Doctor Who #1005: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

"How long has it been?" "Three thousand, four hundred and seven years." "I bet the seven really dragged."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.8 2018.

IN THIS ONE... Graham gets a shot at revenge when an old enemy is found lording over a race of reality benders.

REVIEW: There are a great many reasons to feel underwhelmed by this series finale, but none of them have to do with the character arcs at play. The return of Tim Shaw in this put Graham on the path to revenge, a second temptation for him in as many episodes, and I love how the Doctor is immediately worried about it. What passes between them while it's still unspoken is lovely, and even after that, he's so cool and collected, at peace with the idea of crossing that line if he can, that we as the audience should rightly be afraid to lose him. That he die or be forced to leave the team. It's a trick that doesn't work on second viewing, obviously, but the performance remains. Good on Ryan for siding with the Doctor, and it's interesting that both men use Grace's memory to make their point. Graham's justification isn't worthy of Grace though, and in the end, he hears reason, opting for poetic justice rather than capital punishment. Hey, I get it, I want to punch Tim Shaw in the teeth whenever he's on screen too. It's interesting, isn't it, that the new series ends not with the Doctor facing off against the Big Bad (though she still saves the day), but with the companions putting him away. It's about Ryan and Graham completing their "grief arc", accepting one another as family (and thus the pay-off to the Doctor calling her crew "fam"), the symbolic fist bump, and the heartfelt line about his being the strongest person the Doctor knows.

The Doctor, for her part, is stuck with a lot of exposition, as is consistent in Chibnall's writing, but she does get her moments. Explaining the rules, she makes sure to say never to quote her on them, because she changes them all the time. Perfect. Her faith corresponding to "hope" in Demons of the Punjab returns here when she tells the Ux to keep their faith and to "travel hopefully". She ridicules Tim Shaw, exploits the doubts of the Ux, and comes up with a solution that originally sounded like pure technobabble (it's not NOT that), but on second viewing all made a kind of sense. Of course, there's too much plot here to give her all the reactions she ought to have. We're missing some righteous anger at what Tim Shaw is doing, for example, and he's no more than "irritating" despite having carried out planetary genocide many times over. She resists his argument that it's all her fault for sending him to Ranskoor Av Kolos (a planet name I will never learn to spell first try), but the companions have more guilt over his non-defeat than she does. When the Ux are unphased by the TARDIS' dimensional transcendence, there should have been a comedy bit there.  Yet they find time to have her react to Delph's fall as if he'd died from the final effort, but he's fine a second later. Sigh. There's also too much plot for Yaz to do more than play the classic-era assistant.

But yeah, that plot... Shades of The Pirate Planet, it has an epic quality, sure, and the small planets encased in stasis tech are really cool-looking, but much of it fails to land properly. The locations are disappointing, with the planet represented by a wet quarry and the "living" building an industrial space that doesn't really work as the creation of the Last Earth Benders from an isolated planet. Does this come from Tim Shaw's imagination? It might explain who the sniper robots from The Ghost Monument are here. The Ux are one of these magical species that SF doesn't support very well, not because they can change reality with their minds (block transfer computation?), but because of the notion there are only ever two of them and they live for millennia. How does that work? Why is one so much younger than the other? What about "having been found on only three planets"? Is that supposed to presage the fact that they leave Ranskoor Av Kolos at the end? Why is that important information for the Doctor to impart in an episode already loaded with exposition? The bit about the planet attacking people's minds... It gets the neural balancers into play (cue the principals wearing sticky tape on their faces for the entire finale), but when Yaz and the Doctor have to take them off, it just causes a momentary headache, not much of a dilemma at all. The Battle in the title is window dressing, and doesn't really deserve to be IN that title. And what of Earth's jeopardy? Once you realize this is the Earth of 5425 AD (circa Planet of the Spiders, Doctor Who scholars), you care a lot less. Bottom line, this is about getting Tim Shaw in the same room with Graham, even if the villain has to unplug from his massive mechanical lungs to do it (NO! NOT MY TROPHIES!!!), and nothing else. The rest is just so much contrivance, though bonus points for making the point that travel broadens the mind, a theme in Doctor Who, but also connecting to the anti-Brexit undercurrent running through other parts of Series 11.

THEORIES: Personal bummer - As I continue to push for Susan's return, this episode sadly did away with one of the devices that could have brought it about. One way to play this would have been to have Susan one of Tim Shaw's trophies, his defeat resulting in her freedom. Not now, maybe, but down the line. For that to really work, we would have to be on the Stenza homeworld where there's apparently a massive cache of prisoners. Defeating Tim Shaw here, on Ranskoor Av Kolos, seems to make that impossible, from a narrative point of view.

- Disappointing on a plot level, especially for a finale, but the Graham/Ryan arc is as watchable as ever.


Anonymous said...

Good luck trying to come up with Yaz's AITAS Favourite method of accumulating story points! ;D It's almost a re-imagining of 'the problem with Susan' all over again, not adult enough to play at being a female lead because the Doctor dominates that role, despite Yaz supposedly being a police officer.

Siskoid said...

Well, she's not done yet and I only ever make a character sheet when the character leaves.

Toby'c said...

Funny story: in Australia, Tim Shaw is the name of a TV infomercial spokesman and radio presenter, best known for popularising the phrase "But wait, there's more!" locally back in the 90s. And ever since "The Woman Who Fell to Earth", he's been a running gag on a Doctor Who discussion show on ABC2 called Whovians, to the point that the episode that followed this one had him on to announce the winner of a prize pack in the same style. He also interviewed Tzim-Sha's actor on radio just after his first episode aired.

"I want to punch Tim Shaw in the teeth whenever he's on screen too."
Do you mean his own teeth, or the ones from other people?

Siskoid said...

Shhh. Don't draw attention to the bad pun.

LiamKav said...

I got the same feeling that I got from most of this season, which is that is was, y'know, fine. But when I look back I can pick at least one outstanding episode from every other prior season of New Who. This season has been a real struggle. I guess I'd probably go with Demons, but that was still "good" rather than "amazing".

And this episode continues Chibnall's weird thing of setting something up and then just ignoring it. It's like the Doctor's injury in Tsuranga which got lots of play and then was just ignored. Here it's the whole "the planet will attack your MIND without these strips of paper" which turns out to be "the planet with give you a MILD HEADACHE!" And yeah, I also noticed the missing comedy beat with the UX saying "dimensionally transcendent". There should either have been a shot of the Doctor looking disappointed that she couldn't show off, or you remove the (apparently overdubbed) line saying "you won't understand why my ship is bigger on the inside".

Also, I'm still unsure if the Doctor saying literally everything she thinks is a character quirk or slightly lazy writing. Possibly both.

So yeah. Graham: great. Doctor: mostly great. Ryan and Yaz: still a touch dull. Writing (drama): Fine. Writing (comedy): Eh.


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