Oh, I so desperately wanted Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 11 to wow us with something super flashy and potentially ridiculous.
With its return pushed back to 2020, it would’ve also been satisfying to go out on an episode of consequence, one that leaves us with something to think about for the next TWELVE LONG MONTHS.
Not that it wasn’t exciting in parts. Even if there was only ONE Dalek. But it was a SUPER Dalek which was a twist. I guess?
The issue is, and it’s been a running issue in several episodes this season, there were TWO separate conflicts going on here and they pulled focus constantly and messed with the pacing.
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First, there’s the obvious problem of the 9th Century SUPER Dalek, defeated in a legendary battle where three warring tribes of Britain united to defeat it (shades of Tolkien there), revived by a couple of present-day archeologists, and back on track to destroy the Earth and humanity.
The Dalek-Lin scenes are incredibly vicious and violent. There’s a high level of discomfort in having the tentacled alien clinging to, penetrating(!), and forcibly making Lin do and say things against her will, threatening her own well-being as well as that of her friends.
Trying to get out ahead of Dalek-Lin and, later, the re-encased Dalek, is a panicky, adrenaline-fueled pursuit. It’s fast. It’s reactive. It’s scary.
But meanwhile, we have Ryan’s dad, Aaron, show up (good timing, that) and there are these long, quiet, emotionally-wrought scenes between him and Graham, then him and Ryan.
Ryan: I don’t care how it’s been for you. This ain’t about us commiserating with each other. This is about you making things right.
Aaron: This is how you talk to your dad?
Ryan: I don’t know because he ain’t been around. So don’t come walking back in, demanding respect, cause that ain’t where we are.
Then him and Graham again…
And then finally, him and Ryan again.
I appreciate that the theme of family has been dominant this season and that, with Grace’s death, both Ryan and Graham are invested in settling accounts with Aaron, specifically regarding his noticeable absences.
He’s a problematic character with an ambiguous tension between what we know of him — abandoning Ryan after Ryan’s mother’s death, missing Grace’s funeral — and what we see of him here — trying to make amends, totally lost in his life decisions, suddenly clever when it comes to fighting aliens.
Ok, listen. Here’s what you find out when you get older. There are things you’ve done in your life… to others, the decisions you’ve made, maybe when things were difficult. You get it wrong. But by the time you’ve realized you’ve got it wrong, it’s too late. You can’t fix it because the damage is done. So you run ’cause you’re too ashamed to make it right. That’s what I did.
Potentially, we could find a lot of quality depth in Aaron but when he’s introduced with imminent Dalek-destruction on the horizon, it was just really annoying to have to stop the action to watch him go through a box of childhood souvenirs.
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To be fair, some elements of ridiculousness did seep through although I’m not sure it was completely intentional.
Regarding the legend of the Hope Valley Battle, the British tribes destroy the Dalek casing with primitive hand-made weaponry and FIRE, manage to subdue the organism through unknown means, and chop it into three with the intention of shipping the pieces to remote (but perpetually guarded) burials around the world.
In the NINTH CENTURY.
First, who decided chopping it up and separating the bits would be an effective way to prevent its return?
Second, where did subsequent custodians come from?
Third, when the Yorkshire bit revived, it immediately transported the other bits back to it. What was the point in separating them?
The Doctor: There’s been a Dalek buried on Earth since the 9th Century, waiting to revive.
Mitch: I’m sorry. A what?
Graham: Alien psychopath.
Further on that, wouldn’t it have just transported its bits back the minute it got chopped up? Or better yet, why would it need the bits at all? Wouldn’t it have been an even more SUPER Dalek if it had the ability to regenerate (LOL) from a single piece, like a starfish?
Lastly, what happened to the present-day custodians at the other two sites? What do they do now? Were they supposed to help fight the thing they’d dedicated their life to guarding?
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So many completely inconsequential questions! Ridiculous.
On the up-side, I love love LOVE symmetry in narrative and the highlight here was watching Dalek-Lin working on the improvised casing and recognizing The Doctor’s montage scene on Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 1, creating her new sonic. Nicely done.
There’s also the fact that that the premiere began with a recon probe arriving in Sheffield and the SUPER Dalek’s mission was recon (and conquest).
Furthermore, the bookending with Aaron’s narration echoed the premiere where Ryan starts and ends the episode with his YouTube video about Grace.
Also in the win column, Jodie Whittaker really stepped up in her scenes confronting the Dalek through various T.A.R.D.I.S. gadgets and in the face-to-face.
It felt true to the nature of The Doctor that she would identify herself specifically to escalate the Dalek’s reactions and then have to scramble when its reactions actually escalated.
Yaz: How’d it go? What happened?
Ryan: Did you get rid of it?
The Doctor: Not quite.
Yaz: How much ‘not quite’?
The Doctor: Not at all. Slightly riled it and let it get away. And now it’s in a tank, trying to summon the fleet.
She got in some fun lines with the throwaway about the T.A.R.D.I.S. pill side-effects and her admonishments of Aaron’s parenting track record.
And there was just a lot for her to DO in the hunting down of the Dalek.
Unfortunately, the flaws with Team T.A.R.D.I.S. remain static. Ryan gets all the character development here with his father being back and all.
Graham gets an emotional kick in while Aaron’s around and really chews the scenery regarding Grace’s feelings for her troubled son.
And, as usual, Yaz gets underused and relegated to team cheerleader and muscle.
I like the team and think that three Companions could work really well but it needs work. It occurs to me that Ryan and Graham developed more over the season because of their relationship.
With the exception of two episodes, Yaz operated as an isolated character. She may be more dependent on her relationship with The Doctor because of this but that hasn’t really spun out well either.
Not to belabor the point but the pacing was so challenging here that the moments of levity lost any effectiveness.
Lin/Dalek: Who has access to the archives?
Richard: Today, it’s just me. Most secure digits in Yorkshire, that’s what told me by a friend anyway. I probably shouldn’t be telling you that. I’m new at this.
And the only joke that really landed (because that Brexit one was TERRIBLE) was when the Dalek cut all the Internet access in the country and families had to resort to CONVERSATIONS. (With each other, I presume.) Oh, the horror!
Under close examination, this might’ve actually been a better finale than it was a special. Either way, it shows a work in progress and possibly the reason for the delay on Season 12.
The Doctor: Come on then, you lot. Places to go!
Yaz: When you say ‘Places to go!’ where you thinking? Where to next?
The Doctor: I was thinking… EVERYWHERE!
As there is such a long wait for the show’s return, you’ve got plenty of time to watch Doctor Who online and speculate on where EVERYWHERE might include.
Will the Stenza return?
Will there be another historical adventure?
WHO IS THE TIMELESS CHILD?
This is going to be a LONG year for me…