Series 11 marches on with episode 2, “The Ghost Monument” and a new main title. After last week’s accidental kidnapping, the Doctor and her friends end up in space and eventually on an alien planet called Desolation. Their only way out is to follow Angstrom and Epzo as they race each other on the dangerous planet and head towards the Ghost Monument—which happens to be the TARDIS itself.
Graham, Ryan, and Yaz get a standard sci-fi journey for their second adventure with the Doctor. Because of the lack of TARDIS the story takes place in the present but on an alien planet nonetheless. Desolation is a setting that provides us with a limited cast but some gorgeous shots and a theme of working together and trusting each other. The enemy was once again a bit disappointing, both the SniperBots and the Remnants. The latter are malevolent dirty cloths, essentially. Though there is something silly and charming and so Doctor Who-esque about that, the best part was once again the Doctor taking them down. I suppose you could consider Ilin (played by Art Malik) to be a sort of antagonist, but he was mainly just a douche who annoyed the Doctor.
Another thing about the monster of the week is its relation to the Stenza and a potential season-long arc. Despite the fact that I didn’t care for Tim Shaw much during the last episode, the Stenza as a race and as a big bad could become a major part of series 11 as a whole and become fleshed out. Not only that, but the mention of the Doctor being “the Timeless Child” leads me to believe that the episodes are not going to be connected purely by characters after all. It’s been a while since we had a good season-long arc, the last one I liked was Vote Saxon/the Master in series 3.
More than the plot’s relation to the Stenza or any other villains, what mattered in “The Ghost Monument” was solidarity and team effort. This manifests both on the level of the TARDIS team and with the two guest characters, Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley). Ryan and Graham get to talk a bit about Grace and continue to deal with the trauma, rather than just forgetting it immediately. Ryan also has a small but touching scene with Yaz as she waits for him when he’s a bit slower because of his dyspraxia. Angstrom has similar moments with both Yaz and Graham, and though none of these are long or even particularly emotional, they all add up. Together they build a strong sense of character and dynamic for the episode.
While the story itself was well-executed, the plot was primarily entertaining because of how the Doctor handled the situation and the two guest characters. Both Epzo and Angstrom were interesting in their own ways, despite Epzo’s stubborn independence. His sudden decision at the end to become a joint winner with Angstrom did come out of nowhere, just like Ilin’s weak efforts to deny them. It felt like Chibnall suddenly realized when he was writing the script that he only had 50 minutes and five left of those to resolve everything. The characters were built up and then they literally just disappeared into thin air after one minute of epiphanies. The same, or rather the reverse could be said for the TARDIS: the Ghost Monument itself conveniently materializes just as the Doctor is about to lose hope.
Speaking of, it is good to see the TARDIS come to the Doctor’s aid, even if it’s awfully convenient. The ship has become a character on its own over the years and Thirteen’s first scene with her one true companion proved that. Jodie Whittaker was talking to a wooden door and yet the scene carried all the history that this character of 14 faces and an inanimate object have. Whittaker has been excellent in both episodes so far but she truly exceeds herself in these pivotal Doctor moments, like last week’s “I’m the Doctor” and now the re-introduction of the TARDIS. It does come at the cost of the companions having a downplayed reactions to the space and time machine and the absence of, “It’s bigger on the inside!” but somehow it seems worth it.
These last few minutes are crucial not only because it’s a Doctor’s first scene with the TARDIS but because it’s our first impression of a new console. I love the fact that Chibnall and co. tried to keep as many things secret as possible and the new TARDIS interior was one of them. Exploring the new design along with the Doctor makes for a magical experience. Granted, the new set will take some getting used to, and it’s definitely a huge change from the cool, clean-lined, metallic console that first appeared with the Eleventh Doctor and what was eventually transformed into the home of Capaldi’s Twelve. Thirteen’s console is more naturalistic and seems more like a cave at first glance, but I’m liking this yellow-blue thing that the Thirteenth Doctor has going on.
“The Ghost Monument” continues building the hype for this series with its careful characterization, somewhat more intriguing plot, and overall sense of adventure. Special kudos to the episode for establishing the Doctor’s key trait of brains over brawns for her new friends and for the bonding moments that are already making a family out of the TARDIS crew. I’ll have to admit that the typical sci-fi episodes have always been my least favorite, but this one kept my attention. The group dynamic combined with the anticipation of the TARDIS carried it all.
Lucky for me, next week we’re back to the past in a good old historical episode. There are two ways to go about the next trip: either the Doctor’s new friends decided that traveling with her could be fun and don’t want Sheffield back just yet, or Thirteen will continue their inadvertent abduction. In any case, it’s 1950s America next time on Doctor Who as the team visits one Rosa Parks.