It’s been an odd season of ‘Doctor Who,’ for sure – and odd is not always a bad thing, mind you, but the general consensus from fans and critic alike seems to be that there have been definitely peaks and valleys in Jodie Whittaker’s first run as the Doctor. The acting has been strong, but the stories themselves overall have felt fairly week. The question is begged, then: how does the ultimate episode of the season stack up?
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Although the season was largely focused on standalone episodes, fans got an inkling in the previews for “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” that a familiar face would likely be returning for this “big finale.” And they were right – sort of.
The action opens on the Ux – a pair of millennial-old traveling aliens with some sort of special psychic-construction powers. Their initial building work is interrupted, though, by the shadowy arrival of another alien. Who it is, though, will have to wait, as the action springs forward 3700-some-odd years to “present day,” where the Doctor and crew have picked up 9 different distress calls from the same planet, so they’ve really no choice but to help out.
The TARDIS arrives at the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, roughly translated from the native tongue as “disintegrator of us all” – cheery! It’s easy to see why this planet has a sad name: there’s a graveyard of spacecraft crashed on the surface, all surrounding a large ominous-looking floating edifice.
Upon entering the flying fortress with the last remaining captain of the last functional ship to visit the planet, the Doctor discovers the horrible truth: the alien that materialized in front of the Ux 3700 years ago was none other than Tzim-Sha, aka “Tim Shaw” the Stenza assassin that the Doctor banished back in the first episode of the season. His transporter was damaged, remember, so not only was he sent outward in space – he was sent outward in time. The Ux took his arrival as the sign that he was their god, and Tim’s spent the last almost-four millennia using the aliens and their power to build a super-weapon that’s capable of capturing entire planets and destroying the universe – you know, typical megalomaniacal villain stuff.
Will the Doctor be able to come up with a complicated-but-seemingly-really-easy way to defeat the bad guy and send the season out on a high note? Well – what do you think? Duh.
- We knew early on that new showrunner Chris Chibnall and his creative team made a dedicated decision to stay from using “classic” monsters throughout the duration of this run. And, aside from the occasional name-drop of the well-known Who evil alien race, those guns were fervently stuck to. Unless previous recent seasons, though, which featured awesome new villains like the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Nerada, none of the bad guys introduced this season really seemed to capture the audience’s imaginations – not even the toothy Stenza, I’m afraid.
- This season finale didn’t feel like a season finale at all, really. The stakes were relatively low, in universe-colliding Doctor Who terms, and yes, there was a “big threat” and the timey-wimey return of an “enemy” of the Doctor, but this “evil planet” meant nothing to us, as we had never heard of it before today, and Tim Shaw didn’t leave that big of an “evil” impression from his first episode to make us gasp now at his return.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Early rumors have a “classic” Who villain/alien returning for the New Year’s special episode – the Daleks, perhaps? As a litmus test for the gender-bending of the main character, this season has certainly succeeded, as Whittaker’s portrayal of the character has been, to borrow her own in-show turn of phrase, rather brilliant. To use the tried-and-true adage, though: only time will tell if the larger show and creative atmosphere around her can find its footing soon enough to make this iteration of Doctor Who the powerhouse show we all want it to be.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Sunday nights on BBC America.