By JD Phillips
What do the “Doctor Who” episodes “The End Of The World”, “New Earth”, “The Beast Below”, and “Into The Dalek” have in common? They’re all the second episode featuring the new Doctor, they are all the first foray of that new Doctor into a high concept space story, and they’re all fairly forgettable. Season 11’s episode, “The Ghost Monument” continues this trend with Jodie Whittaker’s new Doc.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the episode but it definitely feels like the one I’m not going to remember at the end of the season. The plot is pretty straightforward “Doctor Who” fare. The Doctor and her companions get caught up in high stakes, intergalactic, relay race on a hostile planet. This plot felt disappointingly formulaic after last week’s jolt of new energy. Within minutes I knew that the two rival racers were going to have to learn to work together, there’d be a few scary monsters along the way, and at least one big speech. I was right on all counts.
While the plot was pretty unimpressive, the episode had several highlights that point to an amazing season ahead. First off, how cool is that new title sequence?! It doesn’t feel anything at all like any of the other title sequences. The whole thing gives off the exact feel that this season of the show is going for. It is fresh and exciting while also offering enough retro to feel like it’s still Doctor Who.
That’s exactly the feeling the episode ends with when we get to see the new and improved Tardis. While the outside looks like its just gotten a fresh renovation while the inside looks like something spectacularly different. The steampunk Krypton look of the Tardis makes the iconic spaceship feel more like it did the first time I saw it. Back when it was new, alien, and exciting. It simply beckons for adventure. And it dispenses cookies!
The episode also dropped several hints about the road to come. For starters, last week’s alien Predator race, the Stenza got name dropped. Anyone hoping we would see more toothfaces in the near future is going to get their wish. After all the talk about how this season wasn’t going to be serialized, apparently, that was just a lie. Looks like Chibnall is following in Moffat’s sneaky, lying footsteps. He also said there would be no old monsters or cameos so now I bet we’re gonna see Daleks fighting River Song and Jack Harkness on the starship UK as it’s being hijacked by the new Master.
There was also some reference to the Doctor’s past. “The Timeless Child” that is an abandoned outcast. Now there are several things this could be (including something new and made up) but it definitely sounds like the Doctor’s long-lost granddaughter Susan. For those that haven’t watched the first ever series of “Doctor Who”, Susan is the first companion and a Gallifreyan herself. She left the series when The Doctor locked her out of the Tardis so that she could have a life with love interest David Campbell. While she’s had a few appearances since there’s been no update on the character since the show was revived. It would be interesting to see what a post-Time-war Susan would be like. This could also be a reference to the Doctor’s daughter from the Tennant years or Clara but both of those seem unlikely. Smart money is on a new invention from Chibnall but start putting in your bets just in case!
Carol Ann Ford as the first Doctor's granddaughter Susan
The best part about the episode was definitely Whittaker. She continues to shine almost effortlessly as The Doctor. The actress commands every scene she’s in but doesn’t shy away from the odd thrown away one-liner. (The ones about her time as a hologram and the sunglasses of either Audrey Hepburn or Pythagoras were the best.) The writers also continue their trend of the non-violent (but still kinda violent? I mean she won’t use guns but bombs are okay?) mechanic Doctor who uses science and engineering to solve her problems. This especially shined in her scene with Ryan after his hilarious “Call of Duty” moment.
The companions were a mixed bag again, though. Ryan and Graham got a lot more character development and screen time this go around but I’m still not sure what kind of character arc they are going for with them. Are Ryan and Graham going to have to learn to be father and son? Is Ryan going to have to overcome his disability to save the galaxy? Is Graham going to become an intergalactic bus driver? I really don’t know. Most of the time I have a better feel for where they are going with the companions by this point in the season but right now they just seem to be along for the ride.
Oh wait, did I forget Yaz? That’s okay, the episode did too. While Ryan and Graham got sunglasses jokes and a first-person shooter action scene, Yaz got little of anything to do. You’d think a cop would have a little more of a take-charge attitude. Or a strong opinion about being thrown into space. She was aching for adventure last week but that doesn’t seem to have followed into this week. There was a brief moment where she had a mild flirtation with Ryan. Hopefully, this will lead to more character development and not just her being sidelined as “the love interest”. Yaz is an interesting character, I hope she doesn’t become this season’s Danny Pink.
The companions did have a great moment as a unit, towards the end of the episode. Them having to rally the Doctor to not give up hope just as things were hopeless was a nice touch and shows how companions can be important to the Doctor. She has the weight of the galaxy (and twel- thirteen lifetimes of guilt. I almost forgot to count John Hurt. Why does everyone forget to count John Hurt?!) on her shoulders and sometimes she needs a grounded presence to keep her centered. Hopefully, there will be more of these moments and character developments in the weeks to come.
John Hurt as "The War Doctor"
Overall this episode followed the trend that so many “Doctor’s First Day In Space” episodes have covered in the past but that’s definitely not a bad thing. These episodes always feel like they are trying to calibrate the series around the new Doc in a fairly standard scenario. Whether it’s Eccleston’s hard edges, Capaldi’s cold edges, Tennant’s sassy superheroics, or Smith’s god with sad puppy eyes, these episodes are often the ones where the writers really get to test the new Doctor out. A test drive so to speak. If this is any indication of what kind of Doctor we are going to get when the show takes it up to fifth gear, I would say we’re in for a good year.