Thursday 13 December 2018

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 11x10 - The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

Doctor Who 11x10 - The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

It's been an interesting ten weeks, but the end of Doctor Who series 11 has finally arrived. Over the past two and half months we've been properly introduced to a brand new Doctor, new companions, a new show runner and had new writers take us across journeys through time and space. But all things eventually come to an end, and with the announcement that there won't be another full series until 2020 there's even more riding on both this and the upcoming New Years' Day special. It all ends this year with The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, written by show runner Chris Chibnall and directed by Jamie Childs.

Following the trail of a number of distress signals, the TARDIS lands on the planet Ranskoor Av Kolos. After arming themselves with neurobalancers to counteract the planet's psychic field, the Doctor and friends come across an amnesiac man named Paltraki. As Paltraki slowly begins to regain his memories, a video message demands he bring an item from his ship in exchange for the lives of his kidnapped crew. The man behind the message is someone the TARDIS crew are all too familiar with.

Tzim-Sha has arrived on Ranskoor Av Kolos following his defeat on Earth, and allied himself with the Ux - a powerful race of psychics able to warp the fabric of reality itself. Tzim-Sha is ready to take his revenge on both the Doctor and the Earth itself, but he isn't the only one hellbent on revenge. With Grace's killer in his sights, Graham's will is also taken to its limits.

So the big surprise for the finale was the return of Tzim-Sha from The Woman Who Fell to Earth, effectively bringing the series full circle as the Doctor and her new friends face off once again against the villain that brought them all together in the first place. As a character Tzim-Sha may be a fairly naff villain and doesn't personally pose a great deal of threat outside of some grandstanding, but there is a certain poetic element to his return which work's in the episode's favour. His extensive injuries, arrival on Ranskoor Av Kolos and subsequent interaction with the Ux are a direct result of the Doctor tampering with DNA bombs and letting him get away, and it's a shame that the story doesn't play this up and address the repercussions of the Doctor's mercy more. But despite being easily taken down in the end and apparently not being as injured as the story implies (one scene he can't go a few minutes without needing his mask to breathe, in another he's perfectly comfortable wandering around his ship), Tzim-Sha definitely feels like a better villain than he did in the series premier. Still not one you'd particularly want to see again, but not one you're completely sad to see again. Less interesting however were the return of the Sniper bots from The Ghost Monument, who somehow managed to be even more ineffective and underwhelming then they were the first time around.

However the return of Tzim-Sha raises a much more interesting point than simply to see those impressive (if somewhat ridiculous) alien prosthetics again, and that's to add a far more personal touch to the companions' side of the story. At this point it shouldn't be any surprise to hear that Yaz is once again thrown completely to the side and simply acts as the Doctor's lap dog, but there are much better things going on with Graham and to a lesser extent Ryan as well. Graham has continually been both the best acted and most interesting character of the series, and his journey with the Doctor almost comes to a head as he entertains the prospect of killing Grace's killer. Bradley Walsh does a fantastic job of selling uncharacteristically Graham cold determination, whilst Ryan (who in the second episode of the series was happy to run out guns blazing against sniper bots) gets to be the one who brings him back from the edge. His use of "grandad" doesn't have quite the same impact it did at the end of the previous episode, but it's still a fantastic end to the journey these two characters have had over the course of these ten episodes. Not really sure that Graham did end up taking the moral high ground here though...

As for the rest of the story itself, it was nice to see this series of Doctor Who finally go planetary with its threat level. Once again it seems to sweat finer details that shouldn't have been quite as overlook (such as the fact Tzim-Sha wiped out all life on the planets he successfully shrunk), but immediately it feels like the kind of episode this series has been missing all along and all the stronger for it. It's all resolved a bit too easily and simply, but what Doctor Who finale isn't? Most of this really comes from the presence of the Ux, a race who seem interesting in theory but are just so powerful that it allows large chunks of the narrative to happen entirely on that basis alone. After a strong season of guest cast members the finale's offering also felt particularly middling - nothing notably bad but also nothing stand out either. Despite being such a driving force for the story the Ux very much feel like they're in the background, while Paltraki has a good few moments but easily gets lost amongst everything else that's going on. Somehow though it all comes together into a story that works - perhaps more so simply because there hadn't been anything else like it this series. Not so sure about the title though - as well as being overly wordy it's also a bit misleading. Was there really any sort of battle to speak of here?

Though The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos isn't quite to scale of previous series finales, it's an acceptable ending to the series that at least tries to deliver on the biggest thing it's been lacking - raised stakes. However at its core its still a deeply personal story, working much better in rounding off character arcs for the companions that it does presenting an overwhelming threat. Doctor Who series 11 has very much about the personal touch, and while that's not inherently a bad thing it isn't something this current run of the show can ride on forever either - especially in the wake of such a big gap between series. Hopefully the threat level will be amped up in the New Years' Day special Resolution, and that the rumours will pan out to be true and there are another three words at the end of that title...

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