The Doctor and Team TARDIS pick up nine separate distress calls emanating from the war-torn planet Ranskoor Av Kolos, leading them into a climactic encounter with a deadly enemy they never expected to see again, as the current series of Doctor Who draws to a close.
Since the show returned back in 2005, the audience has come to expect that every year would see a running theme – Bad Wolf; Mr Saxon; the DoctorDonna; etc. – which would lead into a huge high-stakes finale. Given showrunner Chris Chibnall has taken a very different approach with Series 11, with standalone episodes and no obvious common thread, expectations were very different this time round, and it seemed that the latest run would have a much lower-key ending than we were used to.
The original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who never bothered with a big season finale, and did perfectly well – you just got to the last story, and waited until next year. The idea of building to a climax is an Americanism which has been adopted with great success since Russell T. Davies brought Who back, so it was interesting to see how Chibnall would round off his very first year. However, he had hinted in interviews that there would be elements throughout Series 11 which would come together later on, and he was as good as his word.
One of the least difficult elements to guess was the return of Tzim-Sha (Samuel Oatley), the exiled Stenza warrior who was last seen at the end of ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ back at the very start of the series, and appeared to have been left to a rather sticky demise, after being riddled with DNA bombs. It gave us a chance to see the Doctor as being fallible, and show the consequences of what can happen after the end of an episode – in this case, Tzim-Sha had allied himself with a pair of devout aliens on Ranskoor Av Kolos, who mistook him for their Creator after his arrival out of thin air, and he manipulated them to use their powers in order to facilitate his revenge on the Doctor, in the process elevating himself towards godhood.
The theme of revenge featured strongly throughout the story, with Graham (Bradley Walsh) realising that Tzim-Sha – who was responsible for the death of his wife, Grace – was still alive, and pledging to kill him if the opportunity arose; this also brought him into direct conflict with the Doctor’s moral code, with her telling him in no uncertain terms that if he went through with it, his travelling days were over. It cannot have been a coincidence that last week’s episode – ‘It Takes You Away’ – featured a vision of Grace, in order to remind the audience of their strong connection, and gives an indication that Chris Chibnall has actually been very clever in how things have been structured throughout the series, without having to constantly – and unsubtly, as had been the case at times with his predecessors – highlight everything to the viewers.
READ MORE: Catch up on our Doctor Who series 11 reviews
In fact, quite a few small and seemingly insignificant elements – telepathic circuits: Stenza technology; fist bumps being left hanging; “fam” – all came together, and certainly made this year’s Who seem far more cohesive after all. It was also nice to see an alien planet which actually looked like a quarry, in a taste of old-school Who, after visits to rather more exotic-looking locations in previous weeks. The bleak setting actually fitted the mood of the tale perfectly, and although ‘The Battie Of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ perhaps lacked some of the epic scale and grandeur of previous series finales, it still managed to place Earth in jeopardy as a result of Tzim-Sha’s plan to exact his vengeance upon the Doctor, as well as threatening to break up Team TARDIS if Graham failed to be the better man, so there were still reasonably high stakes at play.
At the core of Tzim-Sha’s scheme were the Ux – Andinio (Phyllis Logan) and Delph (Percelle Ascott) – whose powers were used to operate the planet-extracting machine which was targeted on Earth, having already taken five other victims from around the universe. Chibnall did a good job in portraying both of the Ux – particularly Andinio – sympathetically, making it clear that their devout faith had been used by Tzim-Sha to take advantage of their good nature, before turning against him once the Doctor had opened their eyes to his true nature. Considering how ‘right on’ and SJW-focused the show has supposedly been in 2018, it actually is nice to see religion and faith being treated in a very respectful manner, rather than being used to make a point about rather more liberal concepts being favoured instead, as some critics might perhaps have expected.
Tzim-Sha was actually one of the more rounded and memorable villains from Series 11, so it was a welcome move to see him come back, partly because it gave a chance for the character to have a proper reckoning, a failing which has dogged this year’s run, with bad guys far too regularly getting away relatively scot-free. Giving Tzim-Sha an even more diabolical and large-scale scheme meant that he needed to face suitable consequences, and it did seem at one point it might have been at the hands of Graham. However, it was a suitably fitting end to see him confined to one of his Stasis Pods, while also leaving open the door for a potential third (and, perhaps, final?) encounter either next year, or further into the future, as we have yet to see the Stenza race out in full force.
Credit should also be given to Mark Addy for managing to do so much with so little as supporting character Paltraki, the last man standing from the final mission sent to Ranskoor Av Kolos to try and stop Tzim-Sha’s weapon. Chris Chibnall really has given us a number of characters during Series 11 who have not perhaps been the most fleshed out at times, but at least Addy managed to play Paltraki with an integrity and nobility, and tried to elevate him to being more than a standard SF cypher. In fact, the smaller cast at least gave more screen time not only to the regulars, but more opportunity to focus on the other people we were introduced to. Sometimes, less really is more.
‘The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ proved to be a fitting conclusion to Series 11, as we finally came full circle, and got some sort of closure to threads which had been hanging – mainly Graham’s arc of his grief over Grace’s death – as well as giving us a jumping off point for the New Year’s Day special, as well as the promised 2020 run.
It may not go down as being one of the all-time classic seasons of Doctor Who, but it has been consistently entertaining, as well as a much-needed jumping on point for a new casual audience to fall in love with the show, and is all the better for it. This freshman year for Chibnall certainly bodes well for the future, and it is to be hoped that the rumours about himself and Jodie’s Whittaker moving on in a series’ time are false, as they have set up a very solid platform on which to build in the coming series.