[This review contains some minor SPOILERS!]
It was a simple matter for The Doctor to track down where The TARDIS had gone and to set up a teleporter to get to it. There were only two mistakes, which were, in fairness, rather big ones. The first was the the teleporter not only moved The Doctor but also her new friends Graham, Ryan and Yaz. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except for the second mistake – the planet they were meant to teleport to wasn’t there!
Thankfully, they managed to beat the 22,079,460,347: 1 odds that a space ship would happen to pass by within the 30 second window before the exposure to the vacuum killed them completely. In fact, they beat the odds twice as they all got picked up by two separate ships, who were also searching for the disappearing planet.
The two ships, as it happens, contain the last two surviving contestants in the greatest race through space in history. With an unimaginable fortune at stake and transport off of the world called Desolation only awarded to the winner, The Doctor and company must join the hunt for the mysterious Ghost Monument that holds the key to their escape.
There are times when Doctor Who is clever about filing the serial numbers off of whatever other works of popular culture might have inspired a particular episode. This is not one of those times. Though I did like the nods to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. (What? You thought it was a coincidence Graham said “Don’t Panic?” after they somehow get saved from dying in the vacuum of space?)
This episode might well have been called The Great Race In Space, if the actual racing in space part didn’t end about six minutes into the episode. As it is, with a world that was terraformed into a gigantic deathtrap and a concept rooted in reality television and survival horror, the comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable.
That being said, Chris Chibnall’s script does wonders with that basic concept and builds something much larger and more original out of it. More than any other Doctor Who episode in recent memory, “The Ghost Monument” truly captures the enormous scope suggested by the series’ setting and implies a much larger universe we are just barely beginning to comprehend around the corner.
In fact, this is the episode’s one weakness – there is so much going on it has trouble picking a focus. Between the revelation of what Desolation once was, the two contestants in the race who don’t particularly care to deal with The Doctor until they realize the wisdom of working together to survive and some lines that seem to hint at a larger mystery for the rest of the Series, there’s a lot to work through. We don’t get much more development of the new companions this time around and Yaz is particularly ill-served in this regard.
Still, these are minor flaws in an otherwise sparking gem. Series 11 of Doctor Who continues to impress. And the new TARDIS design looks fantastic!