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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.

88 Comments

  1. Camestros Felapton
    June 10, 2019 @ 9:18 am

    I can’t think of an episode that was this bad with so few excuses. Nightmare in Silver was more disappointing because of Gaiman, and there have been episodes with worse ethics/politics but this episode was just plain bad.

    Reply

  2. Vadron
    June 10, 2019 @ 10:29 am

    What I kinda love about “Lie of the Land” as a phenomenon in the ‘Doctor Who’ fandom is that nobody likes it, but everyone has different rationales for disliking it. (I should have expected you would dislike it for being politically clueless to the point of confused blubbering, though I somehow didn’t. Personally, I cannot deny that it is in fact politically clueless but I don’t particularly care, having never particularly looked for politics in “Who”.)

    One thing, though: you write “the Doctor, Nardole, and a room full of men laugh at a woman of color and the audience for ever believing the story in the first place” to describe the ‘haha no’ moment. I don’t think the implied accusation with pointing out that the people in the room are men, and that Bill is black-skinned, is at all fair here, because Bill isn’t meant to be read as a person in this scene; so the specifics of her identity (gender, skin colour) are irrelevant. There’s no point in saying “Bill and the audience”; it is in this instance the same thing, due to Bill having been the POV character. Her ‘stupidity’ is our own.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      June 10, 2019 @ 12:45 pm

      The specifics of a character’s identity are always important. Imagine a shot of a random act of street violence during a riot. Even if the purpose of the scene is clearly just to show people being violent, it matters greatly whether the shot depicts, say, a black man beating a white woman or vice versa. You personally might not see a difference, but other people most certainly will.

      It doesn’t matter what the makers of “Lie of the Land” intended: what we actually see on the screen is exactly what Dr. Sandifer described. If you were a casual viewer just flipping through channels, this is what you’d see: a room full of (mostly?) white men laughing at a woman of color. It’s not the only thing going on in this scene, but it’s one of the things. You can’t ignore such a visual in an episode dealing with fascism: a political movement comprised of white men who would really like to put women of color in their place.

      Reply

      • Vadron
        June 10, 2019 @ 1:43 pm

        The “channel-flipping” hypothesis is fair enough, but other than that, two words for you: Implied Author. To anyone who watches the entire episode, let alone the whole of Series 10, it’s obvious that this isn’t at all what one is supposed to take away from the scene.

        And I said it was “fair enough”, but only in the sense of “yes, well done, you have identified a situation where the scene could earnestly be read as insensitive”. Not in the sense of convincing me that Whithouse can be blamed for writing the scene. We can’t expect writers to not write specific scenes because they might look bad taken ludicrously out-of-context; that way lies madness. It would be easy enough to compile a bunch of clips to make it as though the Daleks are the helpless victims of persecution from the Doctor, say.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          June 10, 2019 @ 2:23 pm

          Then I have chosen a wrong example because I wasn’t talking about taking scenes out of context. I was talking about the importance of the sheer material reality of what’s shown on the screen. It adds another layer of context whether one likes it or not because we watch fiction through the lense of our real world experiences. Some viewers may be able to see past that, but many won’t be able to. When the people running the show made all three thieves in “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” black, it carried unfortunate implications despite anyone’s intentions and despite what the episode itself was saying. Same with the abortion parallell in “Kill the Moon”.

          I’m not blaming Whithouse for writing the scene as it is or saying it should be changed. I wasn’t offended by it or anything like that. I’m just saying that if the author doesn’t want the context there, they should take care to think through the implications of what’s being shown on screen.

          Reply

          • Brian B.
            June 10, 2019 @ 6:16 pm

            I am 100% on Przemek’s / El’s side regarding the “Lie of the Land” scene, but since the “Kill the Moon” thing keeps coming up, I wanted to point out: no. Any implied parallel to abortion is fine, because if what’s going on in “Kill the Moon” is “abortion”, it is abortion being performed without the mother’s consent. Which is a thing fascists have done in history, and which I’m pretty certain we on the Left are firmly against.

          • Vadron
            June 10, 2019 @ 6:44 pm

            Factually, it is without the mother’s consent, but the ‘mother’ is a nonsentient animal, and, for that matter, so’s the ‘baby’. It’s read as an allegory for abortion, not a literal story about abortion; hence within the bounds of that interpretation, just as we accept that an unhatched giant space bug be reated a stand-in for an unborn human fetus, we must accept that Clara and the rest of mankind (who the episode repeatedly stretches are “responsible”) are equivalent to the ‘mother’.

          • Lambda
            June 11, 2019 @ 6:11 am

            I don’t recall their level of sentience being established.

          • TomeDeaf
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:02 am

            It isn’t. Vadron is massively reading that into the ep but it’s not there.

          • Vadron
            June 11, 2019 @ 9:03 am

            Well if we’re meant to consider the beast being a person the episode sure doesn’t call attention to it. The Doctor seems to describe it as a really big tick. I feel like even absent any concerns about a pro-abortion reading, the Moon-Bug being not an animal but a person would completely change the ethical ramifications of the decision.

            (To be clear I don’t buy the “abortion metaphor” reading myself; I just acknowledge that the episode can in fact unintentionally be read as an anti-abortion metaphor without it being a stretch regarding the text itself.)

          • Lambda
            June 11, 2019 @ 6:10 am

            On that abortion thing, there’s absolutely no reason why a British writer for a British TV show should have to worry about what something looks like through the lens of American politics. America does not legitimately rule the world.

          • Daniel Tessier
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:01 am

            Abortion isn’t only an American political issue though. Abortion is still illegal in almost all circumstances in Northern Ireland. It doesn’t dominate the media in the same way as in the States but it is still a major issue.

          • Przemek
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:03 am

            That’s true, but surely the writers are aware DW is a global phenomenon now? Abortion is a hot topic in many countries. And anyway, I’m sure at least some people in the UK are divided on the issue as well.

          • Lambda
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:21 am

            The overseas audience still has to play the role of guests though. The same way I try to avoid criticising all the anime I watch from British or Western perspectives without understanding how it looks in Japan.

            The challenge to that point is the forgetting of Northern Ireland.

          • TomeDeaf
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:04 am

            Indeed. But the same resonances are there in Ireland not just America, and I think it’s not unreasonable to say that if Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin and Peter Harness had also had a woman on board as a lead creative figure she might’ve been like “erm, guys”…

          • tachyonspiral
            June 12, 2019 @ 5:30 pm

            TBF, people in Britain are often more ignorant of Irish history and culture than you might imagine.

  3. luna
    June 10, 2019 @ 10:34 am

    God, it’s a fucking shame that the only non-Moffat writer given the opportunity to substantially make use of Missy was Whithouse.

    Reply

  4. David Anderson
    June 10, 2019 @ 10:38 am

    After two episodes of putting off talking about the Monks arc as an arc, you don’t talk about it. Which is entirely appropriate as a response to how the Monks arc doesn’t work.

    I don’t think the iconography in the episode is any more Stalinist than it is fascist: it’s just generalised 20th century totalitarian.

    Even if there were any merit in the idea of Doctor tricking the companion into thinking he’s evil, Bill is the pre-Chibnall new series companion that it’s least interesting to do it with. She’s the one with the least invested in her relationship with the Doctor.

    Reply

    • Vadron
      June 10, 2019 @ 10:59 am

      I dunno, they do feel more Soviet than Nazi to me. Perhaps it’s the insistence that the Monks are saving and protecting the people, as opposed to an ideology based on conquest. Or maybe it’s just the basic look of the Monks’ world — all gray brutalist architecture with people hurrying down the streets, and gray-clad police instead of clanking-boot soldiers in green. The endless statues, too, are more associated with the U.S.S.R. than they are with the 3d Reich.

      Also, the Monks wear red.

      Reply

  5. Jayde
    June 10, 2019 @ 12:39 pm

    “This is something very different—a marketed premise that’s thrown away with nothing more than a “ha ha only kidding,” in which the Doctor, Nardole, and a room full of men laugh at a woman of color and the audience for ever believing the story in the first place.”

    Aaargh! I had forgotten how much actual physical pain the episode gave me. The 12th Doctor was written as the worst, toxic character in this episode. Bill’s admiration and love for the Doctor just seems so lopsided after this episode …. including in the coda in the end where he tells her she is one in a billion (after making fun of a woman’s physical characteristics when he calls a young woman- appalling hair. Yes! The same Doctor who could not see age in Clara and saw beauty, where social norms did not, in multiple stories before, including Erica in the previous episode). HOW could he let his companion suffer under a brutal dictatorship all ALONE for six months (she never had family or friends) as he made an army with totally random strangers! And then laughing at Bill, a young black woman who has struggled all through, with these random soldiers? (At least Nardole seemed to have some regret.) Why, oh why, could they not have had Bill show real anger at the Doctor!!!

    Bill continues to trust him implicitly, in WEAT, when she asks him to make sure she doesn’t get killed in before she goes on the jaunt with Missy, even as she is reluctant. Then she gets subconsciously brainwashed by the Doctor to wait for him instead of fighting and trying to escape for 10 years. And then again, she is shown as not being allowed to get angry (since when is anger a LUXURY for people like her- isn’t that all we have?). And at the end of it, Moffat shows that the Doctor is unable to do anything for her and the person who actually has her back is Heather. If not for LOTL, the problems with WEAT and TDF as regards Bill would not (probably) appear so flagrant.

    I have wondered (after reading similar arguments wrt S11) on my more uncharitable days (which usually happens after I think of LOTL) if Moffat deliberately supported the LOTL script to have this underlying arc where a parachuting alien is actually quite ineffectual (and sometimes awful and even guilty of perpetrating the same oppression) in remedying things for people like Bill. In the following episodes, Empress and Eater, the Doctor again takes a backseat to Bill and Kar as they save the day. And then there is TDF, where the Doctor actually falls as Nardole and Heather end up as the heroes. It makes for a depressing end for THE best era in DW (the 12th Doctor era). Now excuse me while I remove LOTL from my head and think about nicer things.

    ps: Missy showing regret for people she killed in the end made no sense in this story either.

    Reply

    • Vadron
      June 10, 2019 @ 1:53 pm

      “And then again, she is shown as not being allowed to get angry (since when is anger a LUXURY for people like her- isn’t that all we have?)”

      I think the episode agrees with you there. The ‘joke’ (well, it’s not a joke per se; let’s say the ‘clever Moffat substitution-game’) of the scene is that at first you think the Doctor is telling her not to be angry for the usual ethical reasons, and Bill is understandably not down with that since the Doctor is very much at fault, but then it turns out that the reason she mustn’t get angry is not some moral stance but the much more literal, practical matter that when she gets angry she blows big flaming holes in the walls.

      (Which makes no sense, granted. It made sense for the Daleks when Moffat first came up with the idea of “machine-encased human’s strong emotions make the robot body fire laserbeams on the outside” in ‘The Magician’s Familiar’. But it is absurd to propose that Cybermen fuel their weapons with strong emotions, I mean really now.)

      I’ve noticed that our good blogger here, and her readership, tend to not like it when ‘Doctor Who’ actively, aggressively refuses to be a political metaphor, but it does so more often than you lot acknowledge. I’m fairly sure, for example, that “Kerblam!” isn’t in any sense a ‘pro-Amazon allegory’; rather, it’s a parody of the entire idea of making a sci-fi anti-Amazon satire.

      Reply

      • El Sandifer
        June 10, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

        Hi Valdron, and welcome to the site. I couldn’t help but notice that you’re taking the “comment exclusively to criticize the leftism of the article and other posters” approach to engaging with the site, and I wanted to wish you the best of luck as you attempt to do so without crossing over into being an annoying prat that gets sitebanned. It’s historically proven an arduous task, but I have both hope and faith that you’ll buck the trend by offering thoughtful insight that doesn’t just come off as someone looking to pick fights or “trigger the libs.”

        Reply

        • Vadron
          June 10, 2019 @ 6:17 pm

          Sorry if that’s how I came across. I am certainly not doing anything so self-defeating as deliberately looking for trouble; while I don’t agree with all your or your commenters’ political (or indeed critical) views, I like thoughtful discussions between opposing point of views. If I wasn’t interested in understanding other people’s well-reasoned opinions, I wouldn’t be reading this site, natch.

          And I do believe I’ve made some non-political comments already. At any rate I didn’t particularly try to comment about political matters in particular, it’s just that you do discuss political matters a lot, so a commenter engaging with what you write inevitably comes to talk about such matters a lot too.

          Thanks for the welcome, at any rate! And I quite understand why you gave me such a warning; while I, again, didn’t think I was coming across that way, I do imagine you must have trouble with “anti-SJW” trolls quite often.

          Reply

      • Lambda
        June 10, 2019 @ 6:20 pm

        You don’t need to know anything about Amazon to condemn Kerblam! Its big, pivotal line of realisation is “the system isn’t the problem”, and it’s difficult to come up with a line which is more thoroughly wrong and reactionary. Apart from all the huge problems with the system as presented by the story, almost all big real-world problems beyond natural stuff like pathogens can be traced back to the system – the way government, economics and institutions work to keep the powerful on the top. (Or if you want it in one word, capitalism. Formerly feudalism etc.)

        Reply

        • Vadron
          June 10, 2019 @ 8:09 pm

          But that’s meshing two different meanings of “system” together — which is, I think, at the heart of the joke ‘Kerblam!’ is playing. “System” here means a computer system; a sentient one at that. Not at all the same thing as “system” in the sense of “organization of society”.

          My ‘redemptive reading’ of ‘Kerblam!’, to use our good blogger’s terminology, is thus that it’s parodying the awkward way modern-day concerns are usually transplanted into sci-fi terms to make hamfisted satire. Everything’s set up like a rather lame satire of Amazon, and then the rug is pulled from under our metaphorical feet, because, don’t you see, this is a universe where you’ve decided that “the system” was literally a sentient computer system, so the moral calculations stop making any sense — the analogy simply doesn’t work.

          (Similarly, we’re at first meant to sympathize with the humans who want to hold on to jobs in the face of automation, because that’s what the good guys want in the 21st century. But this doesn’t actually make sense within Kerblam!’s sci-fi world, and we should have seen it coming that these people would turn out to be loonies. Because it’s a world with easily mass-produced, sentient, friendly AI. Any right-thinking individual in that world would be fighting for all hard labor to be automated, and the profits distributed equally among a leisurely population, so that hard labor can be a thing of the past.)

          Reply

          • Lambda
            June 11, 2019 @ 6:39 am

            Even if it was trying not to be evil, by having “the system isn’t the problem” as its pivotal line with such a subject matter, it would have failed. That’s a commentary on the system, whether the story wants it to be or not.

            But there’s little difference between a computer system, a socio-economic system, a circulatory system etc. in the best of times, it’s all the same meaning of the word just in different mediums, and an AI running a large company will be almost indistinguishable from the economic system it’s operating in and reflecting. Just look at how racism gets into modern AIs because they get their training data from a racist world, for instance. And the story doesn’t even tell us where all the profits are going in the first place, let alone show any awareness that they could possibly go somewhere else. You’re not even supposed to think about that. So I think these attempts to redeem it are completely groundless.

          • Vadron
            June 11, 2019 @ 9:05 am

            “in the best of times, it’s all the same meaning of the word just in different mediums, and an AI running a large company will be almost indistinguishable from the economic system it’s operating in and reflecting”

            This is, again, true in the real world but not applicable to the sci-fi world of a ‘Doctor Who’ story. The Kerblam! AI isn’t a nonsentient neural net; it’s a person. And we’re clearly invited to think of it as such, both with the personal nature of the “Help me!” message and the personality displayed by its ‘ancestor’ Twirly.

          • Vadron
            June 11, 2019 @ 9:07 am

            Oh, and I almost forgot: there’s also Thirteen’s comment right at the beginning of the episode about discrimination against robots not being okay. Again and again the episode reminds us that AI=person in its world.

          • mx_mond
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:20 am

            This ‘friendly’ AI murdered someone about 5 minutes before the Doctor declared it’s not the problem. I think it’s fair to say Kerblam! fails on the terms you set out for it as well.

          • Przemek
            June 11, 2019 @ 7:35 am

            “it’s parodying the awkward way modern-day concerns are usually transplanted into sci-fi terms to make hamfisted satire”

            Let’s assume that’s true. If the writer of “Kerblam!” wants the audience to get that from the episode, he should point towards that meaning. Invite us to look beyond what’s on the surface by gesturing towards hidden depths. He should, say, have the characters talk about the double meaning of the word “system”. Or have them discuss computer systems and have the Doctor point out that discussing them in moral terms is pointless. Or have her agree with someone in the story who claims that human labor should be replaced by machine labor. Or, at the very least, the writer should clearly make “Kerblam!” a story about stories and how we shoehorn our issues into them whether they fit or not. Maybe have the Doctor and the gang investigate space Amazon because there was a journalist who recently exposed their dirty secrets – and then have the Doctor discover that the journalist made it all up to fit her political agenda. But none of that happens.

            How the vast majority of people understood this episode is as a story about how companies like Amazon are fine despite their wrongdoings and the real danger are hot-headed luddite fanatics. And the viewers aren’t wrong to see it like that because that’s what’s going on on the surface. And nothing in the episode itself points towards your meta reading of it. Perhaps you’re right about what the writer intended (although I don’t think so) but seeing how you’re pretty much the only person who read the story that way, he failed to convey that meaning. If it’s a satire, then nobody got the joke.

          • Vadron
            June 11, 2019 @ 9:11 am

            That’s a very fair answer. I’m just trying to make sense of “Kerblam!”, you understand? Because for all that my interpretation of it may seem far-fetched, the ‘surface-level’ interpretation of its being pro-Amazon doesn’t make a lick of sense either for the reasons I outlined (the jiggery-pokery of the two meanings of “system”, the fact that the reasons the “give humans jobs!” people are wrong is dependent on the nature of the future universe and thus not at all applicable on Earth).

            If you wanted to write a pro-Amazon sci-fi scenario, “Kerblam!” would be a needlessly roundabout and confusing way of doing it.

          • Przemek
            June 11, 2019 @ 9:35 am

            I agree. “Kerblam!” is indeed confusing and I’m not sure what reading of it the writer intended. But I think what ultimately came across is “space Amazon good, activists bad”. Or, at the very least, “working conditions in space Amazon warehouses aren’t ideal, but they’re also not so bad and most of the workers seem happy”. Which is problematic given how real Amazon treats its workers. if the writer didn’t intend that… well, again, thinking about unintended subtext of your work can really help in such matters.

            (And I don’t mind far-fetched interpretations – that’s what this place is for!).

          • tachyonspiral
            June 12, 2019 @ 5:18 pm

            The reading i took away was ‘space Amazon flawed, activists evil’, with the understanding that regardless of the horrible things space Amazon was doing, none of them crossed whatever line would have provoked the Doctor into stopping them.

            There’s a phenomenon you often see in centrist/liberal media where they will pull their rightwards punches, but not their leftwards ones, perhaps because they’re nervous about upsetting conservative types too much. I took this episode to be something of that sort, but i’d agree that the end result was confusing. Bit of a muddled story, really.

          • David Anderson
            June 11, 2019 @ 10:53 am

            I think that in a context where the words, ’cause’ and ‘activist,’ are being used, ‘system,’ will naturally carry connotations of the social and economic system regardless of whatever the author meant by it. And as noted, it’s not as if the AI isn’t willing to murder innocent people to achieve its ends.

            At the end of Kerblam! the corporate managers promise to the Doctor that they’ve seen the error of their ways, and they’ll respond to the legitimate grievances of the killer, by hiring more human beings. Which one feels is completely inadequate as a response to what we’ve seen on screen. (We’ve not actually seen anyone out of work who would be better off being employed in those conditions.) Not that I think the author was trying to push any pro-Amazon political agenda. They just don’t address the problems they’ve raised on the screen. It’s more that they thought they’d do a Whodunnit with a clever twist where the obvious suspect (the evil corporation) turned out not to be the murderer after all, and then didn’t have the patience to think through how to make it work.

          • Rodolfo Piskorski
            June 11, 2019 @ 11:06 am

            To be fair to those managers, hiring more human workers is exactly what the killer wanted.

        • Rodolfo Piskorski
          June 11, 2019 @ 11:01 am

          I know it’s almost impossible not to hear “system” in Kerblam as meaning the socio-economic system, but in the context of the scene they were talking about the computer system.

          The dialogue is framed as a discussion about technology.

          CHARLIE: If that’s the price to change how everyone on Kandoka sees technology, then it is worth it, for the cause. […] We can’t let the systems take control!
          DOCTOR: The systems aren’t the problem. How people use and exploit the system, that’s the problem. People like you.

          Charlie was unhappy with the way the computer system was exploiting humans. But the Doctor, following her stance against anti-robot prejudice, points out that the computer system was only exploitative because it had been programmed that way, by humans. Just like Charlie was now programming it to do something else, and the Doctor was pointing out that Charlie was being as villainous as the original programmers in his imoral use of technology. “The systems aren’t the problem” means that technology is amoral.

          Of course, the problem is that the system is actually quite smart and capable of autonomous decision-making, and it decided to kill someone just out of strategy. This is the most glaring thing in the episode. No one, not even Charlie, brings up the dangers of a technology capable of making life-and-death decisions by itself.

          And then, as others pointed out, there is the obvious question of why they don’t have fully automated luxury space communism, since there is no reason why any humans must work. This the gigantic blindspot that not even Charlie sees.

          Reply

          • Przemek
            June 11, 2019 @ 11:43 am

            I agree with the problems you identify. I don’t neccessarily agree with everything else.

            “the computer system was only exploitative because it had been programmed that way, by humans”.

            Just like the socio-economic system. I fail to see the difference.

            “”The systems aren’t the problem” means that technology is amoral.”

            But it really isn’t. Some systems are explicitly designed to be immoral, to hurt some people in order to benefit others. There’s nothing amoral about tanks. Sure, you could in theory use them to dig holes or remove debris or whatever, but they were build to kill people.

            The computer system in “Kerblam!” wasn’t designed to kill and exploit workers, sure, but it also clearly wasn’t safeguarded enough against people using it to kill and exploit workers. It just wasn’t a priority. The system was designed to maximize the profits of those running the company; people’s safety and their working conditions came second. Just like in the real world. To have the Doctor disregard these facts and claim that the systems themselves are fair, just abused by people is just simply wrong.

          • tachyonspiral
            June 12, 2019 @ 5:21 pm

            The problem, imo, was they tried to do this thing about automation in the same story as this satire of minimum wage jobs, and didn’t think very hard about how the two mesh together.

  6. Przemek
    June 10, 2019 @ 2:01 pm

    I hate this story with passion, for mostly the same reasons as Dr. Sandifer. The sheer cynicism of that fake regeneration would be enough to make me angry, but that’s just one of the many, many shitty things about this episode. Including, but not limited to how it fails to be about anything at all.

    But I’m especially furious at LOTL’s treatment of the Doctor, who becomes this arrogant, bullying asshole who just can’t resist stealing other people’s thunder. He basically regresses into his own version of the Sixth Doctor, complete with an abused companion who the script doesn’t even allow to get angry at her abuser. If I was to find any meaning in the fake regeneration scene, I’d say it symbolises the show itself deciding it’s better to kill… that thing… off than to have it as a main character.

    Reply

  7. David Ainsworth
    June 10, 2019 @ 2:14 pm

    I suppose this episode distinguishes itself by being so massively wrong that it even tops most of the others El calls out for being epically bad. (Celestial Toymaker gets a break because we don’t have it complete in the archives.) This episode is so bad that you can find new terrible incoherencies in it every time you look. Two for example:
    In an episode supposedly going after brainwashing and false narrative (that thinks it is taking on “truthiness” as the ultimate enemy), there’s a whole action sequence built around people attacking a monument while having to constantly listen to propaganda over headphones (on outdated tech, no less) and who turn against the cause when they stop. What’s the point? The way to fight an Orwellian state is to adopt its methods? Nobody in the central pyramid room has any problem remembering what they’re up to without the tape loop, so the premise gets dropped after guy who was never a threat gets knocked out (and if we are supposed to be concerned about his well-being, never seeing him again seems problematic).

    Bill’s mom is immune to the History Monk’s false rewriting because she was never real to begin with, as Bill remembers her. This premise requires, among other things, a misunderstanding of what “history” is that is so massive one wonders if Whithouse ever took a history course in school. Worse, it is blatantly falsified by earlier portions of the episode, which show the Monks getting themselves integrated into the sum total of human culture including literature, which is materially similar to the thing that supposedly makes Bill’s mom special.

    The character who is supposed to save the day here is a black lesbian. Was nobody able to identify anything in the likely lived experience of a black lesbian which might make her especially able to combat the Monk’s normalizing ubercultural conquest, aside from having had a mother who died when she was very young? At some point, with an episode this bad, one starts to wonder whether those involved in its conception were merely clueless or whether it represents an act of colossal cowardice in the face of a supposedly current political and moral challenge.

    That this episode might perhaps be salvagable (though still not worthwhile) if it ended with a framing narrative showing a Monk telling the story of why they left Earth to a Slitheen in a bar in no way suggests that it should have been made in the first place, even in extremis.

    Reply

  8. Annie
    June 10, 2019 @ 2:44 pm

    “Alt-right Doctor Who, for all that the show is naturally geared to resist that impulse, would ultimately be frighteningly easy to make, in the way that fascism is always frighteningly easy to make out of liberalism”
    That’s an interesting point, I’ve always thought that Doctor Who trends towards the alt-right anyway, with every alien species being treated as the other and the doctors favouritism and support of humanity over and above other species, though he claims he is not biased.
    Kind of like how the alt-right likes to claim that they’re not racist, honest, it’s just that they support their own culture and there’s nothing wrong with in group preference.
    Logically, there is no reason why the doctor should care about conflicts between humans and aliens, yet time and again we see him intervening on the human side since humanity is, naturally, the goodguy

    Reply

    • Przemek
      June 11, 2019 @ 7:47 am

      I think that’s hard to avoid when you’re telling a story that’s centered on humans and meant to be enjoyed by humans. DW did plenty of stories about how attacking aliens without trying to at least communicate with them is wrong, but at the end of the day this is an action adventure show that needs to have monsters. Sure, the Doctor’s favouritism makes no sense in-universe, but that’s because it actually doesn’t stem from inside that universe. It stems from our own biases.

      Reply

      • Rodolfo Piskorski
        June 11, 2019 @ 11:07 am

        But the Doctor himself is not human and is not from Earth. So that’s already a very big example of not being biased towards one’s own community. He doesn’t even like the Time Lords that much.

        Reply

        • mx_mond
          June 11, 2019 @ 11:51 am

          Aren’t they his community by choice, though? So it’s a bit like someone acquiring a new citizenship and becoming fervently patriotic to the point of being nationalistic about his new home.

          Reply

      • liminal fruitbat
        June 12, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

        They could try to avoid it, though. Certainly Transformers as a franchise is proof that human audiences can care about an entire cast of non-human characters.

        Reply

  9. Christopher Brown
    June 10, 2019 @ 2:58 pm

    I’ve waited two years for this post and it was worth it.

    Interesting – or not, just depressing – that this episode is the one that most predicts the Chibnall era.

    Reply

    • Vadron
      June 10, 2019 @ 6:22 pm

      In what way do you mean? Aside from general shoddiness, I don’t really see the parallels.

      Reply

      • CJM123
        June 10, 2019 @ 8:50 pm

        For me, it’s a constant desire to show engagement with ideas (Totalitarianism and history here, religious extremism and revenge in “The Battle of the Generic Planet” for example) without actually engaging with the ideas, and then dropping after doing nothing with them.

        Alongside that, it has this dull sense of doing the most predictable setting possible half-the-time. I know we debate whether the Monks are Fascist or Soviet, for me they are Soviet simply because the episode is going for the most blatant TV signs of a Police State, without actually doing anything but showing them. From 1950-1990, Western Media usually used Soviet iconography, because that was the major world-power, so the episode is Soviet. Similarly, Spiders of Sheffield has a villain scheme that is the traditional “Pollution is everywhere” that is meant to repulse you, but honestly converting a full landfill into grass-land seems like a good idea to me.

        It’s that lack of interest in anything but being really obvious Doctor Who without being good at it that makes both stand-out. Though I think this only applies to Chibnall himself, not his guest writers. Everyone of them was trying to do something different, even with Kerblam and The Witchfinders.

        Reply

  10. Forrest Leeson
    June 10, 2019 @ 3:36 pm

    Feint…fake…why either? Bill killed the Doctor¹ and he spent the rest of the series staving off regeneration. Neatly explains why he let her get a dirty great hole shot through her in the end; he’s petty that way.

    (¹ That is to say, the last of the clones of Doctor Funkenstein, the original having been killed via transporter at the end of in Face The Raven. I liked the resulting description of Clara as a gun made of leaves, and the implication that Missy’s in the reformatorium because of the discovery, having finally killed the Doctor off in her best and most complicated plot², that she felt bad about it afterward.)
    (² There’s a reason the Hybrid Prophecy seems like an insertion into history. “I’ve been all up and down your timeline…”)

    Reply

    • Vadron
      June 10, 2019 @ 6:24 pm

      I feel like “Doctor Funkenstein” is a reference to some in-joke I should be getting, but I don’t get it.

      Reply

      • Sarah
        June 10, 2019 @ 8:08 pm

        The Twelfth Doctor called himself “Doctor Funkenstein” in “The Zygon Invasion.”

        Reply

        • Vadron
          June 10, 2019 @ 8:12 pm

          Ah, right. “Basil”, from the same two-parter had blotted it out in my memory. I think that one’s funnier because it’s just slightly believable if you buy that he’s half-human; so you can’t quite be entirely sure that he was joking after all, which really makes the gag.

          Not that ‘Doctor Funkenstein’ is a bad pun in its own right, though.

          Reply

    • Przemek
      June 11, 2019 @ 8:28 am

      I like that reading a lot.

      Reply

  11. Aylwin
    June 10, 2019 @ 5:29 pm

    That is an excellent choice of title quote.

    Reply

    • Vadron
      June 10, 2019 @ 6:25 pm

      Agreed.

      Reply

  12. Brian B.
    June 10, 2019 @ 6:37 pm

    In the midst of a rightly furious article, I’m happy that El stopped to praise the direction of Wayne Yip. An admission: when I watched the episode, I hadn’t seen any of the advance promo materials (I always avoid them), and I found the first half of the episode genuinely compelling. Not in an “I like this” way, no, but in a “wow, everything looks great and the actors are throwing themselves into this and it’s a fascinating premise and I wonder how they’re going to justify this” way.

    Then the point-and-laugh-at-Bill scene ruined that, of course. But it was so bafflingly out-of-nowhere that I spent the rest of the episode more confused than anything else — jaw safely dropped, but still trying to appreciate the many nice details around the edges, and hoping something sane would come of this. I went to El’s original review when it was over, and that’s what it took to process my anger; to really let me feel betrayed instead of just going “wait … what did I miss?”

    Usually i rewatch an episode before El’s eruditorium entry. I didn’t this time, but still find the episode much, much too memorable. Yikes.

    Reply

    • Rodolfo Piskorski
      June 11, 2019 @ 11:10 am

      I felt the same during the first 5 minutes of Ghost Monument. Everything was fucking GRIPPING.

      Reply

  13. Vadron
    June 10, 2019 @ 8:15 pm

    My experience is somewhat similar. I’m quite a recent (though eager) recruit to Who fandom, and so bingewatched the new series up to Series 10; meaning that such twists as the ‘regeneration’ in this episode, or the Mondasians and Mr Saxon in “Enough Falls Upon a Time”, were new to me as well.

    Reply

  14. Vadron
    June 10, 2019 @ 8:17 pm

    You know, thinking about it some more, I think if the back half of “Lie of the Land” had actually been… you know… good… I could have come to see the “hahah, fooled you” twist as praiseworthy bravado rather than a cheap cop-out.

    Because in away, its Moffatian narrative substitution gone wrong, isn’t it? One premise played with and then pulled from under our feet, and then replaced with another. Except the decoy premise was so much better than what replaced it.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      June 11, 2019 @ 7:54 am

      I can’t think of a premise so good that it would justify turning the Doctor into someone who puts Bill through emotional hell for no good reason and then laughs at her trauma.

      Reply

      • Vadron
        June 11, 2019 @ 12:10 pm

        Honestly, I could see it as a return to Capaldi’s Series 8 callousness; he keeps up the charade in front of Bill for his stated reason of the risk that she’s been sent by the Monks to test his loyalty, not realizing how heartless this will seem to have been if Bill is in fact free of the Monks’ controls.

        I think a good way to play it would be to move the Doctor’s learning of Bill as the psychic lynchpin to before she meets up with him; as such, knowing that she’s at the center of the Monks’ psychic network, the Doctor has very serious reasons to believe that she’s more the Monks’ than anyone else. Hence when he tests her loyalty it shouldn’t be a cursory precaution; he should be incredibly relieved that she’s free.

        So very incredibly relieved that he bursts out laughing out of sheer joy, having thus far feared that he would have to be the one forced to shoot Bill dead, only for the roles to be reversed, proving decisively that his worries were for naught.

        Reply

        • Przemek
          June 11, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

          I could see that working. If and only if he apologizes and comforts her afterwards. And hopefully in this scenario she gets to punch him in the face anyway.

          Reply

    • David Anderson
      June 11, 2019 @ 10:43 am

      I think for narrative substitution to work the way in which the one narrative is abandoned has to do with the flaws in the narrative. To cite a non-Doctor Who example that succeeds , the twist in Sixth Sense works because Bruce Willis’ character thinks he is an angst-ridden saviour (with the de rigeur failing relationship with his wife); the twist is that because that’s the story Willis thinks he’s in he doesn’t see what is actually happening.
      Whereas in Shyalalam’s later films (that I’ve seen) the twist is not organically related to the failings of the stories the characters are telling themselves.

      Reply

  15. Prandeamus
    June 10, 2019 @ 8:30 pm

    The ha ha fake regeneration makes no sense from Bill’s POV unless the Doctor or Nardole has explained what regeration is and what it looks like. There’s no evidence for that and indeed Bill has no awareness of it in WEAT/TDF. It makes marginally more sense to fandom in this regard in terms of continuity but just makes no sense at all inside the story. It’s just a big WHY that hangs over the whole episode.

    As per last week’s entry it’s hard not to think that Moff would have stepped in more actively were it not for his personal difficulties at the time.

    When was the last time the Doctor appeared to go rogue? Invasion of Time? Evil of the Daleks? At least in those stories there’s an explanation with a tenuous relevance to plot.

    Maybe it’s a nested simulation from Extremis with a weird bug in it. The Monks are running it for kicks on a Saturday night because they’re drunk.

    Reply

    • CJM123
      June 10, 2019 @ 8:52 pm

      Especially weird, because Knock, Knock has the Doctor
      explicitly dismiss a question about regeneration. I assumed that this was setting up that Bill wouldn’t know about regeneration at all, but it seemed to get dropped.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        June 11, 2019 @ 9:41 am

        Yeah, that was very weird. It seemed deliberate for a very long time (is the Doctor hiding his regeneration from Bill in “The Doctor Falls” because for some reason he doesn’t want her to know?) but ultimately it went nowhere. Just another sign of the production team not having a coherent vision of the season as a whole. (See also: Missy).

        (And that’s not even addressing the question of how is it even biologically possible to fake the regeneration energy shooting out of your body… Unless he was using a perception filter or something. Then again, WHY).

        Reply

        • Vadron
          June 11, 2019 @ 1:51 pm

          Oh, I don’t think he was faking the regeneration energy. Moffat has shown over and over that Time Lords can release small amounts of regeneration energy at will even when not dying (i.e. Eleven healing River’s wrist, Twelve trying to heal Davros’s sight).

          Giving up regeneration energy for frivolous reasons is very reckless of the Twelfth Doctor, yes, but not so very less reckless than his “steal eyesight from his future self” trick in “Extremis”. And with the hindsight of the final three-parter, we now know the Twelfth Doctor was not at all sure about regenerating ever again, making it logical that he’d have no qualms about expending this regeneration energy he wasn’t planning on using anyway.

          Which makes sense, of course. Being the Twelfth Doctor is just fixing his mistake as the Tenth and giving him the whole thirteen-lives experience; regenerating once more on the other hand is actually wandering beyond the natural Time Lord lifespan.

          (Plus, it’s been repeatedly hinted that the cycle he got on Trenzalore was probably for much more than 12 lives, so he has a lot of wiggle room either.)

          Reply

        • prandeamus
          June 12, 2019 @ 10:02 pm

          ….. is the Doctor hiding his regeneration from Bill in “The Doctor Falls” because for some reason he doesn’t want her to know ….?

          He’s world-weary He doesn’t want to regenerate at all. Not in the petulant sense of “I don’t want to go” but because he knows it’s just another run around the endless hamster wheel that is near-immortality. Or maybe he’s scared of the ego-death that it represents, in a way which is of course explicitly paralleled in the first Doctor’s feelings. It’s not until the end of TaaT that he changes his mind and chooses to live again. So he’s not hiding it from Bill in TDF, he simply doesn’t want the regeneration to happen.

          Reply

          • Sleepyscholar
            June 12, 2019 @ 11:10 pm

            That’s right. After all, he’s a Time Lord: he can see Chibnall coming!

          • Przemek
            June 13, 2019 @ 7:40 am

            I get that now. I was just recalling the questions I had while first watching.

            Having said that, I STILL don’t get what finally convinced him to regenerate. Aside from behind-the-scenes reasons. that is.

          • Vadron
            June 13, 2019 @ 9:48 am

            Well, he spent a whole episode running about convincing the First Doctor to regenerate; presumably he would have felt like a bit of a hypocrite if he continued to refuse.

            Alternatively, his saving Grandpapa Lethbridge-Stewart drove the point home that he has a duty to the world, that there is so much good he can do if he keeps on living. (Hence “yes, yes, I know, they’ll get it all wrong without me”.)

            It’s worth remembering that he’s bout of “no, no, I want to die” comes after a spectacular failure of his saving-people shtick in the Mondasian two-parter; Missy’s dead, Bill’s dead, everyone’s dead for all he knows, and it’s a foregone conclusion that the Cybermen survive anyway, because he saw their descendants way back in “The Tenth Planet”. Perhaps a nice, successful bit of people-saving is all needed.

          • Przemek
            June 14, 2019 @ 7:38 am

            Perhaps you’re right about people-saving. Him regenerating out of a fear of being a hypocrite I don’t quite buy…

            I just think the episode was a bit muddled in that regard. We got lots of possible reasons but not a definitive one. And the timing was weird. By the end of the story, when the First Doctor asks him if he’s ready to regenerate, the Twelfth Doctor still seems determined to die. Even later still, when he says goodbye to the memories of Bill, Nardole and Clara, he’s all like “my life is an empty battlefield” and “can’t I rest”. Two minutes later he just accepts his regeneration. All the reasons you mentioned work… but I feel like such a huge change of heart should be better explained on-screen.

            My personal theory is that he managed to cheat himself in a way, that during his last moments in the TARDIS he convinced himself that regeneration was truly like death and so was an acceptable alternative to truly dying (“one more lifetime won’t kill anyone… well, except me”). But again, from the episode itself I never got a clear sense of what finally convinced him to live.

          • prandeamus
            June 14, 2019 @ 4:37 pm

            “Oh, there it is. Silly old universe. The more I save it the more it needs saving. It’s a treadmill.

            Tardis noise

            Yes, yes I know they’ll get it all wrong without me.

            Tardis noise

            Well, I suppose….one more lifetime won’t kill anyone. Well, except me.”

            Headcanon: In moments of stress, just before death, he can communicate verbally with the TARDIS, who convinces him to carry on. Yes, I know it’s just a few seconds of vwoorping but maybe there’s a full Gallifreyan argument in there. It’s not perfect as an explanation, but I’ll go for that rather than the extra-diegetic “Jodie’s signed the contract and the BBC isn’t going to kill a cash cow”

  16. mx_mond
    June 11, 2019 @ 8:19 am

    “The most obvious irony—that Bill’s memory of her mother is explicitly imagined and thus “her voice, her smile” are in fact just as much a constructed lie as the Monks’ false history of humanity—is simply ignored.”

    There is something that fascinates me deeply in this. Sometimes I think that we live in a time when the left cannot just win against the right with facts: it needs a myth. And the resolution to The Lie of the Land seems to gesture at that as well. What defeats the Monks is an imagined personification of motherly love. A femininity to combat the “toxically masculine cult of power and virility” of fascism (absent from the episode, but present in real life).

    In a nice bit of synchronicity, I just read Noah Berlatsky’s yesterday piece “Does Sci-Fi Fear the Matriarchy?”, about the villification of reproductive freedom and motherhood as road to totalitarianism in science fiction. As with Under the Lake/Before the Flood, Whithouse seems to have stumbled onto a pre-existing knot of signifiers that he couldn’t quite manage to deal with in a way that made sense – but the episode really does seem like a signpost to an interesting and potentially fruitful field of exploration.

    “At least this one looks good.”

    For me this episode is salvaged (barely) by Pearl Mackie’s acting. She acts the hell out of Bill shooting the Doctor and then attempting to sacrifice herself – to an extent that I really thought she might die/become brain-dead. I know the writing and the politics are shit. But I still enjoy watching her in this.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      June 11, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

      “What defeats the Monks is an imagined personification of motherly love. A femininity to combat the “toxically masculine cult of power and virility” of fascism (absent from the episode, but present in real life).”

      I LOVE that reading. It shows how sometimes even the stupidest ideas/plot points can be salvaged if one digs deeper to find a good way to use them.

      Now I’m imagining a version of this story where the Monks are explicitly male and fascist and they do actually manage to brainwash the Doctor (and Nardole). The only people not affected are Bill (because she’s the nexus or whatever) and Missy because she’s locked away in a box. But then, after 6 months of no visits from the Doctor, Missy decides to break free. Then she finds Bill and we get a lovely double act where Missy is trying to get Bill to sacrifice herself and Bill instead finds a way to use her love for her mother to defeat the Monks, freeing the Doctor’s mind. That way the plot is solved and Missy gets an incentive to see herself in a different light, making her “turning good” plot work a little bit better. That could work, I think.

      Reply

  17. Brett
    June 12, 2019 @ 6:02 am

    “Cybermen don’t work as a sole villain”

    Oh, I think that’s unfair, and not remotely true. I think perhaps it is difficult to effectively make them work as a sole villain, but Nightmare in Silver has no flaws that couldn’t be fixed with a rewrite — without introducing another villain. To start with, it could feature the actual Cybermen, rather than the bloody Borg and without Matt Smith doing a ridiculous (but difficult, so kudos to him) double-role.

    (That said, it sounds like I’m saying I’m cleverer than Gaiman and Moffat, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not.)

    Reply

    • Vadron
      June 12, 2019 @ 10:16 am

      While I agree that “Nightmare in Silver” could be fixed without introducing any more villains, I couldn’t disagree more on jettisoning Mr Clever being essential to this. Mr Clever was the best part of the episode as far as I’m concerned.

      Reply

    • tachyonspiral
      June 12, 2019 @ 6:08 pm

      Was Nightmare in Silver even that bad? I thought it was mediocre, not as aggressively awful as TLotL.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        June 14, 2019 @ 7:44 am

        It was indeed mediocre, but when compared to Gaiman’s previous DW effort (and the general quality of his writing), it seemed very disappointing. Had it been written by any other writer, it would be better liked, I think.

        Reply

        • Vadron
          June 14, 2019 @ 11:30 am

          Honestly, as I think was mentioned in the Eruditorium entry for it, the script was cheated by the direction and set design. You never got a sense that it was set in an abandoned amusement-park at all, it was just generic-future-setting and then generic-medieval-castle. With a moodier, wackier direction (I’m thinking something along the lines of Terry Gilliam?), it could have succeeded much better without changing a single coma of the script.

          Reply

  18. kevin merchant
    June 12, 2019 @ 6:58 am

    I always thought the first half of this story was Moffat’s version of “The Next Doctor”. The fact that it has been carefully pointed out that Bill doesn’t know about regeneration (unlike us), all the prepublicity focusing on the fake regeneration. The way it is filmed to draw us in to make us Bill so that we are the the one’s who are being faked out.

    As the fifth Doctor said when he explained the six faces of delusion:
    That was probably the point

    Reply

    • Przemek
      June 12, 2019 @ 7:14 am

      If so, then RTD used the idea of a fake regeneration/Doctor to tell a story about identity, memory and loss. Moffat/Whithouse used it to tell a story about nothing and then laughed at us.

      Reply

  19. Vadron
    June 12, 2019 @ 10:48 pm

    By the way, does anyone know anything about the BBC Monks vs Big Finish Veritas thing?

    Reply

  20. Citizen Alan
    June 14, 2019 @ 12:14 am

    “Nightmare in Silver, in particular, is bad in ways that are difficult to relate to any generally applicable principle beyond, perhaps, the all too often realized “Cybermen don’t work as a sole villain.””

    I respectfully disagree and point to “World Enough & Time,” which was the most genuinely terrifying episode of the Capaldi era. The problem with “Nightmare In Silver,” IMO, is that Neil Gaiman fundamentally misunderstood what makes the Cybermen work. In his defense, though, every single writer who tackled the Cybermen between WE&T and “The Tenth Planet” fundamentally misunderstood them as well.)

    Reply

    • mx_mond
      June 14, 2019 @ 8:09 am

      “I respectfully disagree and point to “World Enough & Time,” which was the most genuinely terrifying episode of the Capaldi era.”

      Notably WEaT also had the Master.

      Reply

  21. Citizen Alan
    June 14, 2019 @ 12:23 am

    “This is something very different—a marketed premise that’s thrown away with nothing more than a “ha ha only kidding,” in which the Doctor, Nardole, and a room full of men laugh at a woman of color and the audience for ever believing the story in the first place.”

    I was utterly baffled by that whole scene. My assumption at the time was that the Monks were able to maintain their hold on Earth because Bill gave them permission to take over out of love for the Doctor. Which is nonsensical, but it at least would have given the Doctor a rational basis for his actions — the first step in breaking the Monks’ hold would naturally be causing Bill to hate him and wish that she’d let him die. But no, they decided to go with something that was both nonsensical AND pointless.

    Reply

    • MattM
      June 14, 2019 @ 8:14 am

      Oh, that’s a nice idea.

      This whole episode is full of nice ideas that are then completely squandered, which makes it far far worse than just another mediocre runaround.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        June 14, 2019 @ 2:13 pm

        And also a whole heap of terrible ideas thrown in for good measure.

        Reply

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