An Action Packed Desolate Wasteland
After its cliffhanger ending last week, it was almost inevitable that the second episode of Doctor Who’s new series would begin right where it left off. After a retro-style credit screen boasting echoes of classic Who, we’re thrust right into the heart of the action with the Doctor and her newfound companions floating aimlessly in space. Scooped up aboard separate alien vessels, Graham and Ryan find themselves together while an exasperated Doctor tries to reason with her pilot as Yas struggles to keep up. After crash landing on a desert planet complete with three suns and no sign of life, a race ensues between the two separate pilots with the promise of 3 trillion in alien currency if they can make it to a strange structure called The Ghost Monument. Caught in the middle of this race for survival? The Doctor and her companions.
The rest of the episode flits between explosive action and pockets of characterisation for the supporting cast. In particular, Graham and Ryan’s continued strained relationship is fractured and awkward, accentuated by the death of Ryan’s Nan in the previous episode. There’s a clear rift between the two and it’s something that’s clearly going to be a recurring theme going forward this season. As a minor gripe, Bradley Walsh’s character is far too comedic and this is something that hinders the relationship between Step-grandfather and grandson. We saw it a little in the previous episode but here there’s a particularly important moment between the two as Graham tries to connect but it’s quickly brushed over and the plot moves on. With a little more vulnerability and depth to these scenes, they could be a great way of helping us build some empathy toward the two but Graham’s nonchalant humour only offsets this, making these moments less significant than they perhaps should be. Yas also suffers here with barely any lines but with the focus more predominantly tailored to the action, perhaps we’ll see more of her in later episodes.
With all the running around and action-packed scenes dominating the run time, there isn’t much time to build the Doctor’s character up either beyond the wondrous retorts and pockets of Tennant-esque humour that filters through. A couple of biting remarks about guns and a reminder that brains not brawn wins the day is certainly something that’s needed here; an almost self-realizing nod toward the audience that despite the action, the heart of the show is in the right place. Whether this continues to be a deciding factor going forward or if the action does offset the scientific reasoning in later episodes is anyone’s guess but those expecting a more cheesy, light-hearted Doctor Who may well begin to feel alienated with the new direction the show seems to be taking.
Continuing from last week we see another technically impressive episode boasting some gorgeously framed establishing shots. From the rolling sand dunes to the ominous ruins the group explore late on in the episode, every part of this desert world boasts blockbuster value. The various little technical tricks really help sell the more cinematic style for Doctor Who too, ranging from off-kilter frames to slight rotating shots to get the most out of every scene. With a much more cinematic feel than in previous seasons, some of the humour does fail to hit the mark and feels more contrived than it should be but for the most part it isn’t too distracting as you’re swept up in the action.
All of this builds toward the anticipated moment a lot of people were waiting for going into this episode – seeing the Tardis. After the satisfying resolution to the main storyline featuring an ensuing fight with the main antagonist, we’re graced with seeing the inside of the Tardis for the first time. As the Doctor enthusiastically chimes “You’ve redecorated…and I love it!” We’re keen to agree although this is likely to be something up for debate and a more love/hate split than we’ve seen before with fans of the show. We won’t divulge too much for spoiler purposes but along with the retro-credits at the start of the episode, it’s evident that Chris Chibnall is building something that tries to bridge the gap between classic and modern Who. After a solid first episode and another impressive episode this week, the future certainly looks a lot brighter under Chibnall and maybe, just maybe this could be the burst of life the show so desperately needed.