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:
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?
- DOCTOR WHO: ‘THE GHOST MONUMENT’ by Gavin Burrows
- The Ghost Monument Review by Elizabeth Sandifer
- Doctor Who: Another Review by Andrew Rilstone, if you like very tangential reviews.