After a fun return to the airwaves last week, the new season of Doctor Who continues full-steam-ahead in this week’s installment, ‘The Ghost Monument.’ Picking up right where the season-premiere episode ended, viewers are once again treated to a rollicking ride with our new Doctor and her trio of companions – even if the ride doesn’t quite pack as much intensity to its punch as recent installments have.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: The action does start immediately where last week’s episode left us off with The Doctor and her trio of human accidental-companions floating in space – looks like those calculations she used to transport just herself to the TARDIS were just a skosh off! As I remember well from my countless readings of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, humans can survive in the vacuum of space for about 30 seconds before bad news arrives in the way of gruesome flash-freeze death… and the odds of a spaceship finding you in the inky void during that small window are extremely minimal.
Odds be damned, though, because not one but two ships arrive, and each scoop up a pair of our travelers: the Doctor and Yaz end up on Cerebos, a ship with a pilot named Epzo, and Graham and Ryan are “scooped” by the other ship, piloted by Angstrom. These two pilots are the final contestants in a “galactic rally,” a race that has spanned hundreds of terrains and planets, all culminating on the planet they are now heading for – a planet with no name, known only as “Desolation.” This is the planet, the Doctor believes, from which she was getting the signal from her TARDIS, so she and the trio are definitely along for the ride as well.
The bulk of the episode is your typical Who-type adventure: impossible odds, new monsters who speak in vague terms about knowing something the Doctor doesn’t (“the timeless child,” eh? More on that below), and the Doctor winning the day using the signature blend of intelligence and compassion. After a strange roller-coaster emotional bit near the end of the episode, the TARDIS finally does make her reappearance, replete with the standard “new Doctor, new interior” aesthetic that has become synonymous with the show since the 2009 revival.
- A general sentiment felt among many fans is that Chris Chibnall, who is now the Who showrunner but has written several episodes across previous seasons, tends to “play it safe” a bit when it comes to the details of the stories he tells and how much hard-hitting content he likes to cover. Chibnall wrote these first two episodes of the new season, and they’ve been plenty fun and action-packed, but I do have to agree, these tales have felt a little “fluff-y” by comparison to some of the “deeper” adventures that have happened in the recent past for the other iterations of the Doctor. Here’s hoping that we can see a slight change of pace with other writers starting to take on the story-telling responsibilities moving forward, although Chibnall is listed as the writer or co-writer for the next three episodes…
- I think the creative team has done a great job with not making too big of a deal about the Doctor’s re-gender-ation (see what I did there?), but there have been a few genuinely funny moments where it’s been brought up in the show – most notably in this episode, as the TARDIS is working on phasing itself back into our dimension, as Whittaker utters “that’s it, come to Daddy! Er… I mean, come to Mummy!” I’ve found myself laughing out loud at quite a few of Whittaker’s one-liners, which I think is a testament to her acting abilities just as much as it is to the writing itself.
- The Doctor.. gives up? There’s a point towards the end of the episode where we’re told that “The Ghost Monument,” which we know is actually the TARDIS, appears “once every 1,000 rotations.” We’re also told that the conclusion of the race has been designed to coincide with the next appearance – all good so far, yes? Well, the race ends, the race organizer and our racers disappear via teleportation, leaving the Doctor and her plus-three all alone on the planet… and within minutes of this, the Doctor declares that the TARDIS won’t be showing up and that she’s doomed them all to death. While I appreciate the vulnerability shown here by a newly-regenerated alien who’s still finding her “sea legs,” so to speak, the Doctor literally spends the entire episode talking about the power of positive thinking and never giving up, so this feels like a very odd juxtaposition. Not to mention the fact that TARDIS does, in fact, show up just a few minutes later, so I guess this moment was designed moreso for the companions to help “lift up” the Doctor’s spirits and show how far they’ve come from being such Negative Nancys, I guess?
CLOSING THOUGHTS: All in all, it’s a fairly fun return to form here, now that the always-a-bit-awkward post-regeneration episode is in the rear-view mirror. Whittaker seems very capable as the new Doctor, and the show hasn’t been making too big of a fuss about the gender-swap (nor does it need to, of course). The creative team has already said that this season is designed to be less “serialized” than previous seasons, so we can expect more one-and-done episodes that will hopefully lend to the ability to dive deeper into the character development of both the trio of companions and the new Doctor herself. Stay tuned!
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Sunday nights on BBC America.