In the cold climes of outer space, no one can hear you scream. Fortunately, they don’t need to because a handy snatch-and-grab saves the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh), Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), and Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) from freezing to death among the stars.
Apparently, none of them held their breath because their lungs didn’t explode. Yay!
Despite Oxygen making space scary again, The Ghost Monument proved otherwise, and the TARDIS team (albeit bereft of said TARDIS) find themselves somewhere worse: Desolation, a planet designed to kill all visitors. In his review, Alex Skerratt said:
“As with The Woman Who Fell To Earth, The Ghost Monument was dripping with visual quality and mostly top-notch performances. The real winner for me has to be Bradley Walsh’s portrayal of Graham O’Brien, who makes the whole thing look effortless, and his scene with Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) in the broken boat felt moving and natural… It’s a production team that’s still finding its feet and it’s not fair to expect everyone to be firing on all cylinders in the second week.”
But what did the rest of the DWC team think? Let’s find out…!
Well… not very good, really. I would say it was Meh, but to give such an active response would be to express an engagement with the episode that I didn’t actually feel. Not actively bad, not actively objectionable; to get cross with it would be like walking into an empty white room and being angry with it for not being brightly coloured or containing anything of interest.
Bland. Dull. Vanilla. Beige. Vacant.
Bradley Walsh is still good. Jodie Whitaker is still good but her Doctor does not yet dominate the action in the way the character should. There is yet another new TARDIS interior. It looks very nice. It gives you custard creams which is quite funny isn’t it? Ryan is truculent and scowls. Yaz has nothing to do. The plot was that some people were on a planet. They moved about on it. They started in one place. Then they moved to another place. This was because they were in a space race. There were some robots who had guns. It was the sort of story you’d expect to read in a late ’70s Doctor Who Annual. The cameras were hand held which I think is supposed to indicate immediacy or something of that sort because the picture wobbled.
On the other hand: there has been a long, long build up to this series. Chris Chibnall’s Who scripts for earlier seasons have ranged between the standard of not very good to quite good. With such a protracted gestation period, the production of mediocrity like this is, alas, not good enough. It was not actively or offensively dreadful, as some of late classic-Who was, but I’m afraid, guys: this just will not do.
Eight episodes to go. We’ll see. Will the current season produce some classics to rival Human Nature, The Empty Child, Genesis of the Daleks, or The Caves of Androzani? I confess I am a little dubious.
Series 11’s The Ghost Monument was attempting to do everything that Series 10’s Smile attempted to do – the exotic location filming, a mysterious genocide, killer robots, the instant inoculation of said robots, plus microbial infrastructure – but it did so without the latter’s wit, unpredictability, or morbid sense of fun.
The Ghost Monument took a solid premise for an episode – a death race on a killer planet – and turned it into 50-odd minutes of napping and talking in various situations: on a boat, in a shooting range, in a tunnel, in space, in a tent etc. Threats to the show’s heroes were quickly introduced and dismissed even quicker. At one point, the Doctor disabled a crew of robots with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that was conveniently inside one of the bots – and then proceeded to use a number of electronic devices which should have also have been disabled by the EMP.
While reading reviews calling the episode, “fast” and “confident,” I’m left wondering if we watched the same episode! This week’s story never lived up to its set-up or its exposition: it was pure filler. Nothing about the episode was at all memorable. (In those regards, I have more hope for next week’s episode.)
Overall, a solid 6/10. The Ghost Monument was safe, too safe and suffers as a result. It’s cold porridge that badly needed a rewrite. For me, the strength of Series 11 remains Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor – audacious and effervescent from the titles onward – in addition to the production’s professionalism, its superb realization of sci-fi visuals, and the show’s newfound patience for backstory and character development.
I assume this is a character-lite, set-lite episode to make way for a future multicast story with a mind-blowing set. The whole episode seemed a bit barren (planet scenery not excluded). The immediate dilemma (of surviving in space with no spacesuits) went unexplained but the repeated use of the ‘Harry Potter/Alfonso Cuarón’ blacking out of the screen to a re-awaking was magic.
The Ghost Monument was another slow storyline with occasional action – giving sizable hints that three companions are too many to write effective parts for, when everyone is together. The storyline was interesting – very reminiscent of the inter-stellar race in Enlightenment with the tent in the sand from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy! Never felt that anyone was actually in danger, which is sort of sad… as were the robot guards.
The conclusion, however, was ACE. I can’t wait for clearer shots of the new TARDIS interior but what little was shown was very good. Anyone for a custard cream?
Final Verdict – episode two – slow but saved by the TARDIS.
I found The Ghost Monument vexing. I really enjoyed The Woman Who Fell To Earth, and on first watch, found this second story much less satisfying. It took me another watch to get that into perspective. While there’s plenty to enjoy (including custard creams), my initial sense of disappointment comes from considerations of pacing.
The episode is a game of two halves, and you can almost take a razor and slice it into two equal length parts at the point where everyone bar the Doctor takes a sleep on the boat over the deadly sea. Until then (dodgy spaceship crash survival aside), the focus had been on character, gentle exploration of the setting, and building a story. Cue the second act, and suddenly it’s all formulaic with dodgy robots, lots of running, and too much sonic screwdriver. There’s rushed exposition and it all feels very unsatisfying except in the most visceral sense of adrenalin fuelled chases. Then the story finds its way again, and amidst the acetylene fields we have a sudden bit of Doctor Lore being introduced – who is the Timeless Child? Why are they in Initial Capitals? Will they be better written than The Hybrid? All these and more might get answered in a later Chibnall episode.
Add the reveal of the Stenza as something more than a one-off, and a distinctive location and there’s more to take away from this story than first impressions suggested. It’s still not to my tastes as well executed, but actually when you stop and look again there’s a lot to like.
And the TARDIS came back! I’m not sold on the console/crystal clasps, but quite like the fractal tessellating (thanks spell-check!) hexagonal roundels. And why has no other Doctor had a biscuit dispenser built-in before? Now, time for a lovely cup of tea…
This episode, in my eyes, was a long-awaited return to form. This is the type of story I think of when I think Doctor Who. It’s an action-packed little sci-fi quest story, similar to what we see in Marco Polo or The Keys of Marinus. It has a small, self-contained cast with each character, for the most part, having believable motives. The story itself has a compelling mystery element to it, which although the payoff isn’t as good as I’d like it to be, kept it intriguing and made me want to keep watching. There’s also some sweet action scenes to keep the little kiddies entertained and, I’m not gonna lie, they made me smile too. Actually, let’s talk about the Sniper Bots for a second because there was something about them that was actually creepy. I’ve always found that villains which don’t speak are more effective than ones that do because it feels like their presence is emphasized if that makes any sense at all. They also take some influence from the Weeping Angels in the sense that after our main characters take their eyes off them for a few minutes, they’re ambushing them. I just thought they were really effective.
Now onto the negatives. The reveal that the Stenza were behind it all was a major letdown. I didn’t get the sense that they were that big a threat in the last episode and when the Doctor finds out that it was them and looks mortified… I’m sorry after the mockery of “Tim Shaw” and seeing just how rubbish at his job he was, I just don’t find that believable. The bandage monsters were stupid too; basically the antithesis of the Sniper Bots.
Despite its flaws, however, I did enjoy this episode. There was a lot it got right, but there was also quite a bit it did get wrong and those bits do detract from the story. It certainly isn’t perfect, but it is definitely good and I would recommend giving it a go as it did throw me back in time to a much simpler and fun Doctor Who.
P.S. Can we please rename this episode ‘The Abandoned Planet’? After learning what the viewer learns what the “Ghost Monument” actually is, it’s a bit of a crap title.
An entertaining episode that breezed along nicely enough but probably won’t live long in many people’s memory, I thought. As with last week, the story was accessible and uncomplicated and wouldn’t have been out of place in, say, a Doctor Who annual or story book for young readers.
That’s not intended as a criticism, I should stress; the production team are clearly aiming to take the show in a family-friendly direction and there is something refreshing about that after all those intricately plotted arcs of the past few years. I can’t be alone, however, in thinking that the Doctor’s unease when the Timeless Child was mentioned indicates linking storylines haven’t been entirely consigned to the vortex.
Jodie Whittaker this week reminded me a little of Peter Davison’s Doctor in that uncertain, hope-for-the-best way he would confront a crisis, whilst also displaying the necessary steel when confronting a bully. And I’m enjoying getting to know the Doctor’s friends, with Bradley Walsh providing a new dynamic as an older companion.
It would have been nice to learn a little more about the race through space concept, and the resolution was rather too convenient and not exactly in keeping with what we’d learned about the guest characters. The Ghost Monument of the title was a nice twist but felt under-developed, and it may be that if this side of the story had been explored further we would have had a more interesting episode.
I’m not someone who spends a lot of time analysing each new TARDIS interior so won’t offer any new insight there, other than I’m not too sure about the spinning police box. I bet Character Options designers got very excited when they saw that, though. But they must be scratching their heads as to how to realise those tea towel monsters as an action figure…
Crikey, that was awful. I really am trying to like Doctor Who again, but they’re not making it easy.
Firstly, if you’re going to give us the first female Doctor, at least get her to do something Doctor-y. So far, she’s preached a bit, eyed up the TARDIS (don’t get me started…), and used the sonic screwdriver on absolutely everything. If this were any other era, everyone would be moaning about the overuse of the sonic; however, this time around, people seem oddly reluctant to speak up. There’s not even any subtlety when she uses it: it’s always a grand gesture… to open a door.
And when there’s potential danger up a ladder, the Doctor hangs back! It’s not even jokingly – the Second Doctor, tongue-in-cheek, asks the Brigadier to enter the Tomb of Rassilon first in The Five Doctors, but you know that’s not how the situation is going to go. Alas, here, she’s only too happy for one of her expendable “new best friends” to go first. Thankfully, this gives her an opportunity to be all “you’re my hero” to Ryan, the kid with selective dyspraxia. Phew. I was worried we’d forgotten about that, seeing as he climbed a crane last week and proved an expert shot when attacking robots this episode.
Secondly, if you want to give us “family viewing on a Sunday evening”, don’t make the mistake of thinking this means skimping on an actual plot. Don’t underestimate your audience. And don’t forget to show, not tell. Oh yeah, the water eats people alive. Good-oh.
The planet Desolation – good name though! – is incredibly dangerous, and to demonstrate that, we see some rubbish snipers and strips of tearable fabric. There’s a “tearable/terrible” pun going there, if anyone still has the will to carry on with their day-to-day lives.
So many plot points were abandoned too. Why did the planet move, dumping the team in deep space? What the heck was the “bonus” system about? What was the point of Desolation anyway? Why were the surviving two racers useless? A cigar that lights when you click your fingers?! Why was Art Malik wasted? Was being wasted the only reason he agreed to be in The Ghost Monument?
(Oh, and one little note here: Chibnall’s been a lover of the show for how long? Long enough, at least, to know the TARDIS is a result of transdimensional engineering. Yes, call me a fan – as if that’s a bad thing – but it’s the little things that make this fictional universe real for many of us.)
I could go on. But I found two positives: it looked nice. Mark Tonderai is a decent director, making an exceedingly dull story nice to look at. Loved that time-lapse too. And Yaz is wonderful. Please can you give her something to actually do…?
I really am trying to like Doctor Who again, but I fear it’s become unrecognisable. I fear it’s simply not Doctor Who right now.
I was surprised during the closing credits to see that there was a South African unit for this episode. Did they really travel overseas to film this? Surely judicious use of somewhere like Southerndown Beach in Wales and a local multi-storey would have achieved a similar effect at a fraction of the cost? Worse still, the fact that I was pondering this at the end of the episode goes to show how engaging I found the story.
One could argue that there was something Hartnell-esque about this episode – our intrepid explorers struggling to locate the ship and get home. Indeed, the part where they began their trip across the sea I thought of the story Marco Polo and the many adventures Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor had on that journey. There was a charm to those early Hartnell adventures, interesting events happened to the travellers whereas as this felt like half a dozen people walking along a beach. This was Doctor Who doing Coast, a mash-up I never thought I’d see.
By the time of the attacking scarves, which I think was the most peril our quartet got into, I had practically lost all interest; although I did find the resolution, the Chekov’s cigar if you will, a nice touch.
And then we get to the epilogue: the last few scenes where our merry band of travellers get their ship back. These scenes seemed to go on forever. Everyone was stood moping around because the TARDIS wasn’t there and rather than feeling any tension, I found myself waiting for the inevitable materialisation sound effect. Eventually we hear it and then we get to see the new interior and then we get treated to an in-joke about redecorating and… oh, please, is it time for Tess and Claudia yet?
C’mon Chris, I know it’s a Sunday night and Sunday night drama is about relaxing us so we can get a good night’s sleep for the working week ahead, but Doctor Who is supposed to be about thrilling adventures in space and time, and this fan was remarkably un-thrilled.
Oddly, I found the most engaging moment of The Ghost Monument was when the Doctor was reunited with her titular blue box. The rest of it was somehow less gripping. I enjoyed the adventure-quest moments with the lighting a layer of Acetylene and the change of scenery from land to water etc. Good questing! But something was up with the pacing and structure in this episode.
Little moments didn’t quite seem to make sense. Why were Angstrom and Epzo happy to let Ryan and Graham tinker with the boat’s engine when getting moving was literally the most important thing in their lives? There were touching exchanges between some characters but it felt overall a bit confused – as though it were a first draft. Some of the dialogue on the boat felt as though it could’ve been generated by random assortment, though Graham and Ryan’s interplay does seem to have been thought out with more care. A long game is being played there and Chibnall is good a developing human stories that pull you in.
Sadly, Jodie’s Doctor felt a little bit on stand-by in episode 2. When she challenged Epzo’s bleak outlook on life with, “your mum was wrong, we’re stronger together” something seemed to be missing. It’s a statement of the Doctor’s position. Her beliefs. But there was no wisdom in there – no reflection on the origins of Epzo’s bitter take on the world, his pain or his mother’s callous behaviour (what a damaged woman she must have been). Just, “nah.” After her first innings I was expecting a little more this time round though there were odd flickers of character and Doctorishness – the nasal hair line being a particular favourite. But overall I felt as though her Doctor hadn’t really arrived. Hoping this changes over the next few weeks… Lines from other writers might allow this new incarnation to show us who she really is.
Lastly, the big reveal – there are things I like about the new TARDIS set. The lack of clear walls (could it go on forever? Are they suspended in a void?); the Space Opera era metal fixtures enveloping the crystal console looks brilliant. But those giant glowing fingers seem to loom a little close! It felt cramped and I’m not sure how they’re going to manoeuvre the cameras around 4 TARDIS crew members in that space. I’m hoping I’m wrong but my first thoughts were that it could do with the surrounding crystal buttresses just being removed altogether. That lovely console alone in a big dark space could be wonderful. And I’m really hoping the rotor (can I even call that a rotor anymore?) does something other than glow and make custard creams.
The new music continues to be wonderfully uninvasive. However, the up-beat horn theme when the Doctor was dematerialising the TARDIS was a bit lackluster. I’m hoping we do get some memorable themes and musical ciphers along the way.
Either way it came across that the team care and are putting in effort, particularly Jodie whose energy is front and centre. Fingers crossed it begins to feel more like Doctor Who next week now that the ol’ Type 40 is back!
After multiple viewings of the new title sequence, you’d think might be approaching an opinion… but the truth is, like new console rooms, it needs some time to bed in and become familiar. Like Segun Akinola’s rousing take on the theme tune, it seems both old and new simultaneously, which I suppose is precisely the point.
I loved the cliffhanger resolve – very Hitchhiker’s Guide – and the crashing scenes with the Doctor taking charge, though why the guys on the surface did not run left or right to get out the way bugs a little. While Jodie Whittaker clearly owns the role now, the capable Yaz is still getting short shrift in the characterisation – but then, she’s not grieving or enduring grand-parental advances like Ryan. And Graham? He’s still getting all the killer lines. They do feel like a team though, one I am keen to spend time with.
As a puppet-master villain, Art Malik felt remarkably underpowered, but like the Stenza and the hostile planet itself, you cannot escape the feeling it’s all part of something bigger. The homicidal tea towels were a nice threat and seemed to lay the seed of a wider story arc; let’s hope The Timeless Child is a secret worth pursuing; more Bad Wolf and less The Hybrid.
An apparent continuity glitch with the Doctor’s sunglasses stuck out, but re-watching with subtitles confirms that line can be read differently: they’re “like an old pair of mine; I say mine, can’t remember who I borrowed them off now…” Either way, the Doctor remains an inveterate name dropper and morally self-deluded too, never using guns (except for all the time she has), but has no issue with explosions if the occasion calls for it. Plus ça change.
A solid, if not stellar, quest episode full of puzzle solving, stunning visuals, and a lovely coda; with Time Lord and TARDIS reunited, it feels like the adventure can really begin.
In the grand scheme of things, I suspect The Ghost Monument will be remembered in much the same way as The Bells of Saint John, The Lazarus Experiment, or Delta and the Bannermen. It is staggeringly average. There was nothing about it I loved; similarly, there was comparatively little I didn’t like, and certainly nothing that made me want to throw things at the TV. It jumps straight in: last week’s cliffhanger is resolved quite literally at the speed of light, the Doctor and her companions rescued from the vacuum of space faster than you can say ‘Bowl of petunias’ by two of this week’s guest stars. We have Epzo, hostile, treacherous and harbouring Freudian resentment since the day he fell out of a tree, and Angstrom – tortured, pragmatic, and conveniently lesbian.
It all looks very pretty, but it’s generally a bit of a misfire. There is needless shoehorning (including a pointless Call of Duty set piece) which may be crowd-pleasing but which only serves to undermine some of the very good character work going on, particularly with Graham and Yaz. Oh, and having Whittaker bring us up to speed by reading a scientist’s log book somewhat lessens the horror: it’s clear what they’re trying to do, but talking scarves really aren’t much of a threat, and besides, the sense of isolation was already done and dusted the moment the killer robots turned up.
It’s now apparent that Chibnall’s promise that these would be no series arc this year may have been a misdirection, as indicated by both the re-emergence of the Stenza and Whittaker’s apparent shock at being told about ‘the timeless child’, which may or may not have been the Doctor but probably is, in the same manner that Series 9’s Hybrid may or may not have been the Doctor but probably was. It’s too soon to know where we’re going with this, but it keeps the press hot and the fan theories bubbling, so everybody wins. There was a brief window when the comparative novelty of an overarching narrative was just about enough for the show to escape with its dignity intact: such an approach had worn out its welcome by the end of Series 5 and by the time the Doctor was stomping across Gallifrey I was just about ready to throw in the towel and get on board that shuttle with Rassilon. Things may improve this year but there’s no point in sacrificing narrative for the sake of fulfilling a grand design, and if that’s really what’s about to happen again then the audience may be in for a long and tedious few weeks. Still, at least we’ve got the TARDIS back.
And that seems to sum it up nicely: the DWC collective seem generally a bit unimpressed, although there were some enjoyable moments. We’re mostly split about the TARDIS, and the Thirteenth Doctor could do with some fleshing out.
We’ll see if that happens when the TARDIS lands in 1950s Alabama for Rosa…