Director: Mark Tonderai
Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall
Starring: Jodie Whittaker
Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Susan Lynch, Shaun Dooley, Art Malik
BBC One (United Kingdom)
Broadcast on: Sunday 14th October 2018
Running Time: 50 minutes
There are spoilers in this review - so if you haven't seen the episode yet, and want to stay in the unspoiled, please come back later.
With the major festivities of that exciting and fresh-faced first episode well and truly out of the way, it's time for Doctor Who to settle in properly and get back to business. Of course, with a new head-writer in the driving seat and a whole new production team bringing a fresh approach to the show, business, as usual, could mean pretty much anything at this point. Judging by The Ghost Monument alone, it seems to mean both entertainment and frustration.
Like with the Doctor's other recently-regenerated incarnations, this second episode crash-lands our new hero onto an alien world (in this case, literally), before setting off with the herculean task of setting a tone for the new Doctor and her companions by testing their mettle. We’ve seen it done before in episodes like The Beast Below or Smile – throw the new companions into a completely alien environment and see how they cope.
Here, the marooned time-travellers must join the surviving participants of an interstellar race to survive the hostile dead planet of Desolation. By doing so, they stand a chance of finding the Doctor's lost TARDIS. But the planet holds a secret, and enemies are lying in wait.
For the most part, the episode has its charms and isn't without incident - there are some cracking ideas here that merit further exploration. But Chris Chibnall’s script is handicapped early on by a severe lack of momentum, with the episode spending too much time merely chauffeuring the characters from point A to point B. The main monsters of the episode - the ribbon-like Remnants - only make their presence properly felt in the final few minutes, and when they do show, it's largely underwhelming.
The big reveal of the alien world being weaponised by kidnapped scientists is a solid idea, but it's only mentioned briefly towards the end and never utilised in a manner that benefits the drama. Even more jarring is how the plot suddenly hints at a connection to the Stenza, last week's human-hunting aliens, only to forget about the whole thing altogether. Clearly, this looks set to be a continuing story arc thread running through this series (which is certainly welcome), but the reference feels clumsily forced here.
Of course, whilst the main crux of the plot is merely a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas (were the random robots really necessary?), Chibnall's script does deliver in terms of sound character moments, both for the main characters and guest cast alike. Jodie Whittaker is just as watchable and captivating as she was last week – ever-evolving in her portrayal of the Doctor, here showing off a bit of the Doctor's more judgemental, authoritative tendencies, but still the delightfully mad and upbeat character we met previously.
Guest stars Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley benefit from Chibnall's script as well, each of their respective characters getting a fair portion of the drama, with some excellent insights into their pasts and their motivations for partaking in the deadly space race. Chibnall’s strength clearly lies in his ability to identify and write the relatable aspects of a character, no matter the setting/situation.
Unfortunately, the companions are not all served by the script as well as they should. Tosin Cole's Ryan continues to get the most to do, whilst Bradley Walsh again provides the episode with plenty of heart (and a few banging comedy one-liners). Better yet, the previous episode’s major tragedy isn’t forgotten, which leads to a touching scene between the two bereaved men. However, Mandip Gill’s Yasmin still remains hugely underdeveloped, and oft-times her character feels severely inconsequential to proceedings. Of course, there may be more chance for her to shine in future episodes, but at this point, there isn’t a lot here for us to go on. Three companions plus a new Doctor may be a bit too much for the show to handle. Hopefully, this concern will be proven wrong soon enough.
Of course, the big talking point of this otherwise so-so episode is the big reveal of the new TARDIS interior. We only see it for a bit, slowly teased out to us as the Doctor enters, and it’s a lot to take in when we do. A slight return to the more organic look of the Davies era set, albeit with a more crystalline aesthetic as opposed to coral, first thoughts are mainly that it looks a bit cramped around that console and the lighting doesn’t quite do its grand size justice. However, it’s interesting and visually stunning enough to warrant more screen time in the future. Yet another box ticked for this new era.
Frustrating as the main alien plot is, there's still much to admire in The Ghost Monument - the direction and cinematography are both slick and sumptuous to behold, the new Hartnell-influenced opening titles look amazing, the cast is excellent, the ideas are imaginative and Chris Chibnall clearly has a talent for creating relatable characters in extraordinary situations. But the more pedestrian pace proves the biggest detriment to an otherwise decent episode, with both the monsters and any actual incident included as if they were merely an afterthought.
Entertaining but instantly forgettable, The Ghost Monument is nowhere near terrible, but for an episode that centres around a race to the finish line, it's ironic that it chooses to crawl instead of run!