Brief thoughts on The Ghost Monument

I’m not particularly planning to blog my way through this whole series of Doctor Who, but you never know. (I didn’t intend to do it with series 5, either, but I ended up doing all of series 5-8 and the specials, and that turned into a whole book.) So: what did I think of The Ghost Monument?

Eh, it was OK.

Which, yes, is exactly what I said about The Woman who Fell to Earth. And this, I fear, might become a problem.

I want to have exciting views about Jodie Whittaker’s performance, about how it’s working out having a female Doctor, about whether it’s a brilliant new development in an ever-changing program or Political Correctness Gone Mad. But I’m finding it hard to feel too strongly one way or another, because both of the first two episodes have been so mundane. Whether or not the Female Doctor Experiment works, it should at least tell us something. As a success or a failure, it should be fascinating. But so far, it’s just not landing. It’s not really succeeding or failing. It’s just happening.

I think the problem here may be that Chris Chibnall is simply punching above his weight. No, that’s not quite right, because it implies that he’s successfully competing. What this is more like is a middleweight going in where a heavyweight is needed, and not getting it done.

I won’t belabour again Chibnall’s many failings as a writer: I’ll just leave this here:

The climax of “End of Days”, the Torchwood series 1 finale, written by Chris … ah, you know who.

But the specific problem here is that Chibnall’s idea of what a Doctor Who story can be is terribly reductive. He knows there have to be aliens. He knows someone has to be in charge of the plot. He knows there has to be a moment when the Doctor does A Clever Thing. He knows there has to be a chase. He knows there has to be a moment when the Doctor talks about the enormous importance of a single sentient life. So he makes sure all those things are included. But I’d swear he does it by rolling dice.

Last week’s alien was on a hunt for humans. This week’s aliens are in a race for untold riches. Next week’s, we feel, will be involved in some similarly been-there-done-that pursuit — though of course we can always hope for better, especially as next week’s episode is only co-written by Chibnall. Maybe Malorie Blackman can come up with something more stretch-your-muscles, something for Whittaker to get her teeth into. I certainly hope so, since the following two episodes are again going to be Chibnall solo efforts.

And, you know, I don’t want to go on and on and on about Chibnall, but he has absolutely no idea about structuring a story. Having introduced us to his two alien guest-stars, the last remaining contestants in an interplanetary race of thousands, having brought us through scenarios where one saves the other’s life, where his Chekov’s Self-Lighting Cigar goes off in the third act, and having got us to the endpoint of that race, what does he do? He instantly vanishes both of them, along with the Dungeon Master. That’s it. They’re gone. Nothing learned, nothing gained. Their role in the Plot is complete, so their pieces are removed from the board.

Nothing then remains but for our four heroes to walk to where the TARDIS should be, notice it’s not there, then have it conveniently materialise.

Seriously: is Chibnall even trying?

What has happened to the magic of Doctor Who?

 


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11 responses to “Brief thoughts on The Ghost Monument

  1. yeah. I want to have one of those giddy DW moments, where its fun, and charming and exciting, and funny and adorable, all at once. Matt Smith style.

    So far its … meh. Good production values — crisp video, they’re trying very hard. The new theme hasn’t grabbed me yet .. we’ll see.

    Its still early, I’ll give it a run. But its very pedestrian so far.

  2. Yeah, he’s a generic writer. Not even good enough to be bad. Once enough Who-like stuff has been shovelled into an episode to fit it to the top, that’s job done, surely. But with the Very Significant Reference To No-one Knows What It Is Yet, I fear we may be getting a combination of the worst of Moffatt and the worst of Chibnall.

  3. What this is more like is a middleweight going in where a heavyweight is needed, and not getting it done.

    Yes. Yes, very much so. Perfect analogy. All the moves are there, the basic technique, but the punches aren’t landing, or where they do land, they have no impact.

    Dialogue award went to, ‘They’re turning off the life support… depriving us of oxygen!’ with an honourable mention to ‘Three suns in the sky’.

  4. Yeah, it’s not great. But it’s not bad either. At this point I wonder if we’ve been watching a different show, because I feel like it’s been a long time since Doctor Who was truly great. Certainly nothing in the Capaldi Era, and while Matt Smith is my favorite doctor, I have this impression that all the great moments were anterior to him (but it’s been so long, my memory is hazy).

    But big moments aside, were random Eccleston/Tennant/Smith episodes that much better?

    I do feel there was more a bit more tension and danger perhaps. Both these first episodes felt a bit flat for me. It never felt very trepidating. That would be my big critique.

  5. The three suns was one of the few things that worked for me, actually. It’s introduced as a kind of self-knowing trope. (“Alien planet, three suns, yep.”) Then it turns out to be relevant to the story in powering the boat. Of course it doesn’t really explain how anything solar is triple-powered yet the people don’t get overheated at any point. But then ‘Dr. Who’ and science are at best nodding acquaintances.

    I fear and dread the forthcoming Rosa Parks episode…

  6. It’s introduced as a kind of self-knowing trope. (“Alien planet, three suns, yep.”)

    And if that had been the line then it wouldn’t have been terrible. It wouldn’t have been good either, but it wouldn’t have been terrible.

    But no, the line is ‘three suns in the sky‘.

    As opposed to… three suns under the ground? Three suns dangling form a tree? I don’t know.

    I fear and dread the forthcoming Rosa Parks episode…

    Yes. It’s going to be incredibly cringe-inducingly right-on, isn’t it?

  7. “And if that had been the line then it wouldn’t have been terrible”

    Wait, did I just write a better line than Chibnall off the cuff?

  8. Wait, did I just write a better line than Chibnall off the cuff?

    Yeah don’t get too excited, it’s not that high a bar.

  9. Well you got me there.

  10. Pingback: The Tsuranga Conundrum: as you were | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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