Chibnall Reclaims The Reins, and It’s…Okay I Guess

After a string of guest writers, during which the writing quality spiked noticeably, showrunner Chris Chibnall returns to the writer’s chair to pen The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, the series finale of Doctor Who. Low-rent Ice Warrior Tzim Shah, him with the teeth in his face, returns from the series premiere, this time in command of a genocide machine powered by a pair of psychic aliens with religious issues. I wish the episode was as exciting as that description makes it sound, but unfortunately, I must report that this episode is merely Okay. Just like every script Chibnall’s submitted this year. Goddamit.

I’d like to give credit to Andrew Ellard for giving words to the primary problem with Chibnall’s Who: He writes in the style of drama, without actually writing drama. It’s drama-ish.

He explains it better than I could, so I’ll just let it rock (and I recommend reading his entire twitter thread, it’s very insightful):

Scenes that don’t move the plot, don’t progress any themes, don’t reveal anything about characters. It’s all the appearance of drama without any of the substance underneath. No wonder so much of this series has felt, not offensively bad, but like the show is just marking time until the next act begins.

It’s fine. It’s no Love and Monsters, it’s no Journey’s End, it’s no End of Time, it’s not even a Name of the Doctor. Nothing in it was offensive, insulting, or overtly bad. It’s Just Okay. But, and this is crucial, I don’t watch Doctor Who for Just Okay. When I watch Doctor Who, I want stories driven by character drama. I want sci-fi concepts that make me think. I want a well-crafted puzzle-box where I can, if I’m very clever, predict the ending by examining the available evidence. I want thrillers that are dripping with tension. I don’t expect to get all of these in one episode; the best episodes collect two or three; but I expect every episode to hit on at least one, or else blindside me with something else new and exciting. And except for The Woman Who Fell To Earth, which managed to hit close enough to the puzzle box and thriller points that I’ll count it, none of Chibnall’s episodes have bothered to hit on any of them.

Again, none of these are overtly bad. They didn’t make me furiously angry, like Journey’s End did when the Doctor wipes Donna’s mind while she screams and begs him not to. They aren’t as laughable as as the Doctor running the Olympic torch in Fear Her. They aren’t creepy and gross like the implication that Marc Warren regularly sticks his dick into a slab of concrete possessed by Moaning Myrtle (that one’s Love & Monsters, for the record). They aren’t a catastrophic mess like The End of Time. They’re just…fine. But in a way that’s even worse. All of those episodes, terrible though they may be, at least provoke a reaction. I can watch them with a sense of irony. Most of this series, I would only watch to fill time.

The Good


I like the Ux, at least in concept. Their psychic powers are cool looking, and the idea of a species that only has two members at a time appeals to me. The idea of stealing planets is given a lot more sturm und drang  here than it did in The Stolen Earth, and it’s all the better for it. The stolen planets have a good visual design that suggests something barely-contained and about to burst at the seams, without giving the game away.

The Bad

What was the point of the planet that drives you crazy if it has no effect on the plot whatsoever, except to make the other ship captain forget key plot details? Is this just a cheap attempt to make the setting seem more alien and cool than it actually is?

Why do the Ux assume Tzim Shah is their Creator? I kept waiting for the episode to give us something here, and it never did.

If the shrinking process killed all life on the stolen planets (as the Doctor explicitly states), why are these other people killing themselves to try to get them back? If they didn’t know everyone was dead, why do they never have any reaction to that fact?

Why did Yaz have literally nothing to do the entire episode except carry a second neural blocker for the Doctor?

Why do the entire cast put on multiple mechanical enhancements to their abilities, and this never leads into a plot development or a theme? It screams out to be a meaningful motif and then it just…isn’t.

What’s the point of going to such lengths to put all the planets back, when all the planets are devoid of life, and this planet is a lifeless ball? Couldn’t they have just grabbed all the survivors, shoved them into the TARDIS, and gone anywhere else instead?

I’m so tired, you guys. I’m so tired.

The Ugly

In the 1960s through 1980s, Doctor Who settings frequently looked like a random quarry, because the show was being made on a shoestring budget and filming in a quarry was practically free. There’s a long history in budget sci-fi of filming in warehouses or factories and pretending that it’s a spaceship or an alien monolith. But when the show has more money than god, and you’re filming with fancy anamorphic lenses, why the fuck does your series finale look like it was filmed in A) A quarry B) A random factory? For fuck’s sake.

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