Foreshadowing the Ghost Monument
In my look back at Series 11 of Doctor Who, I talk about how the writing throughout the whole series (bar a couple of episodes) felt it needed an extra draft. Today I want to go into that opinion in a bit more detail by looking at the second episode of the season The Ghost Monument. It is a fun but low stakes story of the Doctor and her friends trekking across a dangerous alien planet trying to get home during an intergalactic race. The tension is taken out of the episode because of a poor example of foreshadowing. I’ll go on to explain why I feel this way but first let’s look at what foreshadowing is, and a good example of it contained in the same episode. Spoilers below for Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument
What is Foreshadowing?
According to the website Literary Terms, foreshadowing is:
Foreshadowing gives the audience hints or signs about the future. It suggests what is to come through imagery, language, and/or symbolism. It does not directly give away the outcome, but rather, suggests it.
Like all literary devices foreshadowing can be done well and badly. Let’s start with the good example.
The Cigar in this week’s episode is a near perfect example of foreshadowing. Near the start of the episode the character Epzo (Shaun Dooley) reveals he has an Althusian cigar he will smoke when he wins the race. Later on in the story he reveals the cigar can be lit by a finger click. These two pieces of information explain why Epzo has the cigar and how it works so when it is needed to burn off the episode’s monster threat the audience understand what it is and how it works. This means it doesn’t feel like a deus ex machina introduced to get the characters out of an impossible situation. Also by placing these clues through the episode, the viewer will noticed them and get more enjoyment from the story if they choose to re-watch it. Now we have looked at the good example, let’s look at the bad example and how it could have been fixed.
The Ghost Monument
The second example is the Ghost Monument itself which, is the end point of the race, is revealed to be the Doctor’s TARDIS a third of the way into the episode. For me this felt like foreshadowing with flood lights as there is no subtly and removes all the stakes the episode may have. The only way this wouldn’t be true is if this reveal was a bait and switch where the Doctor and her friends gets to the Ghost Monument and discover the TARDIS is not there. The episode attempts to do this but it is so short, the Doctor’s desperation doesn’t ring true. However, I think a small change would have increased the stakes without having to do a major re-write on the episode. Simply remove the scene where Ilin (Art Malik) explains what the Ghost Monument is so when the Doctor and her friends are abandoned on the planet, their despair feels real. Therefore when the audience hears that familiar wheezing, groaning sound as the TARDIS appears, the sense of relief is much stronger and satisfying because the audience wasn’t expecting it. Yet this would not feel like a deus ex machina as the main plot point of this story has been the Doctor searching for her TARDIS.