Doctor Who: 11.10 The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
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Doctor Who finales of the modern era have usually been explosive affairs - Daleks, Cybermen, exploding galaxies, Time Lord prisons, stolen planets and a Master or two. Given the somewhat understated tone of series 11, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos was Chris Chibnall's take on a simpler finale compared to those employed by Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat. But fear not, there was still plenty of high drama - and some stolen planets for those who were feeling a little nostalgic.
This was certainly Chibnall's best episode of the series, starting off on the planet Ranskoor Av Kolos 3,407 years with a very classic-era style open as Phyllis Logan's Andinio and Percelle Ascott's Delph traverser a barren planet and summon rocks into the air with their powers before they are interrupted by an alien visitor. Jumping ahead, the TARDIS picked up nine distinct distress signals from the same planet, encountering Mark Addy's amnesia-striken Paltraki on a desolate battlefield. This had all the makings of an epic finale, full of atmosphere and tension; while the episode perhaps didn't hit the heights it intended by delivering on the promise of the mystery, it did feel like a confident closing chapter on the new run of episodes, harking back to Chibnall's opening episodes The Woman Who Fell To Earth and The Ghost Monument.
Ever since the Stenza were referred to in the second episode, it was clear that Chibnall was sowing the seeds or their return and the reveal that Tim Shaw was that alien visitor three thousand years ago was not the shock surprise it might have been intended to be. That being said, Samuel Oatley brought a great menace to the role previously and that was no different here. Having corrupted the religious beliefs of the Ux, the immortal race to which Andinio and Delph belonged to, he has had three millennia to exact revenge against the Doctor for stranding him on the planet, using the Ux's abilities as engineers and the Stenza's skills with weaponry to create a galactic weapon that could destroy all the enemies of his own people.
Does that make Tim Shaw the Khan to the Doctor's Kirk? She certainly forced him into exile on a barren planet, allowing him time to plot his revenge. There was a bit of Davros in his plan to, stealing planets to build his dastardly weapon and then turning it on Earth in the episode's final dramatic act, just to add some end of the world drama that has been missing as of late. Not that I mind the smaller, more intimate stories - classic Doctor Who didn't see the Doctor saving the entire universe from destruction every year. Chibnall seemed very open about the idea that there were hints of The Stolen Earth / Journey's End in this story, throwing in the Doctor referencing towing the Earth back with the TARDIS. But then, the influences of the RTD era have been apparent all series.
There was some good conflict between the Doctor and Tim Shaw, but the emotional drama was reserved for the always reliable Bradley Walsh as Graham, who found himself fuelled by the desire to kill the alien responsible for Grace's death. I liked his determination to disobey the Doctor and kill Tim Shaw at the first opportunity he got and Tosin Cole's Ryan recognising the same pain over encountering the creature responsible for her death. There were some lovely moments between the two as they dealt with their grief and anger all over again, while reflecting on how far they had come this series. Cole's awkward delivery of "I love you" was incredibly endearing.
When it finally came to Graham's encounter with Tim Shaw, his decision not to kill the Stenza wasn't surprising; this series seems quite happy to play things safe and having conflict between the Doctor and Graham over the latter murdering out of revenge was something that Chibnall was quite happy to avoid. Understandable for the tone of the show, but the adding little in the way of meaty drama. Still the camaraderie between Graham and Ryan as they defeated Tim Shaw and locked him in a cryogenic prison of his own making was a delight to watch.
It was nice to see Yaz have a little more to do, working with the Doctor to channel the TARDIS's energy to reverse the weapon. There was some real, fun-fuelled heroics from the Doctor too as she devised a plan and used her wits to defeat Tim Shaw's plan. While this new series is a much more ensemble show, it's still nice to see the Doctor take the lead for a second episode in a row and save the day.
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos was a solid finale, offering a menacing returning villain and plenty of mystery to get the audience hooked. It looked visually great, the Ux temple in the sky very reminiscent of the Engineer ships from the Alien movies. The guest stars were decent too; Oatley chewed the scenery as Tim Shaw, proving to be an effective foe. Phyllis Logan's and Percelle Ascott were haunting presence as the Ux. Mark Addy didn't get much to do as the guest star soldier sent to retrieve his captured crewmen, though he made the most of what he had.
I wanted to be wowed by the finale and I wasn't; that's something I've been feeling all series. There are some intriguing ideas and the core cast are really terrific - particularly Jodie Whittaker and Bradley Walsh. But again, for all the set up, it still felt a little straight forward in execution and the threat to Earth was a red visual effect that didn't feel tangible - perhaps seeing the effect on Yaz's family might have added an emotional hook in a very RTD-era kind of way? Still, for all the sense of something special being missing from the show, I enjoyed it none the less and it continued the upward trend apparent since Demons of the Punjab. New Year's Day's special looks pretty great too - and as the only episode we're getting in 2019, I hope it's enough to sate our appetite before the Doctor and her Fam return in 2020...