Monday 3 December 2018


I don’t want to get caught up in noting every time current ’Who’ rises above the new base level set by Chibnall, which would be too close to giving awards for competence. In all honesty, writing about ’The Ghost Monument’ now seems a moment of weakness. But for the second time we had an episode you could claim wasn’t just ‘better than the average’ but actually pretty good. (This time by Ed Hime.)

To start on the weak points, it’s true there’s not one but two narrative digressions, which really only act as feints. Functionally, this story could bypass the roaring monster and skip non-space and just head straight through the mirror. And part of the reason it doesn’t is there’s not enough material in the mirror world to stretch for most of the episode. Had it been longer, it would have gone into repeat mode.

Ir’s also true that neither digression is terribly strong in its own right. The ogre in the dark wood is just fairy tale enough to work as a ’Who’ setting, and the early scenes approaching the house are atmospheric. But there’s no real commitment to it, and you guess quite quickly the monster isn’t what it seems. And the creature in the anti-zone is a Gollum-like cliche even to the point of greed marking his downfall. Though Kevin Eldon’s performance was good and the script gave him nicely idiosyncratic speech patterns. (I particularly liked “tubular”.)

But the feints are adroitly made. The scene of Graham standing watch at the window then crossing the room to look at the mirror effectively intrigues the viewer, and takes them into the narrative swerve. While the escape through the mirror into apparent safety, only to find themselves not back but further out, is some smart blindsiding.

But more importantly those feints work for thematic reasons. The Solitract introduces a change in the type of story, which surprises at the same time it makes things more ’Who’-like. The roaring monster and the anti-zone creature are malevolent. (Well the monster would be if it existed.) But the Solitract is simply lonely. It’s a sentient universe, but it’s not looking for subjects so much as friends. It genuinely just does want everyone to be together. Much like ’Demons of the Punjab’, ‘It Takes You Away’ is a title that gets reapplied as the story progresses.

Ultimately, it’s a Fall story. Being a post-Biblical society, we most associate the Fall with loss of innocence. But in general Fall myths tend to work as a catch-all explanation for how all the bad stuff showed up, and often focus on the existence of death. They often say “it was never meant to happen like this, and yet it was inevitable”.

In some forms of Gnosticism...s tay with me here... the Demiurge, the creator of the physical universe, is seen as well-meaning but misguided. Similarly, the Solitract sees possible friends wanting for something and tries to gift them the end of death. Yet while both Graham and Erik are baited, Hanne immediately rejects her supposed mother. This is partly the narrative trope that assigns the blind other, extra-powerful senses. But also it’s because, unlike her Father, she’s learnt to accept her Mother’s death. The Solitract’s motives may be heartfelt, but it can only play on human weakness.

But, best of all is what it doesn’t do. You could make a list of dead or missing companions, starting with Susan. But the defining thing about the Doctor, what she has to offer the Solitract, is that she’s a traveller. There’s been too much erosion of the Doctor’s unique status, too much making the character an honorary human and relatable to the audience. (Ironically often at the same time as the Lonely God stuff.)

Admittedly, there’s no real connection between this and the mirror world trope. It’s not the opposite of our world, it’s our world with the bad stuff taken out. The mirror world is really just there as a means to work in the mirror motifs, the backwards T-shirts and so on. But they’re so well done, particularly the way no-one within the mirror world notices them, that it would be hard to mind. Something the show does is throw in crazy concepts, you’re normally best off just going with them.

Okay, the final episode’s back to Chibnall. Which leaves us, if we were to generously award the opening episode half a point, a score of two and a half. And, as the old saying goes, two and a half out of ten is bad. Still, let’s focus on the few high points.

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