“Okay you three. I’m almost gonna miss you.”
That’s what the Doctor said to Ryan, Yaz, and Graham as she pointed her newly made sonic screwdriver at a homemade teleport device. She thought she’d be reunited with her beloved TARDIS and settle into her new life cycle. Instead, she and her newly minted companions found themselves floating in deep space with no sign of the Doctor’s iconic ship in sight.
Luckily the group is picked up by two different ships piloting towards a planet called Desolation. Angstrom nabs Graham and Ryan, while Epzo crash lands with Yaz and the Doctor in tow—or, in the Doctor’s case, at the helm of the ship.
Once the time travelers are reunited on the sandy planet, it becomes clear that Angstrom and Epzo are the last contestants in a brutal race for glory and freedom (by way of a very large prize). The whole lot of characters stumble into a tent which features a hologram of IIin, the last winner of the rally. As the current gamemaster of sorts, he gives both the contestants and time travelers clues of how to make it to the finish line—don’t touch the water, and never travel at night. A flickering hologram of the finish line reveals what the Doctor was trying to find at the end of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”—her TARDIS. The Doctor and her crew have no choice but to follow along in hopes of making it to her ship safely—and return home.
As the team interacts with the contestants, their motivations become clear. Angstrom is in it to save what’s left of her family (who are still on a planet being ethnically cleansed by the Stenza; the alien race we met last episode). Epzo, on the other hand, is in it for himself, being taught to trust no one by an abusive mother. All he wants is to win and kick back with a fancy self-lighting cigar. Yaz suddenly misses her family even though she’s barely been gone a day, while Ryan and Graham continue to struggle with their new family dynamic now that Grace is gone.
And thus lies the crux of the episode. For two people pitted against each other for one prize, neither has time or energy to help the Doctor or her friends, but over the course of the episode, she shows both the contestants and her friends why teamwork matters the most. For starters, this is Ryan, Yaz and Graham’s first journey to an alien planet, and it’s incredibly dangerous. The Doctor has to figure out what caused the planet to turn deadly and keep everyone safe. When they stumble into a shooting range, Ryan’s first inclination is to fight back with a loaded laser gun, an approach the Doctor warns against with a simple remark: “Brains over bullets—we out think them.” Ryan still gives it a go, and when he realizes it isn’t like the video games he loves playing back in Sheffield, it’s up to the Doctor to take the latter approach, finding a way to stun the robots and buy them time to escape.
The lot of characters travel deeper underground through a set of tunnels where the Doctor struggles to discover how the planet turned deadly. Angstrom warns they’ve gone off course, while Epzo mentions he simply doesn’t care, which leads to the Doctor launching into a biting line about her purpose in the galaxy at large.
“There was a catastrophic event here,” she explains. “And as hard as it is for you to understand you are not the only life form in this universe, some of us feel a duty to others who might be in trouble.”
The Doctor sends Epzo off to rest, and she uses her trusty sonic to light up a console that includes a map of the tunnels. Deeper in they find a room with a message scrawled on the floor from the people who were there before—scientists who were captured and forced to turn the planet into an utter wasteland filled with terrors like the Remnants, ribbon-like monsters who scare and suffocate their victims.
With both the Remnants and the killer robot guards on their tails, the crew is forced back up into the cold desert night into a gas field. Ryan once again has to face a challenge of going up a ladder (last episode he nearly slipped off due to his coordination disorder), but the Doctor is right there by his side, encouraging him just as his Nan would have done, and telling him to focus his mind on other facts or thoughts as he climbs.
Once on the surface, they are surrounded by a gang of hungry Remnants, ready to devour them all. The Doctor begs they focus on her while she reveals her plan to escape them in pieces to the group, asking them to dig deep and mentioning that gas is lighter than air. The Remnants taunt her more, teasing about “the timeless child” which makes her pause. As they attempt to overtake her, she gives Graham a clue that makes him grab Epzo’s fancy cigar which the Doctor ignites by snapping her fingers, burning all the Remnants in the process.
By morning they’ve reached the finish line tent—but no TARDIS. Angstrom and Epzo quarrel once more over who should win, with the Doctor making a compelling suggestion. Both contestants enter the tent, demanding a dual win for their efforts. IIin balks at this until both contestants threaten to find him and make him suffer. He caves and teleports away, leaving the Doctor and her friends seemingly stranded. The Doctor looks properly upset for breaking her promise of getting them home safely, revealing they’ll not make it through another rotation of the planet.
But in the distance, a familiar sound is heard—the TARDIS finally materializing atop a hill.
“Come to daddy, I mean mummy,” the Doctor exclaims, still getting used to her new form. “I really need you right now.”
While the TARDIS has only been gone for two episodes, the love and affection in Jodie Whittaker’s voice in the moment could cause a lump in any fan’s throat. Out of all the relationships the Doctor has had in the course of the series, none is as deep or as important as that of the Doctor and their TARDIS. Keyless, she confesses she can’t get in, but the TARDIS lets her in and the console room is starkly different. Marrying the grunge elements of Nine and Ten’s TARDIS, the rest of the console room feels much more organic with glowing crystal pillars and old school nobs and foot petals that produce Custard Cream tea biscuits.
The companions enter in awe with the Doctor explaining the age-old selling point for traveling with her—it travels in both space and time—with the promise of getting them home.
“The Ghost Monument” felt a bit like The Hunger Games in space, especially when both contestants demanded to be crowned winners (nary a poisonous berry in sight). It also showcased an important lesson that looks to be Chris Chibnall’s cornerstone for this series with a decidedly ensemble cast: you shouldn’t go it alone. This episode also rounded out the elements many fans were waiting on in the first episode. This included bright and lush Technicolor credits and a version of the iconic theme song that both felt new and retro at the same time, as well as the unveiling of the TARDIS. It also hinted at possible story arcs to come, including undoing the damage the Stenza have done across the galaxy as well as the mystery of “the timeless child.” Next stop? The past—and keeping Rosa Parks’ legacy intact.
Rachel Stewart has written fandom commentary for sites such as FangirlConfessions.com, Nerdy Minds Magazine, and ESO Network, among others. She has work in the anthology “Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who.”