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Doctor Who - The Ghost Monument - Review: "Deserted"

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© BBC Pictures
Episode: 11.02 "The Ghost Monument"
Directed by: Mark Tonderai
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Air date: 14 October 2018

First of all, I definitely enjoyed this one more than the premiere. Both the characters and the story were more engaging and memorable, so this latest adventure was a joy to watch. Also, this seemed like the conclusion of the initial setup and now we're ready for the main mystery to be more intertwined with the regular "alien of the week" format. With the new Doctor, new TARDIS and the sonic screwdriver, time to really start a new chapter of Doctor Who.

A quick recap for starters. The Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yasmin are saved from a deep space by two pilots, Angstrom and Epzo, heading towards a planet called Desolation. Everyone is reunited on the surface of the seemingly deserted yet hostile planet where the Doctor and friends learn about the intergalactic competition organized by a mysterious alien Ilin. Angstrom and Epzo, the finalists in the race, have a final task to complete and whoever manages to reach an object known as the Ghost Monument before the planet completes a single rotation, will win a transportation off Desolation and enough money to support their families. The other person will be left stranded on the deadly planet with no way out. Once the Doctor realizes that the Ghost Monument is in fact the TARDIS stuck in the middle of phasing, everyone heads in the same direction. Although the group temporarily splits from the pilots, who continue to compete against each other, they are all reunited in the face of the danger. The Doctor discovers that all the residents of Desolation died as a result of lethal science experiments, conducted by the warrior race Stenza (introduced in the season premiere). The Doctor and her companions are attacked first by the sniperbots and then by cloth-like creatures called the Remnants but eventually manage to get out safely to the location of Ghost Monument. Angstrom and Epzo demand from Ilin to be recognized as equal winners of the race and are teleported from the planet. Not being able to find the TARDIS, the Doctor starts doubting whether she can save her friends and apologizes for their predicament but before the end of the conversation the TARDIS finally materialises. The police box has changed, both externally and internally, but the Doctor embraces the changes and offers her companions a trip back home...

Starting from the story and the guest characters, I definitely liked that they didn't follow the typical "alien of the week" format. There was more than meets the eye in both Angstrom and Epzo. After learning more about Angstrom's background and the reason why she joined the race, it wasn't really hard to start rooting for her. Her life sounded like a painful struggle, so if this competition could help her save the people she loves, it would all be worth it after all. She even seemed to watch out for Epzo, she saved his life despite the fact they're on opposite sides and constantly arguing with each other. Epzo himself wasn't especially likeable character, but he did have his moments and in the end made a right choice when it mattered. I didn't really mind him, certainly not as much as some other similar aliens we've encountered in the past. Also, that story about his childhood speaks volumes about how much the people around you influence your choices, now and in the future. As for Ilin, can't say this organizer made any particular impression on me at all. He was rather typical in his behavior, fitting for his placement in the story. Now, for the main characters.

The Doctor is certainly growing on me, might be even faster than Twelve. While she still seemed a bit lost and less confident than her previous selves during the hour, I think a big part of it was related to the loss of the TARDIS. After all: "It’s always you and her, isn’t it? Long after the rest of us have gone. A boy and his box off to see the universe." Never keep the Doctor away from her TARDIS for too long. Speaking of our favorite ship, interesting choice for the new design. Personally, what I liked the most about it was the Doctor's reaction to the reveal. The TARDIS is changing with the Doctor, so it's perfectly suited for her. Which is why her pure joy was lovely to see. I've been looking for a right word to describe Thirteen and the best one so far seems to be very "human". Absolutely mad, wonderfully brave, deeply caring human. Or maybe that's just a contrast I keep thinking of, when I remember the beginning of Twelve and his need to turn away from a hug. I love that even though the Doctor's regenerated it's not actually a fresh start but a true growth and development of the character, resulting in this new version of our favorite Time Lord/Lady. Some aspects of the personality continue to evolve, while the others stay the same. The Doctor doesn't let go, her need to find out what happened to this new planet led the group to a horrifying discovery but also helped them survive all the traps on their way. Finally, there's a beautiful brightness around the Doctor, like a light coming out of the darkness, like she's hopeful and happier again. And that's really the best we could expect after all the tragic events of season ten. I'm very interested to see what's next. The Doctor keeps surprising herself, but there was also a mysterious reference to "The Timeless Child" which might be something to explore about the Doctor's past. And that's always a great lead to follow. Also speaking of this scene, really loved the theme playing in the background of this confrontation. Feels both new and familiar, and sounds great.

When it comes to the companions, Graham is certainly standing out for me. Despite starting his adventure with the Doctor from a statement that he doesn't believe in aliens, he's already become a voice of calm and reason in the group. I especially like the way he was taking charge and looking out for his friends (including the Doctor) after waking up on a spaceship travelling through space. I considered questioning this fast growth until I realized why he's changed his mind like that. He's trying to keep Grace's spirit alive by imagining how she would react to these new circumstances and how excited she would be to carry on. It's almost like he's following a voice in his head, an echo of a loved one who might be lost but never forgotten. It's a beautiful sentiment and I also enjoy the way Graham keeps taking care of Ryan, even when he's not met with a kind response. Ryan is still a question mark for me. Of course he's struggling with a loss of his grandmother but his mind about the Doctor and the situation tend to change quite often, making it harder to see how he really feels. While he may not be the nicest when it comes to Graham, I do like how much he's trying to overcome all the difficulties on his way. "Why is it always ladders?" Also, though his idea about the guns was certainly not the right one, it did make me laugh for a moment when he tried to go all Call of Duty on the sniperbots. Meanwhile, Yasmin got an opportunity to bond with Angstrom and support Ryan with his dyspraxia. She still seems like the least memorable member of the group, so I'm hoping that she'll get her chance to shine in the next episode. So far I did enjoy seeing her share something about her family and find a common language with a complete stranger. Similar to Graham, she follows the Doctor and puts her faith in her abilities after what they've survived together. Yaz also tries to keep the Doctor's spirits up when she's starting to doubt herself at the end of the hour. Certainly seems like a good and loyal friend to me, rather quiet but with great potential for the future.

I've been wondering about the theme of the season and so far it looks like it might be the Stenza. They seem different than a long list of enemies the Doctor had to face in the past. There's something strange and difficult about their cruelty for me. I think it may be their reason for causing all the pain and destruction. Unlike the other alien races we've encountered, the search for power, domination or revenge don't appear to be driving them, instead they're hunting people for sport and ravaging planets only to develop new weaponry. Almost like these lives are nothing to them at all. If they're to be the main adversary of the season, I'm afraid the Doctor and her friends are far from safe yet. The fact that the Stenza are also responsible for Grace's death can also prove to be an important motivation for the group to stay by the Doctor's side. I'm very much interested to learn more about the story ahead.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. Any thoughts about the new opening titles? I think I'm still attached to the ones from RTD era, so this intro seemed fine (very 3D like) but not a favorite. Might still grow on me, though. You never know.
2. The TARDIS external and internal changes - similar to the titles and the music, I think it might take a moment to get used to it, but it looks fine so far. Somehow metallic and organic at the same time. Truly alien. What do you think? I'm in between, but anyone here who really loves or hates the change already?
3. Still regarding the new Doctor - I've seen some comments with people saying she might already be their favorite. Quite surprised to see such a quick response, to be honest. But I'm glad to hear positive feedback this time around. Personally, I really like Thirteen so far. Sometimes she does remind me of a couple of favorites.
4. Didn't notice too many references to previous Who stories so far. That's one of the things I enjoyed the most about last season, so I'm waiting to see if we'll get more with "The Timeless Child" conversation. I did like Venusian aikido trick (thank you Third Doctor).
5. I love these new shots this season. Such a beautiful cinematography, both from a distance and the close-ups. I especially enjoyed the longer take in the beginning, on Epzo's ship, with barely any cuts in between. Definitely a highlight of the season so far.

Memorable quotes:
1. The Doctor: "Right, quick update. I made a terrible mistake, we shouldn’t be here. I’m gonna fix it and get you guys home. I promise. Soon as I figure out where we are."
Graham: "How’re you gonna do that?"
The Doctor: "Not sure. I’m treating it as a chance to surprise myself. Oh! By the way, welcome to what I presume is your first alien planet. Don’t touch anything."
2. The Doctor: "I’m really good in a tight spot. At least I have been historically. I’m sure I still am. If we stick together—if you trust me—we can get out of this. Right. Let’s get a shift on."
3. Graham: "She’s our best hope. Or only option, depending on your politics."
4. Graham: "Are we ever going to talk about your nan? I mean just ’cause all this is going on don’t mean to say it didn’t happen. See I cope, myself, with asking the question: If Grace was here, what would she say?"
Ryan: "What’d you reckon?"
Graham: "Well right now she’d be going: What’s the matter with you? You’re on another planet. How cool is that!"
5. The Doctor: "Oh. You’ve redecorated. I really like it."

What did you think about "The Ghost Monument"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. Check out the press release & promo for the next episode "Rosa". As always, thanks for reading!

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