A familiar villain seeks revenge. Two people have their faith used against them. And the Doctor must restore the universe. Sounds like a high-key finale for “Doctor Who,” right?
The episode opens in present day on the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, which is inhabited by a micro-species called the Ux. The lone two members are able to create through thought. As the elder Andinio coaches the younger Delph, a figure materializes in the distance.
Flash forward to the TARDIS, where the Doctor is intercepting multiple distress calls from one planet. Her companions are game to go and help although the Doctor preps them first with neuro-balancers to reduce mental fog or any thoughts of paranoia. Case in point, the crew lands on one of the many ships on the planet to find a captain who can’t remember how he got here and what’s going on. The Doctor gives him a neuro-balancer and details slowly trickle in while team TARDIS investigates the ship.
A transmission loads showing Andinio threatening the captain (who’s name is now known as Paltraki) with the death of his crew if they do not return a particular object. As the discussion goes on, another familiar voice rises from the audio…it’s Tzim-Sha, the Stenza warrior the Doctor banished from Earth, and the reason for Grace’s death. The Doctor wants to know what was stolen and Paltraki shows her a crystal with a frantically moving object inside of it. When the sonic screwdriver can’t analyze the crystal properly, there’s one thing to do: head out and try to rescue the crew while searching for answers from the crystal.
After gathering supplies and being equipped with throat mics so they can communicate if they get separated, the crew heads out into the planet proper. They are surrounded by a graveyard of ships from various planets—and it’s the source of the distress calls the Doctor intercepted earlier. Amongst the mist is a floating building that Paltraki believes is their destination. As the crew heads out, Graham requests the Doctor hang back for a private word. It’s then that he reveals what’s in his heart. He swore if he ever encountered the Stenza again, he would kill it due to what happened to Grace. The Doctor argues he is better than that and he should go back to the TARDIS and wait. He refuses, saying she doesn’t have a say in this.
As they near the floating temple, the Doctor decides to protect their crystal collateral by placing grenades on it. Ryan calls out this action, saying it shouldn’t align with her values. The Doctor explains that using instruments of war to break down walls and the like but not against living beings. She does a quick scan of the temple, finds the entry point and they’re transported up.
Once aboard, she splits the team in two. Graham and Ryan are tasked with finding Paltraki’s crew, and Yaz and Paltraki are to find any intel related to the crystal. The Doctor heads off to find Tzim-Sha.
Graham is still set on avenging Grace’s death, and it’s Ryan that is the voice of reason, reminding his granddad of what Grace would have wanted from both of them—to be the better men. It’s a nice moment of role reversal from where we started in the season where Graham good-heartedly tried to mentor his standoffish grandson. It shows how much their travels with the Doctor have cut through the day-to-day quarrels and let them focus on the most important thing—relying upon and trusting each other. Suddenly they find themselves surrounded by sniper bots which they duck from, allowing both sets of bots to get taken out by their own fire. Soon after, they find a stasis chamber with Paltraki’s crew as well as others.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is intercepted by Andinio, who is confused by how the Doctor could know about the Ux. The Doctor is confused why the Ux could be working alongside Tzim-Sha—who the Ux think is their Creator. She demands Andinio alert Tzim-Sha of her presence. When the Ux complies, Tzim-Sha requests the Doctor be brought to him personally. Once in front of Tzim-Sha, it is revealed he is on some sort of life support, and it’s been over 3,000 years since they last met. He dismisses Andinio to continue their work. Tzim-Sha explains he was trapped on this planet and that the Ux believed him to be their god, a fact he’s taken advantage of.
At the same time, Yaz and Paltraki find a room with crystals similar to the one that the Doctor is carrying. She asks Tzim-Sha for an explanation when he reveals their true nature. He has used the Ux’s powers to capture planets and then incase them in crystal. The Doctor demands to know what has been hidden in the temple and that’s when he reveals that the temple is in fact the weapon that completes the work of hijacking planets. So as a fake god he’s grown to not only taking teeth from his victims but entire planets—and Earth is next on his to-do list.
This is familiar territory for the Doctor now, but she also processes the horror that she was using a whole world as a bargaining chip before getting down to the business of undoing the devastation Ux and Tzim-Sha have accomplished together.
It’s then that we see how this story’s unconventional villains have made such feats possible—they’ve been harnessing Delph’s power through a mainframe. He begs Andinio to stop because he knows deep down what they are doing is wrong.
Flipping back to Ryan and Graham, they work together to get the crew out of the status cubes Tzim-Sha created. It’s taking time and the sniper bots are gaining on them, so Graham decides to improvise and buy them some time by detonating one of the bombs. Ryan and the crew members escape and all goes to plan, complete with a “Die Hard” reference from Graham (between this and the Tarantino gag, it’s apparent Graham might be a pop culture buff.) He then arms himself with one of the fallen sniper bot’s guns.
The Doctor and Yaz meet up to take on the Ux and it’s then that the Doctor realizes they could use their neuro-blockers to break the Ux’s telepathic connection to capturing Earth but it will endanger them—Yaz is willing to take the risk to save Earth. It works but the Doctor struggles to make the Ux understand that they need no god, especially not one like Tzim-Sha. Delph echoes the Doctor and then things begin to spin further out of control with the crystal-encased planets destabilizing.
And on a planet full of abandoned spacecraft, the Doctor remembers her own, calling back to both “The Ghost Monument” and “Demons of Punjab” — she makes the TARDIS materialize and have the Ux work with the telepathic circuits to restore the planets to their rightful place in the galaxy.
Meanwhile, Tzim-Sha has gone to seek out Graham, and now it’s time to see what he’ll do. Will he kill him or let him go? The two exchange words and then Ryan appears. Scared the Stenza will attack his grandson, Graham shoots Tzim-Sha in the foot instead. Together the two put the Stenza in one of the stasis chambers and tell him to think on one name for a long time: Grace.
Team TARDIS reunites with the job done. Graham still can’t shake the feeling that he should have done more, that perhaps showing kindness and mercy make him weak, to which the Doctor replies that he’s one of the strongest people she’s ever known. That moment gave me pause and made me think back to the Eleventh Doctor sadly declaring that his companions “are always brave” which typically leads to them sacrificing themselves. Here it’s turned back to a positive value without drama and I loved that. Paired with the Doctor’s early sentiment that Graham should sit this one out rather than let him turn himself into a monster was a nice way to button up a season focused on humanity (and lack thereof).
Team TARDIS part ways with Paltraki and Andinio mentions she wants to travel with them. Not seeing other worlds is partly what caused her to be shortsighted and let the Stenza rule over them.
To which the Doctor entones to all, and most of all the viewers:
This season has flown by and while it’s felt lighter in tone and design than the end of Moffat’s era, it still hit on heavy issues such as racism, inequality, and political uprising in the historical episodes. Chibnall proved you can have a season without the Daleks being the main focal point, although I believe we’ll be seeing them in the New Year’s Day special.
As a new Who viewer since 2005, I’ve been used to a season-long arc with varying degrees of payoff come the finale episode. This particular finale felt quiet and almost episode-of-the-week despite all the high stakes involved. It felt like just another episode that buttoned up some elements from the first episode. I had the same feeling of detachment this season that I tend to have when I watch Classic Who episodes, even if the pacing remains modern.
Graham and Ryan’s main emotional conflict is wrapped up, so what does that mean for their time in the TARDIS? Yaz also proved her worth throughout the series and in this episode, so my hopes are she’ll have more screen time or stories dedicated to her moving forward. Having three companions at once has led to an unbalanced element when it comes to screen time, but the trio has proved their worth time and again and I love their realness and energy which is a stark contrast to past showrunners who have fallen into the trap of making the companion’s backstory crucial to the plot. In many ways, this feels like a level set for the companions and the Doctor.
As for the Doctor herself, Jodie Whittaker has given us a bright, funny, effervescent Doctor. She sets her standards for her crew and sticks to them for the most part—or at least explains why she’s broken the rules, unlike past Doctors who do so with a cheeky wink or careless shrug. She believes in science and humanity and she’s full of excitement and wonder in every interaction. Even if this season left me feeling low-key, I’ll keep watching for Jodie. I often theorize that Doctors are chosen based on what’s going on in the real world, and Thirteen has reminded me to look at the world with fresh eyes, nurture the goodness in others, and stand up for what’s right.
Rachel Stewart has written fandom commentary for sites such as FangirlConfessions.com, Nerdy Minds Magazine, and ESO Network, among others. She has work in the anthology “Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who.”L!