The Doctor Who revival’s 11th season has been something of a mixed bag, in my opinion. I thought it started out strongly with “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” “The Ghost Monument,” and “Rosa,” then went through some peaks and valleys afterward. For every strong episode like “Demons of the Punjab” or “Kerblam!,” there was a mediocre episode like “The Witchfinders,” or even a straight up bad one like “Arachnids in the UK.” I’m very happy to report, then, that the season finale, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos,” is a return to the strength of the season’s early episodes.
It’s fitting to call “Battle” equal in quality to the season opener, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” because together they form bookends to the season. The Senza warrior Tzim-Sha, whom the Doctor banished from Earth at the end of “Woman,” reappears in “Battle” with vengeance on his mind. To be honest, I found the wounded, sick, and angry Tzim-Sha of this episode to be even scarier than he was in “Woman”! With additional callbacks to the episodes “The Ghost Monument” and “Demons of the Punjab,” it feels like the season has come full circle and offers a kind of closure. It’s not a season-long arc, exactly, but it helps make the season feel like a cohesive whole.
I liked when Graham tells the Doctor he’s going to kill Tzim-Sha for what he did to Grace back in “Woman.” Finally, I thought, some conflict! Unfortunately, I thought the conversation that follows suffers from the same lack of emotional depth that has plagued the writing in many episodes this season. Their conversation feels very stilted and cliched. How many times have we heard someone say, “If you kill him, you become just like him”? I would much rather have seen the Doctor tell Graham about the toll that comes with taking a life, speaking from her own experience, or even seen her get mad at Graham and tell him she didn’t ferry him all the way across space and time so he could have revenge. Instead, the conversation feels rushed and by-the-numbers to me. I wanted more emotion, a criticism I found myself repeating often throughout the season.
As for Tzim-Sha’s plan, I have to admit I didn’t fully understand it. Why keep the crews from the crashed ships alive in stasis? He can’t leave this planet, so he can’t bring them back to the Stenza homeworld as trophies. Also, why shrink the other planets down instead of just destroying them? Maybe that has more to do with the Stenza idea of keeping trophies, but still, it seems overly complicated. Then again, I should have stopped trying to make sense of Doctor Who villains’ plans a long time ago, as they rarely make sense.
Anyway, I liked “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” a lot, and I’m so relieved this up-and-down season ended on a high note. I like the cast and the character development of Graham and Ryan, I just hope next season we’ll have a little more emotional depth. And also maybe a little more Yaz?
And now for some Doctor Who neepery! The Doctor mentioned the TARDIS once regressed a Slitheen back into an egg, which is a reference to the events of the 2005 Ninth Doctor episode “Boom Town.” She also mentions the TARDIS once towed the Earth “halfway across the universe,” which is a reference to the 2008 Tenth Doctor episode “Journey’s End,” which coincidentally also dealt with stolen planets. Another story that deals with stolen planets, and miniaturized ones at that, is the 1978 Fourth Doctor serial “The Pirate Planet,” in which the hollow planet Zanak would materialize around other planets, plunder their mineral wealth, and then crush those planets down to tiny rocks. One such shrunken planet was Calufrax, which turned out to be a disguised segment of the Key to Time, a cube composed of crystalline shards that look remarkably similar to the ones Tzim-Sha was keeping his own shrunken planets in!
Next up, a New Year’s Day special (in which it is rumored the Daleks, whom we haven’t seen since 2015’s Twelfth Doctor episode “The Witch’s Familiar,” will return), and then…no new episodes until 2020? Say it ain’t so! These long breaks between seasons are a drag!