Timestamp #292: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

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Doctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
(1 episode, s11e10, 2018)

Timestamp 292 Ranskoor Av Kolos

Tim comes full circle.

On the planet Ranskoor Av Kolos, a woman named Andinio and a man named Delph practice telekinesis. Andinio is testing Delph’s potential when a crackle of blue energy breaks Delph’s concentration. Nearby, a figure stumbles in an attempt to stand.

3,407 years later, the TARDIS detects nine separate distress signals from Ranskoor Av Kolos, as well as psychotropic waves that can scramble brains and make people paranoid and irrational. With the help of neural balancers, the Doctor and her team touch down inside a ship. They find a scared man with a gun and, despite the Doctor’s calm introduction, the man irrationally repeats himself. The Doctor offers him a neural balancer, after which the man calms down and discusses his missing memories. He does remember his last name, though: Paltraki. The Doctor determines that the ship is parked instead of crashed.

Team TARDIS finds out that Paltraki is the ship’s commander. Their research is interrupted by an incoming transmission bearing a summons from the Creator. The same message also reveals that Tzim-Sha is holding Paltraki’s crew hostage. The Stenza kills one of the crew, a woman named Umsang, and cuts the signal. He wants an item that Paltraki stole, a crystal structure containing a rapidly vibrating object. The Doctor can’t scan the crystal object but resolves to stop Tzim-Sha from causing any more senseless violence. She outfits her team with throat microphones and they all set out.

Along the way, Graham tells the Doctor that he plans to kill Tzim-Sha in retaliation for Grace’s death. The Doctor tells him that he won’t be able to travel with her any longer if he does. Graham remains resolved to seek revenge.

The group arrives at a large hovering object Paltraki calls the temple. The Doctor provides the group with gear from Paltraki’s ship, including grenades for breaking inanimate objects. She attaches a grenade with a dead man’s switch to the crystal and finds a way inside the temple. After that, she sends Graham and Ryan to find the hostages, and Yaz and Paltraki to find more crystals. She sets out to find Tzim-Sha.

Graham tries to rationalize his desire to kill Tzim-Sha to Ryan, but their debate is cut short by a sniper-bot ambush. They duck in time to watch the snipers cut each other down, then run off. Elsewhere, the Doctor finds Andinio. The woman holds her at gunpoint and demands the crystal, but the Doctor is amazed to find out that Andinio is an Ux. She also wonders why an Ux is working for Tzim-Sha. Full of doubt, Andinio decides to take the Doctor before the Stenza.

Tzim-Sha is unimpressed by the Doctor’s new look, revealing that they last met 3,407 years ago. He tells Andinio to get ready before revealing his face to the Doctor. The DNA bombs corrupted his teleport device and banished him to this planet. Unable to leave, he was kept alive by the Ux, who treated him as a god. It gave him time to plan revenge against the Doctor and the worlds that opposed the Stenza.

Yaz and Paltraki get to know each other before they find sniper-bots and a room containing the crystals. As the last fleet, Paltraki’s crew was tasked by the Congress of the Nine Planets in response to a set of atrocities. Yaz calls the Doctor with news of their discovery just before Andinio arrives before a captive Delph, channeling his powers to make the temple into a weapon.

By the way, the crystals contain literal planets. The weapon captures the planets, and Tzim-Sha has set his sights on Earth.

The Doctor runs to the crystal chamber and learns this news. Angry, she demands that Tzim-Sha stop his genocidal quest, convinced that the technology is unstable and could kill everyone. Paltraki heads for the ship while the Doctor and Yaz try to stop the Stenza’s plan.

Ryan and Graham find a room full of people in stasis. While they develop a plan to save them all, Ryan persuades Graham with his love and Grace’s life lessons. The sniper-bots attack while they work, and Tzim-Sha is alerted to their rescue operation so he stomps on down there. Paltraki destroys the snipers and leads the hostages to safety while Graham covers them.

Balancing the 7 billion lives on Earth against their own, the Doctor and Yaz use their neural balancers on the Ux to disrupt the Stenza’s signals. Earth is saved from oblivion and Andinio’s faith in Tzim-Sha is shattered. The crystals begin to fracture, and as the Doctor declares that the Ux are the true creators, she summons the TARDIS using Stenza technology.

Tzim-Sha arrives at his trophy room. Graham draws down on him with a sniper-bot rifle but chooses to be the better man. As Ryan returns and draws the Stenza’s attention, Graham shoots the warrior in the foot. The two humans load the still-alive Tzim-Sha into one of his own trophy cases, telling him to remember the name Grace while he contemplates eternity in stasis.

The Doctor ties the power of the TARDIS into the Stenza devices, using the telepathic circuits to channel the Ux’s powers and restore the planets to their proper places. It’s a painful process but it restores balance to the universe.

With all said and done, the Doctor commends Graham for his strength in mercy. Meanwhile, Delph decides that the Ux must be part of the greater universal civilization. They lock the temple so that no one can reach the Stenza outcast, and the Doctor bids farewell with a message: Travel hopefully.

It’s well known that showrunner Chris Chibnall was disappointed in this story, particularly since it was filmed as a first draft. From a 2022 interview in Doctor Who Magazine:

Particularly in that first series, I spent a lot of time helping other writers. We had some problems towards the end and I had to go back and do some big rewrites, which meant that the version of episode 10 [The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos] that we filmed was a first draft. But I just didn’t have time to do a second draft. It didn’t feel enough like a season finale, and that was entirely down to time.

This is surprising because this script felt like it had a lot more character body than most of the other stories so far in the season. For example, the Doctor’s astonished excitement at meeting the Ux was for more engaging than meeting the Solitract. I was also sold on the dialogue between Ryan and Graham far more than their other interactions this season. Related, the fact that this duo decided to imprison Tzim-Sha instead of killing him says a lot about their journey.

The other big up-rating for this story is the plot to steal planets. Sure, it’s a rehash of The Pirate Planet and The Stolen Earth, but it’s definitely a Doctor Who and pulpy sci-fi plot. That makes it exciting and fun.

Sadly, that’s where the praise ends for this adventure. It’s a confusing story with interwoven timelines and convenient plot devices. The stasis chambers, for example, contained the crews of all nine ships, but the dialogue doesn’t really explain much to make this revelation worthwhile. The story provided lip service to the other ships but our attention was focused on Paltraki and his crew. It also makes little sense for Tzim-Sha to hold those crews as trophies when he deliberately killed targets in The Woman Who Fell to Earth and took their teeth.

The ending is also pretty lackluster. I mean, Chibnall routinely ties a quick bow on stories without making it feel like a good payoff, but this season finale ends with “travel hopefully” and a wave. Even he was displeased with that effort.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Resolution


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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