We go straight from the intro to a pretty classic episode of Doctor Who, complete with spaceships, running, beeping alarms, and, of course, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) trying to get everyone out alive.
Picking up immediately where the previous episode left off, with Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) floating in space. They’re rescued by Angstrom (Susan Lynch), a pilot who is in the middle of an intergalactic race. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Yas (Mandip Gill) have been picked up by another racer named Epzo (Shaun Dooley). While Angstrom is doing just fine and lands safely on planet Desolation, Epzo’s ship is out of gas and taking hits, resulting in the Doctor having to help him make a crash that they can walk away from. Epzo and Angstrom trade barbs as competitors, before the group reunites and heads to meet with the race’s organizer Ilin (Art Malik).
Ilin says that they’re supposed to finish the race by reaching the “Ghost Monument,” an object that apparently phases into reality every 1000 days. The Doctor quickly realizes that the Ghost Monument is the TARDIS, so the race is on to get to the TARDIS before it phases out again. The four catch up to the two racers and are forced to share a boat ride with them across the flesh-eating oceans of Desolation. It turns out, naturally, that Epzo and Angstrom both have dark backstories that forced them into this race.
After crossing the ocean the group reaches a deserted city guarded by robots. Ryan tries to take them out by running out and shooting them, only to hilariously be forced to flee when the guns don’t do anything to the robots. As he screams in fear, the Doctor uses an EMP to disable the enemy. They rejoin Epzo and Angstrom and find an underground base. It’s revealed that the Stenza (the race of the Predator knock-off from the last episode) used this planet to research weapons, including the Remnants, which are psychic creepy-voiced (Ian Gelder) clothing-looking entities which clear up the wounded from battlefields while also squeezing people to death and causing terror to enemies. The Remnants hint at something in the Doctor’s background that even she doesn’t know before the team defeats them.
The next morning, they make it to the victory tent, where both Epzo and Angstrom claim victory together. Ilin allows this, but, apparently angry at the Doctor, only teleports Epzo and Angstrom off planet, leaving the Doctor and companions stranded. Fortunately, the TARDIS briefly phases in. The Doctor is able to stabilize it back into normal reality and the pair are finally, joyfully reunited. The Doctor finds that the TARDIS has reconfigured not only the outside (slightly changing the appearance of the police box) but also the inside, taking on a more crystalline appearance. The new companions properly pay respect to the ship’s awesomeness and the Doctor takes off, intent on taking them all home.
Well, this is a solid continuation of the last episode. Honestly, it was much better than the premier, but it didn’t have the burden of introducing 3 new companions and the Doctor, so that’s forgivable. This is fairly dark, due to the levels of murder and genocide that is recounted both by Angstrom and also the Doctor when she discovers the history of the planet, but it still has enough fun and creativity in there to make it feel like a regular Doctor Who episode.
There’s an old screenwriting statement that the best friend to a writer is a ticking clock. Having time constraints on the story automatically gives the characters and the plot a sense of urgency that instantly elevates the tension without distracting from the story. Despite the fact that the main character has a time machine, Doctor Who frequently embraces this, putting a time-clock on the end of the world or something similar. This episode is a great example, because at first the Doctor has no reason to try and participate in the Death Race until it’s revealed that the final location is the TARDIS.
Now, it would have been easy to make this into a true race, with the Doctor and companions trying to outpace Epzo and Angstrom, but they chose not to for a very good reason. One of the themes of the show in general, and seems to be repeated by this particular incarnation, is that people should work together. The Doctor herself even says it outright: “We’re stronger together.” It’s a solid message that really works within this episode.
A few notes about how Jodie Whittaker is portraying the Doctor. First, she is one of the more polite incarnations to her companions, even thanking them for not bothering her too much about the fact that she accidentally got them stuck on an alien planet. Second, she uses more direct methods at times than many of her previous incarnations, including using Venusian Aikido during this episode to easily incapacitate Epzo, something the Third Doctor (Pertwee) was fond of. Third, she does the dramatic almost Harry-Potter-spellcasting-esque draw and point with the Sonic Screwdriver, and I love it.
I haven’t quite determined how to feel about the rest of the cast. Yas doesn’t really seem to have found her niche yet. Ryan’s dislike of Graham continues, and I hope they eventually really get into why he doesn’t like him. Ryan’s dyspraxia is still an issue, although when running he also suffers from “Prometheus School of Running Away” disease.
The other big note is that we’ve now had two big episodes in a row featuring the Stenza. I have to think they’re going to be the big bad guys of this arc. I’m not a huge fan of the embedded tooth appearance, but the haunted clothes of death from this episode was excellent. So, we’ll see what happens.
Overall, I thought this episode was a solid hour of television. I give it an A-.
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