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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. Alex Antonijevic
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:32 am

    That last scene with the little girl regenerating was probably the biggest "jaw hit the floor" moments in watching this show.


  2. Daibhid C
    July 21, 2014 @ 2:28 am

    "Arguably it’s not until late 2013 that Moffat really figures out the details of the approach that replaces this one. (Arguably it’s not even until then…"

    I think the second "until" shouldn't be there? Because otherwise you're saying the same thing twice.


  3. peeeeeeet
    July 21, 2014 @ 2:59 am

    Mmmm. Reminded me of this:

    "About any one so great as Shakespeare it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that we should from time to time change our way of being wrong. Whether Truth ultimately prevails is doubtful and has never been proved; but it is certain that nothing is more effective in driving out error than a new error." – T. S. Eliot


  4. reservoirdogs
    July 21, 2014 @ 3:52 am

    I think that story would have worked better if it they lied to a robot and told him he was their brother.


  5. John Callaghan
    July 21, 2014 @ 4:07 am

    The still's from Let's Kill Hitler, isn't it? What have I missed?


  6. Pen Name Pending
    July 21, 2014 @ 4:40 am

    I think my comment was possibly eaten so here goes again…

    Ah, this was my first ever episode of Doctor Who, and it worked like magic. And actually you're right–it was never the same as this. I loved the whole season, but everything else is explaining what happened here…and there isn't much left after "Let's Kill Hitler," so I always felt the second half lacked momentum, even if I like a lot of the episodes (and "The God Complex" might be my favorite of the whole season).

    And "The Impossible Astronaut" is quite slow–not in a boring way, but at the end I was so surprised it was over already and I desperately wanted to fast-forward through the next week.

    I had to smile at the last line of the essay…that was pretty much exactly what I thought. 1. How the heck do they come up with all this stuff when they've got all of time and space and 2. It can do anything! Oh, the good old days of theorizing without interacting directly with fandom and realizing how political it was and how uncomfortable that made me…

    I haven't been the same since. (And this blog also helps deepen my understanding of the show even more.)


  7. Pen Name Pending
    July 21, 2014 @ 4:42 am

    All the River stories are out of order so we get the text of the episode Dr. Sandier has chosen but the image of the episode whose place it takes, if that makes sense…


  8. John Callaghan
    July 21, 2014 @ 4:52 am

    Cheers. At least I know I'm meant to be confused. 🙂


  9. T. Hartwell
    July 21, 2014 @ 4:56 am

    "and at last to things like “wait, they lied to their brother and told him he was a robot?”"

    See, I thought that was a terribly good attempt at redeeming "The Android Invasion", as it so clearly showcased there was indeed a twist sillier than "man discovers the existence of his own eyeball".


  10. T. Hartwell
    July 21, 2014 @ 4:57 am

    And by the way, I think there was no time more fitting than this for the powers of the internet to ask me to "prove I'm not a robot".


  11. Jarl
    July 21, 2014 @ 5:43 am

    This was the first episode I watched on broadcast (well, on On Demand the day after Day of the Moon aired), so I consider it to be the first time I watched the show as a fan.

    It's also the inspiration for the first attempt I ever had at fan fic, speculating on what various characters who lived through 1969 were doing at the moment of the broadcast. I ended up abandoning it because I couldn't think of how to end the Brigadier of Billy Shipton segments with any level of satisfaction, and I felt I had to watch more Sarah Jane Adventures if I was going to get Sarah Jane's voice right. I might try again sometime, since it seems like such an obvious and rewarding premise.

    Speculating on the link between the Silence and the Slender Man mythos: I feel that even if the two weren't directly causally related, the remarkable correlation implies some change in the zeitgeist that made "sinister disproportionate humanoids in black suits lurking in the background and messing with the boundaries of video while editing memories and controlling thoughts" suddenly the hot new idea. The men in black are an obvious lineage for both concepts, both those of legend and those of cinema.

    Nothing I've read from Victor Surge suggests any immediate impetus beyond "creative fiction on the internet is fun", and it's plausible that the only reason the Silence conjure up the men in black is because they're in an episode about American conspiracies and Area 51, but the timing still feels suspicious. Marble Hornets was in its own imperial phase at the time, those heady days after Entry 35 when suddenly everything seemed possible. It's probably nothing.

    Final observation: So far as we can tell, the hypnotic ability of the Silence is never displayed again. River seems to have free will during her assassination of the Doctor at Lake Silencio, we don't see them doing anything clever along those lines at Trenzalore, it's all a bit sad. It's a shame we'll never see another Silence episode, but that's nostalgia speaking. Not every one-off villain has to have an encore, I suppose.


  12. AndyRobot800
    July 21, 2014 @ 5:52 am

    For American Who fans, this also marks a pretty significant moment. Not just the first time they actually shot the show in the US, but the first time that we got to see an episode on the very same night as the UK.

    (Well, legally, I mean…)

    Sure, some of us got The Five Doctors a couple of days beforehand, and the TV movie aired at around the same time, but this time around, we actually got to turn on BBC America on Saturday night and enjoy the thing, officially, same day and everything. After five years of having to (officially) wait – for inexplicable legal reasons – we finally felt like we were part of the same community of fans.

    I have really fond memories of this one, and it's still probably my favorite Moffatt era story.


  13. Jesse Smith
    July 21, 2014 @ 6:47 am

    I make it the fourth timestream crossing? Mawdryn Undead (1977), Remembrance of the Daleks (1963), Father's Day (1987), and then this. I'm guessing you're discounting Mawdryn for being sufficiently "consciously situated in in a historical setting".


  14. David Anderson
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:18 am

    One thing I think this has done is parodied the celebrity historical out of existence for the time being. There aren't many ways in which you can outparody the Doctor teams up with Richard Nixon. Although Moffat's done one of them.


  15. Chicanery
    July 21, 2014 @ 8:49 am

    How is that relevant? Journey is terrible, but it has nothing to do with this story.


  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 21, 2014 @ 9:07 am

    "This is true on a very fundamental creative level, where even from the very beginning of the program you are forced to say things like, “well in their defense, resolving two weeks of sci-fi experimental theater with ‘oh, bother, the switch was stuck’ is not something I’ve ever seen done before,” up through the days of “racism and giant rats, huh” and “holy fuck that coat” and at last to things like “wait, they lied to their brother and told him he was a robot?”"


  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 21, 2014 @ 9:10 am

    Yeah, for me Mawdryn Undead is a present-day story that nips back in time for a couple of sequences. Your mileage may vary.


  18. TheSmilingStallionInn
    July 21, 2014 @ 9:18 am

    I think he means that Moffat might have figured out the approach that replaced this one sooner than late 2013.


  19. Adam Riggio
    July 21, 2014 @ 9:25 am

    You make a very good point here, that you're probably the first person to engage in detailed critique of the last two seasons of the Moffat era that focusses on aesthetic goals and purposes other than the simple execution of a rollicking fun adventure story.

    In terms of quality in this regard, Season Five was the clearly superior set of episodes. It had the greatest number of successful or otherwise remarkable episodes and the smallest number of hitches or flaws. At the same time, it was also the least experimental season in terms of trying new narrative structures. The series arc was probably the most complicated of any yet (following the RTD model, I was expecting cracks to be seeded normally throughout the season until their nature was revealed and their threat decisively defeated in the season finale). From Flesh and Stone onward, I was consistently surprised. But its basic structure was still very traditional: the same order of one and two part episodes as the Eccleston year.

    The subsequent two (though I think of them as three) seasons experimented further with narrative conventions than the show had ever done. But most criticism at the time complained about the episodes of the subsequent seasons that marred the consistency of Moffat's first year (ex. Black Spot, Hitler, Wardrobe, Power of Three, Akhaten, Centre of the TARDIS, and Nightmare in Silver), and that the complicated plot arc of Season Six made it difficult for casual viewers and interfered with the ability of the production to concentrate on the quality of episodes as stand-alone stories.

    The basic comparison was always of a more consistent season with less creative ambition (Season Five) with a less consistent season that wore its ambitions on its sleeves, whether in terms of story-arcs, hidden narratives, experimentation in storytelling, and rearranging the traditional structures of season-long plots (Season Six) or of narrative compression, meta-textuality, and the subversion of the concept of the season-long plot itself. The more interesting route sometimes resulted in less successful products, but it pushed the boundaries of what Doctor Who could do further than the more conventionally acclaimed Moffat-helmed season ever did.


  20. Matthew Blanchette
    July 21, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    Not to mention that which was implicit in the first trailer for Series 6… "where we've never ever been". (Followed by a big-ol' shot of America, natch.)

    Beautiful wink and nod. 🙂


  21. encyclops
    July 21, 2014 @ 10:10 am

    For me, Moffat's seasons are all exactly equal in terms of episodes I both personally dislike and get mixed reviews at best from everyone else (as opposed to stuff like "Vincent and the Doctor," which I loathe but am in a minuscule minority about)

    S5: "Victory" and the Silurian 2-parter
    S6: "Curse" and the Flesh 2-parter
    S7: "Mercy," "Akhaten," and "Journey"

    I see where you're coming from with the consistency vs. ambition, and it's funny that consistency is something that people even expect from Doctor Who. For me, it's simply a given that almost every one of the first 26 seasons has a weak link, usually not just a mediocre story but a real howler.


  22. ebca346e-110f-11e4-8fa8-b3e364880036
    July 21, 2014 @ 10:48 am

    One of the most common criticisms I see of this two-parter is of the resolution, that the Doctor was wrong to weaponize humanity without their consent to kill the Silence on sight.

    Which is an argument that seems show-stopping on the surface but falls apart because of course humanity was manipulated by the Silence also without their consent. In that case, humanity definitely had the moral right to kill the Silence. The Doctor was just freeing humanity by allowing them to do what they could never do before because of the Silence's powers.

    That, and the image of the oppressed (humanity) rising up against their oppressors (the Silence) in a violent revolution is so delightfully compatible with a Marxist reading of Doctor Who.


  23. Aylwin
    July 21, 2014 @ 10:58 am

    I may return to this at greater length later in the season, but for now let's just say that the monsters of this story seem to me to have no meaningful connection with the villains of the season's overarching plot, but are a quite separate idea, complete with their own distinct story into which components of that larger plot are casually spliced. Hence they do not reappear in later episodes advancing the season plot, in which they have no place. Any apparent subsequent appearances are basically just the reuse of some costumes in a very superficially and half-heartedly tacked-on gesture at sustaining the pretence that the two in any way fit together.

    It means that this story, which was already the first one in which Moffat approached RTD levels of non-sense-making, suffers when viewed in the context of what comes later. That freight of later revelations ups the existing bat-shit blizzard of "the Silence needed a spacesuit" from gale to hurricane force, and leaves you to ponder just how it is that raising a child as an assassin necessitates covertly controlling an entire planet for about 5,500 or about 125,000 years (depending on whether you prefer to go with the implied time-frame of "the wheel" or of "fire" – bracketing those two together is a cliche that really needs retiring. (As notional primal technologies, that is – I'm not trying to diss King Lear here)). I mean, over-elaborate nefarious schemes are a genre standard, but that has to set some kind of record.

    The only way I could impose any logic on the latter connection would be by reading the whole thing as a kind of vicious but initially artfully-concealed atheist/anti-clerical polemic in a hard-core Marxist style, calling for the extermination of the preachers of religion (with echoes of Terry Pratchett's "This is why all missionaries should be shot on sight"?). Take the characterisation of the Silence as a religion as meaning that they signify religion in general and you can surely work something of the sort out of a portrayal of a ubiquitous elite who have been subtly shaping human thought and behaviour and living parasitically off the produce of others since the dawn of culture as we know it. Maybe even make something of the 1960s setting as a putative turning-point in the collapse of religious authority.

    I doubt that that's actually what's going on though – it's something that might have been posited after Let's Kill Hitler but falls through with The Time of the Doctor. Besides the tangential quality of their connection with the Unmemorables, the characterisation of the Kovarian Kabal as a religion seems distinctly casual to me – basically a throwaway device to lend some cheekily-misleading RTD-esque mythic portentousness to the foreshadowing towards Trenzalore, underpinning the notion that the Doctor and his unspoken secret name have some great cosmic metaphysical siginificance. Revealing that to have been a feint by exposing the practical, concrete nature of what the Silence are concerned with drains such significance as there is from their religious trappings (which are not that prominently worn anyway – nothing I can think of in Kovarian's own nomenclature, appearance, words, actions or characterisation by others suggests any connection with religion, and until TTOTD it's far from clear whether the clerics are actually part of the Silence or merely allies). Revealing that the Silence are actually largely benign and that Kovarian and Ko are our old friends The Unrepresentative Minority That Gets The Rest A Bad Name torpedoes any notion that the latter are meant to stand for religion in general, and reverts the wider group's overall image and Moffat's implied attitude to the quizzical and sardonic but far from hostile impression given by the first appearance of the clerics in ATOA/FAS.

    So I'm calling cock-up, not conspiracy on that one. Now, if Gatiss had been writing it, that would have been a whole different story…


  24. Aylwin
    July 21, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    I'm also broadly OK with it (as a fictional conceit, not a putative real-life proposition in all earnestness), but not for those reasons. To me what counts is that he's basically just letting them pass judgement on themselves – it's a kind of poetic justice-dispensing which fits well into the Doctor's established MO when he's in mythic-trickster-bastard mode a la McCoy. It stays on the right side of the line that The Family of Blood goes way, way over.


  25. arse bandit
    July 21, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    A whole generation will grow up thinking Richard Nixon's worst sin was being a bit of a loveable grouch. Canton Delaware's outing at the end was almost a parody of Russell T Davies's writing – "by the way, I'm a pillow princess!" The current generation willl be reviewing old classic series episodes wondering where the obligatory gay confessions scenes were.


  26. Seeing_I
    July 21, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    That's assuming a whole generation never hears anything else about Richard Nixon other than what's in these two episodes. Which seems unlikely.


  27. Aylwin
    July 21, 2014 @ 11:57 am

    Of course, your estimation of what I have just said may similarly be adversely affected with hindsight if you read what I am going to post on this subject when we get to The Wedding and attempt to reconcile the two. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I…

    No you're not!


  28. Chicanery
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    I totally missed that, apologies.


  29. Daibhid C
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    I'm used to Phil referring "back" to unwritten essays and "ahead" to written ones in the River essays. But I've just realised he's dedicated enough to this conceit that that he writes "It’s been just over three years and one month since this story aired", when in fact it's almost exactly three years and three months. Because the "correct" place for this essay is 9th of June, where the essay on "The Wedding of River Song" is.


  30. Alan
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    Did anyone else listen to the Silence gloat about guiding humanity's progress and say "I wonder what Scaroth of the Jaggaroth was doing during all that?" No? Just me then. Also, Phil's comment about "waiting for Pertwee" was arguably a plot point — the story introduces the Silence as the secret masters of humanity and the Doctor's newest sworn enemy and then dispatches them … just a few months before his Third incarnation gets banished to Earth for an extended period of time.

    My biggest gripe about this story is all the plot holes that crop up by the end of the season. Kovarian's appearance in this episode indicates that they've already captured Amy, but if so, why did they need to kidnap her for an extended length of time in this story. Just to jerk the Doctor's chain? The ending, viewed in tandem with The Lodger, implies that the Silence were trying to build a TARDIS of their own. What happened with that? And why, considering that they obviously already have time travel capabilities?

    It also reminds me of my fan-wanking theory about "Silence in the Library" — that there actually WERE Silents in the Library who were invisible to us and the Doctor and who engineered the whole scenario in order to force the Doctor to download River (the only other TARDIS pilot) into an easily copyable computerized format.


  31. Daibhid C
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

    Well, maybe, in which case I'm not sure what the first clause is about. He still seems to be saying the same thing twice, and being more sceptical about it the second time.


  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

    Actually, we got Christmas Carol same day as well.


  33. Elizabeth Sandifer
    July 21, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

    It's an error. Will fix in a sec.


  34. Adam Riggio
    July 21, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

    You make a good pinprick as well in this aspect of widespread false belief about the Smith era. S5 arguably had just as many relative dud episodes as S6, S7, and the collection of Specials (of Xmas Carol, Wardrobe, Snowmen, Day, and Time of the Doctor, only Wardrobe comes off as a bit meh).

    It would seem to be consistency in form alone, and perhaps the attendant simplicity, that has resulted in this reputation of S5 being the best of the Smith era. Personally, I'm unable to pick a favourite, as the Smith era's best episodes are spread liberally throughout its four years.

    But one sad truth about the more experimental S6 and S7 is that they require more work on the part of the viewer to understand all their charms and virtues. S6 does have its purposely scattered story arc, where keeping track of all the elements of the narrative and understanding their relation to each other requires a lot of thought and meditation after the fact (and probably a rewatch or two, which justifies DVD sales). S7 is essentially something of a trick on the audience after S6, where the apparent arc is the result of a single plot action in the season finale, a joke on both the audience and the Doctor. Enjoying these elements of the season requires a bit more thought and reflection on the part of a viewer, which, in my more cynical moments, I speculate may be a reason why some would prefer the more straightfoward season arc of S5.


  35. encyclops
    July 21, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

    I'd definitely agree that S5 feels…I don't know, more focused? more thematically unified? more "literary," whatever that means? than S6 or S7. Whether that's just a "feeling" or something more supportable, I'm not sure. But I can see how a certain sensibility would find it a bit more "tasteful" than The Slender Men and the Eyepatch Lady and Their Assorted Friends Steal Amy's Baby Slash Best Friend Slash The Doctor's Wife Who Tries to Kill Him, which now that I write it out sounds like what people who don't watch soap operas imagine soap opera plots to be; and more compelling than Clara The Continuity Girl.

    If you judge a season by its arc, which is a very New Who thing to do, then there's no question in my mind that S5 comes out on top, perhaps even after you put in the time to work through each of them. If you judge a season by its component stories, which is a very Classic Who way to look at it and still very much my habit, seasons are artificial collections interrupted by fairly arbitrary caesurae, and I'm personally never going to have that strong an interest in ranking "the one with 'The Lodger'" or "the one with 'The God Complex'" over or under "the one with 'Hide.'"

    Which is probably why it's a good thing that thoughtful, reflective people like you, Aylwin, and our good host exist to make sense of the bigger picture.


  36. encyclops
    July 21, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

    I don't know if you intended those phrases to be insulting, but I find myself longing for someone to make a spinoff series about The Arse Bandit and His Pillow Princess. Or, I suppose, The Pillow Princess and His Arse Bandit. Unless Arse Bandit is already a Heinlein character.

    In any case, I think there is already an essay in one of the About Time books that covers gayspotting in the classic series. There might even be something on the internet where people have catalogued such moments, probably including "only qualified to operate on sailors" and "you're a beautiful woman, probably."


  37. Pen Name Pending
    July 21, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

    Comparing the American and UK trailers for this series is hilarious. The UK one is dark and mysterious, and the US one is like "Utah! White House! GUNS!"


  38. Pen Name Pending
    July 21, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

    I really find this discussion interesting because S5 is my favorite, but mostly because I've had time to rewatch it all to the point I enjoy every episode, with the except of some of "Victory" and yeah I guess the Silurians get tiresome…but weirdly, "Cold Blood" was the episode that really sold me on the show and Matt's Doctor. Unfortunately, I can't figure out why on rewatch. S6 and S7 I am not as well-acquainted with, only watching each episode a couple of times on the week it was broadcast and I guess I'm afraid those feelings won't carry over on rewatch (whereas S5 I originally just marathoned and didn't think much about, and later returned to because I'd read more redemptive readings of individual episodes).

    So, S5 often feels the most consistent because it never exactly has a string of stand-alone episodes unrelated to the main "plot" like S6 (part two) and S7 do–and those all have overarching themes and character moments, but they're more subtle than the RTD era. And so perhaps S5 is also the most accessible to today's Netflix marathoners, and S7 at the very least worked the best weekly. Perhaps, we shall see how it goes down in Fandom Legend (which is never true but always interesting). I honestly thought S7 was very consistent in terms of character until it got to "Hide," and it was then it stopped becoming my current favorite season. Essentially, Part 1 was very clear with its Pond arc, "The Snowmen" wrapped that up with the Doctor's state of mind and introduced (in a way) Clara, "Bells" introduced Clara as someone who questioned the companion's role of letting a stranger in and jumping into his box, but then she got a backstory in "Akhaten" and "Cold War" built upon that with her compassion. But then "Hide" was the first episode for Jenna to film and she comes off more generic, and I felt not much new was done with her until the finale. Of course, we've got at the very least whole new 14 episodes for her to go.

    I think what's interesting about S7 is that all the episodes are at least memorable more so than the "duds" in the other seasons…especially the two-part ones. Certainly a lot more time was meant making each one so (the "blockbuster" technique), which you can't exactly say for every previous season. And I realized there are often ardent supporters of the three episodes you listed (I at the very least will always defend "Akahten," even if for just personal reasons, but I quite enjoyed "Mercy" too), though I think "Nightmare" is the other one with a current bad reputation, and for me that's like another "Cold Blood" situation where I really enjoyed it on first viewing but I'm not sure it's held up since, though I wish Gaiman wouldn't pretend it didn't happen.


  39. Pen Name Pending
    July 21, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

    Also re: encyclops: People probably expect more consistency nowadays because of Netflix-style marathoning, more and more shows adopting the serial format rather than monster-of-the-week, and the availability to rewatch over and over on DVR.

    But of course, Doctor Who is also the worst thing to get consistency from because nearly every episode has a different look and feel. Certainly there are several cinematography techniques that separate Dvies from Moffat and even S5 and 6 from 7 (and presumably 8…can someone explain to me why the TARDIS is yet again orange?)–I can often pick out an era, season, or episode from just a screenshot–but "Akhaten" has a completely different look, story, goals, and themes than "Cold War," and Doctor Who is always going to do that.

    Naturally, when you hear about the best Classic Who seasons, it's often the ones that are thematically consistent like 7, 13, or 26, or the ones with storylines like 12, 16, or Trial of a Time Lord. No one exactly knows how to judge the others.


  40. razorfool
    July 21, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    I actually thought that the Silence having the TARDIS-like machine glimpsed in The Lodger was confirmation that they were the ones who blew up the Doctor's TARDIS.

    In Amy's Choice, the Doctor reveals that he can cause the TARDIS to self-destruct. in The Lodger, a TARDIS-like machine is scene causing havoc with the actual TARDIS. In The Pandorica Opens, the TARDIS blows up, seemingly self-destructing. In Day of the Moon, the Silence are shown to have the same TARDIS-like machine as the one in The Lodger. Ergo, the Silence were the ones who blew up the Doctor's TARDIS using their machine to trigger its self-destruct mechanism.


  41. encyclops
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

    Pen Name Pending: I like the Silurian two-parter and even the 99% useless "Victory" more than some of the low points of S6 and S7, so I can understand how "Cold Blood" might have appealed to you. So far I've only liked "our" Clara in exactly two episodes ("Bells" and "Name"), so the fact that she's the weak link in "Hide" doesn't really bother me. I'm probably in the minority in finding "Mercy" almost offensively bad (I get kind of angry just thinking about it, which is a dumb way to feel about an episode of a television show) but I know it's not a minority of one.

    Even so, I agree about S7 — I appreciate the attention given to making its episodes stand alone; that's the way I like my Who, and I'm actually kind of hoping Philip's right and the two-parter is going to be scarce in the future. As for "Nightmare" — I still quite liked it and don't really understand why it's so reviled. At the very least it's filled with characters I enjoy watching onscreen, and if the Jekyll/Hyde Doctor is a little trite, so be it. But yeah, I know most people consider that one a dud too.

    There's no reason to expect uneven quality, except that it's what older fans are used to. Makes perfect sense for a modern audience to demand more. As for Classic Who seasons, 18 is way up there for me. Arguably also thematically consistent, I guess. The only story in it I don't care for is "Meglos" — there's something I love about all the rest.


  42. encyclops
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:14 pm

    You said "confirmation," not "evidence," which I take to mean "this is what we're supposed to understand from it" and not "this is a convincing story." 🙂 Being able to build a fake TARDIS is a pretty big deal all by itself, and being able to use it to blow up a real one is an even bigger deal. I hope this isn't all we were supposed to be going on.


  43. Ben
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:15 pm

    I know that Clara sees the Silence in "Time of the Doctor" and she doesn't kill them. Not sure if this is because they're "good" Silence or if traveling with the Doctor makes you immune to these directive of his.


  44. Ben
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

    "The series taking that kind of time to lay out exposition in 2014 is unimaginable."

    Not sure if this counts as a spoiler, but I think Moffat may be getting less stringent about the no-cliffhanger thing in the Capaldi era. That's mainly gleaned from Wikipedia. So if he does start doing stories with more time in them I'm wondering how he'll fill it.

    BTW, where does the article's header come from? I've tried Googling it and can only find links to this blog. (You've made it, kid!)


  45. ferret
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:43 pm

    Did anyone else listen to the Silence gloat about guiding humanity's progress

    Actually my first thought was they were referencing An Unearthly Child (the prehistoric bits) "We have ruled it since the wheel and the fire." I was half expecting to see Silents inserted into Hartnell era footage down the line (at this point I was expecting it for the 50th Anniversary) to show how long the Silence had been affecting the Doctors life. Perhaps Silents giving instruction to Za and others in the tribe of gum.


  46. ferret
    July 21, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    It's all very good, it's all very clever – but the "missing time and memories" between the two episodes, ultimately entirely unresolved, irks me to this day. The Silence have ancient tunnels all over the Earth – what a fabulous concept, and we're not going to bother paying off on that???

    It seems the Silence have been around in every earth-based Doctor Who adventure – what a great excuse to insert new action into old footage, or reveal the Doctor to have himself been manipulated over many regenerations, or comment on the nature of free will in a meaningful sense… but no, just wasted. And as every appearance of the Silence after this was seriously diminishing returns it seems even more wasteful there wasn't an episode inbetween Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, their only stellar story.


  47. Kit
    July 21, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

    though I wish Gaiman wouldn't pretend it didn't happen.

    Does he turn away and look out the window when you bring it up over afternoon scones, or…?

    Naturally, when you hear about the best Classic Who seasons, it's often … the ones with storylines like 12, 16, or Trial of a Time Lord.

    I can’t imagine where you’re hearing about Trial as one of the best Classic seasons.


  48. Kit
    July 21, 2014 @ 8:45 pm

    but the "missing time and memories" between the two episodes, ultimately entirely unresolved, irks me to this day.

    Conversely, this is one of the most thrilling moments in Who history for me. Having grown up on daily episodes with up to two minutes of recapping the previous day’s cliffhanger, the self-contained stories in the Welsh series were initially jarring; here, Moffatt jars us further by playing with the essential pointlessness of so very many cliffhangers – oh, they lived? – and instead takes that as read and instead throws our heroes into new peril, RUN!ning in media res, making the audience more excited by being at once tense about what happened immediately after the close of Astronaut, worried about the current peril, and giddy to infer the adventures that must have taken place in the months’ gap.

    Also, tbh, worried about the state of their underwear, since they haven’t had a moment to change their clothes in all that time.

    It seems the Silence have been around in every earth-based Doctor Who adventure – what a great excuse to insert new action into old footage

    And then splice Clara in the background, foiling REG, too.


  49. Jarl
    July 21, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    Maybe there was an episode in between the two, but we forgot it.


  50. Jarl
    July 21, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

    Seeing_I: I played Apples to Apples a while back with some friends and assorted siblings, and the young man of about 16-ish who was picking the winner for the round read aloud, "Richard Milhouse Nixon… whoever that is." I was devastated, partly because of the future we're raising, but mostly because it was my card and it was a killer play.

    Thinking about it, I was also disappointed we didn't get to see Canton again in the finale. He was a cool character.


  51. Spacewarp
    July 21, 2014 @ 11:59 pm

    It fascinates me how we as fans tend to categorise Doctor Who seasons or Doctor "eras" after they've aired. It's almost as if there's an overall "shape" of a season or era that we can't see until it's over. I clearly remember the first time I noticed this during Eccleston's series. We were about halfway, but we still didn't have a "feel" for how things were going to pan out. Would "Dalek" be the high point? Or would the next few stories blow it out of the water? At that point the fan consensus of "Aliens of London/World War Three" being a particular low pont didn't yet exist, and although forums were full of lively discussion about the merits or failings of what we'd seen so far, there still wasn't an "accepted view" of how good or bad Series 1 actually was.

    The fact that you can't tell how good something is yet is surely the strongest evidence for it being almost 100% subjective, and yet fandom always elevates it to an objective viewpoint, and the rest of us find it almost impossible not to accept it as gospel.

    To a student of the human condition, it's fascinating.


  52. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2014 @ 12:01 am

    Just a brief reply to test a theory. Is everyone else getting the same captcha? "Photo Sphere"? I've had it twice now on (including this one) and once on another blog.


  53. Ombund
    July 22, 2014 @ 12:37 am

    It's from The Space Pirates:

    MILO: Hey listen, what am I going to talk to him about?
    DOCTOR: Talk to him about the things that he might remember.

    I would love to say I knew that off the top of my head but I had to look it up (courtesy of this site: I've just finished reading the Hartnell book so I've been doing this a lot recently.


  54. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2014 @ 12:41 am

    Or because Clara was too young to have seen the Moon Landing on first broadcast, and has never seen it since.

    Photo Sphere.


  55. ferret
    July 22, 2014 @ 2:04 am

    Spacewarp: nope, I only get house numbers these days, no words for at least a month


  56. ferret
    July 22, 2014 @ 2:09 am

    I'm sure that was the intent (both Jarl and Kit) but it fell flat for me… also, how many 8 year old Doctor Who fans got hugely upset and mistakenly berated their parents for letting them miss last weeks episode?


  57. Aylwin
    July 22, 2014 @ 2:15 am

    Spacewarp: yes, I'm getting that (sometimes with just a momentary glimpse of the usual captcha before it appears). Seems to be some sort of advertising thing infiltrating the system.


  58. Lewis Christian
    July 22, 2014 @ 3:41 am

    "Or because Clara was too young to have seen the Moon Landing on first broadcast, and has never seen it since." is stretching it a bit if you ask me.


  59. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2014 @ 4:48 am

    Now here's a thought. Perhaps the Church of the Papal Mainframe have decreed a ban on viewing of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, because every member of the 51st Century Clergy who watches it then goes on to murder the nearest Confessor.


  60. Matthew Blanchette
    July 22, 2014 @ 6:44 am

    "Random shots of Gangers for SCARY-ness!"


  61. Matthew Blanchette
    July 22, 2014 @ 6:53 am

    I must be one of those strange few people who hates "Mercy" and "Journey" with a passion, yet loves "Akhaten", likes "Hide", and thinks "Cold War" was merely decent… but who also thinks the Pond half-season pretty much stopped the overall progression of series 8 dead.


  62. Matthew Blanchette
    July 22, 2014 @ 6:55 am

    As am I. Kind of a waste of the Sheppards, there.


  63. Matthew Blanchette
    July 22, 2014 @ 6:57 am

    I am sort of horrified by how young Matt Smith looks in the above photo; shows how much he'd aged in real life by the end of Series 7… :-O


  64. encyclops
    July 22, 2014 @ 6:57 am

    At that point the fan consensus of "Aliens of London/World War Three" being a particular low pont didn't yet exist

    Oh, it did for me. I nearly stopped watching right there. I can appreciate it a bit more now, but at the time I was just shaking my head. It's a good thing "Dalek" was next.

    Anyway, I'm not sure I understand why there's anything surprising about the fact that you can't judge the quality of something as a whole until you've actually, you know, seen the whole of it.


  65. encyclops
    July 22, 2014 @ 7:05 am

    Whoever runs that site is my hero. It's just the best thing to have.


  66. Pen Name Pending
    July 22, 2014 @ 8:17 am

    @Kit: Oh, Trial isn't mentioned in the list of good seasons (…except maybe for the Sixth Doctor), but it's always listed in introductory material to Classic Who when the majority of other seasons are glossed over, largely because Trial has a story arc. And Gaiman just hasn't talked about "Nightmare" nearly as much as his previous episode, not even posting on his main blog that the episode aired. Sorry, I was babbling late last night.

    I don't think Doctor Who has uneven quality so much as that it never quite does what you expect and can throw you at first.


  67. Jack
    July 22, 2014 @ 8:57 am

    If you want to see something that is at once hilarious and makes you lose your faith in humanity, go poke around Tumblr.

    There is a post there that has something on the order of 22,000 notes. It is a couple of people taking Moffat to task for suggesting the Doctor is human, with radiant proofs of the Doctor being alien, one of them a quote from the Tennant era.

    But, Jack, you're probably saying at this point, when did Moffat suggest the Doctor was human?!

    He didn't. What set this off was a link to the article Phil posted about a bit ago, where Moffat challenges the fans to identify the moment where it is unequivocally stated the Doctor is alien. The link is stated so: "Who Says The Doctor Isn't Human?"

    Twenty thousand people who didn't even look at what was being linked, merely jumping on the I Hate Moffat Bandwagon and making themselves look like fools. Amazing.


  68. Adam Riggio
    July 22, 2014 @ 9:08 am

    I feel like revisiting Nightmare in Silver soon, especially as Phil slowly moves into S7. I get the feeling that there's more to its Cybermen via Aliens storyline than meets the eye on first viewing. Gaiman seems to have taken the brief of making the Cybermen dangerous again to such a ridiculous degree that it exploded the story.

    I have quite a revisionary outlook on Aliens of London too. At the time, I, like a lot of viewers, saw a naff runaround with farting aliens, a blatantly dull dig at Bush and Blair over Iraq, and an overly sincere ally character. After looking through several recurring villains over the Davies era, they were the first iteration of a peculiar and interesting trope: the petty catastrophe. It examines how, given sci-fi technologies, petty criminals can destroy entire civilizations for cheap profit, and examines the absurd horror of someone with mythic power acting with the attitude of a small-time fence. The Slitheen family looked too ridiculous, but Max Capricorn really did it best.

    Just one more way of looking at the failed experiments and near-misses of Doctor Who's history. Impossible Moon inaugurated a season that was a wild experiment in out-of-sequence story arcs and hidden narratives. Ultimately, it wasn't as successful this season as it probably could have been (I think we'll see precisely how things went a little off the rails when we look at the production problems that developed around Let's Kill Hitler and Wedding of River Song). But it doesn't mean that some future creative producer, or even some future Steven Moffat, couldn't have another shot at the idea more successfully.


  69. encyclops
    July 22, 2014 @ 10:03 am

    I was going to ask you to link it ("go poke around Tumblr" is extremely dangerous advice!), since here I am judging these people based on something I didn't read, but my faith in humanity is tenous enough already. 🙂


  70. encyclops
    July 22, 2014 @ 10:27 am

    I'm ambivalent about the Cyberman aspect of the story; I find that I just try to forget that Cybermen are even in the new series in a sort of mental Phantom Edit. You'd think that would be especially difficult with NiS, but really what I like about it is Warwick Davis, his endearing-despite-themselves soldier pals, and the interplay between Matt and Jenna. I actually don't mind most of the Cybermannish things going on around them, because I've kind of lost all investment in the Cybermen making any sense in the first place. Actually having memorable characters sets it apart from, say, "Cold War," and that goes a long way with me. But I'm looking forward to what everyone else has made of it — it is if nothing else rich with imagery, so I hope Jane chimes in.

    It's the opposite with AoL: there it's the particulars that are hard to stomach (the fart jokes, the Scooby-Doo chase, but also that pig alien — I like a bit of fun, but at the time it wasn't clear this was not SOP from then on) while the story is actually not that bad, as you point out. There's also some really good stuff with the Tylers and their friends, the back-after-a-year character moments that have become far more important to me with the new series.

    Speaking of future creative producers, now that I've finally gotten around to watching Luther, I'd be over the moon if I heard Neil Cross was taking over the show from Moffat. "Akhaten" now seems like the exception rather than the rule, and even that wasn't the worst episode of the season.


  71. Adam Riggio
    July 22, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    I actually rather liked Akhaten. I thought it had a very Hartnell-era feel to it, as the first half of the story was essentially about exploring a world and uncovering a form of systematic injustice within it. To me, it only really suffered insofar as world exploration is the most difficult kind of story to tell using the compressed narrative techniques that defined the style of S7. Cold War was the dimmest light of S7-Clara, but I'd still call it a rocking good base-under-siege with some extra character development for the villain and some quirky supporting folks, even if it didn't get much beyond reptilian Klingons, the Hunt for Red October, and a massive Ultravox fan. Solid Gatiss, really. And it got me listening to Ultravox again, which is a wonderful effect to have on the world.

    And yes, Cross would be an excellent creative producer after Moffat decides to move on. I consider Hide and Crimson Horror the best stories of S7-Clara.

    But regarding S6, Impossible Moon really is the highlight and key to the entire season, a story with the same high quality of The Pandorica Bang, and the same intensity that's usually reserved for the season finale. As Phil notes, its structure essentially supplies the framework of blank spaces which, little by little, all the arc-based revelations of the rest of the season fill in. It's the only story that comes out of the problematic unfolding of the S6 experiment unscathed, because all the episodes that later fill in those blanks allow you to watch it with full knowledge of the puzzle that it presents you.


  72. IMA Patient
    July 22, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    Perhaps a 51st Century Papal Mainframe Clergyperson who viewed it would interpret the "us" in "You should kill us whenever you see us" to mean the Kovarian sect, leaving most of the Confessors alive, but deepening the ideological schism.


  73. encyclops
    July 22, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    I wanted very much to like it. The creature design alone made me want to love it. I didn't get a Hartnell-era impression from it so much (though it's not an era I'm as familiar with as I ought to be) as one a little closer in time. My review started this way:

    The Doctor and his brand new companion, a pretty white woman in her early twenties, take their first real trip in the TARDIS. They travel both in space and time, arriving in an unfamiliar society with strange rules. Right away the companion wanders off and befriends a young girl who is afraid of an ominous secret this society conceals. Later they team up with a queen in a red cloak to evade the sinister robot-like creatures patrolling the area and get to the heart of the secret, which concerns an ancient leviathan described in terms obliquely reminiscent of the Doctor himself and feared for its tendency to swallow people. The Doctor tries to defeat the leviathan, but at the last moment his companion has a flash of inspiration and, with some quick lateral thinking, saves the day.

    Yes, it’s “The Beast Below.” And it’s also “The Rings of Akhaten.”

    I go on to comment that I generally liked "The Beast Below," so it's not a bad thing. But still.

    My take on "Cold War" isn't far off from yours, actually, and both "Hide" and "Crimson Horror" are at and very near the top of my list for 7b, respectively.

    I think what you say about Impossible Moon (love the title mashup) is probably true, but when I look back on S6, the main things I focus on are (as is typical for me) the standalones: "The Doctor's Wife," "The God Complex," "The Girl Who Waited," and its entry in the Stories You Wish Didn't Include Cybermen sweepstakes, "Closing Time."

    (I was going to say about "Nightmare" that I wonder if it would have been more highly regarded if it had been about some other race of adaptable robots — Cybermen "with the serial numbers filed off"? But I suppose then it would have been even more susceptible to charges of plagiarism from ST:TNG. Oh well.)


  74. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    "Anyway, I'm not sure I understand why there's anything surprising about the fact that you can't judge the quality of something as a whole until you've actually, you know, seen the whole of it."

    Ah but that's not quite what I mean. It's the way we re-appraise each story in a season by judging them against other stories in the same season. Like when the season's over, everyone goes back and suddenly "The Long Game" is more rubbish because "Bad Wolf" and "Parting of the Ways" was so good. Or "The Lodger" is suddenly better than it was because now we've seen "Closing Time".

    The Pertwee era seems to have been reappraised more than any other. First it's great when we're all watching it. Then in the 90s it's rubbish. Then it's allowed back in from the cold just before the new series starts, and then it's rubbish again. Shows like Star Trek seem to be oddly static in their fan perception, but Doctor Who stories go in and out of fan favour like the seasons.


  75. Spacewarp
    July 22, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    I don't see how they could tell the difference. They all look the same.


  76. encyclops
    July 22, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

    Well…I'm sure I can't speak for other Doctor Who fans. They're all nuts, after all, and I'm the only sane one. For what it's worth, though, I still liked "The Long Game" for everything except writing out Adam…beautiful, irresponsible Adam…and I loved "The Lodger" before and after "Closing Time" (which is of course not in the same season, but yes, probably prompted some kind of reappraisal for some of those aforementioned nuts). I will confess, however, hopefully not to the Silents or the Silence or the Slenders, that I've reevaluated stories' rankings within the season at the end of it and probably shifted my opinions of them a bit just because there were other things I liked less. I liked "Bells" at the time, but I probably like it better now than I would have if it had been swamped by a ton of better stories later on (it was a little, but not much). But those aren't connected stories. Eh, don't mind me, just rambling.

    As for the Pertwee era: sigh. I still love it. I've always loved it. Some subset of Capaldi, Moffat, the costume designer, and whoever decided to put Lethbridge-Stewart's daughter into the show clearly loved it. The Wife In Space claimed not to love it but as I recall her ratings said differently. It's solid entertainment with a rich and contradictory mix of text and subtext, producer and script editor, grooviness and military collusion — it can't fail to read differently to different people in different times, can it? I'm sure our host has made these observations in more detail but I haven't read all of his Pertwee essays, nor have I read the third About Time book — for some reason I'm savoring both and coming back to them later.

    That said, I kind of like the fickleness of fan favor. It's interesting. I don't know if I agree that it's 100% subjective but I think you're right that there's something dynamic and/or ephemeral driving some or all of our evaluations.


  77. Ben
    July 22, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the info. And for the link, too. Looks like a pretty rich resource, with even French Who subtitles.


  78. jane
    July 22, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

    My 8-year-old nephew followed it perfectly. Perhaps the younger generation is more televisually literate than the old fogies.


  79. Kit
    July 22, 2014 @ 6:39 pm

    I rewatched Hide on the weekend, and it seems like one of the best nu-Who episodes in general, to me. Amazing that the twist didn't get written until a couple of weeks before shooting. The "Moffatt-arc" bits here feel less obtrusive than in almost any other episode, which helps.

    And Gaiman just hasn't talked about "Nightmare" nearly as much as his previous episode, not even posting on his main blog that the episode aired. Sorry, I was babbling late last night.

    He doesn't really use his blog much these days, though: he tweeted plenty about the episode, answering viewer questions and noting changes between his intentions or script and the final production, in the days after airing. And made time to be interviewed by Andrew Pixley about it for the DWM series companion. There just isn't a lot to volunteer about how proud he is with how it turned out.


  80. Adam Riggio
    July 22, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

    What's interesting, for this comment section anyway, is the degree to which the historical consensus has been shifted by TARDIS Eruditorum. At the very least, I can imagine that anyone reading it with as open a mind as I did would have their opinions radically changed.

    Phil opened me up to the way to watch The Web Planet and not be bored and mystified, as having been inspired by Georges Meliés. He led me to completely re-evaluate my entire opinion of the Troughton era, though I think my love for his Dalek stories was pushing me in that direction anyway. Thanks to Phil, I'll never be able to hear T-Rex without thinking of Jon Pertwee doing faux kung fu. He forced me to confront the racist elements in Talons of Weng-Chiang, despite my own desire not to see it because I liked the story so much. He pointed out a wonderful idea lurking under the Davison era, and its lost potential, how it could have been the BBC's first sci-fi soap. He redeemed the Colin Baker era, at least meta-textually, and Classic Season 24, explicitly.

    As the Eruditorum's story begins to appear in the Eruditorum itself, we should remember its own alchemy, the ability to change our own minds.


  81. Spacewarp
    July 23, 2014 @ 12:44 am

    @ Adam Riggio. Oh I agree totally that reading the Eruditorum has caused me to view present and past Doctor Who (and to some extent all dramatic TV) with a more open mind. I think it's simply down to the fact that Phil has shown us that there is another way to look at TV, not the generally accepted consensus way.

    Any reader of the blog who refused to go back and give "The Web Planet" another viewing just to see if Phil may have a point, probably gave up on the blog long ago. The fact that we're all still here shows we agree that there is always another way to look at things, and the reward is in finding that way.

    "Please prove you're not a robot by typing Photo Sphere."


  82. Froborr
    July 23, 2014 @ 5:30 am

    Don't be racist, Spacewarp. 😉

    I actually don't find it farfetched at all that Clara has never watched the moon landing. I found the opposite true–while it was widely watched at the time, surely a generation or two later it's more one of those things everyone "knows" but hasn't necessarily seen.


  83. Froborr
    July 23, 2014 @ 5:34 am

    I recall when I was in school, every year, no matter whether that was an American history or Everyone Else history year (we more or less alternated), we would run out of school year round about World War II. History effectively ended in 1945 for us. Only those of us who read ahead in the textbook knew that the 1950s through 80s were a thing.


  84. Froborr
    July 23, 2014 @ 5:43 am

    Eh, Tumblr is basically an enormous high school/college campus without any classes. Pretty much every conflict that happens there comes down to teens being teens, which is to say vicious animals extremely prone to forming hive-minded factions at the drop of a hat on whatever basis first suggests itself.


  85. Leslie Lozada
    July 23, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    What I found to be interesting is that Canton was one of four people to be there for the Doctor's 'death' and he wasn't mentioned or seen again (aside from stock footage).


  86. mengu
    July 23, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

    I had a reply about how there is no fan consensus for series 7, but it died. So: there isn't. And I need to stare at whomever said Clara was generic in Hide. The episode where Clara tells the Doctor to dare her to be brave, where she sees ghosts at the end of the Earth, where she screams at Emma to do it again despite the cost, where she saves the Doctor, tells us she hates whiskey… that episode? Really?


  87. Matthew Blanchette
    July 23, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

    Don't be silly, jane. (For the record, I'm only 23, and I did a double-take upon first watch.)


  88. ferret
    July 23, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    Oh I followed it perfectly, I just didn't like it! Especially in retrospect – after Day of the Moon I assumed we'd pick up on the exciting plot point of a world-spanning underground Silence tunnel network that could have entrances anywhere and anywhen in Another Exciting Adventure with The Silence with obviously-going-to-reappear-awesome-character Canton Delaware III, but it just didn't eventuate.


  89. Daru
    July 24, 2014 @ 11:07 pm

    Really love the story of the Eruditorum and you Phil coming onto the fore again.


  90. gaffa
    September 20, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

    I’ll use the opportunity of a new, easier comment system to comment on an old post, and say this: my single favorite production design decision in all of nu who was that the Doctor, when given the opportunity to strike a pose on an all-american classic car, chose an Edsel. Wagon.



  91. Hickory McCay
    February 20, 2024 @ 10:43 am

    I think it was a genius idea to set this during Nixon’s presidency, among the rise of the paranoid, cynical, post-hippie culture. 1969 is the same year work was begun on the Illuminatus Trilogy, and the Silence are very like a mashing together of concepts from that, being an ancient conspiracy of what are basically living fnords. Besides, the Silence are one of the greatest paranoid fantasies in science fiction in recent memory, the kind that used to be prevalent in literary sci-fi during the age of the two Roberts and PKD.


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