“Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe’ll surprise you constantly.”
So the series has come to an end! And nothing sums up this adventure as a whole like this rip-roaring, entertaining, but convoluted finale.
The episode really begins when Team TARDIS answers a distress signal coming from the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos – which is a huge improvement on them just bizarrely blundering into situations as we’ve seen in recent episodes. In the twenty minutes that follows, we learn a whole lot of information. Mark Addy is there (with writer-friendly amnesia), there are these weird crystals, the planet is in ruins and also messes with your head if you don’t have the right tech strapped to your nonce, there is an millenia-old duo of beings that can change the fabric of space-time there too, the sniper-bots are back, also ‘Tim Shaw’ is back, Graham wants to kill him, and also The Doctor caused the death of five planets. There are a lot of plates to spin to keep the plot moving, and it feels like it’s up to the audience to keep those plates going. If you fall behind, too bad.
This brings me to the biggest flaw in this series, which is especially noticeable in this episode; the exposition. This seems to be the hallmark of Chris ‘Tell Don’t Show’ Chibnall, characters just spout line after line of exposition. Tim Shaw has about 60 seconds of explaining the plot to himself! And in Chibby’s defence, I think any writer would struggle to cram all that plot in a 50 minute story. But the truth is that this show falls back into that old Moffat trap of just being too complicated for its own good. Bits of it are simply unneeded. The planet being able to mess with your head, that amounts to absolutely nothing. The Doctor gets the bulk of the expository dialogue, and it’s on the strength of Jodie Whittaker’s performance alone that they just about get away with it.
The Doctor’s confusing morality rears its ugly head again, with her more or less shrugging off being directly responsible for five’s genocides. Even my Commander Shepard felt a little bad after the third genocide! There could be a really good moral question here, with The Doctor’s staunch refusal to kill Tim Shaw causing him to destroy five planets. Graham even mentions it. But nope! They all get saved at the end in another one of Chibnall’s all too tidy endings.
But speaking of morality, Bradley Walsh absolutely shines as Graham in this episode as he weighs up whether or not he should kill Tim Shaw. Him and Ryan debate whether Grace would want him to and Ryan tries to convince him to be the bigger man. He even has some tension with The Doc as he warns her that he will do whatever he has to do. It is really excellent, difficult stuff seeing a companion stand up to The Doctor and it’s a more serious side of Graham we’ve only seen glimpses of. Obviously they can’t do this too much, because seeing people fly around the universe bickering isn’t much fun. But perhaps some of the companions should have more disagreements with The Doctor, call her out on her completely skewed sense of morality, or disagree with her methods. As it stands, it’s the best part of the episode.
If this was a normal episode, I wouldn’t be so harsh. But it’s a finale, and as a finale it’s underwhelming. Tim Shaw looks cool, he sounds cool, he should be cool. But he doesn’t do anything! The plot is a mess of good ideas all crammed into a decent premise, there just isn’t enough time to explore it all.
The series has a whole has been a vast improvement, with the quality being more consistent than perhaps any previous year. As far as I can tell, there has been no huge misfires. Even this slapdash finale was entertaining and presented some good science fiction concepts But out with the old problems, in with the new. The exposition problem needs sorting, and they need to find something for every character to do – or lose one (sorry Yaz). Luckily, after the New Year’s special, the show has a whole year (!) to work out the kinks.
When the show started this year, there was a lot of controversy over a certain bit of casting. But now we can safely say it was worrying over nothing. Bradley Walsh is absolutely fantastic! And Jodie Whittaker isn’t bad either.
Reviewed by Jack