The second episode of Jodi Whitaker’s Doctor starts where the first one left off, with all four of them floating in space. This episode gives us the first taste of how the team reacts to dealing on another planet and we finally get to see the opening credits for this season and hear the new music. Every variation of the Doctor Who theme is a good variation. Spoilers after the video.
Graham and Ryan end up on one alien ship while the Doctor and Yaz are on another, all scooped up from the blackness of space from pilots headed to a planet known only as Desolation. It should have been where the group was beamed to but is instead missing. Graham and Ryan are concerned over where Yaz and the Doctor are but they’re slightly more concerned with impending doom since the ship they are on is less stable. We get to see some of The Doctor’s take charge brilliance, an always welcome sight and they crash land on the planet nearly running over the other three.
Turns out both ship pilots, Angstrom and Epzo, are part of an Amazing Race type contest where the winner gets a ton of money to provide safety for their clans and the losers die. They are the last two of 4000 contestants and their final task is to make their way across the incredibly hostile planet to The Ghost Monument, which appears every 1000 cycles.
The Ghost Monument is, of course, the TARDIS stuck in a loop phasing in and out of space. Naturally the Doctor is particularly eager to provide assistance to Angstrom and Epzo as they make their way across this planet “made cruel.”
The first obstacle is crossing a lake full of flesh-eating microbes with a boat that doesn’t immediately work. With some poking from Graham, after yet another go at Ryan not calling him Grandad, still such a weird plotline, Ryan takes a look and figures out the problem is the solar battery isn’t charging. They talk about Grace a bit but Ryan shuts down after Graham pushes too hard. They make a good team and manage to get the boat functioning again.
Angstrom and Epzo both share a bit about themselves as they travel across the lake. Epzo firmly believes it’s everyone for themselves, a lesson his mom taught him young by proving he can’t trust anyone. Angstrom’s planet is being systematically cleansed and her family is all either in hiding or on the run. We also get to learn a bit about Yaz here too, her father drives her bananas and she has a sister she doesn’t get on with.
Once they get across the lake they find a large, abandoned facility and split up with Angstrom and Epzo going their own ways. The ruins are full of robot guards which naturally activate and start shooting at them. Ryan decides his Call of Duty experience should be put to use here instead of listening to the Doctor about how guns always make a situation worse. Unsurprisingly that’s exactly what he manages to do. Outthinking the bullets the Doctor sends an electromagnetic pulse through the facility and knocks out the robots. Meeting up again with Angstrom and Epzo she leads them down a hatch hoping to find answers to the planet.
The hatch leads to underground labs and a series of tunnels that will let them travel the hostile planet. There they learn that scientists had been enslaved and forced to create great means of destruction by the Stenza, the monster we saw in the first episode. We learn that the Stenza killed Angstrom’s wife and took her planet too. Cloth strip things begin attacking trying to strangle them while the robots have recovered and come down after them too and shut down the life support.
Before climbing up we get a sweet moment between Ryan and the Doctor. His dyspraxia makes ladders a challenge and she’s properly impressed at how he’s kept going. On the surface there are more cloth strips and this time they talk, taunting the group about their fears and calling Thirteen The Timeless Child, hinting about things in her past even she doesn’t know, I know the creators said there’s no overarching arc this season but between the Stenza being brought up again and this casual info drop it sure seems like they have a loose definition of what an arc is. They manage to beat them by lighting Epzo’s prize cigar and setting fire to the atmosphere which is full of acetylene so very flammable.
At last, they’ve reached the end of the race. Epzo and Angstrom have a bit of a tiff over who should be the winner based on their contributions to keeping them alive on the journey and The Doctor settles it by suggesting they reach the site at the same time and split the winnings. This goes much better than when Harry Potter made this suggestion in the Goblet of Fire and they’re transported off the planet leaving our quad alone and TARDIS-less.
The Doctor gives into a bit of despair apologizing for failing them but her girl knows and gives off that oh so familiar sound and with a flick of the sonic screwdriver the police box appears and we get a beautiful and emotional reunion.
Final Thoughts: It’s a very basic episode getting to know the characters. I’m assuming this is the first one they filmed because the actors don’t gel as well as they did in the premiere. The best part was Thirteen walking into the TARDIS and the awe on her face as she whispers “oh, you redecorated.” There’s no real villain here other than the overseer of the race and mentions of the Stenza. It was nice getting a casual queerness mention with Angstrom having a wife, especially since she’s coded queer and it’s so rare that shows bother to confirm their coded characters but it really is a leg of The Amazing Race with an alien twist and while there are some very nice moments it’s overall just a soft filler episode.
Airs every Sunday for American audiences on BBC America at 8 PM EST, and are available for streaming the next day.