Episode two of the latest Doctor Who series, and it’s an absolutely standard new series episode two. These episodes are never the most popular or well-remembered of the series, but they always have a very important job to do.
In a typical new series episode two, we usually get a companion experiencing their first trip to somewhere that’s either not their home planet, not their time of origin, or both. This episode is no exception, with Graham, Yasmin and Ryan travelling to the planet Desolation, though unusually it’s not in the Doctor’s TARDIS, as she hasn’t recovered it yet. Indeed, she didn’t even mean to take them along on her travels, so at this point they’re still very much ‘accidental’ companions, whom the Doctor intends to return home as soon as possible.
In the meantime, though, we’ve got an adventure to get on with. The plot of the episode is very simple, probably moreso than any episode since the series returned in 2005, which is a huge culture shock after the complicated storylines of the Moffat era. The Doctor and companions are rescued from the floating-in-space predicament in which they found themselves at the end of the last episode by a couple of contestants in a rally, Angstrom and Epzo, who turn out to be the two finalists competing for some prize money and a way off the planet. A man called Ilin appears by hologram and explains that the final stage is a race to the ‘Ghost Monument’, which turns out to be the Doctor’s TARDIS, fading in and out of view. After a boat trip and a fight with killer robots, during which the Doctor saves everyone’s lives multiple times, they reach the location of the monument (although there is no sign of the TARDIS), and after some persuasion, Ilin agrees to declare Angstrom and Epzo joint winners and transports them off the planet, leaving the Doctor and companions behind. Although the Doctor loses hope for a moment, the TARDIS reappears, and the Doctor sets the coordinates to take the companions home. The ‘next time’ trailer, however, indicates that this will not be successful.
(This, incidentally, gives me happy nostalgic vibes, as it’s reminiscent of the Doctor trying and failing to return classic companions like Ian, Barbara and Tegan home for multiple consecutive stories and getting them caught up in adventures instead.)
Another important job of a typical episode two is to allow us to get to know the companions better. On this score, I feel the episode falls down a bit. I love the character of Graham, who is well-written, but the younger companions still feel drawn in very light strokes to me. Ryan has a couple of interesting character beats, with his continuing reluctance to get close to step-grandfather Graham in the aftermath of his grandmother’s death and his ongoing struggle with his dyspraxia, but Yasmin, at the moment, feels like a complete cypher – there’s nothing that elevates her character above ‘generic young female companion’ yet. This is a little worrying, as it seems to confirm longstanding fan worries about three companions constituting an ‘overcrowded TARDIS’ where there’s not enough space for everyone to have satisfying character development. However, I will reserve judgment, as I’m still hoping, like I said last week, that each companion will have their share of the focus during this series.
Next week we’re back on Earth, but in a different time period. It looks like a ‘celebrity historical’ – which is a type of Doctor Who story we’ve not had in a while – featuring Rosa Parks, which should make for an interesting story!