My understanding and enjoyment of this episode was curtailed by difficulties with the sound system. In case I haven't already explained, since we don't have a cable service, we have been going to work to watch Doctor Who on the TV there. Attached to the TV is a sound system, so there are three total speakers - the TV speaker, this long bar that sits behind the TV, and a separate bass speaker - and they do NOT play at the same time. They produce sound at separate times, perhaps a tenth of a second apart, producing this weird reverb effect that obscures any dialogue. It took us until the second advert break to figure out the system (the bar speaker looks like it's part of the entertainment center - I had to stick my head under the TV to hear that it was actually a component) and yank the power cords from the extra speakers.
Bottom line is that we missed all of the crashing spaceships, which seemed to be rife with Doctory goodness. Not to mention that those scenes had a lot of setup that we had to infer later. Sigh.
The rest of the episode, however, was enjoyable and fun, a pure adventure episode. The plot was a bit simple - my husband knew right off that the Ghost Monument would turn out to be the TARDIS and that the cigar was going to save them from something, and from the moment we learned it was a race, I knew they were going to Goblet-of-Fire the finish - but the path was interesting enough. Though, I do hope they grow out of the 'series of little pickles only the Doctor can solve' pattern they've established. And the ending was a bit contrived. While it's nice that the Doctor got the TARDIS back, it was too tidy. I would have liked to have another episode, or even two, of the Doctor chasing the TARDIS - maybe have the TARDIS materialize, but disappear again just as she got to it, leaving a hint as to where it went next, and the Doctor has to figure out how to leave the toxic planet and chase off after it again.
Coming back to the linearity of the plot, I was disappointed that there really was very little conflict between the two racers. The "no killing, no sabotaging, etc." rules pretty much limited them to mouthing off at each other and they ended up mostly working together. It's quite a contrast to the implication that the race up to this point had been a bloodbath. It's also really difficult for me to think about this episode without comparing it to "Enlightenment" (a classic favorite of mine) and mourn the lost possibilities.
I'm enjoying Thirteen but she hasn't really established her defining personality yet, certainly not as well as either Nine or Eleven did. I think my big disappointment so far is in the companions, in that they haven't really gelled yet. Graham's a bit Wilf-y but unable to connect with Ryan, and Ryan has grief and self-esteem issues, but other than that, they haven't made much of an impression on me or differentiated themselves from each other. On the other hand, I do like them and I realized why: they are actually realistic humans. They didn't speak in sound bites and memorable quotes and jokes. They had inclusive conversations with each other. They were awed by being on an alien planet. Real people. It's been a long time since we've had believable companions who weren't special in some cosmic way.
Husband's comment: "Two episodes now and I haven't gotten angry. Bodes well." Suffice it to say, he's a bit less optimistic than I am.