It seems like only yesterday that series 11 of Doctor Who began, but here we are, ten weeks later, with the series finale! The finale is being written by Chibnall, who has delivered scripts of various quality throughout his run on Doctor Who, and especially this season. The only episode, solely written by him, that I’ve really loved this season was The Woman Who Fell to Earth. The rest of the episodes have had some fundamental problem that has impacted my enjoyment of them. Thankfully, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos falls into the same category as The Woman Who Fell to Earth and is an excellent close to this series of Doctor Who. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Episode 1110: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Jamie Childs)
On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos lie the remains of a brutal battlefield. But as the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) 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 towards a deadly reckoning.
The episode begins with Andinio (Phyllis Logan) and Delph (Percelle Ascott) walking around the planet of Ramskoor Av Kolos when a mysterious figure materializes out of thin air: this is later revealed to be T’zim Sha (Samuel Oatley), the villain from The Woman Who Fell to Earth, materializing here after the Doctor hijacked his equipment in the first episode and teleported him away. The episode then flashes 3,407 years into the future. From here, this episode has a pretty straightforward plot (for a Doctor Who series finale): the Doctor receives nine distress signals that draw her to the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos where she finds an abandoned ship with an amnesiac crew member, Paltraki (Mark Addy); a set of missing crew members; and Andinio (Phyllis Logan), who is working for T’zim Sha. Paltraki has stolen a mysterious object from T’zim Sha who demands that Paltraki returns it, else Paltraki’s remaining crew members will be killed off one-by-one. So, the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, Yaz, and Paltraki set off on a mission to find and confront T’zim Sha and rescue Paltraki’s crewmates without letting T’zim Sha get ahold of the stolen object. Graham expresses interest in wanting to kill T’zim Sha (for his role in killing Grace), but the Doctor tells him that if he does that, she will not let him travel with her any longer. This sets up the emotional arc between the Doctor and Graham and Ryan and Graham (both of whom want Graham to be the better man and not kill T’zim Sha) and it’s this emotional throughline that we follow throughout the episode.
After a bit of exploring, the gang makes their way onto a floating ship where they split up: Ryan and Graham go off to find the missing crew members, Yaz and Paltraki go off to find more of the mysterious objects that Paltraki stole, and the Doctor follows Andinio to meet T’zim Sha. T’zim Sha isn’t looking so good. The DNA bomb worked, but the Ux – a psychic-powered race of only two people: Andinio and Delph – had been able to use their abilities to keep T’zim Sha alive, but he’s forced to be hooked into this giant iron-lung type machine. He tells the Doctor that he’s been using the Ux’s powers in order to condense entire worlds into those mysterious objects that Yaz and Paltraki are looking for. And he’s going to use that power to target Earth, as revenge on the Doctor. From there, it’s a race against time as the Doctor must stop T’zim Sha and then return the stolen planets back to their proper places in space/time while Graham and Ryan fight off Sniper-bots (last seen in The Ghost Monument) in order to save the captured crew members. Eventually, T’zim Sha comes to stop Ryan and Graham and, when given the chance to kill T’zim Sha, Graham ultimately doesn’t as what the Doctor and Ryan have said to him previously in the episode have weighed on him and changed his mind. It’s a sweet moment, and seeing Ryan and Graham trap T’zim Sha in the same stasis-pods that he’d trapped the crew members in is a wonderful kind of karma. The Doctor and the Ux succeed in returning the planets and the episode ends happily, with the Doctor and her ‘fam’ leaving for new adventures while Paltraki, his crew, and the Ux leave for destinations unknown.
My biggest worry going into this episode was that it wouldn’t really feel like a series finale. Chibnall and the rest of the cast and crew had been talking up the fact that this series was going to be 10 stand-alone episodes without an overarching plotline (like “Bad Wolf” or “Silence Will Fall”) and so I was worried that without that kind of connective tissue between the whole series, the finale would just feel like another episode instead of the culmination of all the events of the series. Thankfully, it turns out that Chibnall wasn’t exactly telling the truth. Yes, there are no two-part stories in this series and yes, there isn’t really a mystery for the Doctor to solve that’s connecting all the episodes together, but there were plot threads that were scattered throughout the season and were wrapped up nicely in this episode. The most obvious being Ryan and Graham’s relationship and their ongoing grief regarding Grace’s death. Some of their character arcs had already begun to be resolved last week with Graham deciding to leave Grace behind in the mirror universe and with Ryan finally calling Graham “granddad”, but it’s fully resolved in this episode with Ryan making sure Graham knows that he loves him and with the two of them talking about, and fully coming to terms with, how Grace would want them to proceed in the wake of her death. It’s good stuff and it makes up the real emotional meat of the episode as Graham has to come to terms with that and, ultimately, earn the Doctor’s approval after royally getting on her bad side.
Then, of course, there’s returning villain T’zim Sha, last seen in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. His defeat in that episode perfectly set up a return appearance from him, and I’m very happy to see him again so soon, and this time being far more threatening than he was in his first appearance. Having T’zim Sha appear in both the opening and closing episodes of this series is a fantastic way to tie the whole series together, especially with the little tidbits of information that have been building up the Stenza as a threat (all the events on Desolation in The Ghost Monument, including having the Sniper-Bots from that episode reappear here too, and the other little mentions of things like the “nine galaxies”. And I just found his motivation in this episode a lot more menacing than his motivation in the first episode was. While he posed a much more universal threat in this episode than he did in the first, it still felt very small and personal, which is always a good thing. He was doing what he was doing in order to take revenge on the Doctor for her actions in the first episode, and I always love it when the Doctor inadvertently motivates a villain to be eviler than they previously were. Plus, I like that his exit at the end of this episode still leaves room for him to return. The Stenza is probably my favorite of the new aliens introduced this series, mostly because of the sheer potential they possess. They haven’t been used to their full potential, yet, but they’re a pretty awesome concept and I do hope to see more of them.
All in all, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is a very solid series finale for this series of Doctor Who. While it’s not as good as this series’ best episode (It Takes You Away), it’s about on par with its premiere (The Woman Who Fell to Earth), which was, itself, among the best episodes of the season. It neatly ties together most of the ongoing character arcs, especially those between Ryan and Graham, while still leaving plenty of ways for these characters to grow and continue traveling together and also features the return of this series’ best villain in a far more threatening appearance than his first. It was an enjoyable episode with big stakes that still felt small and personal, very interesting ideas, another great score from Segun Akinola, and some of Jodie Whittaker’s best acting as the Doctor to date. Unfortunately, series 12 has been delayed to early 2020, but we’ve still got a New Year’s Day special – entitled Resolution – to tide us over until then. And the trailer for Resolution looks pretty darn rad! Looks like a Dalek might finally return! Fingers crossed!
4.5 out of 5 wands