Saturday 20 October 2018

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 11x02 - The Ghost Monument

Doctor Who 11x02 - The Ghost Monument

The woman has now fallen to Earth, and now it's time for her to take to the skies with new friends in tow as Doctor Who series 11 continues with The Ghost Monument. This may be the second episode in the series but it still has plenty of "firsts" on offer too, the most significant of those being the new title sequence and new look TARDIS. The Ghost Monument was written by series showrunner Chris Chibnall and directed by series newcomer Mark Tonderai, who has previously directed episodes of both Gotham and Black Lightning.

After being inadvertently transported to deep space at the end of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, the Doctor and her new friends are rescued by Angstrom and Epzo - two pilots competing for the ultimate prize in a race across the galaxy. As the last two contestants left, they find themselves on the desert planet Desolation where the pair are told they have one planetary rotation to reach the mysterious "Ghost Monument". As the Monument is revealed to be none other than the Doctor's TARDIS, the group join the pilots on their race in their best effort to get back home. But when night falls, the seemingly dead planet doesn't seem so dead after all...

Before even getting into the finer details of the episode itself, The Ghost Monument gives us our first look at the brand new series 11 title sequence! After The Woman Who Fell to Earth surprised everyone by forgoing tradition, episode two launches with slower, pulsing variation on the classic theme complete with a swirling purple vortex very reminiscent of some of the show's earlier title sequences. The new logo looks great as part of the ensemble, and it's interesting to see more credits getting earlier billing - not just because of the expanded main cast, but also the series producer and episode director. They're only little changes, but help give the show that more "cinematic" feel it's clear this particular series is striving for.

And on the subject of feeling even more cinematic in scope, Doctor Who has once again been whisked away from the drizzly streets of Cardiff (well, for the most part anyway) as the majority of exterior footage was actually filmed in South Africa. I've previously mentioned how taking the show out of its usual filming areas can make a huge difference in giving it a more "universal" feel, and this is definitely true of The Ghost Monument. Whereas The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a dark, nighttime affair this episode is quite the opposite - bursting with such searing colour that you can almost feel the desert heat just coming off the screen. Between this and the first episode Doctor Who has arguably never looked this polished before - Chris Chibnall really wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to show to be able to compete with both Netflix output and the various CW superhero shows, at least in the visual sense anyway.

Onto the episode itself, and The Ghost Monument is another episode that (for the most part) sets aside high octane thrills for a slower paced trek across the desert that can home in on the characters instead. The plot is another fairly basic one where all the revelations are either signposted or obvious enough to figure out way before they happen, but again it's perfectly serviceable at conveying what the episode needs to achieve. Again particular emphasis is paid on Ryan and Graham, who are struggling even harder to bond in the wake of Grace's death in the previous episode. It's a fairly engaging arc that shows promise for the coming episodes, but it's a pity that a lot of it seems to be coming at the expense of Yasmin - who's just kind of there for the whole thing. Not being part of the whole family dynamic means she hasn't had a whole lot to do yet, but if the next episode preview is anything to go by then things should hopefully change next week.

But what was perhaps the strongest bit of characterisation in this episode was that brief moment where it seemed like the Doctor might have actually failed, and that the group would remain stranded and eventually meet their deaths on Desolation. After years of the Doctor always being ten steps ahead of everyone else and seemingly always having back up plans for his back up plans, even a hint that sometimes things are beyond the Doctor's control do wonders in making her a much more believable character. Jodie Whittaker sells the scene incredibly well, being able to go from despair to that trademark Doctor arrogance again in a matter of seconds. Though this might just be a case of early regeneration uncertainty for the Doctor that'll be ironed out over future episodes, it was a very strong scene that really helped set this incarnation apart from her predecessors.

There are also strong guest performances put in by Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley, who play Angstrom and Epzo respectively. As well as there being a good rivalry dynamic between them, it's interesting to see the different reasons they entered the race and how they eventually come together. As far as aliens are concerned the callback to the Stenza in The Woman Who Fell to Earth wasn't really necessary, but perhaps it was felt that it added a little more weight than just robots and floating bandages. The robots themselves looked fairly impressive, but they still aren't anything that are going to permeate the ranks of Doctor Who's impressive monster gallery.

Finally The Ghost Monument closes out with a brief look at the brand new TARDIS interior, and while opinion is inevitably going to vary on things like this I can't say I'm sold just yet. For me Capaldi's TARDIS was perfection - a perfect mix of classic elements given a modern touch while also emphasising just how spacious it is. This iteration of the TARDIS console room has the size element right, but fails by focusing far too much on the centre. The crystal aesthetic seems out of place (though if they were to change colour with the pulse of the TARDIS materialisation I'll fall in love and take it all back) anyway, but the way the pillars hang over the console along with the window-like panels make the central area feel almost claustrophobic. The console area itself is nicely designed though, with lots of physical props and gadgets perfect for a "physical" Doctor like Whittaker's. The custard cream dispenser is a nice little touch too for a quick gag, and undoubtedly something this particular version is going to be remembered for.

Though sometimes the story feels like its struggling the adequately fill its running time The Ghost Monument is another solid entry for this new era of Doctor Who, again prioritising character development in the best of ways whilst at the same time taking the show to new heights visually. With the new Doctor, her companions and her TARDIS now firmly in place, it'll be interesting to see what the show has to offer now that the stories can become the driving force behind it. But before we head back into space, it's time for a history lesson Doctor Who style as the gang travel back to 1955 and meet Rosa Parks in Rosa.

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