RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who 2/11.10: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos 12 December 2018

The season ends not with a bang but with a "to be continued". And that's not a bad thing.

Particularly when we start off with a vision of mental disintegration portrayed remarkably well by Mark Addy (though he doesn't get to do it for long), and some atmospheric interior sets that make up for the generic gravel-pit outside shots. Pity about the "nine distress calls" that never come to anything, though.

Oh, Doctor, you of all people shouldn't say it's impossible to steal a planet! It's happened before in both the old (The Pirate Planet) and the new (The Stolen Earth / Journey's End) iterations of the show. So have people who can change the universe via thought (Logopolis, School Reunion). Perhaps that's why this doesn't feel as Epic! as one might have expected. Back in the day, the last story of a series was typically just the one that happened to be finished last, but since the revival, there's been a more US-style emphasis on a big expensive high-stakes story at the end of the season; which is why it's odd that this really doesn't feel big, or expensive (except for the sets aboard the shrine-ship, which are impressive if under-lit), or even particularly high-stakes. But the big flashy finales always felt to me like a poor fit for Who, and the constant raising of stakes drifted from dramatic into bathetic in remarkably short order. This is simply another story in the season, with some connections to earlier stories and a bigger budget than some of them, and it does a good job of being that.

All right, there's a frankly dull Message about the stupidity of unquestioning faith, but it's not dwelt on for long; the excuses for the immediate plot don't necessarily make much sense, but since the plot comes down to "a bad person is doing bad things and needs to be stopped" better scaffolding would be largely superfluous anyway. The first half is slower than it needs to be, and could have used perhaps a bit more action and a bit less wandering around, but the second half balances conventional action with moral choices and reasonably smart problem-solving. It's one of the good ones this season, and the Chibnall script I've liked best.

My feeling on the season is still that it's got a solid production team and a good set of actors, but it desperately needs a better showrunner, specifically someone less keen to write all his own scripts (five and a half out of ten scripts here, and the New Year's special, and Chibnall simply isn't that great; in fact I'd say he's the worst of the writers this season), and someone prepared to ask for a bit more than mere basic handle-turning competence from their scriptwriters, for some scripts that can balance message (I'm not saying there shouldn't be message) with decent characters and drama, and writing complex and subtle enough to provide a bit more interest for the adult viewers and the smarter children as well as being comprehensible to the stupidest kids in the mass audience.

There are a few turkeys, but plenty of solid episodes here, and I hope that Whittaker in particular stays on and develops her portrayal of the character further. (The plan is for her to continue for at least another series, to be broadcast early in 2020.) Bradley Walsh is effortlessly out-acting the kiddies - well, so's Whittaker, but Walsh is obvious about it and could perhaps stand to tone it down a bit if they can't up their game. It would be nice if someone occasionally remembered that Yaz is meant to be a police officer, and if they gave Ryan a bit more to do.

But the departure of Moffat brought me back to the show, and I've found this season worth watching.

The final episode of this season will be the New Year's Day special, but if it's anything like the previous run of Christmas specials it'll be more of a whimsical side story in the manner of The Five Doctors or Dimensions in Time than part of any kind of ongoing narrative. (A Christmas Carol and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe did a great deal of the work it took to push me away from the revived show.) Still, we'll see – it might instead be worth the time.

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 08:38am on 13 December 2018

    Yeah, the writers REALLY need to make Yaz act more like a police officer. She should have all sorts of dealing with nutters skills, and dealing with distraught members of the public skills, and spotting a wrong 'un skills. Even if she only has the "TV crime drama copper" version of those skills (i.e eyewitness testimony is always spot on unless the eyewitness is a wrong 'un), she should have them.

    Otherwise they may as well have said her job is music teacher or forklift truck driver or personal shopper.

  2. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:03pm on 13 December 2018

    I feel that giving the female Doctor an older male companion who can do all the wise old fella stuff is undermining the Doctor's role and her authority.

    She needs to be able to do more and to do slightly less of the 'what am I like' and 'I just can't remember' stuff.

    I missed there being any sort of through line in the season. No links, very little character development.

    I understand that Chibnall has taken a conscious decision not to do the fan service thing and bring back stories and monsters from earlier series. But instead we're ending up comparing his new stuff to the old and finding it lacking.

    The last two episodes though managed to get tone right, at least in the initial set-up. And the music was helping a lot.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 10:16am on 14 December 2018

    When the genesis of a story is "let's bring back the X", you get Earthshock or Revenge of the Cybermen – and continuity collapse. I'd much rather see the show do what it usually did when it was working well, and invent new monsters that fit the story being told. At least there isn't one based on a Blue Peter contest this time.

    I think in general I was rather happier with this season than you were; I will admit the problems you mention, but overall it mostly seemed to hold together. With someone more competent in charge it could have worked really well.

  4. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:11pm on 14 December 2018

    You had to remind me of LINDA didn't you? The girl absorbed into the paving slab and her on going relationship with her boyfriend... The Pain!

    I'm not totally upset by the season. I just feel 'could do better'. It didn't give me enough of the sensa wunda that the last few managed.

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