This review contains spoilers for The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. You have been warned…
On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, lies the remains of a brutal battlefield. But as the Doctor, Ryan, Yaz and Graham answer nine separate distress calls, they discover the planet holds far more secrets. Who is the mysterious commander with no memory? What lies beyond the mists? Who or what are the Ux?
The answers will lead the Doctor and her friends to a deadly reckoning.
Personally, I feel that finales of Doctor Who are best served by being made up of two parts. This allows for further development of ideas established in the series and generally means the story has more of an impact, helped along by the cliffhangers. Since the show’s revival, this has allowed for moments like the Daleks coming out of the void ship in Army of Ghosts, the Eleventh Doctor being locked in the Pandorica by an alliance of his greatest enemies, alongside the destruction of the entire universe in The Pandorica Opens, and in more recent times, the reveal of the Mondasian Cybermen and the return of the John Simm incarnation of the Master in World Enough and Time. The first part usually does most of the heavy lifting, allowing the second part to delve into some more interesting areas. The only stand-alone finale to date that has really worked for me (and I know there have only been two excluding this one) has been The Name of the Doctor, but this is probably because of the hype leading up to the 50th-anniversary special.
As always, I went into this episode with a perfectly open mind, and having largely enjoyed this series so far. Without further ado, I’ll get to the review.
The Battle of Rankoor Av Kolos brings to a close Jodie Whittaker’s first series of Doctor Who, which has been in my opinion, a solid series with the only issue of having a consistent lack of a compelling villain. It almost goes without saying, but the music, direction and casting are fantastic again here, as they have been throughout the series. The show looks and sounds the best it has in years.
Speaking of a lack of compelling villains, this week’s finale sees the return of Tzim-Cha, last seen in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, who I quite liked as a villain, even if he was underdeveloped, understandably, in favour of the new Doctor. In a series of humans as the true baddies, or aliens who can be redeemed, Tzim-Cha stands apart, as we have seen him hunting innocents and here, willing to commit genocide on six planets in his quest to seek revenge on the Doctor for her role in his situation on Rankoor Av Kolos. His defeat on Earth and his 3,407 year exile seem to have unhinged him even further, and he is truly beyond redemption. Equally, I understand the frustration that the main villain is not a recurring enemy, like the Master or the Daleks, but this wraps up the Grace storyline for both Ryan and Graham quite nicely and I feel serves the story and series much better than if this had been left until Series 12, especially with the news that this won’t be broadcast until 2020. Tzim-Cha is an intimidating and threatening screen presence, even if he does throw armies of battle droids at the Doctor, Paltraki and the TARDIS team. His deception of the Ux, who believe him to be their creator, also marks him out as a master of manipulation and the strongest bad guy this Doctor has encountered, which admittedly isn’t saying much. I also quite like the fact that this adversary isn’t one who is terribly well known to the Doctor, and therefore the audience. This makes his ultimate plan less predictable and the Doctor actually have to work hard to try to counter his evil machinations, which add meaningful stakes to the story.
From a story perspective, I found the central premise and the more science fiction basis interesting and I liked the idea of the race of the Ux. I also like the fact that this story takes place away from Earth, and although Earth itself is threatened as part of the grand plan, it genuinely does feel as though the TARDIS has landed galaxies away. However, I do feel that there are too many ideas in play here, which means that the story feels as though it would have benefitted from a second part. Specifically, I feel that the use of the neural blockers to prevent the memory loss effects of the planet really should have had more of an impact on the plot. I feel that they’re quite effective when being used to allow the gradual recall of Paltraki’s memories through the story, but when the Doctor removes them from herself and Yaz, I feel that there should have been more consequences for either one of them or both of them. As it happens, the only ill effect is a bit of a headache, which feels a bit frustrating. I’m also not a massive fan of the Doctor being able to summon the TARDIS with her sonic screwdriver, which I know is not without precedent as far as the audios are concerned (for the record, I’m not a fan of it there either). The explanation that alignment to Stenza technology helps this happen feels a bit like lazy writing and I feel like a simple throwaway line expressing surprise that it worked may have reconciled it a bit for me. As it is, it feels like a deus ex machina and makes the sonic screwdriver feel even more like a magic wand than it already does. It did make me shout at the screen, which I never feel is a good moment. The climax does also feel very abrupt, which seems to be a recurring issue when Chibnall is writing.
What happened to “never do weapons”?
It’s a flexible creed. Doors, locks, walls, buildings, fair game. If it can be rebuilt, I’ll allow it.
No, no, you stopped me shooting at Sniperbots before.
You were new. I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new. Also, don’t quote that back to me, my rules change all the time.Ryan Sinclair and the Thirteenth Doctor
Bradley Walsh continues to be the beating heart of this TARDIS team, and we see him here brought face to face with the creature responsible for Grace’s murder at the beginning of the series. I completely bought him as someone who was willing to kill Tzim-Cha to get revenge and was completely accepting of what this meant for his relationship with the Doctor. The interchange between him and the Doctor when they realise that a member of the Stenza is present and the Doctor states that if he goes through with it, he can no longer travel in the TARDIS is one of my highlights of the episode. Of course, when Graham does get the chance to kill “Tim Shaw”, he is unable to go through with killing him, and the overall resolution of this plot strand does feel a lot more satisfying in general. I’m looking forward to seeing more Bradley Walsh in the TARDIS, something I didn’t think I’d say ten weeks ago. There are nice moments between him and Ryan, but Yaz again has little to nothing to do. I really feel that this team is a bit too large and I really hope that this gets addressed in the not too distant future!
I’ve said it so many times and I’m not going to go into massive detail here as this blog is longer than I intended, but Jodie Whittaker gives another strong performance. My personal highlight of her performance was her enthusiasm at meeting the Ux which I felt was perfectly played. I have not been entirely onboard with not having returning foes this series, but it has allowed this element to come to the forefront in the majority of her stories. Ultimately, the Doctor should be excited by elements she experiences in her travels – the First Doctor did leave Gallifrey because he was bored, after all!
You’re kidding! The Ux? As in the duo-species, only ever two of you? Lifespans of millenia. Only found on three planets in the whole universe? I’ve never met an Ux! Congratulations! It must be so cool!The Thirteenth Doctor
Verdict: All in all, I feel that this does give us closure on the major themes of Series 11, aided by another fantastic performance by Bradley Walsh. There are elements of this story that did fall flat though. 5/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Phyllis Logan (Andinio), Mark Addy (Paltraki), Percelle Ascot (Delph), Jan Lee (Umsang), Samuel Oatley (Tzim-Cha)
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Childs
Behind the Scenes
- The Doctor refers the TARDIS having regressed Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day (aka Margaret Blaine) Slitheen into an egg in Boom Town and towing the Earth back across the universe in Journey’s End. Equally, the use of planets to power a weapon was previously seen in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
- The Doctor has previously encountered planets being shrunk before, in the Fourth Doctor story The Pirate Planet.
- This is the first series finale in the revived series not to feature any scenes set on 21st Century Earth. It is also the first of the revival not to feature a cameo from a classic series monster or villain.
The moment the Doctor meets Andinio.
Yippee ki-yay, robots!
Because a Die Hard reference always wins.
Previous Thirteenth Doctor review: It Takes You Away