So this is the Chibnall era. A season of such bland mediocrity that an episode that in any of the previous four seasons would have come in around level with the Gatiss episode comes in third in my final rankings; where the five episodes by the showrunner all add up to nothing and go nowhere; where the politics are so bad we got a pro-Amazon episode; where 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. The only tangible advantage Chibnall has over Nicholas Briggs is that he cast a female Doctor. It’s soulless, pointless, and worst of all, it’s fucking boring.
And I mean, none of that is new to, wait, let me check the spelling again, The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos. Which, incidentally, did not contain a battle. But at least while things were rumbling blandly along there was always some vague hope that it might, if not make good, at least go somewhere or have one moment somewhere that seemed to at least have something to say. But no. Instead we get Revenge of the Stenza, a villain who were perfectly fine as a counterpart to the Sycorax, the Atraxi, and rubbish robots from the dawn of time, but who as something that’s supposed to anchor any sort of arc are… stompy guys in leather? I mean, I suppose they’re no flimsier than the arc, but… I dunno. I honestly just don’t understand how you put this together and think that you’re doing something worthwhile with Doctor Who. Like, I remember in an interview after Twice Upon a Time Moffat talked about how every episode of the show has a moment where it’s clearly going to be the worst one ever and a moment where it’s clearly going to be the best one ever, and then it ends up somewhere in between. And while that’s surely an exaggeration for Knock Knock (and, in its own way, for something like The Magician’s Apprentice) it’s genuinely unthinkable to me that anyone in the course of making this looked at it and thought they were making a classic for the ages.
I mean, what am I even supposed to say about this? Its dramatic tension was “will the white man take revenge over his dead wife?” Its sense of conviction behind this is “if you kill the guy who genocided six planets you’re just as bad as he is,” and sealing him in a stasis pod for supposedly all eternity is somehow morally preferable. It had Mark Addy running around to conveniently remember things when they needed to be exposited. It still doesn’t know what the fuck to do with Yaz. It’s full of macguffins that don’t go anywhere, doing things like a whole “we have to take the inhibitors off” routine that just goes nowhere. Its biggest idea is “religious faith is dangerous and easily corrupted,” and it can’t even sustain that through the final scene.
Does Doctor Who have any obligation to be more than just a vaguely entertaining bit of action and adventure every week? No. But in the golden age of television, when dozens of global production companies are idly shitting out shows that are conceptually interesting, dramatically solid, and slickly produced the fact that the supposed best concept in television history can’t even manage the property of aboutness on a consistent level is embarrassing and demoralizing. You can fairly accuse Moffat of disappearing up his own asshole on occasion, but even at his worst he offered a set of personal obsessions with a measure of coherence, idiosyncrasy, and more to the point depth. He could be pushed to feebly asking “will this do,” but at least he appeared to give a shit about the answer. Hell, even Toby Whithouse is capable of making television that’s about something, even if he’s incapable of picking something interesting. This feels like Doctor Who from someone who thinks Terry Nation is its greatest auteur.
This is the worst season of the new series by a mile. Heck, it’s easily the worst season since Trial of a Time Lord. In a truly grim irony, it might actually be the worst since Season Twenty-Two. Certainly Chibnall, across five hours within it, never hits on an idea half as good as “Kate O’Mara impersonates Bonnie Langford.” This was both a bad season of Doctor Who and a contemptible one. I won’t miss it next year.
- A LITERAL FUCKING STAINED GLASS CROSS FOR FUCK’S SAKE MICHAEL PICKWOAD IS TURNING OVER IN HIS DAMN GRAVE
- Remember when the Doctor’s reaction to destroying whole planets was an amazing speech about how “you commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that’s almost inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it? Just because you happen to have made a brilliantly conceived toy out of the mummified remains of planets?”
- So what the fuck was the Timeless Child?
- The real agony for me is that this isn’t even fun to kick. Like, I’d love to write a properly venomous takedown of it. But there isn’t even anything to say. It’s not some Twin Dilemma or even Timelash tier monstrosity of misconceived shoddiness. It’s just lazy television that’s happy to scrap in a league with Star Trek: Discovery and Supernatural. Except Chibnall can apparently only manage eleven episodes every other year of this crap.
- There was a fan theory that Ranskoor av Kolos was going to be Desolation centuries earlier, and the Doctor was going to be put into a moral dilemma of stopping the slaughter at the expense of massively fucking with the fabric of time. And like, that’s not the best idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s an idea at least. It’s something with a central conflict that isn’t just the white man’s angst over his fridged wife.
- It’s hard to imagine that the New Year’s trailer, with its ostentatious refusal to tell us who the enemy is, isn’t building to Daleks. So I assume it’s the Stenza.
- Which might be for the best, because how do you even put this unequivocally pacifist Doctor on the same screen as Daleks?
- I mean, fuck, how would this Doctor deal with River Song? Or Captain Jack? Or the Brigadier? Or Amy Pond? Or Clara?
- God I hope this era never gets a spinoff so that I can at least cover it in as few Eruditorum essays as humanly possible.
- To round out our podcast season we’ve got Niki Haringsma, author of next year’s Black Archive volume on Love and Monsters.
- Ranking seems ridiculous. Demons of the Punjab and It Takes You Away were good. The Witchfinders was fine. Kerblam! was fascinating. The rest is interchangeable detritus with no real reason for existing. Oh, and Rosa. What a complete and utter waste.