The Doctor and her new best friends are stuck on a planet that wants to kill them – pretty standard. But what did our team make of The Ghost Monument? Let’s find out…
It’s the difficult second album. We’ve met the new Doctor and companions, now we see them in action together. The Ghost Monument starts with a really interesting concept – two people taking part in a deadly race to win a grand prize.
With such a small supporting cast, this provides the perfect opportunity to get to know the companions further. We do see a bit more of Graham and Ryan’s relationship and their joint grief over Grace’s death (which my mother is still complaining about by the way), but other than this there’s not much character development. We don’t really learn much more about Yaz other than her family is a bit annoying.
Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch are great as Epzo and Angstrom. You really get a sense of their troubled lives and their competitiveness. Art Malik as Ilin meanwhile didn’t really do much for me. It was one of those performances where I wasn’t sure if he was meant to be purposely sedate and uninteresting, but it lacked any kind of real menace or villainous quality.
For me, the episode felt quite slow paced for most of the story. Again, if there was interesting dialogue and good character development, this would’ve been fine, but at times I could’ve joined Epzo for a quick nap. However, as with the first episode, the episode looks stunning. Despite being quite sparse, the South African landscapes look beautiful and make it easy to believe this is an alien planet.
There was also the surprise reveal of the Stenza being a recurring villain. Personally, I don’t feel like they’re interesting or iconic enough to fulfil this role, but we’ve only seen one of them, so it’s too early to judge. Despite promising no story arcs, rule one is Chibnall lies. I’ve no idea who the “timeless child” is or what the mysterious phrase is referring to, but hopefully this will be a story arc that will pay off well later in the series.
Of course, the big talking point of this episode is the new TARDIS. After a whole episode without her, I was really looking forward to seeing the new interior. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. The new control room is quite dark and it feels more like a dungeon than a spaceship. The walls remind me of the Library of Birmingham instead of the roundels that everybody was (probably) hoping for.
The crystal structures tie in to the new sonic screwdriver design – I’ve make up a theory that the TARDIS knew what the sonic would look like and chose a desktop theme to match it – but I think the crystal columns are a bit overbearing. The control panel looks quite interesting from what we’ve seen – plenty of dials and levers – but I’m not a fan of the spinning crystal TARDIS. I’ve seen a theory on Twitter that this is part of the chameleon circuit, showing what the TARDIS exterior is disguised as, which is a nice idea, but only really works if the TARDIS is going to change shape – which I hope it doesn’t. I think with a bigger TARDIS team, the interior should really have been less claustrophobic and better lit so the Doctor and companions can have a better space to work in. The biscuit dispenser is a nice touch though – very Doctory.
On a more positive note, I really like the new title sequence. It’s quite a departure from what we’re used to in the modern era of the series, but it’s a nice callback to the original title sequence. My only quibble is that it starts off quite slowly and then ends just as it’s getting exciting.
Overall, I think the episode didn’t really live up to its potential. The slow pacing, lack of character development and disappointing TARDIS interior reveal hasn’t filled me with confidence, but we’ve got a historical episode next week and I do love a good historical. Anyway, I’ve rambled on far too much this week, so I’ll let someone else speak now!
As somebody who really enjoyed and felt content with Doctor Who during Peter Capaldi era, where ratings dropped and audiences (according to who you ask, anyway) began to find the show overly intricate and inaccessible, the Chibnall era of the show has been a strange experience. Ratings are higher than they’ve been in almost a decade, the show is pleasing fans who have been turned off since Steven Moffat took the helm, and it feels like Doctor Who is back in the public consciousness. These are unambiguously good things, but they’re starting to make me wonder if they’re part of a trade.
Take The Ghost Monument, an episode which I enjoyed, but did very little to assuage the concerns I’ve had about Chibnall’s run for some time, and which even last week’s confident premiere couldn’t wholly dispel. There’s so much that works about the episode. Jodie Whittaker is still settling into her performance, but I like how naturalistic and open-minded her take on the Doctor is. She’s a compassionate hero who can empathise with anyone, but hates to advertise her kindness in a way that could be considered vain. There’s not quite the distinctiveness of prior Doctors at their best in her performance just yet, but it’s episode two. Whittaker has acquitted herself really well, and her joyful response to her new TARDIS at the end shows there’s plenty of room to expand out her performance as the season continues.
Likewise, the team of new companions all continue to be a pleasure to be around. There’s perhaps a sense that Mandip Gill is being sidelined a little as Yaz, but her contributions to the episode are all delightful, and upcoming synopses show that the spotlight will fall on Yaz in due time. The visual strengths of last week are all present – the glossy new cinematography complements the location filming in South Africa really well, the early sequences with the spaceships showcase visual effects that wouldn’t be out of place in a Netflix original, and the alien setting is depicted in some very evocative ways at times, such as that beautiful time lapse of the rising suns. And while there are some plot problems to consider, the streamlined simplicity of a race to the TARDIS with the environment as the enemy is an interesting shift of storytelling approach from that of the Moffat era, one which certainly accentuates the different feel of the Chibnall years.
But, like I said, concerns. For all the strengths I listed out there, the episode’s script doesn’t quite belong among them. It’s not a badly written episode – there’s nothing here that could be considered genuinely incompetent – yet Chibnall’s script is almost uniformly pedestrian. The jokes (holograms! Pythagoras!) are fine, but they all recall wittier examples from past seasons. The character work, a real strength of last week, is something of an optical illusion, as we have several engaging dialogue scenes that reinforce almost nothing new about our characters, and the ostensibly fleshed-out Angstrom and Epzo have arcs that stall out after the first act. The monsters are either intriguing but underdeveloped (the rags) or plain dull (the Stormtrooper bots, with the aim to match). And the flat, perfunctory conclusion to the race story underscores a plot that offers an intriguing set-up but then no surprises or subversion or development. The Doctor wants to find the TARDIS and she does. Angstrom and Epzo want to win the race, and they do. The second half of the episode could have been generated from algorithm following the intriguing beginning.
I’m being a little grumpy. I had fun watching The Ghost Monument, and nothing about it made me any less anticipatory of next week, which offers a fresh new perspective with Malorie Blackman assuming scriptwriting duties. But regarding Chibnall’s era so far, to quote The Good Place’s Chidi, I have some worries as well as some concerns that could potentially turn into outright fears.
The Ghost Monument allows us to get more acquainted with the Doctor and her companions. The idea of them being stranded on an alien planet with no other choice than to count on each other and work as a team is quite fitting for a Doctor Who episode. I actually liked the fact that the Ghost Monument can only be reached if the characters are worthy of it.
Sadly, despite the fact that the episode is carrying Doctor Who values, I struggled to enjoy it. The planet is supposedly very dangerous and lethal for anyone, and yet Metebelis III was way scarier. Even Mars was scarier in The Waters of Mars! And that’s probably my main complain about the episode: the lack of suspense in it. The attempt of creating a stressful, worrying and scary atmosphere fails, and as I tried to understand why it didn’t work (since all ingredients to create such atmosphere were present), I recalled Under the Lake. This was one particular episode that made me quite jumpy! The reason is simple: the pace of the episode is right. In The Ghost Monument, everything is too slow. The audience doesn’t feel threatened (figuratively), because everything is too slow. An example? When the team is risking air depravation, they take ages to climb a ladder.
Now, another thing that bugged me where those discrepancies regarding physics. Now, I’m not an expert, but when I manage to spot those discrepancies, I count it as continuity error. Speaking of physics, the TARDIS interior is so dark that it felt smaller on the inside! (I’m expecting it to be lit up in the next episodes) But the custard cream dispenser is a very nice touch!
And last, but not the least: the Doctor’s persona. There are things that just don’t make sense in her behaviour. At times she seems to contradict herself; some of her speeches are off, making me wonder if she is still suffering from post regeneration trauma. Normally, I would adjust to the new Doctor by the second episode, but I find myself looking forward to the third episode to decide what I think about 13!
In conclusion, The Ghost Monument is an average episode that didn’t make a great impression on me.