Episode 2: The Ghost Monument
The Doctor and her three companions have been accidentally transported to outer space after the Doctor attempts to locate her TARDIS. She watches in horror as her companions are dying right in front of her and she can’t do anything. A flash of light blinds our view and in the next scene a very groggy Ryan opens his eyes to see his step-grandfather Graham shaking him awake. Disoriented and still in a panic, Ryan learns from Graham that they were accidentally taken along for a ride with the Doctor and while they were floating in space a ship happened to fly by and pick them up. The captain of the ship, a woman named Angstrom, tells the boys that she picked them up as a bonus before the last leg of the race. Confused, and still incredibly disoriented, Ryan and Graham have no idea what she is talking about or whether the Doctor and Yaz are still alive. Angstrom says she only saw the two of them floating in space and refuses to stay and look for any more companions, claiming that if they were still out there they’d be dead by now.
Meanwhile, The Doctor and Yaz are on board a second ship. The captain of this ship, a man named Epzo, and the Doctor are quarreling over properly landing the ship as it is about to fall apart after a dangerous hyperjump. The Doctor tries to reason with Epzo, while calming a panicked Yaz, while also trying to stabilize the ship long enough to get them to safety. Enzo claims that he was headed to a planet named Desolation to complete the final leg of a race called The Rally. Except that Desolation is lost somewhere in space, thrown off its orbit. The Doctor manages to locate the planet and guides the faltering ship towards Desolation. Enzo, Yaz and The Doctor have to do their best to hold the ship together as it begins to disintegrate and they crash land.
On the planet’s surface, Angstrom, Ryan and Graham are taking their first steps on land. Ryan spots a bright object speeding towards them and quickly realizes it’s another ship crash landing right above them. They are amazed to see The Doctor and Yaz emerge from the wreckage. Epzo and Angstrom know each other from competing in the previous 209 legs of the race against 4,000 other competitiors.
The Rally is a competition of sorts funded by an ultra billionaire named Ilin. Ilin awards the winner of each grueling Rally the equivalent of a lifetime of wealth which would allow the winner and their entire clan passage off their planet to a safer world free of racial killings and persecutions. Epzo and Angstrom are the final two surviving competitors in the Rally and to win, they must traverse the deadly planet, find the Ghost Monument and be proclaimed winner. The loser is to be left stranded on Desolation with no way off of the death trap.
Desolation was once a beautiful, thriving planet but has been poisoned and ‘made cruel’ by the machinations of a group of scientists. The Doctor interrogates Ilin for more information about the Ghost Monument and learns it is actually her TARDIS seemingly stuck in place, phasing in and out of time and space as the engines are stuck in a loop. She promises Graham, Yaz and Ryan that if she can get to her ship then she will get them home safely.
The group reluctantly decide to travel together hoping that travelling in a pack will make passage across the trap filled landscape safer. The atmosphere is poison, the water is filled with flesh eating microbes, and there are killer robot patrols that routinely scan the area. Epzo and Angstrom continue to bicker and throw punches at each other as they search for the Ghost Monument. They learns that Angstrom’s home world is being racially cleansed by The Stenza (the tooth-face villain from Episode 1). Her wife was murdered by the Stenza and sent her family into hiding or on the run. Winning this race is the only way she can get her family to safety. The group are split up after a pack of patrol robots begin firing. The Doctor and her companions get trapped in a target practice field and manage to work their way into an underground tunnel system running through the entire ruins.
While in the tunnels, The Doctor discovers an interesting ruin. She has discovered the room where the scientists on Desolation took their last stand. Apparently, the scientists were taken from their home worlds under threat of death and forced to invent weapons of destruction for The Stenza. As a last stand, the scientists decided to stop making weapons and poisons and destroy all their work before the Stenza can return. It seems they were partially successful at least in stopping, though the planet was left barren.
While this discovery is happening Enzo, who wandered off, is attacked by a seemingly sentient scrap of cloth. It wraps around his mouth trying to suck the life out of him. The group manage to free Enzo and escape the room, but the killer robots disable the life support to the tunnels, forcing the group back to the surface to face the wilds. They emerge to a darkened landscape over the Acetylene Fields, and to find that they are surrounded by dozens of the sentient killer blankets. The cloth speaks to the Doctor, saying they smell her fear. They whisper to her that they see deep into her past, things that are hidden even from herself. The Timeless Child. The Doctor makes a stand, tells the creatures to get out of her head and yells at everyone to get down. As they drop, she ignites a fire which burns the Acetylene in the air and destroys the creatures. They make their escape and find the hill where the Ghost Monument lies.
Ilin’s hologram appears again, declaring that there could only be one winner of the race and that Epzo and Angstrom have been disqualified. Epzo threatens that he will hunt Ilin down and cut his life short if he does not allow them both to win. Ilin folds and transports both Epzo and Angstrom off the planet but leaves the Doctor and her companions stranded. She has a moment of despair as the TARDIS is still no where to be seen, leaving them all trapped on the death planet. The companions buoy her up, trying to give her hope when suddenly… a familiar sound begins to rumble around them. The TARDIS, still phasing in and out of space is attempting to get back to her Doctor, The Doctor is able to stabilize the TARDIS and they are finally reunited and the Doctor can return her new companions back to Earth.
Ok so… I LOVED this episode. I was shocked by how much I liked it. I figured that it would take a few bumpy episodes before we got an episode as put together as this one. Now, not saying it’s perfect, but I was very happy with the story, the characters, the action, and the ending. There were some incredibly memorable moments, and Epzo and Angstrom were very well written characters. They were both fleshed out, and had a meaningful backstory, all while being unique and interesting in their own ways. I was really surprised to see The Stenza mentioned again in this episode, so it seems that the tooth faces villains will be our series arc for this story run. I am not sure if that is disappointing or exciting at this time. I felt like Tzim-Shaw was really poorly written, one dimensional, and…well frankly boring and cheesy. This episode really seemed to hammer home that The Stenza are a race to be feared, maybe like this universe’s equivalent to the Predator Race, killing for the sport of it. If the writers can provide us with a compelling main villain, a character with drive and conviction and a deep rooted reason to be so devoted to violence and killing, then maybe the Stenza can be redeemed for this story. Maybe it’s just my personal preference, but I always like a villain that’s a little grey around the edges, one where you can see why they are the way they are and not just rage filled killing machines. Doctor Who does know how to do fantastic villains, the Daleks and Cybermen both have incredibly poignant story arcs and villains with tragic purpose. Even the Silence and the Master have their interesting layers that give them memorable meaning.
I do have to mention that after rewatching the first episode a couple more times and listening to the fantastic podcast Run: A Doctor Who Fancast by Travis McElroy and Tybee Diskin, I have changed my mind about a few things from the first episode. Tybee made a great point in the podcast that although she would have loved to see a compelling introductory episode to Whittaker’s doctor, that most of the time the writers have a hard time coming back from such an impactful episode and the next few episodes struggle to keep up. By starting with a much more standard introduction like we got with episode 1, the writer’s have much more room to grow characters and give them real depth while making them powerful and memorable. So, while I would have loved to see a Doctor intro moment like we had with Tennant and Smith, I think that they did a fair job at building a character we can really get behind.
This episode had some strong messages about gun violence, and violence in general that feel like an expose on current events. While Doctor Who has always been rather on the forefront of making a statement on current events, this seems to be a particularly polarizing one for some people. I really enjoyed the message and liked that they showed that brainpower can win over gunpower. It speaks to me in my own personal life, though it may not for all fans. Next week’s episode also promises to be another ‘socially aware’ episode as they are focusing the story around civil rights movement era Rosa Parks. I think it has the potential to be a strong story.
I think that the balance of action, suspense, and story were nearly spot on in this episode. There were still some writing issues with moving the story along too quickly or leaving certain things unexplained, but they have a lot to pack into each episode. When I first read reviews about ‘talking scraps of fabric’ as a main story villain I was pretty worried that they would be really poorly thought through. But I actually didn’t hate the creatures. The CGI and voice work was really great and gave the killer blankets a really creepy vibe. They also got to introduce the new exciting mystery of “The Timeless Child”. I don’t have any clues as to what they may be talking about, and I think I’d like to keep the mystery so I can be surprised by the story line. I’m hoping for a River Song appearance, but that is probably a lot to ask from a character who has already had such a long span with three other doctors.
We got slightly more character development from Yaz, Ryan, and Graham in this week’s episode. Ryan and Graham had a nice ‘grandfather-son’ moment while repairing a ship. Ryan overcame his dyspraxia again. And Yaz… well poor Yaz got glossed over once again. Last episode she barely got a mention and didn’t get to do much beyond chauffeur and steer a crane. In this episode she get just a couple tossed in lines about her family and a moment that made me cringe slightly. In the beginning even the Doctor mentions that she ‘forgot Yaz was even there’ as she scrambles to stop the ship from crashing. I’m waiting for a more Yaz central story soon that will breath some life into our little wallflower companion.
I was a little worried that the writer’s weren’t sure how to give two female characters separate, but meaningful characters. They’ve done such a fantastic job with the Doctor that the other female characters in the show seem a bit lackluster. I am also hoping that the writer’s didn’t play into a pretty common trope by using Ryan’s Nan’s death to give the two male characters a reason to bond and press on. It’s so overused that it’s getting a bit old. Much like the Bill Pott’s story line from Capaldi’s era. It was so refreshing to see such a unique character hold her own against a formidable actor like Capaldi. But then the tropes started happening, with them killing off Bill’s first female love interest, and then killing off Bill herself. I know that Doctor Who has the chops to give us amazing female companions. Martha, Donna, and Amy Pond have been some of my favorite companions of the show because they are so driven, unique, and stand alone.
Whittaker absolutely crushes it in this episode. It seems she’s finally caught her breath after all the running in the first episode. I am loving the energetic, think fast, quick on your feet vibe from Thirteen. She’s got such a go get em’ attitude! I particularly love the ingenuity and inventiveness in problem solving. She is unapologetic in every way, making her point of view very well known to everyone around. She’s got the charm, the snark, and the brains that we’ve all come to love in past regenerations. Thirteen had some really fun and interesting moments that I really enjoyed.
Besides her ‘brains beat bullets’ moment, she had this great scene where she completely takes control of the situation by using a technique called the Venutian Aikido on Epzo. Perfect blend of pacifist no harm done and attention grabbing power. Oh, and her first few moments with the TARDIS. I live for those scenes when the Doctor’s get to speak directly to the audience. I think Tennant’s morose “I don’t want to go” is still my favorite moment like this. Whittaker gets to introduce us to the TARDIS and it’s brand new fabulous look. It even dispenses cookies on a whim. I loved seeing the real excitement of Thirteen being in her TARDIS for the first time proclaiming “I really like it” and “this…is my TARDIS”.
I am so glad that this episode really picked up the pace for the show. I am looking forward to some great new story lines, villains, and character dynamics that are yet to come for this season. See you next week!