“I know that voice.” … and after a week of speculation, it’s… drumroll… Tim Blinking Shaw. If there’s one thing I could ask Chris Chibnall to take on board after this year it is this: stop baiting the fans. After all, Chibnall used to be simply a Doctor Who fan himself once, before he started writing bad Doctor Who episodes.
So what 1970s tired story idea was on the agenda for Chibnall for the grand finale? An alien manipulating other aliens using their faith. Chibnall loves to recycle an old sci-fi idea, but the problem is you can’t just pick a 70s sci-fi idea and use it today, because we are living in more enlightened times. The way this kind of story used to be accomplished was to have a load of spear-shoving natives worshipping the moustache-twirler of the week, but you can’t do that any more, so instead Chibnall goes for the one remaining option, which is to have an advanced race of aliens worshipping the moustache-twirler of the week. The obvious problem with that is it doesn’t actually make any sense at all. A race as advanced as the Ux simply aren’t going to start worshipping Tim Frigging Shaw. Oh, ok, apparently they are.
I must admit as soon as Mr Shaw’s name was mentioned my mind started to wander a bit, but, recovering my wits, I realised that this is supposed to be Graham’s big story. Focussing on the best actor and the best character you have for the finale is at least a shrewd move. Thanks to Chibnall’s ABC Book of How to Write Drama, it was quite clear where Graham’s desire for revenge was heading: a confrontation with Tim Shaw. The episode was built around that moment: Graham vs a creature that a whole crack squad of troops couldn’t take down, despite being able to take out those sniper robots with ease. Luckily Graham turns out to be magically more skilled than any of them, able to take him down with a foot shot. And then we have a repeat of the skewed thinking from Arachnids, that somehow it is better to condemn a living being to a very slow death rather than just pull the trigger. But Graham has his moment of not being a killer, so it works on that level at least.
Speaking of magical foot shooting abilities, we also had magically creating things with the power of faith. Normally I would enjoy the ballsiness of that pure fantasy approach masquerading as sci-fi, if the rest of the episode hadn’t been such a tedious sci-fi cliché fest. Even the title seems to have been thought up with the express purpose of putting off anyone who doesn’t already love sci-fi just because it’s sci-fi.
So what else was thrown into the mix here? The planet stealing was a rerun of The Pirate Planet (1970s), with the mechanism to achieve that visually reminiscent of the Key to Time (1970s), in glorious clear plastic. We had some people stood up in Ark in Space style suspended animation (1970s) behind some more clear plastic, because the Stenza like doing that kind of thing while they twirl their metaphorical moustaches. In the end it all boiled down to one thing: an alien villain with a deep voice who wants to control everything and demonstrate his superiority over the universe. 1970s.
The reason I keep going on about this is because we have a problem here. Chris Chibnall is churning out Doctor Who like it used to be made 40 years ago, and the trappings of the very modern approach that his directors and actors etc give him are just sticking plasters. The more he keeps doing it, the more the scales will fall from the viewers’ eyes. What the previous two showrunners have given us is emotional truth. Or at the very least, they have always tried to give us that. But with Chibnall we are right back in the mists of Television Writing of Yore, where it’s fine for the Doctor to moralize about doing the right thing, send her enemies off to cause trouble elsewhere because she’s not a killer, you see, find that her actions have turned a planet into a warzone in the future, and… not be bothered about that. We also have a Doctor who ripped into a trigger happy American in Arachnids (which is great), sold us the lie that it is better to let the baddies suffocate and eat each other rather than just kill them (which isn’t), and here says she’s ok with using bombs as long as they are targeted at things, not people. Good grief, that’s some horrible infant logic towards weaponry.
So this is the best way I can sum up this series. The companions have been great, especially Graham, but the Doctor’s characterisation is a mess, almost childlike in her lack of understanding about the consequences of her actions. Look at where we end the episode functionally, in terms of Tim Shaw. He’s a problem for another day, just like where we left him at the end of The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Maybe the next time he shows up, having taken untold lives once again, the Doctor might finally realise that keeping her conscience clear while she engages in smug moralising just isn’t good enough. But if Chris Chibnall is writing, probably not. RP
The view from across the pond:
Look it’s Mrs. Hughes! Oh, why wasn’t Delph’s name “Carson”? It would have been so much more fun!! (And what exactly was he trying to build at the start of the episode anyway?)
This season has left a lot to be desired. As I was watching this episode for the second time to be able to write about it, I got a text: “Jodi is great as the Doctor. But the writing this series is abysmal.” While I wouldn’t go quite that far, it’s hard to deny that the writing needs work. Even the title is ridiculous. First, it’s a scifi title that’s just so, well, scifi! How many people will remember that name when the show hits its 100th birthday? “Oh, remember the battle of whatchamacallit?” And that’s another problem: the title should have been The Aftermath of the Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos because we don’t see anything of the battle. The name is long just so it can translate into disintegrator of the soul, which adds exactly nothing at all to the story. And, like a good infomercial, that’s not all: why 3407 years? I thought for sure that would play a role somehow, but instead it’s an over-exaggerated span of time that not only fails to contribute, but actually takes things away from the episode. Like the fact that in 3000 years, only 9 ships have gone here? America alone would have 9 ships out in a week! (90 with Trump in office!) The time period actually would make it worse for the Doctor to ever convince Mrs. Hughes to accept that the creator was not the creator. 100 years would have had the same effect, but with a lot more sense. Not to mention, the Ux can summon planets from across the universe, but can’t summon Tim Shaw a new pair of lungs? C’mon!!
Now the episode was visually impressive. Scenes like the slo-mo run with Tim Shaw speaking over it is awesome and contribute to the overall cinematic scope… when you can see it. Like the first episode, there are too many scenes taking place in the dark. So much so that Ryan tells Graham he can’t see any more than Graham can in the dark. I expect the darkness is why the Doctor, having just stepped out of the TARDIS, is so confused about “where’s the crew” when she only walked 6 feet. But that dialogue with Graham is actually at the heart of what is good about the episode. From the private chat with the Doctor to his comments about how Grace liked being alive because she was good at it, Graham might be one of the strongest companions in the series (as the Doctor points out in the end). His “yippee ki yay, robots” is a call back to the fact that he’s a fan of movies and adds more to his character; he likes Pulp Fiction and Die Hard – clearly a man of taste! The scene between him and Ryan where Ryan admits that he loves his granddad is both touching and wonderful as the “fam” finally come together. Ryan’s reactions are so perfect as he rolls his eyes and looks away but he stands behind his words when he goes back to confront Tzim Sha with the “don’t dis my granddad, ever!” Again, I cannot express how much I love this cast!
The Doctor goes the standard range, as usual. Chibnall, like Moffat before him, wants to insinuate the Doctor into absolutely every possible invention on earth because humans are actually still apes and can’t do anything themselves. (You know the Doctor half-typed this blog because we humans don’t know what a keyboard is!) In this episode, the Doctor “half-invented wellies”. Give me a break. But then we finally get shout-outs to events that we actually saw (Journey’s End/Boomtown) instead of another sheep rebellion, which is a breath of fresh air! Sadly, no mention of Calufrax with the stolen planets, but hey, we can’t have everything! When she’s good, the Doctor is admitting to being flexible with rules; they change all the time in fact. Or telling Mrs. Hughes that the creator is no god if he makes you destroy. She stands up to the villains like the best of the previous Doctors, walking into the line of fire calmly and facing down the vicious Stenza even when he clearly has the upper hand. And we also get the questionable Doctor: the one for whom “possibly killing 2 people to save 7 billion” is a big debate. I say questionable because we understand she wants to save everyone, but under the circumstances…. Well, wait, that red light was going around the earth pretty quickly and just as it was about to complete, we get 10 minutes of debate only to flash back and save the day … ok, I guess she had plenty of time! Hey, the universe provides, right? (A bit weak tying the visuals to the plot, but this is Doctor Who after all, right?)
But that actually brings us to the essence of the episode. Of all 10 episodes this season, this one felt the most like Doctor Who to me. It had that old mantra about religious certainty being a bad thing. I think Doctor Who has always been about being open-minded instead of having such certainty that one is unwavering and unwilling to grow. Sure some people will take offense, but that’s exactly the issue: when you’re so set in your ways you can’t see the point. Go into life with a teaspoon and an open mind! Because, as I’ve said throughout our blog, Doctor Who is about hope and seeing a light in the dark. “You brought us all together. You’re not gonna tear us apart” is a powerful statement in the face of evil. We saw in The Ghost Monument how important it was to work together, and this episode drives that home; a final blow to the heart of darkness – we are stronger together. The fact that the last word they say to Tim Shaw is “Grace” is important – it’s more than the name of Ryan’s Nan. It has to do with the salvation of sinners in Christian belief. The villain is not killed; he is locked up and left with “grace”. There’s a certain elegance in that. (Yes the pun was fully intended!) And then this season ends with a marvelous quote, about hope and faith and goodness…
“None of us knows for sure what’s out there. That’s why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you. Constantly.”
Undeniably, this season could have used some work, but going out with a message like that is enough to make me smile. Travel hopefully! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Resolution