Doctor Who review: Welcome to The Ghost Monument


Everything old is new again as Doctor Who puts a fresh spin on the traditional companions’ first adventure in “The Ghost Monument.”

After a regeneration story that introduced us to the franchise’s first female Doctor, Doctor Who season 11 tackles the traditional companions’ first alien planet adventure with another episode that manages to make the series’ established tropes feel fresh.

Doctor Who’s been around long enough that there are some things that are just given as facts, no matter who the Doctor happens to be. And one of those things is that a new companions’ first adventure almost always takes them to some strange and alien world. Season 11 is no different.

But what is interesting is that “The Ghost Monument” manages to take a concept that’s already been done dozens of times with other people and jazz it up into something that feels like we haven’t seen it before. Or at least, not entirely. That’s because this episode continues to lean heavily into the character relationships forged in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, a move which gives much of the story real emotional stakes.

Picture shows: Yaz (MANDIP GILL), Ryan (TOSIN COLE), The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER), Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Angstrom (SUSAN LYNCH), Epzo (SHAUN DOOLEY). The

Oh, by the way – welcome to what I presume is your first alien planet! Don’t touch anything. — The Doctor

The gist of the story is that the Doctor’s search for her TARDIS unwittingly strands her, Graham, Ryan and Yaz in space, and the gang becomes involved in an Amazing Race-style trek across a terrifying, doomed planet to survive. But the race isn’t the point, it’s the people involved — our new Earth friends and two other alien racers named Angstrom and Enzo — that make the story compelling.

Plus, it’s incredibly beautiful to look at. The cinematography is, as Ryan would say, “proper awesome.” The planet Desolation looks incredible — wild, empty, gorgeous and threatening at the same time. The unfamiliar setting and new monsters, those flatworm-esque fear ribbons are horrific, make everything feel raw and foreboding. There’s a sense that anything could happen, even in a story in which we pretty much know how it’s supposed to go.

“The Ghost Monument” takes just enough time to make Enzo and Angstrom feel like real people with real motivations, and uses their lives to further flesh out issues in the companions with whom will be spending more time over the season. As the group gets further into the interior of the planet, things become more and more dangerous.

Because as it turns out, Desolation isn’t exactly a normal planet. There are no visible life forms, the air is toxic, the water is poisonous and killer robots roam the building structures. What happened here? Something real bad.

“We gave them our minds, and they made us the creators of death,” the inscription on a lab floor reads. A hidden dark message for an ostensibly light episode, which solves the problem of the Last Rally of the 12 Galaxies — both Angstrom and Enzo win — well before it really explains why the nightmare planet was created. In fact, it doesn’t. We know the Strenza, the teeth-wearing warrior culture from the season premiere, are involved, but that’s about it.

Picture shows: Yaz (MANDIP GILL), Ryan (TOSIN COLE), Graham (BRADLEY WALSH). Photo Credit: BBC America

One of the most moving moments in “The Ghost Monument” occurs when the Doctor thinks she and her friends are defeated. They’ve saved Angstrom and Enzo, sure, but they’re still stranded on Desolation, trapped with the many bizarre and awful creatures that want to kill them. Yet it isn’t the Doctor who comes up with the moving speech her that propels everyone to keep going this time. It’s her new friends.

Many Whovians, yours truly included, may have been a bit apprehensive about a Team TARDIS with this many companions aboard. It’s a bit hard not to read that as a slam against the series’ first female Doctor, as though the powers that be weren’t sure Whittaker’s Thirteen could carry the show on her own opposite just one other person. Well, after last week’s episode, it’s apparent that Whittaker could carry the show opposite anybody. After this week’s? She’s even better with this crew. There’s something about these characters that simply clicks together, and it’s easy to believe they could actually save the universe if they worked together to do so.

Teamwork makes the dream work, and all that.

My beautiful ghost monument. — The Doctor

No one should be surprised by the fact that the titular Ghost Monument turns out to be the TARDIS, phasing in and out of a planet that isn’t orbiting where it’s supposed to be. Despite the rumors swirling around before this season started that we might not see the TARDIS for the bulk of this run, the time-traveling blue police box rumbles into frame at episode’s end, just in time to save our heroes.

Picture shows: Epzo (SHAUN DOOLEY), The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER), Graham (BRADLEY WALSH). Photo Credit: BBC America

Announcing itself with its trademark rattling wheeze, the TARDIS brings rescue to our stranded travelers, and hope to the Doctor herself. (And probably many viewers as well. I’m not saying I cried. But I’m not not saying I cried, is all.) Whittaker’s performance as Thirteen reunites with her beloved police box is pitch perfect, and manages to easily underline the epic, truly unique relationship between the Doctor and her TARDIS without stopping to explain it in detail.

(I definitely cried, if you couldn’t tell.)

The revelation of the new TARDIS interior is another one of those things that always happens in Doctor Who, particularly when a new Doctor takes over the show. Thirteen’s police box has something of an old-school feel. I can’t imagine that the visual exterior isn’t meant to be some sort of callback to Hartnell’s TARDIS as seen in “Twice Upon a Time”.

But the interior is all-new, and a bit bizarre, to be honest. It’s full of hexagons rather than circles, with huge crystalline pylons forming a sort of claw over the console. On the plus side, it does seem to rather match the Doctor’s new DIY sonic screwdriver, which one would also think has to be on purpose somehow. At any rate, much like the rest of the episode, it looks lovely, production-wise, all crisp and new and ready for adventure.

Let’s start believing, shall we?

Related Story. Jodie Whittaker on her groundbreaking new role. light

Doctor Who season 11 continues next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.