and was stating what I thought Phil was saying.

    Jane, at the time I also thought the kiss was because he wanted the sensation rather than anything actually sexual (I hadn't considered that he might have been planning on getting a slap as well), but the erection joke made me doubt that interpretation.

    I do think kisses and slaps mean a little less on TV than in real life, but whatever the reason it's still not OK. He could simply have asked her to slap him, after all.

    (I am reminded on an episode of Spaced where, at various times, Tim and Brian are going home really happy and hug random passers-by. Predictably, this only works out well for one of them…)


  22. Carey
    December 19, 2014 @ 8:52 am

    To be fair to Gattis, Nightmare In Silver was originally written to start with the Maitland children finding out about the Doctor, was was excised due to a combination of running time, budget and that it was, if I recall correctly, set at night, which would have affected the availability of the child actors who were only supposed to work for certain hours.

    All of which points toward the major flaw in Gaiman's writing for the next episode, but I imagine we'll get to that on Monday.


  23. David Anderson
    December 19, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    The kiss on its own reads to me neither as sexual gratification nor as an assertion of power. It reads as the Doctor forgetting which Earth cultures mark friendship by kissing on the mouth. (There have been some. Victorian England wasn't one of them.)
    The sonic screwdriver gag on does reflect badly on the kiss.


  24. David Anderson
    December 19, 2014 @ 9:09 am

    One of my problems with the episode is that the threat just isn't sufficient to warrant taking the Doctor out of the action. Victorian penny dreadful Bond villains, even ones played by Diana Rigg with lines like 'the wrong hands', are just not far enough out of the Doctor's comfort zone to justify the Bond villain defeating the Doctor.
    The last time something similar happened, outside an arc episode, was Blink if I remember correctly. We can accept the Weeping Angels defeating the Doctor, because they're things we haven't seen before and scary enough to justify it, and just as importantly because the rest of the plot has ambitions beyond doing standard genre set pieces well.

    While 'the wrong hands' line is on its own rather good, it should have come much earlier – just before the Doctor's capture would be the right place for it. Placed where it is, where it's obvious to the Doctor and everyone else that Mrs Gillyflower's hands are the wrong hands, it feels like the Doctor is just feeding her the line.


  25. BerserkRL
    December 19, 2014 @ 9:25 am

    To prevent fake explosions.


  26. Blueshift
    December 19, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    Eh, it is good for the Doctor NOT to be all-powerful all the time and only defeated by space gods. The baddie felt like a credible threat to me.


  27. Jarl
    December 19, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

    It is essentially the same gag we witness when he kisses another incompatibly oriented spouse of a friend, Rory. Of course, in that case it was Rory who looked like he got slapped. I just watched that episode the other day, it's still fresh in my memory, very cute moment.


  28. Jarl
    December 19, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

    Meant that to be a reply to the above, weird…


  29. Jarl
    December 19, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    Thinking about it, it also stands out as a problem with the production of The Doctor's Wife, which we know was intended for Tennant at some point, and he wanted them to rebuild a classic TARDIS interior for it.


  30. curlyjimsam750
    December 19, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

    There's been something vaguely Victorian about Doctor Who for a long time – going right back to the First Doctor's costume (OK, it's usually described as "Edwardian", but it's basically the same sort of thing). And of course many of the most successful stories in the show's history have had Victorian or Edwardian settings. If the show is going to pick one period other than the present to keep going back to, this is the obvious candidate.


  31. Matthew Blanchette
    December 19, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

    That kiss, also, was improvised. Matt Smith apparently liked to improvise kissing scenes for his Doctor. shrugs

    (And, yes, the Doctor kissing Jenny scene was improvised, just to clarify; there's a bit in the Confidential for this episode where he calls out, "Can I kiss her? I HAVE to kiss her!")


  32. Matthew Blanchette
    December 19, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

    And a swimming pool. Which was also nixed, but not for budgetary reasons, surprisingly.


  33. Matthew Blanchette
    December 19, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

    Although the closing shot in "The Lodger" of Amy finding the ring leads cleanly dramatically into the TARDIS portion of "The Pandorica Opens" 's opening sequence, even if it is later established in "The Big Bang" that enough time had passed between the two episodes for them to visit Space Florida — the carry-through, like a sense of continuity, thematic or otherwise, between cuts, is what's important.


  34. Aylwin
    December 19, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

    Reading the post and the comments, I'm rather surprised, even more than I was reading the discussion when it aired, to see no mention of what the episode was, you know, saying. Also at its being characterised as simply a romp, when, for all the romping going on, it must be the most heartfelt and angry (not to mention spiteful) thing that Gatiss has written for Doctor Who. Is a gay atheist polemic, through the medium of a slight muddled satire on the Christian-capitalist paternalism of the Victorian model village, really not Eruditorium-ish enough to merit any discussion at all? (Tempted to say, maybe even as much as the ethics of a kiss and a knob gag.)


  35. Aylwin
    December 19, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

    Po-faced perhaps, but I don't think fake bomb detectors are a laughing matter. It's an absurd, beyond-satire kind of story (especially where the sickeningly cynical attitude of the British state is concerned), but not a funny one.


  36. David Anderson
    December 19, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

    It's not the power level of the antagonists. The Weeping Angels in Blink aren't space gods, and even though the Trickster Brigade are space gods, or led by one, Turn Left wouldn't work if it weren't for the arc.
    It's more that if you're going to take the Doctor out of the story, you've got to have a plot with more ambitions beyond competently execute genre tropes we've seen before.


  37. Steven
    December 21, 2014 @ 12:21 am

    Victorian model villages weren't necessarily christian-capitalist. a good part of Britain's still-visible socialist traditions can be traced back to places not dissimilar to Sweetville, minus the alien.

    Robert Owens' socialist-utopian mill at New Lanark springs to mind.


  38. Aylwin
    December 21, 2014 @ 10:23 am

    Indeed, but it wasn't the socialist elements that Gatiss had in his sights (or the capitalist ones, for that matter). Not that he drew an accurate bead on the Christian aspect either, since Sweetville is played like an inward-turning cult commune preparing for an imminent apocalypse (hardly an unknown phenomenon in the real world), when the whole idea of a model village, besides the intrinsic good it could do for its inhabitants, was to inspire by example the reform of wider society, not to cultivate purity through isolation from an irredeemable and doomed world. But that is presumably because the model villages were not the real target, just the conduit for an attack focused on Christianity/religion in general.

    Also, Owen's work in New Lanark was pre-Victorian. That's not entirely a pedantic point, given the shift in emphasis from the late Enlightenment/early Romantic atmosphere that shaped Owen and his contemporaries to the religious revival of the Victorian era, and the difference that made to the blend of ideological currents driving efforts at social reform.


  39. William Silvia
    December 21, 2014 @ 11:16 am

    You disappoint me. No analysis at all of such an a terrible joke as "Thomas Thomas"?


  40. David Anderson
    December 21, 2014 @ 10:35 pm

    The Quaker organsations of Cadbury's and Rowntree's (both sweet manufacturers) lacked something by comparison with a properly functioning welfare state. I'm not convinced that our modern society is otherwise in a position to look down upon them.


  41. Aylwin
    December 22, 2014 @ 12:15 am

    @William Silva: Well, it's bound to date very quickly (already has? Satnav systems are not really on my radar, so to speak). But it's an arguable point, which is obviously very closely involved in the methodological and thematic preoccupations of this blog, whether the detrimental effects for ongoing reception outside the original transmission context of this loss of ready accessibility over time outweigh the immediate benefits of the sense of imagined community that such self-consciously of-the-moment references create among the audience and between them and the work's creators, and of their capacity to highlight the specificity of their own context to an audience whose natural inclination in experiencing fiction in another setting is to focus on its specificity as "different" while treating their own as an unexamined default, and to highlight the artifice of the fictional construct (though of course whether, and how, that is a good or a bad thing is a whole big subject in itself, and one much discussed here over the years); or the benefits with regard to ongoing reception (on the objective/critical level, whereas the drawbacks are on the subjective/experiential level) of enriching the insights it offers into that context (mind you, one can reasonably argue that it is the unintended, unconscious reflections of specificity that are most revealing of all, but the things that people choose as anchoring something in their own context have their own particular value as indications of how they perceive that context, and in particular how they perceive it with regard to this very matter of its specificity). It's a microcosm of psychochronography. These issues are also an expression of the much wider phenomenon of how the things that are most opaque regarding the general tend to be most revealing regarding the specific and vice versa, as for instance in the way that the mistakes people make in conveying information obscure the message but reveal the messenger. Put a bit of effort in and one could probably work up a metaphorical resonance with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

    Also, it took me a bit of time to get the joke, for the reasons aforementioned. And it is terrible, but I think that's at least partly deliberate – it's a groaner. And even a simply bad joke at that point offers some benefit in highlighting by contrast the brilliance of the preceding joke, which for me is by far the best thing in an episode I mostly dislike.

    Yes, I know you were taking the piss. But there's usually something to be said.


  42. ferret
    December 22, 2014 @ 2:59 am

    I rather liked that scene, but only really for the music at the end – another partial reworking of "I am the Doctor", but it has a particularly exuberant crescendo at the end – lovely!


  43. ferret
    December 22, 2014 @ 3:09 am

    The bell-jar preserved people inside the houses of the model village is sufficiently weird that it's almost a shame it's a throw-away visual. It is the sort of thing I'd love to see in a 60's period-set new TV series of The Avengers which – given this episode and Gatiss' apparent love for Diana Rigg – I could see him showrunning with some considerable success.


  44. Daru
    December 23, 2014 @ 12:19 am

    Didn't get time to comment, but did and do think this episode is pretty wonderful – I adore all the weirdness combined with Blake and alchemy. One of the best of 7b for me.


  45. Katherine Sas
    December 23, 2014 @ 10:28 am

    Funny that you seem to put this about on the same level as Cold War, whereas I think that is Gatiss at his most bland and this is by far his most fun and inventive episode. Yes, it's doing a penny dreadful but it's so delightfully weird. Nothing standard about what's inside it: Rigg's bonkers performance, the wax people, Mr. Sweet! How can you not love this?! (kissing/screwdriver scene aside)


  46. William Silvia
    December 29, 2014 @ 7:48 am

    I actually think my comment was supposed to be a reply to the post, but ended up as a reply to the comment. Oh well.


  47. papereyes1871
    July 14, 2015 @ 7:46 am

    As an aside

    "Labour and UKIP do well in local elections"

    The first lot dropped nearly 10 % on the last time they stood in those seats.


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