Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the Doctor ended with some high stakes villainy, a whole mess of callbacks to earlier episodes and some high profile guest stars, in an episode that tried to go a little bit Moffat-y and didn’t quite get there. It was another fine romp, but lacked the bonkers weirdness of last week’s offering, and didn’t really make the most of all the main players.
How do you resolve a series arc without really having a series arc? You go back to the beginning. And so, we saw the return of Toothy Tim Shaw, arriving on Ranskoor Av Kolos fresh from his showdown with the Doctor in episode one, and feeling a bit poorly from those DNA bombs. A bit of the Darth Vader treatment, and he was ready to carry on being a genocidal maniac, with the help of two space wizards, Delph and Andinio, members of the mysterious and powerful Ux. Andinio (played by Phyllis Logan, perhaps best known as Mrs Hughes from Downton Abbey) is convinced Toothy Tim is the Creator, their one true god. Delph is less certain. But as she points out, the world is not to be known, just experienced, and so rather than asking some pretty important questions, like ‘Whatcha doing?’ and ‘So, what’s with the teeth?’, they serve him for thousands of years. More on that story later.
3407 years later, Team TARDIS have received 9 distress signals from Ranskoor, and are determined to investigate. Wearing special neural balancers to protect themselves from the violent psychotropic waves of the planet (seriously everything about this planet screams RUN AWAY), they land on one of the grounded ships, and immediately find themselves looking down the barrel of a space gun brandished by Robert Baratheon himself, the always fabulous Mark Addy, as Paltraki. Paltraki has come down with a case of Convenient Suspense Amnesia as a result of the planet’s brain mojo. And he has a weird crystal thingamajig that should be a lot heavier than it is. The Doctor gives him a neural balancer, but it won’t work straightaway, because everyone knows Convenient Suspense Amnesia only wears off when it serves the plot. Darth Tim’s heavy breathing announces an incoming message: Toothy wants his special stuff back, and if he doesn’t get it, he’ll kill Paltraki’s crew. To prove he’s not bluffing, he kills one there and then.
The return of Toothy Tim shocks the team. The Doctor is horrified that he is still wreaking havoc, and Graham — well, lovely, cuddly Graham gets all vengeful. It’s perhaps the cutest declaration of intent to murder that there has ever been. The Doctor warns him that if he kills Tim, he’s off the team. (NO, YOU CAN’T DITCH GRAHAM!) This is search and rescue, not search and destroy. Graham isn’t convinced.
They cross the spaceship graveyard to the mysterious floating edifice, and split into three teams. Ryan and Graham are off to rescue Paltraki’s remaining crew; Paltraki and Yaz will following the original mission parameters to try and find out what Paltraki was doing there in the first place; and the Doctor is going to have a chat with Tim.
She bumps into Mrs Hughes first though, and is really excited to meet one of the legendary Ux, the universe’s dimensional engineers, until she realises that Andinio’s blind faith in the Creator has made her lose her way a bit. Andinio is very freaked out that the Creator knows the Doctor. Finally, she’s asking some questions! Hey, you remember who was great at asking questions?
Meanwhile, Ryan and Graham escape the Sniperbots from episode two by doing the old ‘duck and they’ll just shoot each other’ trick. Bots, huh? They find Paltraki’s crew in stasis along with dozens more. Yaz and Paltraki find more weird crystal thingies. And Paltraki has remembered his first name, Greston, and the fact that he was searching for other lost ships that hadn’t come back. And something about the Congress of the Nine Planets and some atrocities. But that’s all for now, Convenient Suspense Amnesia fans!
Speaking of atrocities, Tim’s got a new target. I WONDER WHAT IT WILL BE… He takes a moment to gloat and explain his motives before activating it though, because that’s what bad guys do: They monologue. Imagine a villainy spectrum, with Negan strutting around at one end, and the Daleks just screaming EXTERMINATE at the other. Tim’s definitely towards the Negan end. And he is really smug about his partnership with the Ux, with all their dimensional force mojo. What does he bring to the table? All the knowledge and technology of the Stenza. Put them together, and what have you got?
What does he want to do with this power? “What every living creature wishes for: REVENGE!” Cue a cut to Graham, which though apt, was a bit harsh. Ryan is still talking him down though. Having dropped the G word last week (yay!) he is now ready to throw the L word at him.
“We’re family and I love you. Be the better man. Please.”
Toothy Tim wants revenge on the Doctor for defeating him in Sheffield, but also, he is kind of thankful because now he is worshipped as a god and has PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER and stuff, so it’s complicated.
Mrs Hughes has been ordered to ‘ready’ the other one, Delph, for the new target, and even though she has teeny doubts, she is content to keep following orders, even though her partner of thousands of years is tied up and they are clearly doing terrible things. Top tip: if your god tells you to commit genocide, maybe reconsider your faith? As it turns out, those weird crystals contain planets, created by rifts in space time. And funnily enough, they aren’t stable. That’s a lot of planets to have in one place, and they might break free and kill everyone.
That’s when the Big Ticking Clock starts. The new target is Earth, because of course it is. Toothy Tim has spotted Ryan and Graham rescuing people and is marching off to get them. The Doctor has too many problems at once. And it really started to feel rushed. Taking off the neural balancers could make Yaz and the Doctor crazy, but it doesn’t. Disconnecting the Ux could kill them, but it doesn’t. The neural balancers work much more quickly on the Ux, for Convenient Reasons. And a flourish from the sonic brings them the TARDIS to help.
“Tim Shaw might have a shrine, but I’ve got a Ghost Monument.”
It’s time to hack in to the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits, last seen navigating via Yaz’s grandmother’s watch. This time, Delph gets wired in, and it’s time to send those planets back. Sorry not sorry, Toothy.
Speaking of Toothy, he’s making mistake after mistake. First, he explained his Grand Plan to his nemesis and then sat around while she went off to ruin it. Then, he goes after Ryan and Graham in the stasis chamber rather than, oh I don’t know, STOPPING THE DOCTOR FROM RUINING THE GRAND PLAN. And then he only goes and threatens Granddad Extraordinaire, the Sandwich Man himself. And we said, NO, NOT TODAY, DARTH TIM. Of course Graham wasn’t going to kill him. Just maim him a little! That’s totally fine! Ryan’s had enough too: “Don’t diss my granddad. Ever.” You come for Graham, you deserve to be shut away in a stasis pod for all eternity, to think about what you’ve done. Because sentencing someone to life without a trial is so much more ethical than zapping them with a space gun, right?
The Earth is saved, the Ux are going to go travelling and maybe find themselves, and Graham gets to stay on the team. All in all, it was a success.But it was a little hollow. And I think I know exactly what the problem was for me: There wasn’t enough Mark Addy.
How can you waste Mark Addy? I wanted Mark Addy to be a gruff, no-nonsense cross between Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds, and instead, he was saddled with Convenient Suspense Amnesia, the worst plot contrivance since ‘it was all a dream’ became too predictable. Sure, he got to save Ryan and Graham from some Sniperbots, but he spent too much of the episode looking confused and saying things like ‘Stebble’ when he could have been kicking some butt, roaring family-friendly expletives, and strutting around like a champion. No-one puts Mark Addy in a corner. You know how much I appreciate Mark Addy — he’s Robert Bloody Baratheon for heaven’s sake! He’s Hercules! Look what we could have had!
The under-use of Addy clearly soured the episode a bit for me, but I think even without my (unfairly high) expectations being crushed, this episode would have left people wanting more. If you are going to go for a big arc, you need to put a bit more of the groundwork in, or it’s all high stakes and callbacks without any of the build up. I’ve loved most of the series as you know — I just wanted a little bit more.
Timey-Wimey Fun Stuff
Did the Doctor invent wellies?
Remember when the Doctor towed the Earth back to its rightful place after the Daleks nicked it in ‘The Stolen Earth’? That was the one with two Tens. (A Twenty? No?) Is it too late for a Doctor Two spin off?
Remember when the TARDIS turned a Slitheen into an egg? That was back in Nine’s day! Takes you back, eh?
The planets stuck in the crystals gave me flashbacks to the Cup-A-Soup pictures (just add time!) in ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ — the 50th anniversary special. You know, the one with Ten and Eleven, a bonus un-numbered War Doctor, a brief flash of Twelve saying ‘Thirteen’, and a special appearance from Four. (And people say this show is confusing.)
“Dimensionally transcendental” is the new ‘bigger on the inside’.
If this episode left you wanting more, there’s good news and bad news on that front. The bad news is that there won’t be another series for a year. The good news is that we only have a few weeks before the New Year’s Day special. The supplementary bad news is that it probably means there will be Daleks on New Year’s Day. Please don’t let them do a shouty monotone monologue… We might all have sore heads.
Header Image Source: BBC