'Doctor Who': "The Ghost Monument" Review
It's out into space for the second episode of Series 11.
Warning: Possible spoilers for the episode below.
Having spent the Series 11 opener effectively relaunching Doctor Who with a new cast and new look, with episode two new showrunner Chris Chibnall had the chance to take the show into space. Doing so isn't a new thing as both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat did with their respective second outings with "The End of the World" and "The Beast Below." Would "The Ghost Monument" build on the strengths of the previous episode or falter somewhat?
For this reviewer's money, it was the former. Picking up on the cliffhanger ending of "The Woman Who Fell To Earth"with the new Doctor and companions stranded in space, Chibnall grabs characters and viewers alike and doesn't let go for forty-odd minutes. Telling what essentially is a quest story involving the last stage of an intergalactic rally race organized by Ilin (the always dependable Art Malik) and its final two contestants (played by Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley), the TARDIS crew find themselves aiding the competitors while on the hunt for their ship. If you're a longtime Who fan, you might recognize this type of story as dating back to the earliest days of the program, perhaps suggesting that Chibnall is once again harkening back on the program's past for inspiration.
Looking to the past but very much in the present. The cinematic look introduced in the previous episode remains here, perhaps heightened by going out on location. Unlike 2009's "Planet of the Dead" which made underwhelming use of going out in a real desert to film, Chibnall and director Mark Tonderai seem more keen to make the most of it. The landscape becomes a character all its own, baren yet menacing with the occasional landmark that offers both shelter and threat. Who has offered up menacing sets and locations from Gabriel Chase in "Ghost Light" to the Vashta Nerada infested Library but nothing on the same scale as what "The Ghost Monument" does. Having a crashing spaceship or two doesn't hurt, giving the opening minutes a definite Star Wars vibe that comes across as welcomed rather than forced. If anything, it's a sign of just what the program is capable of and how far it's come since its return in 2005.
And yet, despite the increase in scope, it never loses sight of the characters. Jodie Whittaker's still new Doctor once again is front and center with the Doctor trying to deliver on her promise of getting her new companions (whom she hadn't meant to transport with her) back home again. There's more than a hint of David Tennant and Matt Smith to her performance here, that sense of eccentric fun alongside a vain of darkness running underneath. The latter surfaces in the later parts of the episode with surprisingly tender and vulnerable moments for the new Doctor which suggests that, beneath the bravado, all might not be so cheery for the Time Lord. All in all, it's a performance that builds nicely on Whittaker's introduction and offers hints of directions for the future.
The companions fare nicely as well. Juggling three supporting leads isn't easy (ask the writers of 1960s and early 1980s Who) but Chibnall does well here. Of the trio, it's Bradley Walsh's chance to shine this time around showing off the humor to the character of Graham as well as his attempts to mend his relationship with step-grandson Ryan. Speaking of Ryan, Tosin Cole gets to show off a bit more of a comedic side here with a particular moment that makes one think of the gamer culture out there at the moment and just what they might do thrown in at the deep end. That said, both Cole and Mandip Gill as Yasmin get some more serious moments that build on their relationship in the previous episode though Yasmin feels slightly shortchanged in this episode. Perhaps that's to be expected with the supporting cast having things to do as well, effectively becoming pseudo-companions for the duration? On the whole, it's a solid outing for everyone even if some get more chance to shine than others.
As second outings go, "The Ghost Monument" is a solid piece of work. Chibnall's script and the production as a whole build on the successful opening to create a dynamic, cinematic outing for the series. The question is, as the series heads to 1955 Alabama next episode, can the momentum be kept up?
About the Creator
Matthew Kresal was born and raised in North Alabama though he never developed a Southern accent. His essays have been featured in numerous books and his first novel Our Man on the Hill was published by Sea Lion Press in 2021.
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