So, we have our new Doctor and our new gang of companions, and now it’s time for the new series of Doctor Who to properly begin. Surely writing the second episode of this new series must have been just as difficult a task as writing the first one. Many people, who perhaps have not watched Doctor Who regularly for a while, will have tuned into the first episode out of sheer curiosity, especially given all the media attention this new series has been getting. The first episode needed to be entertaining and engaging, which it was on the whole, but the job of this second episode is to prove to undecided viewers that the show has (still) got legs. The first episode did a good job of introducing our new characters, but The Ghost Monument is Chris Chibnall’s chance to prove he can write a good Doctor Who story.
The Ghost Monument feels very much like a classic Doctor Who story presented in a vibrant and modern way. Visually the episode is stunning; the cheerily-named alien planet, Desolation, is well realised and the sequence with the crashing space craft at the start of the episode is also impressive. The two humanoid alien side characters that accompany our team for much of the episode are not as one-note and forgettable as some one-off characters in Doctor Who have proved to be in recent series, and they ensure that the change of setting is not too alienating for new viewers. They are given a back story and fleshed out. In fact there is a whole five minute sequence in which the story takes a breather and our characters sit around and have a good old chat on a boat. Action packed episodes are all well and good, but we have to get well-acquainted with these characters for there to be any stakes. That’s why I’m all for Chibnall’s focus on characterisation. It feels as if we are being prepared for greater things later along the line. Particularly effective, I think, is the dynamic that is being set up between Graham (Bradley Walsh) and his step-grandson Ryan (Tosin Cole). The scene in which they discussed Grace’s death was an effective moment between the two of them and not overdone. It serves to illustrate the gulf that still exists between the two of them and also highlights their differing approaches to handling grief. Graham wants to talk about things whereas Ryan bottles things up. Walsh is particularly impressive in these scenes. It is clear that he is not just the comic relief of Doctor Who, although he does a good job at that as well. His performance as Graham is very understated, which shows what a good actor he is, as I don’t think anyone would use the word ‘understated’ to describe Bradley Walsh himself.
However, one complaint I do have about the series so far is the side-lining of Yaz, played by Mandip Gill, who so far has been given very little to do. It is understandable, if not ideal, if she was side-lined in the first episode as there was a lot of other ground to cover but not giving her more focus in this episode seems remiss. If we are to have three companions, they should all be given their fair share of the spotlight.
On to the story itself, and it’s an interesting plot. A sort of intergalactic space race that is in its final stage. The final two competitors must make it to the ‘Ghost Monument’, which conveniently for the Doctor turns out to be the TARDIS. An interesting aspect of the story is how it ties in with the previous episode when it is revealed that Desolation earned its name through the actions of the race of aliens last week’s baddie belonged to. Could this be the beginnings of a series arc? It seems unlikely we’ve heard the last of them. The story is rather neatly resolved when the Doctor encourages the two competitors to push for a joint victory. Presumably she’s been getting her ideas from the last series of The Apprentice, fond as she is of British culture. Speaking of the Doctor herself, I won’t go too much into Jodie Whittaker’s performance this episode due to the constraints of time and space (pun intended) but suffice to say she impresses this week as well. She is every inch the Doctor and it is a joy to see her kitted out in her new costume stepping onto her new TARDIS set for the first time.
Overall The Ghost Monument succeeds in telling a better story than last week, whilst at the same time continuing to prioritise characterisation. The world building too in the episode is excellent. Next week, we have our first historical episode as the Doctor and co. meet Rosa Parks. Can the writers turn this into a good Doctor Who story without being disrespectful? Will I ever find a better way of ending my review than with a question? Come back next week to find out.