Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument review – “Stuck in the Sands of Exposition”

Broadcast Date: 14 October 2018
Writer: Chris Chibnall

Gorgeous visuals and an emotional TARDIS reveal could not save the dull narrative and pacing in the second episode of Doctor Who: Series 11.

*Warning: This review contains minor spoilers of the plot*

The episode started very strongly, though it was have been an impressive feat to mess up what had been an effective cliffhanger, with the four protagonists floating in space, terrified and losing consciousness. It was a smart decision from the writers to separate the companions into two groups as it allowed for distinct reactions to firstly teleporting into space and then to be salvaged by a space racer. Annoyingly, the separation was short-lived. With three companions, splitting them up would have created unique narratives and obstacles, rather than just the running about in one big group that we saw in the series opener. As for the opening sequence, I preferred it in purely audio form, finding the visuals a bit too disjointed for my liking.

As a whole, I’d say that the treatment of the companions has the potential to be great but it feels frustratingly limited at this point. Ryan and Graham go through a short-lived emotional journey as they dissect the events of the first episode but is pushed aside shortly after; it is pretty obvious that the writers are going to make the familial bond between the pair a slow burner. Ryan also has a fun segment when he tries to shoot down Robot Guards, only for them to get back up, whilst Graham has the best line of the episode with “It’s a tent”. On the other hand, I continue to be disappointed with the role of Yas up to now; she remains one note in her reactions and devoid of a narrative of her own, except the odd familial reference and taking on the listener role for every other character. The preview for episode three, where the travellers meet Rosa Parks, has her featured prominently in the trailer, so hopefully the writers will allow her to meet her potential in that. The Doctor, likewise, still seems to be experimented with by the writers, as though they are unsure whether to take the character down the crazy or sensitive route, so comes across annoying and without leadership skills at this point.

To be brutally honest, the two major guest stars, the space pilots Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley), go through a bigger personal arc than any of the recurring characters. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, if there was a pay off to this in the climax. Instead they are abruptly removed when the plot requires the travellers to be alone. Just like in ‘The Woman to Fell to Earth’ there is an awful lot of trivia about the lives of those involved in the story; it is clear that Chibnall is focusing on this in his first season of the show. The extreme close up shots from unique angles support this but these become very jarring at times. Unfortunately, the same detail is not given to the plot.

My biggest concern about the new series of Doctor Who wasn’t focused on the casting of a woman *shock horror* as the Doctor. I stand by the statement I have made in previous posts, that Chris Chibnall has not produced an outstanding episode of the show, with a villain or threat that is terrifying and memorable. This week, there are a couple of threats to the lives of the characters but none are explored very much at all, save for an exposition in the middle that seems to have been heavily influenced by The Mines of Moria from The Fellowship of the Ring. A boat trip across lethal waters was as serene as was possible, highlighting the lack of imagination from the writers, instead just another way for the characters to deliver yet more exposition. I felt a sense of a lack of detail on all front of the story, not least how the Doctor managed to procure sunglasses from Audrey Hepburn before she had even stepped foot in the TARDIS.

The Ghost Monument Promo Shot2
Sadly, the gorgeous visuals were far stronger than the actual plot. (BBC, 2018)

There is also a reveal towards the end that the Stanza, one of whom was the antagonist of ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’, may become a recurring threat, which doesn’t seem like a good move. Bounty hunters and assassins only have so much mileage on the show before they become repetitive and with ‘Rosa’ seeming to involve yet another one, I have yet to see a terrific enemy come from the pen of Chibnall. The mystery of the “timeless child” was better handled, though hopefully it won’t be one of the obvious picks (my lips are sealed on who that might be).

The massive highlight of the episode was undoubtedly the reveal of the TARDIS, though the story literally became an A to B hunt for it, once it became clear that it was the Ghost Monument (I don’t know why there was such a mellow moment when the travellers couldn’t find it, ghosts appear and disappear after all!) The predictable nature of the plot took a bit of an edge off of the moment but it was acted well by Jodie Whittaker, one of her highlights in the role thus far. I am unsure about the new design, loving the organic touches to the pillars and console but hating the random blue lighting on one wall and part of the ceiling. It was also distracting to see the TARDIS having a green tint in certain exterior shots – did anyone else notice this?

Overall, this was a fair dip down from the promise of the opening episode of the show, descending into a point to point story that carried far more exposition and secondary character development than a plot that was well thought through. Hopefully the first historical episode of the series will give a better sense of Chibnall’s storytelling abilities on the show this one.

Star Rating: 2.5/5

What did you make of ‘The Ghost Monument’?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and I’ll see you all for my review of episode 3, ‘Rosa’.

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