[This review contains some minor SPOILERS!]
When The TARDIS picks up nine separate distress calls from nine separate ships at the same time, on the same planet, in the exact same remote corner of said planet, you know The Doctor isn’t just going to sit idly by and not try to help. The problem is that the planet in question is Ranskoor Av Kolos, which – in the language of the locals who first mapped it – translates roughly to “Disintegrator of the Soul.” This is because the world goes beyond being hostile to actively emitting a sort of psychic radiation that slowly drives people mad as they forget who they are.
Thankfully, The Doctor has the technology to block the effects of this and it’s fairly easy to talk-down the gun-wielding ship’s captain who has forgotten his name and his mission but not to be afraid of anyone he might meet on the surface of Ranskoor Av Kolos. Multiple military ships were sent to confront some menace that was setting up shop on the planet’s surface, but the crews are all missing and there’s no sign of life apart from one strange looking shrine. Then the captain receives a call regarding the ransom of his crew and things get even worse…
Whatever else may be said about “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” it will never be said that Chris Chibnall does things by halves. The sheer amount of mad ideas in this episode is phenomenal and any one of them might have been the source of an entire episode back in the days of Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. A species consisting of two people, whose faith can rewrite reality? A hostile planet that radiates amnesia-causing psychic vibrations? A villain who steals whole planets as trophies?
Well, okay – that last idea isn’t Chibnalls. It was originally utilized by Douglas Adams in “The Pirate Planet” (one of the great classic Who episodes, if you’ve never seen it) and “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” seems to give that story something of a shout-out here with shrunken worlds, held in stasis, being used to power a doomsday weapon. This is a problem with many of Chibnall’s scripts – for all of his original ideas, he also borrows a lot from the classic series and does a poor job hiding his sources. The ultimate battle between The Doctor and the villain, for instance, owes much to The Ninth Doctor’s fight with the Emperor Dalek in “The Parting Of Ways” and there’s a lot in this episode that will remind Whovians of the Ninth Doctor era in general.
Another unfortunate aspect of Chibnall’s writing in this episode is that the story itself seems rather shallow and the characters are all rather flat, despite all the high concepts in the plot. The lion’s share of the emotional beats are placed on Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole, as the relationship between Ryan and Graham comes full circle from where they started the series. It’s beautifully acted and their scenes are well-written but the rest of the episode has very little emotional resonance despite The Doctor confronting an old enemy. Yasmin, once again, is left with little to do but stand around.
Still, despite its flaws, the worst thing that can be said about “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” is that it is an average Doctor Who story. That’s something of a step-down given how generally excellent this season has been. Still, at least it isn’t an awful Doctor Who story. I’ll take average any day over something like “Daleks of Manhattan” or “Kill The Moon.”