Director: Jamie Childs
Screenplay: Chris Chibnall
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Phyllis Logan, Mark Addy, Percelle Ascott, Samuel Oatle
Runtime: 50 Minutes
Series 11 - Episode 10
Coming around sooner than expected for any recent series of the show, a series finale for Doctor Who is usually the one where the show is able to flex its greatest strengths – with bigger plots, bigger threats, bigger emotions and bigger scale.
But pretty much the only real surprise to be found in The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is in just how small it ultimately feels, opting to stay in touch with the rest of the current series’ focus on characters and intimacy.
Chris Chibnall takes his first run at the show to its logical built-in conclusion structurally speaking, as the TARDIS team come into a final confrontation with Episode 1’s Tim Shaw (Samuel Oatley), but any leftover threads that eagle-eyed viewers may have picked up on (such as the state of the Doctor’s health, the baiting of other returning characters and the “timeless child” comment) have been left to be handled at a later time.
It’s probably for the best, considering this operates more as a standalone episode with no illusions for continuing its plot points further, and busying up the plot by throwing in more answers for eagerly waiting fans might complicate the whole as opposed to making it epic in scale and consequence.
The consequence of which leaves it borrowing more than a little from a certain past storyline, involving stolen planets and the Earth finally being put into the firing line of the vengeful Tim Shaw, who’s character has developed to one in a suspended state of suffering where his lack of growth over the course of 10 episodes in contrast with how much the main characters have changed working rather well.
The biggest change coming for Graham. Bradley Walsh has been this year’s secret weapon, and when faced with a scenario that could lead him down a divergent path from his friends and family by indulging his impulses to punish Tim Shaw, it’s satisfying to see his and Ryan’s arcs fulfilled – even with Ryan having little to contribute to beyond acting as a support to Graham’s arc coming to an end.
There’s also some great work once again on show in the chemistry between Whittaker and Gill, who might as well be operating on their own level to the rest of the cast as she mirrors the Doctor’s phrases back to her like a student to her teacher. Whittaker has proven herself a capable and worthy holder to the mantle of the Doctor, her ticks of thinking out loud and always looking for the best in a given situation like a frustrated teacher coming off well – although she could probably rely less on her sonic screwdriver as a means of solving every problem thrown at her.
Phyllis Logan and Percelle Ascott are likely the most interesting new characters as ageless all-powerful creatures under the influence of Shaw, believing him to be the god they have dedicated their faith too. Turns out the villain really was colonialism all along. It’s also nice to see TV favourite Mark Addy finally turn up as Paltraki, a captain long under the influence of the planet’s psychic manipulation powers.
But that does in some way expose some of the episode’s shortcomings or missed opportunities. The setting offers new challenges of the team in the form of this planet that can alter the mind, but beyond seeing its effects on certain characters the core cast aren’t affected by it in a specific moment where the tension appears to hinge on them being temporarily exposed to it. It also has that same wrap-up problem that many of the episodes have had so far, wherein the components of the resolution fit but essentially boil down to a solution that the Doctor spontaneously generated without much forethought.
The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos and its ridiculous title is going to satisfy some while disappointing others, but it feels in keeping with the rebirth of the show. There have been more moments this past series where the show has felt stimulating and alive than there have damp squib resolutions. The beats landed mostly as intended, the characters have all worked well together, and it still looks like there is plenty left for the group to explore together with fresh horizons, and some final words from the Doctor concerning faith, hope and the unknown is evidence of a show that has not lost touch with its identity and purpose in the spectrum of the genre.