In search of her TARDIS, the Doctor and her companions accidentally stumble upon the last leg of a deadly galaxy-spanning rally. The finish line is something all too familiar to the Doctor.
“The Ghost Monument,” penned by showrunner Chris Chibnall, picks up moments after the last episode. In the final moments of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” the Doctor built a teleporter to return her to her TARDIS, but accidentally transported herself and her three new companions into the vacuum of space instead. It was a nice, suspenseful cliffhanger—she’s only armed with her new sonic screwdriver, so how will she get them out of this tight spot?
No worries. She’s the Doctor. Luck always finds her.
A ship comes out of nowhere and grabs them. Ryan and Graham awaken on a ship near “the Final Planet” that’s not where it’s supposed to be, but the captain of that ship, Angstrom (Susan Lynch from Happy Valley) says there were only two people out there. We then shift to the Doctor and Yaz on another ship where the captain Epzo (Shaun Dooley—another Broadchurch alum) says the same thing.
They stumble upon the planet, which Epzo ominously identifies as Desolation, and that it’s hopeless to land there, but the Doctor leaps into command, at once reassuring a freaking out Yaz that they’re going to be fine and issuing orders to Epzo. They crash on Desolation, almost directly on top of Ryan, Graham, and Angstrom. On Desolation, they’ve stumbled on the final Rally of the Twelve Galaxies, and Angstrom and Epzo are the finalists. The finish line for the Rally is the Ghost Monument—The TARDIS.
From the Ninth Doctor’s “The End of the World,” and the Tenth’s “New Earth” and Matt Smith’s horrid “The Beast Below,” most sophomore outings for a new Doctor are on the weaker end, story-wise. Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor’s second episode wasn’t that bad, but his third, “Robot of Sherwood” was abysmal (in the midst of a very very weak season). In this case, we don’t have much to measure Whittaker and Chibnall against, having only one episode under this production team’s belt, and it’s decent enough. Alien planet, MacGuffin to find, let’s get to know the characters.
“Welcome to what I presume is your first alien planet. Don’t touch anything.”
What works best is that we get to see more of this Thirteenth Doctor. Jodie Whittaker embodies the Doctor with such subtlety. She plays intensity and command, as well as a deep despair when it seems hope is utterly lost—it’s going to be a pleasure seeing her continue to grow into the role and to have them find ways to weave her into the fabric of the Doctor Who mythology. For example, the Doctor remembers her Venusian aikido, something the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) was ready to use. Well played, Chibnall.
A thin motif of family seems to be running through these two episodes. Angstrom hauntingly describes her family’s dire straits and how she needs to save them all, that everyone must never forget to cherish their family. Simultaneously, Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan have a running tension, which I’m happy they’ve kept up, for character development’s sake. Ryan’s grandmother (who died in the previous episode) married Graham only a few years before, and Ryan deeply resents him for that. They only small twinge I have is that it’s strange that he treats Graham more like an unwanted stepfather than step-grandfather. Family seems to be key here, whatever they’re going to do with this subplot.
Unfortunately, Tosin Cole’s Ryan is a bit inconsistent. He says he’s trained to run and shoot, yet in the first episode, he was literally so clumsy he couldn’t ride a bike. Moreover, he comes across as broadly—almost slapstick—comic when running after some robot guards. Moments before, he was brooding deeply on Graham’s place in his life.
Meanwhile, Yaz (Mandip Gill) is just stalwart and present. I like her steadiness and lack of panic in the face of such alien peril, yet she doesn’t get much time to shine. This is always the difficulty when we have more than one or two companions. Chibnall is brave for bringing on three companions, but this means that one will continually get short shrift–I just hope that Yaz (who is really the more charismatic, engaging of the three, I think) gets more to do as we move forward.
Two things finally happen in this episode: We’ve got a new title sequence, which is dark and swirling and appropriately spare (the titles have gotten more and more cluttered in past series) supported by the debut of the new theme music from composer Segun Akinola. The theme is actually more reminiscent of Classic Who than we’ve had for a long time, and I loved it. Along with the theme and title shift is the expected TARDIS redesign. She’s done herself up a bit, even more abstractly than it was in the past (I really liked the Twelfth Doctor’s TARDIS).
In the end, Ryan expresses his feelings about all the new things he’s experienced, and I’ll second it: “This is proper awesome.”