With the major festivities of that 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 into an alien environment (in this case, literally) and has the herculaen task of setting a tone for the new Doctor and her companions by testing their mettle. 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’s 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 A to 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 thread running through this series, 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 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 saw last week.
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. 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). But Mandip Gill‘s Yasmin still remains underdeveloped, and oft-times inconsequential to proceedings. At this stage of the series, it’s starting to become a point of concern.
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 TARDIS interior looks amazing, the cast are 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!
Doctor Who returns to BBC One next Sunday. Be sure to check out the other reviews in our Series 11 Blog and join us for our review of Episode 3 next week.