Doctor Who: Tremendous Imagination Redefines Direction In Show
Well, here we are: at the end of another season of Doctor Who. And this time, instead of letting forth an earth-shattering groan of relief into the void, I’m actually pretty sad to be saying goodbye to the best part of my Sunday evening.
While season eleven did have some wobbles in finding its feet, I really have enjoyed this ten-week run of Chibnall’s Doctor Who debut (debwho? I’m working on it), much more than I expected I would.
For the back half of the season especially, the show has been hitting it out of the park with original stories, interesting characters, cinematic settings, and bold ideas, feeling so joyous in its newness that it’s been impossible for me not to get swept along. Graham, Yas, and Ryan (in that order) have provided a great counterargument to the idea that the assistant, singular, should be a hot young lady in love with the Doctor, with Bradley Walsh and his heartfelt quietness in particular a highlight across the whole season. I’ve loved how this Who has grounded its assistants in their realities – from Yas knowing how to handle children in distress due to her police training, to Graham knowing who James Blake is because of his own history as a bus driver, they’ve felt more connected to the real world than any assistants have since way back in the glorious days of Donna (my OTP, with myself).
And, as I’ve been saying week after week, what has really sold me on this season is Jodie Whittaker – yes, I know I said I was hardly going to be unbiased about her, but she’s genuinely impressed me – both the performance and the writing have imbued Whittaker’s Doctor with a warmth and fierce compassion that are so fundamental to the reasons I fell in love with this show in the first place. I can already imagine coming back to episodes from this season with a cup of tea and some free-floating nostalgia, and that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that in while.
But my soppy love for this season aside, let’s get into the final episode, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (and yes, I did have to copy/paste that title from the Radio Times website, thanks for asking). The Doctor and company receive nine separate distress calls that lead them to an abandoned intergalactic battlefield, where an old foe is waiting to wreak some nasty revenge.
The thing I want to get into first and foremost is how different this feels from so many other finales we’ve had in recent years – namely, that it’s not focused on unravelling some enormous season-long mega-arc in the vein of The Pandorica Opens or Heaven Sent or A Good Man Goes to War. Yes, this episode ties into the opener somewhat, but really, it’s a story in its own right first – it’s not a “gotcha!”, it’s not an excuse to haul some much-overused villains out of the closet, it’s not the only way we’ll bloody get answers to anything that’s happened in this season so far. The closest thing we get to that is the well-earned sharing of affection between Graham and Ryan, which is a touching ending to the quiet little arc that this season has given to them, but is pleasingly far from the Daleks kicking in the door to my living room for the fiftieth time this season.
And beyond that, this is just a damn good story. Despite it’s aversion to standard finale tropes, it does feel a lot bigger than most of the other tales we’ve had this season – the stakes are higher, the world bigger, the villain more imposing than ever before. While a lot of this season – to its great credit – has shied away from hard sci-fi in place of more human stories, this one really leaned in to the interplanetary, mind-bending enormousness, tossing in a few offhand bits of astute commentary about the weaponisation of faith, a cracking guest turn from the always-welcome Mark Addy, and the nobility in choosing the less violent route of resolution (Graham O’Brien destroying toxic masculinity 2K18).
I think what I’ve loved most about this season is how much it feels new, and, even ten episodes in, that’s the case. And it’s due to more than just a female Doctor, or new assistants, or a new showrunner – it’s because the entire Who universe feels like untrodden territory once again.
Almost everywhere and everything we’ve seen this season has been new for the rebooted version of the show, and I really didn’t think I would ever feel this way about Doctor Who again. Every time I sit down to an episode now, I’m looking forward to seeing where it might take me or who I might meet along the way, because now I’m not dreading sitting through another Dalek two-parter or yet another return of the Cybermen because that’s what Who feels it has to do. With this season of DW, Chris Chibnall has struck out into confidently new territory – from new villains and new planets to a clear-headed take on heavy issues like racism, sexism, and xenophobia, Doctor Who’s world has never felt bigger, the universe never more exciting and unknown. And I know I can’t wait to see where we’re off to next.
And with that, we’re done for another season. How did you like it? Was this finale up to scratch, or did it let you down? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here, and also check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book as well as the current season of Riverdale. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!
(header image via Digital Spy)