Doctor Who fans could be forgiven for sitting down to the series finale with their sonic screwdrivers in a twist. Game of Thrones’ actor Mark Addy had already been confirmed to guest-star in the Doctor’s (Jodie Whitaker) final outing before the new year. Would this be a heavenly marriage of Whittaker and Westeros?
As it transpires, Addy – aka GoT competitive eating champion Robert Baratheon – is playing a stolid space captain who doesn’t add much and whose interactions with the Doctor are deafeningly ho-hum. Yet, any anti-climax is offset by the return of another familiar face: the teeth-encrusted alien hunter Tzim-Sha (“Tim Shaw” to the Doctor).
He was the first antagonist with whom the new Time Lord tangled and was last seen dangling from a crane in Sheffield and about to be zapped to a far-flung dimension. Said dimension turns out to exist 3407 years in the past, where he arrives just in time to be anointed a god by a pair of needy aliens looking for someone – anyone, really – to worship.
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Doctor Who’s incoming show-runner, Chris Chibnall, had insisted his debut season would feature only all-new monsters. And while Tzim-Sha (Samuel Oatley) is a long way off the iconic status of Daleks, Cybermen etc, he is by far the year’s most interesting baddy and it was clever to recycle him for the final episode (not counting the New Year’s Day special).
His return contributes to a solid curtain closer to Whittaker’s inaugural tilt at the Tardis. There are some thrilling space battles (Tzim-Sha having brought with him the Stenza killer-bots from The Ghost Monument episode).
And visually The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos is sumptuous. Testy Tzim looks like something from HR Giger (or Warhammer 40K) as he broods in a tangle of pipes and intravenous attachments at the heart of the living starship he’s had the Ux – his extraterrestrial minions – rig up.
The traditional Doctor Who high concepts are top rank too. Tza had been busy capturing and miniaturising planets, storing them in crystal shards. Next on this shopping list is Earth – his revenge against his humiliation in Sheffield (an upset that frustrated his dreams to rule the Stenza).
Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) see their arcs some to a satisfying close. Having told the Doctor he would kill Sha and thus avenge the death of his wife, Grace, Graham cannot bring himself to murder in cold blood (though he very much can zap an alien in the foot in cold blood). Ryan, for his part, accepts Graham as his grandfather and hearts melt across the cosmos
What a pity third sidekick Yaz (Mandip Gill) is relegated to running around in the dark looking mildly concerned. Amidst the shoot-outs and space-cuddles is it churlish to also point out the story felt every so slightly rushed? Or that Addy, so great in Game of Thrones, is wasted as unshaven space trucker archetype Paltraki?
Well, yes, it is a bit. Doctor Who season 11 has retreated mercifully from the clever-clever over-thinking that had become an unfortunate hallmark of Steven Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. Whitaker, meanwhile, convinced from the start as the first ahem “Lady Doctor”.
Plus, a preview of the Christm… sorry, New Year special suggests it will feature axe-wielding Vikings and a motorway chase. In short, all boxes ticked and the boo-boys who found the mere idea of a female Doctor incomprehensible given one more reason to clutch their throats and gag on their prejudices.
High-fives all around, then, and a bonus fist-bump to Chibnall for furnishing us with the chatty, natty, occasionally wacky Doctor we hadn’t realised we needed.