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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.

94 Comments

  1. Gallifrey_Immigrant
    May 7, 2018 @ 9:20 am

    A measured send-off of the Roberts era, Elizabeth Sandifer. Sorry about that crappy stuff that Gareth said, and the way you were treated.

    Reply

  2. Gallifrey_Immigrant
    May 7, 2018 @ 9:29 am

    The patriarchal way that Twelve deals with Clara’s relationship is problematic. It seems like it’s a repositioning of the Doctor’s relationship from “boyfriend” to “Dad” (although 12 thinking that Clara’s choosing an 11 lookalike confuses it a bit). But the rest of Series 8 and 9 basically treats 12 and Clara as equals or “teacher/student”, so Gareth’s treatment seems like a throwback, like you said.

    Reply

    • Dylan
      May 7, 2018 @ 10:01 am

      “Apprentice” seems like a more fitting way to describe their relationship in the later seasons, considering what she ends up doing after.

      Reply

      • Gallifrey_Immigrant
        May 7, 2018 @ 10:15 am

        Apprentice was closer to what I meant. I’m a bit tired.

        Reply

      • Gallifrey_Immigrant
        May 7, 2018 @ 10:34 am

        Actually, that “father/daughter” of Caretaker vs “apprenticeship” relationship of everything else sort of made me realize–this ep is probably the most “patriarchal” of Series 8-10, in terms of how the Doctor’s treated, huh? I mean the whole “father figure”, “saving her is just the start of being good enough”, “you haven’t told ME about him”, as well as the “officer” critique from Danny, the whole episode is putting the Doctor in a paternal role. It works because it’s Peter Capaldi as a grumpy Scot Dad, but I think it’s something that could only work in Series 8. Frankly, it only works until the Doctor starts wearing hoodies and sonic sunglasses.

        Also, the “officer” critique from Danny starts a trend in Capaldi’s era of people delineating what the Doctor is or isn’t, which troubles me.

        Reply

        • mx_mond
          May 7, 2018 @ 10:38 am

          Are there any examples that you can think of of such delineation in series 9 or 10? I can only recall 8 and in that series it leads quite nicely in my opinion to Death in Heaven and the Doctor rejecting all the externally imposed descriptions in favour of his own.

          Reply

          • Gallifrey_Immigrant
            May 7, 2018 @ 11:01 am

            The entirety of the “Where is the Doctor? Doctor would be in the loudest place” scene in the beginning of Magician’s Apprentice, any remarks Clara makes about how the Doctor is, and the “I’m the Doctor. Just accept it” scene in Witch’s Familiar (I love that scene, btw).

            (So maybe just the Series 9 initial 2-parter?)

            I don’t necessarily dislike these scenes. They perfectly describe the Twelfth Doctor, and are usually in-character. But they threaten to constrain who the Doctor is, and possibly affect how future writers will make the Doctor. For example, if all future showrunners think “all Doctors are arrogant leading people of action”, then you might never make the Fifth Doctor, who was a perfectly good Doctor but somewhat reactive, or the book Eighth Doctor, who was a great Doctor but scatterbrained occasionally. Everytime someone says “the Doctor’s always more interested in machines than relationships”, that might be true, but it precludes the creation of a more peopl-oriented Doctor. Or, “the Doctor must always be very alien”, which ignores the Tenth Doctor, or “the Doctor should dress well”, which ignores the Sixth Doctor, or “the Doctor should never dress fabulously”, which ignores the Sixth Doctor.

            A lot of NuWho has these statements, but I noticed them even moreso in Series 8-10, which was concerned with these labels in a lot of places, for good reason. It’s done well, but when these labels are thrown out, I’m concerned in the back of my head that these labels may end up becoming rules on what the Doctor is, rather than just guidelines.

          • mx_mond
            May 7, 2018 @ 11:35 am

            Okay, yeah, they’re definitely there (I think Moffat in particular has a predilection towards these grand statements about the nature of the Doctor) and I see why you’re concerned about them – personally I think treating such things as gospel is a fannish impulse and the creators (whoever they might be at any particular point) are too eager to present their own vision of who the Doctor is to be beholden to past ideas.

          • Aylwin
            May 7, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

            I think to some extent this is an inevitable product of the degreee to which the new series makes the Doctor and companions a central part of its storytelling and takes a serious interest in their psychology and character development. That’s harder to do without specific assertions, whereas,in the classic series the focus was on the situation of the individual story, so that the Doctor featured in the story essentially just as someone who considered a situation and acted upon it, being revealed almost entirely by the implications of words, manner and actions rather than by being talked about.

            (Incidentally, that shift was the thing I found hardest to digest about the new series when it started, not in itself but because of how the new series both problematises and explicitly glorifies the Doctor in an unprecedented fashion. I found it jarring how season 1 especially seemed full of speeches gushing about how thoroughly marvellous the Doctor was, while at the same time making him persistently and conspicuously fallible.)

            I think if the tendency to explicit description increases in the Capaldi era, that may in part be to do with how its first two seasons involve Clara becoming Doctor-like. For Clara’s growing similarity to the Doctor to be a prominent theme, it becomes more necessary to be specific and explicit about elements of what the Doctor is like.

            Mind you, some of the specifics are not actually a response to those requirements, especially of course after Clara’s exit, but it’s a tendency which perhaps shifts the way the Doctor is written about in particular directions, setting habits which can then find expression in other ways.

        • Homunculette
          May 7, 2018 @ 3:12 pm

          I think the “Doctor as father figure” thing comes out of the episode’s riffing on the Tempest – it’s mentioned explicitly by the matt smith-esque english teacher, and casting the Doctor as Prospero is a very intriguing idea that almostworks here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really end up adding anything and the fact that the arc is still unresolved at the end of the episode means the script can’t have a tempest-y reconciliation in it.

          Reply

    • BenJ
      May 12, 2018 @ 9:15 pm

      The 11 lookalike is weird as all hell. 12 signals his approval of Clara dating this man, but that seems solely on the basis of his sporting a bow tie. He’s a nonentity, and it’s obvious that the Doctor really has more in common with Danny. In good ways and, if you look closely, bad ones as well.

      Reply

  3. Leslie L
    May 7, 2018 @ 9:49 am

    My takeaway, from a Watson point of view, for being the mid point of the series, I rather enjoyed Courtney.

    The whole ‘The Doctor thinks Danny is a P.E teacher’ does look bad in hindsight. And it really can’t be excused with regeneration sickness, it’s been half the season already.

    I did like the opening scene with Clara jumping around with the Doctor and Danny, and as much as I love Clara as a character, this started the trend of episodes that had the arc of her being Doctor-like towards the end of the series.

    Initially, I disliked the way she was headed. I thought it was going to be another Rose situation, Which started pretty much around Tooth and Claw, so Clara was a bit ahead. But, with time, I can appreciate the way she grew.

    I do love Danny in this episode. Like he’s brave all on his own,Ade me wish he could of had more episodes centered on him.

    Reply

    • Gallifrey_Immigrant
      May 7, 2018 @ 9:52 am

      I think the idea behind the “Danny the P.E.” worked. It’s a reflection on how the Twelfth Doctor had a bias against soldiers, because he can’t accept his own war crimes (in his view). The execution was weird, but the idea was sound, and worked for the resolution in Series 8 finale.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        May 7, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

        Yeah, the idea might’ve been sound but the execution is awkward at best. It’s that tone deafness that plagues many writers who try to tackle issues and themes they don’t quite get and then fail to adequately think about what they’re writing. All it would take to fix that one is for Roberts to consult with someone who’s a little more sensitive than himself. But given what this essay tells us about him, I guess that wasn’t really an option.

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        • Homunculette
          May 7, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

          With no intention of defending Roberts’ bullying and shitty politics, I think it’s a fair question of whether Danny and Courtney were cast by the “race-blind” process used in the RTD and earlier Moffat eras. The PE thing would come across a lot differently if Danny weren’t black.

          Reply

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            May 7, 2018 @ 3:29 pm

            I know Courtney was; I assume Danny was as well. (Although I question how blind the casting for Courtney actually was, given that she ended up a stereotype)

            But like, once you do the casting you need to make sure the writing doesn’t introduce any problems.

  4. GlitterGun
    May 7, 2018 @ 9:54 am

    My fiancé loved this, thanks!

    Reply

  5. mx_mond
    May 7, 2018 @ 9:56 am

    This is a fantastic essay, though I am sorry that you had to write it. And I very much look forward to next week, which I am sure will be even better.

    As for The Caretaker, I have a complicated relationship with it (as with series 8 as a whole). When I watched it for the first time, it made me quit the show in frustration, as I just couldn’t stand the cranky asshole Doctor. (I caught up eventually and the second half of series 8 was much better in general.) About a year ago I re-watched it and it jumped into top 3 of the series. I guess I decided to accept the difficult, spiky Doctor (I had no problem with loving an often difficult, spiky, and flawed Clara) for what he was and the argument in the TARDIS blew my away. It’s one of the few moments in the Moffat era where a criticism is made of the Doctor that (in my opinion) actually had substance.

    After finding out about Roberts’ trans- and Islamophobia I had to do a re-evaluation and I honestly think that it doesn’t deserve the spot I gave it. Mummy is better and that scene that I loved was probably written by Moffat anyway.

    Reply

    • Gallifrey_Immigrant
      May 7, 2018 @ 10:14 am

      The argument with the Twelfth Doctor in the TARDIS is good, but I have 2 niggles with it, namely that Danny snuck and invaded the Doctor’s home right before then, so his critique ends up feeling more like an unfair attack than it should, and the argument “Doctor is an officer who uses companion as soldiers” both ignores the companions’ agency, and usually ignores the Doctor’s own liminality between patriarchy as chaotic (Pythian?) energy.

      Reply

      • mx_mond
        May 7, 2018 @ 10:29 am

        You’re quite right, there are responses to Danny’s argument, but for me it is substantive because it actually requires a response, rather than a mere dismissal (like, for example, Davros’s assertions that he and the Doctor are the same in Stolen Earth/Journey’s End). Even if the criticism comes from Danny’s own experiences and an officer is not all the Doctor is, there are still aspects of him that fit that description (his calculatedness when it comes to death in Into the Dalek comes to mind) that he has to grapple with (and that he will ultimately reject in Death in Heaven). In this light, the patriarchal attitude he displays towards Clara in this episode is quite fitting for me (it also fits because of the shift from boyfriend to a mentor that you mention above; here he still hasn’t quite let go of the possessiveness he would feel towards a romantic prospect, so he aimed on friend, but accidentally landed on Dad).

        Reply

        • Gallifrey_Immigrant
          May 7, 2018 @ 10:44 am

          As part of the series 8, I think the Caretaker works like you said. And I think it works better as a part of Clara’s development, even moreso than it does for 12. It’s Clara who holds the cards in both relationships, and it’s her fears and expectations, and eventually regrets, that decides how the 12/Danny/Clara group relationship ultimately ends.

          (Also, it’s funny how you can argue that Twelve doesn’t answer Danny’s critique fully until his “where I stand” speech in The Doctor Falls, where he dies as a soldier in the battlefield and not as an officer.)

          Actually, holy crap. Twelve, the soldier-hater, died as a soldier on a battlefield! That’s pretty major! I never realized that before.

          Reply

          • mx_mond
            May 7, 2018 @ 11:35 am

            I never noticed that, either! What a great observation!

          • Przemek
            May 7, 2018 @ 2:23 pm

            That’s awesome. Thank you for pointing that out.

    • David Anderson
      May 7, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

      I’ve never got on as well with the Lodger and Closing Time as other parts of fandom with similar tastes have. In any case here, I think I agree: aside from the ‘disruptive influence’ scene the Doctor here is completely unlikeable. Instead of the Doctor invading a sitcom we have here the Doctor being taken over by the sitcom. In sitcoms characters can inadvertently reveal what they are thinking free of inhibition without long-term consequences for their relationships with other people. But here the Doctor acts in ways that are bound up with the sitcom logic but which go on to have consequences for the relationship between him, Clara, and Danny through the rest of the series. It’s a bad note.
      I still think the idea that a romantic relationship between the Doctor and companion is an explicit possibility is one of the poor long-term choices of the Davies-era.

      The Doctor gets his companions killed critique is I think also a poor long-term legacy of the Davies-era. It doesn’t exactly apply to Rory and Amy. (Rory could have died any time he went to New York on holiday.)

      Reply

      • Gallifrey_Immigrant
        May 7, 2018 @ 1:13 pm

        The Doctor gets his companions killed critique is I think also a poor long-term legacy of the Davies-era. It doesn’t exactly apply to Rory and Amy.

        To be fair, Danny’s critique is a bit more nuanced than that. It isn’t just “the Doctor makes people into soldiers”, it’s “the Doctor’s influence makes people want to become soldiers.” It’s a critique that points out that, even when people are working of their own free will, the power dynamics of the situation leads the companions to do dangerous things. Although the actual critique probably doesn’t work for every companion, or necessarily even Clara (Clara and 12 exert power dynamics over each other in odd ways, to the point I could call Clara the dominant in certain ways), it’s still a criticism that’s harder to stop.

        Reply

        • mx_mond
          May 7, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

          I would also expand that criticism to guest characters (although Danny might not necessarily mean them, because he doesn’t really know how the Doctor operates, I think it applies to them as well).

          Reply

        • Leslie L
          May 10, 2018 @ 11:36 am

          Aside from the way Amy and Rory died, the rest of the major Moffat companions died, but live all the same.

          (I’ve only just realized that Ten, in order to save River into the library, had to use the Sonic Twelve provided for her, the same face of a man Ten saved in that series. Hmm….)

          Reply

        • Lambda
          May 14, 2018 @ 8:03 am

          I still think it’s complete bollocks. The companions become soldier-like purely due to the writers and the demands of the genre. There’s nothing about the Doctor’s influence which makes them strangely unworried that one of the people shooting at them might be able to aim properly, or that something might happen after the nick of time. It’s just one of those things the genre demands you ignore, like it demands you ignore, say, the fact that that “2000AD” on Earth can correspond to a range of five million years of different dates in the Andromeda galaxy, depending on your velocity.

          Any critique of it should attack the genre itself, it’s glorification of combat capabilities etc. rather than putting all the blame on the Doctor for some reason.

          Reply

      • Przemek
        May 7, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

        Aside from what Gallifrey_Immigrant said, I don’t see how the Doctor getting his companions killed is a legacy of the Davies era. He didn’t (permanently) kill a single companion that I can think of. Sure, his Doctors inspired a lot of one-off characters to sacrifice themselves for the greater good but that’s hardly the same thing (and anyway, he’s always been kinda reckless/careless like that). The Doctor got more companions killed in Classic Who…

        As for the possibility of a romantic relationship between the Doctor and companion – I think ignoring this possibility like in Classic Who would be way worse. The less artificial constraints on what stories can be told about such a mercurial character, the better. And it’s not like the writers are just automatically going for the Doctor-companion romance now. Donna was never interested, Amy briefly wanted to shag him but then quickly settled on “best friend”, Clara never really responded to Eleven’s vague flirting and Bill was gay. We can have more complex, more interesting Doctor-companion interactions now, not less, and that’s always good in my book.

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        • David Anderson
          May 8, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

          Astrid and Adelaide were officially companions. There are a number of potential-companions who would have been invited onto the TARDIS but get killed. (Maybe not that many if you count them but enough that it feels like a thing.) Rose’s departure is explicitly presented as being as close to death as a family show will allow; and the Donna we know is erased by David Tennant’s Doctor. (On which subject, by coincidence Hell Bent, which addresses that came out two weeks after Jessica Jones, which seems to me to play off that in its casting.)
          And then the Doctor’s angst about it is an emotional theme in the Tennant-era.

          The question about Doctor-companion romance is whether or not there are relationships that are easier to tell stories about if the romantic relationship is off the table from the start, and whether or not Doctor Who is inherently a better fit for them both absolutely and relative to everything else in the televisual environment. I think a clear yes to the second part, and I think The Caretaker is evidence for the first part.

          Reply

          • Citizen Alan
            May 11, 2018 @ 9:34 am

            The Doctor did not get Adelaide killed, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — she killed herself to defeat the Doctor’s extreme efforts to ensure that she lived.

  6. Neo
    May 7, 2018 @ 10:05 am

    Really loved this analysis, going to show this to my wife and her trans son to see what they think

    Reply

  7. Echo
    May 7, 2018 @ 10:33 am

    Go fuck yourself, Gareth.

    Reply

  8. Haze
    May 7, 2018 @ 11:39 am

    “Roberts isn’t using Doctor Who as a vehicle for his abhorrent politics; his utter contempt for my basic identity doesn’t play into this story, and there’s no honest way to attack it on those grounds.”

    I wish you’d got to this point a lot quicker. I’m much more interested in your views on Doctor Who than your views on Gareth Roberts. Especially as the latter are entirely predictable. The second part of the essay, where you actually had a lot to say that was new and interesting, I much preferred.

    Reply

    • ScarvesandCelery
      May 7, 2018 @ 11:58 am

      Personally, I appreciated the opening part of the essay, and feel it was important and necessary groundwork for the points El makes in the back half of the essay.

      But never mind that. It seems to me that writing this post the way she did was something El clearly feels is necessary to do to work through her understandably complex feelings about her professional and personal relationship with Roberts. And I feel like there’s a way of expressing your dislike of the opening of the essay that isn’t nearly as dismissive of that fact as your comment is.

      Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 7, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

      You cannot possibly imagine how few fucks I give.

      Reply

    • Sean Daugherty
      May 7, 2018 @ 4:15 pm

      Then write your own damned essay. This isn’t constructive criticism. It’s barely even criticism at all, beyond “only write what I like.” This essay is clearly important to El, and it’s not even especially out of touch with past TARDIS Eruditorum entries: this isn’t the first time she’s framed an essay with her own experiences. For what it’s worth, I appreciate it quite a bit, but, even if I didn’t, I can’t fathom what would possess me to respond to such an obviously emotional work for an author with such an obnoxious dismissal.

      Reply

      • Daru
        May 7, 2018 @ 9:48 pm

        Exactly Sean, dammit this is great writing by El – and so much thanks for it! I have found it really cathartic reading and really enlightening as I had only been a little aware of Roberts’ views. No fucks given – exactly!

        Reply

  9. James Wylder
    May 7, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

    This essay is a doozie. Thank you for writing it, and I’m sorry you had to write it. <3.

    Reply

  10. Sleepyscholar
    May 7, 2018 @ 12:11 pm

    This would be a fine essay in any circumstances. In the specific circumstances it’s particularly good, and I appreciated the delicate balance involved in critiquing the show while having to also deal (interestingly, as it happens) with all the background shit.

    I particularly liked the comparison of Roberts and Morrissey, having recently wrestled a little with whether I want to listen to his music (Morrissey’s, not Roberts’s), and come to the conclusion that the Smiths is OK, but anything after that is not worth holding my nose for anyway. Or, to put it another way, the Smiths isn’t just Morrissey, in the same way as the Roberts episodes of Doctor Who aren’t just Roberts.

    Reply

    • Sleepyscholar
      May 7, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

      Looking at my published comment, I worry that ‘background shit’ may be taken in a way I don’t intend. So I’ll clarify: I mean Roberts politics, and his (and Hickman’s) behaviour towards you.

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      • Voxpoptart
        May 7, 2018 @ 7:32 pm

        Ooh, the Morrissey thing accidentally got tricky for me a few months ago. I hadn’t listened to any of his solo stuff for ages, and listened to 2017’s ‘Low in High School’ precisely because all his bad public choices made me curious what sort of shitshow it would be. And … it’s my favorite album of his career.

        I do for one thing mean that musically. But more to the point, it’s very political, and it makes critiques (of war, of the corporate media, of the tendency to reduce entire countries to the decisions made by their government) that I’m inclined to identify as brave, well-phrased, and left-wing. We know for a fact that he’s UKIP, and there’s a couple of songs that allow ugly subtexts because we know that (and the subtexts are, one assumes, intended) … but there’s nothing one has to dislike, and a lot to applaud vigorously.

        Except the public character of the man who wrote the songs. Which is very bad indeed.

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        • Sleepyscholar
          May 7, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

          Damn. I’m going to have to give that a listen now…

          Reply

  11. Christopher Brown
    May 7, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

    I am really sorry you had to write this and deal with this, Elizabeth. But we are all the better for it – this is top-notch level Eruditorum, full of honesty and bravery and insight, and like the best of your writing it makes the world better by its presence. It’s good to have the Eruditorum back. Long may it continue.

    Reply

  12. Przemek
    May 7, 2018 @ 1:15 pm

    I’m sorry you had to go through all that crap. Thanks for the essay.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      May 7, 2018 @ 2:16 pm

      Oh, and that bitter, multi-layered caption joke is just awesome.

      Reply

  13. Sean Dillon
    May 7, 2018 @ 2:28 pm

    Bravo.

    Reply

  14. Austin G Loomis
    May 7, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

    Ultimately, there was no level of “being fine with it” that proved acceptable to Gareth and Clayton short of expressing no objections to it whatsoever. This is, of course, a familiar tactic on the right. It’s the same logic that says that Anita Sarkeesian criticizing video games on feminist grounds constitutes an attempt to censor them. It’s the logic that lets Kevin Williamson take to the Wall Street Journal and say that he’s being silenced because there are places that don’t want to hire him given his belief that women who get abortions should be executed. It’s the pathetic, thin-skinned lie that says that any pushback whatsoever against them is a restriction of free speech even as they spew far worse at the people they don’t like while repeatedly turning a blind eye to actual governmental efforts to censor them. Because when it comes to criticizing bigotry, somehow nothing is ever mild and reasonable enough.

    Abraham Lincoln was calling their spiritual ancestors out for it even as a candidate (link under my name):

    The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. […] The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us. […] They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

    (There was going to be some waffle about how “I don’t have to be the guy that calls out everything. Indeed, I can’t be” was, like all statements, true in some sense, false in some sense, and meaningless in some sense, as related to you being any sort of guy, but I couldn’t get it to feel not condescending, nor like me getting in your lane.)

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 7, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

      I could indeed use to be better about gendered language. 🙂

      Reply

      • Prole Hole
        May 9, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

        This is where the blog and I briefly intersect, because I was at university with Gareth. He was in the year above me, and we hung out a bit, shared a few beers, sci-fi club, you know the kind of thing. I vividly remember congratulating him on the publication of The Highest Science (in part because I did it stuck in a traffic jam when he wandered past my car).

        The thing is, he’s always been a kind of an arse and somewhat up himself, so his slide (now more of a plummet) to the right doesn’t come as a surprise to me in the slightest. It’s always been Prole’s Heresy that actually he’s not a very good TV Doctor Who writer at all – The Shakespeare Code is one of my very least favourite episodes, I loathe The Unicorn And The Wasp, and slightly prefer Closing Time to The Lodger, which puts me a bit out of synch with normal opinions. And The Caretaker is at best shrugs

        “Roberts’s entire universe is middle class Britain. And that’s always been fairly evident about him. Indeed, I suspect it’s essentially at the heart of his toxic politics”

        I would, however, like to point out the old saw about correlation not implying causation. I come from the same middle-class, middle-Britain (Scottish, not English, but still), middle income, middle of the road background, as evinced by the fact that Gareth and I ended up at the same university together and I’m an old leftie, socialist, trans-loving, queer, gay, pro-EU, Muslim-embracing, immigrant-loving weirdo. One thing does not inextricably lead to the other. So I fear we must conclude that Gareth’s toxic, repellant politics are entirely his – we can’t use his background as an excuse to explain or justify them.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          May 9, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

          To be clear, I wasn’t blaming his background; I was saying that his world and interests do not extend further than middle class Britain. That’s what I meant by “entire universe.”

          Reply

          • Prole Hole
            May 10, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

            Clear, thanks!

  15. Homunculette
    May 7, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

    I’m absolutely sure you’ve exhausted all your “writing about Gareth Roberts’ energy (and justly so) but I am curious about where Roberts’ shittiness leaves your feelings about the Sarah Jane Adventures, which is probably the corner of Who in which Roberts was most able to escape his pigeonhole and also most able to exert influence on the show around him. I personally wind up feeling conflicted, because as you say his bigotry doesn’t leak into his writing, but the idea of a kids show about marginalization and the importance for solidarity with those different from us being written by an open bigot disgusts me.

    As for the Caretaker, I really loved it the first time around, but the way the Doctor and Danny act here is genuinely troublesome (something I didn’t really pick up on until I heard Verity’s take on it). Roberts does a slightly better job of writing for 12 than Gatiss, but falls into the same trap of making the Doctor pissy and obnoxious rather than brusque and aloof.

    Also, this is an amazing essay – an Eruditorum top five for me.

    Reply

    • William Shaw
      May 7, 2018 @ 3:43 pm

      One of the many retrospectively unfortunate things about Roberts’ writing on SJA was including a reference to Mumsnet in his final broadcast script, given that site has also become know for transphobia in recent years.

      Overall, fantastic essay.

      Reply

    • David Anderson
      May 7, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

      I note in passing that this and Robot of Sherwood have the same director, Paul Murphy. That’s the only Doctor Who work he’s done. I don’t know how El thinks he measures up against Mackinnon, but I think the palette in this one defaults to dark far too often for a comedy.

      Reply

    • Scriptscribbles
      May 10, 2018 @ 4:02 pm

      I’ve been holding off commenting on this article because everything that can be said has been, but I can’t resist critcizing SJA.

      It’s not that it’s a bad show, but Roberts’ sensibilities don’t create compulsive viewing. It’s nice. Just nice. After the departure of Maria, it sort of becomes devoid of larger character work, creating, for example, the issues discussed in El’s “Mad Woman in the Attic” piece. He likes a middle class, amiable, lightweight universe. It’s enjoyable from story to story, I confess, but SJA shows it’s not sustainable, I think.

      No wonder The Caretaker was his breaking point with the show. Clara is too interesting a character for his approach.

      Reply

  16. liminal fruitbat
    May 7, 2018 @ 5:44 pm

    This is one of the best posts you’ve done, and I’m sorry it was necessary.

    As for The Caretaker, apart from Danny’s critique of the Doctor all I can remember is seeing the Skovox Blitzer toy in shops like they were trying to make it a less-weird version of the Quarks, which feels like it says something.

    Reply

  17. Voxpoptart
    May 7, 2018 @ 6:24 pm

    1. I’m joining the chorus of “Great essay, Elizabeth”. I really like that your first impulse was to leave the calling-out of Gareth to others, people who hadn’t been done repeated kindnesses by him; it’s a shame that your first impulse wasn’t allowed to stand, but it really wasn’t.
    2. Unlike Mx_Mond, I didn’t actually stop watching Doctor Who after “the Caretaker” (for awhile), but I almost did. It wasn’t just that Capaldi was being written as a “cranky asshole”, but more specifically that, from “Robot of Sherwood” on, he was being written as curt and dismissive, regularly refusing sincere offers of help. For me, that was the line where he was no longer The Doctor.

    For all that people talk down Colin Baker’s Doctor as breaking the character, he was an idealist: he actively sought out injustices to rectify in a way Pertwee/ Tom/ Davison’s Doctors didn’t, and always bright-eyed treated every stranger as a potential ally waiting to happen, even if they were on the opposing side for now. That, it turned out, was the essence of the character to me. Capaldi’s Doctor berating this harmless black schoolteacher was closer to literally intolerable than a show this dear to me should ever get.

    Then “Kill the Moon” convinced me to stay around just a bit longer, and then came a series of brilliant episodes. And they stopped writing Capaldi as judgmental and hostile. Arrogant and rude while in the process of team-building, that was never a problem for me.

    1. I got into the habit of adjustably “rating” every Doctor Who TV story from 1-10, just as notes to my future self. My notes say Gareth Roberts wrote a 10, a 9, and a 7 (“Lodger”, “Closing Time”, “Planet of the Dead”), as well as a 5, a 3, and a 1 (“Unicorn/ Wasp”, “Shakespeare Code”, “Caretaker”). “Invasion of the Bane” was very good but I couldn’t get my kids interested so that’s all the Sarah Jane I’ve seen. His 7th Doctor novel “Highest Science” was excellent and my kids loved it. I don’t retract my love for the work he’s done that I loved in the first place. I’m also not 100% astonished at his failings, I guess. But disappointed.

    Reply

  18. Janine
    May 7, 2018 @ 7:04 pm

    Thank you for this, Elizabeth. I don’t know what to say. “Wonderful essay” don’t feel right. It’s not wonderful. It’s tough, and honest, and painful, it couldn’t and shouldn’t be any of the words I use to describe your writing normally. But it was necessary, and I have so much admiration for you after reading it. It says everything about Roberts I’ve been feeling but failing to express for several years, and I hope it goes down as the definitive take on his work (and character) for years to come.

    There’s just one thing I wanted to pick up on. I feel awful, picking this apart when you probably just want to leave the subject alone, but I do think it’s a point worth making.

    Gareth Roberts really loved Series Ten. Specifically, he loved the way the Doctor was characterised from The Pilot through to the end of the series. I’m sure you’re aware of that already. But he took to Twitter a fair few times to comment on how episodes like Pilot, Smile, and Thin Ice were, supposedly, closer to how he’d originally written the Twelfth Doctor in The Caretaker, and how frustrated he was with Moffat for rewriting it into a different sort of story with a different sort of lead.

    All of which I find profoundly interesting. I don’t think there was space in your essay for such a lengthy discussion about the authorship of this story, but I do think it’s worth me mentioning, as a footnote, that The Caretaker’s strangeness is probably entirely down to Moffat. By the sounds of it — and obviously I’m sceptical about trusting Roberts’ Twitter as a source of valid claims about reality — Roberts basically wrote the sort of “comic strip” story which The Lodger and Closing Time were, and it was probably even closer to his Smith era contributions than the finished product. Then Moffat came along and demanded/completed a rewrite in which the PE teacher jokes were added in, the conflict was turned up a notch, and the Doctor was an arse. And Roberts wasn’t happy about that.

    So really, I think he was given a chance to write outside of his niche, in a sense. At least, he was given a chance to write his usual romp but subvert the structure in time for Act II. And he didn’t.

    All of which said, The Caretaker is my favourite Roberts episode, for those very reasons. It’s the point at which it becomes blatantly obvious that this guy has contributed his lot to Doctor Who, and Moffat swoops in and rewrites the second half with a flawed sort of brilliance. It’s the Gareth Roberts episode which breaks.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 7, 2018 @ 7:17 pm

      At the time, Clayton griped about Roberts having had to share the credit given that it was basically all him with Moffat just contributing the Doctor/Danny stuff that would set up the rest of the season.

      Reply

      • Janine
        May 7, 2018 @ 7:24 pm

        Huh, weird. What’s your thinking on Roberts’ comments then? That he just decided that he should have written a story more like The Pilot and pretended that he did? It’s childish, but not entirely surprising.

        Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          May 7, 2018 @ 7:33 pm

          Charitably? The memory cheats. Or perhaps he expressed interest in doing something like that only to be pigeonholed. But I don’t think the cranky Doctor was a product of Moffat, just because it’s so different from how the Doctor is cranky in any of the other six Moffat-penned scripts this season.

          Reply

          • Janine
            May 7, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

            Of course, the abusive sort of crankiness that distinguishes The Caretaker from the rest of the season really shows up in the Danny/Twelve interactions, and from what I can recall, the only other episodes to feature the two directly interacting are In the Forest of the Night (not a co-write credit, if I recall correctly) and Death in Heaven (where the PE teacher jokes are muted in favour of not speaking ill of the [walking] dead).

            So it could just be that there’s a significant difference between how Moffat writes Twelve’s everyday interactions and how he writes Twelve’s interactions with Danny. But then, that seems uncharitable to Moffat. I suppose we’ll never know. I highly doubt that Moffat will talk about the episode again, and I highly doubt that Roberts will ever be entirely truthful about it.

      • Janine
        May 7, 2018 @ 7:38 pm

        A couple more specific examples, if they help to clarify. It’s… a weird one.

        “I had internal kittens about how he treated Clara in Caretaker. Manipulative, controlling bad man. And I’m Gareth Roberts.”

        On showrunners rewriting his episodes: “Very little changed in any of mine til The Caretaker – which showed.”

        And there was definitely a comment somewhere about how the Doctor had originally been written as the cuddlier, friendlier mentor-figure Bill meets in The Pilot.

        I guess he decided that the experimental parts didn’t work later down the line, and disavowed himself of all responsibility. Either that, or Clayton Hickman is just a liar, which is also perfectly feasible.

        Reply

  19. Kazin
    May 7, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

    Anything else worth saying was either in the essay itself or has been covered above by other commenters, but one thing I haven’t seen yet from other commenters is “Its gender really is basically attack helicopter” is absolutely fantastic. Fucking bravo, Elizabeth

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 7, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

      You’ll appreciate that I double checked the transcript to make sure it wasn’t gendered.

      Reply

  20. Daru
    May 7, 2018 @ 10:05 pm

    Just brilliant, thank you El, thank you for being so willing to be open with the Eruditorum and delivering a brilliant piece of writing. So sorry you have had to experience what you did by Roberts, especially when you did.

    Since the review you wrote at the time of the episode’s airing, I have felt unhappy about some of the comments I wrote in response to the piece then. Even though I come a totally working class experience in Scotland, that was unlike the middle class world in Roberts’ episodes, it was a fairly narrow cultural experience, and one that was governed by a push that my parents had to drive us very much into an acquisition-based middle class image.

    I just want to say that I can see my narrow thinking there, in 2014 and I feel I have grown (I hope I have!) because of writers and thinkers such as yourself El, and the others on this site, and I want to say thank you.

    Reply

    • Daru
      May 7, 2018 @ 10:11 pm

      And just to add – I think this episode is a toxic piece of crap.

      Reply

  21. Tony
    May 8, 2018 @ 1:49 am

    Hi,

    Been reading this for years and love your work. Just wondering, though (and don’t want to appear an apologist for Roberts whose politics I generally abhor), but perhaps, as a man of his generation, he was using the tern “tranny” to refer to “drag queen.” As a person of similar generational origins, they were once used interchangeably. No excuse for ignorance in 2018, I know, but just a passing thought.

    Great piece on a problematic episode by the way.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 8, 2018 @ 2:33 am

      He names the names of three prominent trans women and routinely retweets TERF bullshit. That’s not plausible.

      Reply

      • Tony
        May 8, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

        Thanks for pointing that out.

        Reply

    • Christopher Brown
      May 8, 2018 @ 2:48 am

      You may have a point there, but the sneering, contemptuous tone and reference to “confused gayboys” marks it as a clear example of profound disrespect and insensitivity no matter which group it was aimed at.

      El, I’m curious if you’ll be revising any of the Roberts material for the reprinted and future volumes, or just omitting some of them entirely? (I wouldn’t half be surprised to see The Highest Science vanish from Vol. 7 along with some of the Pop Between Realities.) I’m especially interested to see what you do with SJA, a show I still have much affection for…though I imagine, after this essay, that you may want to just not think about it or him right now!

      Reply

      • Christopher Brown
        May 8, 2018 @ 2:49 am

        Whoops, written before Elizabeth replied! Duly noted about the three woman, by the way.

        Reply

  22. Kate Orman
    May 8, 2018 @ 3:39 am

    (Knight Commander from Battlefield voice) Magnificent!!!

    Reply

  23. binrofucks
    May 8, 2018 @ 11:15 am

    A lot of your essays give me life. The Empty Child essay makes me cry and gives me a sense of optimism, your Mary Whitehouse is dizzying in its love for the freaks and geeks of the world , and your Girl Who Loved Doctor Who essay helps me cope with my feelings about bullies like Roberts. And now, this. I can’t put my reaction into words yet, but I can say that the humanity you put into your writing enlightens me, and thank you.

    Reply

  24. Alun Thomas
    May 8, 2018 @ 11:24 am

    No one seems to have mentioned that the Doctor is basically acting as if he’s jealous of Danny’s relationship with Clara, and has done more or less the same thing with Mickey and Rory.

    (As this is my first comment here since discovering your blog a couple of years ago, I just wanted to say thank you for a fabulous series)

    Reply

    • Leslie L
      May 10, 2018 @ 11:57 am

      I did! Sorta, but this episode in particular, I was under the impression that for most of series 8, Twelve and Clara we’re just friends. The moment Danny mentioned that bit about what other way is there, I thought maybe Danny had some issues in terms of love, or in the idea that he, like a certain set of cis males, that anytime a man interacts with a woman in a relationship, the jealous signal flares up.

      Should have noticed from “Beat that for a date.”

      Of course, by the time “MOTOE” came out, the subtext was text at that point.

      Reply

  25. Sloath
    May 8, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

    tldr

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      May 8, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

      Just four letters long, yet still managing to be a perfect self-description.

      Reply

  26. dm
    May 9, 2018 @ 9:20 am

    I think I had a go at you on twitter once, pre-coming-out, for choosing to say something nice about Gareth Roberts when you could have ignored him. You probably don’t remember this at all and give precisely zero fucks. Knowing how difficult and conflicted you were has given me pause to reflect on the fact that I really have no fucking clue what someone might be going through and if I generally trust their instincts I should probably shut up. Sorry, El!

    Reply

  27. dm
    May 9, 2018 @ 9:27 am

    As for the episode itself, pretty gross. I wasn’t aware of Gareth Roberts’s political inclinations at this point. I just found the Danny/Doctor/Clara dynamic really disturbing.

    The design and movement of the Skovox Blitzer also doesn’t work at all- the way its feet don’t seem to connect with the floor and it moves on wheels kinda looks SJA cheap. No offence to the people who created and designed it, there were probably massive time/budget constraints involved.

    Also saving the flip thing Danny does at one point is just really crap.

    TuckerDoctor was always a bad/obvious choice, but it actually worked in Into the Dalek. Here it just makes watching the episode really unpleasant.

    Reply

    • dm
      May 9, 2018 @ 9:34 am

      ignore “saving” on the Danny point there

      Reply

  28. Rob
    May 10, 2018 @ 2:28 am

    HI Elizabeth,
    It’s always troubling separating the artist from the work. I love the film version of Rosemary’s Baby but of course some of things we know about Polanski through the media and news are dispiriting to say the least. As for Woody Allen, I can’t look at his movies anymore because he’s too much of a visible presence ( even when not acting in them). You had a friendship with Gareth Roberts and he turned out to have some very misinformed and wrong views ( something of which I was not aware of until recently). I think what you wrote was brave, informed, balanced and fair. And as a follower of your blog for the last few years I’d like to say you’re great. Will you be doing another podcast soon? I loved your last one on the Wilderness Years. Have a great week! Rob

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 10, 2018 @ 5:31 am

      There’ll be some episode commentaries with Jack in the near-ish future, and I’ll probably do podcasts for Series 11, but for the most part I am pretty spectacularly unhappy with my voice as it stands and inclined to avoid that sort of thing for a bit.

      Reply

  29. Tom
    May 10, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

    An eloquent and heartfelt piece, Elizabeth, thank you.

    As a relative newcomer (old enough to remember the Paisley, but after the Eruditoum originally ended, having heard of it from a mention on Wife in Space if memory serves), I’ve been looking at El’s posts outside the Eruditoum recently, and yesterday I got onto her review of Oxygen.

    I think I’m going to have to revise my position on the gun/frock debate. I’ve always been heavily pro-frock, seeing it as representing anarchic, counter-cultural thinking, whereas I tended to see gun as pro-establishment and closed-minded. Not that I couldn’t enjoy gun stories, mind, just that I was a little embarrassed about doing so.

    But, with Oxygen, we have a gun story that is quite thrillingly left-wing and hits the establishment where it hurts. Meanwhile, the ultimate frock writer, the one who coined the term, no less, turns out to be a hateful narrow-minded reactionary.

    While I don’t think this means I was exactly wrong in the past, it does suggest to me that the boundary I drew between frock and gun wasn’t in quite the right place. Maybe frock is capable of bigotry. Perhaps gun can be open and carefree.

    My position is up in the air at the moment, and I don’t know where it will settle. But I think I’ll be able to enjoy gun with a little less embarrassment in future. More gun, less frock? Maybe not. But, then again, maybe just a little.

    Reply

    • Lambda
      May 14, 2018 @ 8:13 am

      I think what it is, is that there’s a certain, popular way of doing things within sci-fi (see the Mind of Evil eruditorum entry for a good description) which is both reactionary and very gun. But that’s not the only way of doing gun stories.

      Reply

    • mx_mond
      May 15, 2018 @ 11:32 am

      If I understand the term correctly, gun is about very serious (gritty, one could say) stories that feature more violence than frocky ones.

      Regardless of what one thinks about it (and personally I have very mixed feelings), violence can be and sometimes is used as a leftist tool of resistance or revolution. So there is definitely space to use gun aspects in left-leaning stories.

      Reply

  30. MattM
    May 10, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

    I wanted to like this episode, but the really unpleasant Doctor-Danny relationship soured it for me. I have no idea where this ‘anti-soldier’ thing springs from, it feels so forced and fake.

    I also really wanted to like Danny, but I didn’t. On reflection, I think it’s because he’s basically a character who hates Doctor Who and finds no wonder or joy in the universe, and at the same time the show wants us to side with him at times.

    Reply

    • David Anderson
      May 10, 2018 @ 8:52 pm

      It’s really hard to write as a sympathetic character someone whose basic motivation is ‘the sensible thing is not to have dangerous adventures in the TARDIS/ become a costumed vigilante/ get into making crystal meth as a form of life insurance policy’. As El would say, the character’s whole motivation is to bring about a narrative collapse – if they get what they want there’s no more story. And even if they’re right, especially if they’re right, that puts them squarely and directly in conflict with the audience who want there to be more story. It’s a hard position for any character to recover from.

      Reply

      • Citizen Alan
        May 11, 2018 @ 9:51 am

        Agreed 100%. I aggressively disliked Danny Pink from this episode onward because he reminded me of everyone I’ve ever met who told me that Doctor Who (the series) was silly and immature and that one day I’d grow up and lose interest in it.

        Also, did anyone else LOL at the end when Danny defeated the Skovox McGuffin by doing a triple-backflip over it? No wonder the Doctor thought he was the PE teacher!

        Reply

      • Przemek
        May 12, 2018 @ 11:03 am

        That is an excellent point, thank you! Now I can finally understand why some characters just seem to grind everyone’s gears no matter what they do.

        As for Danny, I never really cared that much for him. There was just not enough character for me there and I don’t think he and Clara ever worked. The actors did a really good job of making me care when he died but I still couldn’t help but wonder how much we would be bawling our eyes out had it been Amy and Rory.

        Reply

  31. John G. Wood
    May 10, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

    Well, that was powerful, and hard to read (though not, I am sure, as hard as it was to write). I’ve only been vaguely aware of Gareth Roberts’ political stance, and never seen any quotes from him in this vein before. I am going to have trouble separating that from his work (much of which I have loved, though not particularly The Caretaker).

    It’s only a small gesture of support, but I have edited my old blog posts and believe they now all refer to you by your proper name and pronoun (if I’ve missed any I’ll correct them as I spot them). All the best.

    Reply

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    May 11, 2018 @ 8:22 am

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    Reply

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