Review – Doctor Who: Series 11, Episode 2: The Ghost Monument

With a modern variation on the classic regeneration story now behind her, and with a trio of new companions in tow, Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor hits the ground running in her first post-regenerative adventure. To a large degree The Ghost Monument, written by new showrunner Chris Chibnall, is the first time we really get to see what this new era of the show has to offer in full force, outside the context of a special event episode. We get the Thirteenth Doctor's first alien planet, the first look at her revamped TARDIS, and the reveal of her new opening credits sequence and theme music. The balance revealed by all of the above factors is excellent: a very effective and enjoyable mix of old and new, as Chibnall clearly draws from various eras of the show's past, but also rejuvenates it and makes it feel fresh, in keeping with Whittaker's decidedly different Doctor.

Each showrunner's tenure on Doctor Who has a pretty distinctive attitude and personality, and after six seasons (and some specials) of Steven Moffat's distinctive style, Chibnall's feels like a welcome change of pace. The attitude of both this episode and the season premiere is a whole lot less dark, angsty, and horror-tinged, and a lot more adventure-serial. It certainly feels like a modern take on Doctor Who, but one that is heavily inspired by the show's history. The central premise of the episode, about a sadistic Mad Mad Mad Mad World-type chase across the galaxy for a high-stakes prize, feels like one that would have been right at home in the excellent and too-often-overlooked Sylvester McCoy or Peter Davison eras, or the Paul McGann audio adventures that kept the show alive in the late-1990s and early-2000s. The same can be said for the classic-sci-fi/adventure sensibility of the storytelling, which feels very much like a modern revisitation of the genre's roots. This also extends to the excellent new version of the theme song, which sounds heavily inspired by the iconic version from the Tom Baker years. Stylistically, though, this Doctor Who feels quite modern, with its super-widescreen cinematography making a very cinematic impression, while its visuals create their own unique overhaul of the show's classic aesthetics. Just as modern are the themes, with the series' trademark humanism, optimism, and philosophy of non-violence feeling very much in tune with the struggles of the world in 2018. These are the same beliefs that the Doctor and the show have always had, but against the backdrop of current events they feel very timely in their execution, particularly coming from the powerful voice of the first female Doctor, who again feels right on time in an era when we need as many feminist heroes as we can get.

Whittaker is excellent in the role, as she settles into it after her regeneration. Her Doctor is certainly still finding herself, so it will likely take a few more episodes to fully get a handle on her characterization (it took much of Capaldi's first season, after all), but thus far she is doing a great job. Especially after the endearingly abrasive and alien Capaldi it is striking how much more empathetic and human her Doctor is, recalling elements of probably the most human (for lack of a better term) Doctors, Peter Davison and Paul McGann. But as with so much about this episode, her performance is an excellent mix of drawing from the past while looking forward, and her Doctor is very much her own: a unique take on the character with a unique brand of eccentricity, wanderlust, and need for knowledge who thoroughly embodies the Doctor's ideals and philosophy in her own way. She is off to an extremely promising start and I cannot wait to get to know her Doctor further. With the unusually large number of new companions, it is not surprising that they have not yet gotten much opportunity for characterization. All three of them get some strong moments in this episode, but with the focus still so strongly being on introducing this new era as a whole and its new Doctor in particular, there is only so much time to go around. As it is, the verdict is still out on just how good of companions these three ultimately will be, but there is plenty of time for them to develop into more well-rounded characters over the coming weeks.

The Ghost Monument solidifies The Woman Who Fell To Earth's strong introduction to the Jodie Whittaker/Chris Chibnall era of Doctor Who, and instills plenty of confidence that this is going to be a great era for the show. With its mix of classic-sci-fi and classic-Who roots and modern style and sensibilities, this era has a thoroughly enjoyable voice which feels refreshingly different, while still very familiar. New and classic Doctor Who fans will find a lot to like here.

- Christopher S. Jordan

Don't let this review get lost in time and space - share it!