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Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument (Review)

The Ghost Monument feels almost worryingly safe.

To be fair, it is almost churlish to complain about this. The Woman Who Fell to Earth seemed designed to assure audiences that the Chibnall Era would be a safe pair of hands, a stylishly produced piece of televisual science-fiction that visually upped the ante in terms of how Doctor Who looked and felt on the small screen. It was consciously designed to be safe and accessible to new viewers, to avoid anything that could be considered weird or strange.

Artful appearance.

By all accounts, this approach paid off. Reviews for the episode were largely positive. The ratings were spectacular, with Jodie Whittaker premiering to a larger audience than any Doctor since Christopher Eccleston and earning the series its highest ratings since the end of the Davies Era. There is a lot to recommend this relatively safe approach to Doctor Who, particularly following the ambition and experimentation of the Moffat Era.

Chibnall is very much adopting a back-to-basics approach. The Woman Who Fell to Earth demonstrated the way such an approach could work. This is the function of premiere episodes, particularly following a regeneration or a significant change behind the scenes. The goal is to comfort audiences still curious whether Doctor Who is the show that they love and to welcome those viewers who might be dipping their toes into the water. Rose and The Eleventh Hour did this as well, constructing tightly-wound accessible thrill rides.

Piecing it together.

However, the question then becomes “what about the second episode?” What happens after the premiere? Having welcomed both old and new audiences into the fold, what does a showrunner do next? In the case of both Davies and Moffat, the answer was to produce something ambitious and messy, something that showcased just how weird and strange the series could be. If the premieres lured viewers in, the following episodes suggested what that audience might be in for; consider the gonzo weirdness of The End of the World or The Beast Below.

The Ghost Monument is a much cleaner and much more streamlined episode than either of those two. It is an efficient action adventure that carries over a lot of the more effective elements of The Woman Who Fell to Earth. However, The End of the World and The Beast Below also suggested just how bizarre and wonderful Doctor Who could be, underneath their messiness. The Ghost Monument is simply effective.

Things went South (Africa) very quickly.

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Non-Review Review: Halal Daddy

Halal Daddy is a pleasant enough culture clash comedy, perhaps most notable for how conventional it is.

The premise of Halal Daddy is immediately striking, based on a true story about the halal meat factory in Sligo. It is a compelling set up, one with a lot of potential to explore the collision of differing perspectives and outlooks against the backdrop of the West of Ireland. Certainly, director Conor McDermottroe does an excellent job capturing a sense of place and texture in this Sligo-set comedy.

Meat cute.

However, what is most surprising about Halal Daddy is how conventional it feels. In many ways, it plays like the extended pilot for a BBC sitcom. Indeed, there is a sense that Halal Daddy might easily have been broken down into a series of six relatively interconnected episodes built around a variety of miscommunications and errors in judgment featuring the core cast. At certain point, Halal Daddy feels like a compressed set of stories, with each new set of complications summarised as “the one where…”

This is not a huge problem. Halal Daddy has a lot of charm. Some of that charm comes from a winning central performance from Nikesh Patel, while some of it comes from the casual ease with which it navigates from sitcom beat to sitcom beat without ever letting any of these potential problems overwhelm its characters or the audience. Halal Daddy is an enjoyable feel-good comedy, one that only occasionally feels a little light of touch.

There’ll be halal to pay.

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