Series 11 “The Ghost Monument” Advance Review – Are we there yet?
Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air episode impressions aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.
Last week, as many predicted, Doctor Who ended for good and it was all Jodie Whittaker’s fault!
Yes, if only Thirteen hadn’t accidentally transported herself and companions into outer space killing them all in seconds… But of course that’s not really the end. Sorry to spoil that for you (as if the promotional material hadn’t already). So after overcoming this minor set-back, our crew soon find themselves stranded on a desert planet. And despite appearances, they’re not alone…
If the Earthbound opener left you longing for something a bit more alien, then the second episode of the new run is an improvement on that front. Without the baggage of all that a new era opener entails, Chris Chibnall’s second is also freer to get down to business and lean a little more into the sci-fi and some missing Doctor Who ingredients from the opener (yes, you finally get the opening titles, and they are a nice throwback to match the more classic sounding theme).
That’s not to say the story is suddenly “hardcore” sci-fi. The human (and alien) relationships are still very much at the forefront of the episode. It also maintains the slow pace that the opener exhibited, with characters spending a long time walking and talking, while the main threat is merely hinted at in the background. Fans will be rewarded somewhat for sticking around for the not-always-riveting journey though.
The monsters, of which there’s a couple, take a back seat unfortunately. The first threat doesn’t appear until around the halfway mark, and they’re little more than a roadblock. The actual main foe takes even longer to properly arrive on the scene. So much so that they’re vanquished just as they’re getting interesting (à la Chibnall’s “The Power of Three”).
With the “regeneration madness” at bay now, Jodie Whittaker’s performance as the Doctor is more measured and assured than in the opener. The scene where she finally confronts the monster is a strong one that’s bound to spark a lot of discussion with the potential possibilities of what it reveals… The new trio of friends seem to be settling into a more natural rapport, with Graham and Ryan offering some pleasing development.
There are a few guest stars, with two having a key focus: Angstrom and Epzo, played by Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley, respectively. They are a fairly interesting duo (just wait until you hear Epzo’s horrible childhood story) and they add a bit of conflict and unpredictability to events. While Art Malik is the biggest billed star, his appearance unfortunately really only amounts to a bookending cameo.
Despite a change in director to Mark Tonderai, the show still maintains its cinematic new flare. In fact, the visuals are lusher, with the overseas filming in South Africa allowing for the type of vast landscapes and sweeping vistas Sheffield could only dream of. Segun Akinola’s score continues to be an atmospheric delight.
An otherworldly setting makes for a more interesting locale, even if the plot and monsters aren’t quite as remarkable. The character work remains writer Chris Chibnall’s strongest attribute, while some pleasing fan moments sweeten the deal to make the long trek more worthwhile.