Last week was all about meeting the new Doctor and assembling her new trio of friends for adventures through time and space. “The Ghost Monuments” is about that first adventure in time and space — even if the trio is accidentally brought along on the journey to locate the TARDIS.
After being rescued from outer space, the Doctor and company find themselves on a planet called Desolation, which is the end-point for a galactic race that will leave one person wealthy and the other stuck on a world that’s pretty much going to do everything in its power to eliminate him or her as quickly as possible. Seeing a planet where even the water is a threat was a nice touch, though Chris Chibnell’s script doesn’t slow down long enough for us to ask questions like who would design such a planet and why they would do it.
The end game is to make it to the titular “Ghost Monument” which happens to be the TARDIS itself, going in and out of existence at certain points due to the planet being a bit off course. Allowing the new TARDIS team to have a stake in the race as well is a nice touch and it certainly explains why everyone is working together. Our two racing finalists want to win, the trio want to get home, and the Doctor wants to get back to travelling in her TARDIS.
Along the way, there are a lot of obstacles and some beautifully shot scenery. Seriously, the sweeping vistas from the locations filming in South Africa are overwhelmingly gorgeous and help the episode feel epic. In many ways, I found myself reminded a bit of the early days of classic Doctor Who when the TARDIS crew would more often than not be forced to become involved in the events transpiring around them because access to the time machine had somehow been cut off. Of course, those days we got a lot of BBC sets and really only a couple of stories that tried to have the epic scope this one does.
We also take a few moments to insert the on-going arc for the season in place. A telepathic alien is able to read the Doctor’s thoughts and pull out a few hints about the “timeless child” who the Doctor has forgotten. My first thought was it could be Susan (the Doctor’s granddaughter from the earliest days of the show) or Jenny from the David Tennant era. But given that Chibnell has repeatedly stated that this series is a soft reboot of sorts of the show, I think both of these may be too “inside baseball” for what the ultimate revelation is. Though, I could be proven wildly wrong, of course.
The highlight of this installment, beyond the scenery, is the moment the Doctor and the TARDIS are reunited. The Doctor’s begging the universe to let her get back with her time machine and her reaction when it materializes are spot-on perfect and may have even given me a little lump in the throat. Seeing the interior was nice. But like the new theme and titles, it may take some time to get used to it.
Overall, a solid second installment and one that has me curious to see where things go next. If the through line of the season is trying to get everyone back home, I can go with that. I just hope that we get to know a bit more about who these characters are as we head back home.