NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who” are present in this review
Doctor Who has certainly been soaring over the past several weeks, with its past few episodes appearing to be leading into an especially exciting season finale this week, one that would hopefully do proper justice to the many standout adventures that the Thirteenth Doctor has experienced so far! Sadly though, the show didn’t quite achieve that same lofty standard with, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” this week, which is still a pretty decent episode of Doctor Who, in fairness, but it is a noticeable step down from many of Series Eleven’s stronger storylines. This is especially evident in how it tries, and only somewhat justifies, to bring around a noteworthy foe from the start of the season. Yes, it’s exactly the one you’re thinking of.
Before we get to the excitement though, the episode begins with a mysterious religious rite being performed by a mysterious alien race called the Ux, who live on the desolate planet, Ranskoor Av Kolos. When the Ux apparently summon their very divine creator with the rite, over three-thousand years then pass, before The Doctor and her companions start picking up multiple distress signals from the same location on Ranskoor Av Kolos, via the TARDIS. Somehow, many entire groups of individuals are all simultaneously in peril within the same small spot, and that’s naturally a mystery that The Doctor can’t pass up!
Things certainly begin well enough, with The Doctor telling her companions that the surface of Ranskoor Av Kolos has a mental radiation that degrades and disturbs the brains of just about any non-Ux life form that goes out onto the surface, which requires everyone to wear mental dampeners. Luckily, The Doctor’s crew has a couple of spare ones as well, when they discover that a confused pilot named Paltraki was undergoing some sort of mission on the planet, until his crew ended up being captured by the local inhabitants, the Ux, who are answering to their creator. It doesn’t take long for the ‘creator’ to ring some warning bells for The Doctor and friends as well, since they all quickly recognize him to be none other than Tzim-Sha, or, “Tim Shaw” as The Doctor keeps mistakenly calling him, the very same Stenza warrior that served as the first foe of the Thirteenth Doctor and her new companions, all the way back during the Series Eleven premiere at the start of October!
The revelation that Tzim-Sha survived the events of the season premiere, and has been manipulating the incredible mental powers of the Ux for millennia, is a pretty great one, and one that I predicted would eventually come to pass, since Doctor Who’s new showrunner, Chris Chibnall seemed to be intent on shifting away from classic Doctor Who monsters this season, in turn also creating an all-new recurring nemesis for The Doctor in the process. The return of Tzim-Sha certainly works in terms of scope as well, as it soon after comes out that Tzim-Sha has used the powers of the Ux to imprison entire planets within crystalline chambers, moving on from capturing individuals to capturing entire civilizations in the name of the Stenza! This not only explains the multiple widespread distress signals that were confined to a tiny space, but also provides a convenient means to threaten the entirety of Earth, The Doctor’s favourite planet, which Tzim-Sha aims to capture next as revenge against The Doctor!
It’s here however that the episode’s storyline really starts to come apart. Chibnall’s current run of Doctor Who episodes have always had awesome premises behind them throughout all of Series Eleven, but a few of Chibnall’s episodes have also suffered from the fact that their resolutions are questionable, rushed and unsatisfying. Sadly, this issue of underwhelming resolutions seemed to be apparent with this week’s Series Eleven finale. The first and most pressing flaw with Tzim-Sha’s plan is, why exactly did he wait for The Doctor to come find him again before going after Earth? Didn’t he have three-thousand years to exact his supposed, “Revenge” on The Doctor? He could have done so at any point! Second, how exactly did The Doctor messing with Tzim-Sha’s technology somehow warp him all the way to Ranskoor Av Kolos? If Stenza technology is so advanced and amazing that it can capture and harness entire planets, then how is it also so crappy that a quick hack by The Doctor somehow beams the user all the way across the universe from where they’re actually supposed to go?! As cool as it is to see Tzim-Sha return, his return didn’t really make a lot of sense here, and that was a big let-down.
Another significant let-down in this episode is the fact that the titular ‘Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ has a pretty lame reason for unfolding, and the fact that this episode is titled after it makes it sound like this season finale is a lot more exciting than it actually is. Not only does this entire battle happen off-screen, but it’s also very underdeveloped as a conflict. We don’t really learn much about it beyond the fact that some people apparently got wind of the Ux’s ‘false god’, and tried to stop him. The idea that Tzim-Sha could exploit the Ux to massacre an entire army is kind of cool, but the Ux are ultimately talked down from their ‘faith’ ridiculously easily by The Doctor, to the point where you have to wonder if the Ux are just stupid for not recognizing that Tzim-Sha is very obviously a false god, for thousands of years no less! Speaking of easy answers, Graham also ultimately deflates an otherwise great conflict for his character this week, when he confronts Tzim-Sha himself, having to face the urge to kill the evil alien that killed his wife. The Doctor threatening to kick Graham off of the TARDIS if he takes revenge, and Ryan having to listen to Graham conspire to kill Tzim-Sha while they’re trying to rescue Paltraki’s captive crew, both make for pretty awesome moments, and these scenes at least serve as highlights for this episode. Having Graham just do a heel-turn and decide he doesn’t want to kill Tzim-Sha in the end however, for basically no reason, is both lame and anti-climactic, especially for a season finale. Graham couldn’t have at least tried to avenge Grace, and learned the hard lesson he needed to in the process?
Despite some of its missteps however, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” at least manages to succeed in terms of scale, atmosphere and another strong concept. The execution of said concept certainly leaves a bit to be desired, especially when every bit of drama in this episode ends up being completely meaningless in the end, but it’s still neat to see Series Eleven come full circle with the return of Tzim-Sha, even if the show really had to strain to make him a big enough threat for a season finale. Some of the flaws in this episode stick out all the more when you consider the hot streak that much of Series Eleven’s latter half has been on for the past several weeks as well, leaving the season to close out on a bit of a weaker note than it deserved to. Even if The Doctor and her companions don’t ultimately suffer any real challenge or losses in their second battle against Tzim-Sha however, at least the stage is set for what’s hopefully a more impactful New Years Special in a few weeks, especially since the rumour mill is buzzing about The Doctor re-encountering another familiar alien threat in said special!
- Strong atmosphere and mystery throughout Ranskoor Av Kolos
- Graham's great scenes with The Doctor and Ryan
- Tzim-Sha's return provides a great way for the season to come full circle
- Tzim-Sha's return doesn't ultimately make much sense
- The Doctor talks down the Ux far too easily
- Graham deciding not to kill Tzim-Sha feels unearned and lame