Doctor Who – “The Ghost Monument”

“The Ghost Monument”
Doctor Who: Series 11 – Episode 2
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Mark Tonderai

Synopsis: Still reeling from their first encounter, can the Doctor and her new friends stay alive long enough, in a hostile alien environment, to solve the mystery of Desolation? And just who are Angstrom and Epzo?

Despite the move from contemporary Earth to Outer Space, “The Ghost Monument” lost none of the gritty realism or cinematic charm that was evident in the series opener, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, and the decision to film the episode in South Africa ensured that the planet of Desolation felt big-budget and expansive – a far cry from the quarries that used to portray alien vistas in the classic series. With a plot that was effectively “Wacky Races in Space”, it was refreshing to see that Chris Chibnall is keeping his science-fiction scripts relatively accessible and free from over-complicated concepts – boiled down to its bones, this episode was a race between two survivors, with the Doctor and her friends trapped in the middle. While the ending might have been a bit predictable, it was a fun adventure which had a wonderful sense of progression as the group journeyed across the planet towards their goal.

While Chibnall is focused on making the series accessible, I did pick up on some ongoing plot threads that seemed to suggest an over-arching mystery. Not only did the Stenza get a second mention, all but promising the return of Tim Shaw at some point, but the mysterious mention of the “Timeless Child” got me wondering whether this might tie into the Doctor’s own family – after all, we never found out who Susan’s parents were. I’m glad that we’re getting some connective tissue between the stories and that there appears to be a ongoing mystery to solve, although hopefully it’ll be more rewarding than some of the ongoing story-arcs that the series has featured in the past. As for the Stenza, while Tim Shaw made for an interesting “monster of the week”, I do hope his species are more interesting when they make a return appearance. At the very least, it’ll give Graham a chance to work through some of his unresolved grief regarding his wife’s death.

With the plot taking the focus, we weren’t given too much opportunity to learn more about the Doctor’s new friends aside from their reactions to the new planet and alien environment. There was a neat scene between Ryan and Graham, and I look forward to seeing these reluctant family-members bond during their time with the Doctor. Yaz, however, was barely explored as a character and I’m hoping that she’ll get more chance to shine in future episodes. Ryan has definitely shone through as the most intriguing character with his vulnerable side, and fractious relationship with his step-granddad. Given that the next episode features Rosa Parks, I suspect that our human travellers will connect with her role in history and we will see more character development from them.

This episode gave us some important firsts – it was the first time that we saw the new opening credits and theme tune, which were deliberately designed to hark back to the earlier eras of the show. It was quite a jolt, considering the modern and cinematic elements of the series to see such a nostalgic and classic take on the titles. This focus on nostalgia also extends to the new interior design of the TARDIS, which feels like a literal merging of the classic and modern eras of the series with hexagonal shapes and aspects of the Ninth Doctor’s TARDIS console. After watching the opening credits, I was expecting the interior to be even more retro, possibly even reaching back to the classic grey roundels and 60s sci-fi décor. This mash-up suits the series well, arguably better than the previous design, providing a more organic feel to the ship that befits the more human and emotive Doctor, whereas Capaldi’s cold, metallic environment reflected his persona.

Jodie Whittaker seemed more at ease in her role of the Doctor in this episode, although she did seem to lack confidence at times – notably at the end when she thought her TARDIS was gone for good. Hopefully, this was just TARDIS withdrawal, as I’d hate for this incarnation of the Doctor to be shown as weaker and less capable. Obviously, she remained in control and in charge throughout the episode, but she did lack the same authority that Capaldi (and his eyebrows) once had. The supporting cast in Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley were fantastic as Angstrom and Epzo, and I half-expected there to be a reveal that they were actually husband and wife in the end. Art Malik was suitably menacing as the holographic Ilin, exerting dominance and influence despite being located a galaxy away.

A worthy second episode, “The Ghost Monument” introduced the remaining core elements of the series, and carried on the same momentum from the wonderful series opener. Chibnall’s “back to basics” approach is proving to be immensely successful, and while the episode was relatively simple in structure, it was beautifully shot and acted. While it was predictable in places (Who else guessed what the Ghost Monument was immediately?), it made sense and lacked any plot holes. Chibnall remembers that it is supposed to be a kid’s show and not a Mensa test, and while I am fond of time travel paradoxes and riddles wrapped up in enigmas, it was beginning to kill the show and it needs this fresh breath of life. My only concern is that the enemies haven’t proven themselves to be that iconic yet, and with this series expected to feature no classic monsters – hopefully, we will get to see a brand-new creature that’ll earn entry into the rogue’s gallery.

Simple in plot but overwhelmingly cinematic in style, “The Ghost Monument” maintains the same high quality seen in the series so far, and proves “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was not a one-off fluke. Given the historical nature of the next episode, I am convinced we will see another brilliant installment that engages both new and old fans alike. I have not been this enthused for Doctor Who in years, and that is down to all the changes that Chibnall and co. have put in place. It is a new era for the Doctor, and I am glad to be on-board!

Score – ★★★★

Next Episode – “Rosa”
Montgomery, Alabama. 1955. The Doctor and her friends find themselves in the Deep South of America. As they encounter a seamstress by the name of Rosa Parks, they begin to wonder whether someone is attempting to change history.

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