It will just be a quick double-post this week, as I’ve had a few busy weekends, including a lovely time at the always fun and memorable Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Conference (and the
Harry Potter Witches and Witches Festival). If you’ve never been, I encourage you to check them out next year.
“The Ghost Monument” was a bit frustrating in the way that sophomore efforts sometimes are. For an episode pitched as a race, it felt somewhat lacking in pace and urgency; and between the supporting characters, the planet Desolation, the rules of the competition, and the four (count ’em, four) antagonists the whole thing felt a bit exposition-heavy and oversignified. But that’s all right. It’s an ambitious enough episode that goes for visual spectacle in a big way. The opening spaceship crash is a good way to kick off the season, and gives Whittaker a big, busy action sequence. The reveal of the TARDIS as the “ghost monument” is a nice touch and gives the episode something of an emotional spine. In fact, the phrase “ghost monument” is nice and evocative in the tradition of evocative and mythic names, a la the Nightmare Child, the Moment, or the Silence. The whole eucatastrophic feeling of the ending is, of course, right up my alley. Who doesn’t think of “Give me a day like this” when the Doctor pleads, “Give us this.” I think my favorite detail in the whole episode is the Doctor’s little denial to Yaz that she ever doubted winning the day: “Who, me? Nah. Never doubted. Don’t know what you mean.” Oh, that Doctor. Such a liar.
As for “Rosa,” where to begin? This certainly has to rank among the biggest risks in the show’s history. The fact that it works at all is a minor miracle, let alone that it works this well. I won’t say that it goes about taking the risk of openly discussing and confronting the history of racism in America in the year 2018 in the riskiest way ever, if that makes any sense. There are a number of obvious pitfalls that Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall sensibly avoid, not least among them letting the thing devolve into the often farcical tone of some other “celebrity historicals” like “The Unicorn and the Wasp” or “The Shakespeare Code.” This is obviously Serious History, meant to be taken seriously. Watching this the same week as the “Daleks in Manhattan” episodes of series 3 is a study in contrasts, to say the least. No pig-men or penis-faced human/Dalek hybrids allowed anywhere within the same galaxy as Rosa Parks, thank you very much. It makes one wonder which approach is actually the bigger risk, even if there’s no question which ultimately works.
But even though you could make the argument that avoiding monsters all together is the “safe” choice, I am fascinated by how close this episode comes – far closer than any other episode of the new series – to the long-abandoned “pure historical” of the Hartnell era. Yes, there is a time-traveling alien threat, but ultimately the bad guys of this episode are just the white folks. And quite right, too. Ryan running around Montgomery, AL by himself has to be one of the more perilous situations a companion has found themselves in, and the early moment when the man slaps him for touching his wife is shocking. Despite that, everything is fairly standard inspirational fare until the final scene on the bus when the episode veers toward something more challenging by having the Doctor and crew stay on the bus among the white passengers. There’s a pretty powerful metaphor for the realization of privilege in Graham’s pained, “I don’t want to be part of this.” The realization of that you’re on the bus, and part of the story, whether you like it or not. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t ask to be there. We are.
In the growing list of Doctory moments that I love:
- Leaning over to surreptitiously scan Krasko’s weapon (the sneaky little movement is brilliant)
- “You ain’t Banksy” / “Or am I?”
- Throwing Krasko’s briefcase fifty-eight centuries into the future