Jodie Whittaker continues to impress above anything else, as we're treated to our first off-world adventure with the brand new crew.
We can all count on the Doctor to save the day – or at least, we can all count on Jodie Whittaker to save a mediocre episode of Doctor Who. As with last week’s inaugural outing, the newest incarnation of the titular Time Lord is outstanding, providing the perfect balance of humour, empathy and courage to truly convince as the Doctor. But as with last week, the remaining cast (save Bradley Walsh as Graham O’Brien) fail to impress nearly as much, whilst the writing and plotting continue to be frustratingly uneven.
The premise is exciting enough. Opening exactly where episode one left off, ‘The Ghost Monument’ sees the Doctor stranded in space alongside Graham (Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandeep Gill), before being thrown into yet another adventure – this time on a desolate alien planet as opposed to the industrial streets of Sheffield. It’s a bit of a ‘deus ex machina’ – to be saved just in time to then go and find the Tardis, which has been conspicuously absent so far – but one that sets the plot up for plenty of edge-of-your seat excitement and tension as the Doctor and her companions learn to outwit a hostile environment.
Unfortunately, that hostile environment seems all too underused. Flesh-eating water, a toxic atmosphere and killer robot guards are given little time to be truly menacing before being easily overcome, with the plot never truly exploring one “bad guy” or the other. It’s as if writer Chris Chibnall is restlessly rushing us through the story, eager to reach that endpoint whilst dabbling only in bits and bobs of danger along the way. The trouble is, he couldn’t decide which part of that danger to give most screentime. The result is action setpieces that rarely feel particularly exhilarating, whilst I never felt like the Doctor was in any real danger – and I’m still trying to figure out who the villain for this episode actually was.
On the flip-side, we’re given greater worldbuilding to expand upon the Stenza alien race first introduced last week. Susan Lynch delivers a suitably emotional performance throughout as Angstrom, a space pilot hoping to win her family a better life, giving us a reason to fear a whole army of Stenza warriors and redeeming what was in all honesty a fairly humorous introduction to the race in ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’.
Meanwhile, Whittaker continues to be the best thing about Series 11 so far, closely followed by Bradley Walsh. Both actors play their roles perfectly, nailing their comedic timing and giving each the perfect amount of heroism and befuddlement respectively to keep me invested in their characters and rooting for them to succeed. All this is gloriously captured by once-again superb camerawork and special effects, truly selling the off-world aesthetic in a way the previously low-budget seasons of Doctor Who could rarely do before.
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about ‘The Ghost Monument’ is there’s little else to say about it; if this seems like a short review, that’s because it doesn’t really need to be any longer. We’re given a run-of-the-mill travel quest where the Doctor and her companions encounter an assortment of underwhelming obstacles (save those floating strips of bandage that can apparently read your fears – why didn’t the episode centre on those?), before being treated to a glorious first look at the new Tardis (sporting a ludicrously kooky interior redesign, which I’m sure I’ll warm to in time). Oh, and this one has a title sequence. Standard Sunday night entertainment, supported by Jodie Whittaker’s brilliant performance. Is there any more to say?
Doctor Who continues next Sunday on BBC One. All previous episodes can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.