After last week’s triumphant crash-landing in Sheffield, it’s off to the more familiar territory of deepest space for the second outing by Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor.
But if the scenery has changed, the all-new Doctor Who remains a delight almost as effervescent as Whittaker’s rainbow-pattern knitwear. Indeed, diehard Doctor Who fans might well judge “The Ghost Monument” an improvement on Whittaker’s acclaimed debut seven days previously. There are killer robots, gothic spaceships and spectacular alien vistas – all the intergalactic boxes ticked.
This is a dystopian rhapsody with phasers set to stunning and again featuring Hollywood-grade production values. The Doctor’s quest to reclaim the Tardis – the one she’d fallen out of shortly after her transformation from Peter Capaldi at Christmas – has taken her to “Desolation”, a formerly thriving world now reduced to a bone-bleached wasteland (insert your own Brexit joke, etc).
Whittaker once again demonstrates why she may potentially go down as the defining Doctor Who of her generation. Her patter is wry and knockabout (“I was a hologram for three weeks – the gossip I picked up”).
Yet the larking is interwoven with a refreshing sincerity and a determination to be true to her friends. Behold the first Time Lord of the modern era to actually feel faintly like a real person rather than a job-lot of eccentricities and arched eyebrows (that said, points must be deducted for a new credit sequence that pairs the iconic Doctor Who title with what look like globules of milk dancing in zero gravity).
Along for the ride are recurring reluctant sidekicks Yasmin (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) – each understandably perturbed at being beamed from South Yorkshire to the ends of the cosmos. They are accompanied by feuding interstellar treasure hunters Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley), who together pick up our space-hopping tag team after the Doctor’s attempt to zap herself aboard the Tardis goes awry.
What follows is a gadabout mash-up of Mad Max: Fury Road and one of those episodes of The Apprentice where the contestants are given six hours to assemble a shopping list of wildly improbable household items.
Across the desert the Doctor and her crew do roam, combatting hooded robots – every bit as cool as you would reasonably expect hooded robots to be – before being attacked by a race of mind-reading space handkerchiefs referred to as the “Remnants”.
They also discover that Desolation was turned into one huge deathtrap by scientists forced to toil at the behest of the evil Stenza – the very intergalactic ne’er-do-wells of whom Tzim-Sha had sought to become leader via his manhunt around Sheffield in season opener, “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”. And there is a teasing reference, by the Remnants, to the Doctor as “the timeless child”. Is this an over-arching storyline we see before us?
Here, new showrunner Chris Chibnall demonstrates his empathetic understanding of the longest-running franchise in science fiction (Chibnall was a dedicated Whovian long before becoming a big name in small-screen drama).
Other space-faring shows give us bug-eyed aliens and trigger-happy cyborgs. But only Doctor Who can induce shivers with sentient strips of cloth that beam inside the heads of their victims and gorge on the fear (the Remnants represent the ultimate weapon created by the kidnapped scientists).
There is a happy ending, of course – under all the fashionable grit and whizzy FX, this is still fundamentally a kids’ show. Upon reaching the end of the obstacle course, Epzo and Angstrom are named joint winners of the “Rally of the Twelve Galaxies” by Art Malik’s mercurial gamesmaster Ilin and beam off to a life of unimaginable riches.
And the “ghost monument” waiting at the finish line is revealed to be – well, of course – the Doctor’s mislaid Tardis, its cavernous interior treated to a swanky honey-hued refit. Best of all, the evil space hankies are defeated with the help of a self-igniting alien cigar – a sentence sure to trigger tingles among Doctor Who fans.
Crammed with shoot-outs, zinging delivery by Whittaker and haunting interstellar landscapes, “The Ghost Monument” arguably adds up to an even more impressive feat than the previous episode. First time out, all Whittaker really had to do was talk and simultaneously wield a sonic screwdriver and the audience would have been relieved she was at least vaguely up to the job.
But now comes the harder task of showing she’s here for the long haul. Any lingering doubts are assuaged in an adventure that tightly hugs Doctor Who’s best-loved cliches and is all the richer for it.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies