Well, it’s been ten weeks and we have finally reached the end of Doctor Who’s eleventh series. Jodie Whittaker’s maiden voyage in the TARDIS is now complete and it has actually been quite the journey for me. For all of its flaws and the various ups and downs across the span of the last ten weeks, the newest series of Doctor Who has managed to pull me back into the fandom. What started out as a taste tester for a new Doctor transformed into an exciting ride alongside a group of likeable characters and great historical episodes. For all of the mixed opinions about the latest series, Chibnall has at least won me over as a viewer for the next year and Jodie has handled the transition into the role of the Timelord really well. I’m proud of her and cannot lavish enough praise upon her supporting cast, including Bradley Walsh.
However, all the series has been leading to this moment: the finale. Finales can prove to drastically alter an entire series in hindsight. The previous series of Doctor Who was marred with a terrible final act that brought down the entire experience for me as a whole. Many other tv-shows or films also become weaker as a whole when they fail to ‘stick the landing’ and achieve anything of note in their final moments. Before sitting down, all I could think about was how Doctor Who was going to fall into this rut again with The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.
And I was wrong.
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos begins with the Doctor and Team Tardis following a series of distress signals to an abandoned planet in the middle of nowhere. Discovering a crashed spaceship on the planet’s surface, the group learn that they’ve been pulled into the middle of a warzone between an allied group of fighters against the mysterious Ux and their secret master ‘the Creator’, revealed to be the monstrous (I can’t believe I’m writing this) Tim Shaw (Tzim Sha), returned from his battle with the Doctor at the start of the season.
To be completely honest, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is the biggest mixed bag finale I’ve seen in a long time. It is by no means a bad episode, far from the travesty that was The Doctor Stands, which destroyed all stakes and interest the previous part had built up in literally two seconds. However, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is still a definite flawed article and I think the main problem with the entire episode is that a lot of the ideas it throws in work in theory but fail in the execution.
Firstly, there’s Graham’s character arc throughout the episode. Throughout this entire series, Bradley Walsh’s Graham has been the light in the darkness, a proper bloke’s bloke whilst being literally one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He’s pleasant, fun and down to earth in a way a lot of the Doctor’s companions have failed to be. Considering all that, you can imagine my surprise when the central arc of his character in this episode is wanting to murder Tim Shaw for what he did to Grace. Now, Graham’s character arc is a great one in theory and the episode has a lot of good writing poured into it, especially between the scenes with Graham and the Doctor and Graham and Ryan.
The arc instantly falls apart, though, when we consider Graham’s character. Graham has never displayed any violent tendencies or an urge for revenge until this point. He’s been the emotional heart of the entire crew. It seems completely out of character for him to suddenly switch into a rant about killing Grace’s killer, something that even comes out from Walsh’s subdued performance this episode. It’s clear he’s not fully feeling the arc and is all the better when the affair is done. If it had been Ryan’s focus, the arc would have made a lot more sense: Ryan has tried to solve his problems with violence multiple times and in one episode even magically zapped someone forward in time, effectively killing them as far as we viewers were concerned. Yet, in this episode, he sits on his high-horse and lectures Graham about using guns. Has Chibnall forgotten Ryan tried to fight with guns in the Ghost Monument? This is just one example of how the entire finale feels a bit turned around: we get a needless arc for Graham and skip over Ryan’s development, which is a shame because the culmination of their arc is a beautiful thing to watch and a plot-line that was really well done, despite a few logical hiccups.
You want to know who else had a decent culmination of his arc from a previous episode? Bloody Tim Shaw! Yes, the random alien hunter man with teeth in his face is back from episode one and has suddenly become a world destroying monster, leading the two peaceful Ux on as their ‘creator’. On the one hand, Shaw’s return is chilling. Seeing him seated before the Doctor in the heart of his machine was brilliant and what Chibnall was clearly going for with Shaw was really interesting: a returning villain who the Doctor’s attempt to defeat left more powerful and allowed them to corrupt a society. It’s beat for beat what the Daleks planned in R.T.D’s first finale of Doctor Who. The key difference and the main issue why Shaw fails is because Shaw has no real depth to him. He pales in comparison to other monsters, such as the recently made popular Weeping Angels, and in the grand scheme of the plot, the mythos of the Doctor’s world doesn’t bolster his position as our main antagonist as much as it should.
We’re told about the greatness of the Ux, their planet and the crimes of Tim Shaw literally stealing five planets (somehow), but we never actually see it. It’s an issue a lot of fans have had with these filler-style episodes: there is no on-going story to follow. Because of that, the events of Chibnall’s first finale all emerge with little fanfare, no set-up and are underwhelming as a result. Having an episode or two more with Shaw would have helped establish him as a villain and actually make him more interesting, mentioning the Ux at an early point would have at least foreshadowed their powerful abilities and anyone of the episodes could have linked into the disappearance of the planets for the finale. Any of this would have strengthened the story and helped develop the mythos of the new Doctor’s world but in the current state, the lack of connective tissue really hurts the finale as a whole.
It’s a shame too, because the character writing is really solid. Tim Shaw is treated with far more gravitas than, frankly, the Daleks have been recently and his evolution into mad hunter with a god complex was brilliant to watch. The tension and mystery of the Ranskoor Av Kolos and the battle is really well done as well and I enjoyed watching the adventure unfold as the Doctor and her team explored Shaw’s Citadel.
I understand this review has seemed heavily negative and in hindsight, I’m really mis-selling The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos to you all. It was pretty decent with some great acting, beautiful imagery and powerful character moments that really help make the finale and this series stand out in my mind. Overall, however, the strands are just a bit too weak to hold. Everything feels so hollow because there’s been no build up to this point and there’s just too many little niggling questions, plot threads and comments left bubbling away in my mind that bring down the experience.
Like, how Chibnall’s philosophy of ‘The Doctor is at his best when he/she’s having to juggle lots of different things at once’ can sometimes create huge issues with the plot, such as what’s with the emotional manipulation thing with the planet’s atmosphere? It comes out of nowhere, isn’t all that explains but also barely contributes to the plot apart from two decent scenes and to provide part of a deux ex machina solution to another problem.
How the heck did Shaw manage to actually convince the Ux he was a God? True, blind faith, but when aliens started showing up, surely they’d start to question him and his role of God, especially since he’s mortal and needs to be kept alive by machines?
Also, the Ux stole planets killing the entire population. They receive no punishment and show no real remorse. What’s the deal with that?
What was with Shaw capturing people? Why would he do that? He’s killed entire planets. What is this point of taking slaves?
How did the Ux get out into the universe to steal the planets in the first place? Delph mentions they’ve never left the planet, so what gives?
And why did Mark Addy, such an amazing actor, have the bittiest of bit roles as Paltraki?
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos isn’t really much of a battle and isn’t that great a finale. The more I think about it, the more I feel it doesn’t hold up but I still remember really enjoying watching it. It’s not horrible and it’s not amazing, just a decent watch that’s a bit underwhelming. I would have loved to see a season catered towards this finale though, with proper build up and lore established instead of the filler ‘freak of the week’ episodes we’ve been getting. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled and am wearing nostalgia glasses but I really miss Russell T. Davies’ skills as a head-writer, linking in a grand span of stories into a complete masterpiece.
Chibnall, however, is no slacker on the whole. The series may have been average but it was a welcome return to form and you can clearly see the effort the new head-writer has put in into really making this show feel good again. He’s brought back a lot of educational focus to the show and the messages have all been really positive and enjoyable for the family audience. Jodie Whittaker has been brilliant in the role of the Doctor and I think at this point, all ‘nay’ sayers have either been hushed or already left the fandom. Either way, the Tardis is still flying on and I’m actually excited to see the next season and, of course, the New Years special (please be Daleks, PLEASE be Daleks).
But concluding thoughts, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is like a lot of series eleven. It’s very up and down, but stays consistently entertaining and enjoyable throughout. It has heart, intelligence and even poignancy in one or two places and even the cheesy effects and a few bits of bad writing or failed execution fail to really hamper its pace. It’s won me back as a fan, at least, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes in it’s next instalment.
That is, when it’s back off hiatus.
Damn it BBC.
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos: 3/5