Doctor Who season 11, episode 2 recap: Planet of the Deathtraps

Photo credit: "The Ghost Monument" Doctor Who. Acquired from BBC.CO.UK
Photo credit: "The Ghost Monument" Doctor Who. Acquired from BBC.CO.UK /

An exhilarating and enlightening new installment of Doctor Who sees the Doctor and friends stranded on a planet full of deathtraps.

After last week’s invigorating season premiere, Doctor Who shifted gears by throwing the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her new pals into the deep end. Not only was the group thrown into an unfamiliar hostile environment with few resources, but they also had to deal with the vacuum of space, a crashing spaceship and a couple of reckless racers. In addition to being unpredictable and surprisingly funny, the episode did a lot to establish the personalities of the new cast. And most intriguingly, this installment suggested that the new season might not be as divorced from established Doctor Who mythos is it first seemed.

The fact that the episode touched on all those different elements without feeling overly overstuffed speaks very well of new showrunner Chris Chibnall. He’s currently playing a long game with his inaugural season as Doctor Who’s head writer and what he’s set up so far is really engaging. While it’s far too early to make any real judgments about his tenure, it’s promising that he’s starting out so strong from the gate. And that the collaborators he’s enlisted for his new direction are all up for the task. Hopefully, the show can maintain this level of high-quality for the rest the season.

“They’ll be writing operas about our pointless deaths unless we take drastic action right now”

“The Ghost Monument” began right where “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” began, with The Doctor, Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) floating in deep space after a teleportation mishap. Thankfully, the Doctor and friends were recused by a pair of intergalactic racers named Angstrom (Susan Lynch) and Epzo (Shaun Dooley). Unfortunately, a problem with changing planetary orbits meant that the group was forced to land on a barren and dangerous world called Desolation.

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The group encountered a hologram interface that informed them that Angstrom and Epzo were part of a vast intergalactic race called the Last Ever Rally of the 12 Galaxies. Its grand prize was a life-changing amount of space credits. And the finish line of the race was at a distant point on Desolation called the Ghost Monument, which was a constantly phase shifting TARDIS. The Doctor used reason and Venusian aikido to convince the racers to work together. The Doctor, Ryan and Graham worked together to get a derelict boat to function.

The most interesting thing about the Doctor’s party time on Desolation was how the companions reacted. While obviously frazzled, the group held up well under strain. They were anxious about the new circumstances but never despairing. And their confidence in the Doctor’s ability to deliver on her promise to get them home never really wavered. There was a refreshing lack of false drama in the episode. Instead of the expected bickering and complaining, they were all focused on getting home. It’ll be interesting to see if the camaraderie endures what promises to be a challenging set of adventures.

“I’m really good in a tight spot. At least, I have been historically. I’m sure I still am”

While on the voyage, Angstrom explained that she was in the rally win enough money to save her family from being “systematically cleansed.” And Epzo revealed that an abusive childhood gave him a nihilistic outlook on life. After crossing the ocean, the group encountered some ruins that were also a shooting gallery for a squad of sniper robots. Though Epzo was injured, the Doctor took out the bots with an EMP. The group subsequently discovered a vast network of underground tunnels, which the Doctor found perplexing given that the planet was devoid of all life.

A series of drawings revealed that Desolation was made into a weapons testing ground by the Stenza, the same race the Doctor dealt with last week. Angstrom noted the Stenza were responsible for cleansing her homeworld. The group was forced to abandon the tunnel’s life support systems were shut down and had to fend off a horde of telepathic murder rags. Angstrom and Epzo claimed the grand prize together and were whisked off the planet by the interface. Though initially devastated by being unable to keep her promise, the Doctor was able to stabilize the TARDIS’ shifting and bring her new crew aboard.

Another interesting aspect of “Ghost Monument” was seeing the Doctor go through some major self-doubt. Her convictions and determination were unchanged but she was clearly struggling with being unsure of her new regeneration. Chibnall subtly wove in that insecurity throughout the episode but it was most obvious in the end went it seemed like the group was stuck on Desolation. However, the belief of her team and reconnection with the TARDIS did the trick. In addition to being a nice one-off arc for the Doctor, it was a strong illustration of the episode’s theme that people really do need other people to thrive.

 “This is proper awesome”

In addition to all the great character building, “The Ghost Monument” introduced elements that certainly seem like the play an important role in the rest of the season. One is the Stenza, the race of trophy hunters that were introduced in the season premiere. While they initially seemed like a one-off monster of the week a la Prisoner Zero or the Racnoss, there’s clearly more to their story. With their planet-sized weapon factories and agenda of intergalactic domination, it seems like they might be recurring enemies akin to the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels. If that’s the case, I really hope they get more texture than space Nazis who are really into big game hunting.

The other element was something mentioned by the murder rags. Although their comments were vague in nature, something about a “timeless child” and how the Doctor was “abandoned and unknown” were hinted at being important. With those comments could be applied directly to the Doctor herself, my feeling is that they were about someone else, specific the Time Lady’s offspring. After all, while we know the Doctor has a granddaughter, but we’ve never seen or heard of her children. Well, aside from the female clone of the Doctor introduced in season 4. While this mysterious child could be a season-spanning McGuffin, my feeling is that the character will be introduced as an antagonist.

Doctor Who season 11 is an ‘inclusive, accessible’ series for Whovians and newcomers alike. light. Related Story

Two episodes in, I’m really enjoying the new era of Doctor Who. I especially enjoy its lack of convolution as compared to the Moffatt period. And I like the show has found a way to be funny without being glib. On the subtler side, the Doctor’s running commentary on events cracked me up. And on a broader note, Ryan disastrous attempt at playing IRL Call of Duty was hilarious.  Plus, in returning to a standard runtime, this episode avoided the languorousness that hampered the season premiere. Right now Doctor Who feels more engaging and fun than it has in years. And I’m curious to see how the new TARDIS team will interact with Rosa Parks in week’s installment.

Are you enjoying the latest incarnation of Doctor Who?

Doctor Who airs on BBC America Sunday at 8 pm.