Doctor Who - The Ghost Monument
This is the second episode of series eleven of Doctor Who, The Ghost Monument, and the show – if it is not too early to say this – is going from strength to strength with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. I enjoyed this episode so, so much, for a lot of reasons. For example, it opens with the new theme tune and graphics for the first time. That didn’t happen with episode one, I guess because the Doctor’s regeneration was only half way through. Whatever the reason, the show is so much better when the music is the first thing we hear, getting us all in the mood for some Who. Both the music and visuals of the intro are very similar to those of Tom Baker’s day, which is a good thing. They are so close that this short sequence sent shivers down my spine that didn’t stop reverberating all the way through the show.
Then we are thrown into the resolution of the cliffhanger from last time, where the Doctor and her companions are adrift in space without spacesuits. They are saved, of course, and end up on spaceships that happen across them. It’s a very sci-fi sort of start, and the spaceships are old school, like something inspired by Aliens. The Doctor even admits the ships are old school, and claims to be “good at old school”. I heartily approve, and I smiled a smile that didn’t fade all the way through the show.
I initially didn’t like the way the spaceship pilots talked in riddles. The pilots even talk in riddles between each other. It was unnecessary, as it very soon became obvious that there was some type of competition between the pilots of the two spaceships. A few cryptic riddles about what’s going on is much better than a giant infodump, however, so I can live with that. Apart from that, everything else about the opening scene is great, by Doctor Who standards.
After these spaceship scenes, the Doctor and her companions end up on a planet, and this section of the show is great, too. I love the desert planet they ended up on. It reminds me of Tatooine from Star Wars, but still very much has a delicious taste of being shot on the cheap in a quarry, like the old 70s and 80s Doctor Who shows.
The episode isn’t perfect, of course, for example there is some stupid stuff where one of the pilots has a cigar that lights automatically, and you just know that’s going to be a plot point. But there is such good stuff that I can let a few cheesy elements slide. Talking about the good stuff, the Ghost Monument of the title turns out to be the TARDIS, which is a great twist. It is also the only escape for the Doctor and her companions, and this instantly gives the episode drive and urgency. Another of these great moments is when the Doctor uses Venusian aikido, and she explains that it was taught to her by nuns, which I think is a new feminist wrinkle to Whovian lore.
The team are on the move as soon as they arrive on the planet, in a boat traveling across a lake. Inside the boat, the interaction between the characters is nicely written as they sail into danger. A little cryptic, but nicely written. The boat itself is part aircraft fuselage, part nomad’s tent, part sci-fi pod, and I liked it as a location very much. We are allowed enough time to feel at home here, and we get to learn a little about the characters in the show, which is always welcome. Granddad is annoying, but I’m all in for learning more about the other two companions, and the Doctor herself.
The next location is some desert ruins, and this part is, I’m guessing, shot in a real ruined complex, giving a great sense of scale. There are robot guards, the first real threat the Doctor and her companions encounter in the show, and they look pretty cool - like robot cosplay mixed with paintball armor. The Doctor takes them out, in a way that works for Doctor Who, though I wouldn’t give it a pass in any other show. It helps that Jodie Whittaker works hard to sell the sometimes clunky dialogue and things like the too-easy way all the robots in the complex are taken out. Whittaker is still, just like in her first outing in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, acting as a focus and anchor for the entire assemblage of the show. I’m more and more impressed with her interpretation of the Doctor.
By the half way point, a real air of mystery starts to envelope what had started as a relatively simple story. Elements of horror and occult start to enter, so skillfully that you hardly notice. With this change of pace, the group moves underground to a large, futuristic complex. It looks to me like it was maybe filmed with a few scenery elements, set up in a warehouse, with the darkness of the larger structure acting as the ceiling, creating a much bigger space than would be possible on a sound stage. It works very well, including the condensation hanging on the air as the characters speak. I’m guessing the warehouse wasn’t heated, probably because of meager BBC budgets.
By now the story has transformed into a full-blown ghost story, and the Doctor is given a prophesy, or something, before that stupid cigar that was so clumsily foreshadowed comes in handy to deal with the high tech restless spirits. From there, the story wraps up swiftly and neatly, to leave a final scene where the Doctor and her companions seem to be left behind on the planet, forever. The show milks it, but it is very obvious that the Doctor and her companions are not going to be stuck. Instead, the scene is there to set up the arrival of the only star of the show that is still missing, the TARDIS.
The Doctor has to coax it into materializing, saying:
Come to daddy, I mean mummy.
And again I smiled. She tells the TARDIS that she’s lost her key, and the door just opens up, with a pop. The whole thing works very well, and is very touching, at least for an old fan from the 70s, like me. Inside, the TARDIS has been redecorated, and it looks great, with subtle nods to Tom Baker’s hexagonal theme, while keeping the more brooding and cinematic look of some of the more recent control room designs. The central console is a little steampunk for my taste, but it was there in a blink-and-you-miss-it glimpse. Maybe, with more screen time, it will win me over. Maybe.
Anyway, with the end of the show, and the return of that retro title music, the shivers came back to roll down my spine. I was a little hesitant in my review of episode one, but I’m much more enthusiastic now, I loved The Ghost Monument, I’m loving this season of Doctor Who. Sunday has become a very special day in my viewing calendar. If, like me, you have been looking to jump back on with Doctor Who, it feels like now is as good a time as any. Doctor Who doesn’t get any better than this.
Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
Galaxy Dog is an epic space opera. What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet, brings to light an ancient archaeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy. This is the story of his rise, and the story of the fierce and independent woman and the feisty robot who help him.