Doctor Who: Revisiting THE GHOST MONUMENT - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Revisiting THE GHOST MONUMENT

Tony ponders The Difficult Second Story.

The End Of The World.

New Earth.

The Beast Below.

Into the Dalek.

I mention these stories by way of illustration that while a regeneration story is supposed to stamp a new Doctor’s personality and vibe across our screens and our minds, their second stories often come as just a little bit of a let-down. There may well be lots of good stuff in them – in fact, there usually is – but rarely do they make people’s all time top ten lists.

Paradise Towers. Attack of the Cybermen. Four To Doomsday. You see the point? And yes, I fully cop to the fact that the idea breaks down when you get to the first four Doctors, but it’s been a clearly established trend for over thirty-five years – the second story of any relatively modern Doctor is sort of expected to be…a bit naff.

Enter Jodie Whittaker.

And…erm…well, here’s to the continuation of a long and semi-proud tradition.

The Ghost Monument, as has been regularly pointed out since it aired, is a kind of 21st century Keys of Marinus. In other words, it’s lots of potentially interesting dangers, mostly driven past on the way to a core objective. Dying in space when the planet you expect to be there, isn’t – good potential for a story…solved, almost instantly. Crashing to a planet that isn’t where it should be, in a rustbucket spaceship. Solved, almost immediately. A race to enormous wealth and victory, complicated instantly by the arrival of the Doctor and her mates. A planet almost entirely inimical to life. Erm…OK. Acid water, one boat, an army of killbots who can’t shoot straight. EMPs that kill all machinery except the trackers the team are using to find their way. Magic killer rags that come to life after dark. They’re all rushed through, meaning very little actually hits home. As with the first episode of the series, there’s lots more time devoted to characterisation than plot, and as with the first episode, it’s in the characterisation that the real reason for watching The Ghost Monument is found – the personalities and motivations of Angstrom and Epzo each have something of value in them, with Angstrom (Susan Lynch) by far the most convincing and the most sympathetic.

But in The Ghost Monument, this focus on ignoring all the potential plot elements that could have deserved exploration, in favour of the characterisation, leaves the audience high and dry once the race is jointly won and the characters zap off to their variously enriched destinies. In fact, the audience is already high and dry before that happens because despite all the stuff that would have been interesting to stick around and investigate, the solution to the mystery of Desolation is all written out quite neatly on the floor, meaning everything that’s led up to that point feels hollow and almost cynical, because it doesn’t need working out by the cleverest lifeform in the room. It just needs reading.

That sound you hear is the shoulders of the fandom, shrugging in a massive collective ‘Well, that was naff, wasn’t it?’

It’s a shrug not really helped by the telegraphed-miles-ahead set-piece of Acetylene Fields and the self-lighting cigar, and the remarkable convenience that the fields of gas don’t go all the way to the ground. As a sequence, you can see what was in Chris Chibnall’s head – ‘Need some drama, need the Doctor to Do Something Clever.’ But ultimately, it’s neither dramatic enough nor clever enough to make up for the whole ‘reading a shedload of exposition and explanation off the floor’ thing, nor indeed the ‘Let’s mention the Stenza again just to make them seem more fearsome than one cheating clueless bloke with a headful of molars’ moment.

All in all, The Ghost Monument is never going to be remembered for the intricacies of its plotting or its philosophical impact. It will however be remembered for its visuals. Apart from the joy of the new title sequence and theme variation, both of which are dark and classical (somewhat at odds with the tone of the show itself, but approved of by most fans), there looks to be an enormous amount of money spent on the show in this episode to make its variety of environments, especially the custard-yellow sands of South Africa, look genuinely alien. The ships look believably spaceworthy (albeit in the one case, only just). And then there’s the Tardis reveal.

You could certainly make the case that everything that comes before the last five minutes of The Ghost Monument is padding ahead of the Tardis reveal, much as everything that comes before the last ten minutes or so of The Christmas Invasion is padding ahead of the full-on New Doctor reveal. And what you think of the Tardis reveal will determine how often you re-watch The Ghost Monument. For my entirely personal money, the teal exterior is a lovely tweak, (suggesting, if you want to get enormously over-analytical about these things, a lighter-spirited, more optimistic Doctor), and the majority of the console room is neatly retro, with its walls that nod to both The Invasion Of Time and the Secondary Console Room giving it an impressively designed-within-an-inch-of-its-life feel. The crystalline crab-sticks that bend in to encase the console itself though seem as though they’re creating a tighter, smaller, fairly claustrophobic area of operation in an otherwise enormous room, giving the new Tardis interior the feeling of actually being smaller on the inside, which takes some getting used to. As for the console itself, set quirkiness to Matt Smith Max, with its twisty things, and spinny things and biscuit-dispensary. Feel free to make up your own headcanon for what the quirky things do (beyond dispensing Custard Creams), at least until they’re given an official purpose. I have, and it all works wonderfully.

Ultimately then, The Ghost Monument joins a long list of ‘difficult second stories’ for new Doctors, stories that are more about character and visuals than they are about making any kind of sense. Will fans flock to re-watch The Ghost Monument in years to come? Mmmmaybe, occasionally, just to see how the new Doctor coped on her first post-regeneration outing, to see the stunning quality of the visuals and the Tardis reveal, maybe – though less likely – to have some fun with some at least vaguely interesting supporting characters. It’s never going to be must-watch Who, it’s too clunkily put-together for that. But in the line-up of second stories from Four to Doomsday to Into The Dalek, it can hold its head up at least reasonably high.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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