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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. thesmilingstallioninn
    December 28, 2016 @ 4:23 am

    I still believe there might be more to the Harmony Shoals storyline this series when it was brought up in Husbands, they do seem to be the same head-splitting beings who tried to purchase the diamond from River, there’s the Ghost of Love and Wishes gemstone in this episode, and of course there’s that UNIT soldier who might spread more Harmony Shoals around. I don’t think it’s completely over, especially if Moffat was looking for a direction to take his final series in and an arc word might be a callback to Bad Wolf and such. Just a guess or speculation.


    • thesmilingstallioninn
      December 28, 2016 @ 4:30 am

      Just to point out that reference in Husbands–

      DOCTOR: So, who is this buyer?
      RIVER: No idea, he just responded to the advert.
      (A shadow falls across their table. It is a bald man with a diagonal scar running around his face from the back of his skull, round across the right temple to below his left cheek bone. His voice is very hoarse.)
      SCRATCH: Which of you is Song?
      DOCTOR: Who wants to know?
      SCRATCH: I am Scratch.
      RIVER: Don’t need your name. Are you empowered to purchase?
      SCRATCH: I represent the Shoal of the Winter Harmony.
      RIVER: Don’t care. Don’t want to know. I’ll need immediate payment. Can you do that?

      (Just stuck out to me when I was watching Husbands again after I spotted Harmony Shoals was the name of the company in previews.)


      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        December 28, 2016 @ 5:03 am

        Oh, yeah, they’re clearly the same villains as Husbands. But I just took that as another part of the “jeez, really, a direct follow-up?”

        Although yes, they could turn out to be the S10 arc. Though if so… that’s kinda… meh. I mean, two hours and two episodes in and they’ve yet to reveal a propensity for being interesting villains. They’re Slitheen that don’t fart.


        • Citizen Alan
          December 29, 2016 @ 7:10 pm

          Oddly, no one has picked up on the most provocative thing about Harmony Shoals, the name.

          Harmony => Melody => Song
          Shoals => Pond => River


          • vitaminbillwebb
            January 2, 2017 @ 1:40 am

            Harmonies play under melodies. Shoals are sandbars that lie immediately under the surface of bodies of water.

    • David Bateman
      December 28, 2016 @ 9:39 am

      Well spotted! I must admit it passed me by. It’s clearly stated on the BBC website that they’re same. In fact, they mention it twice. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4C3q2NLDY2GrXLNXHv5S850/the-return-of-doctor-mysterio-the-fact-file

      I’m kind of hoping they don’t appear in S10, but instead turn up next xmas… and they’re the universe’s slowest invaders.


    • Alex
      December 29, 2016 @ 6:52 am

      Not the first time, either. We had the Great Intelligence show up in The Snowman, and then popped up in the remainder of Series 7.


  2. Bucktwenty
    December 28, 2016 @ 4:34 am

    That Lucy was unaware of Grant’s lifelong crush, while she entrusted him with her child and while he could see her naked without her consent or knowledge the whole time they’ve known each other? I dunno, seems creepy to me. I think I’d be on board with your reading if Lucy were at least aware Grant was crushing on her and still let him be her nanny with that knowledge, but… she didn’t, so it feels weird to me.


    • Lambda
      December 28, 2016 @ 9:40 am

      I don’t think the “can see her naked” part is really relevant. I could see anyone who invited me into their house naked without their knowledge or consent if I wanted, I think it’s pretty easy to hide cameras nowadays. Admittedly with a risk of getting caught, but it’s not that risk which means I don’t do it, it’s because I just don’t do that sort of thing. And neither does he. (Provided he can reliably control that now.)

      Perhaps the uncomfortableness here is rooted in the way that, while there’s nothing stalkerish about Grant, (providing we assume he became the babysitter by Lucy going “I want someone I know and trust. Are you available?” rather than going “you’ve got a baby. Want me to babysit sometimes?” himself,) he’s rather close to previous Moffat characters who have been stalkerish, so it’s reasonable to think the writer is still thinking along the same uncomfortable lines.

      Particularly since he included the X-ray vision thing in the first place, which I don’t remember being necessary for the plot, makes less sense than the other powers when you think about it since it means he gets any light around him to do weird things rather than just affecting what his body can do, and feeds into the “men can’t help themselves” thing. Wouldn’t the story be better if that was just left out entirely? I know Superman has it, but like I don’t think “homages” to other stories are a good reason for bad storytelling decisions.


      • bucktwenty
        December 28, 2016 @ 3:03 pm

        That’s sort of my problem with it, yeah – that the X-ray vision thing is there only for the puberty gag with young Grant. I think the story would make me less uncomfortable if it weren’t included.


        • Daibhid C
          December 31, 2016 @ 11:02 pm

          I don’t disagree, but I will say that I appreciated that the x-ray vision gag was the exact opposite of the expected one.

          Far too often, “realistic” crypto-Kryptonians get their x-ray vision as a teenager and immediately think “Hey I can be a peeping tom and no-one will know”. Even if they don’t actually do it, it’s presented as the first thing they think of.

          Grant reacted the way I would have – namely “Oh, god, this is the most embarrassing thing ever, how do I make it stop?”


    • Riggio
      December 29, 2016 @ 5:51 am

      I tried as hard as I could, but I just couldn’t escape the creepy dimensions of the Grant-Lucy relationship. I mean, I still thought it was an excellent story as a cracking Xmas week adventure. Not nearly as chaotic near the end as Phil described – the story wasn’t nearly as complex for its ending speed to be a problem. So I’ll always enjoy watching “Doctor Mysterio.” But it’ll always have this uncomfortable shade to it, at best.



  3. Max Curtis
    December 28, 2016 @ 4:42 am

    The River follow-up’s necessary to establish that “I’ve been away”, flagging the show’s absence and the point of the title. Otherwise, a casual viewer might assume they’ve missed a series.

    It’s slightly mishandled, though, especially with the jarring mid-episode callback to 24 years.


  4. Mac
    December 28, 2016 @ 5:58 am

    I… I mean, yeah. This is pretty much also my exact take on the episode. A perfectly passable hour, some fun bits and bobs, everything’s charming, Nardole’s fine and not annoying. But I share as well that nagging feeling – actually stretching back to “Husbands” – that Moffat found a perfect endpoint to his exploration into Doctor Who with those wonderful last 3 episodes, and this one didn’t reassure me that he has more to say. But I will be delighted to be wrong.


  5. Eric Gimlin
    December 28, 2016 @ 6:52 am

    Curt Swan Superman is always the best choice, Phil. You’re not the only one.


    • AntonB
      December 28, 2016 @ 12:15 pm

      The Curt Swan Superman for me says childhood comics more than Byrne does and of course that’s a generational thing like Hartnell is my Doctor (Goddamn I’m getting old!) but there’s also something innocent and childlike about Swan’s clean lines illustrating exactly the kind of Lois and Clark rom-com shenanigans that Moffat is essaying here that would have been a better fit.

      I’m glad Phil didn’t over critique this episode though. It would be like kicking a puppy that you got for Xmas. It did poop on my carpet though.


  6. Jarl
    December 28, 2016 @ 7:37 am

    Superman: The Movie if Superman was Watchmen and Richard Donner was Joel Shumacre.

    I liked it. Though, not to get too Lawrence Miles-y, but I suspect the reason it wasn’t Doctor Who lands in a Marvel-style superhero story is because that would be about as creative and refreshing as doing a Series 8 throwback at this point.


  7. Dustin Becker
    December 28, 2016 @ 10:57 am

    Matt Lucas wasn’t as awful as I feared he’d be. He actually wasn’t awful at all.

    “What are you doing here?”

    “We could ask you the same question, but it’s your apartment, so we probably won’t.”


  8. Dustin
    December 28, 2016 @ 11:16 am

    Rankings (slightly revised from last year):

    1. Last Christmas
    2. A Christmas Carol
    3. The Snowmen
    4. The Next Doctor
    5. Time of the Doctor
    6. The Husbands of River Song
    7. The Christmas Invasion
    8. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
    9. The Runaway Bride
    10. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
    11. Voyage of the Damned
    12. The End of Time


    • Dustin
      December 28, 2016 @ 11:19 am

      Actually, no. Put “Husbands” between “Mysterio” and “Runaway Bride.”


  9. Matt L
    December 28, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

    Didn’t Moffst do split-screen phone farce way back in ‘Coupling’? The comics influence is obvious here, but I couldn’t help thinking too of I think it was “The Other End of The Line.”


    • Tom Marshall
      December 28, 2016 @ 10:59 pm

      Yes, he did. And marvellously.

      (Probably more cleverly than here).


  10. Aylwin
    December 28, 2016 @ 2:52 pm

    On the stalker thing, I don’t think “what you’re supposed to do” quite covers taking a job in the household of the person in question (as opposed to, well, absolutely anything at all anywhere else), particularly a job amounting to quasi-parenting their child, and all in all effectively putting yourself in a position as close as possible to being shacked up with them without having an actual romantic relationship, all without letting on that you’re interested in them. It’s hard not to find that scenario a weensy bit unsettling.

    The whole lovelorn set-up also undercuts any point being made by the male nanny thing – this isn’t a vocational choice or “just a job”, it’s all about the object of his affections. And as with Rory, Moffat’s alternative-masculinity treatment seems to be locked in conflict between virtuous intentions and an instinctive inclination to disdain and ridicule – “Nothing to worry your pretty little head about” is pretty savage.


  11. bucktwenty
    December 28, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

    There we go – this is what I’ve been trying (and failing) to get at. Thank you for putting it in better words than I!


  12. Aylwin
    December 28, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

    Oh, and while we’re expectation-managing for season 10, I’ve just seen that poster image and apparently there’s going to be more Gallifrey. Hurrah.


    • Tom Marshall
      December 28, 2016 @ 10:57 pm

      Ooh, what poster image is that?


      • Aylwin
        December 28, 2016 @ 11:57 pm

        It’s on the IMDB page for the series, and features characters including Bill, but also the general from Hell Bent. I assumed it was season 10 publicity material, but now the thought occurs that it might not be. Which would be nice.


        • Ombund
          December 29, 2016 @ 2:55 am

          I’m pretty sure that’a fanmade – there’s a signature for ‘Dominic Lea’ in one corner. No idea what it’s doing on IMDb…


          • Tom Marshall
            December 29, 2016 @ 10:41 pm

            Aye, it looks fanmade to me.

  13. ViolentBeetle
    December 28, 2016 @ 3:40 pm

    This episode is harder to rate than usual because it has two distinct halves and I only like one. Brain snatchers were cool. Grant was terrible. I wish it was just a regular episode about Harmony Shoal.

    The unironic walk through every superhero cliche I couldn’t stand. Maybe it was supposed to be so straight it’s ironic, but what we got is, in my opinion, just crap.


  14. Tom Marshall
    December 28, 2016 @ 10:52 pm

    “Those looking for any sorts of tea leaves regarding Series 10”

    I suspect we’ll get those in January with Sherlock, given that whatever preoccupies Moff as he works on “The Lying Detective” and “The Final Problem” might segue into his Series 10 stuff.


  15. Adam T
    December 29, 2016 @ 12:05 am

    Can I point out how the Shoal don’t make sense?

    1. They look like brains, but they can also split apart their bodies’ heads including the area where the brain should be. 2. The stock room is increasing in brain number, but whenever a human brain gets added, a Shoal would get to leave the room.

    And they are in fact inside human skulls, because at the end there’s a body with empty space inside the eye sockets.

    I do like the ridiculousness of them dramatically opening up their heads to reveal small items they could have easily have stowed elsewhere.


  16. UrsulaL
    December 29, 2016 @ 3:39 pm

    The problem I had with him being the nanny is that it presents the whole Nice Guy thing as working.

    If you like a woman, don’t tell her, but insinuate yourself as far into her life as possible, and she’ll suddenly realize you’re awesome and essential and fall for you.

    The non-creepy options were to either tell her how he felt, and let her make an informed decision as to what she wanted of him, or to get a job elsewhere, and stay out of her life.

    Her response might have been to ask him to leave, as she wasn’t comfortable, Or, she might have taken a second look and liked what she saw, now that she realized he was interested. Either way, she would have been dealing with him as he was, not him lying to her.

    As it was, Grant was clearly using Lucy to fill emotional needs (particularly the need for family) without her knowledge or consent.

    For things to be non-creepy, there needs to be informed consent. Grant did not inform Lucy of his feelings, so she could not consent to the terms of their relationship.

    Plus, the nanny-as-superhero basically gives a man superhero credit for doing work – on a work schedule and for pay – that women are routinely expected to do 24/7 and unpaid.

    The x-ray vision didn’t bother me as much, as Grant clearly realized it was inappropriate to gawk at people, and learned to behave with dignity, and treat others with dignity, even when they were naked to his eyes.


    • Kaan Vural
      January 2, 2017 @ 8:21 am

      The nanny-as-superhero point would make more sense to me if the episode passed judgment on Lucy for not being a full-time parent, but it doesn’t seem to be doing so – and the Doctor’s admiration for Lucy’s investigative skill is more substantial than any praise he gives Grant.


  17. Daru
    December 31, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

    I basically found it fun and an enjoyable piece of fluff. I needed a bit of Christmas fun and I got that. It felt pretty good to be watching a bit of fresh Doctor Who with no strings attached to it and this was the only Who I had watched since Husbands last year, so it felt quite fresh in that way.

    Nothing deep to say. Really dug Nardole.


  18. Radek
    January 1, 2017 @ 1:01 am

    But the Doctor is never away. There’s no need for the Doctor to disappear just because he spent 24 years with River. We don’t even know when these 24 years took place. But he could simply show up later, with the TARDIS, to a different place at the same time as those 24 years. Unless he thinks those years are sacred somehow so that he won’t never travel to that time.


  19. Kaan Vural
    January 2, 2017 @ 9:40 am

    Something just felt deeply off about this episode to me. Grant’s supposed to be a riff on old-school Superman, but he wears this grimdark fetish body armor and only seems to operate at night, as though he’s Batman. He even does the Christian Bale growl!

    That, plus there’s not much sense of how Grant’s character fits together with his Ghost persona. The Christopher Reeve movies were quite clear that the Clark persona was a disguise for Superman. But it’s not clear if Grant is more like the Ghost or more like Grant, and he’s not an interesting enough character to make that an interesting question.

    Doctor Who riffing on a story or genre is fine, good even, but the end product still needs to exist on its own terms and this really did feel like bits of stuff stapled together. The superhero elements and the alien elements are completely separate and never combine into anything greater.

    Say the Doctor had stolen the gem from the Harmony Shoals people and they were coming to reclaim it, and Grant had to choose between fighting the aliens as a superhero and giving the gem to some people who needed it, losing his powers in the process. Kind of like Clark giving up his powers in Superman II.

    And it would have effectively captured the bit where Superman best intersects with Doctor Who – namely, the fact that Superman is someone who looks human but draws power from his alienness, and remains a good person in spite of what that power or alienness might do to him.

    (Side note: given that the episode is theoretically about the heroism of ordinary people doing ordinary things, I’m surprised that Grant simply promises not to use his powers rather than losing or choosing to lose them…he didn’t keep that promise before, and honestly how did this episode change him to the point that he’d actually consider living as a normal person?)

    I’m fine with the idea of Christmas fluff, but that generally just means “light in tone”, it doesn’t mean you get free license to write incoherent messes…as a non-drinker I couldn’t catch half of what was going on in the climactic crash scene, so God help the people who were slightly rat-arsed on Guinness.


  20. Nick R
    January 2, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

    Of course Moffat, who hasn’t exactly done anything that signals him as a big comics guy

    Tintin? 😛

    Runs away


  21. Larry W
    January 5, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

    Am I the only one who found the tea sipping sequence in the TARDIS kinda funny?

    Here we have Nardole decked out as an ancient Chinese noble from an offscreen adventure he had while using the TARDIS on his own. He brought back what was probably really really good tea. Good enough for the tough but fair emperor!


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