Less organic intellectuals than morbid symptoms

Skip to content

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.

86 Comments

  1. Scurra
    December 2, 2023 @ 7:55 pm

    It’s never bad to do an “evil twin” episode if you want to show off your leads’ acting chops (see e.g. Enemy of the World, and they were both easily up to it (even if it wasn’t perhaps as intense as it could have been.)

    But oh wow, I was actually properly freaked by the giant chase sequence, and that hasn’t happened for years.

    Reply

  2. Josh Mc
    December 2, 2023 @ 8:03 pm

    Obviously not the only element in the mix, but nothing says “Event Horizon” quite like a totally inscrutable central space-ship corridor.

    Impressive the way it looks both Disney-expensive and Doctor Who-cheap at the same time, with the only genuine ropiness in a couple of those corridor shots where it seemed like the defocus wasn’t quite right.

    Reply

  3. James
    December 2, 2023 @ 8:10 pm

    The obvious Who antecedent here for me, was Midnight, same premise, same creepiness. Of course it’s in service of a totally different story, the Doctor and Donna’s relationship, and in particular what they both bring out in each other and what a good team they make. Felt very Moffaty too – the decision to structure the whole thing round a logic puzzle and the multiple “what is the significance of what we’re seeing” moments. But I am impressed that Davies deliberately went for something both cheap and weird, with some of the most unsettling Who moments in what, six years?

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      December 3, 2023 @ 1:37 am

      I was also reminded of Midnight, a story that to this day I find so unsettling I can’t bear to watch it. And I think what it most has in common with that episode is that the plot turns on the antagonist using the Doctor’s greatest assets against him. In Midnight, he was stripped of his usually ability to talk his way out of anything. Here, he was up against an enemy who knew everything he knew as soon as he knew it and who also knew that the Doctor was too obsessively curious to simply ignore the mysteries of the ship without trying to figure them out even though that was exactly what the Not-Things wanted. I can’t remember a time when someone used the Doctor’s own intellect against him in this manner.

      Reply

  4. Snowmonk
    December 2, 2023 @ 8:33 pm

    Ooh, I didn’t make the connection that The Doctor’s worries about invoking superstition may be foreshadowing the Toymaker.
    I saw someone else suggest that he has accidentally created the Vampire myth here – the idea that he has caused superstition to become reality is the sort of thought that RTD could surely create whole season arcs out of…

    Reply

  5. Anthony
    December 2, 2023 @ 8:43 pm

    A surprising amount of the body horror is practical, not CGI.

    https://youtu.be/-bVYsOGsJww?si=4iSK4xJL90mX3Bll

    Reply

  6. Vacuum of Comments
    December 2, 2023 @ 9:39 pm

    The Not Thing remarking “You have owned it” stands out to me, cause it’s a similar beat to the Master’s reaction to Gallifrey being destroyed in the Sound of Drums; “you must have felt like God.” Envy mixed with just a hint of authentic respect is such a neat reaction for a villain to have and always feels like the kind that would upset the Doctor the most.

    Reply

  7. James Cameron’s Beard
    December 2, 2023 @ 10:33 pm

    I really hated it.It felt like an Eoin Colfer novel based on an idea wrote on a bar napkin. Maybe I’ll feel more generous in a decade.

    Reply

  8. Annie j
    December 2, 2023 @ 11:09 pm

    I really enjoyed this one, though I did find the dialogue at the beginning a little bit stilted.
    While I’ve always enjoy the 10th Dr Donna dynamic, I can see why people might find it grating.
    The constant shouting did get to me after a while, i’m sure they definitely turn down in series 4, that’s the reason the scene in turn left where donna shouts is so meaningful because it hasn’t happened for such a long time.

    Reply

  9. James P
    December 2, 2023 @ 11:21 pm

    I liked this, but I’ve had this nagging feeling all day that something was missing. I think…maybe I’m looking for a deeper message that just isn’t there. For example, Midnight (obvious comparison) was about seeing 10 more vulnerable than ever before, and exploring the different human responses to the situation. Terminus (less obvious comparison) was about class and treatment of sick people and more. This was, about Donna and the Doctor having a creepy adventure? A thrilling adventure nonetheless…
    It will be interesting to see how this ages.

    Reply

    • Ziggy
      December 3, 2023 @ 1:56 am

      Past memories and trauma manifested as overgrown devouring creatures that are essentially distorted mirror images of ourselves, haunting and taunting us at the edge of existential abyss shrouded by all encompassing darkness, where seemingly nothing is reachable? RTD never tried to write anything deep really.

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        December 3, 2023 @ 2:02 am

        I very much appreciated that RTD explained there was no edge of the universe, as far as current understanding — before using the idea anyway, thus having his cake and eating it too! I wondered if that void was the part of our cosmos destroyed by the Flux — that is, only space-time is left, all the stars are gone. But I’m not sure I understood exactly what the Flux was doing, and I think the idea was probably something more like Planet of Evil.

        Reply

      • James P
        December 3, 2023 @ 3:22 am

        Yeah, but I guess that all seems fairly insular, if that makes sense. Doctor Who looking into a distorted mirror, or into the abyss, is just that. The Star Beast felt more forward-looking and more engaged with the world outside of Doctor Who and I loved that.
        I think ultimately this just wasn’t to my taste.
        There was lots that I liked about it. We are lucky to have a talent like RTD back again.

        Reply

        • Ziggy
          December 3, 2023 @ 5:18 am

          Ironically this makes it an anniversary episode, just in a different way right? That the past 15 years is literally traumatic, too much for a human brain to take, that it has evolved to a state where there’s nothing but the nightmare shadow selves reminding to have those introspections that for one reason or another just got brushed off in recent years, but oh they sure finally caught up. It’s not a jolly celebration, but a necessary one, to take a deeper look before moving onward. Of course none of this is intentional even though it’s the text itself, this is probably just me being way in over my head 🙂

          Reply

    • Aylwin
      December 3, 2023 @ 8:52 am

      I don’t think there’s a programmatic Message in a moral-of-the-story way, but it is absolutely about things. For one thing, it’s about connections between people, their absence, their renewal.

      There’s a subtextual aspect of it that’s about the anxiety of meeting an old friend when you have been out of touch with them for a long time, and you’ve changed and they’ve changed. Do you really know each other any more, will you still understand each other, can you truly connect again as you did? And what if they have become someone awful, a recognisable but uncannily warped distortion of your friend?

      Another facet of this is about how people can become monstrous in isolation in an atomised and mediatised society, shaped by the viciousness of the world blasted at them through the media like the Not-Things picking up the (presumably supra-light-speed) transmissions of the inhabited universe, but without the warmth of close personal connection – “Love letters don’t travel far”.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        December 3, 2023 @ 11:02 am

        This is a beautiful summation of the aboutness of the episode.

        Reply

      • James P
        December 3, 2023 @ 3:23 pm

        Aylwin – that’s great. Thank you 🙂
        The AI aspect that others mentioned hadn’t occured to me either.

        Reply

    • wyngatecarpenter
      December 3, 2023 @ 9:26 am

      I was wondering if it was partly about AI / deep fake. They haven’t quite got the Doctor and Donna right, but the more the Doctor and Donna interact with them the more convincing they become. They are also attracted to the war and chaos in our universe – some kind of comment about online algorhythms ? I don’t know , I couldn’t help feeling that was in there though.

      Reply

  10. Kate Orman
    December 3, 2023 @ 12:30 am

    I knew this was going to be good when, uncharacteristically, Jon and I stopped talking all the way through it and sat there dumbstruck.

    “I can’t say I’m especially persuaded that a non-white Isaac Newton is meaningful or productive representation, but it’s hard not to enjoy the trolling.” This is now officially how I feel about that perplexing element. No mercy!

    chakoteya.net may be the most important Doctor Who page online.

    Reply

  11. dmd
    December 3, 2023 @ 12:42 am

    I am so overjoyed that last week I asked for something new and weird and here we got something absolutely bonkers, yet felt real, and felt like it had stakes and meaning. What I felt was lacking most in The Star Beast is having a villain arc that mirrors the main character arc — the Meep’s plan just seemed recklessly evil, and more of a setup for the DoctorDonna moment than anything that had consequences. But here, the Doctor is also someone who has looked in on human(oid)manity with distance and not a small amount of longing, even more so now after the (apparently canonical, sigh) Flux & Timeless Child stuff. His desperation in wanting to connect with Donna, even to the point of risking embracing the not-thing, was a beautiful character moment, and more importantly a beautiful flawed character moment.

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      December 3, 2023 @ 1:31 am

      This episode makes me more optimistic about the Timeless Child/Flux rubbish than I have in a while. Because it’s clear to me that RTD has decided to embrace it and make it work, and I think he has an actual plan for doing so. He may fail. if only because the challenge is insurmountable, but I do think he has a plan that he thinks will work. We’ll see.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        December 3, 2023 @ 5:08 am

        I think this may have been the plan to be honest. The Doctor feels the emotional weight of it, no one else knows. It’s more coherent than it ever was under Chibnall but I think if it comes up again, this moment charts the ‘plottiest’ it’ll ever be.

        Reply

      • David H
        December 3, 2023 @ 11:15 am

        I don’t know about the Flux, but it is clear that when RTD said they were “running with” the Timeless Child backstory, he didn’t just mean “not explicitly undoing it but essentially ignoring it.”

        The pre-release synopsis for Church on Ruby Road says that Ruby is a foundling, abandoned at the church as a baby and no one knows where she came from.

        The odds of RTD not extensively exploring the fact that this emotionally resonant history describes both his main characters is zero.

        Reply

  12. 256
    December 3, 2023 @ 3:44 am

    One thing I’d like to bring up – and I’m not sure how intentional this was – is the creatures acting as the “evil mirror” of the main characters. Except, during their first reveal, it’s not a darker side of themselves being reflected to them – it’s a reflection of their friend that they don’t want to acknowledge. That’s the vibe I got from the doctors discomfort at “Donna’s” supposed further knowledge, I’m not sure if anyone else picked up on that? A nice wrinkle, if nothing else.

    Reply

    • Cyrano
      December 3, 2023 @ 5:04 am

      There was all sorts of interesting doubling and reversal going on there! The Doctor, the smart character, making an intuitive, emotional connection with ‘Donna’ and getting it wrong. Donna, the stupid one, making a smart sci-fi deduction and getting it right.

      Possibly relevant is the “we can believe two contradictory things at the same time” moment.

      Reply

  13. Cyrano
    December 3, 2023 @ 5:01 am

    One of the all timers that one. The discomfort, the horror of the episode is so carefully pitched, so subtly seeded. Like the Doctor failing to recognise Donna multiple times. He’s not good enough for this adventure, and also…your best friend would know. Wouldn’t they? Apparently not.

    I loved the absolute confidence of using effects that could only be uncanny enough to be horrible by being a fraction of an inch from too laughable to work.

    And essays could be written about the Doctor needing to get outside this story to quantify it and really know about it.

    You wouldn’t want Doctor Who to be like this every week, but you’d be sorry if it wasn’t like it sometimes.

    (Weirdly frustrating to see fans elsewhere receive it entirely in terms of other Doctor Who – “it’s like Midnight and the Satan Pit and The Almost People” – rather than wider culture: the galactic horror of Alien and Event Horizon, initially the Big Dumb Object sci fi of Rendezvous with Rama, the Freudian horror of the doppelganger. But that’s fans for you I suppose.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      December 3, 2023 @ 7:39 am

      I’d like to add Lem’s “Solaris” to the list. Maybe it’s just me because I’m a huge Lem fan but a lot of elements here seem evocative of his work. The retrofuturistic robot walking around an empty spaceship. Bizarre alien weirdness that becomes a dark mirror for humans to look into. The imperfect mimciry.

      Having said that, as much as I enjoyed this episode (and I did) I felt just a bit disappointed that it didn’t go deeper. It could’ve explored the philosophical implication of this alien mimicry in more depth, ask more questions about identity (especially since we have the Doctor who returned to an old face). But then again I am always a bit disappointed even by the most intellectual, ambitious sci-fi movies/shows – they are always a fair bit behind sci-fi books in terms of depth and originality. I’m guessing that money is the issue here – with so many millions of dollars on the line, movies/TV shows can’t afford to alienate or confuse their audiences too much.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        December 3, 2023 @ 8:40 am

        Not speaking for independent, adult sci-fi productions, but I think it’s fair enough for Doctor Who not to go as deep as pure, original science fiction. Especially literature.

        This is Doctor Who visiting Lem and Clarke and the galactic horrors of Event Horizon. And for a mass appeal, family show a visit is brilliant and exactly what’s called for. Like a visit to a museum being edifying and educational and mind expanding but not meaning you should go and live in a Roman ruin. To too fully become the genre it visits compromises the show’s ability to visit another genre next week.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          December 3, 2023 @ 9:25 am

          Sure, I get that. I’m not asking the show to go full Lem/Clarke/etc. I’d just like a little bit more exploration of the concept. Perhaps the (lenghty) exploration at the beginning could have been trimmed a bit? Or the “fixing the TARDIS” bit? I’d rather see that time spent on more interesting things.

          Reply

          • Paul M. Cray
            December 10, 2023 @ 7:05 am

            I was getting a strong “Solaris” vibe although more from the movies and play rather than the novel.

  14. Cyrano
    December 3, 2023 @ 5:16 am

    “I can’t say I’m especially persuaded that a non-white Isaac Newton is meaningful or productive representation, but it’s hard not to enjoy the trolling”

    Does representation have to be necessarily empowering or crucial to be meaningful?* If Isaac Newton wasn’t mixed race, the episode would be all white. It being more important to feature a more slate of diverse actors than have Isaac Newton be authentically pallid is productive in itself.

    *Obviously it can be tokenistic, or even ill-conceived and insulting. But I don’t think this was.

    Reply

  15. Anton B
    December 3, 2023 @ 5:31 am

    “I can’t say I’m especially persuaded that a non-white Isaac Newton is meaningful or productive representation, but it’s hard not to enjoy the trolling…”

    Indeed 😂, What a missed opportunity though, that this story wasn’t titled Newton’s Sleep’.

    Also and even more esoterically-
    It was in 1666 that Isaac Newton used a prism to split sunlight into the colours of the spectrum, (referenced in his alchemical works as Lux Dei). His discoveries that year lead to it being referred to as his Annus Mirabilis or Newton’s “Year of the Morning Star”. What should we make of this, considering the Doctor’s new-found metro-sexuality which, as Donna points out was “never far from the surface” and his predecessors adoption of the rainbow on her costume?

    Speaking of Newton, that one change in the universe from ‘gravity’ to ‘mavity’ is enough to clue us in that this episode will be dealing with the uncanny. One literary definition of which is “The alteration of a small detail in a well-known picture that all of a sudden renders the whole picture strange and uncanny”.
    Encountering one’s own double has been a standard trope of fantastic fiction since Poe wrote about William Wilson and Freud pinpointed it as a signifier of the uncanny at the beginning of the last century. For this fourteenth (soon to be fifteenth) incarnation of our time travelling Doctor it might be considered an occupational hazard. He’s met himself on numerous occasions, particularly on anniversaries. But It feels different this time. Alone and haunted by creatures who mimic their appearance and steal their memories the Doctor and Donna are forced to confront their worst nightmare – themselves. AND they have to stop thinking. The horror!

    Stopping thinking isn’t bad advice for the casual viewer too it turns out as, contrary to popular belief (prompted by that mysteriously redacted cast list printed in Radio Times), there was thankfully no pandering to fannish canon, unless you count that side-swipe at ‘The Timeless Child’ and ‘Flux’ which those viewers who hadn’t subjected themselves to the Chibnall era could safely ignore. I for one loved the way Davies has incorporated ‘The Timeless Child’ debacle into the narrative as trauma for the Doctor in the same way he dealt with the Wilderness Years as The Time War. I’m eager to see how that plays out for Gatwa’s Doctor

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      December 3, 2023 @ 5:29 pm

      “Speaking of Newton, that one change in the universe from ‘gravity’ to ‘mavity’ is enough to clue us in that this episode will be dealing with the uncanny. One literary definition of which is “The alteration of a small detail in a well-known picture that all of a sudden renders the whole picture strange and uncanny”.”

      Good heavens, of course!

      (I was slightly annoyed by the “mavity” gag as it doesn’t make any sense, but the jokes made me smile so I forgave it. Now I have a whole other reason to go with it.)

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        December 3, 2023 @ 8:39 pm

        Come to think of it, a Newton of colour is also a small change to history, like mavity.

        Reply

        • Anton B
          December 4, 2023 @ 3:48 am

          Of course! That clinches it. ‘Doctor Who’ has often created parallel universes in the most offhand manner. Slight changes to history or suggestions that history was different til the Doctor interfered etc. Ironically when it foregrounds alternate worlds – ‘Inferno’, ‘Age of Steel’, ‘Turn Left’ etc it always suggests they are abominations.

          Reply

          • Richard Pugree
            December 9, 2023 @ 5:04 pm

            I was assuming that Mavity was RTD setting up a new version of the supposed plan that he never followed through on in Tooth and Claw where the death of Victoria creates Pete’s World. I kind of hope he doesn’t and it stays as just a gag in this episode, but
            I suspect it’s getting a pay-off that’s much less uncanny.

  16. Lisa J Davies
    December 3, 2023 @ 8:41 am

    did anyone else notice hear the dalek say kaboom at the end of the episode. approximately 54 mins andn26 secs???

    Reply

    • Lisa
      December 3, 2023 @ 12:47 pm

      actually at 48 mins 36 secs 🙂

      Reply

  17. William Shaw
    December 3, 2023 @ 9:14 am

    Was I the only one to be reminded of AI “art” by this episode? A parasitic force that attempts to recreate the human form but keeps getting the details grotesquely wrong, and that seemingly grows stronger the more you think about or get angry at it? What a brilliant bit of accidental commentary.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      December 3, 2023 @ 9:22 am

      The arms being too long isn’t quite the hands being the hardest part, but it’s similar enough that the connection occurred to me watching it, but then I forgot about it. But yes, the distortions, the expanding dataset, the iterative improvement in how well they can copy all mesh in.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        December 3, 2023 @ 9:41 am

        And of course the question of being able to tell who’s a person and who’s a simulation by conversation or question-and-answer is also very strongly associated with AI in both reality and fiction.

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          December 3, 2023 @ 9:58 am

          Oh, and then the way they have become malevolent despite being initially lacking in any qualities ties in with the business of algorithms and LLMs and so on not being neutral, because they’re shaped by social structures through their input, e.g. being racist because of the racism in the dataset they’ve been trained on.

          Reply

      • Harlequin
        December 4, 2023 @ 10:40 pm

        The incomplete understanding of limbs, as with non-Donna’s legs, is also frequently seen in AI art.

        Reply

    • Przemek
      December 3, 2023 @ 9:26 am

      Ooooh, that’s very good. I didn’t think of that.

      Reply

    • wyngatecarpenter
      December 3, 2023 @ 9:32 am

      Just commented something similar above but you beat me to it.

      Reply

    • Kate Orman
      December 3, 2023 @ 4:48 pm

      Of course! Like T.H. Huxley, I feel extremely stupid not to have thought of that.

      Reply

  18. Daibhid C
    December 3, 2023 @ 9:30 am

    Always a sucker for an ontological mystery, expecially one that sticks the landing. Which this did.

    Regarding the ship being Doctor Who “cheap” and Disney+ shiny at once, my immediate reaction was “Oh, so that’s what the Davison production team were always trying to do and never quite managed!”

    Am I the only person who is unreasonably irritiated that the word “gravity” predates Newton by centuries, and was being used to mean “the force pulling things to Earth” twenty years before he was born? I’d probably care less if I understood what the Newton scene was even for for apart from the “navity” bit; I don’t think it added anything else to the episode and if anything slightly undercut it: The coffee accident sent the TARDIS careening to the edge of the universe …. with a brief stopover in the 1660s to make jokes.

    Reply

    • Kit
      December 3, 2023 @ 2:52 pm

      “if I understood what the Newton scene was even for”

      It was a feint, a red herring — a suggestion that the Anniversary Tour would be paying a visit to RTD’s classic Theme Park Britain, so that the revelation that the episode was actually a creepy two-hander locked-room-mystery was better able to creep up on the viewer.

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        December 3, 2023 @ 4:44 pm

        I think it also aided the transition from romp to creepy — and must have saved a few quid into the bargain (assuming apples are cheaper than CGI shots).

        Reply

      • Kelly
        December 5, 2023 @ 3:48 pm

        It was also useful for telling us that the doctor, while gender and sexuality in human terms surely seems reductive to a Time Lord, is a bit gayer now. which is a valuable bit of story-telling, I think, as another distinction between Fourteen and Ten (Fourteen is also more openly affectionate, physically and verbally).

        Reply

  19. Aylwin
    December 3, 2023 @ 9:37 am

    One thing that didm’t quite work for me was the way “We don’t understand the slow”, crucial to the puzzle resolution, seemed to came out of nowhere. There was a bit about being fast earlier, but that was about the not-Doctor being fast because the Doctor is fast, not about the not-things having any inherent affinity with quickness. So unless I’m forgetting something, that feels lacking in a bit of setup that should have been slipped in earlier.

    Reply

    • Cyrano
      December 3, 2023 @ 11:44 am

      It wasn’t spelled out but it did make sense to me.

      They make people go fast and think fast so they can read them faster and better. So…they’re all about speed and going as fast as possible. Something going slow on purpose makes as much sense then as much as someone being poor on purpose makes sense to hedge fund manager.

      Reply

      • Dan
        December 3, 2023 @ 7:15 pm

        Also, the non-things were galvanized into being by absorbing what they perceived from the matter and the light (our universe). Their ground base is to not be anything at all. The universe is full of goings-on. Otherwise changeless, empty beings absorbing activity and change, because what else is there for them to notice? In that way it makes sense. The more still you are, the more like the not-things, and the not-things have less to go on. The more active you are, the more they have.

        Reply

    • Daibhid C
      December 5, 2023 @ 11:00 am

      I think the key bit there was when the Doctor and Dona realised that the Not-Things were making them scared because they couldn’t read them if they were calm. It requires conflating two slightly different meanings of slow, but they’re conceptual beings anyway, so I think that’s fair enough.

      Reply

  20. Cyrano
    December 3, 2023 @ 10:42 am

    If they’d cut the exploration section at the beginning I’d have felt rather short changed on the ‘exploring a big space object’ thrill of The Clarke in Space (to coin a very specific phrase).

    I don’t think it’s Doctor Who’s job to go deep into its influences. It’s job is to ramraid and the rest of culture for interesting stuff, through them into the stew of an episode, then maybe your older brother or auntie or science teacher or librarian says “oh you liked that? You should give this try” and it’s Solaris or Rendezvous with Rama or…The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam or whatever the next cultural storefront Russell’s aimed the bonnet at.

    Reply

    • Cyrano
      December 3, 2023 @ 10:43 am

      He’ll, that was meant to be in reply to Przemek, in our above conversation about the influence of, well, influence.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        December 3, 2023 @ 10:46 am

        And that he’ll was meant to be “hell”.

        Time for another bath, I think. Then I’ll come in again.

        Reply

    • Przemek
      December 4, 2023 @ 7:49 am

      I see your point but for me the exploration bit felt way too long. It just wasn’t that interesting. They land, they spend a lot of time helping the TARDIS rebuild, then they go into the big corridor, they walk down the corridor and then they hear the TARDIS leave and they run back into the room and despair a bit before the real exploration of the ship starts. For me this whole stretch of the episode felt superfluous. I’d rather spend more time with the doppelgängers.

      Reply

  21. Valas
    December 3, 2023 @ 10:54 am

    In the first half of the episode, the doctor out loud imagines a city that grows up around the run off Tardis, and then descends once again in obscurity with the Tardis still standing alone on her outcrop by the sea. It is a quiet, inessential monologue that goes on for a little less than a minute. But it tickled my imagination, and I could see that city, that outcrop by the sea and the Tardis in my mind.

    Something similiar I felt when the doctor and Donna strolled through the deserted corridor and met the rusted robot. The emptiness and the rust conveyed a deep solitude and wistfulness, like standing in ruins where all human stories have come to their end. The dusk of particular history.

    And even after we know what happened there, I can still imagine the terrible desolation of the spaceship that fell through a wormhole and got stranded beyond all worlds with the captain knowlingly taking her life to save so many people that never will know what she has done, forever drifting without even the stars to shine on her corpse.

    That profound sensation of wonderment and imagination combined with ache and consequences is a richer emotional meal than I have got from doctor who for some time.

    Reply

  22. Jane
    December 3, 2023 @ 5:02 pm

    Two episodes in, and RTD is already monstering the companion as well as the Doctor. Haven’t seen this since the Moffat era.

    That’s because Chibnall’s monsters aren’t psychological reflections of the show’s characters. His monsters aren’t in service to mythology, but to propaganda, in particular a liberal critique of progressive politics. No wonder that era was so tedious.

    Anyways, I love Alywin’s analysis above. These monsters are about exploring the human psyche, and it’s glorious to behold.

    I wonder about the robot. Lurching mindlessly toward self-destruction. Just like our bodies. As if… as if it were our lack of immortality that prevents us all from becoming monsters.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      December 3, 2023 @ 5:22 pm

      “Our lack of immortality” must be the first time immortality has been described as the lack of something. I like it.

      Watching the episode, I thought of the complicated Ancient Egyptian concept of the non-existent. I’m reading about this idea, but I’m not clear on whether the non-existent have been completely destroyed (the damned, for example, whose hearts were heavier than the feather of Truth) or continue to exist beyond the ordered world in some negative or chaotic state. If it’s the latter, perhaps it’s a good match for the non-Doctor and non-Donna.

      Reply

      • Jane
        December 3, 2023 @ 9:40 pm

        If they’re non-existent, that means they lack matter/energy, yes? Making them as insubstantial yet as powerful as the Number Five. But these ones managed to acquire Time — the ability to Change. Which means they acquired the ability to die. Maybe that’s a blessing for them. I hope so.

        The essence of things is absent in these no-Things. Things are distinct. Both non-Doctor and non-Donna had the same lack of personality. The same nothingness. No thing-ness.

        Which brings me back to the damn hollow robot. And the dead captain.

        And the empty chair.

        Reply

        • David H
          December 4, 2023 @ 12:08 am

          The empty chair . . . Jane, I’ve missed the mirror and chair threads on Gallifrey Base. There was nothing to comment on in the Chibnall era but those threads were a highlight of Moffatt era GB discourse!

          Reply

        • Kate Orman
          December 4, 2023 @ 1:16 am

          The Egyptian concept seems to be about ordered, differentiated matter, versus chaotic, undifferentiated matter. The world originates from a primordial mound that rises from an ocean of formless chaos, which suggests the nothingness from which not-Doctor and not-Donna arose. During the story they try to become differentiated, with distinct material forms, as opposed to randomly assembled matter. Perhaps what’s out that black windscreen is a whole realm of chaotic, unformed matter and energy, waiting for shape, not necessarily constrained by the scientific rules of our world. It was a realm the Egyptians believed had to be constantly fought off lest the world dissolve back into chaos.

          (And now I’ve imagined if they got bits of the Doctor and Donna mixed up. Which would (a) be gross and weird and (b) parallel the DoctorDonna.)

          Reply

          • Jane
            December 4, 2023 @ 10:58 pm

            That makes me wonder about Donna and what it must have felt like to be left behind because the Doctor didn’t “see” her. He saw form, not content. He saw a projection of her conjured from his own memories.

            Reminds me of Sylvia getting Rose’s pronouns wrong. Now there’s a character-based metaphor.

          • Kate Orman
            December 5, 2023 @ 12:25 am

            Oof!!

          • Aristide Twain
            December 5, 2023 @ 5:09 pm

            Very Faction Paradox/Milesian-cosmology, this. The primordial chaos from which the gods wrought the fragile Ordered World, and the chaotic darkness at the edges keeps trying to force its way back in… (Of course, much of FP and adjacent material takes the position that the gods of Order are the baddies, though “Christmas on a Rational Planet” itself didn’t go quite as far as to let the Doctor side with the Carnival Queen. I suppose if he did then the universe as we know it would end and there’d be no show anymore; curse the status quo!)

          • Kate Orman
            December 5, 2023 @ 5:33 pm

            Everyone loves Chaos until there’s no bread in the shops and their protons fall apart. And yet, where would we be, without all that raw material?

  23. Dan
    December 3, 2023 @ 7:24 pm

    I think “Wild Blue Yonder” might just have been a warning from the TARDIS, a la the multiple warnings the machine (that can “think not as you or I do, but…must be able to think as a machine. (You see, it has a bank of computers)). gave the passengers in the Edge of Destruction, when you’ll remember the TARDIS was speeding back towards “the very beginning, the new start of a solar system”. The very first “weird” Doctor Who story.

    Reply

  24. Kelly
    December 3, 2023 @ 11:51 pm

    I enjoyed the concept in this episode of an ontologically antagonistic nothing. it produces brain tingles methinks.

    Reply

  25. magpiesovereign
    December 4, 2023 @ 5:23 am

    I came away on Saturday feeling kind of disappointed, but I suspected that the episode would become a modest classic in some circles. In hindsight, I wonder if this was just stone cold great Doctor Who and I’m jaded? The production design was lovely, the dialogue was great, and the character interactions had a real weight to them. The first cut from Donna and the not-Doctor in the orange room back to Tennant still fiddling with the pipes was a great moment, but it was mostly downhill from there for me. In my eyes, the not-things largely missed the uncanny valley and landed in the silly-zone, which is not a bad place for Doctor Who to be, but I feel like the episode was aiming for an unsettling mood which never totally landed.

    In general, I think I would have liked a subtler approach. ‘My arms are too long,’ was great, but the way they actually looked didn’t do much for me. It might have been nice to stay paranoid about whether the Doctor and Donna identified each other correctly throughout the episode, but the not-things helpfully broke character each time. It was also a shame that the not-things were so clear that they were bad guys who wanted to nasty things to the universe. For beings beyond the observable universe, it was pretty well established exactly what they wanted and how they worked.

    I can imagine a version of this episode that came out maybe early series 8 where real tensions between the Doctor and companion could have been teased apart (eg. Clara encounters some new, but true, aspect of the Doctor and thinks it is a flaw in the mimicry). Here, the general mood of the series is that the Doctor and Donna know each other deeply and adore each other unreservedly, so there’s no real paranoia to tap into.

    Tiny nitpick, but why were the self-destruct controls at an arbitrary point midway down the corridor? I loved the image of the slow robot creeping along, but surely it would have been more satisfying if its destination was the end of the corridor?

    Regardless of my feelings, it seems like this episode has gone down pretty well, and Doctor Who has a hit on its hands, which is fantastic news!

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      December 4, 2023 @ 11:56 am

      Given that the countdown was in its final “seconds”, the robot would have had to be found almost at the end of the corridor too, which would have tipped the story’s hand about Jimbo being part of a process that was nearly at an end.

      Reply

      • magpiesovereign
        December 4, 2023 @ 12:37 pm

        Yeah, that’s a good point! I suppose that when the Doctor sped up the process at the end, the robot could have suddenly started going hell for leather and sped towards the end? So the process would actually only have been like halfway done when the TARDIS arrived, but the Doctor was able to expedite it? But this could have ruined the mood in other ways.

        Reply

    • Scurra
      December 4, 2023 @ 6:49 pm

      I think that’s a fair point about certain things not working for particular individuals (and I’m slightly sad that you were one of those for whom the effects clearly didn’t quite work as intended.) I feel much the same about folk who spent the Moffat era complaining about his puzzle boxes (because that aspect didn’t work for them), whereas I was ticking everything off as it went along and feeling very happy.

      I do agree with the mistaken identity thing feeling underpowered, but RTD is really writing ‘Christmas Special’ type episodes here, aimed at getting big audience numbers (and it looks like it worked!) so there really wasn’t room for paranoid suspicion beyond a few moments.

      Reply

    • Harlequin
      December 4, 2023 @ 11:49 pm

      “In my eyes, the not-things largely missed the uncanny valley and landed in the silly-zone …”

      I often felt it was silly before being scared by it. Or even while being scared by it. It seems we can feel two contradictory things at the same time 🙂

      I wonder if, for me, the silly becoming genuinely scary that actually increased my terror.

      Reply

      • Harlequin
        December 4, 2023 @ 11:51 pm

        Erm… please ignore that ‘that’.

        Reply

      • Kate Orman
        December 5, 2023 @ 12:24 am

        Is the word we need to describe this “grotesque”?

        Reply

        • Harlequin
          December 5, 2023 @ 12:37 am

          Hmmm… the horrifying characteristic of the absurd? Yes, I think you may have nailed it 🙂

          Reply

        • Aristide Twain
          December 5, 2023 @ 5:16 pm

          Always interesting to me, as a native French speaker, the slight difference in what the English mean by “grotesque” relative to the native French meaning. To us it’s more directly about comedy — there’s just the slightest hint of gruesomeness poking in at the edges, but mostly it just earnestly means buffoonish, ridiculous. A clown’s outfit or routine might be described as “grotesque” — a regular clown I mean, not a Joker/Pennywise imitator. Gross incompetence, too, might be described as “grotesque” in a fit of outrage; if a politician embarrasses himself their opponents might proclaim that they’ve made a “grotesque” speech.

          Reply

    • Daibhid C
      December 8, 2023 @ 8:46 am

      Regarding the not-things breaking character, I think that’s kind of the point. They’re not really trying to trick the Doctor or Donna as such, that doesn’t benefit them (except Not-Donna at the end). What does benefit them is the Doctor and Donna being panicky. All the times when they’re briefly convincing is just to lull the real versions into a false sense of security, so the moment when they suddenly jump up and go “Rar!” is more effective.

      Reply

  26. DSH
    December 4, 2023 @ 11:17 pm

    Although entertaining the last two episodes seem like unmade scripts from season 4. But they were promoted as 60th anniversary specials. I’m disappointed and I bet a lot of fans casual viewers are too.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      December 4, 2023 @ 11:25 pm

      I mean, ratings are up massively, AI figures are up massively… so no, that really doesn’t seem to be happening.

      And anyway, what exactly is a “60th anniversary special?” Like… these are specials. They’re airing for the 60th anniversary. I think that pretty much is as advertised, no?

      Reply

      • DSH
        December 6, 2023 @ 12:08 am

        I hear you. They are tv specials and it’s the 60th A. How else would the promote them. But compared to Davies’ earlier specials these are underwhelming. So far this seems more of a mini-season. My concern is that the general UK audience will feel mislead and fade away as many did during the Capaldi and Whitaker seasons. The trailers for The Giggle look great though.

        Reply

      • DSH
        December 6, 2023 @ 12:09 am

        I hear you. They are tv specials and it’s the 60th A. How else would they promote them. But compared to Davies’ earlier specials these are underwhelming. So far this seems more of a mini-season. My concern is that the general UK audience will feel mislead and fade away as many did during the Capaldi and Whitaker seasons. The trailers for The Giggle look great though.

        Reply

  27. prandeamus
    December 5, 2023 @ 10:27 am

    This isn’t profound. It’s late. But I haven’t posted here for years.
    I just realised that RTD could have titled this one “Much Ado About No-Thing”

    Thank you, I’m here all week, try the chicken.

    Reply

  28. SeeingI
    December 5, 2023 @ 1:42 pm

    Best episode in years. Much as I adored The Star Beast, and chortled for a solid week over the Meep, this one felt like a true return to form for Doctor Who, the series that shows you things you’ve never seen before, or at least things you’ve never seen juxtaposed.

    I have a very strong suspicion that “mavity” Will turn out to be more than a joke. Donna did alter her own past, after all…

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Eruditorum Press

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading