Sunday, November 18, 2018

Doctor Who 11.02: "The Ghost Monument"

If we stick together, if you trust me, we can get out of this.”

-The Doctor

The second episode of the latest “Doctor Who” reboot was a proper adventure story, which I appreciated. I enjoyed Doctor Who the most when Russell T. Davies was writing adventures of the week that loosely tied together into a cohesive season arc. It might make me unsophisticated, but the Moffat era got too twisty for me. I like to have a good time when watching “Doctor Who,” not keep spreadsheets worth of plot points in my head. Plus, a classic adventure story provides a great training ground for the Doctor’s new friends to get used to the idea of traveling with an alien who can go anywhere in space and time. The Doctor even helpfully points out that this must be Yaz, Ryan, and Graham’s first alien planet visit (she also warns them not to touch anything).

This was my first opportunity to really take in the new version of the theme song. There’s a completely new creative team behind this season, and that includes the composer. For the first time in modern Who history, Murray Gold isn’t behind the music. The new composer is named Segun Akinola, and his take on the classic tune was sufficiently eerie and mysterious. Anyway, the episode picked up right where the last one left off. The Doctor and her new crew are all floating in space after her failed (sort of) attempt to find the TARDIS. They are each picked up by passing-by ships. Ryan and Graham find themselves with a woman named Angstrom, and the Doctor and Yaz are picked up by a man named Epzo. Both pilots were looking for the “final planet” (which we later learned is called Desolation), but it has been knocked out of orbit. Eventually, both ships crash land on Desolation, and our crew are reunited.

The reunited group, along with their pilots, make their way to a big tent, where they are greeted by a hologram. Angstrom and Epzo are the final two contestants in an “Amazing Race” style competition called the Rally of the Twelve Galaxies. Several thousand other participants have died. The hologram tells the group that they have reached the final challenge. They must brave the extremely inhospitable planet (don’t drink the water, among other things) to reach the “Ghost Monument.” It turns out that the Ghost Monument is none other than the TARDIS, phasing in and out of time and space, so of course the Doctor is all in. She’s pretty confident she can get the group through the ordeal safely, and then they’ll have the TARDIS to make their escape, which is very important considering the hologram said that the loser would be stranded on the planet.

The isolated location does provide a good opportunity to try and do some character work in the middle third of the episode. On the more fun side of things, at one point, Angstrom and Epzo are fighting, and Epzo has a blaster, so the Doctor disables Epzo with some Venusian Akido. Even though I’ve never actually seen a classic Third Doctor episode, I appreciated the little nod to a previous regeneration. The team needs to get a solar powered ship up and running to make it further towards the TARDIS, and Ryan and Graham end up taking on the task. This leads them to start hashing out their mutual issues. I think Ryan has resented Graham intruding on his family ever since Graham married Ryan’s grandmother, but now that Ryan’s grandmother has died, all they’ve got is each other. Ryan doesn’t like that Graham keeps treating him like a kid, but Graham starts to make some headway with Ryan by talking about looking out for each other. Eventually, they both are able to make progress figuring out what is wrong with the ship, and the team is able to continue on.

We also learn that Angstrom and Epzo are both coming from rather rough home situations. It makes sense, considering they’ve both essentially entered an “Amazing Race” to the death. Somebody probably needs to be really desperate (or really foolish) to do that. At one point, Angstrom alludes to Yaz that something very bad happened on her own planet, but she checks herself and stops opening up. Later we learn that her whole family has been trying to flee the planet. We also learn that Epzo’s mother was physically abusive and caused him serious injuries. He still appreciates the strength that his upbringing gave him, though.

The team eventually finds themselves at some interesting looking ruins. The Doctor is preoccupied with the fact that they have encountered no living beings on this planet, and the ruins especially seem to quiet. Still determined to win the race, however, Angtrom and Epzo charge ahead anyway. Epzo accidentally trips something, and a bunch of robot guards start to appear. The Doctor and friends notice them once they make their way inside the ruins, which look like a target practice site. They are sniper bot guards, and they get triggered and start shooting. The team has to run in crazy patters to avoid them. Once they’re immediately out of danger, they go back to exploring, because the Doctor thinks that whatever happened to this planet is very important. They continue the journey by heading down a ladder.

The ladder leads to an intricate network of tunnels, and the group decides that they can get to the Ghost Monument more safely (and more quickly) using the tunnels instead of traveling on the surface. The safety is short lived, though. Epzo is attacked by a killer cloth thing that tries to suffocate him. The Doctor also discovers a room where she finally learns what happened to the planet. Scrawled on the floor is the story of how scientists were brought there and made to develop all sorts of deadly weapons while their families were tortured. The Stenza, who we met in the last episode, were behind it, lending a bit of continuity to the season thus far. The sniperbots soon join the party too, making the tunnels no longer safe for the group.

Everyone has to climb a ladder to get back to the surface, where they pop up in the middle of an acetylene field. As soon as they make it to the surface the sentient cloth things surround them and become very threatening. They have a cigar with them, though, which when lit ignites the acetylene and the deadly cloths. Somehow, by lying on the ground, the group manages to avoid being burnt to a crisp. Eventually, they get to the end of their journey, but the TARDIS isn’t there. A tent is there, though, and after some cajoling, Epzo and Angstrom go inside the tent and demand a joint victory to the competition. They get what they want and are whisked away, but everyone else is left behind. The TARDIS is still a no-show, and the Doctor is devastated, convinced she has let everybody down (I guess the Doctor now truly understands what it is to be a woman – any of the male incarnations of the Doctor would not have lost confidence so quickly).

The TARDIS does eventually appear, though, and the Doctor coaxes her to stick around. The also gets to do the classic “bigger on the inside” reveal with her new friends. As you would expect given that we’ve got an entirely new creative team behind this series, the TARDIS has also redecorated. I think I like this version. With some crystal elements, it combines the more organic look of the Ninth/Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS with the steampunk elements favored in the Moffat era. It’s a nice merger, I think. Ryan is especially impressed that he gets to hang out in a space and time ship now. The Doctor gleefully starts pushing buttons and pulling levers, ready to take her new friends on more adventures.

No comments:

Post a Comment