Previously on Doctor Who, “It Takes You Away”
It’s hard to believe, but the Thirteenth Doctor’s first season is done, wrapping up where it began, with the revenge of Tzim-Sha. The scope, effects, and title of “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” seem on a much bigger scale, but, like all of Season 11’s other stories and any good classic Doctor Who episode, it all boils down to one place, a supergroup of teamwork, and a solid moral lesson. The setup is a familiar one: Sometimes the Doctor’s solutions don’t resolve the entire problem and, thanks to complications of time travel, double back in a big way, threatening even more lives than the first time through. After being kicked off the crane in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” Tzim-Sha, wracked with damage from the DNA bombs, was banished to Ranskoor Av Kolos where he manipulated a binary race into believing he was their god, binding their extensive power to his revenge mission for three millennia.
When the universe gives the Doctor a second chance, the resolution often reveals the degree of darkness in that Doctor’s moral compass—some are more vengeful (10, in particular) than others. But the Thirteenth Doctor is a delegator, building up her companions and new friends so they can make those choices for themselves. After suffering all season from Grace’s loss, it isn’t the Doctor who locks Tzim-Sha away from society forever, but Graham and Ryan, having successfully passed the moral crisis of making peace with what Grace would want. The last living mercenary captain of a crashed ship returns to the helm a hero to take all the survivors home, and a new powerful race of two, the Ux, integrate the destructive results of their own crisis of faith and decide to see the universe for themselves, not unlike Ashildr and Clara in “Hell Bent,” traveling the universe on infinite yet borrowed time.
The season finale overall is nicely done, with typical “crash landing” sets for Doctor Who but new and different enough with some Prometheus vibes mixed with “The Doctor’s Wife.” Mark Addy makes magnetic work of the mercenary commander Paltraki, and Samuel Oatley’s Tzim-Sha is menacing on the scale of Star Trek: DS9 uber-villains. While their roles are more brief and typical, the Ux, played by Percelle Ascott and Phyllis Logan, are an interesting addition to the alien pantheon. How can only two exist for millennia? How are there ever more? What is their usual occupation besides rearranging rocks? As with other species this season, I doubt we’ll ever know, but it’s fun to ponder. Yaz again doesn’t have much to do, but reaffirms her commitment to stay with the Doctor no matter what. If you’re a shipper, her promise “I’m with you, whatever happens” is a clip for your collection.
Chibnall’s solo script, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos,” makes a fine conclusion to Jodie Whittaker’s first season. Controversy marks every new Doctor’s introduction, but hers met with more than others, thanks to resistance to the Doctor’s change in gender. Yet no new Doctor has settled in faster, coming out of the fog of regeneration with a fully formed mission statement. Whittaker could have played her Doctor more proper, more elegant, more stereotypically female like Missy, but she didn’t, leaning on wide, wondrous, even goofy expressions and gangly stomping that recalls the Ninth and Eleventh Doctors as well as in-the-trenches archaeologists, which was, after all, the First Doctor’s original character sketch. Her Doctor believes in people, not with naivete but with an acknowledgement and understanding of their pain, pushing them just a little further than they’re comfortable. With Whittaker’s face alight with faith and friendship, we hope they don’t disappoint her. She’s unabashedly proud of her fam, so we are, too. And perhaps, thanks to the Chicken Soup for the Doctor’s Soul speech from her predecessor during regeneration, she has the best philosophical sayings, one of which ends this episode:
“None of us know for sure what’s out there, that’s why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you… constantly.”
Luckily for us, this season won’t be her last. Whittaker’s Doctor will return in Season 12, but that may not be until 2020. Until then, we’ll see Team TARDIS in the BBC’s upcoming New Year’s Day special.
When the TARDIS receives nine distress calls from different ships on the same planet, they arrive on Ranskoor Av Kolos, translated “Disintegrator of the Soul,” and don neural balancers to protect them from violent psychotropic waves pulsing through the atmosphere and anyone who’s crash landed in this graveyard of spaceships. They run in to Creston Paltraki (Mark Addy) a merchant captain who’s lost his crew to The Creator, who wants a stolen artifact, a large diamond object with a pulsing black center, returned. The Creator? Tzim-Sha. Graham turns grim, calmly informing the Doctor as they make their way towards the ship that he has every intention of killing Tzim-Sha, and even her promise to kick him off Team TARDIS won’t stop him. The ship, resembling the First Light on steroids, is an Ux temple, previously manned only by nature-benders Delph and Andinio, but now perverted and commandeered by Tzim-Sha, who has convinced them he’s their god for over 3000 years.
Sending out her team armed with trackers, coms, grenades, code breakers, and a bomb, the Doctor gets Andinio’s attention and confronts Tzim-Sha, who’s harnessed the Ux technology and blended it with the Stenza’s database to carry out his revenge against the Doctor. His particular technique is to plug Delph, the main power source, into a throne-style antenna and use Andinio, the true believer, as a driver. They reach out with their mind and capture entire planets, compacting and depositing them into the artifact stasis pods, held hostage in the control room. Excited to meet the Ux and dismayed at their abuse at Tzim-Sha’s hands, the Doctor points out there’s only so long that will work, because nature will resist, and those planets cannot be in the same place at the same time.
Graham and Ryan find the stasis pod room where Paltraki’s and other crews are held, arguing all the while about what Grace truly would have wanted. Graham feels adamant that Grace wanted to live and was really good at it and would have told him to do something about it if he could. Ryan, however, says she always told him to be the better man. Plus, he wants Graham to live, because he loves him, he admits at last, humorously rolling his eyes while Graham stands agape. They manage to break most of the prisoners out and send them with Paltraki before Tzim-Sha realizes what’s happening and stalks off to find them.
The Ux keep the Doctor and Yaz busy by targeting Tzim-Sha’s ultimate goal: the planet Earth. They decide to sacrifice their own neural balancers to block the Ux’s powers. Andinio is angry, but once the Doctor points out Tzim-Sha’s lie (he can’t be a god, when she knows him from earlier), they are willing to work with the Doctor, especially as the planets begin to break free of their containers. Praying for help from the Universe, the Doctor calls in the TARDIS, extends its dematerializing field and gives Delph direct access to its telepathic circuits, saying,
“Tzim-Sha might have a shrine, but I’ve got a ghost monument.”
With sparks flying, Delph screaming, and Andinio praying, the police box beacon reaches out and sends each planet back to its place. Everybody lives.
After sending Ryan and Paltraki down to the planet with the survivors, Graham stays behind and waits for Tzim-Sha, but is unable to pull the trigger. Fortunately, Ryan swoops in and attracts Tzim-Sha’s attention, giving Graham an opening to shoot the alien in the foot. They deposit him in a stasis cell, giving him one last word to think on for all eternity: Grace. The Doctor is impressed with Graham, calling him one of the strongest people she’s ever known. Paltraki promises to take everyone back home and the Ux, needing to re-evaluate after their experience, decide to travel the universe and get some perspective, an outlook the Doctor approves of, of course.
Quotes, Trivia, and Thoughts
- “Always bring wellies. I love wellies. In fact, I think I half invented them.”
- I love how Whittaker’s hair starts out glossy and pressed, then devolves into humidity curls. Relatable.
- Like in “The Ghost Monument,” Paltraki scoffs at the name “Earth,” asking what kind of word that is.
- Although this solves the Tzim-Sha problem (kind of), it doesn’t solve the Stenza problem, opening the door for another run-in with them in the future.
- The robot guards in this episode are very similar to those in “Kerblam!” which cuts down on characters and provides semi-exciting targets with no consequences.
- “I think your Nan would want to be alive. She actually liked being alive and she was really good at it.”
- The transport entrance is similar to the Witnesses’ ship in “Demons of the Punjab.”
Doctor Who S11E10 Review Score
"The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos"
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Mark Addy, Phyllis Logan, Percelle Ascott, Jan Le, Samuel Oatley | Directed by: Jamie Childs | Written by: Chris Chibnall