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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.

22 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 20, 2019 @ 5:53 pm

    Not an influence on this post, as I’ve only gotten around to reading it recently, but for another comparison between Oxygen and Kerblam! I recommend Christa Mactíre’s essay at Downtime: https://downtime2017.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/guest-post-adventures-in-narrative-substitution-7-oxygen/

    Reply

  2. Vadron
    May 20, 2019 @ 8:10 pm

    Though there is no doubt you’re right that a female Doctor exacerbates political touchiness, I feel compelled to point out two things re: the varying reactions to “Oxygen” and “Kerblam!”.

    The fist and most important is that either way, you seem to be overlooking that “leftist” can mean two very different things; class-warfare and economic concerns (such as the ones “Oxygen” focuses on) on the one hand, and “identity politics” more interested in things like race relations and discrimination on the other. It is perfectly possible — and often the case among the Bowlestrek crowd — that one can be totally okay with the former while decrying the latter as preachy and daft. Indeed, I know marxist types on the frontlines of the “anti-SJW” crusade, who are there because they think the modern left is too concerned with ‘vapid’ issues of gender/sexual-orientation/race discrimination, and therefore not effective enough at actually, materially helping the lower-classes.

    The second is that, regardless, if the increasingly-hateful resident fandom grinch Bowlestrek’s opinion is to be taken as indicative of the opinion of the “Series 11’s chief flaw is that it’s too politically correct” crowd, these people are actually more self-consistent than you give them credit for, having already found Series 10 to be getting too ‘PC’ for their tastes.

    Reply

  3. Homunculette
    May 20, 2019 @ 8:16 pm

    I’ve always been curious why I, someone who has never liked the gun aesthetic in any of its forms, am such a fan of Oxygen. I think it’s partially that Mathieson is a fundamentally frock writer and that even here, in his gunnest story, it shows through – it feels to me like a frock writer being given a gun assignment. I would emphasize the focus on the Doctor and his jokes here as the part where this shows through the most – the story is more interested in its character dynamics (of the main cast, at least) than in its supremely competent action sequences.

    It’s a common and often oversaid thing to say, but I think this story would have done well as a two-parter. Apropos of its title, it feels like it lacks the room to breathe. Mathieson said he had the most trouble with this out of all of his scripts, and I think it shows, particularly in how underdeveloped the guest cast is. A slow burn a la the Impossible Planet/the Satan Pit in which things are slowly ratcheted up might have benefited this story greatly.

    Reply

    • TomeDeaf
      May 20, 2019 @ 9:21 pm

      … and would probably have allowed for more touches of weird and frock, too, as well as more character beats.

      It is interesting to look at the difference between how well the guest cast in Mummy and Flatline are characterised compared to here. Partly that might be down to the actors – Kieran Bew and Peter Caulfield are fine, but they’re not a patch on David Bamber, Frank Skinner, Christopher Fairbank, Joivan Wade, Janet Henfrey, and Christopher Plummer, who sparkle in their roles. I think it’s also the relative lack of space – there’s a 3 person TARDIS team here plus it’s Nardole’s first trip so he needs extra focus, whereas in the other two stories the Doctor and Clara alternately take back seats which allows more room for the guest cast.

      But even the train driver in Flatline who’s always wanted to ram something feels like more of a real person than the crew here.

      Reply

      • Christopher Brown
        May 21, 2019 @ 2:56 am

        …Christopher Plummer was in it!?!

        Reply

        • TomeDeaf
          May 21, 2019 @ 7:23 am

          … I do not know how “Villiers” became “Plummer”. Obviously tired. Oops.

          Reply

      • Przemek
        May 21, 2019 @ 10:21 am

        In this episode, Clara is cleverly disuised as Bill.

        Reply

      • Homunculette
        May 22, 2019 @ 7:28 pm

        I think the character issues might be an inevitable limit case of a three-person TARDIS team in a 45 minute story—it’s the classic “choose two” triangle with “main cast development,” “thematic depth,” and “well-developed guest cast” as the three points.

        Reply

  4. Christopher Brown
    May 20, 2019 @ 9:26 pm

    The quote in the title gave me bad flashbacks. Baaaaaaaaaaad.

    Reply

  5. Ozyman.Jones
    May 21, 2019 @ 12:21 am

    Like other’s it would seem, I never felt engaged with this story. It was just… there, ran for 42 minutes, and finished with some, perhaps in the current climate, predictable lines about ending capitalism that meant nothing, and hinted at worse to come.

    The crew held no interest for me, and I never felt anything as any of them met their demise, nor any concern for Bill. And then usual OCD problem I have with logic in stories came up… with the suits calculating the amounts of steps remaining, not breaths (or time), which makes no sense at all.

    And it introduced the whole the-Doctor-is-blind arc that went nowhere and did nothing, and still makes me sigh every time it comes up.

    Reply

    • Andy
      May 21, 2019 @ 6:06 pm

      Is it possible that the number of steps is analogous to the way modern printers just work out how much ink you should have left rather than how much ink there is in the cartridge? In other words, another poke at capitalism?

      Reply

    • Rodolfo Piskorski
      June 5, 2019 @ 8:35 pm

      Didn’t the suit explicitly calculate breaths?

      Reply

  6. Monika Patel
    May 21, 2019 @ 3:24 am

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    Reply

  7. tachyonspiral
    May 21, 2019 @ 10:56 am

    Kerblam! is a funny one, because the ending feels so squarely at odds with the satirical tone of the story leading up to that point. Recall “I was hoping for something a bit less really repetitive, but apart from that I’m enjoying it,” and the sales pitch for cushions to “liven up the grimmest workplace, like this one”. Even the final scene, in which we’re told the business has been shut for a month but that workers are given only 2 weeks’ pay. I wouldn’t expect this to have escaped the notice of the episode’s conservative detractors. Obviously, the climactic scene with Charlie is jarringly at odds with all of this.

    I don’t know if i’ve ever truly grasped the frock-gun distinction, but something about the aesthetic of episodes such as Oxygen, where the characters are forced into an overtly, oppressively hostile environment and have to find an escape from it, has always spoken to me, ever since Shearman’s Dalek. Likewise, The Impossible Planet, Asylum of the Daleks, Heaven Sent. It was one of the highlights of Rosa for me, that they managed to convey the material threat of racist Montgomery in a way that felt similarly constricting and unsafe.

    Reply

  8. Przemek
    May 21, 2019 @ 11:16 am

    You’re completely right, as usual. I’ve never looked at “Oxygen” like that, but it does seem much less impressive on rewatch, mostly because, as you say, its anticapitalism mostly falls flat.

    I still like this episode, if only because it takes a turn towards hard sci-fi and it produces interesting results. DW usually avoids hard sci-fi for a good reason: it’s both too cynical (which clashes with the show’s optimism) and too focused on scientific realism (which clashes with the show’s more magical approach). All of this makes hard sci-fi much closer to the real world than DW can ever be, which is bad news for the show. The Doctor can topple fictional empires and survive fictional dangers. Get him too close to the real world and he becomes powerless – and fragile. This is exactly what happens in “Oxygen”. The Doctor tries to battle the real life evil of capitalism and essentially loses (the next system will be even worse). The Doctor tries to survive realistic space and is seriously damaged, materially as well as symbolically: as “The Pyramid at the End of the World” will prove, losing his sight ultimately meant losing his ability to solve DW plots.

    (It’s also interesting to note how space and capitalism are connected in “Oxygen”. In a way, they’re the same thing: an immaterial, deadly danger that cannot be defeated, only survived. Or perhaps more accurately, this deadly space is a perfect example of how the real world looks through the cynical lens of capitalism: it’s a deadly, dog-eat-dog world with scarce resources we fight over. In such a world, capitalism can be seen as a mercy: it may not be perfect but at least it allows you to buy rare commodities like oxygen to save yourself. But be careful not to get distracted by love like that woman at the beginning of the episode or by friendship like the Doctor: if you do, the world will get you. Notice how, in the end, capitalism also wins in that the Doctor has to buy his eyesight back: in “Extremis”, he goes into debt by nicking some eyesight from his future incarnation and in “Pyramid” he gets healed after Bill sells Earth to the Monks… who then hire the Doctor so that he can earn that “free gift” by working for them).

    One can even build a convincing case that what kills the Doctor this season is getting too close to the real world. Finding a companion that can recognize sci-fi plots, punching a racist in “Thin Ice”, attacking capitalism… “Oxygen” is the episode that symbolically kills the Twelfth Doctor way before the Cybermen get to him. After he’s damaged in this episode, in “Extremis” he becomes outright fictional (and weaker for it, barely managing to outsmart the Monks), in “Pyramid” he fails to save the world and in “Lie” he turns into a cynical version of himself so unrecognizable that Bill has to kill him. There’s even a (fake) regeneration… After all that it was only a matter of time.

    Reply

    • TomeDeaf
      May 21, 2019 @ 2:34 pm

      “(It’s also interesting to note how space and capitalism are connected in “Oxygen”. In a way, they’re the same thing: an immaterial, deadly danger that cannot be defeated, only survived. Or perhaps more accurately, this deadly space is a perfect example of how the real world looks through the cynical lens of capitalism: it’s a deadly, dog-eat-dog world with scarce resources we fight over. In such a world, capitalism can be seen as a mercy: it may not be perfect but at least it allows you to buy rare commodities like oxygen to save yourself. But be careful not to get distracted by love like that woman at the beginning of the episode or by friendship like the Doctor: if you do, the world will get you. Notice how, in the end, capitalism also wins in that the Doctor has to buy his eyesight back: in “Extremis”, he goes into debt by nicking some eyesight from his future incarnation and in “Pyramid” he gets healed after Bill sells Earth to the Monks… who then hire the Doctor so that he can earn that “free gift” by working for them).”

      I love this! A very neat reading.

      “One can even build a convincing case that what kills the Doctor this season is getting too close to the real world. Finding a companion that can recognize sci-fi plots, punching a racist in “Thin Ice”, attacking capitalism… “Oxygen” is the episode that symbolically kills the Twelfth Doctor way before the Cybermen get to him. After he’s damaged in this episode, in “Extremis” he becomes outright fictional (and weaker for it, barely managing to outsmart the Monks), in “Pyramid” he fails to save the world and in “Lie” he turns into a cynical version of himself so unrecognizable that Bill has to kill him. There’s even a (fake) regeneration… After all that it was only a matter of time.”

      This I find a bit less convincing, though, not least because it isn’t Being Fictional that weakens him in Extremis – he’s blind, and injured by the eyesight gizmo thing, yes, but I would argue the triumph of the story is it argues the Doctor isn’t any weaker for being fictional – in fact he’s just as much the Doctor when he knows he is as when he doesn’t, because he can send a message to the outside world for us to take to heart, for us in the real world to become the Doctor (“you don’t have to be real to be the Doctor,” he says)… so in a way it shows him shattering limitations rather than being constrained by them.

      I particularly love that this concept of a fictional Doctor getting in touch with the real world comes the week after we’ve seen him urge us, on our T.V. screens, to fight the suits.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        May 21, 2019 @ 2:57 pm

        You’re right that “Extremis” argues that being fictional doesn’t make the Doctor any less effective, but I don’t feel it succeeds. The simulated Doctor informs the “real” Doctor about the danger the Monks pose… and yet in “Pyramid” he loses to them anyway, and in “Lie” it’s Bill who defeats them (and he steals the credit). That undermines the message of “Extremis” for me.

        (And anyway, I’m a bit skeptical about inspiring people with fiction. It works sometimes, sure, but there’s almost no way to predict if, when and how a given work will inspire people. But that’s beside the point).

        Reply

        • TomeDeaf
          May 21, 2019 @ 5:44 pm

          “The simulated Doctor informs the “real” Doctor about the danger the Monks pose… and yet in “Pyramid” he loses to them anyway, and in “Lie” it’s Bill who defeats them (and he steals the credit). That undermines the message of “Extremis” for me”

          That’s a shortcoming of the ‘real’ Doctor, though, not the fictional one (and more specifically of Harness’ and Whithouse’s troubled scripts). I take your point, though.

          Reply

  9. Richard Wigglesworth
    May 24, 2019 @ 2:52 pm

    I met Mark Fisher at a talk he gave based on his book “Ghosts of my life.” The writer Rob Young wrote a moving eulogy where he said that now we are in the Trump era, there was a feeling that Mark’s passing on meant that the compass had been lost overboard, never to be found again. For my part, what impressed me so much about Mark was not just his richly subversive ideas- but his warmth and generosity of spirit- he carried on chatting and laughing and joking to a load of us after the talk, almost to the point that of missing his train. On a humourous note, I later found out that he couldn’t abide people wearing sportswear, and I turned up at his talk on the back of a 5 K race. I greatly enjoyed meeting him- but I bitterly regret that I didn’t spot that he might be in trouble and didn’t say anything. I foolishly thought he was talking about his own experience of depression in the past tense whilst placing it in a cultural framework. Seeing it within a cultural framework, as a symptom of late-era capitalism was a way to remove its power. I’m not one for superlatives but this something I will always remember and regret. He should still be here, giving talks at different venues about his book “psychedelic communism” which would be out by now…

    Reply

  10. Horse Wee Everywhere
    May 30, 2019 @ 10:10 pm

    I have to be honest, I’m kind of confused about the view you’re taking with Series 10. Both this and Knock Knock especially have kind of implied an exasperation with the show as it was, and while I personally sort of agree as someone who’s not that fond of the Moffat era, I’m not sure how it leads into talking about the Chibnall era if you plan to given how you’ve claimed it’s the worst era since Colin Baker (which personally I don’t agree with, but still).

    Are you going to take a similar tract to the ‘era as exorcism/self-critique’ approach you took to the Sixth Doctor era for Whittaker, or try to outline how it falls out of line with your alchemy reading, or not cover it? Any of those I can understand, of course, I’m just sort of curious.

    Reply

  11. Rodolfo Piskorski
    June 5, 2019 @ 8:31 pm

    But surely there needs to be a space for a critique of capitalism that doesn’t necessarily feel the imperative of suggesting an alternative.

    If only to counter the tiresome counter-argument that communism is not better, as if the only ground one might have to critique capitalism is being a communist.

    Isn’t the point of sci-fi is that is that it allows us to imagine other realities? I realise that this episode clearly did not imagine anything different, but it made it clear that, in due course, capitalism would be replaced by something that does not exist yet – which means that we have to invent it, which requires imagination.

    Reply

  12. oooo
    May 5, 2020 @ 10:03 am

    Using “blatantly” three times in one paragraph is a bit annoying. That’s what I learned from this article.

    Reply

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