Discussing Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument

Doctor Who Ghost Monument

This week, the Doctor travels to a new planet, finds her TARDIS and gets a potential story arc for the rest of the reason in “The Ghost Monument.”

I’m joined again this week to talk all things Doctor Who by Hannah Long (@HannahGraceLong), Jenna DeWitt (@Jenna_DeWitt), and Jennifer Neyhart (@JenniferNeyhart).

If you missed last week, we broke down the season premiere “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.”

If you need a refresher on where we’ve been with the Doctor, read my previous Discussing Doctor Who posts on the “Twice Upon a Time” Christmas special, full season 10 review and see links to discussions after each episode and you can read thoughts on the reveal of Accutane.

The Ghost Monument seemed to re-establish the Doctor Who formula with a few twists. What did you think?

Aaron: This felt much more like a standard Doctor Who episode this week—aside from the gorgeous cinematic feel. (It seems the show got a new budget to go along with the new Doctor.) Things are in a mess and the Doctor steps in with a resolution that tries to please everyone with as little violence as possible.

Two parts of these types of Doctor Who episodes that I enjoy—the small scale threat and the haunted house feel where everything around you is dangerous. Those sound like they could be contradictory, but here’s what I mean.

This wasn’t a “the entire galaxy and all of time and space is going to explode” story, it was mainly concerned with what happened on this one planet and how that’s going to affect the handful of people on it now.

While the scenery on the surface was expansive, the constant, ever-present threats made it feel claustrophobic. You couldn’t turn anywhere because everything about the planet was hostile to them. That gives the show real stakes for the people involved (that we as viewers can sense), but it also doesn’t make it all seem so contrived.

(As an aside that’s part of what makes movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man and the Wasp work so well in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They take the stakes down a few notches, making them more personal instead of galactic.)

Jennifer: This week’s episode was much more exciting and enjoyable for me than last week’s. It’s basically the Amazing Race in space! And I love the cinematic feel of these episodes so far.

The opening of this episode reminded me a bit of Firefly with the lived-in feel of the spaceships.⁠

Hannah: The series does see an abrupt shift in format, back towards something more familiar. We abandon the murky crime drama lighting of Sheffield (thank goodness!) for the stark and sun-scoured landscape of an alien planet. It looks fantastic.

From a design point of view, this new universe is very different from the goofy bright colors and whimsical locales of the Russell T. Davies era and the mysterious fairy tale vibe of the Moffat years.

In tone, it does borrow a bit of edge from some of the later Capaldi episodes—we’re clearly in a dangerous universe where everything wants to kill you. But between the dirty space aesthetic—as Jennifer says—and the sense of—as Aaron puts it—claustrophobic danger, this feels like a fresh approach for NuWho—something like Mad Max meets Firefly.

The closest comparison in Classic Who is the gritty dystopias of the 1980s episodes. Sylvester McCoy’s episodes often took place in barren lands with odd characters, a pervading sense of violence, and heavy social commentary.

Jenna: Entertainment Weekly called this week’s episode “Doctor Who in its purest form.” I have to agree.

I loved the opener. Right into the action. The Doctor is full-on shouting orders and showing her knowledge. Then wandering an alien planet while name dropping historical figures!

We’re taken on a survival race for riches on desert planet, but it doesn’t give in to an “inspirational sports movie” feel (seconding Aaron’s comment about the haunted house vibe!).

The Doctor’s commitment to anti-violence is as strong as ever, but she also isn’t defenseless. She even uses Venusian Aikido, a martial arts technique that was a favorite of the Third Doctor.

Meeting an old category of henchman—robot guards with guns—she stands by her anti-gun convictions. It’s tempting to side with Ryan’s “Call of Duty” moment of victory, but the Doctor is proven right when it backfires. I can relate to his desire to fight fire with fire, to take the most obvious way out.

But the Doctor has been around long enough to not just have principles. She also has wisdom and experience. She does use an EMP with the saying “brains beat bullets,” which raises the question of what counts as a weapon when you’re fighting robots.

Speaking of the new Doctor, what did we see from her this week?

Aaron: In addition to her emotional intelligence, a potential character trait of Thirteen is her empathy, but not in just recognizing the way others are feeling, but in how she develops her solutions.

Twelve made everyone feel inferior in the midst of a crisis, letting them know he already had a plan; their job was to figure out what he was thinking. Thirteen is much more collaborative and highlighting the strengths of her companions. She involved Yaz in the first crisis (the crashing spaceship) and encouraged Ryan and Graham in their attempts to fix the boat.

Hannah: As for the Doctor, her confidence remains unshaken. She’s a bit of a superhero, too, taking the Venusian Aikido (a running joke of a skill ever since the Third Doctor) up a step. We’re reintroduced to her credentials as an inconsistent pacifist, railing about guns only moments before she electrocutes a ton of robots. (Ryan’s Call of Duty moment was one of the only moments of pure comedy in the episode – and it was terrific).

Jenna: The Doctor is good at encouraging Ryan in his strengths and helping him use his knowledge from NVQ (the UK’s national vocational qualifying exams to enter a trade). She’s no longer insulting humans as “apes” with “tiny human brains” as past incarnations have done, but rather encouraging people to use what they already know.

Overall, the dialogue and pacing are so similar to RTD Who, even in technobabble, that it feels like coming home. Speaking of home, more on that later. 😉

Jennifer: This week the Doctor had some great lines. Here are some of my favorites:

The Doctor: (regarding her new companions) These are my new best friends.

The Doctor: I’m really good in a tight spot! At least I have been historically!

The Doctor: Your mom was wrong. We’re stronger together.
(There’s definitely a theological point to be made here about being made for community…)

The Doctor: Brains beat bullets.

The Doctor: Did I not mention? I am really smart.

The Doctor: Big locked door. I love a big locked door. Ominous.

The Doctor: (talking to the TARDIS) “Come to Daddy…I mean Mummy”

Yasmin: You can’t engineer dimensions.
The Doctor: Maybe YOU can’t!

The Doctor always needs companions and foils. What about those this week?

Aaron: So far, Yasmin has been the casualty of the crowded TARDIS. This episode gave us more on Graham and Ryan, their personalities and their strained relationship, but we still don’t have a lot from Yaz. Perhaps she’ll be in the spotlight more next week.

With the size of the group and the newness of everyone, this season will really have to work to give each character  some time at the foreground for viewers to develop an attachment to them.

Maybe we haven’t seen the last of our psycho tooth fairy Tim Shaw. It seems the Stenza have been busy terrorizing people across the universe and building some horrific weapons to unleash on others.

While the Remnant, as the credits dubbed the homicidal cloths, don’t rival the Weeping Angels, they do provide the type of new villains I enjoy—ones that take common place things—statues, shadows, toys—and turns them into something to fear.

https://twitter.com/bbcdoctorwho/status/1052529753125789696

Hannah: Again, as we’ve seen before from Chibnall, this episode is very plot-heavy, which means the characters receive short shrift. It tells but rarely shows. Most of the dialogue for the companions is interchangeable bits of exposition.

Graham gets the worst of it—constantly pointing out the obvious aspects of the situation so the audience gets what’s going on. I like, though, that he’s willing to challenge Ryan’s surly rejection at the end of their tête-à-tête. It’s the first steel he’s shown.

Normally, the second episode of the season is the chance to see the companion and Doctor revealing their character to each other and the audience. Rose faced The End of the World; the Doctor revealed that his world was dead. The Doctor’s companion was confronted with a moral dilemma in The Beast Below and Fires of Pompeii. Clara got to show off her skills in The Rings of Akhaten. Bill showed her spunk in Smile.

But The Ghost Monument really doesn’t do much in the way of revealing things about the characters. We know Ryan is frustrated about his dyspraxia, but we still don’t know what that means for him as a person. How has it affected his life? Does he feel incompetent? Stupid? Unappreciated? And what about Graham? He says he is excited about being on a new planet, but he doesn’t seem to be. Meanwhile, Yaz is finally on an adventure but she doesn’t make a peep about being glad to be there.

It is nice to see a thematic arc to the story, though it hammers it home a bit too heavily. Giving Epzo such a horrific backstory makes it hard to buy the swiftness of his ultimate redemption. And I love Susan Lynch guest starring. She’s utterly unrecognizable with the short blonde hair.

Chibnall attempts to substitute team-building for individual character development. But since the Doctor’s companions – I mean, friends – already function as a group, why do they need to grow anyway? Supposedly, they need to learn it’s important that we be “stronger together” (uuuuuggh at using political slogans as dialogue, please don’t do this, people), but they already defeated Tim Shaw as a team.

Jenna: I agree that character development is happening in chunks so far. I love Graham and Ryan bonding over Grace’s loss, but it’s short-lived. Ryan’s hesitancy is understandable while Graham’s efforts to communicate with a closed-off member of a younger generation are probably relatable for the parents watching.

Ryan still feels like the focus character, though Yasmin hints that her family life is no picnic either, so I’m taking that as a promise that we’ll get more from her later.

There are only three side characters, Illyn, who runs the competition, and the two competitors. Angstrom is doing it to save her family, to protect them. Her rival, Epzo, speaks of how he’s been trained from a young age to never trust anyone. The only things he shows affection for are his ship and his cigar.

A classic set-up to root for a winner, and yet, we aren’t left morally smug about a “pure” self-sacrificing victor over a sinful villain as they cross the finish line together.   

The voices of the planet’s enslaved scientists reveal that we haven’t seen the last of the Stenza and their teeth trophies. Angstrom even says they have laid waste to her planet, which is why she needs the prize money from the race.  

But that wasn’t the only use for the scientists. They were forced to create deathly tech, which is where we are left to assume the “Remnant” ominous bits of cloth come from. These little buggers taunt the Doctor with a teaser for someone called “The Timeless Child,” introducing perhaps a season arc or just a mystery for a future episode.

Is it one of the Doctor’s children or grandchildren, or the Doctor’s long-lost machine-generated daughter, Jenny, whom the Doctor assumes is long dead? Is it the Doctor herself? Is it a new element or character, or is it perhaps a reference to someone else from the Doctor’s past?

Jennifer: Graham’s sunglasses (borrowed from the Doctor) were amazing! 😀

And speaking of Graham, I am finding that I want to get to know these new companions better, so that is a good sign. I’m not tremendously invested in them yet, but I’m curious.

“Who is ‘The Timeless Child’?” is the biggest question from this week. The alien read the Doctor’s mind and said: “Afraid of your own newness. We see deep though. Further back. The timeless child. […] We see what’s hidden – even from yourself. The outcast, abandoned and unknown.”

I’m glad there is going to be some kind of story arc. I was disappointed when I first heard that this season there would be no two parters, and they would all be stand alone episodes, because I tend to enjoy the longer story arcs the most.

We got the reveal of the new TARDIS (with Chibnall refusing to have someone, anyone say the line). What did the you think of the new-old girl?

Aaron: The TARDIS remodel reminded me of Nine’s very dark one. Parts of it had a steampunk kinda vibe to me, which brought to mind the Doctor wearing the welding goggles last week. In general, I enjoy the new look. Who wouldn’t love a cookie dispenser in their space and time ship?

But, seriously, Chibnall, we Doctor Who fans don’t ask for man thing—okay, we probably ask for a lot of things—but you have to give us someone saying, “It’s bigger on the inside” or at least hinting at it or subverting it somehow. You can just ignore it like we aren’t all there waiting on it.

Hannah: I do like the new TARDIS. I enjoy how Thirteen bustles around revealing new features. Above all, I love the obvious affection on her face when she sees the TARDIS appear—first as a hologram “Ghost Monument,” and then as the real thing. You can tell these two ladies go back thousands of years.

Jenna: The highlight of the episode for me was the new TARDIS. I adore how the Doctor talks to her and pets her when they are reunited.

Though mostly communicating through sound effects, the TARDIS is one of my favorite characters on Who. And she’s gotten a makeover, as is common with a regeneration. The Doctor even says, “You’ve redecorated … and I really like it” (which is the opposite of the usual response, for those unfamiliar with the in-joke).

The usual “round things” are still there in the design of the metal, but different, as are the struts, the console, the dome shape. It’s beautiful, in my opinion. Grand and alien and ethereal, and yet still familiar and simple. The hour glass, the police-box-shaped crystal, the little snack pedal for dispensing custard cream cookies… it’s so cute and so very her.

“You know that sound the TARDIS makes, that wheezing, groaning? That sound brings hope wherever it goes. … To anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone, however lost. Even you.” – The Moment

The TARDIS is a symbol of hope to all of us who watch. Because in the end, Doctor Who isn’t about monsters and alien planets. It’s about hope. And I have faith that the series is going to be just as full of hope as any before and more.

https://twitter.com/bbcdoctorwho/status/1051561590334648321

Next week, we get to experience time travel for the first time this season as the Doctor goes back to the 1950s in America with “Rosa.”

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.