Saturday 28 October 2023

Story 278: The Ghost Monument

In which the Doctor and her new companions are saved from the vacuum of space when they are picked up by a couple of spaceships...
They are taking part in the gruelling Rally of the Twelve Galaxies, and represent the last two competitors still standing. The pilots are Angstrom - who has rescued Graham and Ryan - and Epzo, who has the Doctor and Yaz on board.
They are approaching the planet Desolation. Angstrom lands but Epzo's ship is crashing. The Doctor advises the pilot to jettison part of it, and they make it to the surface where they are soon reunited with the others.
Desolation marks the final destination in the race. Despite being rivals, this is a dangerous world and the Doctor urges the competitors to work together. They make their way to a large tent in which they meet a man named Ilin, who is the race sponsor.

Their goal is to reach the "Ghost Monument" - a strange apparition which appears and disappears randomly on a hillside elsewhere on the planet. On seeing a hologram of it, the Doctor is surprised to see that this object is her TARDIS. It transpires that Ilin is not here at all. He and these luxurious surroundings are another hologram.
The Doctor and her companions set off with Angstrom and Epzo to traverse the hazardous terrain. After crossing a desert they will face a sea full of flesh-eating microbes. They locate a boat and have to get it working before they can use it to travel to the next land mass. Once more the Doctor has to force the pair to work together. Graham attempts to bond with Ryan, to talk about Grace's death, but the young man is reluctant to discuss it.
Angstrom and Epzo each describe their backgrounds as they sail, explaining why they have taken part in this hazardous quest.

Making landfall in another desert landscape, the group make their way to a ruined building. As they explore, they come under attack by SniperBots - lethal androids.
Inside the building they discover an abandoned laboratory and learn that Desolation was invaded and taken over by the Stenza - the race to which T'zim Sha belonged - who turned it into one vast weapons factory. Angstrom reveals that it was they who attacked her planet and killed her family.
The Doctor uses a defunct SniperBot to create an electro-magnetic pulse to disable the others.
Epzo is attacked by Remnants, which resemble strips of fabric. They envelop and smother their victims. 
A tunnel system is found which will take them away from the area, but when they emerge they are attacked by more Remnants. They are in the middle of a swamp and the atmosphere is full of acetylene. Epzo has a self-lighting cigar which he was saving for his hoped-for victory, and the Doctor detects the flammable gas. She engineers an explosion which destroys the entities - but not before they have communicated with her - a cryptic message about a "timeless child".

As dawn breaks, the party reaches the location of the "Ghost Monument". The Doctor has realised that the ship's engines are looping, hence its random appearances.
Ilin's tent appears by hologram once more, and the Doctor argues with him that Angstrom and Epzo be declared joint winners. He disagrees, but after the Doctor threatens him with bad publicity he relents. He teleports the pair away to claim their winnings, but refuses to take the Doctor and her companions as they are not competitors. The Doctor must stabilise the TARDIS if they are to ever escape this planet.
It materialises fully and she enters to find that it has regenerated itself inside and out, with a new console room design. Graham, Ryan and Yaz join her and they depart, heading back to Sheffield.

The Ghost Monument was written by Chris Chibnall, and was first broadcast on Sunday 14th October 2018.
This episode introduced both the redesigned TARDIS and the series' new opening credits. The previous week had skipped an intro, taking us straight to the new companions and Grace before the Doctor finally dropped though the train roof to join them. The new theme arrangement had only been heard over the closing credits.
The new visuals mimic the original howlround ones of the 1960's, only with an oil-on-water look as opposed to a lightshow. Apart from the odd one-off episode, this is the first time that the Doctor's features have not appeared in the titles since The Angels Take Manhattan. The TARDIS is also absent, for the first time since the final Colin Baker episode. 
The music, whilst honouring the original arrangement, is rather "muddy". It does grow on you, eventually.
RTD had made us wait until two thirds of the way into Rose before we got to see the TARDIS interior, whilst Moffat had us wait until the end of The Eleventh Hour for his. Chibnall has dragged things out to have an entire episode just getting the Doctor to the new TARDIS.
Sadly, it's an anti-climax. The new set will take a lot of getting used to - if at all - and it is significant that we hardly see it properly throughout this first Whittaker season.

Something else new this series is the choice of overseas location for filming. The venue is South Africa, which offers a range of locales. 
One other new innovation is the nature of the camera lenses being employed and, whilst the episodes do look good, we'd have preferred better storytelling...
After a promising start last week, some of the weaknesses with Chibnall's writing make themselves known in this episode. The planet Desolation should be a nightmare world. We are told this often enough. But Chibnall is a victim of "tell, not show", whilst we want the opposite. First of all we are told about the flesh-eating microbes in the water, but they may as well not be there the way the cast react. They just get the boat working and sail away. There's no scene in which we are shown how dangerous this threat is. The group traverse the landscape unhindered as well, until they get to the SniperBots - who are as accurate as Imperial Stormtroopers. Again we are told how lethal they are, but they look pathetic on screen. When a real threat does finally materialise, it looks like bits of cloth floating about in the air...

Due to the nature of the story, we only have a small guest cast - Angstrom, Epzo and Ilin. The latter is Art Malik, who first came to public prominence in the drama The Jewel in the Crown. he has also featured in a Bond movie - The Living Daylights, where he played the public school educated leader of the Mujaheddin. Angstrom is Susan Lynch, whose film and TV career goes back to 1991. Recent appearances have included Downton Abbey, Happy Valley, Unforgotten and Close to Me, in which she starred opposite Christopher Eccleston.
Epzo is the prolific Shaun Dooley, seen recently in RTD's It's A Sin in which he played the main character's father. He worked with Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker (and David Tennant) in the second series of Broadchurch. He started his career in the late 1990's in Coronation Street.
There appears to be a season story arc developing with the second episode in a row to mention the Stenza. This will fail to develop, however. Though T'zim Sha will feature later in the series, the Stenza references end here.
We also have the cryptic words of the Remnants... This is entirely forgotten about until it suddenly becomes a Big Thing in the next series, which will follow a whole gap year. There's no seeding through the intervening episodes, so as a story arc it is very poorly managed.

Overall, it's a very weak episode. It might look good, but it's very much a triumph of style over content. As a viewer we want to see things, not just be continually told about them. That it culminates in a reveal of the new TARDIS is for many anti-climatic, as it was never a very popular design. The Doctor's insistence that she is now a committed pacifist (as opposed to someone who simply seeks peaceful resolutions as the first resort) is a worrying development for an action-adventure series.
Things you might like to know:
  • South Africa was experiencing a severe drought and heatwave in January 2018 when this episode was filmed. This led to the cast and crew being limited to two minute showers, and Tosin Cole developed heatstroke.
  • The Rally of the Twelve Galaxies was inspired by the famous Paris-Dakar Rally.
  • The TARDIS no longer has the St John's Ambulance badge on the door, which Moffat had reintroduced. The instruction panel now has white text on a black ground, which we haven't seen since the Tom Baker era.
  • Susan Lynch is wed to the Grand Serpent himself, Craig Parkinson.
  • A keen photographer, Shaun Dooley's image of the TARDIS with the Doctor in silhouette was deemed so impressive that it was adopted as a BBC publicity image for Series 11:
  • The Doctor has lost the TARDIS key, so the ship creates a new one here. It initially opens the door for her, though we have previously seen that it will also respond to a snap of the fingers.
  • Angstrom's race are known as the Albarians, whilst Epzo is a Muxteran. They've never heard of Earth or humans, so don't appear to be descendants of future colonists from Earth.
  • The Doctor employs Venusian Aikido to subdue Epzo. This was used frequently by the Third Doctor.
  • The Doctor claims the sunglasses she gives to Graham originally belonged to Audrey Hepburn or Pythagoras. When the episode was dubbed for broadcast in Brazil, this was changed to Carmen Miranda and Palmirinha (a famous Brazilian TV chef).
  • Yaz makes reference to the TARDIS looking like the green Police Box on Surrey Street in Sheffield. This is a real local landmark:

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