It’s time for the Thirteenth Doctor’s second adventure! Or the second part of her first. Whatever. Just some business to take care of upfront – I’m going to scale back and do a less detailed recap and them do more of a review. Chris Chibnall plans to do standalone episodes without a seasonal arc, and he’s just generally a more straightforward plotter than his predecessors, so I don’t think I need to be as detailed. But with all the new stuff, there’s more room for me to be more of a commenter, so we’re going to see how this works. And now, “The Ghost Monument”.
I’m not sold on the new version of the theme song. I can see how the weirdness might appeal to people, but I still like the Tennant Era bombastic theme that wanted you to know we were going to have a dang adventure.
Hey, remember how everybody was floating in space when we saw them last? Well, Graham and Ryan wake up on a ship piloted by a woman named Angstrom who thinks they know a lot more than they do. They learn that a “final planet” isn’t where it’s supposed to be and that their friends are probably dead.
Only Yaz and the Doctor have also been picked up by a ship, this one piloted by a man named Epzo and he’s having similar missing planet problems. Oh, and the planet is called Desolation. Both pilots reach the out of place planet and bring along their stowaways. Their first new planet is kind of a bleak desert affair, frankly. We learn that both pilots are the last participants in a race to reach “the Ghost Monument”. There’s a cash prize and everything. So the pilots don’t get along, but our friends are all reunited. (“Welcome to what I presume is your first alien planet. Don’t touch anything.”)
Oh, everybody has been implanted with a universal translator, since the TARDIS isn’t around.
They reach the holographic tent of a man named Ilin who controls the race. He won’t give them bonus points for picking up travelers and directs them to the other side of the mountain range for the finish line. Winner takes all, loser lives out their life on Desolation. Also, Epzo foreshadows that he has a self-lighting cigar. And even more also, the Ghost Monument, which appears every thousand rotations, is the TARDIS. We’ve got some stakes now!
The Doctor uses Venusian aikido (shades of the Third Doctor) to immobilize Epzo when he pulls a gun. It’s kind of a nerve pinch so she’s still a pacifist. They need to get across a body of water that’s full of flesh eating microbes and the Doctor convinces everybody to use the boat together. Graham tries to bond with Ryan, who is not having it.
Once they cross, there are still no signs of life. They have to make their way through some ruins with some odd readings and, well, robot snipers. The robots open fire and send everybody running. The Doctor leads everybody to the actual target range, which is really a problem. Ryan picks up a discarded gun and plans to go Call of Duty and take them out. The Doctor tells him no guns. (“You can’t outthink bullets.” “Been doing it all my life.”) I like that she’s sticking to this stance even opposite robots. Ryan makes a Leroy Jenkins run but every robot he shoots gets back up again. Caught in a crossfire, the Doctor uses the sonic to activate a cast off power cell and shut the robots down temporarily with an EMP.
They find the two racers and use the maps from the robot memory to find a hatch. The Doctor’s not sure if that’s where they want to go but figures they have to go somewhere. The hatch leads to a tunnel. Graham notices scorch marks, which is never a good sign, but the Doctor manages to open a door and find a room where something bad happened – something was alive in there and something else killed it. Epzo decides this is a great time to knock off for the night and he gets attacked by cloth. The Doctor finds a map and decides they can use the tunnels to travel by night and avoid whatever Ilin warned them about. And then they find a message on the floor from some scientists who were forced to create new weapons, toxins, and creatures while their families were held prisoner. They were left with a toxic planet full of killing machines. Oh! And the ones who were keeping them prisoner? The Stenza. Tim Shaw’s people!
Angstrom reveals that the Stenza attacked her planet and then they check on Epzo and find that he’s being strangled by cloth. They pull him free before a good old-fashioned “run for it”. They decide whatever’s outside is less dangerous than what’s inside, but Ryan is a little nervous about climbing a tall ladder, between his coordination problem and the specifics of his grandmother’s death.
There’s more murder cloth outside, only these talk. Also, there’s gas in the air and it’s a bad scene all around. The Doctor tells everybody to dig while she keeps the cloth talking. It tells the Doctor it can see the secret she kept from herself – the Outcast, abandoned and unknown. On the Doctor’s signal, Graham tosses the cigar in the air, everybody gets into the shallow ditch they dug, and the Doctor snaps her fingers to light the cigar, which ignites the lighter-than-air gas and burns up the cloth.
They make their way through the desert and see another holo-tent as the suns rise. But no Ghost Monument, no TARDIS. Epzo and Angstrom argue about who’s going to claim the prize and the Doctor convinces them to present a united front and claim a joint victory. Ilin is obstinate but gives into threats. However, he’s not going to help anybody but the racers leave Desolation. He snaps his fingers and he disappears with the racers.
The Doctor looks absolutely gutted to let everybody down, and it’s her friends who give her a pep talk. And then we hear the faint sound of the TARDIS as it slowly materializes. The Ghost Monument!
And here’s where we seen the new TARDIS. It’s squatter than before and it looks more green than blue. Here’s the part I don’t like – the interior of the TARDIS has become kind of a foyer and then the bigger on the inside is on the other side of it. So instead of having the TARDIS be inside a police box, it looks like it’s behind a police box. The joke doesn’t work if the door doesn’t open to bigger on the inside. But the Doctor likes it so much that I’m willing to pipe down.
The biggest change is these big crystal columns around the console. And, as Spunkybuddy Isa-Lee Wolf noted, that could read as a mystic lady stereotype, I think you could also see it as 2018 sci-fi. Crystals are big now – the Infinity Stones being the clear example. And I feel like I’m seeing crystals used as data storage devices. And honestly, I probably just like them because they remind me of the Fortress of Solitude in the Superman movies. But also, I like that it’s unique. You see this interior, you know what Doctor it is.
This is our first mention of time travel for the season, by the way. The Doctor swings into action to bring everybody home and man, do I ever love a complicated control panel.
–OK, two episodes in and we’ve got our taste of who this Doctor is. And I like it. Nothing against Moffat and Capaldi by any means. I love them and will fight for them, but a change is good.
The cosmetic changes that don’t work for me (TARDIS foyer, mostly) are kind of offset by the sense of wonder that Jodie Whittaker is bringing to the role. This Doctor is excited about what the universe has to offer, which is exactly what you need when there’s an influx of new fans. The ratings were huge for the opener, and I have to think there are a lot of women and girls who never gave Who a second look before that are trying this out. And presenting everything as new and exciting and having a lead character who, at 1300 or so years old is still so full of wonder is a great way to go.
(For real, Jodie Whittaker is just magnetic, right? Like she is one of the most charming people around.)
Myself, I like a sense of history. The first episode of the new Who I saw was “Dalek”, which was fantastic and really rooted in history. Then the one that sold me on watching everything was “A Good Man Goes to War” which is just hip-deep in continuity and utterly baffling to a newcomer. But I was a comics fan before the Internet and as a kid I couldn’t count on getting my favorite series month to month and I couldn’t possibly answer continuity questions, so I tend to enjoy a history that I don’t understand. But nobody ever got rich catering to me.
The new team is really clicking for me. Yaz could use a little more definition, but she’s the odd one out because Graham and Ryan have a history and a shared tragedy. I feel like she could benefit from being paired with Graham as soon as possible, because they both have relationships with Ryan but not with one another. (And I don’t mean “paired” in any way other than “share scenes with”.) I think that could help define her, though as it is, I think the fact that she’s a cop could be interesting. Does her version of law conflict with the Doctor’s more macro view? Regardless, I kind of feel like I did with Bill Potts where I just wanted to spend time with these people almost immediately.
And I know they told us “no arcs”, but that mention of an Outcast isn’t nothing, right?
My only real beef, and it’s a small one, is that neither of these episodes has much of a hook. That’s the Chibnall way – it’s hard to describe his episodes in a way that makes it clear which one you’re talking about. Like, if there were scientists forced to come up with killing machines, I think we should have seen more than robots and cloth. This was played up to be a murder planet and it felt kind of disappointing in that regard. Still, the actual episode was fun, I just don’t think it delivered on its potential.
But I have faith. I mean, Broadchurch. (Particularly Seasons One and Three. Season Two is basically a whole year without a hook.) And there are flashes of brilliance like the premiere’s Salad Man. You know, the guy who just kept whipping bits of salad at Tim Shaw? What I love about that is he was throwing salad before he ran into the alien monster. The only change to his behavior when meeting an otherworldly creature was giving his thrown food a target. I mean, why was he even tossing around salad? Why would you get salad if you were just going to throw it? There are so many questions. Point is, that’s the sort of appealing silliness that I love to see in Doctor Who and I hope we get more of that.
Later this week, we’re going to talk about “Rosa” and I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with “The Doctor meets Rosa Parks”. We’ll work through it together, though.