11.2 The Ghost Monument
Last week’s premiere of Doctor Who’s eleventh series was plagued and blessed with so much build-up and anticipation over the months since Jodie Whittaker’s casting was announced that the only thing left for episode two – The Ghost Monument – to address was, what now?
What now that Whittaker has proven herself as a worthy successor to Capaldi, Smith et al, and Chibnall has shown fans both old and new that he’s not out to spoil their fun? The Ghost Monument’s hill to climb is not as big as the previous hour’s, but it’s a chance to really settle into this brave new Who. Be glad, then, that it’s mostly the same balance of fun, pathos and adventure that The Woman Who Fell To Earth was.
As with last week, the plot and alien threat take a back seat to getting to know these new characters and reestablishing the Doctor as the inquisitive, eccentric, pacifist that she’s always been. At this point, it’s safe to say that Chibnall’s version of the show is going to be slightly less manic than it’s been of late, with the poignant moment always chosen over the humorous one.
The companions – sorry, new best friends – are still all charming and dripping with chemistry with one another, and one thing the episode does brilliantly is build character without having to take time out from the main plot. This is an ensemble show now, so it won’t be as easy as it might have been to have an episode in which Rose and Martha are fleshed out via their family in episode four or five.
Instead, we have snippets of conversation between Ryan and Graham, or Ryan and Yaz, that feel much like real life (if real life involved being stranded on an alien planet). Even though the Doctor is still adjusting to her new body and fully intending to drop her new friends back home as soon as she locates the TARDIS, she also manages – perhaps accidentally – to bond with them one on one.
Toisin Cole’s Ryan is still the stand-out for me, with the exuberance of a young guy dropped into the adventure of his life mixed with the vulnerability brought on by his dyspraxia and the lack of self-confidence it causes. Yaz, after episode two, remains the least fleshed out, but it’s still early days and she’ll surely get her chance.
With introductions all done and points all more or less proven, The Ghost Monument has a little more room to breathe. It still feels like setup, but it’s setup done with the backdrop of recognisable Doctor Who plot and characters. What’s more, it leaves you with a sense that things might feel a little more ‘normal’ come episode three, and this new Doctor can exit panic mode for the first time.
Overall, Whittaker has proven such a natural with the material that it’s tempting to say the character’s gender-swap has been forgotten, but I suspect it’s something many of us will refuse to take for granted as this semi-reboot continues to take shape.
The Ghost Monument airs on Sunday the 14th of October at 6.55pm on BBC One. Come back after the episode for Pete Dillon-Trenchard’s spoiler-free review.