Doctor Who – Season 11 Episode 2
“The Ghost Monument”
Doctor Who continues the new series with a visit to an alien planet and another mystery to be solved.
This episode picks up where the previous one left off with the Doctor and her new companions facing certain death in the vacuum of space. It’s a problem that is quickly resolved by the appearance of no less than two spaceships that just happen to be passing by. The dumb luck approach to problem solving is fairly common to this series so it’s not inconsistent with what has come before though it does make the cliffhanger ending from last week feel somewhat toothless considering there was no real danger associated with it. If the previous episode had ended with the characters materialising on the two ships then it would have been just as effective as a situation to start the next episode.
One thing the episode does very well is set up the situation. We are introduced to Epzo (Shaun Dooley) and Angstrom (Susan Lynch) almost immediately and get to see how the new companions react under pressure. Graham especially conducts himself well by standing up to Angstrom demanding information and appealing to go back to look for signs that Yaz and the Doctor have survived. This seems indicative of how he will conduct himself throughout the series which will be a refreshing change from the usual companion model. It’s interesting to see someone who is overwhelmed by what they are experiencing but still treating any situation as he would back on Earth and not accepting mistreatment.
The strained connection between Graham and Ryan continues to be explored here with Graham still trying to encourage Ryan to see him as his grandad. It’s not something that can be forced and Ryan clearly isn’t interested at this point but there’s genuine compassion on the part of Graham and a clear desire to build that relationship with Ryan even if the reverse isn’t true. I wouldn’t say that any real progress is made in this episode on that front but it has only been a matter of hours since the prior episode so significant development in this area would be unrealistic. The grief they are both experiencing is directly addressed here so there is clearly an arc to go through.
Unfortunately Yaz receives very little attention in this outing other than a brief mention of how much she misses her family despite them not getting along very well. There is no real sense of an arc for her to progress through so the character only manages to be memorable thanks to an engaging performance from Mandip Gill. There is a hint that the Doctor gets along better with her than Ryan and Graham though that might have something to do with Yaz not having a built in connection to another character that can be focused on.
Jodie Whittaker continues to be great in the role though still a little erratic which could be dismissed as being symptomatic of her recent regeneration. My concern that she would be a little too quippy seems to be unfounded as it is fixed this week and replaced with more natural humour that fits the situation rather than distracts from it. There is already a decent dynamic building between the characters and Jodie Whittaker manages to exude the expected level of authority that comes with this character along with being the moral centre who abhors the use of guns and encourages teamwork.
In many ways this is very much the team building episode that serves as the template for upcoming adventures. The Doctor acts as a teacher and a leader. Most notably she seems more patient than previous regenerations judging by her reaction to Ryan ignoring her and running off with a gun. So far she’s tolerant of mistakes initially because she understands that the life she leads is new for them. Ryan definitely learns his lesson after recklessly rushing into danger and seeing a practical example of brains over bullets. It’s unclear if she will be less tolerant of subsequent mistakes but it’s a nice touch to see something unique to this version of the character.
The one shot characters are fine but nothing spectacular. Epzo is defined by his inability to trust others backed up the anecdote about his mother showing him that others couldn’t be trusted. Naturally the Doctor wants to prove to him that working with others is the best way to succeed though it’s a lesson that isn’t really learned by the end of the episode. He does decide to split the winnings with Angstrom though that seems more opportunistic and the best way to not be disqualified from the game by hurting or killing her. There are other examples where he does work with them to an extent though there’s never a turning point where he learns that teamwork is the best way to survive. Perhaps he will be seen again working effectively with Angstrom though equally I don’t feel that he’s interesting enough to see again.
Angstrom has a lot more depth. Her backstory involves her wife being killed by the Stenza which creates an empathetic link between her and Graham. She also talks about what it takes to survive in an unforgiving universe and what winning the race will mean to her. In general she blends in well with the group dynamic though doesn’t leave much of an impression. In some ways this isn’t a bad thing as she fits this adventure well enough and doesn’t need to come back.
Despite being a great opportunity for character development this episode just isn’t all that exciting. There is a lot of mention of the threat that the planet represents but very little time spent actually showing that threat. In true Doctor Who fashion there is an element of foreshadowing when the Remnants (Ian Gelder) talk about “The Timeless Child”; something she has no memory of but holds some kind of meaning. There is also a tragic aspect to the backstory of the Remnants that is connected to the Stenza. Based on their appearance last week they aren’t well defined enough to feel like the looming threat that the episode wants them to be but this could easily be fixed by more focus on developing this threat. The fact that they destroy all life on a planet just to test a weapon says a lot about how merciless they are. It does make for a good contrast to the Doctor’s compassion for all life.
The Doctor’s reunion with the TARDIS is a genuinely impactful moment. It comes right after the Doctor appears to have lost hope because she expected it to be there so when it wasn’t she has no idea how to proceed. For a brief moment she appears resigned to her fate and is disappointed in herself for failing to return her companions home. In a reversal from earlier in the episode Graham is the one to attempt to lift her spirits. The intention is to show that this adventure has taught him that there is always a solution though it doesn’t feel fully earned considering how abrupt it is.
Of course the Doctor’s defeatist attitude doesn’t last long and the TARDIS returns to her which makes her feel complete. Everything about this scene works especially the score and Jodie Whittaker’s performance. The redesigned control room is great as well; it reminds me a little of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and the biscuit dispenser is a fun comedic touch. Now that the TARDIS is back it feels like this season can really begin.
A solid if somewhat forgettable episode that works well enough as team building for the Doctor and her new companions. The threat isn’t as significant as it should be and the one shot characters fail to make too much of an impression but the bonding between the main characters and starting to explore what their dynamic will look like is certainly interesting. The Doctor’s reunion with the TARDIS is a genuinely great moment that works brilliantly and allows the series to really begin.
- the dynamic between the main characters
- Graham and Ryan’s relationship not developing too quickly
- Jodie Whittaker continuing to deliver a strong performance
- the Doctor/TARDIS reunion sequence
- the threat not being as significant as it should be
- less than memorable one shot characters
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