Doctor Who Season 11's second episode is a classic "Companion's First Alien Planet" adventure, with an Amazing Race twist.
Graham: Pythagoras never wore shades
The Doctor: Obviously, you never saw him with a hangover
When we last left our four heroes, they were floating in space. Episode 2 picks up less than 10 seconds later, as they are scooped up, two by two, by a pair of competing ships manned by Epzo (Shaun Dooley) and Angstrom (Susan Lynch), respectively. Both mistook the people floating in space as bonus captures as part of the game they are in, The Last Rally of the 12 Galaxies, being run by Ilin (Art Malik). This planet, Desolation, is the last stage for both of them after 219 stages and 84 planets. They are the only players left out of 4,000. The winner receives 3.2 trillion crim, which no one bothers to translate into dollars or pounds sterling.
The final stage, which they have a single solar cycle to complete, is to find the Ghost Monument, which apparently appears on the planet every thousand rotations. Considering this planet is where the Doctor tracked the TARDIS, it shouldn't surprise anyone the Monument is her ship. Despite Epzo and Angstrom competing, the Doctor and her companions figure everyone is heading to the same place anyway, forcing them all to team up into one party heading toward the goal. Angstrom turns out to be fine with this arrangement, but Epzo spends the entire hour being the most unpleasant temporary companion of the modern era.
The competition brings out the strengths in those the Doctor has accidentally surrounded herself with. Graham, as a former bus driver, know engines. Ryan, having studied at vocational school also have engineering skills, but more recent ones, so that he can deduce what alien technology is meant for. Yaz's empathy gets the competitors talking, and her interrogation skills pull out that both are from desperate circumstances, poverty-stricken planets, and abusive families.
The Doctor: I was a hologram once, for three weeks. The gossip I picked up...
Meanwhile, the Doctor is trying to put the pieces together to explain the planet they've landed on. It's fallen out of orbit. The water is poisonous; the air is toxic. There are no people, no animals, not even an insect to be found. Yet there are old settlements that look not unlike 1980s era shopping malls, and bits of paper things wrapped around the dead underbrush. Oh, and also there are deadly killer robots, conveniently called "Sniperbots." Because aren't there always?
The useful thing about robots though, once you blast them with an EMP and dig about a bit, is that they have a system that will lead to their control center. Also, maps. Epzo was dumb enough to get himself shot in the shoulder, but everyone else comes out of the shootout unharmed (even Ryan, whose Call of Duty-inspired attempt to take down the robots is screamingly funny). All are ready to follow the Doctor into the sewer system where she believes the answers are. It also has the bonus factor of getting them off of the surface at night, which Ilid warned them to do.
An exploration of the tunnels finds a message, left by the abducted scientists who once inhabited the planet. Turns out this is the work of the Stenza, from last week's episode. Tim Shaw was trying to become the leader of their race. Now we learn more about their race: Conquest, ethnic cleansing, weapons of mass destruction. They are the reason the water is bad, the air is foul, the killer robots keep cropping up, and the pieces of muslin fabric-ish paper turn out to be deadly creatures. Also, they killed Angstrom's wife, which gives her and Graham something in common.
The Doctor: Brains beat bullets.
Driven out of the tunnels by the Sniperbots, the group are faced down by the floating bits of paper. (Maybe they are burnt-edged bedsheets? Doctor Who aliens are always weird and cheap looking, but these are on the odder end of the spectrum.) Whatever they are, they are not just murderers but able to communicate psychically. They warn the Doctor they see "The Timeless Child" in her future. In retaliation, she and Graham hit upon a solution to take them all out. The air is filled with poisoned gas, and Epzo's cigar is self-lighting with a snap of the fingers. In this game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, fire beats paper.
With everyone having survived to the finish line, our competitors decide there's enough money to go around and demand to be declared joint winners. Ilid agrees after some light threatening by both the finalists. They all disappear, leaving the Doctor and her three friends alone on the planet. But where is the TARDIS? Just as the doctor starts to doubt, the familiar wheezing sounds, and our brand new version of the ride, very organic and cave-like inside, with a lovely bit of metalwork around the walls, picks them all up for next week's time and space adventure. It's even added a biscuit dispenser. The judges from Great British Bake Off would approve
Speaking of next week, Vinette Robinson will guest star in a 1950s era American adventure, in "Rosa."