This review will contain spoilers.
“The Ghost Monument” continues right where we left off last week, of course, our heroes are not dead and their predicament is instantaneously resolved, which kicks off a sequence of events which takes them to a desolate planet called… Desolation. (Original Chibnall, real original.)
The Doctor and friends are accompanied by a pair of humanoid aliens, Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley), who are both taking part in “The Rally of the Twelve Galaxies”, essentially a glorified race, with untold riches awaiting the winner. They’re in the final round, and all they need to do is reach the mythical “Ghost Monument”, which, unsurprisingly, is The Doctor’s missing TARDIS.
We begin this episode with our first look at the Series 11 title sequence. A flurry of colours and trippy visuals, you would be forgiven if you believed that this was created by someone who was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, but it is beautiful, and it embodies Doctor Who perfectly. It’s the perfect blend of the old and the new, both the title sequence and the theme music appear to have been ripped straight from the 70s Pertwee era, and given a 21st-century spruce up. Personally, I’m a big fan of it. If I was going to criticize anything, I would have preferred that they had gone full classic and replaced the actress/actor credits with The Doctor’s face, but this is a minor issue and not one that is going to bug me every week. So, we’re kicking off this review with a positive, well done John Smith VFX and Segun Akinola, you’ve nailed it! (If you haven’t seen the new title sequence, you can watch it here.)
This episode, once again, confirmed my fears from last week, which is that the reintroduction of a TARDIS team is leaving stories feeling overcrowded. Not only did we have our regular foursome, we also had the two guest characters, Chibnall very much seems to be focusing again on making Doctor Who more of a character piece, which is fine, but with the sheer quantity of characters, again, some are lost in the shuffle and are unnecessary to this story. Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) are rightfully given their fair share of the screen time, as a follow up to the tragic events in the series opener. We’re even given fairly detailed backstories to Angstrom and Epzo, but yet again, Yasmin is totally pointless. This is nothing against Mandip Gill, from what I’ve seen she’s a talented actress, but once again in this episode, she serves no purpose, she is consistently in the background and she is quite simply, not needed. I can appreciate this is a 10-week series, but it’s already apparent that for one companion to take center stage and have the focus on them, another one is going to have to take a step back.
With a runtime of just 50 minutes, there simply isn’t enough time to give these characters the development they deserve, yet again, I left this episode just not caring about any of them, and I’ll say it now, I miss the dynamic of The Doctor plus one companion, it works in this day and age. I am beginning to question whether or not a “TARDIS Team” will work in the long run, although I am wondering whether or not one of them (probably Graham) will be killed off or will leave by the end of the series, which to me, would be a wise decision, if every episode feels as crowded as the last, eventually, fans are going to lose interest in these characters, and I fear even The Doctor is at risk.
Jodie continues to impress.
She’s great, isn’t she? Admittedly, this energetic, hyperactive incarnation may not be to everyone’s tastes, but for me, Jodie Whittaker is nailing this role, and you can just tell that she is having a blast playing The Doctor.
I would like to see more glimpses of the sterner side of the character going forward, as I do worry that some fans may not take her seriously, but there’s plenty of time for that, and as I said last week, we’ve had plenty of the darker, brooding incarnations. Perhaps it’s about time that we have a Doctor who can be best described as a child in a sweet-shop. I do think the RTD/Moffat eras glossed over the sheer wonder that Doctor Who can bring… You can go anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time, you’re allowed to enjoy it, and why wouldn’t you?! It is so refreshing to see The Doctor just taking everything in, enjoying the adventure. I just know she’s going to be universally loved amongst the younger audiences, because they will be able to relate to her perhaps more than previous incarnations, they’ll be viewing these new worlds with the same enthusiasm as their on-screen hero. When I watch The 13th Doctor, and this might be a weird comparison to some, I’m seeing a live action version of Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.
I think some people are going to absolutely love her, I think some people are going to hate her. I don’t think she’ll be my favourite Doctor, she might not even get into any Top 5 lists at the moment, but I don’t dislike her by any stretch. The most important thing is that I’m enjoying watching her, she’s just really likeable, and right now, more than anything, she is the factor that is going to keep me watching every week.
I’m still not convinced, sorry. I just don’t like Chibnall’s writing style. Again, in this episode, I felt a lot of the dialogue was clunky, too forced, almost pantomime-like. For as much as I like The Doctor, I wasn’t a fan of some of her lines, take the Audrey Hepburn glasses moment, we’ve had moments like this for years on Doctor Who, it’s nothing new. But the way that they are written by Chibnall just feels so tacked on, inserted for the sake of it, rather than being a funny addition or digression.
It’s almost as if Chibnall has a checklist of all the Doctor Who cliches and he desperately needs to make sure he puts them in, just in case the audience forget what they’re watching. Other writers have done this sort of thing fairly well, but Chibnall never has, these moments stick out like a sore thumb and I still don’t know what his “style” is. I could easily point out a RTD episode, I could easily point out a Moffat episode, but Chibnall stories for the most part often come across as jumbled messes that are just trying to parody Doctor Who. He also can’t do humour well, at all, I think I laughed once in the whole episode, everything else fell flat.
Too many times in this episode I felt like he had written himself into a corner and then had to deploy some convenient plot device to get him out of it, especially at the end, the digging sequence with the cigar explosion was awful, it made no sense and it just reeked of desperation and laziness, not to mention that an open wildfire like that would undoubtedly do damage to those beneath it, even if it wasn’t directly touching them.
Adding on to this the fact that he has clearly lied about the “no story arc” business and clearly intends to use his new villains, the Power Ranger villain looking Stenza, as the basis for his new overarching story, we also got a tease of “The Timeless Child”, but whether this is an arc or just a foreshadowing for a future episode remains to be seen.
I want to believe, I want to have faith, but again, I left this episode with little confidence in his ability to show-run a beast like Doctor Who.
I will be interested to see how next week pans out, as I have a horrible feeling that it will be the episodes that he doesn’t have much involvement in that will steal the show this year.
Visuals continue to wow.
Very quick piece on the visuals, I said last week they would get a lot of getting used to, and I stand by that, I’m still adjusting. But I can’t deny how gorgeous some of the shots are in this new cinematic era, some Lord of the Rings-esque. (Especially one right near the end when The Doctor is walking to her TARDIS, it takes a lot for me to say “Wow” out loud, but I did, it is a level of cinematography never seen before in Doctor Who, and I loved it.)
The higher budget is showing and clearly being utilized in the right places, with some impressive CGI compared to previous seasons and some very good-looking sets. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next, if Series 11 is going to be remembered for anything, as it stands, it will be remembered for the most gorgeous looking rendition of Doctor Who we have ever seen. (Thus far!)
So, as I’m sure you all would have known anyway. The Doctor and friends reach the end of the race, and she is reunited with her beloved ship. But of course, as it is with the modern age, it doesn’t look the same, because you can’t sell as many toys if it doesn’t change every other year.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I loved the previous TARDIS interior and I honestly don’t think it will be topped, but I didn’t completely hate the new design. I like the old-school exterior more than the Moffat era exterior, for one. The interior is intriguing to say the least, it has a very grunge-like motif, a bit like the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant interior, but with more money thrown at it. The TARDIS is now more natural and analogue, with no sign of computerised equipment anywhere. I don’t think this new crystal theme is ever going to blow me away, but it’s not the worst TARDIS I’ve ever seen, and it has a few little quirky additions that I can appreciate. The Custard Cream dispenser is very Doctor Who and I wonder if this is going to be 13’s “jelly baby” trait. Time will tell!
So, what did I think? It was certainly better than last week. The story was okay, but it was mostly forgettable and was really just filler for the true purpose of this episode, the new TARDIS reveal. Jodie Whittaker continues to steal the show, but there were no signs that my initial problems with the first episode are going to be fixed.
There is still a massive overcrowding problem, and I fear that the characters are all going to eventually suffer as a result if it. I still don’t care for any of the companions and that is a worry going forward.
I like all the aesthetic changes, with an impressive new title sequence and a unique, quirky TARDIS, Jodie Whittaker’s era is going to have no problem being defined and remembered.
The biggest problem still, for me, is Chibnall. I just don’t think he fully grasps Doctor Who. A lot of the dialogue is off the mark and the plots bumble along until they lead to unremarkable, convenient solutions that make no logical sense. I said it when he was hired and he’s still proving me right, he is not show-runner material and I fear he’s going to let Jodie Whittaker and everyone else down with the poor writing, I don’t want Doctor Who to turn in to a parody of itself but I see glimpses of that happening early on and I worry the ship is heading in the wrong direction. Considering the huge amount of money being thrown at the show now and the new cinematic style, this should be Doctor Who in its absolute prime. The stories need to get better, and fast. We’ve got a new writer next week, so we’ll see if that provides any sign of improvement.
I give “The Ghost Monument” a 6.5/10.