The Past is Parasite
“Can people, and things, stop putting things inside me without my permission?!?” -Graham
Let’s cut to the chase, after all, this episode is about a space race.
The themes from the last episode? Oh boy, they’re all back. Like the previous episode, we get a first person shot, we have immense physicality, and a planet that is filled with dangers big and small that can kill a person, each described not in terms of horror existential, but of horror bodily. Flesh eating microbes anyone?
But the biggest thing we picked up on was something I wasn’t sure would be a theme through the whole season, but clearly is going to be. I mean, two episodes where people have things planted inside their bodies without their consent and comment on it explicitly to the audience isn’t so much a subtle theme as a siren signaling to the audience that bodily consent is going to be something that we need to pay attention to throughout this season.
Which leads into another point I should address quickly—there’s a story arc this season. That was something we were told explicitly wouldn’t be here, so outside of anything interesting we have another era of not being able to believe the production team. Alas. I mean, I’m not surprised, but still. Anyways. Yes, there’s a story arc. The Stenza are back, and are apparently involved in forcing people to create bio-mechanical monstrosities. Or were, since they’re all dead.
“The Ghost Monument” is an episode haunted by the past, filled with ancient things that are struggling to survive in their future. We have a space race that’s been going on for millenia, but is not coming to it’s ultimate end. We have a planet filled with ghosts of a dead civilization, the people’s creations living on after them to haunt the world as physical spirits. The planet’s one defining feature a monument that itself is barely there, shifting in and out of reality. The past holds on here, on a world called desolation, and it is history that is inescapable.
But screw history. The whole point of this episode that it’s never to late for reinvention.
We’re treated to two new characters, both part of the space race, one of whom has lost their wife, the other who has deep deep seated trust issues thanks to some amazingly abusive parenting. Both are dealing with parasitic pasts, and an inability to trust. This mirrors the conflict we have between Graham and Ryan, both of whom are dealing with loss, and neither of whom is open to trusting each other. But more than that, a thing that is bringing our characters down is toxicity. Not just in the planet, which is notably toxic, but I the character’s attitudes.
This shows up in ways big and small, including a comic sequence where Ryan thinks he can solve the situation by being a violent action hero. That by going in with the attitude of personal destruction, he can solve their problems. It backfires, and the Doctor is able to solve the problem with a cool head and without the toxic attitude Ryan had.
Our space race friend whose mom let him drop out of a tree is the poster child for this toxic attitude,a brusk take on the world that kindness and cooperation are flaws. But, in my favorite thing about the episode, this isn’t treated as irredeemable. By the end of the episode, he does learn that his attitude about life isn’t actually going to get him what he wants, and that’s beautiful.
He sees renewal, and so does the Doctor. She has gained new friends, a new joy at the universe, and has found her TARDIS. The sheer sincere joy of her finding the TARDIS is so heartwarming I barely even want to analyze it, it’s just nice okay? Happiness, a beautiful new set from the set designer from Sherlock, and a custard cream dispenser. The Doctor’s intimate little lines to the TARDIS, “Oh, you’ve done yourself up!” are adorable. And here we are, at a new beginning.
Doctor Who now is a show about an alien who goes around teaching people about kindness, and about how toxic, isolationist, violent attitudes aren’t the best way to approach the world. It’s a show about how the bad guys ignore consent, cheat to win, and in many ways mirror sexual predators. It’s definitely going in interesting directions, and while we haven’t seen the endpoint, there is a trajectory.
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Let’s talk about that scene with the ghost-rags that murder people, alright? The Doctor has a chat with them, and they can read her mind, and they mention a “Timeless Child”. This is…very much a tease for the future of the show. So lets note it now. Also. it’s something from the Doc’s past she can’t escape from, which is very much in the episodes themes. Alright, a bit off path, but noted, right?
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Reinventing the past is the game here. We have a new intro sequence that looks like the old “Howl Around” intro sequences from 60’s Doctor Who, in a series with four companions like 60’s Doctor Who, in an episode that could easily be compared to old school Doctor Who Episodes like “The Keys of Marinus” or Enlightenment.”
But the most notable contrast is the race-runner, who competed in the race when it started 4000 years ago, and has now decided to end it. Despite his insistence that the race is important, that what it tests is important, he’s ending it. That could easily happen with a show about a 2,000 year old time traveler. It happened. We did it. We had stuff we liked, and stuff we didn’t. But we can do something new with something old. It doesn’t have to be like what we liked to be good. It doesn’t have to check our check list.
It can just be itself, as it is, reinvented, but still like it was.
It’s redecorated. I really like it.
Its an exciting time to be a Whovian, with our first spin off show in five years arriving this weekend! I've now watched Class episodes 1 and 2: in short, episode 2 is fantastic, episode 1 is concerned more with setting up the premise of the show than being a complete work in itself, but is still enjoyable. Also, its more enjoyable after watching episode 2 and knowing that a lot of things from the first episode I wasn't sure would be returned to or dealt with were. Episode 1 also has a lot more exposition than episode 2 does, which delves right into exploring the characters and setting up a dramatic problem. You need to watch Episode 1 to really understand #2 (its very serialized) but Episode 2 is where the show clicks into place, and you'll understand why you want to keep watching. At least that's how it was for me.
I should note that the show is much darker and gorier than I expected it to be. Episode 2 might be the goriest screen-whoniverse work we've had, but it was GOOD so it didn't feel vapid for it. However, I'm not kidding that its a surprising amount of gore. Keep that in mind if that's not something you want yourself or others to see.
My favorite character is Ram Singh by a longshot. Fady Elsayed really gives the standout performance here, and he's someone we should be watching in the future. He has a promising career ahead of him judging by how stellar he is here. The cast as a whole is very good, and all do a good job with their characters. They don't all come off as entirely three dimensional at first, but they sink into their roles. Katherine Kelly pulls a surprising amount of dramatic weight into her role as Miss Quill, who is playing the role that would be filled with Sarah Jane, The Doctor, or Captain Jack in other whoniverse shows. Thankfully it isn't played straight, and she adds a rather large twist to the usual format that makes the show feel (thankfully) very different and unique.
Oh, and the protagonist Charlie has a boyfriend, who I hope we see more of cause the boyfriend character is super sweet.
Probably what I'm surprised most about is that this show is far closer to Torchwood on the spectrum of Doctor Who spin offs than the Sarah Jane Adventures. Characters have been cast into a terrific situation, but it is terrifying. There are wonders, and they are the same thing as horrors. A lot of time is spent on character growth, and dealing with the effects mentally and physically this stuff has on the characters.
In short: its worth your time, its well done, but its VERY much not for kids.
Oh, and I like the themesong.
Welcome back to Lil' Doctor Who! This is the second time we've featured this comic here. It was made by Annie Zhu (who does the 10,000 Dawns art, aka Cazdinal) and Saintoswald, and features tiny versions of Clara and the Doctor having adventures! You guys loved the last one, so has a compliment to the new Christmas Episode of Doctor Who (and as a Christmas treat!) Here is a sequel! I hope you guys enjoy! You can find more of Annie's awesome art at: http://cardinalcapalditumblr.com -Jim
I really want to share this wonderful comic made by my friend Annie Zhu (aka Cazdinal), and her collaborator Tumblr user Saintoswald with you guys. Annie of course does all of the wonderful art for 10,000 Dawns right on this site, and does a lot of incredible Doctor Who art, so with the finale of Doctor Who series 9 this weekend now is the perfect time. You can find more of her art at her Tumblr page: http://cardinalcapaldi.tumblr.com_. Spoilers: This comic is adorable. -Jim
by James Wylder
Today on Doctor Who, we dredge up the detritus. This is a story constructed out of old parts. There in the background-- is that the special weapons Dalek? The weirdly shaped one? It even gets a line this time. We mold this story together out of old parts and forgotten memories, and then tip the rubbish bin over on its side and burst forth anew from it. The nostalgia is the aesthetic, the old stories are what we remember, but its the new stories we keep creating that push us forward.
The episode is in every way a reflection, its title is a mirror of its predecessor, “The Magician's Apprentice,” the aesthetics mirror old Dalek stories from Hartnel to Cushing to Tennant, and the character interaction is a mirror of “The Genesis of the Daleks”, while the set up itself is a mirror of the previous series finale “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” where Missy takes up an old monster of the Doctor's and has a story with them. But again, its reversed.
Where before Missy was controlling the Cybermen, here she is fighting alongside the Doctor in a weird perverted way, teaming up with Clara to try to save him. Again, these scenes of Missy and Clara are mirrored with Davros and the Doctor. The reflections aren't what we expected of them, though. In getting to see how Missy handles a mission, we see up close and personal her excitable cruelty. She somehow works in a similar way to the Doctor, and yet not at all. You can tell that they grew up together, that their methods of problem resolution are tied together in a mutal understanding, and yet they are also incompatible. With how cruelly Missy treats Clara, one has to look back at Series 3 of Doctor who and shudder at what exactly Lucy Saxon had to go through. It must have been worse that we imagined it.
Strangely, we get to see the Doctor paired with Davros in a totally congenial way. The two of them get along for the most part, aside from the Doctor stealing Davros' chair, the Doctor shows real compassion for Davros on his deathbed (death... chair?). In what might be one of the most brilliant pieces of dialogue I've seen recently, Davros is informed of Gallifrey's survival, and is genuinely happy for the Doctor. At first, its confusing, but then Davros explains himself, and the scene manages to make Davros both more understandable, while also revealing him truly as the nationalist fascist he is as he gives a speech about how every man should have his own place he hails from. The speech is heartfelt, even though the scene itself is a ruse, and shows us more about the difference between Davros and the Doctor than we had before. Its not just that the Doctor wants Galifrey back, its that the Doctor wants it back because all the people there died, just just cause it was its home. Davros' tears somehow reduce Galifrey to simply being another pinprick on a map, a cultural joyland that should remain isolated, when the Doctor himself thrives on leaving, on exploring, on changing and understanding.
Thus, is Skarro rebuilt as a relic. The Daleks remade a city in the shape of their heritage, and let an old man drain their life away for the sake of the past. They are so hidebound to their own creation, their own story, that they cannot progress. When they finally do progress, taking the Doctor's regeneration energy, it destroys them. The very process of change is anathema to the fascism of the Daleks. They cannot truly progress to the next level without sacrificing their isolated purity. The Doctor meanwhile is able to survive by ignoring his own history. When all the Daleks expect him to have a sonic screwdriver, he has changed yet again, and has sonic shades. He is always adapting, always learning, and always, in the end, merciful.
The Doctor's great victory in the end, is corrupting the Daleks. By going back in time to save Davros, he drops a hint of color into their sea of white washed conformity. The Daleks can ask for mercy now, they know what it is, and they will be forever cursed by this taint of goodness. They will not be good, but their iron charge has that hint of hesitation, that tiny urge for decency. A defect that could not be put out. Always, mercy.
From all that defeat, from all that hell, from all that cultural detritus, something new is rising out of something old. Something holy from the sewers.
Lets note the funny bits, now, shall we?
-”The last chair on Skarro!” made me laugh harder than any joke on the show I can remember. A+ (also, a nice call back to the parody of Doctor Who Moffat wrote “The Curse of Fatal Death.”)
-”Your Sewers are Revolting!”
-”You are a bad doctor...”
-Missy poking Davros in the eye after she said she'd scratch his eyes out last episode. Nice.
-Oh, and if you rewatch “The Big Bang” from series 5, there is a scene with a Dalek that has some new meaning!.
I'll be doing an analysis of every episode of Series 9 of Doctor Who after the episodes air. This is the first! Look forward to it for the rest of the season. -James Wylder
Television, or most entertainment, is made up of different pleasures. You go to a comedy for a taste of laughter, or to tragedy for tears, in a more general sense. But in a broader sense there are a whole pallet of tastes that make up entertainment. You might know this without even being able to express why when you are trying to think of a movie to watch, and think of two movies that are so very similar but you enjoy for different reasons and you feel a strong urge to watch one but not the other. The Magician's Apprentice knows its pleasures, and is unabashed in rolling them out on a tank for us.
What's really interesting about the episode is what those pleasures are, and exactly how unashamed of them the episode is. This is after all playing with the joy of nostalgia, and not just in the more vague way that TV often plays with nostalgia by throwing in tiny references, or bringing back an old villain for a new plot, but by directly tying the entire plot of this episode into the history of Doctor Who. From Missy's nonchalant, “Yes, I'm not dead just like always lets move on with the plot already,” to the casual use of Unit, all the way to showing off Davros, an old Dalek City, every sort of Dalek, and the clips of multiple Doctors from earlier in the show, its steeped in those things in a way that Doctor Who has shied away from since its return. Sure, the show has brought back plenty of old things, but it usually has done so in a way that it treats them as being new, or as tangential. Here, they are part of a past we are diving into. The past is the problem that needs to be solved, after all.
“Genesis of the Daleks” is one of the most revered Doctor Who stories, where the 4th Doctor and Davros square off for the first time, and the Doctor is given the chance to kill the Daleks forever, but doesn't. Its a moving moment for sure, but its also one that has been criticized: after all, if the Doctor had killed all the Daleks, it would have saved all the people they continually killed. This is dealt with in the episode itself, but not everyone buys the Doctor's reasoning on the matter. Here the consequences of his decision are laid out again for him: was it the right choice he made back then? We won't really find out where he falls on this question again till next week, but its a powerful one worth bringing up again.
But lets return to the pleasure of the past. With how much of my child hood was spent thinking through idea like, “but what if the Doctor returned to that story?” I find it totally charming that the show was finally brave enough to do so this directly. Not with a wink and a nod, but opening with it. This is after all an entire way we engage with stories: we pick apart their possibilities, create new futures and alternate routes for them. Now we've taken a chance and jumped down that rabbit hole. But even while its indulging in it, it stays away from the sort of excess that makes people despise this type of story: there are no long rambling explanations, and the problem isn't based around nonsense or technobabel. Instead, the story shows us what we need and centers the dilemma around the people involved in it.
Being that the entire revived series of Doctor Who has been written by fans who turned professional, there is something sweet about one of the overlooked pleasures of fanfiction being stripped of its thorns and made into a main course.
But lets not overlook the other fun that we had this week: first off, the Doctor played the guitar. Allow me to break my writing style for a moment to say oh wow that was so rad I mean wow that was super cool yes please I want more of that rock on you sunglassed powerchording hero. So yes, that was a highlight. Seeing Clara work with Missy was also fascinating, as Missy took on the role of the Doctor in the story, requiting Clara for the mission, leading her out onto Skarro's surface, figuring out problems and explaining the solutions, but also being utterly different than the Doctor even while she was similar by being utterly bonkers and without a trace of sanity.
Also, the very nice realization of the colony of snakes was fantastic, and it got the funniest line in the episode: “We're a democracy!”
These pleasures are just as important as the weightier ones, and that the show is so utterly fine with just sitting back and enjoying these moments makes it a delight. We're allowed to let Clara take a spin while walking on stars, and even though it barrels onto the next taste in its copious buffet, oh what a taste it was.
But in the end the thing I'll remember most from this is poor tiny Davros standing in a sea of hands with eyes. Those eyes that see and grab. They're always watching us. You have a one in a thousand chance of making it through, but can you? Whatever decision you make, you'll be seen. You can never escape horrors in a vacuum, nor end them. Maybe the scariest thing is knowing that even your hardest decisions, even your own death, are held to a captive audience, made of palms, or in the chair in front of the television.
But since we like being scared enough to watch this show, what could be more pleasurable than that?
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.