Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument
(1 episode, s11e02, 2018)
A new family looking for an old friend.
Floating in the vacuum of deep space, the terror sets in as Ryan loses consciousness. A spacecraft arrives and the next thing that he knows is waking up in a pod with Graham watching over him. The spacecraft is being piloted by a woman named Angstrom who is suspicious of the two men. Despite the mutual misgivings, Angstrom drives the ship toward the “final” planet, which wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
Yaz and the Doctor are on a different ship, this one piloted by a man named Epzo. The “final” planet is named Desolation, and Epzo’s ship – which is falling apart around the trio – is crashing toward it. The Doctor recommends ejecting the back half of the ship, and while Epzo doesn’t like the idea, he has no choice.
Ryan, Graham, and Angstrom land on Desolation. The pilot scans the area while the two men revel in the fact that they’re on an alien planet. That joy soon evaporates as Epzo’s ship burns into the atmosphere above them and crashes pretty much on top of them.
The bright spot on the planet with three suns: The fam is back together.
The group makes their way across the desert as the pilots talk about their statuses as the last participants. An alarm echoing across the sands draws them to a large tent. Inside that tent, they find a man named Ilin and the lavish ephemera related to the final Rally of the Twelve Galaxies. The Doctor immediately recognizes all of it as a holographic projection.
The pilots have to survive the dangers of the planet without sabotage, injuries, or murder as they find a site called the Ghost Monument. The winner will receive 3.2 trillion Krin – is that a lot? – and will be taken off-planet, but the loser will be left to rot in desolation. Angstrom and Epzo are the last two participants in a field of 4000 who signed up for the ultimate test of survival and stamina.
The pilots are sent on their way, and the Doctor is treated to a holographic view of the Ghost Monument, which was named by the planet’s ancient settlers because it appears in the same place every 1000 rotations.
The Ghost Monument is the TARDIS. Its engines are stuck in a loop, leaving it to phase in and out on the planet. The Doctor and her crew set out after the pilots to get her ship back. They catch up to Angstrom and Epzo as the pilots fight over a single boat to cross a lake. Epzo threatens Angstom with a gun and the Doctor disarms him with Venusian Aikido. Ryan and Graham take a look at the broken engine while the Doctor and Yaz discover that the water is infested with flesh-eating microbes.
Graham tries to talk to Ryan about Grace, but Ryan shows him the cold shoulder. They do have a breakthrough about the engine, which is actually a solar battery. Meanwhile, Yaz and Angstrom bond for a short time until the boat is fixed.
The Doctor is puzzled by the empty planet, and Epzo shares a story about how his mother taught him a lesson about trust when she failed to catch him as he fell from a tree. Later, Angstrom explains the rally and how she entered to return home and bring her family back together again. Eventually, the travelers get some sleep while the Doctor watches over them.
When the boat lands, the group makes their way to some nearby ruins. Epzo and Angstrom split up while the Doctor and her companions enter the ruins. Epzo trips a sensor and activates a batch of sniper robots, and when he shoots at one, it shoots back. Both are struck, but the entire murderous group is activated. The Doctor’s group takes refuge in a shooting range, but when Ryan opts to fight back, the Doctor chastises him. Ryan goes all Call of Duty but returns when he can’t reload, bringing the snipers with him. The Doctor uses a fallen robot to rig an EMP, but this only gives them a short window to escape.
The Doctor’s group finds Angstrom and Epzo. After hacking into Angstrom’s tracker, the Doctor finds a hatch leading to an underground tunnel. They all take refuge in a large laboratory, taking heed of Ilin’s warning to not travel at night. Of course, Epzo wanders off to take a nap while everyone else explores the lab.
After syncing Angstrom’s tracker to the facility’s computer, they find a map of the tunnel system and a direct route to the Ghost Monument. Yaz and Ryan realize that the robots have found the hatch while the Doctor finds writing from the scientists who ran the facility. They were forced to work on weapons of mass destruction, and they opted to destroy the planet rather than let the weaponry fall into the hands of the Stenza. Angstrom reveals that the Stenza destroyed her planet and murdered millions, forcing her family into hiding.
Meanwhile, remnants of the scientists’ experiments attack Enzo, presenting as semi-sentient cloth strips. The group runs into the tunnels as the sniperbots shut down the life support systems. The group has no choice but to leave the tunnels, emerging into a field of acetylene. The Doctor takes a moment to praise Ryan for his courage as he climbs the ladder, and Ryan remembers that acetylene is lighter than air. The group digs into the sands as the cloth creatures whisper to them, even piquing the Doctor’s interest with something known as the Timeless Child. The Doctor and Graham use one of Enzo’s auto-igniting cigars to set the fields ablaze, destroying the cloth creatures.
As the suns rise, the group arrives at the tent marking the finish line. As Epzo and Angstrom debate who should win, the Doctor suggests that they enter the tent at the same time. Ilin is displeased but concedes the victory. He refuses, however, to take the Doctor and her fam off-world.
The Doctor is despondent and apologizes for failing to save her companions. The companions buoy her up as the sounds of the TARDIS echo around them. The Doctor uses her sonic screwdriver to summon and stabilize the TARDIS, and she is overjoyed when the time capsule materializes.
The ship has had a minor makeover on the outside, and it even opens the door for her. The inside has also been redecorated, and while it is a much darker control room, it does reflect the Doctor’s trip thus far with an orange crystal motif. The companions are astounded to see that the police box is bigger on the inside, and the Doctor is pleased to see that the console dispenses custard creams.
The Doctor works the controls and the TARDIS vanishes from Desolation.
The TARDIS has redecorated… and it’s okay. I’m not a fan of the dark and limited console room, but the designs on the walls and the eccentric console intrigue me. The crystal motif doesn’t pique my interest one way or the other, but it only makes sense when tying back into the Doctor’s homemade sonic screwdriver. The exterior is a nice callback to the Tom Baker era with the “pull to open” sign flipping the colors to white text on black.
The one choice that I really like is making the main entrance reflect the exterior design of the police box. It’s almost as if the Doctor and the companions have to step through the box to enter the extra-dimensional space.
I also like how Chris Chibnall paid attention to translation, specifically how the TARDIS’s translation field wouldn’t play into this story since the ship was missing. Enter the universal translators implanted by the medical pods as a nice touch.
I’m not a fan of the sonic screwdriver being used as a magic wand here. It’s a standard trope in the revival era, but there’s no reason why the team couldn’t spin the handwheel and open the hatch on their own. It was unnecessary to sonic it open.
I do like the new title sequence and the new theme. They take a creative spin on the usual while defining this era as its own.
The story itself is a standard quest line as our heroes get from point A to point B with some encounters along the way. That said, that bog-standard story is buoyed up by the characters as they get to know each other and the alien that they’re traveling with. The Doctor herself doesn’t present as some kind of superpowered deus ex machina, instead allowing the companions to solve the puzzles while encouraging them along the way. That helps to elevate an otherwise average adventure.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
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