The Ghost Monument Review
There’s a typical review structure where I talk about the good things for a while and then lead up to a “but” that brings it all crashing down. I liked this, though, so let’s do it the wrong way around. The biggest problem is in the resolution, and what it ends up doing to the sense of pacing. Having Angstrom and Enzo simply vanish into thin air with all the implications of their characters being left entirely unresolved is deeply weird, or at least it would be if it came from someone other than the guy who found no implications to consider in the Doctor committing stone cold murder in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and who wrote the bewilderingly misshapen The Power of Three. As it stands, it’s a deeply worrisome “ooh, you still aren’t real big on dramatic unities are you?” moment. Jumping from that to a bizarrely unearned moment of the Doctor giving up hope when the TARDIS isn’t on that specific rock at that specific moment is clearly a problem. And similar problems abound. The “Ryan charges out with a gun” sequence is put together with no real thought towards the degree that it renders the already not that compelling robots an object of abject comedy for their sub-Stormtrooper aim. The Stenza reveal communicates “there is an arc” as opposed to actually feeling like anything follows from it. Most particularly, the Bedsheets of Death (clearly a better title for this episode) turning out to be mind-readers that try to terrify you is not set up well at all.
So clearly this is just something we’re going to have to live with in the Chibnall era, because multiple years of pointing it out every week is going to be agonizing. Whatever pleasures are going to be offered by this phase of the show, they’re clearly not going to be rooted in the sense of how structurally tidy things are. Nor, for that matter, are they going to be rooted in any sort of vivid character work. Chibnall’s characters talk like television, and have a thinness because of it. Davies, of course, created his version of Doctor Who by stitching together bits of other television shows, but he was incredibly deft and efficient at creating vividly human characters out of these components. Chibnall isn’t doing that. Ryan and Graham are roles, not people; their dialogue about Grace and their relationship isn’t showing human trauma, it’s communicating what tropes have been chosen for them. And Yaz isn’t even that yet.
But what if we just accept that and let ourselves be pleasantly surprised if a guest writer turns up and offers that. After all, it’s nothing we hadn’t gotten good at doing for Mark Gatiss. But what is this era offering if not what most conventional aesthetics of television in 2018 consider to be basic competence? Sure, this question is implicitly damning with faint praise; Chibnall isn’t going to top any of the three previous showrunner/script editors for me. But god, I don’t want to write that for three years straight and I can’t imagine you want to read it. So what is this doing?
A Terry Nation episode, apparently. Nation, of course, was a distressing hack of a writer who we had to endure in order to enjoy Raymond Cusick’s brilliant creations, but it’s also a genre staple that Doctor Who has mostly avoided. There really hasn’t been a “trek across a hostile alien landscape” story in the new series. Planet of the Dead is doing something one door down, but it lacked an actual trek. Which means we have to go look at classic series stories, where the obvious choices for most recent examples are all consciously retro pieces—Planet of the Daleks is actually a fairly reasonable answer for the last time the series did this. This is basically a Hartnell-era concern, especially given that the central dramatic question of the episode is “what is this place?”
But this is a bit of a trap. Yes, The Ghost Monument is positioning itself in a Doctor Who subgenre that hasn’t been a major part of the series in over half a century. And this feels fresh in an important way, not only hitting notes that the new series hasn’t hit before, but hitting notes that weren’t actually reachable by the series as Chibnall’s two immediate predecessors created it. But critics, myself included, are far too eager to pick the Hartnell era as our touchstone for “everything old is new again” regardless of whether it’s the comparison that actually tells us the most about the episode. I asked when the last time the series did an episode like this was. The factually correct answer is just under thirty-one years ago, with Dragonfire. Not only does that feature a significant amount of hostile trekking, it shares considerably more tonal similarities; Iceworld and an intergalactic rally are obvious aesthetic matches, while Angstrom’s background and look echo Halo Jones in a way that’s probably less deliberate than Cartmel. More to the point, Dragonfire is squarely in the phase of Doctor Who that Chibnall was actually watching and invested in.
So we have Chibnall grabbing from a heritage within the series that can only be described as idiosyncratic. Dragonfire is surely nobody’s favorite McCoy story, but that feels like a virtue in this context. Two weeks in a row now we’ve had the series doing something we haven’t really seen. For all the spottiness of the construction, this is beautifully shot and has a sense of constant, propulsive motion across the planet. The sloppiness also means that it feels like there’s a surfeit of extra ideas. It’s frustrating that these are underdeveloped, yes. But if they were well developed there wouldn’t be room for as many of them as they are.
Ultimately, we’ve got a show that’s fizzing with energy and that just pulled the highest-rated debut for a new Doctor ever. The overnights alone for this beat all but nine episodes of the Capaldi era, and the finals should comfortably put it ahead of all but one or two. It’s in third place for the week. All of that is contingent, and there’s still plenty of time for it to go dreadfully wrong. But that’s exciting too. For all the Moffat era’s grandeur, the range of what you could and couldn’t expect from it was, by 2017, exceedingly well-defined. And while the contours of what we cannot expect from the Chibnall era are both rapidly clarifying and fairly irksome, the question of what we can expect remains magnificently, tantalizingly large. That hasn’t felt this true since The End of the World. And that feels somehow more important than whether the plotting is entirely tight. Doctor Who is allowed to be messy. Boring, on the other hand, is intolerable. The show still needs to find a higher gear than this, but right now, in this moment, there’s no problem whatsoever with where we are.
- Odd to get 1100 words of review out in which “how’s Jodie Whittaker doing” doesn’t come up. Marvelously, in any case. Early returns have her trending more towards the Davison/Troughton “background Doctor” approach, which is probably at least partially the semiotics of her gender. Her initial scene with Enzo is instructive; you certainly could have a woman behave like Tennant or Capaldi would and effectively bully her way into control of the situation, but she’d read to a non-trivial portion of the audience as ball-busting and abrasive instead of charismatic (Tennant) or compellingly dangerous (Capaldi). So instead we get a Doctor who wins control of the situation gradually, not without browbeating, but certainly without bravado. The notion of this Doctor as one who is more focused on the community around her, maintaining a focus on her companions’ well-being, and continuing to perform emotional labor in a way previous Doctors simply wouldn’t. But for all these differences, the basics are clear and strong. Jodie Whittaker simply is the Doctor; the character she portrays is as obviously that guy who cleared up a political mess on Tara with some robots as I’m that guy who manufactured a quote and attributed it to a seance with William Blake. One thing I’m particularly interested to see is how this Doctor leaves situations. The “leave before things are actually quite settled” move that’s iconic for the character feels hard to imagine so far.
- In terms of the other companions, the downsides of a 50 minute format and a three companion format are becoming obvious fast. Ian, Barbara, and Vicki this crew ain’t. Graham and Ryan have vague definition in relation to each other, but there’s no sense that they respond with any individuation in their responses to Doctor Who stuff. They seem to just have worked out a rotation for asking the Doctor to explain the plot and that’s it. Separate from Chibnall’s deficiencies in writing this sort of stuff, he’s got precious little oxygen to actually do anything with it.
- I basically love the new credits. They could use to be longer—there’s a couple extra seconds on the previous versions that feel really lacking in the final seconds. But I love the change to something that pulsates instead of a straightforward tunnel—a return to the feel of Hartnell/Troughton howlaround credits. And the theme is delightful, especially the decision to make the transition into the main portion a drop. It is, again, too short—a third repetition of the bass line before the drop would give it wildly more impact—but this is good stuff, and Akinola continues to basically kill it.
- The TARDIS interior, on on the other hand, is desperately try-hard, combining the worst and goofiest excesses of the early-Smith TARDIS (delightful in its first shot, progressively more cloying after, and very possibly the worst aging design in series history) with an overwhelming “crystal cave” vibe. It’s hard to imagine what TARDIS scenes are going to feel like here, and not in an exciting way. Worst bits: the custard cream dispenser and the absolutely appalling hourglass control.
- Also, really Chibnall? Your idea of queer representation is a single line that serves to kill an off-screen lesbian? Fuck off.
- Let’s say podcast Friday this week, featuring the very welcome return to the site of Shana Wolstein.
- And really? Rosa Parks? I have… concerns.
- The norm is for Doctors to go a bit downhill from their first story to their second—only the Bakers and Sylvester McCoy have ever had their second story be better than their first, two of them by having brilliant second stories, one by having a legendarily terrible first and an only slightly less legendarily terrible second. None of these situations apply here.
- The Ghost Monument
- The Woman Who Fell to Earth
October 17, 2018 @ 9:41 am
The UK’s Radio Times rates ‘Rosa’ as worthy but overly preachy, it’s the one that could go horribly wrong. Could such a story even work in Doctor Who? maybe
October 17, 2018 @ 3:24 pm
I’m unconvinced – Alison Graham has never been a very big Who fan, and self-avowedly doesn’t really ‘get’ it (despite being asked to review it fairly often).
October 19, 2018 @ 7:48 am
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October 17, 2018 @ 9:54 am
The Ghost Monument is pretty much exactly what I expected the Chibnall era to be and I thought I would be fine with that, but actually I have some trouble adjusting to the writing being what it is. This week felt worse in that regard than the last, with more obvious expositing from the antagonist, but also character arcs set up and never paid off (Epzo’s selfishness symbolised by his cigar – I was fully expecting he would have to sacrifice it to help the group reach their goal and that would signal the shift in his priorities but no, not his decision), and a complete lack of build-up to the climax (even though the decision to go to the surface and using up the cigar told the vieweres that “this is it”, I was still surprised when they reached the goal right after the confrontation with the bedsheets; it didn’t feel like a climax). So that was disappointing.
But there’s also the good stuff. I loved the vibe of each of the episodes, the fact that each had a very unique feel to it. If they manage to hold on to that in episodes where they don’t have the advantage of a great location (particularly the more futuristic or space-oriented ones), I will be very pleased. And the guest actors shined and gave this a lot of spirit. I had a discussion about that on Twitter and it’s not that the Moffat era was bad at casting, but it seems to me like the spotlight was focused on the main cast a lot of the time, so the guest actors didn’t have that much to do. Here it felt different, and even though the material wasn’t all that great (I can already feel that “Chibnall is great at complex characters!” is going to be this era’s eyeroll-inducing bit of received wisdom akin to “Moffat was good at solo episodes, but he’s bad at series arcs”), Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley were able to infuse the characters with personality. I really liked that, particularly Epzo as a completely unromanticised, even satirised Han Solo.
There were also just some good ideas in general, like the whole idea of the race. Even if it’s a pity that more wasn’t done with them, it’s cool that they were there.
So yeah. Very mixed feelings for me, but I try to appreciate the good and hope that some of the other writers will provide good, interesting writing in their episodes. In the meantime, I’ll try to work on my expectations.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:26 pm
This episode felt much more sloppily conceived and put together IMO, as you say, but it had one advantage over 11.1 which is that I didn’t feel it had one crucial identifiable bad move the way that episode did, namely killing off Grace. This was more a myriad of smaller and less irksome decisions.
Robert O Shea
October 17, 2018 @ 10:10 am
Excellent and fair review. I love Jodie and I am excited about the series and keen to see what the other writers will bring to the show. But my favorite part of your review was this “as I’m that guy who manufactured a quote and attributed it to a seance with William Blake”. I read the line over several times before I finally realised what you were saying! I’m a long time reader of your blog and I just loved that line when it made sense ( it also felt a bit timey whimey). Keep up the great work El. Oh and will you be doing anymore Alan Moore/War in Albion stuff this year?
October 17, 2018 @ 10:28 am
Yeah, the Chibnall era’s well and truly coming into shape- functional, workmanlike dialogue and quickly sketched characters, but with a vision and a tone entirely distinct from what we’ve come to expect from modern Doctor Who, and with the actors given enough space to ladle on the charm.
I’m exceptionally excited about the Rosa Parks episode- yeah, there’s an enormous chance of it being a complete and total wreck, but that the show’s willing to court controversy so early on in the new era, and is getting the writers on board who might conceivably do the concept justice, speaks incredibly highly of the show that Chibnall’s put together, and its scope for development in the future. It’s a testament to the actual potential that hiring a more diverse writing staff brings to the table- we see it again with the details that they released about Vinay Patel’s episode the other day, which boasts a killer premise that never would have come from a writer without his heritage and interests. That’s what really excites me about what’s coming up.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:41 pm
Would I be right in thinking that the latter episode will be the first story with a major non-Western Earth setting (discounting little glimpses like in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and settings at sea or, er, in Atlantis) since The Abominable Snowmen in 1967?
October 17, 2018 @ 3:27 pm
Depends if you count the North Pole / Soviet Russia as “non-Western”, I suppose!
October 17, 2018 @ 5:38 pm
“Is Russia European?” is of course when of the great old traditional fat-chewers (especially in Russia), but that’s one of the stories I included the “at sea” exemption for, though that was directed more at geographical issues than cultural ones.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:08 pm
I meant “one of”. My most basic command of language seems to be deserting me lately.
October 17, 2018 @ 4:39 pm
A Rosa Parks episode seems to me to be the exact opposite of courting controversy. There are no real dissenting opinions on what she’s famous for. It creates various things which will just need to be done in the accepted way.
A Malcolm X episode would be courting controversy.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:40 pm
Well… there’s the soft, fluffy, everybody-feel-good-about-themselves version of the Rosa Parks story, made to reassure modern-day white Americans that “We’re past all that now, of course!” even if it means filing off a lot of sharp edges.
And then there’s the version that tells the story honestly and in full, even if that means asking uncomfortable questions. (Did you know Rosa Parks got death threats for the rest of her life? Or that she considered Malcolm X a hero? What are the chances the episode mentions either of those?)
That’s the version that I think Alex is saying would court controversy. That’s the version that El and some of the commenters (including me!) are hoping for, but doubtful we’ll ever get.
Maybe a show made for mostly British people will be able to bring the outsider perspective that lets it tell the story honestly without worrying about hurting white Americans’ feelings. Maybe?
On the other hand, coming from a non-American perspective they might be more likely to make something tone-deaf, cringeworthy, or overly preachy. Who knows? We’ll see!
The history of how Doctor Who has treated real-life historical figures so far doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
October 18, 2018 @ 2:41 am
It sounds to me that they are going to be faithful to the reality of the era, and they are going to make a programme that many school history teachers will want to and be able to show as an introduction to the civil rights era. That strikes me as exactly what they should be aiming for, and a good thing to do. The details mentioned by Nikodag are just too much detail to include. They conceivably could include the death threats part. The Malcolm X part means explaining who Malcolm X is, and her views on Malcolm X aren’t too relevant in any case to a story about a specific episode on the history of the civil rights era – it’s not a biography of Rosa Parks, it’s about what she did and the context of what she did at that time.
October 18, 2018 @ 5:48 pm
I hope you’re right, Dan! I hope you’re right. That would be great.
I hope it’s not going to be “The doctor teams up with Rosa Parks to fight aliens”. That’s what most of the celebrity historicals have been, and it would be so… extraneous in this case.
(My wife’s comment: “Is the governor of Alabama going to turn out to be an alien in disguise?” Oh my God what a horrible idea.)
Generally I think a lot of the historical ones would be a lot better if they didn’t feel the need to include aliens every time. The Vincent Van Gogh episode would have been a lot better without the invisible dinosaur. I’d love it if the Chibnall era would revive the non-monster episode.
October 18, 2018 @ 6:46 pm
A lot of fans seem to be clamouring for that. It would be great especially now they can make such good looking historicals.
Roderick T. Long
October 22, 2018 @ 11:21 am
“Is the governor of Alabama going to turn out to be an alien in disguise?”
As a 20-year resident of Alabama who’s lived through five governors here, I can say that the problem with that premise is that it’s way too realistic.
October 17, 2018 @ 10:29 am
I so want to like this iteration of the program, but falling just a little bit short each time. There are some great things, most notably the non-issue of the Doctor’s gender. I mean, it just works and we get on with it. Done. The new theme music is pleasantly Delia Derbyshire [*] and the credits are beautiful. And I like Graham if only because he’s close to my own age.
But the dialog, oh the dialog! Pills, Nurse! Surely there are other ways to explain the plot without asking questions the whole time? A drinking game in which you take a shot each time some character asks a question would have us dead with alcohol poisoning. I wonder if this a perception thing or whether the number of direct questions in the script is on the up with Mr. Chibnall.
You’ve redecorated. …. very very long pause …. well, I don’t like it much, it’s gloomy and brown to my eyes. I wonder if I need to visit the opticians, or maybe it’s all an attach of the nineteen seventies living rooms. For all the love of the custard cream dispenser, and it’s not a completely terrible idea, I completely missed this on first viewing. Maybe I miss Murray Gold music signposts more than I realised.
I’m getting tired of TV and film that is shot like video games. The Sentinel Robots Of Boredom has an aesthetic of Fortnite or other 1st person video game, and that’s not something that appeal to me (opening battle scenes of Avengers Age of Ultron is much the same). Ryan running out with a gun and back in again just felt like a wasted minute.
Speaking of wasted minutes, why bother to tell us that the water was full of Evil Bacteria without it affecting the plot. No one drank the water, no one went for a swim. We’re just told the place is Eeeeevil.
Most annoying was when the Doctor invaded the genre of Target Novelisations. Again. Last week, it was acceptable to describe a corpse rather than show it, and I get that. This week, Whittaker was forced to read the backstory of The People Who Built This Terrible Place.
I am pleased that it’s different. I’m happy that it’s popular. But I don’t feel that I’m the target demographic.
[*] There’s a touring theatre piece entitled “Hymns for Robots” on the work of Derbyshire coming to my home town soon, and I really should go to watch it…
October 17, 2018 @ 12:22 pm
“Speaking of wasted minutes, why bother to tell us that the water was full of Evil Bacteria without it affecting the plot. No one drank the water, no one went for a swim. We’re just told the place is Eeeeevil. ”
You’ve just made me realise that no one died in this episode.
I’m probably in a minority here. There are people who need to see someone killed in order to feel jeopardy (and apparently stakes involving the entire universe are necessary for some). But I don’t, so it was welcome.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:28 pm
It makes me laugh though that last week was all “Chibnall’s in charge, there are CONSEQUENCES now!!!!!” and then this week is literally “everybody lives”.
October 17, 2018 @ 9:18 pm
Except for the entire population of that planet, the scientists and that other world currently undergoing ethnic cleansing….
October 17, 2018 @ 10:05 pm
Yeah, but you know what I meant. The entire crew of the SS Madame de Pompadour is brutally massacred and dismembered, but because it’s not onscreen everyone calls Girl in the Fireplace another one of those Moffat episodes where he doesn’t bump anyone off.
October 18, 2018 @ 10:09 am
Do they really? The main guest character in “The Girl in the Fireplace” dies, rather devastatingly, of tuberculosis.
October 18, 2018 @ 11:37 am
Yeah, “historical character dies offscreen death that the timeline says they died of anyway” counts as not bloodthirsty enough, apparently — even for Moffat himself(!), who said at the start of his showrunning tenure that he still hadn’t killed anyone off yet!
October 18, 2018 @ 8:11 am
I thought the “everybody lives” criticism was directed at episodes where people die but are then casually resurrected, thus making their deaths rather meaningless?
October 18, 2018 @ 11:37 am
Oh, that seems to be the extreme end of the spectrum, certainly, but people also appear to use it about episodes in which … no one happens to die.
October 17, 2018 @ 10:39 am
I had way more fun with this episode more than with the first one, if only because it was faster, brighter and more upbeat in tone. The writing was pretty messy and I’m disappointed that after two episodes Yaz, Ryan and Graham are still cardboard cutouts, but other than that it felt good to properly enjoy a DW episode. The music is awesome, the cinemarography is great and Jodie as the Doctor is just wonderful.
I’m fascinated by how much both of Chibnall’s scripts we’ve seen so far seem like first drafts. Not neccesarily because they’re bad but there’s just barely any setup (or payoff) to anything. It’s like he’s just plowing forward through the story, solving problems as he encounters them but never going back to remove them. Last week we’ve had “nobody cares when a guard dies, let’s give him a granddaughter”. This time it’s “these people are racing and would never stop to save our heroes so let’s introduce a convoluted reason and then immediately drop it” and “dang, no TARDIS, how will they be able to communicate with aliens? Ah, implanted translators”.
Since I’m already complaining, I was also a bit disappointed by all these interesting ideas being underdeveloped. A planet full of deadly weapons created by enslaved scientists? Barely gets a mention. Toxic air and killer water? Never cause any problems. The TARDIS as the Ghost Monument? Amazing idea that’s just sort of thrown in there. And, as Andrew Ellard pointed out on Twitter, why even have a race with no spectators and no betting on winners? (And why ban sabotage? It just makes the race duller to watch).
I’m also unsure about the TARDIS interior. I loved Smith’s first TARDIS and I don’t think it aged badly at all but this one… It just feels so cramped and dark. We’ll see, I guess…
“There really hasn’t been a “trek across a hostile alien landscape” story in the new series.”
Isn’t “Smile” kinda close, though? At least that’s the episode “The Ghost Monument” reminded me of.
“The “leave before things are actually quite settled” move that’s iconic for the character feels hard to imagine so far.”
And yet she leaves at the end of this story, seemingly forgetting about the Stenza killing and enslaving people.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Apropos of nothing that relates to episode quality, the geometry of the phone box exterior to the interior seems to have changed. In this design you walk through the whole police box before reaching the interior. The capaldi/late Smith version had a ramp leading to the door, I think. The Ecclestone/Tennant “coral” design just had the front door leading into the dimensionally transcendental bit. Why I bother about this while ignoring Custard Cream dispensers is something you can discuss with my shrink.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:56 am
Haha that’s the bit I’m unsure about too – it’s like it’s behind the police box, not inside it.
And when the Tardis is spinning, surely that means the inside will be WHIRLING around!!
October 18, 2018 @ 4:42 pm
Oh I dunno. The exochronoplasmic shell, I shouldn’t wonder. That’s dimensional engineering for you.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:08 pm
“The TARDIS as the Ghost Monument? Amazing idea that’s just sort of thrown in there”
The “Brigadoon effect” mentioned in Alien Bodies, where a whole city created using dodgy Time Lord Mathematics phased in an out of a jungle in Borneo over the years before it rendezvoused with the bidders for the [spoiler], was better done by Lawrence Miles as a throwaway joke.
October 17, 2018 @ 2:29 pm
The “why have a race with no spectators” thing isn’t just baffling, it’s especially baffling when it comes along with complaints about how Chibnall has to explain everything to us. Setting aside the capacity of the organizer to project himself onto the planet and whisk people away from it without any visible equipment, we know there are spectators because we are watching the episode.
I guess that’s obvious in Blink but not here because this isn’t clever?
As for the Doctor leaving the Stenza thread alone, I wonder. El compared this episode to a Seven episode. Might our current Doctor be a little more like Seven than we presently suspect? I’m thinking specifically of how she clearly knows how she’s going to kill the Bedsheets of Death before climbing the ladder, but they mainly get strong fear from her instead of reading the plan; clearly, however genuine the fear might be, she’s deliberately using it to distract them. That’s a strong Two or Seven move. Time will tell, I suppose.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:09 pm
I’m asking about in-universe spectators. Who are probably there but since they’re neither shown nor mentioned the race itself seems strangely disconnected from the larger world. And not terribly exciting. Watching the episode, I got the impression that the only person watching the race is the guy in the tent, like it’s a deadly show for this one bored billionaire. Just a glimpse of cheering crowds or some talk of people gaining and losing fortunes overnight would make the stakes seem much higher.
I also think the comparison to “Blink” is misleading. In “Blink” our gaze affected the monsters on our screens. Here our gaze affects nothing. How are we the intended spectators if we haven’t watched the entire race, don’t particularly care who wins and then don’t even get to see the closing ceremony? We’re accidental witnessess at best, just like the Doctor and her crew.
October 17, 2018 @ 11:12 pm
yeah, this. Why have so many characters unless it’s to do an ensemble show? Where we see how different pairings play off against each other, spotlight various characters’ issues, etc. It’s a waste to throw them all into an action scenario where they have nothing to do but take turns saying plot-advancing dialog.
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head there. There are a few emotional beats but they never connect to each other to form a story that feels like it’s about anything. Like, the conclusion of the episode is that 1. the two racers decide to share the treasure and 2. the doctor feels like giving up because the TARDIS isn’t on that exact rock at that exact second. Those beats are neither in-character nor justified by anything that happened in the episode. This is like Storytelling 101 stuff.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:19 am
Chibnall seems to be struggling with the longer runtime (which is baffling since he introduced it in the first place). Last week we’ve had the amusing but frankly unnecessary salad guy, this week there’s scenes like everyone falling asleep. And at the same time the main cast is getting barely any characterization.
If this is how things are going to be from now on I’ll sigh and adapt… but it’s just a shame.
October 18, 2018 @ 12:26 am
I don’t care whether we know info and backstory about the companions. I couldn’t care less. I just want them to DO something. Moffat and RTD always knew how to give the companion and important narrative role in the plot.
October 17, 2018 @ 10:50 am
“Messy, but interesting and enjoyable anyway” (if I can summarise your position thus) seems to me exactly right. There’s a ton of things that don’t work – the race never feels like a race (I think splitting things up into two teams, Angstrom v Epzo but with 2 of the leads trailing along in each instance, would have done wonders for the episode), the planet never feels threatening enough (we need to at least see skeletons in the water for “flesh eating microbes” to land), Ryan’s spot on aim seems curious (even if the CoD filming style is a fun touch) and the Doctor’s EMP resolution essentially another weapon in all but name (muddying the ethical point being made), there’s no way Ilin would give in that easily and so the ending feels terribly pat, and the Doctor’s despair at not yet being able to see the TARDIS doesn’t quite work.
But it looks stunning (that triple sunrise!), the strangling bedsheet is another pleasing dollop of “fucked-up” following T’zim-Sha’s toothface, and Whittaker remains fab – confronting Ilin and Epzo and particularly challenging the latter’s philosophy. For all that they’re not the greatest guest characters who ever lived, I thought Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley did great work (helped by strong work from the costume and hair departments). Dooley’s delivery of the Abusive Mother Monologue was spot on: that relish he feels in keeping people in suspense, waiting to shock them… you just know he’s told it plenty of times before. And that same aspect touches on the most obvious Chibnallism at play here, the importance of one’s family / friendship network and of repudiating the defeatist philosophy that we are all ultimately alone and can never really know another person (this comes up in Broadchurch quite a bit).
I’m confused why Iceworld and an intergalactic rally are “obvious aesthetic matches”, though. My go-to would be Enlightenment, with a race to claim a prize being subverted in terms of what the people are racing for. The TARDIS, a relic of enormous significance to a whole forgotten culture, becomes a spiritual goal, a vehicle for enlightenment out of a world that has been “made cruel”. Lovely.
I love the custard cream dispenser, it feels very Moffat/Smith. Not sure yet about anything else in the new TARDIS, though I like the suggestion that the spinning mini police box is a helpful indication as to what form the chameleon circuit has taken this time so you know what you’re going to be stepping out of (which strikes me as kinda trolling on the TARDIS’ part, given that it’s almost never looked like anything else!). And “you’ve redecorated… I really like it!” is an obvious but great line. The Doctor’s joy at seeing the TARDIS again really worked for me – earnest and heartfelt and a lil bit sapphic.
I have my fingers crossed for Sunday. Malorie Blackman is really, really good, so here’s hoping. El noted on Twitter that Chibnall has backloaded the season with guest writers (doing 1, 2, 4 and 5 himself with a co write on 3, leaving 6-9 to others); it strikes me that this is more or less Moffat’s S8 approach, right down to Blackman being – technically – the only one who’s written DW before (in the same way Ness had before Class, but still). I have high hopes for that back half. And even if “Rosa” is a mixed bag, let’s applaud the ambition of going for that rather than a third round of “showrunner gets in Gatiss for a love-in of British iconography”.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:21 pm
I love that take on the spinning mini TARDIS! That way it’s pure, awesome trolling.
October 17, 2018 @ 11:04 am
I had a similar McCoy era feeling about this. It reminded me a lot of Greatest Show in the Galaxy both for the setting and also in a sense the characters. Rather than surviving just for survival’s sake, they’re out here doing a stunt, putting on a performance, so they have to survive but also follow some shady logic. And while I really feel the climax just cums and goes in a heartbeat and the episode is worse off for it, I did genuinely laugh at “And take them with us!” “Pffff, no.” As-is, it’s a wonderful comic beat in place of any sort of rounding off of the dramatic or character concerns.
Speaking of character drama, did anyone else think on first viewing that Angstrom was lying about her family? It was so overdone and manipulative that I honestly thought it was supposed to be so in-universe. I expected, when they were arguing about going to the tent, for Epzo to reveal that he’s the one with the family in a warzone. Or even for it to be true but still be manipulation, I don’t know.
Anyways, even if she had been evil I’d still love Angstrom.
October 17, 2018 @ 11:09 am
The comparison that sprung to my mind is Enlightenment. Weirdly it survives the comparison despite Enlightenment being a classic and it being much easier here to point to what shouldn’t work than to say why it does work.
If it were a Davies story we’d have the organiser of the race turn out a scenery chewing villain and be overthrown violently. If it were Moffat it would have turned into twenty minutes of bedsheets before turning out to be all based on a tragic misunderstanding. Either would have tried to get actual plot complication out of the race format. Instead everything is exactly how it looks on the surface, and is squared away in a reconciliation that looks unearned, until one reflects it was there in the relationship between the two characters from the start.
I expected Whittaker’s Doctor to be close to Davison and nothing’s shaking that idea.
October 17, 2018 @ 11:20 am
Points awarded for the Man Who Fell to Earth / Station to Station homage when the Doctor enters the TARDIS and, uh, little else.
October 17, 2018 @ 11:27 am
Honestly, this is the least I’ve liked Doctor Who for quite some time.
Andrew Ellard has a great tweet thread about the episode that covers most of my objections: https://twitter.com/ellardent/status/1051829757866926080?s=19
In addition to what he said, I have to point out how weak the acting and characterisation is. I have no idea who any of the TARDIS crew are past their stock archetypes of ‘young man’, ‘young woman’, ‘quirky alien’, ‘grandad’. It’s all stock TV. There’s nothing particularly interesting or unique.
Two episodes in,and the Chibnall era feels like a bad impression of prestige TV does Doctor Who.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:14 pm
Everything to do with the robot gunfight was curiously weak, in a way which suggested that the storyboarding or previs or whatever process they had for planning it out had not had nearly enough attention or experienced involved – as if they thought they’d just shoot the actors behind some objects and running around a bit and make it into a dramatic encounter later.
“Sniper-bots” was almost an excellent comedy beat!
October 17, 2018 @ 12:25 pm
Yeah. I have a feeling Moffat would’ve done the whole planet as full of supposedly deadly inventions that nonetheless fail to kill anyone – only to reveal in the climax that the scientists working on them have purposefully sabotaged them to save lives. And were killed for it. But with Chibnall, we just get rubbish robots. Sigh.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:40 pm
Hmm, I came here expecting a savaging if I’m honest, but the review is largely fair. My immediate reaction to this was a lot more positive than the first episode, just because I felt relieved that the more Doctor Who-ish elements of the episode weren’t what let it down in the way they had for The Woman Who Fell to Earth. However, in retrospect it’s just unbelievably easy to rip The Ghost Monument to shreds on the level of plot, characterisation and, as you say, dramatic unity.
(Why weren’t these two people – supposedly racing each other for their and their families’ lives –ever aggressively competing against one another apart from the odd bit of toothless banter? Who was this race for? Were people watching on space TV or something? Why didn’t we get to see that? Why did the organisers make it so easy for them by putting a boat there? Why did everyone go to sleep at the midpoint of the episode when you really needed some kind of action sequence? Why did the water have flesh eating creatures in it and yet we didn’t get to see the consequences of that? Surely someone should have fallen in, or the boat should have started sinking halfway across so there was some kind of threat? Why were random shots of scrap material moving in the wind meant to convey any sense of dread other than because the music sold it? Why didn’t the Doctor have to take part in the race as the only way to get the TARDIS back, and actually add some stakes to the episode? Why didn’t the Doctor listen at the beginning so she’d know that they were there before the TARDIS was due to appear? The Doctor being dumber than the audience is not a good way to earn that sudden despair at the end. For that matter, why bring the Ghost Monument up at all if the two competitors weren’t even going to see it or have to interact with it? Why have them all implanted with translation software when they could have delayed the “how come we can understand the aliens” question until after the Ghost Monument=TARDIS reveal and say it was because of the TARDIS as per usual? Why even answer the “how come we can understand the aliens” question when 99% of the audience doesn’t care? How did the Doctor have Audrey Hepburn’s sunglasses in her pocket when we saw her buy her clothes in a charity shop last week? Why bring up sunglasses after we’ve just had two series of a Doctor who famously wore a pair of sonic sunglasses that it would make a lot more sense for her to have on her person when she fell out the TARDIS? Why was she able to grab a random pair of sunglasses but not a TARDIS key? And why does it matter whether she had a key when she can just click her fingers?!)
BUT (I’m going to nick and adapt your structure if you’re not using it) there were some good things in here as well, and I still enjoyed more than the list above would suggest. The dialogue remains largely terrible but I thought all the cast did a better job of selling it. I did love the Doctor’s line about the companions being there by accident and them “being very good and not going on about it”, which was funny and seemed to sum up this version of the character in some way. The dual opening scenes in the two spaceships were exciting and pacey, and superbly filmed. It all looked great, and it was nice to see that we’re not going to be stuck with the dour, grungey tone of episode one every week. However, one thing that was grungey as fuck was the TARDIS, which felt cramped and odd. I thought the direction was excellent this week but Tonderai seemed to struggle to give us a good look at the TARDIS interior. I worry that that’s a consequence of the way it’s been constructed, coupled with the new aspect ratio, but will reserve judgement until we see what other directors are able to do with it.
I feel like we’re still yet to get a true ‘this is what this Doctor/version of Doctor Who does’ moment yet. Which could mean that all this is yet to come, but could also just mean that it never will. I’m glad our host and others are able to look at that Schrödinger’s box and anticipate that there might be something worthwhile on the way. I’m still worried that we’re just going to find a dead cat.
October 17, 2018 @ 1:16 pm
“However, one thing that was grungey as fuck was the TARDIS, which felt cramped and odd. I thought the direction was excellent this week but Tonderai seemed to struggle to give us a good look at the TARDIS interior. I worry that that’s a consequence of the way it’s been constructed (…)”.
Exactly. I noticed that in the one shot of the whole interior we got the camera was positioned strangely – it looked like it was peering in from behind the hexagon (?) wall surrounding the room. For me it just really made the interior look like a TV set instead of a real place.
October 17, 2018 @ 7:07 pm
“And why does it matter whether she had a key when she can just click her fingers?!)”
I suspect they’re going to drop opening the TARDIS by clicking your fingers because they’d say that it looks inappropriate her ordering the TARDIS around like that when it seems like they want to promote a supportive relationship with the TARDIS. Or something along those lines.
It would have been funny if Moffat had given us a bonus TARDISode where the TARDIS was a bit upset with the Doctor over something, and it kept ignoring him when he was snapping his fingers to get it to open, and he couldn’t find his key.
October 18, 2018 @ 2:47 am
“I suspect they’re going to drop opening the TARDIS by clicking your fingers because they’d say that it looks inappropriate her ordering the TARDIS around like that when it seems like they want to promote a supportive relationship with the TARDIS. Or something along those lines.”
I’m sure you are joking.
October 18, 2018 @ 5:31 pm
It’s mostly joking; I’d be really worried if we find out that they actually are thinking this way, though
I did like the bit with Jodie talking to the TARDIS and convincing it to let her in, though.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:21 am
The key bit lead to the touching moment of the TARDIS opening her doors for the Doctor. I liked that moment so no complaints from me there.
And I’m also sure you must be joking about the ordering around thing.
October 18, 2018 @ 12:36 am
She said it LOOKED like a pair of sunglasses that she once borrowed from either Hepburn of Pythagoras. But it was just a normal one she got from the charity shop.
The Ghost Monument reference in the race was just a way of establishing where the finish line was. It’s a cruel way, of course, since the finish line itself keeps disappearing. They only knew where it was because they managed to hack into the tunnels’ computers.
The Doctor didn’t know when the TARDIS was supposed to appear. She was hoping it would be there. But all she knew is that it appears every thousand rotations.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:24 am
But Angstrom said that the tunnels will allow them to traverse the remaining distance in half the time. They had to abandon the tunnels eventually but the Doctor should have remembered that conversation. And anyway, it’s a bit out of character for her to start despairing when ONE obstacle presents itself.
October 18, 2018 @ 9:24 am
She despaired for seconds. We don’t know how she would have acted if she had to think of a solution (if the TARDIS hadn’t showed up) in a few minutes.
She is not feeling herself without the TARDIS. I think the usual hopeful character of the Doctor is realistically undermined by a lack of TARDIS.
October 17, 2018 @ 12:51 pm
I have pretty much nothing to say that has not been said already, and what I did have was mostly gripes, so here’s a positive: I thought it was much funnier than last week. More jokes, and they landed better.
Among which, maybe another item to add to the Chris Chibnall Grand Tour of Eighties Cinema: an Indiana Jones reference with “Why did it have to be ladders?” (or words to that effect).
Hard to resist hearing an unspoken “Drums, drums in the deep” before “They are coming” in the bit with The Writing on the Floor.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:30 pm
Ha, I thought the exact same thing. Texted a friend, “it was better when Gandalf said it.”
October 17, 2018 @ 12:58 pm
It’s very strange because while I largely enjoyed the first two episodes – the first more than the second – this era so far feels like it’s an era that’s Not For Me. I desperately want that to not be the case! At the very least I love Whittaker’s Doctor, but the plotting and dialogue are really pushing me away. Thankfully Malorie Blackman is in next week so I feel like I’ll enjoy next week’s episode more than these two.
Hopefully I’ll get over it and just enjoy the ride…
October 17, 2018 @ 1:12 pm
One of the triumphs of Davis’s legacy is that he found and cultivated Moffat to replace him. If your on charge of a project that you want to continue after you leave it, a big part of your job is finding and cultivating the talent to carry on the task.
Moffat kept going back to the same group of (white, male) writers for years, even when it was clear that none had the skills to run the show after him. Perhaps if he’d taken more risks with new writers earlier, he might have found someone better suited to have as a replacement.
Whittaker seems to be carrying the show, despite less than brilliant scripts. And she’s apt to get blamed if the show falters.
October 17, 2018 @ 1:19 pm
That’s my biggest worry about the Chibnall era. That instead of “Whittaker was a great Doctor weighted down by bad scripts” we’re going to get “they tried a female Doctor and it sucked, let’s never do that again”.
October 17, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
I haven’t seen anyone complain about her specifically (aside from people who would have complained regardless), so I really don’t think that’s going to be the case.
And as much as the EP commentariat (me included) might complain about writing, this is not necessarily something that the wider audience will notice or care about. It’s still a good few weeks until we see what the reception of this new era really is, but so far there are grounds for (cautious) optimism.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:05 pm
That’s rather the point. Many viewers won’t parse out weak writing from poor performance. Any drop in quality will be blamed on the most obvious change, the new Doctor.
And while straight white men get to fail for themselves, women and minorities don’t get that luxury, so a failure projected onto Whittaker will become the failure of the idea of having a woman Doctor, or perhaps even any non-white, non-male Doctor.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:32 pm
I’m not sure that viewers don’t separate these things out – I’ve heard “I love Peter Capaldi but he had such weak scripts” countless times, and not just from fans either. What’s that if not distinguishing between actor and writer?
October 17, 2018 @ 3:00 pm
Considering the positive energy around Whittaker has been so positive, and she’s so good in the role, I think we’re a long way from “Female Doctors suck”.
I mean, compare her to Colin Baker or even Peter Capaldi. Both of them had a far more negative immediate response than Jodie Whittaker.
October 19, 2018 @ 3:47 pm
I’ll say something negative, then.
I think she’s very likeable, but wooden. There is a lecture-y tone to her dialogue (“only idiots use knives” etc) that’s rather cringey – it may well be just me being an unconsciously sexist oaf about seeing a powerful female doctor, and certainly I didn’t mind that Peter Capaldi occasionally played his doctor as power-crazed dickhead. But… there’s something wrong in the tone and the delivery. The Doctor seems less fun and inspiring. She’s more like angry teacher on a school trip with 20 misbehaving kinds.
On top of that we had a great, low-screentime performance from Susan Lynch which made me think, “Blimey, she’d make a much better Doctor”.
Early days though – Tennant took half a season to grow into the role, and Matt Smith’s 2nd and 3rd episodes weren’t much cop either.
Chibnall is still rubbish either way.
October 17, 2018 @ 4:16 pm
I suspect an adequate replacement for RTD and Moffat doesn’t actually exist to be found. Maybe if it wasn’t a BBC flagship program, and it could go for someone totally unproven.
October 17, 2018 @ 5:07 pm
It took Moffat awhile, but he did find Jamie Mathieson and Peter Harness with a couple of years to spare. Admittedly still white and male; Sarah Dollard wasn’t till the year after. Dollard is the only one with any show runner experience, but all of them would be fully qualified to take an Andrew Cartmel level of responsibility, and would likely have been outstanding hires in that role.
And remember, Russell Davies only found one Steven Moffat; he was just lucky and did so quickly. Steven Moffat already duplicated that feat by finding himself as a successor for series ten, and he didn’t even want to do that.
It’s a shame Kate Orman doesn’t want to work in TV…
October 17, 2018 @ 6:04 pm
She’s the only one with script-editing experience, but Harness was sole writer and associate producer on JS&MN, and latterly sole writer and executive producer on his forthcoming War of the Worlds adaptation. Which are the only sorts of prior experience Moffat or Davies had, since I think neither had run series with other writers, though of course both had more experience in quantitative terms.
October 17, 2018 @ 9:14 pm
Not sure if anything definitive ever came out about it, but despite being excellent, JS&MN was knocked back for well over a year and released with little to no fanfare. I think if it had been meant to be a trial run then whatever happened, even if it was just movement of priorities upstairs, scuppered it slightly.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:20 pm
Never occurred to me, but you’re exactly right. Imagine Sarah Dollard, Peter Harness, and Jamie Mathieson joining the stables in series 5 – all of them are certainly talented enough to replace Moffat, but weren’t really set up for it (although Mathieson has said it’s a dream job of his). And then add another group of (hopefully more diverse) writers gaining prominence in the Capaldi era. Ah, what could have been!
October 17, 2018 @ 7:37 pm
Moffat actually had some new people in starting with Peter Capaldi (Peter Harness, Jamie Mathieson, Catherine Treganna, Sarah Dollard, Mike Bartlett as well as bringing back Rona Munro. At least three of those have had experience as producers. Saying Moffat stuck with just the same white male writers while he was there is doing a disservice to the people he brought in to write in the latter years.
It might be that the ones most qualified to take over didn’t want the job. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Harness or even Mathieson had been considered. The problem, as you say, it developing the talent, but he would have needed some of them around earlier (like Sarah Dollard). As it is, the two he had around from early days besides Chibnall who the BBC would likely consider okay for the position were Mark Gatiss and Toby Whithouse. Gatiss was going to be just as busy as Moffat developing their other projects (and we most likely wouldn’t want a Gatiss-run series of Who). Toby Whithouse I would bet was considered, but either he didn’t want it, or Broadchurch got more attention now than Being Human with the BBC suits who would approved the new producer.
October 18, 2018 @ 12:41 pm
the same group of writers for years, if he’d taken more risks with new writers earlier
Don’t worry, Ursula already said that.
October 18, 2018 @ 5:39 pm
Actually, it’s not quite the same in that she implied there were only the same male white writers throughout all of Moffat’s era. There was change at different points, and some of those might have worked except I heard some of them didn’t want the job. He might have also planned early on to have Gatiss succeed him, but had that blow up when the two of them got tied up with Sherlock.
And, say what you will, but Chibnall is bringing in diversity among the writers. We’ll have to see how they do; we might find out that there’s a new writer that we’d like to see developed to become Chibnell’s replacement.
October 18, 2018 @ 9:38 pm
No, my point was very precise.
In the absence of any writers who showed potential as a stand-out replacement, Moffat stuck, for years, with the same small group of writers, and failed to recruit new talent or cultivate a top-notch replacement until it was too late.
The last two seasons of Capaldi did not give enough time for any of the new writers to prove themselves as reliable replacements. Someone first hired in seasons two or three would have had enough time to show they can produce good episodes repeatedly and reliably.
Moffat made safe choices in choosing writers, until the last two seasons, sticking with those he knew would provide reliable episodes, if not outstanding ones. In doing so, he failed to give opportunities to new writers in those early and middle seasons, and failed to find suitable stand-out talent to cultivate as a replacement.
A new writer found in the last two seasons is irrelevant in the process of finding and cultivating talent to replace a showrunner.
October 17, 2018 @ 1:35 pm
The editing and some of the shots were astoundingly off. The open scene with Ryan and Graeme was made almost entirely out of close-ups, but the positions of the characters kept changing without any linking shots, giving the impression that everyone was just teleporting around the set. When we got the shot of the Doctor pointing at a door while shouting “Look! A door!” but the door wasn’t in shot. And then the shot wouldn’t end, so we just spent several seconds staring at the Doctor as she stands completely still, presenting something we can’t see. It’s odd.
Given how choppy the plot is overall, I just got the feeling that the episode must’ve turned into a complete nightmare behind the scenes for some reason and what we received on-screen was a hastily edited 50 minutes desperately trying to salvage something out of the footage they had.
Given this, the really odd thing is that the episode is actually still quite difficult to dislike. The pure momentum generated by “Doctor Who’s back! It looks prettier than ever! A brand new Doctor! A new way of doing things!” and Chibnall’s “Don’t like this idea; here’s another one” approach to the script means that the episode overcomes its flaws by just running away from them fast enough. This is pretty much the only point in the series where you could get away with something like this though: if this was broadcast as episode 7 after everything will have hopefully settled down a bit, I think it would’ve been known as one of the era’s earliest disasters. As it is, it’s a fun enough early episode of an era that’s still to properly figure itself out yet.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:36 pm
Yeah, I have to say that despite the impressive budget, 3 week location shoot, and great work from DNEG, I’m far from persuaded that Jamie Childs and Mark Tonderai are all that in the directing department. They’re … fine? but a long way off from the Holy Moffat-Era Tetraptych of Haynes, Hurran, Wilmshurst and Talalay.
October 18, 2018 @ 11:26 am
You left out Adam Smith and Ben Wheatley.
October 18, 2018 @ 11:40 am
I couldn’t be bothered to look up if “hexaptych” would be the right word. 😉
October 18, 2018 @ 5:41 pm
I’d hope Chibnell brings back Talalay next season.
October 17, 2018 @ 2:27 pm
I don’t think there’s enough appreciation for the Call of Duty sequence. Atrocious to such an overwhelming extent that it becomes by far the most entertaining and fresh thing in the episode. Bent on making a crude point about the Doctor’s gun-aversion, Chibnall instantly forgets that Ryan is both 19 years old and suffering from co-ordination problems, and transforms him into something more like a 60-year-old’s idea of a 13-year-old. Rising to the occasion, Tosin Cole abandons any pretense of “Doctor Who acting” and starts gleefully screaming his head off in a way we have virtually never seen in the show before. Director Mark Tonderai is game too and goes for the glorious first-person-shooter shots, resulting in something which altogether feels like it was lifted from a different, more likeable, less self-serious TV show, then violently intercut with Doctor Who And The Fabric Of Death.
I have zero remaining hope for any episode this season except Vinay Patel’s “The Demons of Punjab”.
October 17, 2018 @ 2:58 pm
I dunno, the more I learn about dyspraxia, the more it seems the manifestations of the disability are idiosyncratic – that some people who have it can’t ride a bike, but are able to play video games well, for example. Granted, all I’ve heard is anecdotal and perhaps I’m giving Chibnall more credit than he’s earned, but I do buy the COD sequence with Ryan as a result of what I’ve heard about dyspraxia online.
The Oncoming Hurricane
October 17, 2018 @ 3:43 pm
As someone who does have it, I was told that videogames would sufficiently help with hand-eye co-ordination. I was never (much, though I had some fun) of an FPS girl so I can’t fully speak for what Ryan does here, but if he’s been playing for years he probably has pretty good skills.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:22 pm
i think what you’re referring to is the fact that dyspraxia often affects fine motor skills and gross motor skills differently, and not to the same degree for everyone who has the condition. if ryan can’t ride a bike, that’s a sign of a serious gross motor impairment. it’s perfectly possible he could be good at video games, but he really shouldn’t be able to pick up a gun for the first time and perfectly hit four moving targets.
for what it’s worth, i’m dyspraxic; i get on perfectly well with game controllers, but fail miserably at anything involving aim. and i can’t ride a bike.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:16 pm
Honestly I was more baffled by Ryan’s perfect aim. It doesn’t matter how much Call of Duty he’s played, real guns have weight, recoil and all that jazz to challenge an inexperienced shooter.
(Now I have an amusing mental image of Ryan just crouching behind a wall somewhere, waiting for his health to regenerate, just like a true CoD player would).
October 17, 2018 @ 4:19 pm
Real guns of the bullet technology era.
(Of course, once you start actually trying to think about TV futuristic guns like this, everything about them falls to bits.)
October 17, 2018 @ 10:31 pm
I’m more bothered that aiming with a mouse / controller and aiming a real weapon – whether a regular gun or a sci-fi one – are fundamentally different. It might have been better if they’d namechecked a VR shooter like Super Hot – having played that I can readily believe that someone – even someone with coordination difficulties – might be a good enough shot if they’d played it enough. Then again, would any VR game be famous enough to warrant a namecheck on a Sunday night show? Probably not.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:59 pm
yeah! That scene really stuck out for how poorly it flowed, how little it accomplished, and how un-threatening it made the robots look.
It’s like, trying to make a really ham-fisted moral point about how Guns Are Bad (wait, even against robots? really?) (but EMP weapons are good? What exactly is the moral line the Doctor is supposed to be drawing here?)
Also. We have a character who is a police officer! If anybody’s going to represent the “we have a right to shoot back to defend ourselves” moral position, shouldn’t it be her? If anybody’s going to be competent with a gun shouldn’t it be her? That would seem like her moment to really contrast herself with the Doctor, you know? Instead of giving that moment to the teenager with dyspraxia who seems to only know about guns from video games?
Yaz hasn’t really had one character defining moment yet in two episodes. :-/
October 17, 2018 @ 9:49 pm
Yaz is a 19-year-old probationary constable in a country in which the police are unarmed. She might never even have seen a real gun much less fired one much less been trained to use one.
October 18, 2018 @ 5:55 pm
Oh, that’s a good point. Shows my America-centric assumptions I guess 🙂
October 17, 2018 @ 2:37 pm
‘And similar problems abound. The “Ryan charges out with a gun” sequence is put together with no real thought towards the degree that it renders the already not that compelling robots an object of abject comedy for their sub-Stormtrooper aim.’
It also confirmed my worst fear about the character: that his nominal disability was going to come and go entirely based on whether the writer happened to remember it and whether it was going to make the shot complicated. This was later lampshaded with the ladders: his disability is going to be expressed via dialogue only, and never actually engaged with as a plot point.
October 18, 2018 @ 12:45 am
He fell on his face twice in this episode.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:31 am
Do characters falling down while running/escaping even register as unusual for the viewers anymore? It’s such a common trope. He’d have to fall on his face twice every episode for me to notice, I think…
October 17, 2018 @ 2:38 pm
I’m also inclined to like this era. Aesthetically, it’s pushing all the right buttons for me, with both its emphasis on weird, and the the series of present-but-not-overwhelming callbacks to Old Who. It’s also interesting that for the first time since its return, it really feels like the show is making no conscious effort to address children as an audience.
I’m also finding it interesting how many bits are being pastiched out of Old Who plot elements. We have the transmat/lost TARDIS routine from season 14 which ended episode 1, and the Terry Nation journey plot that Dr Sandifer notes here. I want to pin the last minute space-rescue as a reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but that may be pushing the point a bit far. I think the point of this, and the howlaround titles, and the Delia Derbyshire-style music (both of which, as noted, are brilliant) is as much a kind of “compensation” for having a woman Doctor for those who oppose the idea as it is a deliberate thematic choice. (I’m not saying I’m against having a woman Doctor, incidentally – just noting that it may be about balancing the approval ratings, reviews, or the like, and trying to keep as many people on board as possible.)
One of Lawrence Miles’s hobbyhorses used to be about how Doctor Who combines the familiar and the really strange, and I wonder if part of the point of the slightly generic characterisations of the companions is about bringing that notion back a bit. Also, the idea that companions are not super-people, but normal, and have normal reactions/emotions. This last one is bollocks, of course – the natural reaction to strange alien robots isn’t to think about Call of Duty and grabbing a gun. It’s Barbara’s reaction on first seeing a Dalek. But the vibe I’m getting is that this is about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations.
To me, the criticisms of the emotional content of the show feel a bit off-base. I think the point that the characters are, at least at his stage, somewhat generic, is fair. But then I never felt that characters like Donna had a great deal of depth, either, even if they were painted in rather brighter colours.
My immediate reaction is that the emotional beats of the show are operating on a scale with a bit more verisimilitude than the somewhat larger emotional scenes that Russell T in particular was fond of, which felt overblown and rather melodramatic to me. I don’t know if this is a British vs American thing, or because the music in the current series isn’t signposting everything with quite the same lack of subtlety, or just an aesthetic preference on my part, but there you go.
I suppose I feel the actors are being given room to act the emotional scenes in a vaguely realistic way, and those performances are being given room to breathe.
If I’m right, then the reason the companions are more like character sketches right now is that we’ve just met them, and any depths they have will perhaps come to light over the course of the series, but I’ll admit I may be putting too much faith in Chibnall’s skills there. To me, they feel rather more naturalistic than almost any of the companions we’ve seen since 2005. Possibly since about 1975.
I’m not sure what to make of the TARDIS interior. The connection of the central crystal blob (which used to be a column) to four struts has obvious links to the McGann console room. I sort of like the new roundels, too, and the fact that it’s quite close inside contrasts nicely with the Capaldi set (though frankly, a minor redress of that would probably have done fine). The Console itself is just naff, though – and those hourglasses really are particularly obvious.
I’ve not yet seen anything from Whittaker or the other regulars that has really stood out as a performance, but they’ve not really been given anything especially testing yet, IMO. So far, I like Whittaker’s performance and the take on the character. It’s noticeable how much this Doctor isn’t just not front-and-centre, but also not really in full control of the situation. So far, she’s been much more clearly winging it, which I like, too. The emphasis feels like it’s back on the Doctor as an explorer, rather than the Doctor as hero.
I also really enjoyed the episode’s refusal to tie itself together in a neat bow. It felt refreshingly different, and a little cheeky to me (“Pfff. No.” was great, for me.)
That’s about all I can think of for now. Bottom line is that I like the aesthetics/overall direction, agree the dialogue is ropey and needs improvement, like the TARDIS but not the console, and think there’s very little chance the Rosa Parks episode doesn’t either turn out terribly or as something that means well but ends up with some seriously flawed mixed messaging and bad plotting, at best.
One question I’m curious to put into the mix, is whether Chibnall is articulating a vision of what human society and relationships should be like, and is it a good one? For now, I feel like both get a qualified yes, but I’m not sure how long that will last. So far, I feel there’s a much tighter ethical focus to the programme than Moffat had, but I wonder if this will actually remain as clear for the whole season.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:35 am
“But the vibe I’m getting is that this is about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations.”
I don’t mean to lessen your enjoyment of the show (here’s hoping we both keep enjoying it!) but for me there’s a huge difference between “ordinary” and “uninteresting”. I don’t want to watch uninteresting people.
October 20, 2018 @ 1:27 pm
Well, I wasn’t necessarily suggesting he was doing it well, just that I think that’s the target he’s shooting for. YMMV on how well he does at hitting it, of course; I’ve laid out my read on the characterisation above, but I’m certainly not advocating it as the sole interpretation.
Oh, and I think I’ve spotted something more infuriatingly twee on the console than even the hourglass, and possibly, the custard-cream dispenser: the little spinning transparent police-box.
October 17, 2018 @ 2:50 pm
Doctor Who is allowed to be messy. Boring, on the other hand, is intolerable.
Alas, this was both. I appreciate your valiant effort to find nice things to say about this, but I mostly felt bad for a cast stuck with two consecutive crappy scripts. Generic action that periodically pauses for dialogue that’s mostly there to “communicat[e] what tropes have been chosen,” to borrow a phrase.
October 17, 2018 @ 2:54 pm
Am I alone in liking the hourglass? It’s obvious, but it’s a nice nod to the TARDIS as working from symbolic logic, and honestly, a bicycle pump or a big lever or even a keyboard would do no more to harness and control an eternally collapsing sun than an hourglass . Why can’t the Tardis be a bit playful, both as a set and diegetically as a character?
Can’t disagree with most other comments, but I think the episode worked for me a little more than others. Also, I went to a Doctor Who episode set in a Virgin New Adventure world for some reason.
October 17, 2018 @ 7:47 pm
I could see the symbolic logic of the hourglass appealing for Chibnall if he’s looking back at the Hartnell/Troughton era for inspiration. David Whitaker seemed big on symbolic logic, with the mercury fluid links and with his Dalek stories for Troughton (especially Evil).
October 18, 2018 @ 2:53 am
What do you guys mean by symbolic logic? Semiotics? Analogical correspondence?
October 18, 2018 @ 6:12 pm
In Whitaker’s case (1 T – David, not 2 T’s Jodie) it was more the magickal correspondence. Elizabeth talked about it in the first couple of volumes of TARDIS Eruditorum
October 17, 2018 @ 3:10 pm
“In terms of the other companions, the downsides of a 50 minute format and a three companion format are becoming obvious fast. Ian, Barbara, and Vicki this crew ain’t. Graham and Ryan have vague definition in relation to each other, but there’s no sense that they respond with any individuation in their responses to Doctor Who stuff.”
I find the two younger companions problematic and I realize it is because they are the wrong age. Ryan needs to be younger and Yaz needs to slightly older – making them people who want to school together has created all sorts of narrative problems.
Yaz is so far un-used and the fact that she is a (even given she is inexperienced) policewoman seems to make absolutely no different to her character and she is oddly passive given that is suppose to be her background.
Also giving her that dialogue about her sister being a pain when she’s on the phone when someone is explaining the genocide of her planet makes her look either uncaring or a sociopath.
Ryan has various problems – the first is that the actor is 26 and clearly looks 26. So after setting up the stereotypical deadbeat black dad (something DS9 knew to avoid over 20 years ago!) last week, the show compounds this with having a middle-aged white man hectoring a black adult to call him grand-dad.
Some of this could have been avoided by casting a young actor and removing a couple of elements from
(I think this is all unintentional by the way rather than any suggestion of bad intent).
Thinking finally about the episode as a whole – the race element was just non-existent, I couldn’t work out why it was part of the plot.
October 17, 2018 @ 3:16 pm
Part of what strikes me about the new series thus far is how much it’s aimed at the original Doctor Who’s audience versus being aimed at the original Doctor Who’s fans. We’ve moved back from the “miss a minute of the episode and you will be lost unless you can run it back” to the “miss a minute of the episode? You’ll be fine” style of the old series. Davies and Moffat wrote largely (not entirely) for folks who would buy the DVD, go to the fake websites, post online about the show, examine, or even take, screenshots of moments, and obsess about little details and continuity blips that would turn out to be important later. So far, Chibnall seems to be writing for a broader audience, one including people happy to watch the show while knitting/sipping tea/on their iPads playing solitaire alongside the kiddies and the more serious fans. The people who don’t go online before for spoilers or afterward for anything. Ironically, I’d wager that infuriates the people who hated Moffat and complained about the ratings, because this isn’t the show that they wanted, either.
It’s a less anxious program. That’s not all to the good: obsessive defensiveness and eagerness to please can be a hedge against saying “good enough” or “we don’t need a retake.” But the boldness here is boldness in a different way, boldness about what Doctor Who the program does and is for, not boldness within the setting or individual episode. The pandering of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” contrasts strongly with the risks of “Rosa,” which despite looking like pandering of a different sort seems like an invitation to trouble and criticism, not a masterstroke. An invitation not far off that of casting a woman to play the Doctor, or bringing in more diverse writers. Timey-wimey stuff was a bold experiment years ago, but it became expected, and it wasn’t always brilliant. Chibnall sees on-track to produce something both new and that harkens back to the earliest days of the program, and if the odds that he’ll produce a brilliant success seem so much lower, that doesn’t mean that he can’t produce a plodding success. Finding a way to make brilliant risk-taking look like something ordinary has its own form of genius. And maybe what Doctor Who has to say to a broader audience is more important than all of the brilliant interwoven timey-wimey bits of the past seasons.
I thought Moffat was great, and loved the last series. But it was about the Doctor and the Master and the Cybermen and humanity and Bill Potts. It was also sometimes about the world we live in, injustice, evil, tyranny, kindness, that which must be fought. I am not convinced that any of those themes came out strongly enough for a casual viewer to detect. We live in a moment where the deeply engaged too strongly resist having their minds changed, and everyone else is afraid, disengaged, powerless without even detecting it, tuned out. In addressing that audience, Doctor Who will be speaking to me less, and much too obviously. But that doesn’t change the need.
Besides, I can always rewatch whatever I want (aside from the lost episodes).
October 17, 2018 @ 3:47 pm
If I’m being completely honest, I tuned out roughly at the point where the gruff isolationist bastard explains his backstory unprompted after knowing these people for five minutes. Felt a bit too early in the story to have such a moment. “The Amazing Race, but in SPACE” can lead into some interesting places, though sadly this wasn’t one of them.
October 17, 2018 @ 4:07 pm
“It’s also interesting that for the first time since its return, it really feels like the show is making no conscious effort to address children as an audience.”
Must confess I haven’t gotten this impression myself, especially with the surfeit of on-the-nose and over-explaining dialogue in both episodes (which, as people here and elsewhere have asserted, feels like an over correction in response to the perceived flaws of Moffat Who, and consequently trying too hard to make sure no one’s confused). The Homicidal Bedsheets also gave me Christopher Columbus era Harry Potter vibes.
October 17, 2018 @ 4:10 pm
Sorry, this was meant to be a reply to Gnaeus
October 17, 2018 @ 4:21 pm
I don’t disagree that the dialogue is bad, but I’m not sure that’s exactly a result of being addressed to children; I’m most inclined to put the features you note down to it simply not being very good dialogue, or, following David Ainsworth’s line, to see the programme as addressing a less intensely-focused audience.
I’m afraid I haven’t a clue what “Christopher Columbus era Harry Potter” is, although I do kind of love the term “Homicidal Bedsheets”, and think they kind of look a bit like the Fendahl. Admittedly, not much like the Fendahl, and it’s probably not something you’d want it to look like, but…
October 17, 2018 @ 6:27 pm
Chris Columbus (no relation) directed the first two Harry Potter movies, and they have a vastly different feel to all the others
October 17, 2018 @ 7:49 pm
Thanks. I haven’t watched those films (I know…), so I was really struggling to see the connection!
October 18, 2018 @ 5:36 pm
I take your point Gnaeus, think I was a bit rash in initially equating “badly written” with “aimed at children.” Really, I should know better.
And yeah, that’s probably my love of Doctor Who bleeding out into how I think about other properties. You’ve got the early, whimsical Potter films directed by Chris ‘Home Alone and Gremlins’ Columbus, the rather dour ones directed by David Yates towards the end, and then the harder to pin down other guys in the middle.
October 17, 2018 @ 4:28 pm
I’m not sure why everyone on here has started to hate the program. It seems to be more popular with the viewers than it has been for a long time. Suggesting that Chris Chibnill can’t show run or write properly seem a bit odd for such a successful TV professional
October 17, 2018 @ 5:25 pm
It’s because we don’t like the direction the show is taking.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:31 pm
The last time the production pandered to the fans, the series got cancelled. I also remember that the fans hated Tom Baker in season 17 although it was very popular with the general public. But hey ho that’s democracy for you
October 17, 2018 @ 6:43 pm
It’s a puzzling definition of “the last time the production pandered to the fans” indeed that excludes The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End or bringing back Alpha Centauri and the Mondasian Cybermen within two episodes of each other.
As for Season 17, it’s worth recalling that in addition to the ITV strike-fueled ratings of Destiny of the Daleks and The City of Death the season had an episode that pulled in the fewest viewers since the 1960s and the lowest chart placing of the series to date.
So this is, to say the least, a selective account even before you get to attempts to equate the taste of this site’s readership (which, I remind you, ranked Paradise Towers as the 44th greatest Doctor Who story ever) with Doctor Who fandom at large (which, erm, didn’t).
October 19, 2018 @ 7:49 am
Who’s hating? Most of us are midly disappointed at best.
October 17, 2018 @ 5:23 pm
Is it me or should an episode with no humans beside the companions have been more visually interesting? The ships and killbots were generic, the ruins were dull (the only bit of character they had was the bedsheets of death draped everywhere and they turned out to just exist for plot functionality), and could they not even stretch the budget to at least give the guest characters weird contact lenses?
But I did love that it was an entirely alien environment; Art Malik was fun; I loved the “Did you practice that line in the mirror?” line*; and I like the new console room.
October 17, 2018 @ 5:31 pm
Just like the big speech on the crane last week, the TARDIS reveal desperately needed some good, emotional, thematic music to support it and got none. Akinola’s version of the opening credits is good and all, but otherwise Murray Gold is sorely missed.
Otherwise, Whittaker continues to be delightful enough to carry the show for now.
October 18, 2018 @ 6:20 pm
The musical change reminds me of the change in music between Babylon 5 with Christopher Franke with the spinoff Crusade with the music by Evan Chen. That was also a change from the big bombastic orchestral music to something totally different. That got quite a few complaints back then as well, I recall.
October 20, 2018 @ 11:29 pm
Goodness, for Doctor Who to wind up with music as spectacularly devoid of content as Crusade would be something of a worst case scenario. IMO.
October 17, 2018 @ 5:50 pm
I’m enjoying it for its rough patches; I wouldn’t want this to be the high mark of the season, but I didn’t think it was any worse than “New Earth;” I enjoyed it more than “The Beast Below;” and it was miles ahead of “Smile.” The show feels more interesting and less self-consciously mythic to me than it has since Season 4. While Ryan, Yaz, and Graham are still stock characters, I prefer companions as ordinary people who prove themselves extraordinary rather than extraordinary by design, and if they get strong character moments later in the season, I expect the gaps will be filled in when I re-watch it. The Doctor’s despair at not finding the TARDIS immediately felt unearned, but it was less over the top than Smith sulking on a cloud or Capaldi initially refusing to regenerate. Its a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where it goes, especially as Whittaker is phenomenal. To be fair, though, I’m worried about the Rosa Parks episode and hope the show doesn’t step in it next week.
October 19, 2018 @ 5:40 am
Ordinary people is fine. But for that to work, they have to be people.
October 17, 2018 @ 5:52 pm
Am I the only one who watched this and thought “Eric Saward, but with a budget”?
I mean, it looks gorgeous, Whittaker is amazing, but honestly, this could have been dropped in the middle of any season from 19-21 and the only question that people who have asked was “wait the Doctor’s a girl now?” Chibnall’s sci fi aesthetic largely seems to be grim and gritty spaceships, military figures floating around the edges, and very thin attempts at Robert Holmes styled social commentary. You know Holmes would have knocked “a race that no one is actually watching,” out of the park. He would have tied together all the various threads of the story with a structure that allowed for social commentary and, you know, a decent plot.
The TARDIS being the Ghost Monument didn’t factor at all into the plot. The planet really being a weapons facility didn’t factor into the plot. People walked across a largely desert planet, with no water you could drink, and didn’t even seem to sweat. The supporting cast is barely drawn ciphers, and reminds me so much of the Fifth Doctor’s companions I’m kind of chuckling. Hell, Yaz is already firmly slotted in Nyssa’s “we really don’t know what to do with her” role.
And yet despite all of that…I liked it well enough. Doctor Who can be many things, and I guess now it’s entertaining, turn your brain off television that lets the standard tropes of television do all the work for you while sketches of plot and character lay on top. It feels like it was created in a corporate boardroom as a reaction to everything Moffat ever did, and just exists to be entertaining diversion now.
I mean, again, Moffat’s style is so much up my alley that I clearly am not meant to be the target audience here, so perhaps I am being a little harsh, but…this just feels safe, and content to entertain you. Which, you know, isn’t wrong; it feels pretentious of me to say “Doctor Who should have the ambition for it that I and I alone think it should have.” It is a BBC television show that, under Moffat, had become certainly idiosyncratic to a degree, and trying for a wider audience isn’t a bad thing. Just, you know, safe.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:49 pm
Yes! that’s exactly what I thought. Got a really strong Saward vibe, and came here to post that but you beat me to it.
Doctor apologizing for not being able to get three, under-characterized companions back home?
Writer clearly more interested in the Grim-Faced Space Ruffians Of The Week than in any of the main cast?
Trying to be a gritty survival-action show with laser gun fights, and missing the opportunity to be about characters or themes?
check, check, check.
October 18, 2018 @ 6:24 pm
There wasn’t enough gratuitous violence for it to feel like an episode Saward wrote (or script edited, if you look at season 22)
The finger poke stopping someone – she called it Venusian Aikido, but it felt much more like something Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor might do. Certainly it wasn’t the HAIIIIII! of the Jon Pertwee years.
October 17, 2018 @ 6:52 pm
I liked this more than the first episode, certainly, but I’m going to have disagree with El’s assessment – this doesn’t feel like Dragonfire at all to me, which has rich (if broad) characters, a well thought-through setting, a lighthearted tone, and a coherent structure (although I also think I probably like Dragonfire more than she does). Instead, it feels in almost every respect like a Terry Nation story, from the plodding pseudo-JRPG structure to the colonialist fears of survival in an alien and hostile landscape. I kept half-expecting the Doctor to bust out the anti-radiation pills, or one of the characters to fall suddenly ill, or for everybody to spend 25 minutes crossing a chasm.
I had a lot of issues with this episode, which I’ll get out of the way before going to the stuff I liked. First, as everybody has mentioned, is the cardboard characterization, particularly of Yaz (who here gets a fairly pathetic personality infodump about how her sister drives her crazy), but nobody so far has been served particularly well. Graham’s desire for Ryan’s affection jars with his extremely ableist and out-of-place rant last episode about Ryan blaming his dyspraxia for the alien invasion. Ryan’s CoD moment was truly execrable – it was an incredibly inefficient way to go about demonstrating that the Doctor doesn’t like guns, which itself is later blurred by the Doctor’s EMP pulse.
The episode fleshes out none of its ideas – as Andrew Ellard and several other people here have pointed out, this race doesn’t at all resemble a race, and could have been literally any other macguffin. The cigar was telegraphed too strongly and is an idea that falls apart when you think about it, and more bizarrely it’s stupid in a way that Doctor Who already skewered in the Long Game. The robot guards were completely superfluous; instead of messing around with them, the episode could have introduced the killer bedsheets a long time earlier and actually explored that concept. Speaking of which, that whole concept, and the “scientists forced to commit war crimes” angle, remind me of nothing so much as “A Town Called Mercy,” and in fact I’m having trouble visualizing how the show would be at all different if Whithouse was running things.
Still, the episode never gets boring, moves at a decent clip, and is working in a style that is fairly new for Doctor Who. I thought Shaun Dooley’s character was really solid (and actually is a point towards Dragonfire, as he’s very Glitz-like). The killer bedsheets is a great idea and I hope they come back and are explored in more depth. Jodie Whittaker is still really elevating the material, and I think all the 5th Doctor comparisons are apt – I wonder if Chibnall, like Moffat, is a strong 5th Doctor partisan.
Based on these two episodes, Chibnall-penned Doctor Who just simply isn’t for me, so I’m hoping he turns out to be a better script editor than screenwriter.
Lastly, I have to ask you what you mean by emotional labor, El. You mention it here and on the Woman Who Lived podcast, but it seems like you’re using it in a way that I’m not familiar with. The definition I know refers to (mostly) women doing jobs in the service industry that require trying to produce emotions in customers – servers at restaurants have to make the people eating feel welcome and respected, for example. Is this the definition you’re using and I’m just missing your point?
October 17, 2018 @ 7:16 pm
If Whithouse were running things, we wouldn’t have a female Doctor.
October 17, 2018 @ 7:17 pm
Oh, and apparently Chibnall’s favourite Doctor is Tom Baker, but his co-exec Matt Strevens is a Davison man.
October 17, 2018 @ 7:22 pm
Final addendum: funny you say that about the Terry Nation similarities, as Yaz’s monster file on the Remnants (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06p2fs5) refers to Desolation as “a Dead Planet, with no Survivors”. 😉
(She’s had more characterisation in her ‘monster files’ than in 1 hr 55 minutes of actual episodes).
October 17, 2018 @ 7:21 pm
what makes you say that?
October 17, 2018 @ 7:23 pm
He’s on record as being opposed to the idea.
October 17, 2018 @ 7:34 pm
hmm, well maybe I underestimated how bad whithouse is a tad
October 18, 2018 @ 4:46 am
Well, Whithouse wrote the infuriatingly mishandled “Lie of the Land” for Capaldi’s Doctor, so he’s very bad indeed.
October 17, 2018 @ 9:03 pm
I got a sense at times that Chibnall was shaping Graham into a sort of Wilfred Mott 2.0. I hope this isn’t intentional because THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE WILF!!!
Anyone else pickup that vibe? Granted there are some very notable differences between the two characters, but Graham’s conversations with Ryan had the same feel to me as a lot of Wilf’s interactions with Donna.
October 18, 2018 @ 6:28 pm
It’s possible he wanted Graham to become the new Wilf, but personally I think it was all just Chibnall becoming enamored of the idea of having two men and two women in the TARDIS with one of the men being referred to as “grandfather” by one of the others. Really more a Hartnell shout out than a Wilfred Mott shout out.
October 17, 2018 @ 9:15 pm
Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor reminds me of Colin Baker, of all things. Colin had this tendency to wander off in his train of thought and then come back to it later, having skipped all of the in-between bits and acting like whatever he concluded was the most obvious thing possible not understanding why he has to explain it to anyone.
Baker was abrasive and Whitaker is amiable, but that behavior is something they share.
Also: The guest male’s story about his mother teaching him to not trust anyone, even her? That is lifted ALMOST VERBATIM from a story Erik Trump told about his father while on the campaign trail in 2016.
‘Apolitical’ will NOT be a criticism that will be aimed at this series when it was over. Whether you agree with it or think it was very good at it are different questions… but unlike Moffat who (IMO) avoided engaging with many social concerns, Chinball has his knives out. Right now he is just testing the water….
October 17, 2018 @ 10:04 pm
Do you have a source for that Trump story?
I’ve looked but without much success.
October 18, 2018 @ 2:44 pm
Even if Erik Trump told a similar story I’m not sure this means anything. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this story (or a variant of it) many, many times in various media. Judging by Chibnall’s propensity for stock characters and stock dialogue, I think he’s likely to use stock stories as well.
(Jeez, this sounds so harsh… Mr. Chibnall, if you ever read this, I’m enjoying your DW, I truly am!)
October 17, 2018 @ 10:11 pm
I admit that I’m quite liking the non-endings so far – in both cases, the other characters were just “teleported” away to somewhere unknown, ostensibly leaving the Doctor stranded. (And, of course, in the first episode, this was followed by the rest of the characters teleporting away to somewhere unknown and being stranded.)
And I also like the low-keyness of the threats. It’s very hard to crank down; I’m hoping that this is a deliberate choice, although I imagine that the season will end with yet another invasion of Earth.
October 18, 2018 @ 12:17 am
To be very succinct:
Positives: The first 5 minutes (before arriving on the planet) was some of the best DW I’ve ever seen. Angstrom and Epzo were amazing. I want a spin-off.
Negatives: Most of the rest was choppily edited and strangely plotted. The companions had nothing to do. This is the first episode where people on Gallifrey Base can easily come up with better plot resolution ideas.
October 18, 2018 @ 3:07 am
I remember something Elizabeth wrote before about how a Doctor’s second story tells you what their tenure will actually be like. I have a feeling that’s the case with “The Ghost Monument.” Chibnall’s educational mandate is more prominent now. You have handy don’t-try-this-at-home lessons about acetylene. You have the Doctor taking a very verbal stand for brains and against guns. And surprisingly there’s a thinly veiled critique of reality TV. Ilin is basically Mark Burnett, who by the way bears at least some responsibility for the Trump administration.
I liked this one too. If I have complaints they’re mostly visual in nature. While shooting in the Sub-Saharan desert lends some grandeur, the anamorphic lenses had more to work with in the nighttime urban settings of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, where they made a lovely bokeh effect of the Sheffield neon. And the Remnants leave something to be desired. Another case of CGI crowding out practical FX when the latter would be more effective.
October 18, 2018 @ 4:36 am
Geography is not my strong point, but I think South Africa is more sub-sub-sub-sub-Sahara.
October 18, 2018 @ 2:36 pm
I was thinking of “Sub” as “everything south of” but you’re probably right.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:13 am
Practical effects for animated rags? How do you pull that off without it looking like something out of Birdemic?
October 18, 2018 @ 2:33 pm
Wires, I’m thinking, although admittedly you’d still need some post-edit work to make sure they didn’t show.
October 18, 2018 @ 9:27 am
I see your point about second episodes, but I think many people will come to argue that the two first episodes actually count as 1 long introductory episode. We have a literal continuation of the plot, with the second episode picking up from the cliffhanger, and a thematic exploration of what the Doctor does. And when she does it she earns the TARDIS and then is ready for the series to begin.
October 18, 2018 @ 2:38 pm
I see your point as well. The second does continue from the first, but they’re not a two parter. They’re more related in the way of “A Good Man Goes to War” and “Let’s Kill Hitler.”
October 19, 2018 @ 7:43 am
“A Good Man Goes to War” and “Let’s Kill Hitler” were much more connected, plot-wise, than “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” and “The Ghost Monument”. I’d say it’s more like the relationship between “Smile” and “Thin Ice”.
October 18, 2018 @ 3:07 am
Think I might have to agree about the TARDIS interior. “Organic” and “crystal” (plasticky looking lamp with an orange light bulb inside) could have been taken so much further. The console has a very idiosyncratic shape and not many controls on each panel. The space is small with pillars very close to the console. And it’s all very dimly lit – basically tungsten carbide orange and dark shades of brown.
I also like it to an extent. I’m expressing my most negative take on it here because here is an opportunity to so. 🙂
October 18, 2018 @ 6:35 pm
That control room lighting is definitely going to be a problem if the Vashta Nerada show up again.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:08 am
I’m finding myself enjoying it so far – partially because of the slight naffness.
It hearkens back to the classic series where each story was thought to something ephemeral and most likely never to be seen again. Somehow Chibnall has captured that sense that nobody is thinking about how it’s going to be viewed after the initial broadcast – no need to do another pass over the plot and dialogue as once it’s in the can – it’ll be broadcast and that’s it – on to the next one. I’m getting an odd sense of nostalgia.
And the new TARDIS interior? I think the TARDIS is being cheeky – deliberately refitting itself to look like a set on a small TV sound stage.
I don’t know what you’ve got against custard creams, El – the TARDIS having a biscuit dispenser doesn’t rankle me at all. Although the scene felt a bit like the TARDIS was dispensing a treat for her pet.
Seriously though, it does feel like a first draft script.
I agree with commentators above that the landscape could have used a few skeletons scattered about. Possibly some draped in the winding sheets to add a bit more of a sense of danger – I just saw all this rotting cloth caught on bits of the landscape and I didn’t connect it in any way to danger or death – just thought it was an odd choice for conveying the debris of the civilisation.
As for showrunners, he’s adequate, and may (or probably not) surprise us.
My choice for the first female Doctor was Phoebe Waller Bridge (although I love Jodie) as her performance in Fleabag felt Doctorish to me – a bit of a dodgy, unreliable McCoy-ish Doctor with sarcastic asides. After seeing Killing Eve, I’d hope somehow she could take up the reins of showrunner at some point – she knows how to cast good people, create great dialogue and structure a plot.
Although I’d be happy for her to just be the next Doctor…
October 18, 2018 @ 6:37 pm
I’m a huge fan of the custard cream dispenser in principle. (I especially love the joy on the Doctor’s face when she activates it — especially when I learned this was basically Jodie’s reaction when being shown the prop.) However, I have concerns.
Given this thing is an actual mechanism within the console, it’s probably going to be used several times. And I worry that it will become more significant each time, until we eventually get a story where the day is saved because the Doctor has access to custard creams. (Cf. the butterfly room in the EDAs.)
That aside, it reminds me of the chocolate digestive machine in Bagpuss, and being reminded of Bagpuss is always a good thing.
October 18, 2018 @ 8:56 am
One thought that keeps coming back to me is that it doesn’t seem like being the showrunner of “Doctor Who” is Chris Chibnall’s dream job. It might be, but it’s hard to get this vibe from his two opening episodes. With Davies and (especially) Moffat their first seasons just fizzled with energy, with idiosyncratic ideas, with character. These guys were waiting to write DW stories their whole lives and now they were living the dream – and you could tell. With Chibnall I just don’t get that feeling. It’s like he wrote the stories he’s always wanted to write under RTD and Moffat and now he’s just kinda… well, maybe not going through the motions but not living the dream either. I might be completely wrong but it’s just hard for me to imagine that if I ever got the chance to make the show my own, my first stories would be this… generic.
Then again, I’ve seen some casual viewers’ reactions to both of the new episodes and honestly they were having a blast. Every cliche line landed, every unearned moment got them emotionally engaged. Hell, I enjoyed this episode a lot even though now I’ve spent like 3 days complaining about everything that didn’t work. So what do I know, eh?
October 18, 2018 @ 11:41 am
I know what you mean, though I don’t think it’s as though he was writing “the stories he’s always wanted to write” under RTD/Moff either, tbh — I think all of them were briefs from the showrunners rather than his own pitches.
October 18, 2018 @ 1:58 pm
I don’t think the Rally was meant to be a commentary on reality TV. In fact, I don’t think there any viewers at all. It was a throwback to Cannonball Run and its less comedic predecessor Gumball Rally, though neither of those actually had a prize of any value. As someone said, I think this is just a bored trillionaire organizing a dangerous race for his own entertainment.
While I approve in general of the Doctor’s anti-gun stance, I’m not sure what the problem is with using guns against non-sentient killer robots. After all, no one thought ill of 10 or 11 for using guns to shoot technological doodads in End of Time or Time of the Angels.
I thought the cigar thing would have played better if the Doctor had persuaded Enzo to be the one to throw it and snap his fingers, thus demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice something important to himself to save the group in contravention of his earlier speech about “everyone for themselves.”
And speaking of Enzo’s speech, I thought it was brilliant. Mainly because I expect Enzo has practiced and delivered that speech for years. When delivered properly to the right audience, it would naturally have the effect of causing others to ignore his selfishness out of pity for his upbringing and make him seem sympathetic regardless of his selfish actions.
October 18, 2018 @ 11:48 pm
While I thought last week’s episode was better (I got bored of this week’s after the reveal that we were dealing with a race.) this is probably the most I’ve enjoyed the show since Matt Smith left. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Capaldi’s Doctor but most of his stories fell flat for me (Into the Dalek, Time Heist, Dark Water ((After a point)), Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, the Pilot, and Smile being the exceptions.) Time will tell if things hold up but so far I like the TARDIS crew (Though I lack a favorite companion of the bunch thus far.) are enjoyable enough to keep me engaged.
October 19, 2018 @ 12:58 am
It’s been fine so far. The characters are likable enough, and I enjoyed myself the whole way through.
I suppose it could all go horribly wrong at some point, but if they can keep this up it’ll be good enough.
I really hope they don’t fuck up the next episode.
Also it would be great if Yasmin could get some focus.
John G. Wood
October 19, 2018 @ 8:18 am
I’ve not posted before because I’ve had nothing substantive to add. It feels like I am enjoying the series more than I should – I can see plenty of flaws (and I really miss having better dialogue), yet I am fully engaged. I’m hoping I can figure out why before too long.
One point where I seem to be going against the flow is with Akinola’s score. I am loving the incidental music but the theme leaves me completely cold (in contrast with the title visuals, which are rather lovely).
October 20, 2018 @ 3:14 pm
“Also, really Chibnall? Your idea of queer representation is a single line that serves to kill an off-screen lesbian? Fuck off.”
Your idea of queer representation is what, exactly?
Is having a queer woman who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of her family (biological or otherwise), who has survived personal tragedy and is determined and capable of surviving, not good enough for you?
Pah! (To paraphrase Patrick Troughton).
October 20, 2018 @ 3:25 pm
My idea of queer representation is using the queerness for something other than more fucking dead lesbian tragedy porn.
October 22, 2018 @ 2:08 am
While we’re playing ‘what old story is this like’ – one of the most immediate associations for me, which possibly says as much about the era of Doctor Who that I was most intensely engaged with as it does the episode itself, was Christopher Bulis’ early BBC book The Ultimate Treasure. Both obviously draw on standard fantasy quest narratives, and I actually remember that Bulis book fairly fondly – he was always one of the most work(wo)manlike of the Wilderness Years writers, but that particular novel sped along and had the then-novel combination of the 5th Doctor and Peri getting used to travelling together just post-Planet of Fire.
I felt similarly about this episode – which to be clear, I do think is a LOT better than the Bulis. There are some very stock characters and dialogue, but I really appreciate how much Chibnall is explicitly pushing the Doctor as a pacifist, as well as the sense of newness, both in terms of plot and visuals, about the new season.
That’s actually another thing that feels in common with the moment that the Bulis book was written (although I do realise I’m stretching a longish bow here) – the feeling of a reset after the groundbreaking and self-consciously complex/difficult New Adventures, as the BBC books clearly set themselves out to be more low-stakes and nostalgic. Again, I like these first two episodes of the Chibnall era significantly more than most of those early BBC novels, but I obviously wouldn’t be mad if we had an Alien Bodies coming down the line…..
October 22, 2018 @ 9:07 pm
Hmm. I seem to have had a comment deleted. I’m not particularly interested in contesting the point- Sandifer or her moderators have every right to remove posts at their discretion.
I do want to apologize if through ignorance or carelessness I posted a comment that was hurtful or offensive, and ask whether there’s an official comment policy I can view.