The Ghost Monument

Story No. 304 There you are!
Production Code Series 11, Episode 2
Dates October 14, 2018

With Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Mark Tonderai
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Synopsis: Searching for the TARDIS, the fam get caught up in an interplanetary alien race.


Fresh Look, Dull Story by Jason A. Miller 22/1/21

I've now seen Jodie Whittaker's second aired episode twice, and it's just not very interesting. No stakes, only a few glimpses of monsters, only three proper guest characters, and nobody dies. The thing looks great: the South African location filming lends a reality to the desert scenes that we haven't seen much on this show before; the opening shot in space with the zoom-in on Jodie's eye is kinda cool; and the talking CGI snake-fabric things (I confess I'm not quite sure what those were all about) work pretty well... for the scant few seconds that they're on screen.

But, and this is a worrying aspect of Season 11 in general and any Chris Chibnall thing in specific -- what is The Ghost Monument about? What is its point, its theme, its reason for existing? Where is the story here that Chibnall needed to tell us? There are hints dropped about the Stenza being the big bad of the season, but then we don't see them again or even hear about them again for another eight episodes. There's concern about the TARDIS, but it's found at the end, wrapping up the one-episode story arc about the missing time machine. There's the reality show aspect to two space explorers competing to win a big prize, and the first rule is that they're not allowed to kill each other -- and, surprise surprise, they don't. Art Malik as the game-show host is terrific in his two scenes and is funny in his complete dismissals of the Doctor -- but, that's just it, a two-scene cameo with no displacement on the plot, no emotional payoff.

The story is made up of episodic mini-chunks that don't connect together very logically. Imagine The Keys of Marinus, except that there were no keys to find, and no villain to defeat in the final episode. Try following the story beats of The Ghost Monument; there's not much to grasp onto. There are spaceships in trouble. Then we're marooned on a planet. Then we're on a mission to find the TARDIS. Then there's a lot of talk about how bad Epzo and Angstrom had it as children. Then there's the clue etched into the basement floor about how bad the Stenza are, but that has no effect on the rest of the episode (or season). There are robots and the talking CGI snake-fabric things, and then Art Malik gets a second scene, and then we find the TARDIS, and then...

What is this all for? What is Chris Chibnall trying to say? There's no real villain or sense of menace; it's good actors walking around the desert enjoying some gorgeous cinematography, but not doing anything particularly tense or exciting and not saying anything very lyrical or memorable.

Jodie Whittaker gets to show off some acting chops, at least, and in this, her second episode, I accepted her as "The Doctor" pretty readily. The key to her performance is that she treats every member of the guest cast differently, being icily dismissive of Epzo, and bluntly aggressive with Art Malik, while compassionate towards Angstrom. The story is a pointless nothing and the dialogue is utterly forgettable, but Jodie makes the most of this limp material, by acting as if she were Tom Baker in Pyramids of Mars (still the gold standard for Doctor-acting).

Season 11 arguably needed to be twice as good as its predecessors, in order to shut up the anti-Jodie naysayers. Unfortunately, episodes like this don't help the cause. Chibnall has nothing to say and no tools with which to say it: no good monsters, no underlying message, no well-constructed plot with mysteries and puzzles to solve to move us from scene to scene, no good dialogue. Just good actors in a great location doing nothing, and turning a 42-minute episode into something that seemingly lasts for weeks, and just ... ends.

Our erstwhile editor Dr. Smith? has said many times on this site that Doctor Who can survive being bad, but that it can never survive being boring. Well, right now the jury is still out on whether Doctor Who has survived Ghost Monument and Season 11.