Director: Mark Tonderai
Screenplay: Chris Chibnall
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Susan Lynch, Shaun Dooley
Runtime: 50 Minutes
Series 11 - Episode 2
Following on immediately after the events of the opening episode, it’s nice to see this series keeping the new momentum going with a very fun premise for a first true adventure for the Doctor and her companions.
If the initial nervous wobbles of last week feel like just the teething problems that they always were at first, and sounds of Segun Akinola’s new heavy electronic theme blasting out over the glorious new opening titles had the feeling immediately established that Doctor Who was officially back in its stride.
Finding themselves rescued from the vacuum of space by two pilots – Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley) – competing in a large-scale race that has culminated with one final event on the Planet Desolation with a hazardous environment and a dark past, with the finishing line found to be the Doctor's missing TARDIS.
It’s a great little setup for a contained story that feels like something that the Doctor might have stumbled into during the Russel T. Davis era of the show, with a more freewheeling mid-action confidence that doesn’t require stops and starts to overexplain the how’s and whys of a given situation. The event and location is presented and the stakes established in a very clear way and then it gets on with it.
The landscapes for this episode, shot mostly on the plains of South Africa, give it a much more beautiful, brighter and more colourful look than the first episode’s moody industrial complex setup. The show is looking better than it’s possibly ever done before so far.
Thanks to this, Jodie absolutely glows in the sunlight, and with the post-regeneration process now behind her she looks and sounds like the Doctor we all love and recognise more fully. It’s great to see the motormouthed energy and enthusiasm from her, with lots of sonic screwdriver pointing and more words of wisdom (“Brains beats bullets”).
What’s better still is how well she is working alongside the new cast, who aren’t quite companions as such yet but will no doubt have the taste for more after this. She talks to all of them with friendly keenness, and it’s nice seeing some early dynamics possibly taking form.
That challenge mentioned last week concerning what exactly the relationship between Ryan and Graham will be considering the loss of grandmother and wife Grace, that void won’t be healing any time soon with Ryan’s refusal to call him ’grandad’, and his reluctance to discuss Grace in any context with him. But seeing them mutually bond temporarily over engineering issues is about as boisterously amusing as small talk can get with them right now, and seeing Ryan living out his Call of Duty fantasies in reality for all of 30 seconds before realising the stupid danger of it was comical.
While Yasmin seems to want to know more about their two rescuers and their backstories, and appears the most awestruck with her new surroundings and possibilities opened up to her, with a brief mention of her family situation back home maybe giving her an incentive to take up more adventures further down the line.
There’s also time dedicated to fleshing out the sad rational behind the two racers to a surprising degree that Moffatt probably would never have afforded to single service supporting roles, with Epzo, in particular, is quite a brutal sod for the most part when contrast with Angstrom’s reasoning for saving her family on her war-torn homeworld.
The plot itself has a more inconsequential wrap up with villains that don’t really come into play until the final stretch, although they’re quite different in design. This is more about seeing how the characters fit into their soon to be set roles, with manic gunfire and androids at a shooting range and all the rest filled in with titbits of information. Including what appears to be a tease for this series’ arcs, with the namedrop return of the warrior race the Stenza from last week, and a tantalising phrasing of the Doctor being a “timeless child” with as yet unexplored new depths to her backstory soon to be mined which is very exciting.
But all of this is dwarfed by the main talking point of the episode, which is the return of the TARDIS. All it takes is the distant sounds of that wheezing engine and the wonder comes flooding back into the show all at once, as Jodie wills the TARDIS back into existence like the loving owner would to a pet (“Come to daddy. I mean, mummy”).
The love between the vehicle and it’s owner is stranger and more palpable than any Top Gear equivalent and there’s quite simply nothing like seeing the TARDIS offer her a custard cream from a slot in the console room. Speaking of which, the redesigned décor held back from release until now is a right beauty. A dark, large but warmly lit expanse of hexagons, and large bright crystal support beams, pedals and leavers that looks like just the right blend of the Tennant era rustic and lived in “grunge phase” with Smiths overly busy initial funhouse design.
The Ghost Monument is Doctor Who getting its groove back with a more promise to keep building on at a leisurely but assured pace. The ending feels like the high point, with some odd contrivances such as the whole language situation being cleared up conveniently without the TARDIS on hand (also, where DID she get those sunglasses from when last week she had empty pockets?), but it doesn’t matter because the whole is entertaining and fast enough even under a short time to make it all work.