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The Doctor, Witches and Human Nature

Szofi

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Series 11 goes back to the past one last time as the Doctor and friends find themselves in early 17th century Lancashire. The village of Bilehurst Cragg is in the middle of their witch trials and the team soon finds themselves interfering history to save innocent souls. Spoiler alert: “The Witchfinders” find aliens instead of witches.

The Morax and why we leave trees alone

I’ve been making it clear with my reviews of “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” that in general, I prefer historical episodes of Doctor Who. “The Witchfinders” is no different, though this latest episode has a different feel to it. In many ways, I feel it’s more “Doctor Who-like” than other episodes this season. Not that it’s a problem that series 11 has been a breath of fresh air, not at all. “The Witchfinders” is more standard in its treatment of its villain and structure but still has a unique Thirteenth Doctor and series 11 vibe to it.

So, what about the monster of the week? Well, for starters, we’re back to being able to call it that. Series 11′s villains have mostly been humans themselves, with aliens being either a red herring or just going about their life. Tim Shaw from the season premiere has been the only exception until now. Meet the Morax, mud-like creatures imprisoned on Earth for war crimes. It would probably be fair to say that they won’t go down as one of the iconic monsters in Doctor Who history, but they work well within “The Witchfinders”. They pose a real threat and their true nature is a mystery to be uncovered. Most importantly, they work well within the historical framework that the episode presents.

Take the human element out of “The Witchfinders” and the Morax become a bunch of bland monsters. On their own, they are just yet another race full of bloodlust that the Doctor has to stop from conquering Earth. In the context of the 17th century witch trials, the Morax become the magic that people fear, the “satanic” force driving people to hurt each other. Ultimately, this is what “The Witchfinders” and arguably the whole of series 11 is about. It’s about what humans do in certain situations, how they react and let themselves be corrupted. The Morax merely heighten and enable this and in that, they do a good job. Plus the make-up department must have had fun with their design, so there’s that.

Evil be to him that evil thinks

In the Morax we got our traditional alien villains but “The Witchfinders” was more complex than that. Before the Morax were revealed, we had Becka Savage and King James I (VI of Scotland) leading the witch-hunt. Becka (Siobhan Finneran) starts the whole conflict by chopping up the Pendle Hill tree and setting the Morax free. And isn’t that so fitting? Her pure pettiness causes the whole mess and then her denial escalates it. She’s compared to Yaz’s childhood bully but what makes Becka an interesting character is that she’s not pure evil. She’s certainly a deeply flawed person but her self-preservation comes from a genuine place. Still, not many tears were shed as the Morax finally took over her. Becka joins the line of series 11 humans who were corrupted for some reason or another.

Then there’s King James. Doctor Who is known for a great many things but nuanced portrayal of historical figures is hardly one of them. And yet, James I and VI becomes this layered figure who’s never quite good or bad. A huge part of it is Alan Cumming, who plays the character with such flair that it’s hard not to like him. His queerness is also made all but explicit in his interactions with Ryan, so kudos for historical accuracy there. He is also blatantly sexist towards the Doctor, takes a disturbing pleasure in talking about torture and hunting down “witches”, and has a general disregard for human life. This is also probably historically accurate. So what can we make of Cumming’s King James?

The best scene of the episode sums it up well. The discussion the Doctor has with James before her ducking is such a powerful scene between two great actors. James’s family history and morals are questioned but so is the Doctor’s own sense of self and the titles they both hide behind. One is an ancient alien being who’s had a dozen lives before. The other is the King of England (and Wales), Scotland, and Ireland, going down for many things in history, including the Gunpowder Plot and the English Bible. And yet, talking there in Bilehurst Cragg they are equals. James believes what he is doing is good and the Doctor reasons that there is no inherent good or evil.

In this, King James embodies the philosophy that series 11 has on humanity. Just because someone believes that they’re right that doesn’t mean that they are immune to corruptness. It’s not so much moral ambiguity as the need for balance in all things. And okay, so James might be an overall jerk. He’s certainly deserved for the Doctor to be pissed off at him. His portrayal still ends being one of the most nuanced ones Doctor Who has ever done on a historical figure. There are characters like Rosa Parks who are universally seen as a good and represented as such. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but James’s character offers something delightfully different.

Personally, I still don’t know where to stand with him. His introduction included insults towards the Doctor and he almost had her killed. Then again, he seemed sincere in his belief that he was doing God’s work. So overall, we have a King James who is more or less historically accurate and who is not clearly a villain of the story but not its hero, either. In that, he’s the embodiment of humanity in series 11, though still falling on the deeply flawed side. I might not love the character but I certainly like the way he was written and how Cummings as an actor presented him.

Team! Gang! Fam?

“The Witchfinders” gave the Doctor more time away from her team than perhaps any episode so far. As much as I love Team TARDIS, this was a nice change and gave Thirteen plenty to do. King James patronising her was inevitable in that sooner or later the Doctor had to realize what being a woman in the past means. Her reactions were priceless and we finally got a frustrated acknowledgment of how this never would have happened before. Not that she’s any less capable but she’s no longer a white man running around and taking charge. It’s also interesting how this story never would have worked with any other Doctor. They’ve always been men so far so they hardly would have been accused of witchcraft, at least not int eh way Thirteen was.

Whittaker also gets to show a wider range of the Doctor than before. The fury and darkness that’s deep inside are more tangible without her friends around. As mentioned, her conversation with King James is an episode highlight and she gets plenty of light-hearted moments as well. It’s also great how careless Thirteen really is and how it has actual consequences this time around. A minute after she tells her friends not to interfere she jumps into the river to try to save someone. To be fair to her, she was supposed to interfere in this case and she hasn’t been causing paradoxes left and right. When she knows she can’t save someone, like Prem, she doesn’t. But since this is the Doctor after all, sooner or later she’ll find herself in a catastrophic situation and I can’t wait to see how she handles that.

The rest of Team TARDIS gets a bit of a breather. Yaz is becoming more and more adept at getting to the bottom of the mysteries which is good to see. Her compassion is a major driving force as well and it’s through her that Willa has a larger role to play. Ryan gets his own moments with King James and can now say that a Stuart king blatantly flirted with him. Their conversation about loss is undermined by the fact that Ryan’s reactions and the way Tosin Cole delivers them are quite cringy at times, but hey, he’s only recently left his teenage years behind. Graham gets mistaken to be the man in charge, an inevitable consequence of being white and male and back in time. He handles it well and silently apologizes to the Doctor, even restoring her authority.

There is a certain worry that a team of four means not enough screentime for each individual. But so far every episode has given them plenty to work with. They are still important to the story and have their individual tasks even though the focus is more clearly on the Doctor. More companion focused episodes like “Demons of the Punjab” are appreciated but the same is true for the Doctor. The dynamic is working even when it’s more in the background. I wouldn’t complain if next week we were back to some more quality companion scenes, though.

Closing thoughts

“The Witchfinders” yet again proves why we need historical episodes in Doctor Who. It’s not just because of some unspoken quota that has to be met so we see the past as well as the future. They take an event, in this case the Pendle Hill witch trials of 1612, and not only teach the audience about them but draw relevant comparisons. Learning about a part of British history that’s not too well-known is fun; learning about human nature through these situations is even more fun. That’s what both episode 8 and series 11 boil down to so far: an exploration of humanity itself. Whether that’s in Sheffield or another galaxy or somewhere in Earth’s past, we get to see what would make humans be the monsters the Doctor has to fight.

This episode had a better balance of aliens but also human adversaries than the season so far. The approach of “Rosa”, for example, was much appreciated, but sometimes we just need species like the Morax. Not because it’s not DW without a good monster but because they highlight what’s really important. “The Witchfinders” did an excellent job of portraying Becka as both an antagonist and a victim and offering a complex character in King James. I kept expecting him to be irredeemably awful but he’s just not.

The episode wasn’t perfect, of course, but all its flaws are irrelevant as it works as a whole. Okay, so the companions maybe could have had more to do, Willa didn’t end up being too interesting and the convenience of the Morax merely knocking Team TARDIS out even though they’d want to kill them anyway is a bit too much. The revelation comes late and so the conclusion is rushed but nowhere near as much as with Chibnall’s episodes. Visually, the series is still gorgeous, though the editing has a noticeable problem. Mainly the Doctor’s two river scenes and the burning of the Morax, but nothing awful. Just… off. The first half of the season I thought it might the directing I had a problem with but no, it’s mostly just the editing.

All in all, though, yet another very strong episode. Not as deeply emotional as the other two historicals but poignant nonetheless. “The Witchfinders” also manages to be more subtle about its message than the rest of the season while not being afraid to call things like sexism out. What a way to explore the ridiculousness of the witch trials.

Next week it’s the penultimate episode of 2018 as the Doctor and fam find themselves in modern-day Norway in “It Takes You Away”.

 

Images courtesy of the BBC

Well hello, my name is Szofi, which is just a variation of Sophie. Currently a university student living almost 1000 miles from home and building a life there.

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Winter Hiatus Blues

Seher

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Even in December with the broadcast networks hiatus for scripted series starting, and pilot season underway, there’s so much to discuss!

The continuing behind the scenes drama of Les Moonves’ ouster from CBS, ABC’s entertainment president Channing Dungey stepping down, NBC’s Greenblatt moving on, and FOX setting up for its new leadership once the merger goes through…every big 4 network has a lot to deal with between now and the TCAs in early February. The exec panels will sure be a time… Especially if ratings come up at all.

Ratings Race

As of this Tuesday, and as always, I’m talking about scripted ratings: FOX is number 1 with a 1.13 average followed by NBC, ABC, and CBS. CW of course is last with .35. Last month, four of the five networks had six shows at or above their overall average.

Now, ABC has eight shows, the CW has five, and the rest have six.

Across the five networks, only a third of new shows are performing above the average on their network. The Connors (considered a new show), FBI, The NeighborhoodLast Man StandingNew Amsterdam, and Manifest. The highest rated new show on The CW, Legacies hovers right below the network’s average.

Interestingly, across the board, long running shows are still high rating performers (or what’s high now) for the networks. The exception to this is SVU at a tenth below the average.

Their “success” indicates that we probably won’t lose any of the longest running shows anytime soon. Still, the network with the largest average season length (including shows yet to premiere) is FOX at 5.3 followed by CBS at 4.5. Removing the shows already cancelled and predicted as canceled doesn’t make an impact because of The Simpsons‘ whopping thirty seasons! (Unrelated but with the announcement for Crisis on Infinite Earths, DCTV isn’t going anywhere either.)

Of course some of this will shift when the rest of the new slate premieres begin in January. I do not envy the folks in charge of scheduling spring shows, especially as more time slots are lost to winter reality or competition shows.

Scheduling Shenanigans

You can put whatever new show after strong shows and still have a dud in the ratings race.

On The CW, ableist In The Dark has had zero promotion beyond the scheduling announcement that it starts after Supernatural. Their other new show Roswell: New Mexico or Roswell: TVD received the coveted post Flash slot plus actual promo. Except for The 100, their other spring shows already received cancellations, so ratings definitely don’t matter.

FOX  only has two newbies to premiere, with The Passage starting after The Resident and Proven Innocent taking the 9PM slot after Cool Kids. I don’t know that people watching an hour of comedy will stick around for a procedural, but anything can happen these days.

ABC on Wednesday revealed that in a vote of confidence (or in hopes to increase viewers or to get Whiskey Cavalier onto the schedule earlier) is moving the last bit of A Million Little Things behind Grey’s leaving current slot holder Station 19 off the schedule until March. Considering AMLT  hit a .7 last week… The Fix is the only other newbie to get a spring slot, starting in March in The Good Doctor‘s place. Grand Hotel is now a summer show. ABC what are you doing?!

NBC and CBS have yet to fully unveil their new schedules so more on that in January! However, pilot development is in full swing and reboots (and spin-offs) continue to rule the pack.

Pilot Predictions

Predicting what pilots will make it to series this early is silly, but I do think that a chunk of the reboots in development will definitely make it to air. If they’ll get renewed is another question. Even though this year, only Charmed received a back 9 order (Last Man Standing was ordered with 22 episodes). Last year, all the shows that received fewer than 9 episodes in the fall except for Good Doctor were cancelled. So now in May, that trend continues, or the new trend is that any back order indicates a renewal.

Which is why even though I think it’s silly to bank on so many reboots in development, I know that networks are still going to do it. I won’t list all of the shows in development because there are a lot and many will die by January. The CW has three alone! And NBC already has a series order for Law and Order: Hate Crimes or as my friend calls it, “SVU but grittier” making it the seventh L&O series.

By late January, early February, the big entertainment sites will have lists of all the pilots in contention and then we can really get into the details. Until then, what shows are y’all waiting to see for the first time (or again)?


 

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‘Legends of To-Meow-Meow’ Cranks the Insanity up to Eleven

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It’s that time year of again. The Arrowverse crossover, but the Legends misplaced their invites. While Kara, Barry, and Oliver were getting acquainted with Batwoman and dealing with body switching, the Legends were dealing with their own alternate reality issues. Or should I say the Custodians were dealing with their own issues. Or, should that be the Sirens? Or the Puppets?

Yep, this was one of those kinds of episodes. ‘Legends of To-Meow-Meow’ didn’t just surpass the insanity of every other episode this season. It multiplied it, as Charlie and Constantine broke the timeline more with each attempt to fix it.

At first, Charlie hits the town on her own, going to Las Vegas to stretch her newly returned powers. Going out as Marilyn Monroe, she runs into a prison buddy, a leprechaun. She barely has the chance to warn him about faulting his powers when Mick, Nate, and Ray strut in dressed like they just walked out of an 80’s action show. Which they did, apparently, as they introduce themselves as the Custodians of the Chronology and we get ‘A-Team’ style opening credits. They kill the leprechaun without hesitation, which is a big clue for Charlie that not everything is right.

Legends already planning their own spin offs.

She returns to the Waverider with cat-Zari to figure out why the team is suddenly so murder-happy. She transforms into Sara, planning on just ordering them to stop. But it doesn’t work because in this timeline, without help from Constantine, Sara was killed by the unicorn at Woodstock. The team attacks her, recognizing her as a shapeshifter. Charlie makes a quick retreat from the ship, taking cat-Zari along to find John.

He’s being kept imprisoned at the Time Bureau. Because he was the epicentre of the timeline shift, he has memories from both timelines and his brain isn’t keeping up very well. When they find him, John turns Zari back into a human. Only to turn her right back when she’s against his and Charlie’s idea to save Sara instead of fixing their alteration. Charlie breaks John out, with some help from Mona and a very emo Ava. Some of the Lege- Custodians die in their fight out, but everything will be fine once they save Sara. At least that’s what Charlie and John tell themselves.

They travel to Woodstock, blasting the unicorn into rainbow gloop before it can gore anyone. But this time, when they return to their time Nate, Ray, and Mick are the ones with the memorial plaques. Plus, without the guys around, Sara, Ava, and an android?Gideon have formed a Charlie’s Angels style team that assassinates fugitives. Charlie attempts to infiltrate the team as Amaya, but her cover is blown almost instantly. She does learn the boys were killed by the Fairy Godmother. The fairy is also the reason Zari’s a cat.

I’d watch this show.

John and Charlie go to Salem for their next patch job. Charlie transforms into the Fairy Godmother to trick Prudence into releasing the fairy before she can kill the boys. It seems to go off without a hitch until she returns to the jumpship. Good news, Zari is no longer a cat. Bad news, she’s now a puppet.

So is the entire team, as John learns when he boards the Waverider. They aren’t just puppets. They’re puppets that sing their own intro and have a historical figure of the day. Since the Fairy Godmother didn’t kill Mick, he became her new charge. She turned the team into puppets before Mick took her along on a crime spree.

Charlie and John keep trying to Band-Aid the timeline, but each fix ends with someone else dead in the new timeline. Yet, even when they get to a point where no one has died, John’s mind has so many timelines clashing in his mind he collapses from the strain.

He finally agrees with Zari that they need to fix the timeline properly and stop Dez from leaving. When Charlie refuses to help they leave her behind, but she’s not giving up without a fight. She transforms into Ava, heading to the Waverider to clue the team in on the magical ongoings in New Orleans. But there’s something still wrong with this timeline. All the Legends are alive. No one is made of cloth. But they still have a ‘shoot first ask questions never’ policy when it comes the fugitives. Gideon picks up on the three Constantines at that point in time. The team assumes the extras are shapeshifters, sending Mick and Ray to blast them.

Charlie finally realizes it wasn’t just John’s absence from the team that caused the changes. It was her absence. Without her, the Legends don’t learn fugitives aren’t all unicorns with a taste for hearts or Fairy Godmothers that sing about murder.

…And with true love’s kiss, the curse was broken.

In New Orleans, this-episode’s-John stops Desmond after last-episode’s-Constantine broke up with him. He tells him he’s sorry for all the pain he’s going to cause him and wipes his memory just before still-in-a-relationship John can return. As Mick and Ray fire on this-episode-John, past-John and Desmond share a kiss which becomes the point from which the timeline fixes itself. Reality is right once again, where the only puppet person is the possessed Professor Stein and the Legends aren’t mythical creature murders. Ava and Mick even heal their rift from the last episode, finding some common ground.

John comes clean to Sara about their misadventure. He even tells her about Neron. Sara promises to help him take down his demon. So all’s well that ends well. Except, there’s no word on what happens to Mona after she met the business of the Kaupe’s claws. Nor is Hank happy the Kaupe escaped, which he learns about in the middle of a golf game with someone… something wearing Desmond’s face.

Analysis

Was this the strongest’s episode of Legends? Probably not. It sacrificed some substance for the sake of 80’s spoofs and sing-alongs. But that’s not to say this episode wasn’t good. Far from it. The alternate timelines were laugh out loud funny and the Puppets of Tomorrow song is going to be stuck in my head. They were so good I’m willing to overlook characters like Ray, Nate, Sara, and Ava feeling so drastically different in their respective spoof realities. I’ll chalk up to the discrepancies in their characterizations to time being so broken.

It could have easily become frustrating watching John and Charlie patch broke timeline after broken timeline while they ignored the obvious answer. But it never got to that point because every step of the way you knew John was doing this to keep Desmond alive. John Constantine, always the tortured soul, willing to let his mind be torn apart by multiple timelines before he gives up on his love again. It’s a tragedy the timeline being fixed has to come at the cost of Dez’s soul. But maybe it isn’t lost forever.

The scene between John and Desmond pulled at the heartstrings. As did the moment when Charlie finally realized she was the missing the link for the Legends. It’s always a good moment when a Legend finds their place on this mismatched, rag-tag team. It’s hard not to compare this episode to ‘Here I Go Again’, when Zari found her place on the team. Which is a glowing compliment when that episode is one of the best of Legends entire run.

The brief callbacks to the earlier episodes was a nice way to tie off the first half of the season as well. The Unicorn was only eight episodes ago. Yet, monsters, magic, and pure insanity feel like they’re always been a part of Legends of Tomorrow. Well, pure insanity has been a fundamental part of Legends since season two.

It just shows how this series isn’t afraid to shake up its own formula. Thus far it’s worked every time, with each season being better than the last. It’s still early to call season’s four place for certain. Season’s three back half had some heavy ringers, but so far this season is on the right tracks to be the most memorable one yet. They’re sure to come back strong when they return in April.

Only Legends Could

  • “You missed calls from Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and Kara Zor-El,”
    “Sounds like the annual crossover,”
    “Yeah, that’s going to be a hard pass,”
    This whole exchange is amazing. Easily wins favorite lines of the episode.
  • You can tick off Sara Lance’s annual dalliance with death. Sara dying, almost dying, or faking dying should be a running gag at this point, but for some reason, I can never find it funny.
  • Everyone just understands cat-Zari. No explanation needed. Much like when Nate understood pig-Ray.
  • The CW tradition of bad wigs continues with emo Ava. (Kate Kane, by some miracle, avoided the curse.)
  • In the Siren’s reality, Sara’s wielding Mick’s gun and Gideon has Rip’s.
  • I want more of DC’s Puppets of Tomorrow.
  • There’s a timeline where Nate and Hank die from a Garden Gnome.
  • Why yes, Legends did give us the true love’s kiss fixes everything. And yes, it was a kiss for a mlm couple. Legends never ceases to amaze.
  • I got a flirty vibe from Charlie and Zari at the end. Time will tell where that goes.

Images courtesy of the CW

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The Underwhelming End For Series 11

Szofi

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Series 11 comes to an end with “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”. The title would suggest that this finale is an epic conclusion to a season that—for the most part—has been a breath of fresh air. “Epic” is bad word to describe this episode, though. It’s exciting in its own way, at least the concept is. As just another episode, “The Battle” (as I’ll call it from now on) is fine, perhaps even good at times. As a season finale? Underwhelming, to say the least.

We respond to urgent calls

Let’s look at what the episode was actually about. The Doctor and team receive nine different distress calls, all coming from the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos. What follows is the restoration of Paltraki’s (Mark Addy) memories, the realization that Tim Shaw’s (Samuel Oatley) back, genocide on five counts, some Graham angst, and ultimately the TARDIS saving the day. The big thing here is Tim Shaw, of course, more so than any of the plot points. Series 11 has been very secretive in general and Oatley’s return was meant to be this huge thing the BBC didn’t want to spoil. The irony here is that Tim Shaw’s return was probably the most predictable thing about any series finale in the history of Doctor Who.

But before diving into what Tim Shaw contributed to the finale, let’s talk a bit more about the setup. So we have the nine distress calls, Paltraki mysteriously not remembering anything, the whole thing about the planet messing with people’s heads. This is a suspenseful beginning and it looked like it would set up a real threat, something worthy of a final episode. And then… it falls flat. When Tim Shaw appears, the episode wants you to feel like as if the stakes have been raised. What happened to him since the Doctor defeated him 3,407 years ago? What has he been up to? All kinds of questions that we could think of as the Doctor herself tries to figure it all out. The problem is? I don’t particularly care.

The “revelation” of Tim Shaw comes eight minutes into the episode. Those first eight minutes were setting up something big and then Tim Shaw appears and the tension is gone from that point. It’s not like Chibnall doesn’t try to make you care: Graham’s storyline, if nothing else, should make you feel invested in whatever will happen. If you’re like me, though, then that’s not enough to turn the episode around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Tim Shaw is the only aspect of “The Battle” or that I’m saying he ruined it all. It’s that the episode itself puts so much emphasis on this him without putting the work in to build him up as a real threat.

Tim Shaw? Is that you?

Okay, fine, let’s talk about Tim Shaw himself then. Most of the episode’s tension comes from his return. Graham’s desire for revenge, the Ux’s faith being twisted, Paltraki’s crew, everything. “The Battle” takes it for granted that you fear Tim Shaw as much as everyone else and that you care about tension because of him. Essentially, Chibnall counts on his own episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” as having established this villain as a real threat. Unfortunately for him, that episode didn’t do an amazing job at setting up Tim Shaw, either. Back then, he was an alright monster of the week who caused the fridging of Grace and brought Team TARDIS together. Now that he’s back, the most significant aspect of him is still how he relates to the main characters.

Suppose that he was more impressive in that first episode, that we as an audience actually cared about him being back. “The Battle’s” handling of him would still be disappointing. For all his talk about the greatness of the Stenza and even despite his five goes at genocide (with Earth being the sixth attempt), Tim Shaw doesn’t feel threatening. The camera certainly tries to convey the message, there’s nothing wrong Oatley’s acting, either. You don’t even have time to process the weight of his threat, really. I’d need to rewatch both that first episode and this one, but right now I feel like the problem is with the pacing and how the Doctor views him.

Remember, Tim Shaw’s relevance lies in how he relates to Team TARDIS. He’s a villain because he killed people in Sheffield, most importantly causing the death of Grace, and he’s the catalyst for the team coming together. Yaz and Ryan barely react to him, with the exception of Ryan helping Graham take him down. That leaves the Doctor and Graham, it’s up to them to make us care about Tim Shaw being back. I’ll get back to Graham, but how does the Doctor react? She’s annoyed by him. Even when she realizes the genocide and the massive scale of his actions, she’s more annoyed than anything.

Part of it is just how the Thirteenth Doctor is as a character. She doesn’t go full Oncoming Storm on him or gives an epic speech as other Doctor’s might have done. She refuses to take him seriously and therefore takes away his power. And this is a refreshing and good trait for the Doctor to have in general, but maybe, in this case, we could have used something else. The Doctor is still appalled by Tim Shaw’s actions and sure, there is at least some weight to the possibility of Earth being miniaturised and kept as a trophy. But the Doctor’s mostly annoyed with Tim Shaw and frankly, so am I.

“Every action has consequences.”

“And these are yours, Doctor.”

So, Tim Shaw failed to make me invested in what was happening. Even Earth being targeted feels empty. Okay, Yaz is understandably worried about her planet and as is the Doctor. But do we really care about the Earth of the 55th century? And Yaz sacrificing her neural balancer if that means saving Earth is all nice and good, but nothing bar a mild headache happens to her and the Doctor as a result. Hard to get a sense of the stakes, despite the Doctor’s rambling, if nothing really happens to anyone. Okay, okay, the five planets that Tim Shaw already got to. The battlefield on the planet. Paltraki’s crew member dying. “The Battle” sure does want me to care about all this but it doesn’t do an awful lot to achieve that.

Tim Shaw wants the Doctor to face the consequences of her actions and so he targets Earth. It’s a good concept on paper, and the above exchange between the Doctor and Tim Shaw could have gone done as one of the more interesting ones in Doctor Who history. I don’t want to blame Tim Shaw’s character for everything so here’s another way in which this falls flat: it’s empty words, no matter who says it. There are no consequences for the Doctor’s actions, and arguably that’s because Tim Shaw barely had anything to blame on the Doctor.

The Doctor’s action, in this case, was to send Tim Shaw back. He ended up on Ranskoor Av Kolos instead and there’s an argument to be made that, as a consequence, the five genocides and atrocities committed are all her fault. In this case, the Doctor’s real mistake was to let Tim Shaw live. This is never discussed, it’s just taken for granted that the Doctor stopped him once and has to do so again. In the end, it’s Graham and Ryan who seal him away and the Doctor herself doesn’t seem too worried that Tim Shaw might rise and kill again.

What’s the consequence here? The Doctor doesn’t let Tim Shaw get to her head and doesn’t take on the guilt of all those deaths. That in itself is actually a brilliant way of showing how far the Doctor has come since the Time War and how Thirteen is willing to let that all go. Or could have been, if even the possibility of the Doctor internalizing this was brought up.

It’s not that genocide and war can’t be bad without it having a direct effect on the main cast. Yes, Tim Shaw is undoubtedly bad and what happened with the Ux and the planet is sad. The problem is that there could have been a personal side to the story, but without the Doctor’s reflections or any other consequences regarding the companions, we just have this. Yes, it’s bad and sad but it lacks any nuance or complexity beyond that. And even the fact that it’s bad and sad doesn’t have time to sink in because the episode is desperate to get to the conclusion by the time we find out about this.

The better man

But wait, there is one main character who reacts to Tim Shaw beyond the initial shock or annoyance. Graham, fresh off seeing Grace again in “It Takes You Away”, is out to avenge the death of his wife. The Doctor’s immediate reaction is to send Graham back to the TARDIS but he ignores her. The way the dialogue plays out is strange in itself but let’s not get hung up on that. So Graham’s out for blood and the Doctor makes it clear that she won’t stand for that. It’s ultimately not her but Ryan who convinces Graham that Tim Shaw is not worth it, that Grace wouldn’t have wanted that.

This Graham side of “The Battle” is the one I appreciate the most and have the least problems with. Okay, so his change of heart was quite sudden and as was his bloodlust, to be honest, but it works with development that he has with Ryan. I especially appreciated Ryan saying “I love you” and looking like he regretted it immediately. They are allowed to have heartfelt moments but it’s never “cheesy” or cheap. The two take down Tim Shaw together and make him think about Grace and the consequences of his actions.

The lack of a battle on Ranskoor Av Kolos

The thing with Graham’s desire for revenge is that even this storyline would have been so much better if it had more time to progress. That is ultimately the main problem with “The Battle”: time. This is typically a story that would have been a two-parter in any other season and not just because it’s a finale episode. Chibnall’s pacing and his resolutions, in particular, have had problems but in “The Battle” it makes the whole story not work.

Or rather, it still works, it just misses almost every chance it gets to become something more, something spectacular. There isn’t even a battle, as such, even though it’s in the title of the episode. There have probably been many battles on this planet, just not any that Team TARDIS participated in. So what do we have instead? The stopping of Tim Shaw in an underwhelming finale. At the very least, “The Battle” is underwhelming when viewed as a season finale, far more low-key than any other from the 11 series of New Who so far. But that poses an interesting question: do we need season finales to be epic?

This topic warrants its own article but in case we had a short “no” answer, where would that leave us with “The Battle”? Is it a better episode when it’s freed from the pressure of having to be a grandiose conclusion to a whole season filled with various themes and storylines? Well, my short answer would be “slightly”. Yes, it’s slightly better when you take that expectation out of the picture. But it doesn’t change the fact that the episode still thinks too highly of itself and fails to be remarkable in almost every way. At the end of the day, it would still need to be a two-parter to be a better version of itself. Or maybe it would need a different writer altogether, depending on how you view Chibnall.

Closing thoughts

I’m aware that I’m being harsh with “The Battle”, possibly because of its season finale status. And though I stand by my criticism, let’s point out some of the better parts of this episode. Despite everything I just said I don’t hate this episode or even dislike it too much. It has way too many flaws for me to think it’s “good”, but there are still some highlights.

I haven’t mentioned the Ux much but I think their concept was interesting. Perhaps in another context, the Doctor could have spent more time getting to know them and being amazed by their powers and culture. As I said, the Graham and Ryan scenes were a worthy end for their relationship in series 11 and they are both loveable dorks. Mark Addy’s Paltraki was underused but he was still a welcome addition to the list of guest stars. Yaz had a disappointingly small role but she still managed to have her moments, especially when paired with the Doctor. And I’ll say it one last time this year: Jodie Whittaker is still amazing and does the best she can with the script she’s given.

And it has to be us, does it?” Graham asks the Doctor at the beginning of “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”. And the answer is no, it didn’t have to be them to answer those distress calls, we would have been fine without this episode. But it’s still more Doctor Who with Thirteen and I still got some joy out of watching the episode, so underwhelming or not, here we have the end of series 11.

Fortunately, there is going to be one more episode before the hiatus until series 12 in 2020. The holiday special will air on New Year’s Day this year and perhaps it will do a better job of concluding this first part of Thirteen’s run. “Resolution” is rumoured to feature an old monster so this could be Chibnall’s first attempt at writing a returning foe (during his own era, anyway). It could be anyone or anything… oh, who are we kidding, it’s gonna be the Daleks.


Images courtesy of the BBC

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