Stranded on a planet trying to kill them, the Doctor and friends get caught up in a literal race for survival.
Absent from the premiere, this time we finally get to see what the new title sequence looks like and I’m very impressed. It has hints of the original title sequence with a liberal dose of deep purples and CG to modernise it. But it’s not just a homage and the way the ‘Doctor Who’ logo is integrated is enough of a departure to make it distinctive from previous ones. That said I was surprised how dark and shadowy it looks given the majority of the branding (not to mention the Doctor’s costume) is so vibrant and colourful.
As with the first episode, there’s a lot of really good character work for the main cast to get their teeth into. Tosin Cole in particular has to play Ryan through a staggering variety of situations and pulls off each effortlessly. Admittedly, Ryan doing so much makes Yaz seem a little superfluous and some references to her home-life emphasised how little we yet know about the character. Bradley Walsh gets some great scenes as Graham, particularly in relation to Ryan, early on but gets relegated somewhat towards the end.
Jodie Whittaker still has the same energy as episode one but it’s balanced with scenes of a more confident and cerebral Doctor. The character’s previously somewhat inconsistent views on guns and violence is reaffirmed with an effective demonstration and a nice touch in building on the mentor role she seems to be developing with Ryan.
A small but effective trio of guest stars completes the cast with Shaun Dooley as Epzo and Susan Lynch as Angstrom getting the most screen time. Both characters contrast nicely as they have very different outlooks despite being in the same situation. Both Dooley and Lynch get one big scene apiece to get across their character and each is a beautiful melding of script and performance. It’s rare that any one-off character, let alone two, leave as much of an impression as this pair does. Art Malik’s manipulative Ilin completes the cast and, while his casual sadism is fun to watch, the story doesn’t do very much with him.
The stakes are established very quickly and Chibnall’s script delivers enough momentum to breeze through 50 minutes. Each new obstacle makes room to weave in the outstanding character work I mentioned earlier. And there’s a healthy dose of action to keep things lively. A clever bit of early misdirection keeps you on your toes as to the real threat and a second viewing to knit all the clues together is a must. The story is rendered with some astounding cinematography, taking full advantage of filming in South Africa. For a story where the Universe isn’t threatened, it’s amazing how much you empathise with every character in the pursuit of their goals. Even the ones we’ve just met. And so the slightly predictable resolution doesn’t matter as much as the struggle the characters went through to try and get there.
‘The Ghost Monument’ is classic Doctor Who in the sense that it’s about character and wits rather than bombast and technobabble. For all the CG spaceships, futuristic weapons and technology, at its core the story is about people trying to find their way home. Epzo and Angstrom will stand out as some of the strongest guest characters in Doctor Who history. The continuation of the main cast’s character arcs will have lasting implications for the rest of series, stemming from this episode. For a deceptively small and personal story, I have a feeling the ripples from ‘The Ghost Monument’ will be felt for a long time to come.
- Art Malik played Abbot Absolute opposite the Eighth Doctor in ‘The Skull of Sobek’.
- Ian Gelder previously appeared as Mr Dekker in ‘Torchwood: Children of Earth’.
- Anyone fancy a custard cream?
“Can people, and things, stop putting stuff inside me without my permission?!”
“See? brains beats bullets!”
“I was a hologram once…for three weeks! the gossip i picked up!”