The Doctor and her new friends try to stay alive in a hostile alien environment, whilst trying to solve the mystery of Desolation.
So, we kind of got a Hitchhiker’s Guide resolution to that cliffhanger from last week. The Thirteenth Doctor’s second episode sees the Doctor and her new “best friends” thrown into the final stage of an epic competition, seeking a mysterious ‘Ghost Monument,’ with the last surviving competitors. The second of the series looks fantastically cinematic, with the new cameras being put to good use – the last series also looked fantastic, but this new visual look makes the show look the best it ever has. I must address the elephant in the room here too – the opening visuals are fantastic and match the new theme tune beautifully. There is something otherworldly about the new score, and the corresponding visuals are unsettling.
I’ll address the biggest problem with the episode first. Chris Chibnall is known for his strong characterisation, occasionally coming at the expense of plot, with one of the most notable examples of this coming in The Power of Three, and similarly here, the conclusion to the episode feels very rushed. I liked the idea of the story, but the focus on characterisation really does damage this as a story, especially as the majority of it feels like a retread of what we saw last week – the difficult relationship between Graham and Ryan. Yaz again does seem to draw the short straw, but we do learn more about her family and home life – family does really seem to be a key part of this series. Epzo and Angstrom are participating in the Rally to save their families, as the prize is safety for their families, who are on a planet being systematically cleansed, and although Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch give good performances, I don’t feel their characters were really fully rounded. The scene between Graham and Ryan in the boat, discussing grieving for Grace, is beautifully played, however, and it didn’t have too much of an impact on my engagement with the story, in fact, it might be the strongest part, addressing issues regarding men discussing their feelings and toxic masculinity. My only disappointment is that Ilan is completely shouted down at the conclusion in allowing both Angstrom and Epzo to win so quickly.
On to my more positive thoughts about this story. I really like the new Doctor and we do get more of a handle of this incarnation here. We do get to see her have a proper rage at Epzo and get to see her deal with some proper sci-fi jargon. She is still most similar to David Tennant, especially in her hatred towards guns. I feel that Jodie Whittaker is a great Doctor already and I want to see a lot more of her. Despite the fact that in press releases, people have said that the series won’t be delving into the Doctor’s past, the mention of the ‘Timeless Child’ by the Remnants definitely hints that we will be delving into the Doctor’s past. She definitely possesses one of the necessary characteristics for any Doctor, as she is an engaging screen presence and has the heart of steel that we have come to associate with the Doctor since the revival, as well as being supportive and encouraging to her new companions. The moment that the TARDIS appears at the conclusion is fantastic, especially when she apologises for not having a key, and the door opens. So many introductions to the TARDIS focus on the companion’s reactions, so switching it to the Doctor’s here is lovely.
I really need you right now. My beautiful Ghost Monument. I’ve missed you!
Something I was pleasantly surprised by in this episode was Ryan. I wasn’t terribly enamoured with him in The Woman Who Fell To Earth, but here we see that he can be a fantastic companion. There are obviously issues relating to his grandmother’s death that he does not want to speak about, which can be seen in his headstrong approach, charging out to take out the SniperBots, inspired by his time playing Call of Duty, but this is also played for laughs when they stand back up. Yaz and Graham have very little to do in this episode though, and I am a bit concerned that Bradley Walsh’s Graham is basically there to express disbelief at everything he sees or experiences. I really hope that he and Yaz get more to do in the coming weeks.
I really like the fact that we’re getting some more background for the Stenza race too, who we encountered for the first time ever last week in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Here we see that they have used the planet of Desolation and their scientists to create weapons to use in war, and have used the planet as their testing ground, which has resulted in the inhabitants being wiped out. The Remnants have a characteristic of many classic Doctor Who villains in that they are easy to replicate and are quite menacing – they nearly finish off Epzo and are clearly effective adversaries, being able to pull memories from the Doctor’s head before their eventual demise. The SniperBots are a rather more generic adversary, but they are also quite effective here.
Contrary to my assertion that we wouldn’t be seeing the TARDIS until the end of the series, the police box does make an appearance at the end, as I alluded to above. I really like the new TARDIS, especially the new ‘porch’ at the front, which makes it seem more magical, reminiscent of the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The interior is also beautifully designed, and I like the orange colour scheme although I’m not certain about the pillars although I’m sure that they will grow on me. I’m just happy to be seeing the TARDIS sooner than expected and hope that this means that we can get some interesting new stories and some potentially more complicated plots.
Verdict: Backed up by some fantastic landscapes of South Africa doubling as an alien planet, The Ghost Monument is a solid episode in this series, despite what can be seen as a simplistic A to B plot and a rushed conclusion. 6/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Shaun Dooley (Epzo), Susan Lynch (Angstrom), Art Malik (Ilin), Ian Gelder (Remnants (voice)
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Mark Tonderai
Behind the Scenes
- This is the first episode to feature the new credits sequence, as well as the new iteration of the theme “in situ”, arranged by Segun Akinola. The new visuals hark back to the howl around seen in the opening titles during the Hartnell and Troughton eras.
- Speaking of the credits, they are the first not to feature the face of the lead actor since The Snowmen
- This episode was shot in South Africa, along with the following episode, Rosa.
- Yaz refers to a green police box in Sheffield.
- The Doctor performs Venusian Aikido on Epzo. This martial art was mainly used by the Third Doctor, and the Doctor here alludes to it being taught to her by Venusian nuns.
- Art Malik also played Abbot Absolute in The Skull of Sobek.
- Ian Gelder would go on to play Zellin in Can You Hear Me? He also appeared in Legend of the Cybermen.
The Doctor entering her new TARDIS for the first time.
Oh…You’ve redecorated. I really like it!
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