Digging Desolation? Series 11 ep2 Review: The Ghost Monument

ALERT! ALERT! New opening titles and theme tune are flying in past your window! Please for your comfort do not adjust your seating position or remove your headphones. We waited and episode 2 into series 11 we finally saw and heard what was missing last week as Doctor Who burst out its theme this week. An interesting bold move as Chris Chibnall and the team are laying out a trail of goodies for us as we progress down the Series 11 path. Not using opening titles in the first episode allowed us to concentrate on all the other firsts in the story, first female doctor, new companions, fresh location without the distraction of a new bulky theme. To have had it all last week would have been “newness” overload.

It’s been many years probably going back to series 4 since I actually loved any Nu-Who opening theme or titles and the theme definitely acknowledges its classic roots, which pleases this fan very much. Even with the drum beat, you can hear parts of the original Ron Grainer theme at the heart. The opening titles were done by a regular Youtuber John Smith (not his real name of course!)  who did the  Sherlock Doctor Who crossover video and worked on a series 10 episode and the Christmas special. I loved the wave action and noise at the beginning before the visuals moved into a swirling colourful kaleidoscope and the starry universe. The universe graphics felt reminiscent of the real-life photographs you see on “Sky at Night” and it’s a world away from the Matt Smith flying Tardis titles which bored the life out of me. The kaleidoscope does make me feel nauseous if I stare too hard but I had the same feeling watching Avatar in 3D. The titles were perfunctory highlighting each member of the team adding to the group dynamic this year but I liked the whoosh sound we got before the episode title and writer and off we went with no fade in straight into the episode.

Mark Tonderai, the director, deserves Epzo’s cigar for what he then gave us which was a feast for the eyes. I adored the opening shot reflected from Ryan’s eye as they got scooped up by Angstrom’s spaceship and Ryan’s blurry point of view as he woke. South Africa was worth visiting as the landscape of the desert was beautiful. There are certain episodes that when you say their name your brain is flooded with images and you smile. “City of Death” has you those scenes of Tom and Lalla wandering in Paris, “The invasion” swinging London iconic St Pauls Cathedral, and “Vincent and the Doctor” that sun-filled garden bursting with sunflowers. The first 9 minutes of “The Ghost Monument” had me very excited by what I saw. Mark Tonderai cleverly played with different types of shots, overhead, close up, point of view, moving action shots to keep the story interesting especially the urgency of the crash landing. There were so many really interesting usual shots, the jettison of the back engine, the desert, watching the suns set in the science building, the attack of the robots. The guy really understands composition. There was a lovely time-lapse shot of moons disappearing as the suns rose later which was absolutely stunning. I also loved the ghostly desert music from our resident composer Segun which added an ethereal atmospheric feel to the visuals.

Two episodes in and Jodie is playing her version of the Doctor which I’m struggling slightly with. I know this is Doctor Who, it looks fantastic which thrills me, but I’m still waiting to see her click in completely as ‘the Doctor’ for me. I apologise in advance for my southern ears but I am still distracted by the Doctor’s accent at times which seems to pitch up and down in tone.  It does feel slightly acted and laid on a bit heavy. Christopher Eccleston did have a Northern accent but somehow his didn’t feel that noticeable. Different region I guess. Character-wise at times, she does come across as a bit school maamish, chiding her companions, mocking Ilin as a hologram but that isn’t necessarily a criticism as she is in survival mode knowing she has to stay focused in a hostile environment and keep her companions alive. She doesn’t suffer fools but also doubts herself and I quite like that contrast. There are tinges of Peter Davison when she doesn’t always know the answers and questions things out loud.

The Ghost Monument, The Thirteenth Doctor
The Ghost Monument, The Thirteenth Doctor

The idea of having a rally as a quest was original but the script treated almost all the ideas it offered a little simplistically. You have a separated Tardis crew, a spaceship, deathly desert perhaps because of three suns, no ability to hydrate because of deadly microbes in the water, a boat that runs on solar power, remnants that come out at night, killer sniperbots all these elements to play with but they touched on briefly without taking advantage of them. Perhaps it needed to be a 2 parter.  Where Graham and Ryan were separated from the others I would have liked a bit more space before we saw Yas and the Doctor to build up some tension. The sniperbot guards were imposing but they didn’t pose much threat as they luckily can’t shoot straight. There were some unnerving scary moments as the remnant were choking Epzo but then later it was undone with the “Harry Potter Voldemort whispering voices” scene which sounded a bit silly as remnants swarmed around the group out in the dark. I’ve watched this story four times now and there are some noticeable convenient resolutions put in parts of the story. The doctor reading from the floor was a bit of a lazy plot device to move the story along. Last series we had ‘Smile’ which offered better visual explanations with the skulls and bones and the book of images. The long speech from Epzo talking about his cigar to Angstrom on the beach is clunky and points a massive “Chekhov’s gun” arrow that this is going to be relevant later on. (Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make “false promises” by never coming into play)

Where the plot suffered a little Chris Chibnall excels with characters and all the guest actors mastered what they are given within the time constraints of the script. There were persuasive performances from Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley. Angstrom and Epzo are by turn sympathetic and cocky pushed to win. Epzo is brash wants the glory and money. Angstrom is doing it for her family. The little vignettes of backstory added in the script add pathos to their reasons. Art Malik as Ilin was the rather single-minded master of this circus ring but not really a villain. He had that single-minded selfish streak of the explorer mastering the race originally with only being interested in controlling the challenge. I just wish he had had a larger part as he fascinated me. There was such a small guest I didn’t get a sense of scale, of 4000 competitors who had taken part in this race just because Art Malik said so.

I enjoyed Graham and Ryan again this week. Ryan is such a typical teenager not wanting to talk, lacking confidence at times and Graham is trying so hard to protect and look after him. I’m surprised he didn’t intervene when Ryan wanted the call of duty run against the robots. It worries me that I’m enjoying their characters too much, that they will slowly bond but that Graham won’t make it to the end of the series. Their relationship is such an interesting one. Bradley Walsh excels at the grumpy old man and I loved the visual gag of him wearing women’s sunglasses which made me chuckle What a tinker! Graham is definitely my favourite and Bradley’s experience as an actor does shine through. Yas doesn’t get much to do again this week and still doesn’t inspire me to really like her. It does feel a bit Torchwood in that respect that she is the Ianto of the group there in the background, a spare part. She seems overwhelmed by the situation they are in whereas her police woman training should kick in enabling her to direct them through the desert? As accidental and reluctant travellers what I did enjoy is how they all questioned trusting the doctor and it isn’t an automatic assumption.

Shaun Dooley as damaged Epzo
Shaun Dooley as damaged Epzo

I’ve read comments that Chris Chibnall has ‘dazzled with mediocrity’ which is a little harsh. Despite imagining how the script could have been a bit more effective. I enjoyed “The Ghost Monument” It’s a bit of a caper full of interesting little moments. We also have been given a hint of something else perhaps? The timeless child. I did initially wonder if this hinted at another Timelord (related to the Doctor) but perhaps it was just a description of the Doctor without her Tardis. I didn’t guess the “Ghost Monument” was the Tardis so the Doctor’s reaction to seeing her beloved Tardis again was a lovely emotional moment. Seeing the inside of the Tardis was very different. The fronds or pillars look quite organic, alien and dark. It wasn’t WOW more what the heavens have they done? I may grow to like it but I prefer something a bit higher tech looking.

A fantastic feast visually but the plot left me still hungry 7/10

I am looking forward next week to “Rosa” hopefully a pure historical without any aliens. If so the first since the classic series serial Black Orchid


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