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DOCTOR WHO Is off to the Races in “The Ghost Monument”

DOCTOR WHO Is off to the Races in “The Ghost Monument”

SPOILERS for the Doctor Who episode “The Ghost Monument” are contained herein.

Like the Doctor’s new friends, the second episode of series 11 of Doctor Who plucks us from our place adrift in the void of last week’s cliffhanger and thrusts us immediately into the rush of action. We find ourselves unexpectedly divided between a pair of spaceships, feeling lost and unheard as we ask a million questions. And then she’s there, The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), already in the middle of taking charge and just hoping for us to keep up. She, and by extension the show, aren’t entirely convinced of their own confidence just yet, but the solution both of them have landed on is simple: trust me and let’s keep moving.

It’s a pretty perfect policy for “The Ghost Monument”. The more the show just gets on with telling its story, the easier it gets for the audience to nod our heads and make friends with it. The more this new Doctor keeps talking, keeps moving, keeps working through the traps placed in front of her, the easier it is for her friends to go with her. “Monument” makes that easy on us, utilizing an intergalactic race of a plot that feels like a mix of Death Race 2000, Pitch Black, and a Dungeons and Dragons puzzle quest. This built-in timer allows the story to maintain a sense of urgency, a trick showrunner Chris Chibnall is familiar with given his first Doctor Who episode, the almost real-time “42.”

Juggling a pace-oriented plot with three companions, two major guest stars, and a new Doctor is a bit tougher of a task. “Monument” tries to manage this to a degree by providing story-dependent moments for a forced halt in the momentum: transport vehicles, a temporary base under temporary siege, and a fleeting moment of assumed marooning. In that time we’re allowed to explore the familial (or lack thereof) relationship between Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh). We also learn a little backstory on guest star Susan Lynch’s desperate racer Angstrom, which gives Chibnall the ability to show us the first cards of his seasonal arc.

The crowded cast means the show has to adapt itself into the style of more established ensemble dramas, pushing some characters to the background while others take the spotlight. So far the only character of the main cast that still feels underdeveloped as a result of this is Mandip Gill’s Yaz, who gets just a brief moment to reflect on her own family life back home. Hopefully, this is a hint at something that will give her more of a chance to shine in an upcoming episode.

For her part, the Doctor has faith in her new friends. Wandering in while Ryan and Graham work on fixing a damaged boat, the Doctor is legitimately proud that they set themselves to the task without her instructions. The show, in kind, has that same trust in us as the audience. It doesn’t dwell on big reveal moments or foreshadowing of monsters: it gives us quick flashes, then runs away, taunting us to question if we saw what we think we did, and returning to it at the exact moment when the anticipation is getting to us. On a more macro level, we also get brief teases to the larger meta-plot at work for this new era, including juicy hints at the Doctor’s secretive past. These are dangled and then pulled away with such charm that I can almost imagine Jodie’s Doctor gleefully leaning in and whispering “Do you want me to show you something really cool?”

Hands down the stand-out moment of the show, though, is the one that we absolutely see coming from at least the end of act one: the return of the TARDIS. The revelation of the ship being the titular monument doesn’t deflate what ends up being a shockingly emotional reunion. If anything, the hesitant moments in between the race plot’s ending and her arrival allows us, like the Doctor, to feel that tiny sliver of doubt. We got here, we did everything right, where is the TARDIS?

The Doctor doubts herself, and her ship is nowhere to be found. She apologizes to her friends for failing them, and her ship is nowhere to be found. But then something else happens: her friends believe in her. Whether demanded or given, the trust accumulated by the end of “Ghost Monument” is exquisitely earned. The Doctor has earned her friends’ faith in her so much that they continue to have it even when she stumbles on it a bit herself.

Over the course of these last two stories we’ve seen this Doctor take charge in a crisis, and we’ve seen this Doctor stand up to those who would do others harm. We’ve seen this Doctor build a sonic screwdriver, and we’ve even seen her bust out some Jon Pertwee-era Venusian Aikido. But what summons back her TARDIS is the faith of her friends, and by extension faith in herself. The exact moment that they all agree they haven’t given up, the TARDIS is there, begging her and us to peek inside. When the new, more greenish than blue police box finally arrives, it signifies that this Doctor is here, this Doctor is home. And she even gets a cookie.

Images: BBC

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