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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.

39 Comments

  1. Ciaran M
    April 30, 2018 @ 10:11 am

    Gosh, this ripping into Mackinnon is fun, hey? If we’re looking at him in terms of other Moffat era directors, and in terms of his camera shots and lighting, he’s certainly no worse than most of them. And I very much have a soft spot for his caustic lighting of the Sontaran Strategem(though I have very big soft spots for both Helen Raynor’s two parters anyway). Give me workmanlike over the psuedo-film experience of Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon any day.

    I also think someone in the original comments pointed out that this story has the visual grammar of a video game. I’ve never been bothered to rewatch it- because why would you- but that seems like some fun and creative flair in bland-as-batshit story.

    Reply

  2. William Shaw
    April 30, 2018 @ 12:58 pm

    There really is very little to say about this one, isn’t there?

    Random note: I love the obscurity of the three Big Finish titles picked to represent their output – that’s a very nice literary device, and prompted me to google the titles myself. That none of them looked particularly noteworthy is an excellent, interactive demonstration of your point.

    Reply

    • Scriptscribbles
      April 30, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

      I, of course, have heard all three.

      Fiesta of the Damned starts somewhat interesting, then falls promptly apart into dreadful.

      Moonflesh is a dreadful piece of indigenous American exoticism notable only because it introduces an entirely unlikeable big game hunter character who is suggested in the interviews to be a lesbian and who inexplicably returns for two further stories.

      City of Spires is extremely mediocre, but unlike the other two, I’d call it a must-hear because it sets up the truly amazing Wreck of the Titan and Legend of the Cybermen. I just wish, you know, it was actually good itself. Has Georgia Tennant in it, though. That’s always a fun fact.

      Yeah, God, I’ve become a critical encyclopedia of mediocre Doctor Who audios. Oh dear.

      Reply

      • Prole Hole
        April 30, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

        I hope you will all forgive the self-plug, but on the subject of Big Finish I (and my co-host!) have a podcast on those very people – it’s called Talking Who To You and it’s available in all the usual podcast-y places (iTunes, Soundcloud, etc). I’m the Scottish sounding one, and we seem to be somewhat out of step with fandom when it comes to covering recent releases, particularly things like the First Doctor box set, which received near-universal praise despite being often not very good. Anyway, we were, in the episode we just recorded on Flip Flop (it’ll go up in a couple of weeks), lamenting that Big Finish simply don’t take gambles on interesting experiments like that any more, which is a terrible shame. They are still capable of turning out brilliant stuff (the “Signs” episode in the first volume of The Diary Of River Song, for example), but it seems very much to be the exception rather than the rule, and the main range has been unspeakably bland for a while now. I do wonder if there’s a commercial imperative there – if the “running up and down x 4 episodes” or “here’s another stompy-stompy baddie from your childhood x 4 episodes” stuff sells better than the more daring stuff BF used to give time to earlier in their history then it’s understandable why we get more stories of that ilk, but if that’s true, it doesn’t speak very highly of Doctor Who fans. I do also firmly believe that Big Finish produce way too much material now, and from a comparatively small pool of writers, the result of which is a large amount of material (and, we can assume, financial returns – they are a business after all) but little of which is especially memorable or creative.

        Anyway here’s the Soundcloud link. Please feel free to delete, El, if I overstep myself.

        https://soundcloud.com/user-550680739

        Great to hear some love for Wreck of the Titan and Legend of the Cybermen – the latter of which is just beyond amazing (is there even any point in mentioning just how stunning Colin Baker is there?).

        As for Time Heist – well there’s a reason I haven’t said anything about it, because what’s to say? Stuff happens. None of it’s compelling. Next!

        Reply

        • Scriptscribbles
          May 1, 2018 @ 12:48 am

          I’m not sure I’d call Flip-flop a very interesting experiment, to be honest. It’s a structural gimmick, but the content is pretty predictable, and the Slithergees are dreadful.

          Agreed on the First Doctor set though, and said as much in my own piece on it. The Master story was okay in spite of itself, but the historical was flaccid.

          Reply

          • Prole Hole
            May 1, 2018 @ 12:32 pm

            Oh yes, I mean certainly it’s a gimmick that’s for sure, but it’s an extraordinarily intricate one nonetheless (compare and contrast to Creatures Of Beauty, which is a better overall play while still playing with structure). The Sligergee are unbelievably terrible though, you’ll get no argument from me/us there.

            Flaccid is an excellent description of the First Doctor historical (The Great White Hurricane). It’s incredibly tepid and uninspiring. And, though I in no way think we actually need a story where the First Doctor meets the Master, at least The Destination Wars features a good guest turn and at some attempt at working with the era, rather than simply settling for recreating it.

          • Gareth Roberts
            May 2, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

            Big Finish do have a particularly unique ability to conjure up premises that often quite interesting and then promptly turn them into extremely anodyne pieces of sci-fi. The Nowhere Place is a particular example of this. The story’s major concept is essentially a race that used to inhabit the alien race and was catapulted into a parallel universe of some description in a space travel accident is trying to trp humanity there as well out of spite. To me it epitomises everything Big Finish have ever done by taking a clever idea to the point it becomes ludicrous, and welding it to a plot that is crushingly dull.

          • A Cat in A Hat
            May 2, 2018 @ 3:22 pm

            Just to clarify I am not the Gareth Roberts who wrote “The Caretaker” (much to my own relief) before anyone deletes my comments…I just accidentally posted under my own name…

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            May 2, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

            I mean, he’s not banned from posting here or anything, but yeah, you’ll want to be careful about that next week. 😉

          • Scriptscribbles
            May 2, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

            Agreed on all fronts there.

            I’m honestly flabbergasted by Great White Hurricane. There’s so much character work you can do with the original crew thrown into a survival situation; indeed, that’s what most of early Hartnell does. A historical natural disaster is a great approach. But instead, it’s basically set dressing for two generic save the human maguffin plots with no sense of stakes. Horribly miscalculated.

            But yeah, Destination Wars at least got the era and how to comment on it from our time, despite the utterly inexplicable Master.

          • Elizabeth Edwards
            May 4, 2018 @ 1:39 am

            From the DownTime post: “I don’t quite adore everything about these two stories, but these two stories signify a fantastic new approach for Big Finish to go in in representing one of my favorite eras.” Has it simply aged poorly?

          • Scriptscribbles
            May 5, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

            I can’t speak for my cowriter who liked Hurricane, but I found it quite a weak story at the time. Destination Wars offered a good model for how to do the range though, and there’s a couple elements in Hurricane that should have been good.

  3. CJM123
    April 30, 2018 @ 4:01 pm

    I think that this era of Doctor Who tried to put the rad and trad next to each other in the schedule so not to lose everyone.

    Sometimes it works very well, with The Caretaker, Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express working well from a purely structural point of view. Sometimes one half is notably miles better than the other, such as Flatline and In the Forests of the Night, or Sleep No More and Face the Raven. And of course, if Toby Whithouse has the trad episodes after the rad episodes, just walkaway.

    Reply

    • Kat
      April 30, 2018 @ 6:51 pm

      Interesting theory. I’ll be looking for that alternating structure now on rewatch.

      Reply

  4. Homunculette
    April 30, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

    It’s intetesting that Mackinnon has seemingly become El’s bugbear over the past two posts. He’s not as good as Nick Hurran or Rachel Talalay, but I think he tends to elevate the episodes he directs – Cold War, Listen, and Flatline in particular are all significantly better for Mackinnon’s direction.

    This is an episode (to return to the Marcelo Camargo days) that looked better in black and white. I agree the corridor lighting doesn’t look good, but Thompson writes him into a corner by setting such a huge chunk of the script in corridors for no real reason.

    To me this falls into the same trap as A Town Called Mercy – both are tedious genre exercises that make absolutely no attempt to understand the genres they’re working in.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      April 30, 2018 @ 4:59 pm

      He became a bugbear in the reviews—I gently chide him in Cold War while acknowledging that it worked well that time. I generally find him fine. “Workmanlike” captures it nicely. He makes the most obvious choice and it generally works. He never drags down a good script, nor does he elevate a bad one. He’s just there, being singular in his blandness.

      Reply

  5. mx_mond
    April 30, 2018 @ 6:18 pm

    I don’t really remember a lot about this episode aside from the fact that Keeley Hawes seemed wasted in that role, and in a year when she was absolutely brilliant in Line of Duty, too (then again, when are the actors of this caliber not wasted in one-episode guest spots? I feel like she would have to be a recurring character for me to feel the creators have used her talents enough).

    I also recall being irritated that Karabraxos got an out at the end. This is because I generally tend to think that time travel stories of the “you cannot change the past” variety are actually about something, namely: accepting the passage of time, with all the loss and regret that it entails. This, of course, only works if they are read on a purely metaphorical level; if we start considering time travel as a concrete fact of the world, I think attempting to improve things in the past becomes a moral imperative (and, speaking as someone generally very content with how their life turned out, an act of bravery, if you risk changing it for yourself).

    My thinking on the matter has changed somewhat since 2014. I’m still able to enjoy time travel stories where the past (particularly a personal past) cannot be changed, but I’ve also seen how awful such stories can turn out (I’m thinking of The Flash here, which by obsessively returning to the death of the protagonist’s mother turned it that event into a pornography of fridging). And I suppose I was influenced by Moffat’s stories and by El’s eloquent writing about them. So now when I think of Time Heist’s ending, I still get a bit wistful, because of course in real life we don’t get a chance to fix whatever we regret; we can only try to do better in the future and accept that some things we might not be able to mend. But then if anyone was going to offer such chances (I imagine one of the commenters on here would call it “grace”), it would be a Lord of Time, wouldn’t it?

    Reply

    • Przemek
      May 1, 2018 @ 11:13 am

      I think the “fixing past regrets” ending kinda works here (inasmuch as anything can be said to work in this episode) because Karabraxos is dying when she finally takes the Doctor’s offer and sets the heist in motion. She doesn’t get to live without her regret, she just gets to die knowing she wasted her entire life stubbornly refusing to something about it. It’s properly dark and complex and it’s a shame the episode just kinda rushes past it.

      As for time travel stories, I can see your pre-2014 point. Certainly there’s a huge risk of falling into pure wish fulfillment with stories about changing the past. (And, indeed, into death/suffering porn). But when well done, such stories can be about changing one’s attitude towards one’s past. That’s how I choose to read “Day of the Doctor”: the double genocide really happened and was only undone when the Eleventh Doctor, after 400 years of regret and personal growth, finally managed to find a better way. The past still looks the same, but its meaning is now different.

      Reply

  6. Jesse
    May 1, 2018 @ 1:44 am

    I liked the lighting gels. Which is good, I guess, because four years later they are literally all that I remember about this story.

    Reply

    • taiey
      May 1, 2018 @ 11:13 am

      So did I.

      …mind you it’s also sort of “what I would have done” and no one would pay me money to direct a television episode.

      Reply

  7. Yossarian, Duck!
    May 1, 2018 @ 5:53 am

    This had the “I was aiming for minimalism, but I think I landed on Magician” line right? That seems in hindsight a pretty good signpost between Capaldi’s setup phase and subsequent stride and tone. Fitting that it’s trying to be a Nolan-esque puzzle box in the vein of The Prestige or Memento, but failing.

    Reply

  8. Przemek
    May 1, 2018 @ 11:48 am

    Yeah, this one’s just kinda bad, isn’t it? You did a great job of examining why, El. Thanks for the essay, your TARDIS Eruditorum posts are always the best part of my Mondays.

    I think you’re on point about “Time Heist” belonging to another era of the show. But although on the whole it does feel like a reskinned Matt Smith episode I’ve always felt that the final twist and the ending come straight from the Tennant era. “Saving the monster who’s actually an enslaved alien and also the last of his kind” is just such a Davies plot. That shot of the Doctor and Clara standing by the TARDIS after saving the aliens even looks like it should have the Tenth Doctor and Donna in it.

    It’s such a pity we never got a proper time travel heist we were promised. I really, really hope DW will come back to this idea at some point and do it brilliantly. Especially since the idea itself is, as you say, perfect for the show. I think one of the bigger mistakes “Time Heist” made was putting the Doctor in the position of heist planner/unwilling but cooperating participant. Such a mercurial, anarchistic character should obviously be the wrench in the gears here, landing the TARDIS in the middle of an elaborate heist and royally screwing it up (and then teaming up with the thieves to try to salvage what’s left of the plan by frantically improvising and being incredibly clever). This story basically writes itself… but, alas, not for Thompson.

    Reply

  9. Jane
    May 1, 2018 @ 12:32 pm

    I agree with pretty much everything Elizabeth said, especially that Time Heist isn’t doing anything different. In fact, I think it’s doing exactly what the other Steve Thompson scripts are doing… but where I differ is that I think his core concept is still very interesting, despite all the flaws.

    Black Spot, Journey, and Time Heist are all ascension stories. They are stories of the rebirth that comes from the embrace of ego-death. For Amy Pond, it’s embracing the death that the Siren brings in order to find Rory on the other side (a prelude to Manhattan). For Clara, it’s making that “leap of faith” to reach the Heart of the TARDIS, and the Doctor’s self-sacrifice to change time. And in Time Heist, it’s Psi deliberately shredding himself (in a context of judgment, no less) to save Clara from the monster. All are reborn.

    And all these stories are laden with interesting symbolism and such, which I don’t want to elucidate here. Unfortunately, each of Thompson’s scripts gets weaker with iteration. In Black Spot, there’s a lot of specificity regarding Amy’s relationship with Rory; there’s personal, material motivation. The idea gets abstracted down in Journey to just the ill-executed Impossible Girl arc. Here in Time Heist, it’s just a hero moment — and though we get the Doctor’s “judgment” here (playing into the Doctor’s self-critique laid down in Into the Dalek), this in itself isn’t positioned as death, nor is the moment specific to anything about him beyond this episode, just as it is when the monster chases Clara.

    The stories are the same, but each one gets worse as it becomes more generic with respect to the characters themselves. Which is actually a kind of apropos lesson when it comes to ascension — for it’s always a specific experience, generated by specific people for specific purposes, in specific contexts… much like good drama, actually. At least it’s a natural fit for Doctor Who, given the protagonist is perpetually caught in the cycle of death and rebirth…

    Reply

    • homunculette
      May 2, 2018 @ 1:18 am

      I was really hoping we’d get your take on this, and as ever it’s fascinating! Thank you Jane!

      Reply

    • Daru
      May 7, 2018 @ 8:59 pm

      Good to hear your thoughts as ever Jane. I do agree that his stories had decreasing success, even though some of the symbology still comes through when they are not so successful.

      Reply

  10. Alex Moreland
    May 1, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

    I remember quite enjoying it at the time, I think – though quite might be an overstatement – but I’ve never really felt the need to go back to it. Definitely would’ve been better to see something a little more in line with Planet of the Ood, though.

    My main takeaway, really, is that we were quite lucky that Michelle Gomez was busy at the time of filming, weren’t we? If she’d been cast as Karabraxos, the role they originally offered her, it would’ve been quite a loss.

    Reply

  11. Set Spade
    May 2, 2018 @ 4:46 am

    Well, at least Clara looks incredibly cool in that suit, which kinda prefigures her becoming the Doctor later on in the series.

    Reply

  12. Leslie L
    May 2, 2018 @ 7:51 am

    The main thing I really took away, aside from feeling like an unused script from Series 7, was how Clara was throughout the episode.

    The interaction she had with Psy, and Sabria’s interaction with Twelve, were mostly what the episode had going for it.

    And what Psy said, about her being with the Doctor long enough to make excuses about him. That struck a cord with me when I first saw it.

    Yet another episode showcasing the Doctor’s detactment and self loathing, given his various comments to his disguised self.

    Another piece that, with the benefits of hindsight, added as to what the Doctor was trying to achieve at the beginning of the story, which was to take Clara on a date. It is said as much in the text.

    I can’t of anything else positive, aside from John Hart appearing in the show, and The Doctor starting to show more of his Relaxed Rebel Grandad Time Lord self that is more in the later run of his era.

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      May 5, 2018 @ 12:00 am

      Probably way too late for anyone to even see this but here goes.

      “Yet another episode showcasing the Doctor’s detactment and self loathing, given his various comments to his disguised self.”

      This actually points to my biggest gripe about Time Heist — was it just me, or was it not transparently obvious as soon as (a) the Doctor and Clara were shown to have amnesia and don’t know how they got into this situation and (b) the mastermind behind the heist gave complex instructions while disguising his voice, that it was a future Doctor who set the whole thing up and concealed the knowledge from his earlier self? I find the whole thing just tedious because I was waiting forever for the Doctor to deduce what I already had.

      It reminded me of playing Bioshock Infinite — the first time we see Comstock (the main villain), he’s too far away to see his face even as he’s yelling at us through a megaphone, and immediately, I yelled outloud “God-dammit! That’s me from the future!”

      Reply

      • Przemek
        May 5, 2018 @ 6:38 pm

        For what it’s worth, I didn’t get it immediately but I got it pretty fast after the Doctor started vocally hating the Architect. Then again, I don’t think the identity of the Architect ended up being that important to the plot anyway…

        It sounds like you might benefit from learning how to put (some of) your analytical skills on standby while watching. It’s a skill which I had to reacquire after getting my MA and it improves my overall reading/viewing/playing experience immensely.

        Reply

  13. Rob
    May 2, 2018 @ 9:26 pm

    Hi Elizabeth,
    This is a Paul Cornell related query so nothing to do with the Time Heist! I love your writing and especially your stuff on the New Adventures and Cornell, Miles, Arronovitch, etc. I was just wondering if you have read Cornell’s Chalk yet? It’s set in 1981/1982 deals with school bullying, trauma, doubles, and magic derived from the UK Top 40 Chart. I’m nearly finished it and I think it’s one of Cornell’s best books. I would love to know if you read it and your view is on it? Rob

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Edwards
      May 4, 2018 @ 1:45 am

      Hi Rob,
      Wrong Elizabeth, I know, sorry. I just thought I’d pop in to point out that you might be better off asking questions unrelated to a given Eruditorum post at the estimable Mrs. Sandifer’s tumblr, elizabethsandifer.tumblr.com

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        May 4, 2018 @ 11:51 am

        In fairness, you do need a Tumblr account to do that (I don’t know if anonymous asks are still a thing, but if they are she’s got them turned off).

        [Is there a construction of irony and/or self-deprecation which would make it possible to do the “I think you’ll find it’s Dr Sandifer, actually” thing at this juncture without being a supercilious arsehole, or at least without being recognisable as one? Asking for a friend.]

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          May 4, 2018 @ 12:48 pm

          So now it’s just occurred to me that the second part of my previous comment could conceivably be construed as a kind of obliquely snarky commentary on your comment, and I feel the need (probably irrationally) to say that it was not meant that way, and that I’m sorry if it came across as such.

          Reply

        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          May 4, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

          These days Twitter is probably the easiest way to get ahold of me.

          And no, I’ve not read Chalk yet, though I hope to at some point.

          Reply

          • Aylwin
            May 5, 2018 @ 10:57 am

            [Looks at Tumblr] Aaargh. I apologise in advance for contributing to the existence of any and all anonymous asks you may receive.

  14. Daru
    May 7, 2018 @ 9:06 pm

    Thanks for the essay El, and for (as a Scot) completing the arc I have been following the last few essays, on the Scottish Referendum!

    I found this story a little interesting and uninvolving initially, then disappointing on re-watch. Not much else to say!

    Reply

  15. Holl
    May 19, 2018 @ 10:54 pm

    Give me an episode about the notorious, greatly wanted criminal Sensorite instead, IMO.

    Reply

  16. Rodolfo Piskorski
    May 22, 2018 @ 9:59 pm

    The Big Finish comment brings to mind the opposite thought experiment: imagining which novels or audios could be good as a TV episode.
    The Torchwood audio Ghost Train would have been amazing as an episode.

    Reply

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