Jan. 21st, 2019

purplecat: The Thirteenth Doctor and Tards (Who:Thirteen)
The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos is an odd episode. It manages to be both very like most of series 11 and something of an odd-one-out. Similarly it is both like a traditional NuWho finale and like a traditional classic Who season ender. The whole is not quite the sum of its parts.

As with much of series 11, most of the emotional heft of the episode is being carried by Ryan and Graham, particularly Graham's desire to kill Tim Shaw. As viewers, we pretty much know he's not going to do it - or at least I never for a moment considered there to be any possibility he would go through with it. It's a nice end to that emotional journey but doesn't really have quite the space it needs and it ends in a kind of bathetic humour, that ultimately doesn't work as well as some of the Graham and Ryan stuff elsewhere in the season. Meanwhile, since Graham and Ryan are dealing with Tim Shaw the Doctor is left somewhat on the sidelines not dealing directly with the major antagonist. We add to the flesh-eating water in The Ghost Monument, and the Doctor's limp from The Tsuranga Conundrum a reality bending psychic field around the planet which seems like it should have an obvious plot payoff and doesn't. In this case it seems mostly to be there so that Paltraki can only explain what is going on in fits and starts rather than providing an info-dump all at once. It also seems possible the psychic field is supposed to explain the behaviour of the Ux, but in lots of ways that explanation raises more questions than it answers, though the Ux are, in general under-explained and rather poorly motivated.

On the other hand, unlike much of series 11, there was a genuine bad guy. The Doctor got to stand up to him. We began to have a more nuanced explanation to her "no guns" attitudes of earlier in the series and there was a bit more story to get our teeth into (no pun intended) than we have had with many of the other Chibnall episodes. Sadly Tim Shaw is not that compelling a villain and his final incarceration is unsatisfactory. Maybe, because we never believe Graham will kill Tim Shaw, we are never really asked to confront the question of whether killing Tim Shaw (who has wiped out several planets since the Doctor last failed to kill him) might actually be a reasonable course of action. The Thirteenth Doctor's tendency to ignore the bigger problems and the bigger villains, to dodge complex moral questions by simply walking away, continues and it remains unclear if this is meant to be a virtue or a flaw or is just some weird coincidence arising from the way these stories have been constructed. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos not only has no conclusions about this it barely seems to recognise it as a point of discussion despite it being implicit in the return of Tim Shaw.

In classic Who the last story in a season was nearly always just another story. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos has much of this feel to it. Although we have the return of Tim Shaw, it's not something that has been building all season and, though the stakes are high, they are not presented in a particularly epic fashion.

It's a perfectly fine story, probably in the bottom half of those this series, but not terrible. I'm not fond of the overblown NuWho finale and I like this better than some of those, but it is a shame the series couldn't end on a stronger note.

Although, obviously, possibly it did, depending upon one's views about Resolution.

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