Honestly, I am getting tired of writing these reviews. I bet you’re tired of reading them, too. The good news is that this is for the last of the present series. The bad news is that I still have the New Year special to watch and write about (though the mentions that I’ve not been able to avoid seeing out of the corner of my eye have suggested that that might be rather better than the series proper).
Anyway, here we go.
The Doctor and her Completely Pointless Companions receive a distress call from the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, where (spoiler) no battle will take place. The planet is allegedly afflicted by a psychic field that alters people’s perception of reality, but nothing comes of this. (The Doctor and her CPCs stick field inhibitors to their heads, which nullifies the effect. Later, the Doctor and Yaz take theirs off, but it makes no difference.) Tim Shaw from the first episode Skypes them (or he may be using Google Hangouts), and so naturally the Doctor picks up a big plastic crystal and starts hiking across a wilderness of crashed ships to a big floating rock where Tim lives. She and the CPCs, plus another NPC that they’ve picked up along the way are conveniently teleported up into it, where of course they split up for no reason. The Doctor is confronted by a priestess from a race clearly modelled on the Sith: always two there are; no more, no less. A master and an apprentice. For reasons no-one explains, she conveniently escorts the Doctor to the room where Tim Shaw awaits, now worshipped as a god by the Sith for reasons that — stop me if you’ve heard this before — no-one explains.
And so it goes on.
Really, just stop now. None of it means anything. None of it comes from anywhere or goes anywhere. None of it has consequences or implications, none of it sheds any light on any of what I suppose I must call the characters. Things happen, one after another, until our forty-five minutes are up, and then it stops. The theme music runs and, I like to imagine, off-screen all the actors breathe a sigh of relief.
I admit I’ve surprised myself with just how negative this post has turned out to be. I didn’t particularly dislike this episode more than any of the others in the series. I think it’s just that, now we’ve reached the end, the psychological crutch of thinking “It’ll get good soon, just wait and see” has been properly kicked away. Now I’m left with nothing but to evaluate what’s in front of me by its own merits. And what I see, on the basis of all ten episodes, is by far the weakest series since the 2005 reboot. In truth, it fails on all counts:
- The writing is weak on big-picture stuff: there’s no sense of what the season as a whole is about, and few of the episodes have any kind of comment to make on our own world. (When they do, as in Kerblam!, whatever message might have been intended is horribly muffed.)
- The writing is weak in the small, as well. There are terribly few Doctorish moments, and absolutely nothing like that visceral gut punch of Doctor Chris telling Rose “I’m left travelling on my own, because there’s no-one else”, for her to reply “There’s me”.
- The Doctor — and I am truly sorry for everyone who was pinning their hopes on a female Doctor being a huge win — is not very good at all. She’s had ten episodes to progress beyond being a conglomeration of mannerisms, and not managed it. I still have no sense of who she is, in the way that I knew who Nine and Eleven were within two or three episodes.
- The Completely Pointless Companions are completely pointless. Absolutely nothing marks them out as actual characters. Nothing that any one of them says or does couldn’t equally well have been said or done by any of them.
The only times that Series 11 works up a real sense of power is when, as in Rosa, it’s trading on historical events that we already to some extent understand, and whose relevance to our own time and place is instantly obvious. In other words, when it’s borrowing rhetorical power rather than creating it.
Honestly, the gulf between this and Series 5 is just embarrassing.
Well. This has been disappointing. I’ve genuinely tried to like this season, and to give it as much rope as I could. It didn’t come through. I guess I won’t be bothering to blog Series 12 (though I will probably still bother to watch it, out of sheer loyalty).
- DOCTOR WHO: ‘THE BIG BATTLE OF WHATEVERITWAS’ by Gavin Burrows, whose speculative rewrite of the episode structure would have made it immeasurably better. Closing line: “BBC Execs, I think this proves I’m a better scriptwriter than the one you currently have. On the other hand, so are both of my cats. And I don’t have any cats.”
- The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos Review by Elizabeth Sandifer. “There’s no sense whatsoever of who or what this show is for other than being the BBC’s attempt at filling an hour on the Sunday night schedule.” If anything, Sandifer is even more relentlessly negative than I am: “I’d love to write a properly venomous takedown of it. But there isn’t even anything to say.”