Doctor Who 11x10 “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” Series Finale Review
We made it! It’s finale week, and I was expecting to be impressed. Was I? The answer is a resounding “eh.” Now, don’t get me wrong. This episode was pretty good, but not finale good.
In the beginning of the episode we’re introduced to the Ux, uber religious dimensional engineers who live for millenia and have insurmountable power. While on the planet Ranskoo Av Kolos they come across a mysterious figure. Cut to 3,000 some odd years later, and the Doctor and Team TARDIS are receiving distress signals from that very planet.
As an aside — the whole “episode opening with a distress signal from a far off planet” is really starting to get old (and a bit lazy, sorry).
They find themselves inside a grounded spaceship, the captain of which is confused and hostile. The planet has a way of confusing anyone who doesn’t have the brain power to withstand it, so the Doctor hands out neurotransmitters to everyone to get around this. As his memory is restored, Captain Paltraki remembers why he’s there: the Congress of Worlds sent him and his crew on a mission to Ranskoo Av Kolos in response to the “atrocities” committed. They weren’t the only ones sent, either: as they exit the ship they come face to face with a spaceship graveyard littering the landscape, empty wreckage ominously peeking out from the mist. They also discover an old friend: Tim Shaw makes a come back as the mysterious figure the Ux came upon years ago and immediately identified as “the Creator.”
Bradley Walsh does a fantastic job here — his quiet, almost calm anger at the creature responsible for Grace’s death is extremely effective.
Their mission is to recover Paltraki’s remaining two crew members whom Tim Shaw is holding hostage, demanding that Paltraki return what he took. We don’t know what it is yet, nor how significant, because Paltraki can’t remember and the Doctor can’t figure it out. It’s a spinning object suspended in a geometric container, and it’s a mystery why this thing is so precious to Tim Shaw.
They make it into Tim Shaw’s fancy floating headquarters to find more of those geometric containers, the Ux chained and forced to do his bidding, and a room full of captives.
We also get a very interesting dynamic between Ryan, Graham, and the Doctor this episode. Graham is calmly planning to kill Tim Shaw as justice for Grace, while the Doctor is having none of it. In true Doctor form, she staunchly protests this impulse for violence, saying that if Graham kills Tim Shaw that would make them the same. He seems unfazed by this, even after Ryan desperately tries to explain that this is not what Grace would have wanted, and his vendetta against Tim Shaw puts everyone and their mission in jeopardy.
When the Doctor and Tim Shaw come face to face we learn what his grand plan is: he was banished across the universe after their first encounter, forced to remain on this planet. He immediately took advantage of the Ux, using his influence to harness their power in a bid for revenge against any planet that dared challenge the Stenza.
Yes, those mysterious spinning objects are whole planets: the Ux create a rip in space and time, trapping them forever and enacting genocide at Tim Shaw’s call. Because it’s the finale, and because it’s Doctor Who, the next planet on the list is Earth.
To add on here, I’m begging you Chibnall: please give the Doctor some more depth next season. That look that Jodie gave when facing Tim Shaw again? Legendary, and she should be allowed to do more of that.
The Doctor, Yaz, and Paltraki manage to talk some sense into the Ux, who’ve been conflicted about their devotion to Tim Shaw for a while now. After giving the Ux their neurotransmitters they were able to stop the destruction of Earth, but they still need to address these other trapped planets. It was the attempt to trap Earth that started this collapse: all those planets that shouldn’t exist on the same plane are being forced to do so, creating a rupture in time and space that could potentially destroy everything in its path.
While this is all happening — where is Tim Shaw? It seems pretty convenient that the Doctor, the Ux, and several other people are able to run around inside this ship actively trying to stop his plan.
He does show up later to go after Graham and Ryan, who are in another part of the ship trying to free everyone he’s trapped. Then the great Tim Shaw is defeated…. by Graham shooting him in the foot. Granted, this did lead to a hilarious exchange between Ryan and Graham (“You shot him!” “Only in the foot to shut him up!”), but that was much too easy a defeat, especially for a series finale.
On the other side of the ship things are much more dramatic; the Doctor has had the idea to use both the power of the Ux and the TARDIS to send each planet back to where it belongs, preventing the rip in space and time.
As a finale, this episode was pretty underwhelming. It felt empty, in a way — both Graham’s story arc and that of the overall episode were resolved much too quickly, and the Earth being in danger for a whole five minutes wasn’t exactly enthralling (or well placed — it seems like this was just thrown in as a token finale plot point). They did well to bring back a familiar villain from this season to make the finale more effective, but it was pretty obvious from the get go that it was going to be Tim Shaw (his voice was in the promo, come on guys).
Lazy mistakes were made throughout: where was Tim Shaw when the Doctor and company were actively trying to foil his plan? Why were there so many captives on the ship if Paltraki only had two crew left? If the planet causes paranoia and memory loss, why did none of that effect the Doctor and Yaz when they gave their neurotransmitters to the Ux?
The premise of the episode is certainly grandiose, but it doesn’t come off as impactful. The moments in the beginning of the episode showing the desolate planet and spaceship graveyard conveyed a sort of tense grandeur, but this was immediately lost in the finale trying to be something it isn’t. It didn’t feel like a series finale: bringing back a previous villain who’s out for revenge does not a finale make. In the end, the wrap up was much too easy.
Doctor Who doesn’t return until 2020, so we have a lot of time to speculate about what might happen next season. We do, however, get a New Year’s special — with a rumored Dalek return! Let’s hope that one is better executed; maybe all we need is a classic Doctor Who villain to bring this thing full circle.