‘Doctor Who’ 11×2 Review: Almost There

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An episode is good when you’re left with something to talk about. When something calls to you, beckons you to think about it non-stop, to want to share your thoughts and opinions with anyone and everyone who will listen. An episode is really good when you don’t even have to think about what to write in your review, it just writes itself.

But when an episode allows you to turn off your television screen or your computer and move on to a different chore, well, perhaps it’s not that good of an episode.

This week’s Doctor Who episode, ‘The Ghost Monument’, is not, strictly speaking, a bad episode. It has a somewhat interesting villain –or villainous presence, mind you–, slightly compelling supporting characters, and an interestingly enough new alien of the week. But none of those pieces are given the time or the resources to shine too much.

Except for the cinematography. Boy, oh boy did this episode look beautiful.

But back to the story. It’s almost like Chris Chibnall is giving himself too much to handle. Not contempt with one companion for The Doctor, he threw in three different characters we were supposed to fall in love with. Not contempt with old monsters, he chose to focus this season on new alien races he had to introduce from scratch. Sometimes –most times, actually– being brave enough to introduce new things is a great thing for a show, especially for a show like Who, that’s been on the air so long. But you have to give yourself time to explore all those different aspects, to ensure that the audience is tied to them and can’t escape.

So far, on Who, we’re almost there, but not quite.

Scratch The Surface

If ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ was missing adventures and interesting aliens, ‘The Ghost Monument’ sort of made up for it. We got to visit an entirely new planet, and in turn, got introduced to a strange, cloth-like alien that, albeit creepy, never really seemed much of a threat. And we went on this adventure with two supporting characters that hated each other’s guts, but only got a really brief, really off-screen attempt at a redemption arc.

But were there any real stakes? Were there aliens we were scared of, that seemed like they could haunt us in our dreams and actually challenge The Doctor? Was there a convincing, the-population-is-at-stake recap of whatever happened to the civilizations that used to occupy a deserted planet?

Not really. And that keeps being the problem this new season of Who, Chris Chibnall only manages to slightly scratch the surface of so much of what he give us, and we never really let ourselves be taken captive by his stories. He seems really eager to set up different ideas he can’t seem to wait to explore, but ultimately they’re glossed over, resolved in an off-screen conversation about who wins or who loses.

 

For someone who wrote such a complexly dramatic show like Broadchurch was, Chibnall still struggles with going beyond things, with showing instead of telling. Otherwise deep, philosophical discussions about existence, solitude, and the eradication of species are touched up with an almost clever one-liner that never has the effect desired. That always floats against the surface.

And, for a show about optimism, hope, and exploring the unexplored, the surface is never enough.

We’re almost there, yet not quite.

My New Best Friends

Separately, the three new companions are likable. Yaz is determined, brave, kind and up for anything. Graham is open-hearted and willing to try things over and over again, and a little bit funny. Ryan is strong, understandable, ready to fight every obstacle that comes his way.

Do I like them? Sure. Would I cry for their deaths? Probably not.

And, yes, I probably wouldn’t because we’ve only just met them, we’ve only just got to know them. Except, well, my heart ached for little Amelia Pond, abandoned in an old house, assumed to be lying by everyone around her her entire life. Except, well, I had laughed so much with Donna Noble only ten minutes into her wedding dress-clad appearance, that by the end of the special, I never wanted her to leave.

And, God, I know I’m biased, but when the camera turned around to discover that Oswin Oswald –later Clara Oswald– was actually a Dalek all along, I sobbed my heart out.

I need to feel that for Ryan, Yaz and Graham. I already like them. I already buy them as companions. But I need –we need– to feel for them, to want to scream at our screens when something haunts them, when something threatens their life and their existence.

Whether it is because they’re missing a spark, a sense of humor, or just need to be developed a tiny bit more, we have to see these companions flourish throughout the stories. We need to see the adventures they live through mimic and respond to their lives, to their storylines, to who they become. It’s not enough to have them running around with a mad woman with a box and trying very hard not to get killed. We have to see how those encounters change them, how those aliens reveal things about them that we never could’ve imagined.

We’re almost there, yet not quite.

‘Doc’

Admittedly, I though Graham’s term of endearment for The Doctor was rather sweet and somewhat funny. However much it transported me to Back To The Future. 

And what can we say about Thirteen? Only that she keeps being brilliant. She keeps being The Doctor we know and love, The Doctor we can’t wait to hear more of. The scene in which she reunited with a redecorated TARDIS –a little too dark, if you ask me, but beautiful nonetheless– was exhilarating and practically, let’s be honest, a real love connection moment. It genuinely felt like two estranged lovers were finally seeing each other again.

And hasn’t that always been the underlying story of The Doctor? Isn’t it always just about her and a blue police box that’s bigger on the inside?

Which reminds me, we were deprived of the classic “It’s bigger on the inside!” moment, and I’m not sure I’ll fully recover from that, if I’m being quite honest.

Thirteen was still brilliant. Jodie Whittaker still fits the role like a glove, and it’s frustrating that the scripts aren’t there to back her up as much as they could. She is still undeniably The Doctor and the writing wants to favor that, wants to reassure the fans that this woman –as opposed to a man– is, has been, and always will be, The Doctor.

But it looks like the writing is so occupied trying to build up The Doctor that it forgets everything else around it. Alien planets fall secondary, Sonic Screwdriver functions fall secondary, hell, companions even fall secondary despite usually being the real heart of the show.

We’re getting there. The evil cloth of death mentioned the Timeless Child to The Doctor and we saw the hero we’ve seen throughout the years, the alien with two hearts that has so many secrets, that is as dark and as mysterious as she is kind and benevolent.

Who knows, perhaps a big baddie is all we need to finally re-enamor ourselves with The Doctor.

Because, for now, we’re almost, almost, almost there.

Yet not quite.

Doctor Who airs Sundays on BBC One and BBC America. 




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