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.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.