The Ghost Monument

Posted in Episode by - October 15, 2018
The Ghost Monument

Aired 14 October 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following a dynamic introduction to the new era of Doctor Who that offered a surprisingly complex first look at the four leads, Chris Chibnall’s ‘The Ghost Monument’ represents the team’s first foray to an alien world. Wasting little time resolving the cliffhanger to the previous episode as two passing ships scoop the Doctor with Yas and Graham with Ryan out of the vacuum of space, the four find themselves thrust into the final stage of a race that has claimed some four thousand lives as the planet of Desolation that has fallen out of its orbit looms.

It must be stated from the start that for the second straight week the plot is secondary to the characters and the production values, and the plot that clearly states that its intent is to get from point A to point B with a few threats thrown in makes little attempt to hide what the titular ghost monument that appears every thousand rotations is or that a particular self-lighting cigar will prove vital to survival. Nonetheless, there is still plenty to enjoy, and the direction and cinematography give this vast ruined world of sand and mountains a truly epic scale that contrasts well with the uneasy tension of the dark and claustrophobic confines of the buildings the team must traverse while surviving the likes of flesh-eating water, robot sentries, and suffocating sheets as the dark secret of this world’s past that resonates so much with recent affairs is revealed.

With the characters again coming to the forefront, it’s the relationship between Graham and Ryan that sparkles most, the tragedy of Grace’s recent death still very much weighing on both of their minds. Though overall Graham is mostly used to voice confusion to garner explanations and to add a few timely comic quips, he gets a poignant moment in which he openly confronts Ryan about the young man not wanting to talk about his emotions while Ryan retorts that Graham talks too much about his own. The age gap between the two characters allows for an intriguing exploration of how each handles grief and self-expression, and Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole have a strong chemistry when together to hint at everything the characters have been through while remaining utterly relatable to viewers of all ages. As Ryan’s own self-doubt resulting from his dyspraxia and his more aggressive impulses again come forward and while Susan Lynch’s Angstrom and Shaun Dooley’s Enzo must necessarily feature to give the race relatable faces, this does mean that Yas is in more of a generic supporting role here, though her bravery and charisma are always prominently on display throughout. At least as presented, it is somewhat difficult to accept that Angstrom and Enzo are the last remaining contestants of such a dangerous quest that has claimed so many, but they each serve a requisite role with a certain toughness and ensure the plot continues to move along at a quick pace.

‘The Ghost Monument’ is ultimately a very straightforward affair, but every detail of it is extremely confident in its presentation as reflected by Jodie Whittaker who already appears supremely self-assured and assertive as a Doctor who is still discovering herself in relation to her former selves. The questing storyline is one that has been seen countless times before, and the generic robots and the discovered tunnel system that bypasses so much of the inherent danger of the locale puts the impetus on the characters all the more. Indeed, with Ilin accepting the prospect of joint winners so easily and simply disappearing thereafter, the superficiality of the race as a plot device is quite brazenly displayed, but the underlying theme of trust and the four leads who are all written as strong yet vulnerable in their own regard make this an eminently watchable episode despite its shortcomings that again affirms a bold new vision for the programme as the Doctor is once more reunited with her beloved TARDIS.

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