In the tenth and final episode of the eleventh series of Doctor Who, the team responds to a bizarre number of distress calls and discovers a terrible plan. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For brief discussions/mentions of genocide and grief.
Y’all, what a SEASON. I admit that compared to previous season finales, this one doesn’t feel quite as huge. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. This is a remarkably solid story, and on a thematic level, this hit every emotional beat I needed from the end of the show. AND IT FEATURED THE RETURN OF TIM SHAW! Oh my god, we found out where the Doctor unknowingly sent him, and THIS IS SO FUCKED UP.
This series in particular has done such a great job of dropping us into other worlds and then slowly revealing what it is that’s actually going on. It’s one of my favorite structures in a story because it lends itself so naturally to dread and suspense. This episode isn’t an exception to that; the team arrives on Ranskoor Av Kolos with only the knowledge that nine distress calls are ringing out from the same area of the planet. NINE. The planet itself also seems actively hostile, since it can mess with a person’s mind. Even when they find a person, it doesn’t really help them at all. The planet has not only wiped all his long-term memories, but it seems to be ridding him of his temporary ones too. So, our conflict becomes a mystery: what happened on Ranskoor Av Kolos? Why are there so many ruined, destroyed spaceships? What is it that Paltraki “retrieved” that has angered the people of this planet?
I say “people” because until we learn who the Ux really are, I thought that Andinio and Delph were just two of many. I’m super into the idea that this entire race only has two beings who live for a milennia, particularly since this allows Tim Shaw’s manipulation to work exceedingly well. There are no other voices of dissent. The opening scene established that Delph was merely seventeen years into his training, and thus, he looked up to Andinio. He relied on her. He followed her lead. So all Tim Shaw had to do was convince Andinio that he was the “Creator” that the Ux were waiting for.
The Plan for Revenge
I understand the larger narrative spread over series 11, which isn’t the usual serialization we get from Doctor Who. This was all emotional. Grace was murdered by Tim Shaw in “The Woman Who Fell To Earth,” and her death sent ripples over the following eight episodes. Graham traveled with the Doctor to deal with his grief, and the events of “It Takes You Away” challenged him after he’d made so much progress. But there was one final piece of his story here: Would he fulfill his promise and kill Tim Shaw?
This is all deliberately paralleled with Tim Shaw, who has spent over 3,400 years plotting revenge himself. He used his own Stenza technology, manipulated the Ux into worshipping him as a god, and then exploited their dimensional powers in order to “capture” every planet that ever stood against the Stenza. Now, normally, I’d argue that the Doctor’s line about Graham being the “same” as Tim Shaw to be bullshit. What they’re doing is not the same; Tim Shaw is practicing genocide by condensing planets and effectively wiping out those populations. Graham’s revenge does not hold the same literal power. However, I saw this more of an emotional comparison. Look how obsessed Tim Shaw is with getting revenge. Granted, he dedicates approximately 3,406 years more towards this goal than Graham does. But that chilling scene on Ranskoor Av Kolos, where Graham openly admits to his desire to murder Tim Shaw, showed us that he was serious. He was dedicated to this promise. Thus, there’s a secondary conflict and tension that unfolds throughout the episode. Was he going to leave Ryan behind? Trick him to escape and then go after Tim Shaw? When the moment came, would he actually follow through with it?
I love so much that it’s Ryan who helps ground him in reality, that it’s Ryan who reminds him of being a better man. Their stories are intricately tied up in one another, and they’re absolutely tied to traveling with the Doctor! You can’t get rid any of these three companions and still have the same story.
So what this comes down to for me is that this really does feel like a super group, and I was so pleased that the Doctor framed it this way during the big climactic scene with Delph and Andinio. The adventures over series 11 brought these four people together, and it made them into a family. It’s very fitting, then, that this episode involved the liberation of the Ux, which also pushed them into a new realization of what kind of family they could be. The Ux are their own Creators, their own gods who can shape the universe with their mysterious powers. And isn’t that a wonderful metaphor for what the Doctor’s three new companions also accomplished? They became something whole, something powerful, something beautiful, all because they traveled together—with hope in their hearts!!!—and remained open and vulnerable to the experience. Tim Shaw’s end is far more poetic, and Graham gets closure without the guilt of death staining his hands. The team is now closer than ever, and a new adventure awaits them the next time they step out of that big blue box.
Doctor Who has felt so alive and well in the hands of Chibnall and this phenomenal cast and crew, and I cannot wait for a ton more adventures with these people.
The video for “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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