In the second episode of the eleventh series of Doctor Who, the team is deposited on a planet named Desolation in order to reunite with the TARDIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of genocide
This was just… wow, y’all. This is about as pitch perfect as Doctor Who could be for me, as literally everything I love about this show appeared in a single episode and was executed brilliantly. Emotional themes? Terrifying suspense? Cinematic camera work? Evocative acting? IT’S ALL HERE. I loved this so much LET ME YELL ABOUT IT.
Where was this filmed?
Because seriously, part of the reason this was so convincing was that the location chosen for this episode felt otherworldly. It genuinely seemed like some distant planet whose population had been killed off, that was used for the end stage of some massive intergalactic race. And the production team used this location perfectly. Not a moment in this episode is wasted, and I’m so pleased with how this managed to be both aesthetically gorgeous while also telling a fantastic story. We had to believe that this place once held some massive civilization and that it’s now the most dangerous place imaginable, and this did both.
Over the course of “The Ghost Monument,” Chris Chibnall’s script asks us to consider what it means to work with those around us. That’s presented to the viewer in two forms: the Doctor struggling to return her companions to their home, and Angstrom and Epzo’s competition. At this point in the series, the Doctor doesn’t know Yaz, Ryan, or Graham very well. (Though I did notice that she’s already calling them her best friends, which warmed my heart.) But she fundamentally makes it her mission to locate the TARDIS and get them back home. Which is like… very typical of the Doctor! She helps people. But this story is so much more than this basic drive. Instead, it’s about how all four of them work together and support one another, no matter their differences, their fears, or their issues. Yaz waits for Ryan to descend a ladder at one point and does not make him feel terrible for his dyspraxia; later, the Doctor encourages him so that he can deal with his fears and mobility. Graham tries to comfort a grieving Ryan; Graham and Ryan both help repair the boat that allows the group to cross a massive body of water that would kill them otherwise. The adversity of this situation brings these four people closer together, and it’s such a delight to watch this happen.
It’s contrasted, though, with what we initially see of Angstrom and Epzo. In their initial scenes, their competitive nature seemed more playful, but once the two of them received their final task from Ilin, Epzo became… well, he was a lot. And for what it’s worth, Chibnall’s script does a fine job showing us why he is that way. Both these characters have vastly different backstories, yet they inform what we see in the present day. In Epzo’s case, he was raised with a specific kind of cynicism, one that urges him to never trust anyone but himself. And we’re not talking about Mulder-style, “Trust no one” dramatics. The man literally distrusts anyone he meets, and he assumes the worst of them. It certainly got him to the final task, but he stands out in a glaring contrast with the Doctor and her companions. And with Angstrom! She has a very real reason to want the final prize, and I think anyone would understand if she had acted selfishly to get it. (And at one point, Graham even encourages her to get a head start so she can get to the Ghost Monument first.)
But Angstrom is not so willing to turn her back on others, and the genocide that her people have suffered at the hands of the Stenza (more on that plot point in a bit) has affected that. I got the sense that she could not be cruel to others. So much cruelty had been enacted on her; why would she turn around and do the same thing to anyone else? So, Chibnall sets this up so that it’s easy to dislike Epzo and want Angstrom to win, but this isn’t that simple. Instead, they’re both pushed towards a surprising but heartwarming solution: both of them end up winning the grand prize and splitting it, rather than taking out the other. And it’s not like Epzo is ecstatic or makes some massive change in morals or personality. He has to be convinced of this in the end, but the compromise still happens. He has to trust other people, and guess what? He survives in the end. He wins in the end. Maybe he’ll learn! Maybe not.
I certainly did not expect that this episode would continue the story introduced to us through Tim Shaw. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” gave us the Stenza, a race who hunt trophies—humans!!!—on Earth and take them back to live in permanent stasis between life and death. And while the Doctor and her companions rescued Karl and sent Tim Shaw back to their home, things were left unanswered. Hell, I didn’t even think to ask questions about all this until now, but: how many humans have the Stenza “hunted”? How many are still in stasis on their world? How many worlds have the Stenza “cleansed”? Have they conscripted other worlds to build weaponry for them, too? Are the remnants of cloth we see here the only ones in the galaxy, or would we find them on other worlds that the Stenza have destroyed? WHY DID ONE OF THE REMNANTS INSIST THAT THE DOCTOR HAD A SECRET BURIED WITHIN THEM REGARDING AN ABANDONED CHILD? I’m guessing, then, that this is all part of a longer arc. Who exactly are the Stenza, and WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON.
Oh, y’all, the new TARDIS interior is so strange and organic and UTTERLY PERFECT FOR THIRTEEN. I’m so impressed!!! Biscuits! The tiny whirling TARDIS!!!
The video for “The Ghost Monument” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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