The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos Review
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.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:08 am
“Planetary genocide… Tim Shaw, I didn’t like you before but now… Make them stop, you’re breaking every known law in the universe”
I mean, the Doctor’s probably talking about, like, physics laws here. But I do want a stronger reaction to ‘planetary genocide’ than “it’s illegal!”.
December 10, 2018 @ 3:00 pm
The Doctor’s fixation with rules, cheating, the law, etc. has me wondering if she might really be the Valeyard, but in Robert Holmes’ original conception.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:40 pm
The Valeyard would have handed Graham a gun to take care of Tim Shaw, that is if the Valeyard didn’t take out Tim Shaw in their initial meeting.
We wouldn’t have all this pacifism if it were actually the Valeyard, and the stories might actually be more interesting.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:04 pm
The original presentation of the Valeyard was a Doctor of Law. Someone whose main care was just focusing on keeping order instead of individual moments.
Of course, it got revealed that he was instead the Dark Doctor who was altering the trial, and the original concept fell through, but I think that a rules-bound Doctor should be revisited.
December 11, 2018 @ 3:21 pm
To me, the single best thing that Moffat ever did was establish canonically that Matt Smith was actually the 13th Doctor. Because the Valeyard was supposedly a psychic emanation (or some such thing) that came into existence between the Doctor’s 12th and final incarnations.
IOW, the Valeyard was born out of David Tennant’s weepy petulant whine of “I don’t want to go,” which in turn only came after the Doctor seemed to seriously consider letting Wilf die so he could live on, perhaps the closest any Doctor ever came to being a villain.
December 11, 2018 @ 7:04 pm
After spending a regeneration as the non-confrontational Jodie Whittaker, I could see the Valeyard coming out in the next regeneration as a backlash against what we’re getting now.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:21 am
I think the last time there was a new series monster as the main antagonist was the Wedding of River Song, and that was the Silence, who earned that place. The Stenza not so much. Their robots even less so.
I wish this series was better, or even bad even to have some fun mocking it, but it’s just bland.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:24 am
Oh god, it was just dull, wasn’t it? Even the title, which sounds like an intensely fannish reference to something extremely specific but didn’t eve have that payoff.
My one hope is that the New Year episode is a Dalek story – they seemed to be building up to that reveal in the trailer, and while the Daleks are rarely the most interesting villain I think they have an important part to play here.
The Daleks are big, monolithic force of indisputably evil fascists. Perhaps they’ll give this Doctor a way to dynamically define herself against them. It’s hard to do moral hedging against the Daleks.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:48 am
Man, it was depressing being in the middle of the damn series finale and looking up at the clock because it’s actually boring.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:00 am
I thought this was one of the better episodes, yet I still kept glancing over to see what the cat was doing.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:35 am
Demons of the Punjab, Rosa, The Witchfinders, even Kerblam had something to really hold my interest this year (be it an Alan Cumming, an interesting historical setting, or a rapidly imploding space satire).
This just slid off me like water off a duck’s back. This era of Doctor Who held such promise, but week to week it mostly makes me a bit sad.
Sex and Violins
December 10, 2018 @ 9:32 pm
Kerblam! is actually technically quite good. Its politics are somewhere between horrific and insane, but its a sound piece of television with a cohesive structure.
December 11, 2018 @ 1:52 am
I don’t fully get people’s problem with the politics. I see that it might go soft on Amazon’s practices, although at least it’s directing people’s attention to them. On the issue of the “deluded idealist using violent means” though, this type of person exists. Isn’t that obvious? Should we give such people a pass because they’re supposedly “left wing”?
Second of Many
December 11, 2018 @ 3:56 am
It has Space Amazon execute an innocent woman, and then the Doctor describe this as the System working as it is supposed to. The Doctor specifically praised the murder of an innocent woman who didn’t do anything wrong, but died because Space Amazon decided that the murder of an innocent woman was the best course of action.
If the murder of an innocent woman is the System work as it is supposed to, the system is evil and should be destroyed. The fact that the Doctor can say that this is everything working as it should is morally abhorrent.
Also, for all the episode does to show working at Space Amazon is full of nasty practices, the end of the episode frames the creation of new jobs as a good thing. The fact that more people are going to be subjected to those horrid jobs is seen as thing changing for the better. This is especially bad when the whole point of the story is that automation is so effective that those jobs are not necessary and exist solely for the sake of getting people to work. So forcing people to endure hellish working conditions for meaningless reasons is treated as a good thing. Apparently, we should be glad to work for Space Amazon with their horrid practices for no reason, instead of reorganizing the way society works to address the necessary changes that automation has made to society. We should slave away for no reason instead of building a new society where we don’t need to slave away.
And again, Space Amazon killed an innocent woman because it was convenient for Space Amazon’s goals, and the Doctor praised this as how things are supposed to go
December 11, 2018 @ 5:06 am
Yes, I kind of have got all that already. And it’s space Amazon, as you say.
The Doctor saying it’s the system working as its supposed doesn’t equate to her praising a murder. I need to write more about that line about people and the system but this is a tiny box in which I’m writing on my phone and it’s very late.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:33 am
What’s missing is the expected condemnation of space!Amazon’s actions. We see numerous instances of worker exploitation and abuse, none of which are followed up on in any way, as though the existence of a Luddite unionist terrorist absolves the company and its management of all guilt. That the plant closes for a month and the workers get two weeks’ pay really hammers it home. And there’s no interrogation of the problem Second of Many describes; no acknowledgement that there’s something fundamentally, obviously wrong with a world where people are willing to kill for the privilege of working a shitty warehouse job.
I’m not convinced this was a case of evil politics so much as thematic incoherence, but either way: at all points we’re expecting the Doctor to take a stance against this, and she just doesn’t. The closest she comes is when she briefly stands up to Slade, but once he’s revealed to be a “good guy” everything is forgiven.
As for there being nothing wrong with the system, i suppose a charitable reading would be that the machines were operating as expected, with the defect that Charlie taught them to kill. With the right input, they’d have been fine. All well and good, but a line like “there’s nothing wrong with the system” has a hell of a lot more baggage attached to it than that. You don’t write a line like that and not expect viewers to read into it.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:37 am
(That’s of course without going into the political implications of the choice of antagonist, but Lambda and mx_mond already covered that.)
December 12, 2018 @ 3:19 am
Yes. It’s a tricky episode.
I think it’s rather more pleasant to work at Ker-blam than at Amazon, when things are working fine. And it’s not necessarily wrong to show it that way. Again a charitable reading: it makes things more interesting. At the same time, they have already shone a huge light on working practices that most sane people watching are definitely going to be disgusted by.
The Charlie character. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that misguded, murderous fanaticism is bad on the left as well as the right. Of course it exists. There was Mao, there was Pol Pot, there have been the Nepalese Maoists. This is also going on now. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is not a bad message to put in Doctor Who, if indeed that can be taken from the episode.
Perhaps it takes a bit more than a comment here to do this justice. Either way, we had a very clearly defined alt-right (or whatever it’s called in the 71st century) figure in Krasko, someone who had come to interfere with events, carefully recreated, that have a direct relationship with the current political and social situation.
I know that Elizabeth didn’t like this episode ultimately, and as far as I can tell because it was not optimistic enough, did not try to imagine a greater and more positive world, was limited or realistic on future gains. I’m sorry anyone feels that way. I’m sorry that it may be that that final speech did reflect the way things are,a nd they are not all good – that such a final speech could be that way. Perhaps this season has the darkness it does, which might sometimes comes across as cynicism, because we live in these times.
December 19, 2018 @ 9:50 am
I stopped watching halfway through to vacuum the apartment.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:01 am
If it’s going to be a Dalek story on New Years Day, El has a very good point, this Doctor’s seemingly absolute pacifism would turn it into a complete mess. By the same logic, The Doctor will have to berate anyone who attempts to stop one of the genocidal salt shakers and accuse them of being just as bad as a Dalek. The characterisation of this Doctor is probably the worst since Colin Baker, it’s certainly less interesting, and while Jodie Whittaker hasn’t been given anything particularly great to work with, what she has been given has lacked any real degree of assertiveness on her part. I’d actually much prefer to watch Season 22 than endure this crap again. For all they might have failed, at least episodes like Revelation of the Daleks had some decent ideas.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:26 am
I don’t really get why the trailers are so vague and content-less this year (apart from the fact that the actual episodes are, too). If it’s going to be a Dalek story, then why on earth not tease the fact?
December 10, 2018 @ 2:28 pm
The trailers have all been uniformly awful. One of my biggest complaints!
December 11, 2018 @ 11:50 am
The old trailers gave too much away. These were more like little teasers, which i preferred.
December 11, 2018 @ 7:09 pm
Trailers are meant to get people to want to watch the episode the trailers are hyping. If the trailers are a nonspecific, bland mass of tapioca like they are now they’re not inspiring people to watch the show.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:42 pm
The Doctor Who Yule Log video has more energy than this story did.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:30 am
I intend to refer to this one as “The Battle of (untranslatable proper name)”.
December 10, 2018 @ 7:08 pm
I like calling it The Battle of Rancid Yak Colon.
December 10, 2018 @ 9:48 pm
Except it was translated and it’s not a proper name at all. It’s noun, preposition, noun. They say it means Disintegration of the Soul. If it means that why do the characters not hear English instead of the original language?
December 10, 2018 @ 11:24 pm
Same reason the Pope needed a translator in Extremis? Same reason Skaro isn’t rendered as “Earth” or “Our home” or something.
December 11, 2018 @ 9:12 am
“Battle for The Soul Killer” would have been an amazing name.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:35 am
2016 was agonising, a whole year without Doctor Who. The excitement I was feeling all year for the new series, new Doctor, new showrunner, just evaporated with no payoff, and I didn’t even react to the news there’s no series in 2019. Hopefully Chibnall takes a step back, writes fewer scripts (and fleshes out the ideas), and finds a few more competent writers. The Capaldi era had a bunch of great writers I’d love to see come back.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:36 am
I’m probably going to have to rewatch this, because the streaming site I was using (the ABC’s iview player, where they’ve been uploading all the episodes after their BBC airing) was glitching out for the first forty minutes and I had to catch the last ten hours later. It made this episode far more frustrating to watch than it probably deserved to be.
But that said… this is just such a “fine” episode that it’s lame this is the finale? This season didn’t really feel like it did much – and I know it’s shorter, but Game of Thrones in its heyday managed to do something amazing in its 10 episode run time. Very sadistic amazing, but something nonetheless. And it feels like it would be so easy to tweak this into something that works – it’s almost like they should have stolen a leaf from Whedon’s playbook and done what Buffy did – character-centric episodes which at least give the cast not called Bradley Walsh something to sink their teeth into. And there are bleedingly obvious candidates for episodes that could have been those vehicles.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:56 am
So how did you enjoy the last ten hours?
December 10, 2018 @ 11:18 am
Whoops. I meant “had to catch the last ten minutes later”. Ack.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:30 am
I should have added a 😉
December 10, 2018 @ 11:06 am
‘which at least give the cast not called Bradley Walsh something to sink their teeth into’
They’ve all had moments to sink their teeth into, but what it comes down to is that Bradley Walsh is actually a better actor than the rest of the recurring cast hence he is the one who actually stands out. While overall, the best character was Grace, but they killed her off in the first episode.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:27 am
Yeah, Walsh has more experience but it still feels like the season has been (over) relying on him. He’s overwhelmingly been given more dramatic and emotional beats to play than either Gill or Cole.
Whittaker’s been given some nice moments (her speech in Demons, her scene with Alan Cumming in Witchfinders, and her scene with the Solitract come to mind), but she’s also been given exposition dumps to try and sell and I mean to quote Harrison Ford you can type that shit but you can’t say it.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:44 am
What were Yaz and Ryan’s significant moments?
December 10, 2018 @ 12:36 pm
Off the top of my head, the scene where they were talking about their respective experiences of racism in Rosa, and Ryan’s scene with Graham at the end of It Takes You Away.
December 11, 2018 @ 8:58 am
It’s not just that. Compare the amount of dead Grace story Graham gets to the amount of dead Grace story Ryan gets.
December 11, 2018 @ 10:34 pm
I mean, that is very much another writing problem. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Graham grieving over his dead wife. However, yes, it could well be an issue that Chibnall has essentially forgotten to include any kind of significant emotional from Ryan over his grandmother. It would have probably been more interesting given the gun sequence in The Ghost Monument if it had been Ryan going off on a mad one and saying he wanted to shoot Tim Shaw. Then upon The Doctor berating Ryan, Yaz the policewoman could have subsequently got into an argument with The Doctor about the nature of grief and ‘justice’ and how sometimes violent lunatics just need to be shot and how she always thought about working for the Sheffield Armed Response Unit growing up after one of her friends was held at gun point by a racist street gang when she was a teenager, and then The Doctor would have had to give a cogent reason for not shooting someone and how justice and grief can be managed in a more constructive manner and then the episode might have actually had an interesting dimension to it for five minutes.
December 12, 2018 @ 12:15 pm
You, good sir, are HIRED.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:37 am
The Doctor can’t actually help Rosa Parks, because… the Doctor can’t help Rosa Parks. She is real, and also dead.
Plus it had Yaz and Ryan meaningfully disagree in ways that reflected their characters, so I liked it.
Walking back the pacifism to “harming inanimate objects is okay” was… oh. No. Not going to work. Er… I’m glad the Ux didn’t die?
December 10, 2018 @ 11:42 am
The best I can say for this series is that I think stories, fundamentally, are very bad at convincing people to start thinking certain things. They’re better at feeling, and feeling is mostly broad strokes.
Which is to say, this isn’t politics, it’s entertainment. The “superficial” stuff, of: here is this black man, here is this Muslim woman, care about them; here is Rosa Parks and her colleagues, they matter; here is India and Pakistan and Partition, witness this—that shifts things.
Kerblam! reminds me of the old kind of movie that has glamorous gangsters for 90 minutes then quickly wraps up with them arrested—is anyone who doesn’t already think that way going to remember that the SYSTEM is GOOD more than the half an hour of creepy terrifying factory work leading up to it? Doctor Who embracing ultra violent revolution would annoy people, sure, but change no one.
(Also good at reminding you of where you think the world ends, and the broad strokes of its shape. Hmm. Hmm.)
December 10, 2018 @ 12:31 pm
When I slam Kerblam! or something similar, I’m not actually thinking about how it will affect other people. It would be nice if Doctor Who inspires good rather than evil in its audience, but it’s not really any more important than, say, whether Eastenders inspires good rather than evil in its audience, and I don’t worry about that because I don’t watch it. I just hate something which dresses in the clothes of Doctor Who then tells me the system isn’t wrong, when the specific system is the Amazon workplace and the general system is collapsing into fascism.
December 11, 2018 @ 2:02 am
I think it’s more complicated than that. To make an obvious but germane point – it isn’t Amazon. Just as the Company in the Sun Makers is not the Inland Revenue (although the relation between the satire and culpability of the satired is different). It may be a satire on Amazon, but it is a gentle satire. And maybe the best way to beat Amazon isn’t to kill people? There are people who think the best way to go is to adopt a strategy that will involve killing people. They want violent revolution, even in developed democracies. Not sure when the Doctor was ever on the side of that. I’m not either. It’s where me and certain left-wingers part.
(N.b. I know that sometimes people may have to fight, and that there is a concept of a ‘just war’, but I think there are plenty of examples that clearly enough do not fall into those complexities.
December 11, 2018 @ 9:15 am
And maybe the best way to beat Amazon isn’t to kill people?
Then it would have been nice if Kerblam! had shown someone actually beating Amazon.
December 11, 2018 @ 10:00 am
A couple of years ago, one of our best MPs was murdered by a fascist. And other MPs are actually being intimidated into acting differently by death threats from other fascists. Over in America, Brett Kavanaugh is on the supreme court, Christine Blasey Ford cannot live at her home due to death threats. Fascists murder people on the street, Antifa gets accused of violence by much of the media. Political violence is almost exclusively a right-wing phenomenon in reality, there is no legitimate reason for inventing some left-wing violence which doesn’t really exist and criticising that.
And that’s without even getting into the immense amounts of structural violence which underpins capitalism, the fact that the system is worldwide and makes our our relative comfort dependent on children working in mines in Africa etc. In the real world, it’s Amazon which kills people. And austerity and benefit sanctions. And imperialism. And only feeding the people it’s profitable to feed. etc. etc.
(The company in The Sun Makers is based on the East India Company.)
December 11, 2018 @ 1:27 pm
No left wing violence, ever, never could be? Aren’t you missing a few things?
I’m well aware of what is going on but that this should dictate chapter and verse what you include, in everything, seems off.
I didn’t know it was based on the East India company. Thought he was annoyed with the IR.
December 11, 2018 @ 10:18 am
I think it’s useful to adopt a more Doylist (as opposed to Watsonian) perspective here and ask why is it that the only activist worker in the story is depicted as a violent extremist. That’s the issue, I think, for a lot of people criticising this story, not that the violent extremist is depicted in a negative light.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:38 am
This episode was promoted by the BBC and BBC America as the ‘series finale’ and promo copies were not sent to journos before hand – presumably to mitigate the risk of any exciting series-finale plot details from leaking out. It would have been nice if Chibnall had remembered to include any.
And yet, it was a fairly standard episode. Even the ’emotional arc’ of Ryan finally calling Graham ‘grandfather’ had pretty much been cleared up the episode earlier.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:46 am
This episode really wrapped up all this season’s arcs. Graham, after many episodes of trying, finally gets his fist bump, and Yaz ultimately comes to the gripping conclusion that the word “fam” isn’t that bad. What payoff! Timeless child who?
December 11, 2018 @ 1:56 pm
Second of Many
December 10, 2018 @ 10:50 am
This was probably the best of the Chibnall written episodes this season, in that it felt like it understood storytelling fundamentals are things that are supposed to be used. But there is so much wrong (Why the Stenza again?)
The worst part is, for all of the boringness of ‘white man considering revenge’, Graham’s right. The Doctor did fail to adequately deal with Tim Shaw. Something should have been done in the first episode to actually stop him, instead of letting him go back to continue doing evil things. And this episode feels like it is actually going to address the Doctor’s horrid philosophy of pacifism and non-interventionism this season. It makes very clear that letting a genocidal maniac go like she did in the first episode leads to lots of genocide. Everything that happens is because the Doctor didn’t actually stop Tim Shaw. The Doctor is called out on it multiple times, and it feels like we are coming to the payoff of a season long arc about why non-intervention is bad. Except Graham is very clearly seen as the bad guy.
Which means we have an episode that says very clearly that the Doctor’s inaction has led to genocide and that the Doctor is right. Apparently, genocide is preferable to bringing an evil man to justice.
The Doctor shouldn’t be going round like a cold blooded executioner. But previous Doctors took steps to ensure the bad guys couldn’t continue to do evil Sometimes by killing, sometimes by other ways. Thirteen has, again and again, chosen not to. And when confronted with the fact that this policy has led to multiple genocides, she is somehow still in the right. Apparently, allowing genocide is preferable to stopping evil
December 10, 2018 @ 11:39 am
Weirdly, this could actually have worked interestingly. If it was revealed the Doctor had teleported Tim Shaw to the planet on purpose – what better prison for someone who wants revenge than somewhere that wipes their memory?
If it was revealed that attempt at containment had actually turned him into a bigger a threat there would have been some kind of interesting dilemma at play. Not a particularly nice one, as it would appear a bit anti-rehabilitation, but there’s something to grapple with there.
As it is…nope. A solid nothing.
Second of Many
December 10, 2018 @ 11:25 pm
That would have been a great way to fix the first episode while letting Tim Shaw still be around for the finale. And it wouldn’t necessarily have to be anti-rehabilitation. It could end up being a good criticism of the failure of the prison system to rehabilitate.
Though that wouldn’t fix that this was a season wide issue. The easiest fix would be to make clear that the Doctor was wrong all season, and have her permanently stop Tim Shaw now that she has learnt her lesson. We all said that there had to be a payoff to the Doctor’s inaction, and this could have been a payoff. Except the Doctor never meaningfully confronts the fact that all this happened because of her. Instead, we are just supposed to ignore the accurate taunts about all of this genocide being because of her and see the Doctor as always in the right
December 11, 2018 @ 3:32 pm
In the Doctor’s defense, I don’t think she could have anticipated that teleporting him across the Universe would lead to him randomly landing twenty feet away from a pair of reality warping aliens who would immediately conclude that he was God and would agree to perform planetary genocides at his command. IIRC, she initially assumed that he’d just get sent back to his home planet and be humiliated before his people for his failure.
Then again, that’s such a preposterous coincidence that only someone like Chibnall could consider it it plausible.
Also, did anyone else think that the Ux made absolutely zero sense.
Second of Many
December 11, 2018 @ 11:16 pm
But if Tim Shaw did return to the Stenza, he would have committed further crimes, in all likelihood. The only surprise is the scale of the crimes he committed.
The Stenza are so shallow and empty as villains that it is hard to know exactly what they would have done with a humiliated Tim Shaw. But even a humiliated Tim Shaw would have done great evil. If they stripped him of his rank, he would end up as just another soldier causing war crimes for a species of war criminals (didn’t the Ghost Monument suggest that the Stenza had concentration camps?).
Maybe they would have executed him, which is its own moral question around capital punishment. But there are very few scenarios where Tim Shaw gets sent back to the Stenza that do not involve him committing war crimes. The fact that the war crimes were multiple genocides was bad luck, but the discovery that Tim Shaw is still committing war crimes is not a surprise.
And yeah, the Ux make no sense at all
December 12, 2018 @ 12:21 pm
Except that the planet had no effect on Tim Shaw, nor on the Ux, because reasons. I mean, maybe I missed it, but I don’t think they even bothered with a handwave for that. They were all just immune.
December 10, 2018 @ 3:52 pm
I entirely disagree with you on ‘white man’s revenge,’ if that was handled competently by a decent writer, you wouldn’t have ‘white man’s revenge’ what you would have is a grieving man who isn’t over his wife’s death looking for some kind of justice/a way of dealing with his grief, in a quite irrational, but not entirely unjustified way. Which in turn would probably be the most interesting aspect of the episode, but this Chibnall era Doctor Who and it’s terrible.
Second of Many
December 10, 2018 @ 11:40 pm
I would call that an example of the white man thinking about revenge trope. And I do think the trope can be done well and in compelling ways, though it is much harder to do today since we have so, so much of it.
But even in the theoretical version of this story where Chibnall understands how drama works and could compellingly write that story, I think it is still among the most boring choices you could make for the season finale of Doctor Who. Especially with all the potential of the first female Doctor running around.
December 11, 2018 @ 7:20 pm
Why is that trope limited to white men?
December 10, 2018 @ 11:03 pm
The thing I hate about the Doctor’s pacifism this series is how morally incoherent it is. It’s a kind of ‘I read about it on the back of a cereal packet’ pacifism, performing it for show without understanding the philosophy at all. Pacifism means putting in a lot of extra work, but the Doctor only seems to have picked up the ‘don’t kill’ bit.
“You’re a genocidal monster, but killing’s wrong, so…” (ineffectual shrug)
As though the Doctor has no options available except killing and absolute inaction.
And that episode where trapping spiders to die in a vault is fine but shooting them is naughty.
I’m not sure ‘pacifism’ is the right word here. Maybe ‘idiocy’?
Second of Many
December 11, 2018 @ 4:17 am
I remember watching the scene with the dying spider in the ballroom, and thinking we were going to get a scene where the Doctor does her best to ensure the spider gets the most comfortable death possible. One of those classic scenes where the Doctor gets to have a moment of empathy with the monster as they try and do what is best for the monster in the last moments. Instead, the spider gets shot and the episode struggles to explain why this is so much worse than having it slowly choke to death. With no sign the Doctor had a better way. It really is incoherent.
You are right about pacifism being a lot of work, and Thirteen just not understanding that. Twelve is a great comparison, as the great tragedy built into Twelve’s character was the fact that he wanted to do that hard work. Twelve was a Doctor who saw all the heroism he had done before and thought ‘I should be able to do better’. Who did very unwise things because he was trying to find a way to solve crises in a better way. He died because his quest to find a better way led him into a situation where his reach exceeded his grasp. That was the tragedy of Twelve, and it was beautiful.
Twelve and Thirteen would agree that killing is wrong, but where Thirteen would let the villain go and think that absolves her of the responsibility of their future actions, Twelve would come up with some elaborate plan to try and solve the problem without killing (and if necessary, kill and be sad about it). That’s basically the plot of Season 10, choosing not to let Missy get executed but doing the hard work to attempt to redeem Missy because Missy is still a threat that has to be dealt with.
Comparing Missy to Tim Shaw is quite interesting. I can see Thirteen stopping Missy’s execution, but I can’t see her doing the hard work trying to redeem Missy and stop her from burning down the galaxy. She’d let Missy go because killing is wrong, and the next thing you know Missy is blowing up another galaxy because she can.
Idiocy really is the right word
December 11, 2018 @ 7:00 am
Yes, the comparison with Twelve really throws it into relief, doesn’t it? There’s a moral laziness to Thirteen, someone with a half-remembered, hand-me-down set of rules who doesn’t seem to understand (or care) why the rules were created.
I don’t think this is helped by Whittaker’s performance. In the absence of good writing and characterisation, she’s had to fill the time with gurning and generally faffing about, which adds to the sense of Thirteen as an insecure bundle of tics with no real centre or weight. Purely reactive rather than purposeful.
Second of Many
December 11, 2018 @ 9:32 am
I don’t have a problem with Whittaker’s performance, especially given the fact that when actors aren’t given strong material, it is hard to give a great performance. What exactly is Whittaker supposed to do to improve? When the character is as ill defined as Thirteen, which element of her character should Whittaker emphasise?
I think Whittaker did a great job as a lower key Doctor who works well in social situations. She doesn’t take charge in the same way as other Doctors, but she slots into conversations in a really compelling way. And she actually does funny quite well, though she is rarely given jokes. The Banksy jokes in Rosa worked really well.
I don’t think she has the writing to give a truly complex performance. But I would love to see how well she could perform under a different showrunner. Most Moffat scripts wouldn’t work for her, but I think she could do a good job with The Doctor Falls. Or talking to Davros in the Witch’s Familiar. She could be excellent.
And moral laziness is the perfect description
December 11, 2018 @ 9:04 am
You could avoid ‘white man’s revenge’ by giving that plotline to Ryan.
December 11, 2018 @ 3:36 pm
Then you get “Angry Young Black Man” which has its own set of problems.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:59 am
“Our religion is all about doubt,” say the Ux, immediately worshipping a random alien for three millennia.
Roderick T. Long
December 10, 2018 @ 10:22 pm
Oh, see, they were doubting the wrongness of immediately worshipping a random alien for three millennia.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:29 am
Russell T Davies wanted to relaunch Doctor Who as an action adventure series for the whole family.
Stephen Moffat wanted a series that took apart the conventions of Doctor Who and put them back together in new and interesting ways.
Chris Chibnall wanted to make ten fifty-minute episodes of television.
December 10, 2018 @ 5:18 pm
OK, but why pay Chibnall to do it, when a Markov bot could come up with similar results?
December 10, 2018 @ 6:11 pm
@PM I had a similar thought in a conversation with a friend today. (Sorry Younglings, if the reference means you have to go to Wikipedia.)
Russell T. Davies said: “What if Doctor Who was more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”
Stephen Moffat said: “What if Doctor Who operated on fairy tale logic?”
Chris Chibnall said: “What if Doctor Who was more like Mannix?”
December 10, 2018 @ 11:36 am
There was nothing we could do to prevent the catharsis of Graham’s spurious morality.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:48 am
Why didn’t Ryan get the arc this episode? Rosa and The Ghost Monument both established that he was hot-headed. Graham’s arc last episode felt far more natural to him given there were already hints he had had enough of life. I’m not sure that making the sole long-term male black companion violent would be a good idea, but now we have that plus scripts that aren’t interested in him (apart from It Takes You Away)
December 10, 2018 @ 11:56 am
Thanks for this review. It was a cathartic read after a day of quiet fuming over this disappointing series.
Ever since it was announced, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around an episode being titled “The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos”. With Davies I would have expected it to be tongue-in-cheek. With Moffat, an ingenious misdirect. Up until this morning I was holding out hope for even the mildest subversion of expectations, but no. Chibnall held true to his what-you-see-is-all-you-get approach and delivered an episode that lived up to its title. Christ.
I appreciate the need for Doctor Who to scale back from the grandeur of the last few years, even though it cuts through my heart. And I will always be grateful that the transition to a female Doctor was handled well and greeted by a massive, receptive audience. But it is fair to say that I am firmly on Team Pip and Jane.
December 10, 2018 @ 12:32 pm
Arguably he did subvert our expectations with the nine distress signals thing, which led people to imagine that these must correspond to the nine previous episodes, heightening forlorn-hope speculations that the finale might bring a tying-up of loose ends that would make sense of some of the bafflingly half-baked writing of Chibnall’s earlier episodes, and then, ha-ha no, he deftly side-steps by producing an episode that does nothing of the kind, while being as utterly bland, vacuous and incoherent as all the worst parts of those other episodes melded into one, in which the nine signals thing is so insignificant that it never even gets an explanation.
That was almost certainly not deliberate though.
(Not That) Jack
December 10, 2018 @ 5:29 pm
I’m still trying to figure out the nine signals thing. Were there eight coming from wrecked ships and the one that they actually investigated?
December 10, 2018 @ 7:15 pm
We have to assume they were from the other wrecked ships, it’s not like Chibnall could be bothered to tell us. I like to think that there are still the other 8 distress signals going off with people needing help and the Doctor just scarpered off because she forgot about them, leaving them to their fate. Just like not taking care of Tim Shaw in the first episode, or not giving not-Trump a “doesn’t he look a bit tired” type moment, or not doing anything about the problems at not-Amazon that weren’t related to a white terrorist, the Doctor continues to get things only half done.
December 10, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Reading all these comments make me happy I’m not alone.
They’ve Sunday-nighted Doctor Who into end of the weekend blandness.
In that sense this series has had the greatest villain of them all.
Doctor Who has been defeated!
December 10, 2018 @ 12:32 pm
What’s particularly galling about how utterly empty this episode and (most of the) season have been is that it just occurred to me how it could have come closer to working. Make the Stenza the Thijarians. At some point after TWWFtE the Stenjarians’ homeworld blows up and the survivors become time-travelling memorialisers, while Tim Shaw sets himself up as a king-in-exile toiling in obscurity on behalf of a people that have forgotten him and aren’t interested in his values or goals any more. It would work as a thematic counterpoint to Graham’s manpain revenge dilemma, give the Doctor a chance to mock Tim Shaw’s patheticness, give us a reason to care that it’s Tim Shaw in the finale since we’d have seen more of the Stenjarians’ arc as a culture, and also give us a better reason to intially distrust the Thijarians in Demons than the Doctor saying “oh yeah, I remember these guys, they’re famous assassins you’ve never heard of before.” And I thought that up on my lunch break. Chibnall gets paid for this shit.
What an utter waste.
December 10, 2018 @ 12:40 pm
Tim Shaw could have been made into a proper god – twisted and with immense power, able to affect things (in a Bad Wolf kind of way) across space and time in other episodes. The Doctor, on encountering this terrible creature has to face up to her own poor decision-making earlier, and pay some terrible price.
December 10, 2018 @ 12:44 pm
Oooh yes, I like that.
December 10, 2018 @ 12:55 pm
I have to say that amongst all the poorly-lit mediocrity lurked a moment of true genius.
Two groups of robots, one either side of our heroes
They all go to shoot
Out heroes duck
The robots therefore all shoot each other
That actually happened last night, I just want to celebrate that fact.
The genius is not that it happened, but that Chris Chibnall and Jamie Childs obviously thought people would be impressed. And that’s courage I find a little bit humbling
December 10, 2018 @ 1:00 pm
That was pretty much how the Weeping Angels were stopped in Blink. And that was Mark Gatiss’s idea, apparently. So there we go. Taking a 10-year-old idea from Mark Gatiss.
December 10, 2018 @ 1:28 pm
That was an elegant expression of the whole Weeping Angels concept, their “rules”, such that once it had happened it seemed inevitable in retrospect. It’s hardly fair to compare it with “duck so they hit each other”. And that’s surely a very much older, standard slapstick-action gambit.
December 10, 2018 @ 2:26 pm
It’s also how the Time War ended.
December 10, 2018 @ 7:21 pm
Sorry, liminal fruitbat, I hadn’t scrolled down far enough to see your comment before posting essentially the same thing.
December 10, 2018 @ 7:19 pm
It was also how the Daleks were stopped in Day of the Doctor. Doing the Cup o’Soup treatment to Gallifrey is essentially making it duck.
December 10, 2018 @ 8:12 pm
every time it’s done it makes it better
December 11, 2018 @ 3:36 am
It reminded me of the Dalek scene in The Five Doctors.
December 10, 2018 @ 9:02 pm
Ace also did it in Silver Nemesis IIRC.
December 10, 2018 @ 9:34 pm
I feel like I have an enormous rant inside me about the lighting this season (especially in the TARDIS), but…it’s not worth it.
December 12, 2018 @ 8:42 am
When my brothers and I were growing up, our uncle used to tell us delightful stories with an amazing cast of characters, including “Doctor Foo”. The secret to escaping the Daleks, in these tales, was always to wait until they surrounded you, then duck. This got in amongst me so much that I thought it had actually happened in the show, in “Day of the Daleks”. Well, now it has!
December 12, 2018 @ 11:40 am
I wish it happened in real life more (but I guess that’s the point)
December 10, 2018 @ 1:19 pm
Oof, that was like ripping off a bandaid. Most satisfying.
But hey, no need for the Nation shade! Survivors and Blake’s 7 demonstrate that he had way, WAY more to say than Chibnall.
December 10, 2018 @ 1:49 pm
Heck, even Terry Nation’s Doctor Who stories show that he had more to say and was better at writing exciting TV drama. Just compare a random episode of “The Keys of Marinus” to something like “The Ghost Monument,” then see which one has more suspense and dramatic stakes.
December 10, 2018 @ 1:23 pm
Part of what makes this so frustrating is that it seemed to be based on the episode summary of The Woman Who Fell To Earth rather than what actually ended up in the script. Such as, Tim Shaw is introduced as a wannabe Evil Overlord who has to cheat on his entrance exam. Yet that is entirely effaced by everyone treating him like an awesome threat (and him apparently being able to whip up his own Pirate Planet by hoodwinking a two-person species apparently originating on three planets). Coupled with Graham suddenly going all kill-happy in a manner that doesn’t even seem to gel with the portrayal of his grief in the rest of the series, let alone with how Grace actually died and — I just find it really baffling how that could have happened when the two stories are written by the same person.
(Just in case – I’m in no way trying to argue that Tim Shaw is not responsible for Grace’s death (or, gods forbid, that it was her fault), but of the deaths he causes, it is the one he’s most indirectly responsible for, which no one even brings up while they’re going through the motions of Ye Standard Morals of Killing Drama.)
And I mean . . . I guess Desolation was one of the planets that the Doctor put back at the end? Not that I care, but it would have been nice if the showrunner gave the impression he did.
That’s it really. At no point in all this is there any impression of Chibnall caring about the show he’s running. He’s operating no different than when he put in the occasional ‘romp’ script to make up the numbers. What is a sort of charming by-the-numbers attitude to the one-off becomes a sustained drabness when applied over this length. There’s no coherence, or decent editing or really anything.
The worst of it is that I’m dead certain the RTD version of this series would have been enormously entertaining. But the Chibnall version – isn’t.
December 10, 2018 @ 1:47 pm
Desolation – and Thijar, homeworld of the Thijarians?
I don’t know. It feels like we’re spotting links Chibnall himself hasn’t spotted.
December 10, 2018 @ 1:53 pm
“…a two-person species apparently originating on three planets.”
The Doctor’s exposition about the Ux was so mind-bogglingly stupid that my mind is still boggling at it.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:18 pm
I zoned out through most of it, I admit. Then got really annoyed at the ‘I’ve never met anything like these people who can rework reality with their minds before’ because – yes you have! They show up all the time!
December 10, 2018 @ 2:30 pm
Oh yeah, Desolation was supposed to be in the wrong place, wasn’t it? That certainly was a thing that was said.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:23 pm
Yes, I thought that, too.
But it doesn’t work because there is no time travel involved.
Tim Shaw kills Grace in 2018 and gets teleported out of Earth on the same day. He arrives at Racnoss van Kolos right after (immediately). A few Earth days later, the Doctor arrives in Desolation, still in the Earth year of 2018.
After some time, Tim Shaw makes the Ux kidnap planets. They do it for 3000 or so years. Then in the Earth year 5000 or so the Doctor arrives at Racnoss and puts the planets back. Everything that happened in Desolation was 3000 years in the past.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:29 pm
You can headcanon time travel if you want – FTL travel basically is time travel, and apparently the Doctor broke Tim Shaw’s teleport when she used it so there’s your excuse.
Wait… why did it take over 3000 years to build a poorly-lit factory and steal five planets? Aren’t the Ux basically omnipotent?
December 11, 2018 @ 2:12 pm
It’s because Tzim-Sha has no imagination and apparently just really liked the concept of “poor-lit Sheffield steel factory” after having just previously encountering it, and so thus decided to apply such design conceits in entireum to his villainous aesthetic.
December 10, 2018 @ 2:02 pm
When I heard that there was no new series next year, I didn’t actually give a shit. This was indeed the worst series since the 2005 relaunch by a country parsec. I’ve witnessed more drama and suspense in a Scooby Doo cartoon.
December 10, 2018 @ 4:17 pm
Oi! Don’t drag down Scooby by comparing it to this crap. 😛 Scooby-Doo is good at being what it is, and has loads of atmosphere and actually decent monsters.
December 10, 2018 @ 5:59 pm
I too throughly enjoyed Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
December 10, 2018 @ 7:25 pm
The last times we had something as bad as this season, it was Death Comes To Time, and before that Dimensions in Time.
December 10, 2018 @ 2:21 pm
The finale was so dull, I was actually coming up with origin stories for The Valeyard. Structurally, it would be fine as a midseason “hey, we have an arc” story. But it’s abysmal as a finale. Disappointment means I expected more out of it. So I can’t even be that. I’m just numb.
December 10, 2018 @ 7:27 pm
The Valeyard coming about as a reaction to being stuck with the Jodie Whittaker incarnation for one regeneration is entirely plausible.
December 10, 2018 @ 2:25 pm
“We’re off again! Well we never actually stopped – as Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and friends have been winning the hearts of families across the nation this autumn, we’ve been busy with a whole new set of action packed adventures for the Thirteenth Doctor. We adore making this show and have been blown away by the response from audiences, so we can’t wait to bring more scares, more monsters and more Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole to BBC One. Brilliant!”
Could Chibnall be any more Generic Producer if he tried?
December 10, 2018 @ 2:27 pm
And what’s with the absolute reluctance to advertise the fact they have Daleks on new years day? Even publicity can’t be arsed.
December 10, 2018 @ 7:29 pm
I’m sure it’s Daleks, but I’d really like Chibnall to throw us a curveball. With the background they gave, it would fit Fenric. Then again, with a stretch it could be the War Chief (we know that normally the Time Lords don’t like to leave their DNA around after death).
December 11, 2018 @ 2:24 am
I don’t trust Chibnall to pull a deep-cut reference unless it’s some “power up the crystals Cardinal” Wikipedia-skimming hackwork
December 11, 2018 @ 7:39 pm
A curveball would be interesting. Which I know full well Chibnall isn’t, so it’s a Dalek. No idea why they aren’t promoting it though. Unless their gameplan is to do a short Dalek teaser on Christmas day as a sort of Christmas present for fans.
December 11, 2018 @ 3:50 pm
“Brilliant,” he says. For some reason, I read that entire press release with the voice of Denholm Reynholm in my head. It seemed appropriate.
December 10, 2018 @ 2:39 pm
I think Chibnall really tipped his hand with the episodes he chose to reference. Both Boom Town and Journey’s End are fine episodes, but they both fall into the “if you kill a murderer, you’re as bad as them” trap. Both of which can easily be refuted by simply saying “f*ck off you genocidal tosspot” (which is still my favourite Sandifer quote). Really Chibnall needs to get a better set of morals, or at least test them a bit.
December 10, 2018 @ 3:25 pm
Or as James Roberts put in in More Than Meets The Eye:
First Aid: “First we find Pharma and put a bullet in his spark, right?”
Ratchet: “No. If we kill him, we’re no better than him. If we kill him, he wins.”
First Aid: “Yeah, except—we are better than him and he doesn’t win. He doesn’t anything. He’s dead. That’s the point.”
In a just world, that exchange would have ended this tiresome plot device once and for all.
December 10, 2018 @ 3:12 pm
One of the odder things about the Chibnall’s writing of the Doctor as being absolutely against killing this epsiode is that the Doctor implanting the DNA bombs in Tim Shaw is something that almost killed him and logically should have. Also strange that this is the same writer who had the Doctor kill the villain in cold blood at the end “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” The Doctor firing missiles at Solomon’s ship seemed super weird at the time, but it’s preferable to what has been going on this season imo.
Roderick T. Long
December 10, 2018 @ 10:38 pm
Yeah, it’d be nice to have an ethic that’s at least coherent and consistent, whether or not it’s the most defensible one.
John G. Wood
December 11, 2018 @ 8:46 am
Unfortunately, the closest to a coherent/consistent reading I can see is “nobody except me is allowed to be violent”. You can’t push your attacker off the crane but I can put bombs in him; you can’t shoot at robots but I can frazzle them with an EMP bomb; you can’t shoot a spider but I can imprison them until they starve/suffocate. It’s even compatible with the “robots are my friends but I’ll just reprogram them to blow themselves up” bit.
The line to Ryan in the finale about how she was simplifying for his benefit pretty much confirms that it’s the Doctor’s arrogant “I’m the only one who understands things well enough to make the moral judgements” attitude taken to an extreme. Others have had it before (I’m particularly looking at you, Ten), but never like this for such a sustained period.
December 11, 2018 @ 2:05 pm
As I have said before, I think that the murder of Solomon and the negative reactions which that received are at the root of Chibnall’s introduction of this incoherent, inconsistent and hypocritical quasi-pacifism. What I am not sure of yet is what direction he is approaching this from. My first thought was that he had taken that criticism on board and tried to change his writing to reflect it, but had done so with a very inept and superficial grasp of the issues involved. Then I started to wonder if he was actually trolling his critics, or perhaps that he was more seriously presenting a case that people who do terrible things should be killed, by giving those critics what (as he sees it) they had demanded, and seeing how they liked it.
Having seen the Battle of Shammalamma Ding-Dong, and given the suspicion, mentioned in comments below, that Resolution is the real season finale, I am inclining more towards the latter possibility. He presented a series of stories that got us complaining that the Doctor kept leaving villains on the loose and able to wreak more havoc. He got us complaining about how locking people/creatures up – the obvious alternative means of restraint – was often less humane than simply killing them. He got us complaining about the Doctor sanctimoniously reproving people for acts of violence that were both understandable and often less cruel than her own more indirect methods, or at least no worse. Then he finished the season with a story in which a villain – an ostensibly rather petty, inept, rubbish villain, be it noted – who had got away alive in one of those earlier stories was shown to have become a destructive force on a titanic scale, who had obliterated all life on multiple planets.
I mean, an implicit argument can be discerned here, can it not? Viewed in these terms, a lot of the apparent bugs in the way the Doctor has been written start to look like features. Then we have our impending “real finale” with its title alluding to New Year’s Resolutions, to vows to renounce old patterns of behaviour and act in different ways in future. I would be deeply unsurprised if the Doctor ends up resolving to stop being so wet and kill the bad guys dead whenever she gets the chance. And if indeed it does feature the Daleks, their particular inaccessibility to peaceful solutions, which people have already remarked on in this context, would seem ideally suited to bringing this argument to its conclusion.
If that is his game, it seems to be having the desired effect, at least judging by reactions here. If Dinosaurs on a Spaceship had turned up as a late season 11 story, there would surely have been a chorus of approval for the resolution, including from some people who in fact criticised it when it appeared. “About time the Doctor dealt with a mass-murderer properly! People like Solomon should be killed rather than leave them able to kill again!”
Now, this putative case has not been made in the most coherent fashion. It is a pretty serious problem that Tim Shaw, the villain the Doctor disastrously “let go” was actually one she tried to kill, and using his own “nasty” methods at that. But given the way The Battle of Whatthefuckever framed the issue, I think this can credibly be put down to incompetence rather than intent.
All this is only speculation, and may well turn out to be groundless. And as I say, even if Chibnall is manipulating us, he is doing so in a pretty slapdash fashion with regard to some of the details. But the essentials of it would seem to be working. I would not be astounded to see him sitting in a swivel chair, looking out of his window at the stars and gloating. “Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design.”
December 11, 2018 @ 10:35 pm
“Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and watch my morally weird finale!”
You make a good case, and it’s really tempting to write off this series’ moral incoherence as clumsy grudge-fuelled trolling. But I fear Chibnall’s Razor applies here: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by lazy writing.”
December 12, 2018 @ 8:53 am
Oh god I hope you’re right. I had thought about the nyd special being the resolution of the doctor’s arc but that would imply Chibnall knows what’s he’s doing. I’m still not sure.
December 12, 2018 @ 6:56 pm
Nice idea, and it would be good to see it worked out screen, though I am in general skeptical of theories that explain everything we thought of as just Chibnall being rubbish are actually part of some genius masterplan: that he was, in effect, being rubbish on purpose. There was the idea that all the episode plot threads that weren’t fully resolved across the series would come together in the finale – that didn’t happen either.
Roderick T. Long
December 12, 2018 @ 7:55 pm
I would actually be happy with such a grand design. Whether or not one would agree with such an argument, at least it would be an argument, an intellectually coherent position one could engage with.
My worry is that which kinds of violence are okay when is just kind of … random. As though the operative rule were “from possible Doctory positions on violence, pick one that advances the plot in the way that I want here now.”
Which, to be fair, in a way reflects the history of the series. Just about every possible position on violence, from the most pacifistic to the most genocidal, has been embraced by the Doctor at one point or another over the past 55 years. But now I feel like I’m getting the whole smorgasbord in each individual episode.
December 19, 2018 @ 11:16 am
I would love for this to be true but I’m deeply skeptical. Were all this intentional, the episodes wouldn’t have felt so unfocused, so devoid of ideas. Your (excellent) theory just reminds me too much of watching the final season “LOST” and still hoping against hope that everything will be explained in the end.
December 10, 2018 @ 4:21 pm
I must admit, I find it weirdly amusing that your view of the Chibnall era is how I felt about Moffat (not exactly, Moffat was more confusing and alienating but the general despair is the same). Honestly, having ten generally solid episodes (and I LOVED Rosa) is really refreshing after years of being bogged down in convoluted plots and unbearably smug writing. This is probably the first series since 2009 where I’ve actually rewatched any of the episodes from a series. Not saying there aren’t issues with this series (I do agree that the Doctor is too unconfrontational at times and Yaz is underutilised) but Chibnall has actually made a lot of people (mainly people who disliked Moffat) actually like the show again.
December 19, 2018 @ 11:21 am
And he has actually made a lot of people who liked Moffat actually dislike the show. So, y’know, it goes both ways.
December 10, 2018 @ 4:28 pm
By the time this got to the first confrontation between the Doctor and Graham (rather than Ryan, who’s known Grace for far longer and is her son!) and we got the whole “you’d be just as bad as they are” bullshit, I did something unthinkable for someone who’s vowed to watch every Doctor Who episode: I switched it off. I mean, I skipped forward to see if there were any shocking twists, the only apparent one of which was that Chibnall is intent on visualy homaging the Williams era sans any entertainment value, panache, or intellectual stimulation.
I never caught up with Rosa (don’t need mediocre politics in my life right now), Arachnids in the UK, or the Witchfinders. And frankly, I can’t see myself bothering to catch up with them anytime soon.
December 10, 2018 @ 4:32 pm
I was looking forward to the first female Doctor being a feminist force of nature to be reckoned with, kicking ass and taking names for social justice around the universe. The last person I wanted to see her modeled on was Hillary Clinton.
In hindsight, Jodie’s fall into the abyss at the end of Twice Upon A Time is telling, no?
December 10, 2018 @ 4:34 pm
I was also looking forward to having an unprecedentedly diverse cast to play the companion characters. I was also hoping they’d be actual characters.
Roderick T. Long
December 10, 2018 @ 10:40 pm
Oh, Hillary Clinton is way more comfortable with massive body counts than the Doctor is.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:58 pm
Maybe, but this Doctor has caused massive body-counts through inaction.
Which brings up another issue. If they made such a big-deal out of the Doctor not knowing how Tim Shaw ended up on Ranskoor Av Kolos, why was it not a plot point. Let’s face it, it’s far more like the Doctor to set the coordinates to “Random desolate planet” than it is for them to send someone back to their planet to do more evil.
December 12, 2018 @ 8:55 am
Is series 11 Of DW just like Priti Patel? A young fresh brown face plastered over insidious conservatism?
December 12, 2018 @ 4:53 pm
think it’s more a young fresh face plastered over lazy writing that can’t keep straight what it’s trying to accomplish.
(Not That) Jack
December 10, 2018 @ 5:40 pm
I’ve struggled all year with a problem here.
See, the problem is, I don’t want to come off like an asshole. People do like this approach to Doctor Who. It’s doing well in the ratings-I’m not aware enough of the shows surrounding it to know if it’s getting a good lead in or how good a lead in it’s giving the next show, but I can see it’s doing well numbers wise. Away from the deeper levels of fandom like here, it’s liked. The approach of the show is clearly working. I don’t want to stand on a hill and look down at people and say something obnoxious or elitist.
But after two and a half months, my patience has worn thin.
This series was a mess of poor writing, badly characterized characters, chock whole of plot holes, ideas and notions seemingly abandoned once thrown out (“Nine distress signals! Coming from the same planet to provide a good line for the commercials!”) and just a sense that the production team is going “fuck it, they got tired with complex after Moffat, we don’t even need to try and we’ll win them over by being accessible.”
The show has been dumbed down to 50 easily digestible minutes of ill thought stories with next to no logic, glaring plot holes, unearned moments and…yeah. I didn’t like it. 0 for 10 on the rewatch meter.
The Chibnall era was precisely what I was worried it would be: boring as shit. The only upside is that despite my dislike of it, it succeeded well enough that it earned another series in 2020, which at least denies the neckbeard gatekeepers to say a female Doctor killed the show. Still stuck with them saying it RUINED it, mind.
I’m gonna go watch Heaven Sent and remember when this show fucking tried.
Second of Many
December 10, 2018 @ 10:43 pm
I’ve had this exact same problem all season. Don’t want to hate it. I want to like Doctor Who and I really want to like the first female Doctor. But the season has been a disaster. I’m glad it is successful to annoy misogynists and because I want Doctor Who to be successful. But I couldn’t stand it and it makes me want to rewatch the glory days of Capaldi.
I think my stance on this season is that the mediocre white man showrunner gimmick was a disaster. I don’t want to be an arsehole and I don’t want to be the guy who assists in the misogynist attacks that Doctor Who is getting. So that’s my stance. Mediocre White Man Showrunner is a shitty gimmick that led to this awful season
December 11, 2018 @ 3:50 am
December 10, 2018 @ 5:51 pm
The fact that the finale has the second worst overnight ratings of the series is pretty telling
December 10, 2018 @ 6:05 pm
That’s true of most finales surely? Ratings pretty much always fall continuously after the pilot with a slight uptick for the finale. It’s not the writer’s fault the ratings are low. There’s maybe a case that it can be blamed on the lack of advertising and the unwillingness to actually put any content in the trailers, though.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:43 pm
The Next Episode trailers have been awful. Of course, they can’t actually show any exciting bits… because by and large there aren’t any.
And as for not blaming the writer… I’m beginning to think that Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat re-wrote most of his previous episodes. The nicest thing I can think of to say about his season 11 scripts is that they were all better than Cyberwoman.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:46 am
No, it usually goes up for the finale.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:41 pm
“So what the fuck was the Timeless Child?”
A Chibnall idea that we’ll be disappointed in when we finally find out what it is.
Roderick T. Long
December 11, 2018 @ 8:31 am
The Other and the Hybrid had a baby!
December 11, 2018 @ 11:11 pm
Conceived aboard a SIDRAT, and born with a timeless-head.
December 25, 2021 @ 9:03 pm
I just want to point out, several years later, that you basically called it.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:55 pm
I don’t want to say, ‘I told you so’, but the disdain for this series seems to have exploded with the finale (even on Gallifrey Base) – and I suppose that is fair enough. But frankly, I could see where this was all going from the first two episodes.
It’s a sermon for rattled liberals, but the sermon is one of those patronising ones you had at primary school from the self-satisfied moron who will never be held to account for their values or their position. It’s the opposite of what Doctor Who should be. The politics of this series have been absolutely pernicious. Whittaker and Chibnall both deserve a fair dose of contempt for what they’ve produced.
They’ve used the hook of a female lead to reaffirm all the pre-existing beliefs and prejudices of a bien pensant liberal audience. ‘I LOVE JODIE! SHE MAKES ME FEEL SO WARM AND FUZZY INSIDE! WE ARE SUCH GOOD PEOPLE!’
I could talk about the atrocious exposition and yawning technobabble, the RTD-lite-isms, some of the laughable acting skills on display, the stories dripping with banality, without a spark of wit or imagination to them. But I can’t be bothered to go through the problems in any methodical way, because the ‘content’, the ‘drama’, is entirely beside the point.
It’s boring, it’s hollow, it’s shallow, and it’s contentless. It exists to sell toys and to make us feel that we are indeed living in the best of all possible worlds. You could even call it a kind of propaganda.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:00 pm
Why does Whittaker deserve our contempt?
Actors aren’t paid to alter the content of the scripts they’re in.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:12 pm
Any actor who signs up (in this case, for great financial rewards) to deliver the kind of sentiments The Doctor has delivered this year is a worthy subject for contempt. The same would be true of any previous leading actor in particular stories, but in this case…well, there are no redeeming features of this series whatsoever that could rescue her from harsh judgement.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:46 pm
This is a terrible take and you should not post things like this here.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:15 pm
December 11, 2018 @ 5:48 am
I have to say that I was “oh, yikes” about the choice of Chibnall as showrunner as soon as it was announced, because I hadn’t liked his previous work at all, and held no hope that he’d magically improve if in charge of DW. Well, he didn’t, and I’ll do my best to ignore S12 as I should’ve ignored S11.
As for contempt… I have zero interest in Whittaker as a person or an actor, can’t really be bothered to think about her enough to hold her in contempt, but will admit that she did something that felt very wrong to me, and that was her making a smart-arse video sniping at her detractors, while allowing their screennames to remain visible, as if siccing her fans on them. Oh, look, childish, attention-getting antics. It strengthened my appreciation for Capaldi and how he’s avoided engaging with his viciously-insulting critics. But apart from that, I’d like to just not think about S11 any further or Whittaker at all.
December 10, 2018 @ 6:55 pm
I felt that the whole series, in part becoming more episodic, really makes me think that, for the first time in a long while, I wasn’t worried about any of the companions leaving.
If they had brought the show back in 2020, without the same companions we had for this series, with the same format, this I probably would had my issues with.
As it is, I wished they would have brought back someone from the previous series, although I did like the various call-backs. Bringing Bradley Walsh back to Doctor Who , good call, in the end.
December 10, 2018 @ 9:18 pm
With the caveat that my expectations going in were quite low: I rather liked it.
Graham’s character arc – being inspired by Grace to become a better person – has always worked for me. The risk that he’d slide into toxic masculinity, vengeance-kill Tim Shaw, and get kicked off the TARDIS, felt real. Instead, he errs on the side of compassion. Come to think of it, “erring on the side of compassion” can be said to be a theme for the entire season.
I like the Doctor clarifying that weapons are tools. It’s more in keeping with past Doctors using weapons, if absolutely necessary. Graham does, indeed, use the gun more like a tool, shooting the door panel, and shooting Tim Shaw in the foot to disable rather than kill him.
I like the Ux a lot. They feel like they would work just as well in the fantasy genre. Last week we got an evil elf, this week we get magic elves. I’m here for it.
As I’ve come to expect from a Chinball script, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but I knew that would be the case going in. I enjoyed the performances, the concepts, and let myself get caught up in the emotional arc. All-in-all, I left the episode feeling pretty good about it, and about the season in general, as flawed as it has been.
December 10, 2018 @ 9:21 pm
Consider the reception this series would have received if it had been Kris Marshall instead of Jodie Whittaker. Or even a male actor of ~talent~ in the Tennant mould or the Smith mould. The series would have been universally slated. It’s only the female doctor bump that has a significant proportion of the audience praising it to the skies. It’s absolutely … “virtue signalling”.
(Not That) Jack
December 10, 2018 @ 11:09 pm
It’s amazing how quickly I stop fucking listening when someone says “virtue signalling”
Jaimie Tarquin Denholm
December 11, 2018 @ 12:13 am
I usually stop listening, too. I certainly don’t deploy othe, related phrases (SJW, etc.)
But in this case it seems to me to be true. Consider the following:
I simply don’t see how I can interpret some of these descriptions any other way.
December 11, 2018 @ 12:33 am
To clarify: the vividly and overwhelmingly positive reception of this truly mediocre series amongst the media (and on social media) suggests to me that there is a (sometimes semi-conscious) powerful emotional validation and affirmation of the vision of the world offered in Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who.
Yet these ten episodes present, without exception in my view, unsubtle, incoherent and simplistic moralistic platitudes posing as complicated and virtuous liberal values.
It wouldn’t be difficult to offer criticism of such values if they were presented at their most intelligent and with smart and complex narrative techniques. Eruditorum Press has offered such analyses time and time again.
In Series 11 these values are presented as ineptly and perniciously as one could possibly imagine.
So why are so many people responding with extraordinary plaudits and acclaim?
One can only surmise that it is, as I said, a sermon for rattled liberals who want to feel good about themselves in fearful times.
I regard this as contemptible.
December 11, 2018 @ 3:57 am
Hahaha. You’ve signalled your vastly superior virtue, and now I’m signalling mine. Lol.
(Not That) Jack
December 11, 2018 @ 4:23 am
What part of ‘I stop listening at virtue signalling” didn’t you understand?
December 11, 2018 @ 4:52 am
December 11, 2018 @ 5:10 am
No it was very easy to understand.
(Not That) Jack
December 11, 2018 @ 4:47 pm
It means I don’t think virtue signalling exists. I think it’s a buzzword for people who can’t understand that you can like something or be complimentary and actually mean it, without being part of some mysterious SJW agenda.
It means the person who believes in virtue signalling utterly lacks in empathy, and I honestly don’t have time for those sorts of people. So I don’t listen to them.
Make it clear enough?
And that’s my last word on the subject, because I ain’t coming to El’s house and wrecking the place.
December 11, 2018 @ 7:30 pm
It is a buzzword. It is a word with dubious associations and a dubious history. You are correct. Perhaps I was wrong to deploy it here.
But the point stands. I’m not suggesting that people are not genuinely enjoying or complimenting the series. I am making an effort to understand why it is appealing to so many people.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:32 pm
Alright, i’ll give it a go.
The retro theme song is nostalgic.
The Doctor wiping Ryan’s phone was hilarious, so was the insistent reference to the villain as “Tim Shaw”.
The way Graham calls the Doctor “Doc” is endearing and cute.
The Doctor’s enthusiasm at buying women’s clothes was fun.
The Doctor breaking out of frantically trying to save everyone’s lives to tell Yaz everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about, before snapping right back to crisis mode, was darkly hilarious.
The Doctor stamping on and smashing the racist time traveller’s vortex manipulator, knowing he could do nothing about it, was fucking hilarious.
Rosa had a number of scenes that were stark and chilling, which was precisely what they should have been.
Ryan and Graham trolling that bus driver was just funny.
“Shall i pop next door and collect it for you while you make your terrible pakori?”
The scene with the spider in the flat was enjoyably nerve-wracking.
The Doctor guessing that not-Trump is Ed Sheeran, because “everybody talks about Ed Sheeran”
That unsettling moment when Ryan and Graham realize neither of them has checked the ceiling, and sure enough . . .
The Doctor vs Stitch, because why the hell not
The whole exchange between the Doctor and Yaz about the number 51 was hilarious, plus i’m always happy to see the writers geek out about recreational math, it’s not something you see often.
Demons of the Punjab was a look at an incident pertinent to British history that is often overlooked and needs to be better known. That was worth doing.
The decision to air that episode on Remembrance Day was both seriously moving and ballsy as hell, i love it.
The Doctor getting all excited about presiding over a wedding, and delivering an improvised sermon with flowers in her hair was super cute.
The correct use of Indian words and referencing Indian concepts adds that layer of depth and realism you only really get by bringing on a more diverse writing team.
That moment when the metaphor behind the Thijarians hits you. Oof.
That we can even have an episode that’s basically pure historical, set in the Partition of India, in the year 2018, is just fantastic. I love to see them changing things up like this.
The new arrangement of the theme at the end of Demons was awesome and clever.
The Amazon jokes in Kerblam! absolutely ruled.
The Doctor’s expression on being told she can’t ride the conveyor belt was priceless.
As a person with dyspraxia, i could absolutely relate to Ryan’s explanation that it “makes everything really interesting”
Alan Cumming as King James was entertainingly hammy.
The sheer weirdness and wackiness of It Takes You Away made that whole episode an absolute treasure.
The finale was kind of pants, ok. I’m not saying this season didn’t have its disappointments, it had a whole lot of disappointments, but there was plenty to love here, no need to assume anyone’s faking it or invent reasons why.
December 12, 2018 @ 3:01 am
Wow. You have reminded me why I was so entertained and delighted by this series while at the same time totally getting a lot of Elizabeth’s (and indeed Andrew Ellard in his tweetnotes in Twitter, particularly for the last episode) criticisms.
And I’m kind of very aware while watching that this has been made more accessible to a younger audience (while having one or two moments that I can’t quite believe they put in a programme intended for children), and that a lot of this demographic won’t be noticing these flaws.
To strip back and reset the series to a classic mode is a bound to be a painful process, but perhaps a necessary one, and on top of that there are a certain things that could be so much better, but I am glad to be reminded of the big positives.
December 12, 2018 @ 11:54 am
“The decision to air that episode on Remembrance Day was both seriously moving and ballsy as hell, i love it.
That moment when the metaphor behind the Thijarians hits you. Oof.”
This was what I most hated about the whole series. The other things in your list are indeed great. But the point is that usually a DW series is good “in itself”, in that it has an “aboutness” (to use Sandifer’s word) that is then peppered by these nice moments. Here we just have nice moments.
December 12, 2018 @ 3:01 pm
My list was, of course, personal and not intended to be comprehensive (i could go on). Other people’s lists would obviously be different. If you didn’t like Demons that’s completely ok.
Anyway yes, i understand Dr. Sandifer’s point. Merrival seemed incredulous that anyone could sincerely have enjoyed the programme for reasons that weren’t “virtue signalling”; my point is there was plenty to enjoy here.
December 12, 2018 @ 8:14 pm
What’s hateful about commemorating the forgotten dead, instead of war vets, on Remembrance Sunday? Seems rather in the spirit of both Doctor Who and EP, to my mind.
December 13, 2018 @ 1:14 pm
I think it might be a thing which bigots do, when they’re trying to hide the fact that they’re bigots, and then assume is a universal part of human nature and is what anyone not being a bigot is doing. I remember an observation from somewhere that racists will tend to believe that all white people share their views, (in the case of white anti-black racism,) and are just artfully concealing them when they state otherwise.
Roderick T. Long
December 14, 2018 @ 10:27 am
Yeah, I’m not against the concept of virtue-signaling in the abstract. There certainly is such a thing, indeed an all-too-common thing, as expressing evaluations primarily in order to look good.
But in the contemporary context, the term has become a buzzword for reactionaries who use it in such a way as to imply that anyone who expresses values contrary to their own reactionary values must be virtue-signaling — i.e., as though no one could hold non-reactionary views sincerely.
(Which doesn’t even make sense. To whom is virtue being signaled, on this view? Who am I trying to impress by expressing such views, if everyone else expressing similar views is faking too?)
Given the association of the term “virtue-signaling” with that sort of position, I tend to avoid using it except in contexts where I can turn it around (like calling reactionary whiners snowflakes).
December 10, 2018 @ 9:22 pm
I agree with just about all of this review, except that I’m still not sure Kerblam!’s highly confused politics are pro-Amazon. It was not a good year of Doctor Who, no matter how much I enjoyed Alan Cummings and the frog.
But I came up with some episode rankings for Gallifrey Base, so what he hell, I’ll reprint them here:
Best of the season:
* It Takes You Away
Good, which is not to say flawless:
* The Witchfinders
* Demons of the Punjab
Messes, but there are a few good bits:
* The Tsuranga Conundrum
* Arachnids in the UK
* The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
* The Woman Who Fell to Earth
* The Ghost Monument
December 10, 2018 @ 9:40 pm
On reflection, you can change “Mostly dull” to “Dull” and you can change “Entirely dull” to “The Platonic ideal of dull.”
Sex and Violins
December 10, 2018 @ 10:23 pm
It does seem to fall foul of the main trait of all Chibnall episodes, which is that of complete incoherence. The episode actually has a number of quite good ideas, the idea of a (very minor) villain turning up convinced they are a God is in some ways quite clever. Unfortunately we get an idea that is basically one that leans heavily on irony played completely straight. The idea that Tim Shaw isn’t a God he’s just a rubbish villain, the same way he always was is quite good, but he episode instead goes the opposite way and tries to make a villain who’s main trait was rubbishness into a universe destroying threat.
On the other hand, the Tsaranga Conundrum couldn’t even get “monster gets loose on a space ship” right so its not exactly as if this season can even get over the lowest hurdles.
December 10, 2018 @ 10:29 pm
Well that was a perfectly serviceable episode. It wasn’t the best episode of the series but it certainly wasn’t the worst. Honestly it probably works best if you think of it and Women Who Fell to Earth as a two-parter separated by 8 episodes. Which is unorthodox but interesting.
Ultimately, it was a pretty okay ending to what I’d consider the best series of the past few years. It’s no Women Who Fell to Earth (In my opinion the best episode this season) but it’s no Ghost Monument or Witchfinders (What I’d say are contenders for the worst episodes, not counting Kerblam!’s terrible politics.) either.
I’m sad that we have to wait until 2020 for Series 12 but at least we have the New Years special to look forward to.
Roderick T. Long
December 10, 2018 @ 10:52 pm
“My one hope is that the New Year episode is a Dalek story – they seemed to be building up to that reveal in the trailer”
Except “buried on earth since the 9th century” doesn’t fit the Daleks too easily, as the Daleks have graced the Earth with their presence many times since then. I mean, sure, it could be some particular group of Daleks that’s been buried since the 9th century, but that seems anticlimactic. (Besides, the “it” rather than “they” leads us to expect an individual rather than a group.)
On the other hand, if the answer to “does it have a name?” is some name we’ve never heard before, that would be anticlimactic too.
Of course, we have absolutely no good reason to trust Chibnall not to deliver something anticlimactic.
Still, we can hope. And the answer might always be “the Timeless Child.”
Roderick T. Long
December 10, 2018 @ 10:57 pm
At least it’s probably not the Cybermen. Since I assume there’s nothing distinctive about their DNA.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:29 pm
I think it’s an Earth version of a Dalek concocted by Krasko from a bit of Dalek DNA.
What am I saying, that would have been an idea.
Roderick T. Long
December 10, 2018 @ 10:54 pm
“I mean, fuck, how would this Doctor deal with River Song? Or Captain Jack? Or the Brigadier? Or Amy Pond? Or Clara?”
Well, now you’re just making me nostalgic.
December 10, 2018 @ 11:16 pm
“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…”
I’m sure references to the golden age of television or to prestige/event TV are just white noise to Chibnall, and maybe the BBC as well.
The DW answer to the golden age of television was Moffat!Capaldi!Who, which apparently was deemed to have been a failure.
So now we get DW for sleepy people on Sunday evening who might have the TV on to nod off to.
December 11, 2018 @ 2:04 am
This was promoted and is technically the finale, but NYD is obviously the real finale. Am I missing something by noticing that?
December 11, 2018 @ 2:25 am
This is mostly in reponse to a lot of the comments – not saying it’ll make it better. Although despite this critical excoriation, on some points of which I agree with, I’ve found the whole thing very entertaining.
December 11, 2018 @ 7:48 am
I suspect you’re correct about the New Years episode being nominally the finale, especially as it has the clangingly punny title of ‘Resolution’. However, that flies in the face of ten and a bit series’ worth of the Christmas episode being at least nominally a bonus that is not treated as the conclusion of the preceding plot arc.
Some advertising of the change in direction would have been nice, is what I’m saying.
And to be fair, Sunday’s episode did, in fact, conclude a plot arc, at least insofar as answering the question of ‘whatever happened to Tim Shaw’.
December 11, 2018 @ 10:33 am
I agree with Dan, and I also think the change in direction was signalled pretty strongly with switching from Christmas to New Year’s Day.
December 11, 2018 @ 7:57 am
Whatever criticisms are made of RTD and Moffat—and I have many—I don’t see how anyone can dispute that they’re among the most gifted and adventurous British TV writers around at present, and that Chibnall, so far…isn’t. But I’m struggling to come up with an obviously superior candidate for the very specific requirements of the job.
The politics of Kerblam! verge on incoherence, but “The system isn’t the problem” is an upfront political statement whatever we’re supposed to do with it. To me it sounds like a riposte to Black Mirror, the elephant in the room at this point.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:36 am
I think the next ‘showrunner’ of Doctor Who is more likely to be a duo – a head writer and a chief executive producer who can work together to steer the series.
Abi Morgan has written and exec produced her own plotty, characterful shows, and pairing her with someone with even more production heft could be a good partnership. If she’s in the slightest bit interested in Doctor Who, the BBC should be courting her with every persuasive tool available to it.
December 11, 2018 @ 4:02 pm
Mentioning “Black Mirror” honestly makes me wish for Charlie Brooker to be the next showrunner. Whatever he put forth wouldn’t be boring.
December 12, 2018 @ 4:40 am
I can’t really picture Brooker taking the job, but I’d watch the hell out of whatever might result if he did. On the other hand a woman showrunner next time round would be a great thing.
December 12, 2018 @ 11:22 am
I wonder if Brooker would take it? We know that he loves Doctor Who and Moffat offered him an episode. But Black Mirror seems to eat up most of his time – hence why he couldn’t do Who or his Wipes.
December 11, 2018 @ 8:51 am
Last night, drifting off to sleep, a thought struck me.
“What would Doctor Who made for people who don’t like Doctor Who look like?”
…oh yeah, I been watching it for 10 weeks.
December 11, 2018 @ 1:29 pm
Funnily enough, as I half-watched Sunday’s ep from the other side of the room to the television (I was entertaining a baby) I thought: ‘This is what Dr Who must seem like to people who hate Dr Who: there’s some bloke in a mask talking about ‘YOUR PUNY BRAINS’ in a boomy voice, things blowing up on an unpronounceable alien planet and characters telling each other what species they are.’
December 11, 2018 @ 1:00 pm
It’s hard to believe there are people out there who actually consider this season to be a step up from the Moffat era, paticularly the Capaldi years.
Also, I no longer think the comparisons to the Letts era are valid. Even if they both made “don’t fuck up completely” their primary objective, the Letts era was still greatly entertaining, plenty of the stories still had real purpose, and the show still produced at least one all-time classic in all but Letts’s third season.
And it’s sad because Chibnall is clearly quite skilled in the actual production aspects of showrunning – much better than Moffat imo. In fact, if the new series still used the producer/script editor model of the classic series, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a hypothetical pairing of Chibnall as producer with Moffat as script editor could’ve rivaled Hinchcliffe/Holmes and Lambert/Whitaker.
Instead we get this dull, drab, utterly lifeless season. Also, the decision to make the episodes 50 min instead of 45 was clearly a failure. I can’t think of a single episode this season that would’ve been any worse with a 5-min shorter runtime or that clearly and demonstrably benefitted from it. And of course this led to BBC increasing the airing window by 10 min, meaning that for U.S. fans the additional 5 min of “story” were accompanied by an exactly equal amount of extra commercials. What a waste.
No ranking from me either, just categories of which episodes I will, maybe, and won’t rewatch.
Demons of the Punjab
It Takes You Away
The Tsuranga Conundrum
Maybe will rewatch:
December 11, 2018 @ 1:15 pm
*BBC America, not plain BBC
December 11, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
As first impressions go, Whitaker’s Doctor was at least less outright offensive than Capaldi dropping in and insulting Clara’s personality and appearance.
At this point i’d agree if the assessment was she goes too far the other way, but she wasn’t immediately offputting in the same way.
December 12, 2018 @ 5:26 am
Wasn’t referring to the Doctor specifically, rather the overall quality of the show and its writing. I cannot fathom any set of standards by which a person could consider this season better than any of the Moffat seasons, especially so the last three with Capaldi.
December 11, 2018 @ 3:44 pm
I know these are reaction threads and not redemptive readings (yet), but I have to say that I’ve been increasingly ambivalent about posting here (or even reading comments) because the level of vitriol seems to be getting amplified in ways that are starting to remind me of Gallifrey Base.
One issue is clearly that Chibnall is writing for 7-10 year old viewers and trying to give them oversimplified moral structures. I’d far prefer something at least at the level of The Good Place, but I can see the logic behind having one character on TV to counteract the ongoing flood of “guns are the answer” even if Chibnall can’t write a “frock” story with a frock to his head. (He can, at least, commission a frog story.)
The other is that the flaws in sticking the landing are muddling the message, even when it’s a good one. Clearly we were meant to see a dilemma in how to handle people like Tim Shaw, but the real model in this story for moral behavior is in the Doctor’s refusal to consider saving Earth at the cost of the lives of the two Ux, who while exploited by Tim Shaw should absolutely have known better and who are at least as complicit in his crimes as the Doctor for not killing Shaw in the first place. The inability of the script to render a coherent argument for the Doctor’s position here doesn’t change the claim that killing ought to be the option of last resort and that the Doctor always has alternatives. This is a character who would solve the Trolley Car problem by materializing the TARDIS around the person stuck on the tracks.
The episode is clearly built around Genesis of the Daleks: Tim Shaw claims to be a god even as Davros wanted to set himself above the gods; there’s a nonsensical wasteland/war setting; Shaw depends upon other people to complete his plans and they’re a mix of doubters and fervent believers; Shaw ends up frozen in stasis with a likely sentence of life imprisonment (OK, that’s as much Destiny of the Daleks, but I’m not claiming this foundation is particularly firm). Even granting that it deletes most of what made that story worthwhile, the oversimplistic morality lands again and I think more coherently than the Doctor’s “some things could be better with the Daleks.”
Of course the Doctor can kill while the companions can’t: as Twelve reminded us, the damage has already been done for her. She already has so much blood on her hands. Her job is to try to be better.
However incoherent Chibnall’s point ended up being, it’s still worthy of consideration and not simply being sneered at, even if it’s both wrong and neoliberal. From everything we know about the Daleks, they are programmed from birth to be evil monsters: Genesis and The Witch’s Familiar show their vocabulary, even their ability to conceptualize certain things, has been forcefully edited to make them creatures of hate. And yet the series keeps showing us how they transcend that limitation: Evil of the Daleks, Dalek, Daleks Take Manhattan, Journey’s End, Asylum of the Daleks (arguably), Inside the Dalek… we’ve seen loads of evidence that the Daleks as a whole are redeemable.
At what point should we expect our Doctor to fight the evil the Daleks do while trying to save the ones who can be saved? Or to rephrase the question, if some of the strongest antifa voices come out of the fascist community, how do we balance our moral responsibility to fight fascism against our moral responsibility to save fascists from their own movement?
This episode clearly sees Tim Shaw as being beyond redemption, while the Ux are not. Unsurprisingly, the show doesn’t nail the deprogramming process (the Ux just pretty much get told “He isn’t the Creator” and that’s enough), but that was inevitable. What’s most fascinating to me is that the Doctor leaves Shaw to her companions; saving two Ux matters more to her than condemning one Tim Shaw. And the level of trust and respect inherent in leaving Graham to make up his own mind (after drawing a clear boundary about what behavior she tolerates from her “fam”) is especially telling following decades of paternalism from the Doctor.
I’m not arguing that this is a good episode. But it is worthy of redemption, though maybe not without some atonement first.
December 11, 2018 @ 5:31 pm
You know what THANK YOU, because this is the take i’ve been looking for without even knowing it. The flaws of this season are obvious but it’s not utterly devoid of meaning. i want more critical-but-fair takes on what was actually being said here.
December 14, 2018 @ 11:57 am
That is an interesting take. Definitely something to think about.
December 11, 2018 @ 5:05 pm
Such a depressing episode.
Honestly, it feels like Chibnall just has no idea how to construct a story, which I find very odd when you consider that it’s his job and he’s been doing it for a long time. I kept having flashbacks to Planes, Trains and Automobiles where Steve Martin’s character is berating John Candy about his boring anecdotes. “Here’s a good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”
I can’t work out what the point of any of Chibnall’s scripts this season was supposed to be? I mean, I can’t even really pull out any kind of theme or motif? I can’t for the life of me work out what he thought he was doing with ‘Ranskoor Av Kolos’, which felt like he had about forty-five minutes to write it? It was supposed to be – or was sold as – a season finale. And yet the only things about it that felt that way were (1) returning villain from earlier in the series (2) the Doctor’s kind of tacked-on inspirational speech at the end before the TARDIS boringly vworps out once again.
There’s no character growth (Graham and Ryan got their moment in It Takes You Away, basically), nothing changes in the status quo. I thought at one point Yaz and 13 taking off their psychic dampeners would lead to possible smooching, but that would have been far too interesting I guess.
There’s no actual battle, just the boring underproduced aftermath of it; the Sniperbots are the shittest robots since the Chumblies (whoever sold them to Tim Shaw saw him coming a mile off, they’re epically useless); I don’t know why nine distress calls either; the madness field is just pure stalling on the scriptwriter’s part; the Ux are absolutely idiotically gullible; no part of Tim Shaw’s deal made any sense to me … is anyone editing this show? Does nobody ever tell Chibnall that his stories make no sense, don’t hang together, etc…?
December 11, 2018 @ 7:07 pm
It is quite easy to believe the claims that Chibnall didn’t really want the showrunner position considering how profoundly his work on this season feels like that of someone phoning it in. It feels like someone’s obligation, rather than a passion project like all the previous seasons (except possibly Series 7 – no accident, that).
It’s become increasingly apparent over the years that the RTD method of producing the series is unsustainable, and near-impossible for anyone who isn’t Davies to carry out without a severe toll on their stress levels and well-being. Frankly, the shrinking episode counts are a method of damage control above all else. A major rethink of the way the series is made is needed, and if a lower episode count and a non-annual schedule is what’s needed to achieve quality output, then so be it as far as I’m concerned.
Chibnall was probably given the job because he had good or potentially interesting ideas for the series: female Doctor, diverse and larger cast, accessible storylines, writers room, more educational content, wider range of cultures showcased, all-new antagonists to freshen things up.
But having good ideas is different from having stories to tell, and based on the evidence, Chibnall has none. Even if it was a measure of desperation to steer a crewless ship, he should never have been given the job in the first place.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:42 pm
This is a very thought-provoking review which helps explain why I still liked this season and the new Doctor despite the problems.
December 12, 2018 @ 4:57 am
Sometimes I’m not sure if the people who write these pieces know what ‘radical’ means.
December 12, 2018 @ 3:05 pm
What i’d say to that is, Doctor Who was always a fantasy about this brilliant character who talks and reasons and outsmarts terrifying enemies. It was never realistic. That scene where Christopher Eccleston escapes a firing squad by backing into a lift? He’d get shot.
When some of us were saying we’d like to see a woman actor play the Doctor, we weren’t saying we’d like to see the Doctor be powerless in the face of institutional evils.
December 12, 2018 @ 11:10 pm
You’re right. Chibnall could have chosen to either do “DW does faceless, institutional, pervasive evil” or cast a female Doctor. He could not have done both.
December 11, 2018 @ 11:50 pm
So, what went wrong?
I mean, sure, Chibbers is a poor writer – but, although I haven’t seen it, I’m told Broadchurch is, on balance, quite good?
Of course Broadchurch, being a US show, uses a Writers Room – and early on in this series promotion a big deal was made that Chibbers would use a Writers Room for Doctor Who as well. Yet, shortly before the series started news filtered down that the series wouldn’t use a Writers Room exactly but a “Hybrid model”. Now I’m not privy to what goes on behind the scenes but given that all the episodes this season appear to have been written by a single writer, it does look to me like “Hybrid model” might be face-saving code for “someone in BBC management said no to a Writers Room”.
So maybe Chibbers can write within a Writers Room environment (and there’s nothing wrong with working better as part of a team), but the BBC torpedoed the plan and left him forced to do things the same way as RTD and Moffat. I suspect he must have known that was going to hobble him, or else why suggest moving to a Writers Room model in the first place?
Perhaps the same is true for the other writers this season – perhaps Chibbers picked them over the previous lot in part because they work better in a Writers Room environment, but (while some were clearly better than Chibbers himself) aren’t necessarily great when working on their own? Does anyone know what other credits any of these writers have and whether or not this theory of mine stacks up?
December 12, 2018 @ 5:35 am
Broadchurch wasn’t a US show. It aired on ITV in Britain. It was then remade on the US network Starz under a new title, Gracepoint.
On the topic of a writers room, the initial scripts are still done by a single writer or duo then edited by the full team but still usually credited to just the writer who did the initial draft. I have no clue how the “hybrid” model Chibnall spoke of was meant to work, unfortunately.
December 12, 2018 @ 9:56 am
Broadchurch also didn’t use a writers room; Chibnall wrote the entire thing on his own.
I would be absolutely fascinated to see how the Writer’s Room worked this series. As far as I can tell, everyone joined together to figure out what they wanted to do with the series, came up with the episodes, then allocated episodes to each writer. From that point onwards, it seems to be production as usual: each person went off and wrote their episode before getting it edited by Chibnall, asking for help from the others when they felt it was needed (such as Chibnall getting Vinay Patel to make sure the scenes with Yaz’s family in Arachnids in the UK felt authentic, etc).
In a few decades time, there’s going to be a great book/series of Doctor Who Magazine articles taking Series 11 apart and showing who came up with what idea, who wrote which bit of each episode, and explaining the intricacies of how it’s writers room worked.
December 13, 2018 @ 11:52 pm
As I understand it, the core of a US-style ‘writers’ room’ system is that the ‘beats’ of each episode are plotted out collectively, resulting in a detailed synopsis which the credited writer uses as the basis for their initial draft. That could have happened here, but there’s no evidence it did (and that the episodes are all basically stand-alones, which go off in a range of directions, seems to argue against it). I too have no idea what ‘hybrid model’ was supposed to mean.
December 12, 2018 @ 6:08 am
At first the idea of a writer’s room went against my idea of Doctor Who being a series of brilliant stories from widely varying individual writers being smashed into the show’s format. This has given us viewers some doozies over the years (as well as some stinkers, but that’s the price you pay to get genius on occasion).
But looking at the level of experience for most of the selected writers for S11, I can see why Chibnall wanted to give them the back up of having more experienced TV and genre writers hone their ideas into something more.
But it didn’t work for some reason. Either the writer’s room didn’t gel, or the BBC nixed it….
December 12, 2018 @ 5:01 pm
So, when the ancient legends of Gaiifrey were warning that the Hybrid would destroy Gallifrey, they were actually referring to the Hybrid-style sort-of writers’ room?
December 12, 2018 @ 8:01 pm
Yeah, sounds about right lol!!!
December 12, 2018 @ 6:58 am
Beloved science-fiction franchise, characterization that fits story rather than stories that reveal character, no ambition beyond being watchable for 50 minutes at a stretch, female lead — the Chibnall era is Star Trek: Voyager!
December 12, 2018 @ 8:06 pm
Comparing this to Voyager is a very apt metaphor!! Not bad, not good, just a big blob wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey mediocrity that forms no lasting impression in the mind.
Roderick T. Long
December 14, 2018 @ 10:14 am
Janeway was more forceful and proactive. I mean, not quite in the way I’d like, since military authority figures are, to put it mildly, not my bag; so it’s not that I want the Doctor to start acting like a military authority figure. (It was Missy who wanted that, or thought she wanted that.) But from a dramatic standpoint, it’s better than just being passive and empathetic.
Ah, the mention of Missy is making me nostalgic for the preceding era ….
John G. Wood
December 12, 2018 @ 9:55 am
I seem to have enjoyed this season more than most people here. I thought all three historicals were strong. It Takes You Away was a breath of fresh air, and the other contemporary stories were boosted by the excitement of seeing Doctor Who things happening in my home town. And The P’Ting Dilemma – while messy and uneven – had a lot of fun aspects. Overall, more hits than misses.
On the other hand, it was often frustrating. A lot of weak dialogue. Confused (and occasionally disturbing) moral messages. Gaping plotholes that jumped out at me far more than the gaping plotholes of the previous era.
I liked all the leads, and thought they did a good job with the material they were given. Jodie was great – ironically her weakest moment came in one of my favourite episodes, with a poor delivery of the exposition in It Takes You Away, but the fact that this stands out is testament to how well she delivered some truly rubbish lines elsewhere.
With the solitary exception of the final episode, Akinola’s music was strong and fresh. The cinematography was more mixed – glorious in Demons of the Punjab, but too harsh in some. Direction varied, too. I dislike the TARDIS set, but they kept out of it most of the time. The constant sonic wand waving was irritating, even if it was made of Sheffield steel.
Comparing to the Moffat era, series 11 sits a long way behind 5, 9, and 10, but slightly ahead of 6 and 7 (I’m not sure about 8, which felt similarly uneven to me). That’s better than I was expecting beforehand.
Eruditorum Press is a very “writerly” site – not just El and her co-writers, but the commenters too – and I wonder if the writing being the weakest aspect of the season has a disproportionate effect on this audience?
Overall verdict: I’d rather have Moffat or Davies, but it’s not such a disaster for me as it seems to be for most of you.
December 12, 2018 @ 8:10 pm
I’m not at all a writer but generally find myself in agreement with Liz and others here about the quality of the show. I also frequently found myself in agreement with the AV Club community when Alisdair Wilkins was the reviewer before the Kinja-pocalypse ruined that site, thought I still visit it and comment there.
December 12, 2018 @ 11:05 pm
I’d agree that it’s better than Season 7, but whilst 6 had more lows, it still had high highs that this didn’t outside of Demons and It Takes You Away (which both struggled due the fact the guest-writers couldn’t radically change things too much).
It’s miles better than Series 7, and easily on a par with most of 10. But 10 still had the high highs that Chibnall isn’t writing.
December 13, 2018 @ 11:41 pm
I don’t get the downgrading of 6 (aka “the one where Moffat went full Moffat”). Not all the swings connected, but crazy over-ambition is surely far preferable to what we got here.
(Not That) Jack
December 13, 2018 @ 11:10 pm
I’m re-reading old Eruditorium entries, and I got to 42, and, curious to see what the commentators thought back then, I found this:
“Lewis Christian 5 years, 3 months ago
The worst crime a Doctor Who story can commit is to be dull, forgettable and boring. 42 manages to tick all three boxes.”
I suppose the same thing could be said about a series, then? Chibnall started as he intended to go on.
December 14, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
I always did find Chibnall hit and miss.
Hits: Adrift, Fragments, Dinosaurs.
Miss: Power of Three, 42, Cyberwoman, etc.
Admittedly more misses, and who knows how much input RTD and Moffat had into his scripts under their tenures. But yeah, it was never a good start for Chibnall. Jane Baker is laughing from her grave.
December 14, 2018 @ 7:31 pm
“The only tangible advantage Chibnall has over Nicholas Briggs is that he cast a female Doctor.”
Nick Briggs did that Unbound with Arabella Weir, so I’m not sure you can even say that. Although, whatever you think of Chibnall or Whittaker, this is unquestionably a better portrayal of a female Doctor than that Unbound with Arabella Weir.
“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.”
Yeah, speaking of, I realise it’s way too early to be making requests, but I want to mention this while I remember it: I know you haven’t done an annual since the Eccleston season, but when the time comes, could you maybe include this year’s? Because I would really like someone to unpack the comic strip for me. (SPOILERS: A story that starts as multi-Doctor fluff and somehow ends by saying David Icke is completely right about the Queen, but it’s fine because she’s a nice lizard person and only eats people who really annoy her. I keep looking at it again in Waterstones, thinking “Nah, I must be misremembering that.”)
December 19, 2018 @ 9:46 am
I haven’t commented on the second half of this season here because after “The Tsuranga Conundrum” I couldn’t force myself to watch the rest of S11. I’ve finally struggled through it out of sheer desperation and a vain hope that it’ll get better. It didn’t. There were some good bits but ultimately I’m just fucking heartbroken. The show I loved for years is dead and gone. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to watch the New Year special. It just physically hurts to watch this crap.
I just can’t believe someone got the opportunity to showrun “Doctor Who” and then did this. That someone was given five episodes to write and decided the best they could do was “The Ghost Monument” and this sorry excuse for a season finale. Stock people walking around solving banal logistical problems like “how to get from point A to point B” and spouting bits of stock dialogue. It’s just such a waste. I disagree that this is on the level of “Supernatural”. “Supernatural” at least has fun with its plots and its characters from time to time. This was joyless, soulless and so, so boring.
And the worst part is, people actually enjoy it. I’ve seen several friends claim that this era of DW is about the relationships between characters while Moffat’s era wasn’t. And that this season rekindled their love for NewWho they’ve lost over the Moffat’s seasons. These statements are genuinely so incomprehensible to me that I feel like I’m talking to aliens. This is what you love? This is what you want your favourite show to be? Really?
I never thought DW could make me dislike it. Chibnall managed it in 6 episodes.
December 19, 2018 @ 10:52 am
What amazes me is the perception, largely pushed in the tabloid press, that this season has been a resounding success.
A few things to ponder…(and yes some figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, but hell let’s run with this anyway).
It lost roughly 40% of its viewers over 10 weeks.
The audience reviews/ratings on aggregated review sites are around 33% or 3.5/10 – basically “generally unfavourable”.
The vast majority of long-term, hard core fans have been highly vocal about the decline in quality. Many high profile who figures have been conspicuous in their silence.
How exactly is success being measured?
My mental image of Who in 2018 is of Whittaker clucking around laying eggs left right and centre while a constipated Chibbers brandishes the turd of season 11 in his hand whilst starting the strain to slowly push season 12 out of his talentless rectum over the next year.
Sorry, but as fan of the show for forty + years I found this year’s season shameful and insulting.