Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker wrap their first season of Doctor Who with an episode that ties up some loose ends. “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” is a little bit of “full circle” for the TARDIS fam, closing their first chapter while leaving the door open to new adventures.
3,407 years ago, the only two Ux in existence were building a levitating shrine on the planet Ranskoor Av Kolos when a figure materialized nearby. They perceived this to be their Creator, and they dedicated their will to him thereafter.
More recently, the TARDIS detected nine unanswered distress signals from the same area on that planet.
When The Doctor (Whittaker) sees the calls for help, she prepares to answer. Graham (Bradley Walsh) pushes back a bit, but when The Doctor asks if they should do as others have done and ignore those in need, she gets her way.
When they arrive on Ranskoor Av Kolos, The Doctor detects waves on the planet that are messing with the minds of any people there. She equips her crew with neural balancers before they emerge from the TARDIS, instructing them not to lose them at any cost.
The TARDIS has landed inside another ship. They don’t see anyone in it, but the equipment suggests that it’s a long-range vessel that’s been in service for some time. They begin exploring, and a man emerges from a shadowy passageway with a gun drawn. The team hangs back as The Doctor gently approaches him, engaging him in conversation. He cannot remember his name or what has happened there, and as he begins to relax The Doctor sends her fam to keep exploring while she coaxes the man into taking a neural balancer from her.
Ryan (Tosin Cole), Yas (Mandip Gill) and Graham figure out how to turn on the ship’s control panel, and a screen activates that shows them that this man is the ship’s commander. The Doctor joins them and determines that the ship’s engines are fine and that the man could have left the planet at any time. He joins them, having remembered a little bit. He is Paltraki (Mark Addy).
Just then, a transmission rings through on the screen. Paltraki tells them to stand outside the viewing range while he answers. It is Andinio (Phyllis Logan), one of the two Ux. She is changed since we last saw her– harder. She tells him to return the thing he stole from the Creator. He refuses, and then the Creator speaks for himself. He tells Paltraki that he will kill his crew if he does not return the thing he stole immediately.
The creator’s voice is chillingly familiar. Team TARDIS freeze as they recognize it as Tzim-Sha (Samuel Oatley), the Stenza warrior they fought in their first adventure together. The alien most directly responsible for Grace’s death.
Tzim-Sha kills one of Paltraki’s crew members and ends the transmission. Paltraki remembers enough now to show The Doctor the object he took, which was the purpose of his mission on this planet. He and his crew were sent to retrieve this object.
The object is a vibrating dark shape inside of a containment chamber that looks like a chunk of the Fortress of Solitude. The Doctor examines it with her sonic, and it is too complicated for her to make any sense. It should be insanely dense, but it is somehow light enough for her to pick up. She determines that they should all go to the Ux shrine, where Tzim-Sha is holding Paltraki’s crew, to save them. The Doctor collects some equipment in a backpack, and they head out.
Outside of Paltraki’s ship, the planet is a wasteland of burned out spaceships. It looks like it was the scene of a massive battle. Through the mist that sits on the wrecks, another structure is visible: the shrine.
As they approach the levitating building, Graham pulls The Doctor aside to tell her that if he has the chance to kill Tzim-Sha, he will. She tells him emphatically that she does not want him to do that, and that if he does, he will no longer be welcome to travel with her. He tells her that he understands, which is not the same as telling her he will comply.
When they arrive below the shrine, The Doctor stops to hand out assignments. She gives Paltraki and Yas the equipment they need to head to the coordinates on a device they found on Paltraki’s ship. The Doctor suspects that there’s something there that’s relevant to his original mission. She gives Graham and Ryan the equipment they need to find the hostages. For herself, she attaches some explosives to the mysterious object (as a precaution) and sets off to find Tzim-Sha and get some answers.
They position themselves below the building, and before The Doctor can figure out how to enter, the building itself beams them in.
Everyone splits up according to their assignments. Yas and Paltraki find the room indicated on his device, and inside are four more objects identical to the one they’ve already found. Ryan and Graham escape a run-in with some sniperbots and make it to the room where Paltraki’s crew is locked in stasis chambers, only to discover dozens more hostages held similarly.
While the fam moves forward with solving the problems in their separate quarters, The Doctor makes her way to Tzim-Sha. She is intercepted by an armed Andinio, who wants The Doctor to hand over the object. The Doctor tells Andinio to show the Creator her face, and Andinio complies. When Tzim-Sha sees The Doctor, he tells Andinio to send her in to him. Andinio is baffled by this. How can The Doctor and the Creator know each other?
Tzim-Sha sends Andinio away to do something before talking with The Doctor. He tells her that she corrupted his recall device and banished him to this desolate planet. When he arrived, the DNA bombs going off inside him had him on the brink of death. In a fortuitous turn, for him, the Ux mistook him for their Creator and both saved his life and bowed to his will. In the 3,407 years since, he has become more than he ever would have without The Doctor’s intervention, as he has combined the unique skills of the Ux with Stenza technology for the sake of revenge. Revenge on The Doctor.
The Doctor takes off at high speed in pursuit of Andinio to find out what’s happening. Andinio has gone to the room Yas and Paltraki are in, where it turns out her fellow Ux, Delph (Percelle Ascott), has been strapped to a cross-like piece of Stenza technology all along. Andinio forces a reluctant Delph to join her in using their abilities to serve the will of the Creator, and she straps herself in below him. Their eyes begin to glow as something starts happening.
When The Doctor rushes in shortly afterwards, she deduces from the new information she has that the objects Tzim-Sha has been collecting are planets. He has used the Ux skills to decimate entire planets, condensing them to the small size they’re seeing in the containment units. He doesn’t understand that having that much mass contained in a single place is causing instability that will soon have dire consequences– especially if he succeeds in bringing another planet through, as it’s clear he’s having the Ux do.
At first, the urgency is in stopping Tzim-Sha for the sake of an anonymous sixth planet and to avoid more instability. When the nefarious Stenza creep reveals that Earth is the target the Ux are working on, the stakes get decidedly higher.
The Doctor scrambles to work out a way to stop the Ux that won’t make things worse, and she decides that modifying the neural balancers she and Yas are wearing to become neural blockers and sticking them on the Ux will do the trick. She’s right, and once she stops them it doesn’t take long to convince them that Tzim-Sha is a false god who has twisted their creative powers for the sake of destruction.
In the wake of saving Earth, the growing instability of the five planets in the room with them becomes more pronounced. The Doctor again scrambles to find a solution, this time while battling the planetary waves that are starting to cloud her thoughts. Since the Ux are no longer a threat, she repossesses the neural balancers for herself and Yas, then conceives of a plan that builds on the foundation Tzim-Sha laid. If he can leverage Ux abilities with Stenza technology, she can do the same with Time Lord technology.
The Doctor summons her TARDIS to her, and when it arrives, she links Andinio to the Stenza technology, Delph to the TARDIS and uses the information about the planets’ original locations that’s in Delph’s head to help guide the TARDIS as it puts the planets back where they belong.
Meanwhile, Tzim-Sha has become aware of the jail break Graham and Ryan are facilitating. Graham and Ryan are able to get everyone out with Paltraki’s help, and Graham stays behind to blow up the sniperbots on their trail. When Graham doesn’t show up outside the shrine, Ryan tells Paltraki to go ahead without him and goes back for his grandfather.
Ryan knows Graham wants to kill Tzim-Sha. They shared a moment in the room full of stasis chambers where Ryan told Graham he loves him while begging him not to break up the team by going against The Doctor. Ryan suspects that Graham really stayed behind to get his chance, and he’s right.
Inside, Tzim-Sha has disconnected himself from his life-support system and gone in pursuit of Graham. When he finds him, Graham is waiting with a gun raised. Ryan arrives in time to see Graham choosing to be the bigger man, but when Tzim-Sha turns on Ryan, Graham shoots him in the foot. Together, they lock Tzim-Sha in a stasis chamber and tell him to contemplate Grace for eternity.
Team TARDIS unites the Ux with the rescued hostages on Paltraki’s ship and offer to take everyone home. Paltraki declines the offer, and Delph decides that he and Andinio must go with Paltraki and learn more about what there is beyond their planet. The Doctor and her crew, meanwhile, head off into the unknown.
We’ll be breaking down our reactions to this episode and the season as a whole on tomorrow’s AnyWho. Join us on Twitch to get our overall impressions and specific loves and not-loves. Here are some things I’m planning to bring:
- Mark Addy was in The Full Monty, and I will always think of that when I see him anywhere else.
- I like this quote from Andinio: “…the world is not to be understood. Only experienced.”
- So… The Doctor can summon the TARDIS? Has that happened before? It seems like this would have been useful a few other times.
- For the second time, Team TARDIS leaves Tzim-Sha unsupervised and not dead. He’ll be back.