Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 10
“The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”
Posted by Sage
I’m trying to remain optimistic about the New Year’s special, but as it is right now, this series is ending not on a [Big] bang, but on a whimper. Chris Chibnall gave us an anticlimactic finale that only serves to highlight all the issues that have plagued this season. And those are issues I personally haven’t written about very much, because I was waiting (and hoping) that we were headed somewhere meaningful. (SO much hangs in the balance of a DW finale, doesn’t it??) We weren’t.
Are there stakes? Sure, but they’re exactly the stakes that you were expecting. The ominous “timeless child” speech never went anywhere. (The only thing we ever know for sure about those kinds of cryptic pronouncements is that it’s never fucking Susan, credit to Rachel.) We knew thanks to “Ghost Monument” that the Stenza were becoming a serious nuisance, but that was it for continuity. So when Tim Shaw shows back up on a plant whose name translates to “disintegrator of the soul,” it elicits no more than a shrug.
“Battle” is no “Sleep No More,” in that I didn’t hate every moment of watching it. Or any moment, really. But it’s Doctor Who Lite, or the Doctor Who version of that meme where you theoretically put every episode into a bot that then spits out something it thinks apes the conventions best.
Because there’s a lot going on. Distress signals that call the Doctor to the desolate planet = the moment where the Doctor reminds her companions that they can’t afford to look away. A amnesiac man and the crew he lost when they tried to help. An advanced race of two people (I have many questions about how they reproduce and when) who worship Tim Shaw despite being rather godlike themselves. Those things that looked like pieces of the Agro-Crag?? I took meticulous notes on the plot and the players, only to arrive at the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. This episode exists to build to the moment where Graham faces down Tim Shaw, the being responsible for his wife’s death.
You know how that one goes. The hero wants (and, in our eyes, deserves) revenge, but getting it would change him so fundamentally that he wouldn’t be our hero anymore. Which is not to say that Bradley Walsh didn’t act it all beautifully. But after spending ten episodes with Space Granddad, we KNOW that he’s not going to be able to do it. He’s too good. He would never leave Ryan to fend for himself. He has too much respect for the Doctor to go against her wishes in that way. And above all, he loves Grace and doesn’t want to tarnish her memory by doing something violent in her name. So that’s that, really.
I’ll never forget watching Series 8’s “Dark Water” for the first time, and experiencing genuine fear about what a desperate Clara Oswald was about to do. It was thrilling. Unsettling, even. The writing did its job of convincing me that she was capable of ANYTHING in that moment, and the two-parter, the series, and Clara’s whole arc were the better for it. What we got this series is the natural progression of having three perfectly nice people with remarkably good judgment traveling in the TARDIS. The pendulum doesn’t swing very far in either direction when it comes to Ryan, Yaz, and Graham, and while it makes them very pleasant company, it precludes the existence of another “Dark Water” or “Turn Left” or “Doomsday” or “Amy’s Choice.”
The asterisk on that is Jodie’s performance in the scene where she tells Graham in no uncertain terms that he will not be welcome back aboard the TARDIS if he goes looking for street justice. She’s as fond of him as we are, and her resoluteness in that moment gives Thirteen some of the gravitas and hardass-ness we’ve been missing. No second chances. She’s that kind of woman.
For an episode overloaded with plot, “Battle” doesn’t ultimately have much to say. With Tim Shaw and Stenza tech in the mix, why did we need a planet that steals your memories and makes you sick? Sniper bots? From where?? What was the point in pulling other planets out of orbit unless we were going to have been given some clues about that earlier, to reinforce the threat? Earth is about to be destroyed, and no one says a word about how that affects them personally. Not even Yaz, who gets nothing to do in this episode, again being the third wheel to Graham and Ryan’s grief arc.
For that reason, among others, I could’ve done with more of Ryan’s plea to Graham not to “wreck what we’ve got because you’re still angry.” Executing Tim Shaw would blow up the fam, and if we’re handling that fam with kid gloves because we want them to be likable and uncontroversial, then let’s play that shit up. Because the focus has been on Ryan and Graham, it’s been a few episodes since Yaz has had a moment with either one of them, and it would have been nice to get a reminder that she’s important to them as well – because she’s herself, not because she was also there the night Grace died.
Let’s hope at least that this finale is putting the Grace story to bed, in that her death won’t be Ryan and Graham’s singular motivation. Because it still stings, that she isn’t around. “She actually liked being alive, and she was really good at it,” is an especially cutting line – another reminder that Grace would have been a star companion had Chibnall used a little more imagination and read the wiki article on fridging. Centering the season on the memory of a women who was put on a pedestal the instant she appeared was taking the easy way. I hope that the show can take a page out of Grace’s book and be a little bit bolder, a little less people-pleasing, and a lot more dangerous when it returns. I heartily believe that these characters can handle that, and I want to see them tested.
For now, the season ends on a note of optimism that I don’t think is quite earned. The Doctor gives an admittedly lovely speech about traveling, but she’s talking to the crew of a ship that was out on a rescue mission, not a pleasure cruise, and to the Ux, who have rigidly held onto the faith that was passed down to them, keeping them grounded for the thousands of years they’ve been alive. Genocide, trauma, religious fanaticism – maybe they needed to hear something different from the Doctor than just “travel hopefully.” Maybe we all do.
Timey Wimey Observations
- Tim Shaw’s life extension set-up was very Darth Vader.
- “You look in a bad way, whereas I got a new coat.”
- I see you being soft with unnamed extras, Ryan Sinclair.
- “Their life over seven billion others.” AND YOUR FAMILY, YAZ? Like… I don’t understand how this scene was written as though every single person Yaz ever met wasn’t about to die.
- “Yippee kiyay, robots.”
- Thank you, fan service:
What did you think of the finale? Did it underwhelm you too? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Source: BBC America