The Doctor and her companions find themselves in the middle of a deadly race.
After last week’s excellent season opener and cliffhanger, it made sense that the follow-up would be a bit of a return to Earth, at least figuratively. “The Ghost Monument” is a decent sophomore journey for The Doctor and her three new companions, who we’re all still getting to know. Make no mistake. The setting, cinematography and concept of the episode are all very strong. It’s only a few stumbling blocks in the writing that hold it back.
“The Ghost Monument” arrives with a bang. As in, the sound of a ship exiting hyperspace to save Ryan and Graham from their unexpected spacewalk. The Doctor and Yaz get picked up in a separate, less well-off ship. Both make their way down to a desert planet below. After reuniting, our heroes discover that the pilots of these two ships, Angstrom and Epzo, are the two finalists in the Rally of the Twelve Galaxies, an intergalactic race. Overseen by its founder and organizer, Ilin, the last stage requires Angstrom and Epzo to make their way across the deadly planet known as Desolation. Whoever reaches the Ghost Monument first is declared the winner with enough money to take care of their entire clan for life. The rules: no sabotages, no injuries, no killing the other.
With The Doctor and crew stuck in the middle of this, she asks what this Ghost Monument looks like. Ilin reveals that it is none other than her missing TARDIS! With a destination in mind, she joins the two pilots on their journey.
The best features of this episode are found in the gorgeous desert imagery, with a nice sci-fi flair, and the character development. Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole get some sturdy material as Graham and Ryan. They have a nice moment bonding over Grace’s death. But there’s still a lot of tension when Graham tries to act too fatherly towards Ryan. It’s good to see that while their relationship has plenty of bumps, it doesn’t slow down the episode. Epzo and Angstrom are also well-developed. Epzo comes off as a hostile loner with a chip on his shoulder. But it’s revealed that his mom traumatically taught him not to trust anyone from a very young age. As for Angstrom, she wants to win the prize to save her family from ethnic cleansing by the Stenza, potentially our Big Bads for the season. I just wish Yaz was given an opportunity to do more as well.
When everyone arrives at the old ruins, they are attacked by cybernetic “snipers.” I use the term snipers very loosely as they have worse aim than Stormtroopers. In a weirdly-timed comedic moment, Ryan picks up a spare energy rifle to try and take the robots out himself. Although The Doctor tries to stop him, he runs out and shoots down a bunch of robots…only for them to get right back up. Alright, time for Plan 13! The Doctor works to “out-think them,” blasting them with an EMP.
While the robots are dangerous, they’re nothing compared to Remnants, cloth-like creatures found all over the planet. They nearly suffocate Epzo to death before he’s saved by Angstrom. As the Remnants prepare to kill The Doctor and her team, they look into The Doctor’s mind, seeing something called “The Timeless Child” that she’s hidden from herself. Hmmm, a mystery! Before they can feast though, The Doctor uses Epzo’s self-lighting cigar to burn the acetylene air, destroying them.
As they reach the end of the race, Epzo and Angstrom decide to cross the finish line as co-victors. Even though it’s supposed to be a race between the two, you never get that sense from the way they behave, especially once they reach the ruins. For being the final stage of this mega-competition, you would think there’d be a bit more urgency.
Despite that, the episode ends with a great reveal. The Doctor’s TARDIS returns to her. For its latest iteration, it has a very organic feel, with gear-shaped panels, flipping hourglasses, and glowing crystal pillars supporting the main console. It’s a combination of the industrial vibe of the 9th/10th Doctors, the Fortress of Solitude and fresh flavor all on its own.
As 13 herself says, “I really like it.”
- After missing last episode, we have the premiere of the new Doctor Who title sequence! It’s very cool, all pulsing colors and kaleidoscope imagery. It’s very reminiscent of the Second and Third Doctor openers.
- Angstrom about his ship: “This is the Cerebos….People have written songs about her.” The Doctor: “They’ll be writing operas about our pointless deaths if we don’t take drastic action right now.”
- The Doctor: “I was a hologram once. For three weeks. The gossip I picked up.”
- When Epzo threatens Angstrom, The Doctor puts a stop to it with some Venusian Aikido, a callback to the Third Doctor!
- Another cool feature of the new TARDIS? It has a custard cream dispenser! A thoroughly British touch.