The season finale approaches and the Doctor again faces her first enemy with her new face.
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) detects distress calls from planet Ranskoor Av Kolos (translated as “Disintegrator of the Soul”). The Planet contains a field which alters the perceptions of reality for any conscious being, but in practice appears to just cause amnesia. She and the TARDIS Trio head to the planet, with neurobalancers attached to counter the effects of the planet. When they arrive they find an amnesiac pilot named Paltraki (Mark “Robert Baratheon Flintstone” Addy) who threatens them until the Doctor puts a neurobalancer on him. He then receives a call from a woman named Andinio (Phyllis Logan) and Tzim-Sha (Samuel Oatley), the villain from the first episode of the season. He demands the return of an item that Paltraki had recovered from him in exchange for the rest of his crew.
On the way to help find Paltraki’s crew, Graham (Bradley Walsh) informs the Doctor that he wants to kill Tzim-Sha as revenge for the murder of his wife. The Doctor tells him that if he does that, his adventures are over. He and Ryan (Tosin Cole) go to find the crew while the Doctor and Yaz (Mandip Gill) go to meet with Tzim-Sha and Andinio. Andinio is revealed to be part of a race called the Ux who are capable of manipulating reality, however, there are only ever 2 of them alive at a time. The other, Delph (Percelle Ascott), has been held captive by Tzim-Sha, who they obey because they mistake him for their creator god.
It’s revealed that the item from the ship is actually a miniaturized planet. Tzim-Sha has been using the Ux to shrink down and imprison planets that have defeated him, with Earth being his next target. However, the Doctor manages to convince the Ux that they’re being deceived before the shrunken planets start to cause breaches in reality from the impossibility of their size. Graham and Ryan find the crew and hold off an army of robots with the help of Paltraki. Graham stands off with Tzim-Sha, but declines to shoot him. Tzim-Sha tries to shoot Ryan, but Graham shoots Tzim-Sha in the foot to stun him and they lock Tzim-Sha in a prison chamber. As the group departs, the Ux ask Paltraki’s help in returning the planets they shrunk to the right places.
So, we had a really solid premise in parts of this episode, plus some great guest stars, but it just didn’t quite build up as well as it should. The planet that disintegrates the soul? Oh, it’s mostly just amnesia and migraines. The race that can bend reality? Oh, they’re tricked easily by a blue guy like they were the Aztecs and he was Cortes. The return of Tzim-Sha? He’s basically an asthmatic a-hole, like Darth Vader but without the powers or gravitas. His army of robots? Basically just cannon fodder for Robert Baratheon off-screen. This episode should have been explosive, but it ended up being more cap-gun than cannon.
Graham’s refusal to kill Tzim-Sha was great, but much of the rest of the episode just didn’t connect with me enough and the stakes, despite being stated as being huge, never FELT huge. It’s like someone saying calmly “this bomb will explode and kill us.” Yeah, it gets the point across, but it doesn’t get the emotions across.
I also have to say, we kind of hit the point where I’m ready for the season to end. Fortunately, it’s the season finale, but this episode kind of exaggerated a few of the flaws of the past year.
First, we are not giving enough character development to Yaz. We have barely given enough to Graham and Ryan, but at least they had an arc that they finished with Ryan finally acknowledging him as a grandfather and Graham forgiving Grace’s killer. What was Yaz’s arc? What changes has she gone through? She’s so well portrayed by Mandip Gill that I almost forget that she is usually ancillary, including in this episode.
A major theme of this season has been trying to condemn hatred and I can’t fault that. It’s an element of the Doctor’s character and it’s a big part of what makes the show amazing. The most famous villains in the series are a species that live solely to hate everything that isn’t them and, aside from their designs, that’s why they’re memorable. However, in this season, they’ve gone out of the way to try and show that hatred is much of what has made everyone miserable throughout history and that a lot of that anger comes out of not understanding the other side. We’ve also had the Doctor going out of her way to try and be more merciful than some of her previous incarnations, particularly against monsters acting on instinct.
The problem with this theme coming from the Doctor kind of comes to a head in this episode: The Doctor is a mass murderer. The Doctor has killed armies and planets and species. Sure, she’s usually only done it when confronted with an unrelenting force that won’t stop, but she still has done it. Yet, her response to Graham wanting to kill Tzim-Sha or King James wanting to kill the queen of the Morax is basically to call them out as being murderers. Now, I’m fine if she was saying something like “I’ve killed a lot of people and it weighs on me” or “you can kill to protect people, but not in vengeance,” but her statement to him basically is “no killing. Ever.” Now, if the Doctor wanted to explain why she’s adopted this position now, that’s great. But that’s going to be really, really hard to deal with if the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels return, species that LITERALLY NEVER STOP TRYING TO KILL YOU.
I get where they’re coming from with this and it’s a great message to try and combat hatred, but even the great pacifists: i.e. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leo Tolstoy, Mr. Miyagi, all had to acknowledge that without some form of pragmatic violence, then pacifism is just claiming the high ground on a graveyard. Now, the Doctor, much like Batman, can often manage to defend herself non-lethally, which is optimal, but she has often had to cross that line in the past. This show is in one of the best positions to actually start addressing the ramifications of applications of violence, but this season kind of tried and failed in my opinion. Jodie Whittaker has the emotional range to pull that sort of episode off, and I want the show to take that chance.
Overall, this just wasn’t the climax the season needs. We have the universe at stake, but it felt like they were basically delivering a complicated pizza order. Still, it did have some good moments and it’s almost worth it to have Graham whine about only shooting Tzim-Sha in the foot.
I give it a B-.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.