Series 11, Episode 2: “The Ghost Monument”
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Shaun Dooley, and Susan Lynch
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Mark Tonderai
Review by Justin Patridge
Reverse the polarity of the SPOILERS AHEAD flow!
The Chibnall Era delivers its first proper planetary adventure in the stirringly epic “The Ghost Monument.” Scooped up by a pair of interstellar racers, the Doctor, Ryan, Graham, and Yaz (god, I love typing out a whole gaggle of names in regards to companions again) are swept up in the race on a hostile world called simply Desolation.
Though new showrunner Chris Chibnall continues his intimate, character-focused work up on the new Team TARDIS, the episode’s plot is a fantastic upswing from 13’s Earthly debut. Director Mark Tonderai, who apparently is a big horror guy, really makes this script sing. He stages the episode’s chases and action amid airy ruins and damp underground tunnels, just perfect for Doctor Who. Second adventures are always so critical for a new Doctor, and Whittaker and Chibnall really crush it. “The Ghost Monument” gives us satisfying science fiction along with some key development for our team. All this, plus that patented Doctor Who pathos.
Picking up directly after last week’s vacuous cliffhanger, Chris Chibnall doesn’t waste any time getting us right in the thick of the story. We obviously knew that the Doctor and her new best friends (something she continues to tell to anyone who will listen which is just the best) wouldn’t die out in a vacant starfield. Chibnall quickly reassures us with two sets of characters waking up on two separate spaceships, mostly safe and sound.
Ryan and Graham end up on the ship of Angstrom, a roguish racer aiming to give her family a better life away from her war-torn homeworld. The Doctor and Yaz end up on the ship of Epzo, the other finalist, and all around prickly pear who doesn’t trust anybody. Oh, and also their ship is crashing. DOCTOR WHO EVERYBODY! Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch really shine here as temporary companions. They present their character’s motivations and personalities clearly. Even better they never skew toward scenery chewing.
But I can seriously respect Chibnall’s getting on with it. One of the complaints I have heard lobbied against 13’s debut is that it kind of takes it time really getting to the rub of the episode. I.E., The Doctoring. I get that, but also kind of appreciate it, but “The Ghost Monument” just gets to the damn thing. It introduces the plot and main hook, mainly that the titular monument is actually the Doctor’s TARDIS, locked in a phase loop, very, very quickly. It works wonders for the energy of the episode. Director Tonderai really keeps the pace with the text, leaning into the show’s new grounded take on its staging. But Chibnall introducing the hook so early is great. We finally get to see Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Doc (Graham’s words), and it truly is so, so fun.
Whittaker’s Doctor is a constant bundle of energy as she delves into the mystery of the planet and works to keep her charges safe. The answers she finds are admittedly a big murky (more on that in a tic), but seeing her get there, strengthening the bond between her and her companions along the way, is truly a delight to watch.
It is still early days, and I know we haven’t seen the full breadth of her performance. Just based on this episode, she really happened upon something really fun. A chattery, sunny, and properly empathetic Doctor, one not afraid to show fear or anything less than her full range of emotion at ANY GIVEN MINUTE (her pressing a hologram for answers like a little kid is particularly funny). After a few Doctors that seemed to thrive on lying about their feelings and withholding their emotions for “the sake of their companions,” it is really, really cool to see a Doctor just proudly wearing her heart on her amazing sleeves and making it look heroic.
There is also the matter of her new companions. Though he is working with a fairly big group, Chibnall really keeps the plates spinning in regards to everybody’s characterization and what they bring to the adventure. Bradley Walsh’s Graham becomes the MVP here. He continues to be the only companion to have realistic reactions to the situation. “I got a book full of questions,” he dimly intones at one point in the episode. He really gives a fun layer of dad comedy to the story, and I am really warming to him.
Tosin Cole’s Ryan also gets a truly fantastic moment during the episode’s first major set piece. Thinking his time during Call of Duty will win the day after some android guards attack. He cuts down the bots with a laser weapon only to have them rise again and send him screeching back to cover, unsure not to reload his weapon. It is such a great display of Who’s famous aversion to guns and another adorably relatable moment for Ryan. Yaz kind of draws the short straw this episode, which is a shame because Mandip Gill’s emerging banter with the Doctor and Ryan is really fun. She doesn’t get too terribly much to do.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best bit! The debut of 13’s beautiful new TARDIS. This episode really makes a meal out of the introduction. It really sends the episode out on a soaring high note. By now, you have probably seen it, but it really is a marvel to behold. All biotechnical crystals and new dish line roundules standing proudly along the inner console. It is like the weird DIY space of Nine and Ten’s control room with the confined console space of Twelve. All that and a custard cream biscuit dispenser, which may be the most Doctor Who thing ever. I could go on about it. The new ultra trippy title sequence, AND Segun Akinola’s tremendous new theme tune (and score in general), but you get it.
Verdict: Watch It
Second adventures are key in Doctor Who and “The Ghost Monument” makes a damn fine argument for being one of the best ever. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor really comes into her own here. She gains a TARDIS and a stronger bond with her friends as they head into the unknown together. I defy A.N.Y.one to watch the scene of the Doctor sprinting up a rock in a gorgeous sweeping shot to her brand new TARDIS and not feel even a little choked up. Doctor Who is back in a big, big way and it is everything.
NEXT TIME! “Rosa” by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall. First trip through time for our crew in their snazzy new TARDIS. Let’s see if this win streak keeps until next week. Be seeing you.