The end of Series 11 falls flat.

It’s hard to believe we’re already at the end of Series 11 of Doctor Who. The soft relaunch has by all accounts been a massive success, with Jodie Whittaker leading the helm in front of the camera and a strong set of new writers behind-the-scenes. But there’s a considerable problem. Showrunner Chris Chibnall’s episodes just aren’t that good. Outside of “The Woman Who Fell To Earth,” every other story he’s solely written for this season has been significantly weaker than the rest. He seems to have trouble finding the right balance of pacing, showing-not-telling, and creating imposing baddies. These issues come into glaring focus with “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.”

To start, the TARDIS intercepts nine distress calls, all coming from the same area of the same titular planet. The planet transmits violent psychic waves that distort reality and change moods to the extreme. To counter them, The Doctor supplies the team with neurobalancers. When they arrive, they see that effect first-hand from Paltraki, a pilot with amnesia. One neurobalancer later though and he starts to recover. While Paltraki doesn’t have a ton to do, Mark Addy does a great job as someone trying to put himself back together.

The TARDIS team quickly learns that Paltraki was sent down to recover what looks like a rock in a crystal. He took it back from none other than Tzim-Sha, back from the season premiere. It makes sense that he’d wind up being this year’s Big Bad, but I can’t say he’s a good enough villain to warrant a repeat appearance. He looks creepy and is generally evil. That’s his whole schtick. I don’t see the Stenza sticking around as a long-term baddie on Doctor Who.

But Tzim-Sha’s reappearance does give Bradley Walsh a chance to shine. Graham decides almost immediately that he’s going to kill Tzim-Sha in revenge for Grace. But he states it with no outward rage or grief, just a matter-of-fact acceptance that makes those scenes more powerful. The Doctor tells Graham that if he does this, he could no longer travel with her. Even this line in the sand doesn’t dissuade him though. As him and Ryan try to find Paltraki’s crew, they argue over whether to kill Tzim-Sha or not. Ryan’s personal growth is on-display here, as he thinks Graham would throw away everything he built with the rest of the TARDIS crew for revenge.

Speaking of revenge, that’s what’s on Tzim-Sha’s mind! In a face-off with The Doctor, he reveals that he’s taken the Stenza’s goal of holding people in stasis as trophies to a whole new level. With the powers of the Ux at his beck and call, he’s now doing it to entire civilizations. That’s what the rock in crystal is, a shrunk-down planet, with all life extinguished. With five planets in stasis, the next target is Earth. But even as the Ux start to use their powers on the Earth, there’s never a real sense of urgency. Chibnall’s writing adds too much exposition and casual chatter for such an imminent threat. That’s really the problem with the whole episode. The stakes should be high, but that feeling rarely comes across.

To stop the Ux without killing them, The Doctor turns her neurobalancer into a neuroblocker, to prevent their minds from destroying Earth. This leaves Yaz and The Doctor vulnerable to the planet’s psychic waves. It could’ve been a cool opportunity for these two characters to have an extra-challenge of a fading memory or mood swings. Instead…they get headaches for a minute and then it never comes up again. So why even introduce this aspect in the first place? It seems like Chibnall had the neuroblocker solution in mind, then worked backwards to justify their existence.

The Doctor quickly convinces the Ux that Tzim-Sha is a false god, and they agree to help her restore the planets to their rightful places in space. It’s all predictable, as is what happens when Graham meets Tzim-Sha. But in that case, strong performances from both Walsh and Tosin Cole keep that scene effective. Graham takes Ryan’s advice to heart and spares Tzim-Sha’s life. Instead, they lock in a stasis chamber for all time.

In the end, The Doctor and her fam return to the TARDIS for parts unknown. With that, Series 11 comes to a close. It’s unfortunate to see it end with such a middling outing, though we still have the New Year’s Day special. These last 10 episodes have been a mixed-bag, with some top-tier work but also some subpar stories. If Doctor Who is to shine again in the next series, keep what works (the main cast, the more diverse writing team, the powerful look at real injustices) and decrease what doesn’t (mainly, Chibnall’s writing). With a few tweaks, Series 12 could be the best one yet.

Show Notes:

  • The Doctor states that Ranskoor Av Kolos roughly translates to “disintegrator of the soul.” As Graham sarcastically says, “Another cheery one.”
  • Just as Graham blows up the sniperbots, he goes “Yippee ki-yay, robots.” Graham’s awesome.
  • The Doctor thinks she half-invented wellies.
  • The TARDIS powers up via a clapper.
  • When Yaz questions if The Doctor’s plan will work, she responds that the TARDIS once dragged Earth halfway across the universe, so probably. Nice reference to another season finale, “Journey’s End.”