This review contains no spoilers for Episode 10, but mentions plot details from the rest of Season 11 so far. Read on for our additional spoilery observations, after you’ve seen the episode.
“Finally, this is where our journey stops.”
For Doctor Who, season finales needn’t be the end of the world. Over the previous 10 seasons, we’ve seen the stakes reach the level of reality being destroyed, time coming to an end, and even the universe itself being unwritten, and then escalate further. But in all things, it’s how significant the action feels to the characters.
After a terrific run with guest writers, Season 11 is brought to a stop (to borrow the term that the mysterious Andinio uses in her opening line) by showrunner Chris Chibnall, whose script encompasses all the qualities of his more measured approach to the series, but all of the drawbacks too.
When the episode begins, Team TARDIS is drawn to the titular planet by no fewer than nine separate distress calls. Upon their arrival, they find a commander (Mark Addy) who has no memory of either his mission or his comrades. What’s clear is that something terrible has happened, but when a familiar enemy reappears, the worst could be yet to come.
The main problem with the finale is a structural one. While the episode is extraordinarily good at building up an atmosphere of dread, piling on the pressure as the unfolding mystery reveals more and more strange and powerful new factors in play, but then, right on schedule, bursts the bubble with an exposition dump and a flurry of incoherent action.
Quickfire exposition is Doctor Who’s bread and butter, but as has happened throughout Season 11, the leisurely pace leads to unwieldy passages and rushed conclusions, and for this finale, it really diminishes what it’s trying to do. There are high-stakes plot holes big enough to tug the entire episode inside out, and the midpoint divide is really to its detriment.
There’s a feeling that the stuff that’s good – Jodie Whittaker and her TARDIS fam, Jamie Childs’ excellent direction, and the show’s back-to-basics approach – is the same stuff that’s been good in episodes that have more to recommend them. You’re left looking for what else there is that’s particularly special about it.
Chibnall deserves huge credit for refreshing the series, but following the great double-header of The Woman Who Fell To Earth and The Ghost Monument, his other episodes show why this season has primarily been a triumph of vision over execution. Because here, in a finale that grapples with the consequences of the Doctor’s actions for the first time since she regenerated, it all winds up feeling a little inconsequential.
Writing more than half the season (including his co-credit on the admittedly excellent Rosa), Chibnall has undoubtedly made the show his own. After such a boldly different run, it’s just a shame that The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos, the last regular episode we’ll see until 2020, feels like such an average effort.
Doctor Who Season 11, Episode 10 is available on BBC iPlayer until 9th June 2019.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– This one feels like a couple of different classic episodes, specifically drawing on Fourth Doctor serials The Pirate Planet, with its planetary trophies, and Logopolis, with dimensional engineers being manipulated by a malevolent returning villain.
– The dynamic between the Doctor and Tim Shaw, with her constantly dunking on everything from his name to his self-serious demeanour, is still a lot of fun to watch. But for all of the season’s subtle seeding of the Stenza as a threat, with destroyed planets and galactic reigns of terror, it’s frustrating that we don’t see or learn any more of their species here. We suspect we’ll see more of them, but we’ve not got much to go on in their appearances so far.
– While Walsh is great in his cold determination to finish Tim Shaw, the false equivalence at play is nonsense. The Doctor shouldn’t kill, but we learn that the rogue Stenza has committed five planetary genocides since we last met him, all with designs on destroying Earth too. This, and her dialogue about laying down the rules, felt uncharacteristic for the gang’s dynamic.
– The villain being locked in his own trophy cabinet by Ryan and Graham is a nice moment, but the massive extent of his villainy feels thrown away. Putting the planets back may seem like the right thing to do, but with the deaths of people who live on them, it’s hardly a triumphal note.
– “Yippee ki yay, robots!” As in The Ghost Monument, the Sniperbots are still a bit crap. If Tim Shaw does have millions of them ready to go, then nobody seems overly concerned about it at the end of the episode, but then again, they are rubbish shots. If they ever do get activated, they’ll probably knack themselves again, before they ever get a taxi off-world.
– “Travel hopefully.” Despite another long break looming ahead of us, Doctor Who will return on New Year’s Day for a one-hour special, titled Resolution. It’s been broadly speculated that “the most dangerous creature” described in the trailer is another returning baddy, but we’ll have to wait three more weeks to find out for sure…