Doctor Who, Series 11, Episode 2
“The Ghost Monument”
Posted by Sage
To quote Amy Pond: We. Are. In. SPACE.
It’s been so long since our last full season and there was so much buildup to the premiere, that having another new episode this Sunday just felt like cheating. Sometimes Doctor Who enrages me, sometimes it bores me, but most of the time, its very existence is too good to be true. I was very much in that zone this week.
Maybe there were more expectations put on Jodie’s second episode than her first. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” had the benefit of all that new information, which passed by so quickly and kept the plot moving. If “The Ghost Monument” was the true test, this series is already passing. It gave us more of what I latched onto in the first episode: 13’s zest for life, the delicate links between Ryan, Yaz, and Graham, and some seriously creepy foes, while also dropping in what had been missing: namely, an alien planet. (Don’t touch anything.)
As plot points go, a race is like a heist, in that there’s a nice amount of inherent conflict and the stakes are already high, even before things start to go wrong. The episode starts with Graham and Ryan and then Yaz and the Doctor (how long will it take for me to stop getting all tingly every time I get to call her the Doctor??) being picked up by two finalists in the “last ever Rally of the 12 Galaxies,” who believe that they’re “bonuses,” like those inflatable store displays in Supermarket Sweep. Epzo and Angstrom are neck and neck for an extremely attractive prize. And it’s made clear from the jump that the amount of krim (whatever that is, the Doctor’s not up on her exchange rates) on offer isn’t worth potentially dying for because it will make them rich, but because it will make them safe. There’s a looming threat that’s evident from the moment these strangers come into contact, one I like to call: This Season’s Arc.
Not that their gamesmaster seems to care. And the Doctor’s focus is elsewhere for much of the hour too, seeing as she feels guilty for accidentally dragging her three new best friends into danger when all she was trying to do was get back to her own TARDIS. There’s been a lot of conversation about this Doctor’s empathy and how gendered that may or may not be (imo, empathy is a genderless quality that we could use a lot more of, and if the Tenth Doctor can put himself in the shoes of a giant, murderous wasp, 13 can damn well emotionally support whomever she pleases), but let’s consider the fact that in two episodes, she hasn’t once suggested that any of this little group come away and travel with her. Is it because she thinks she’s disrupted their lives enough? (Since when does she care about that?) Or is it because she’s a secret loner, less accessible underneath it all than the surface would suggest? It may just be that she doesn’t think that they’re up for it, but I half expected her to bid them to stick around once they found her beautiful ghost monument. She didn’t, and there’s a bit of mystery and detachment there that, for now, is the alien part of her for me.
Meanwhile, Grace’s death continues to sting – inside and outside the reality of the show. Predictably, we see Graham and Ryan work through a little bit of that together, and I love that the former points out that the woman they both loved wouldn’t have wanted them to be all gloomy for the duration of this extraordinary experience. (Or do I?? It also made me extremely sad that Grace – who would have loved it most of all – wasn’t there with them.) Even more poignant however, are those little moments where Graham’s love for Ryan separate from his love of Grace is made apparent, like when he worries over him in the opening scene. I hope their mutual mechanical and engineering skills give them more to bond over than grief. I am a fool for father/son relationships on screen, and this one has a lot of potential, especially because I imagine that Ryan will overcome some of his insecurities related to his dyspraxia as he does more and more incredible things, and I think those are partially what’s holding him back. Mark me, though. He will absolutely call Graham “granddad” before the series is out.
It’s a shame that Yaz doesn’t have more to do in this episode, but I’m still shipping her and Ryan (their little aside convos are becoming a fast favorite) and I think pushing certain characters to the forefront each week is pretty inevitable with a TARDIS this crowded. She has some nice moments with the Doctor though, and Mandip Gill has mastered the fine companion art of screaming something sensible at a maniac alien who may be about to get her killed.
The spotlight also has to be split up between two strong guest characters. Epzo and Angstrom may not know what muman beings are, but their motivations are #relatable, and they bounce off the group well. In her sad backstory, the latter gets to reveal what seems to be the season-long arc – that the Stenza (Tim Shaw’s people, as you know) are terrorizing the galaxy, making a race like this one a bet worth taking rather than a death wish. (She uses the phrase “systematically cleansed” when talking about the Stenza, which has me wondering, of what? And what was their end game for the work of those scientists they held hostage besides wiping out the life on one measly planet?) Epzo, meanwhile, would have been much less effective if he’d been more villainous. As it was, he’s just selfish and apathetic, not realizing as Angstrom did that there is strength in numbers and that expanding your circle of protection doesn’t mean slowing down. The dressing down the Doctor gives him was intensely satisfying, because Epzo’s brand of parsimoniousness is an everyday kind of thing both on the internet and in real life. Or, as Kim said to me, “So far, Graham aside, the white men are all man babies.”
This early in the game, I’m encouraged by how good Chris Chibnall seems to be at world building. True, this planet is called Desolation and there isn’t really anyone else there, but the isolation itself is spooky and also sort of beautiful. The Remnants are a little Harry Potter, but who can blame them? And the robot guards set up the Doctor’s requisite anti-gun arguments beautifully, not to mention’s Ryan’s Call of Duty ambush and subsequent screams. The one element that feels tacked on to me is the prophecy or whatever that the
Dementors Remnants impart to the Doctor in the acetylene field. I think they would have been far more frightening if they had no speech at all, but, by all means, please speculate away about how “the timeless child” whisper means the return of Susan. (Pour one out for last series and the photo on 12’s desk.)
As solid as it still would have been without it, the episode has one overriding purpose, and that’s to reunite the Doctor and her TARDIS at the finish line. (Maybe this is more of a quest than a race, hm?) And cheers to everyone involved for sticking the dang landing. Once the finalists are snapped off the planet (The Snapture: Good Version), the Doctor and her companions are left stranded once more. This time, there’s no one to scoop them up, and the atmosphere itself is still quickly poisoning them. When the Doctor loses hope, you know it’s bad, and it’s even worse because she was so sure that they were on their way to their salvation and her best ever friend. Jodie nails the vulnerability of her in this moment, drifting and exposed without her other half. Playing keep-away with the TARDIS was a strong story idea. Because when she finally shows up, we’re about as happy to see her as the Doctor.
And she is a beauty. The new TARDIS interior is saturated and alive. Really, proper magical. The lighting is flattering as hell. And I love the idea that she went and made herself pretty so that the Doctor would be impressed when she finally returned. (The love is so mutual it hurts.) It’s a power-up that was sorely needed. Once the Doctor regained her name, she just had to find that other missing part of herself. The TARDIS re-confirmed her belief in the Doctor when she popped her doors open and welcomed her back in. Somehow, someway, everything falls into line when they’re together. It may be new and unfathomable to everyone else, but it makes sense to me.
- There’s nothing left to say about the opening titles that hasn’t already been said, but FEELINGS.
- I hope Graham held onto those shades, because that was a look.
- “I was a hologram for three weeks. The gossip I picked up.” This is a Nine reference, I love science.
- I love the adorably grand way Jodie holds the sonic. She likes to be tall.
- Venusian aikido!
- “Why is it always ladders?” My poor son Ryan, please keep him away from ladders for at least the next three episode.
- “Thanks for waitin’.” “Always.” I ship it because that’s how I’m built, but I also would be in full support of two supportive besties in the TARDIS.
- “Think of what you got through to be here, and you’re still going. I’m proper impressed.” The more I look at this line, the more I love it. It’s not patronizing, it’s not over the top. It’s the Doctor recognizing what’s harder for Ryan than it is for others and reminding him of what he’s already accomplished in spite of it. A mantra for the rest of us to keep in mind too.
What’d you think of “The Ghost Monument”? Let us know in the comments!