Friends, faith and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (2018)

RAK

Dear past Johnny,

Hello from 2019! Back where you are, it’s 2013 and you’re thinking about writing a blog about Doctor Who. Because apparently the world really needs to hear what any old Johnny Spandrell has to say about a kids sci-fi TV show.

I get it. You’re full of nerves and misgivings: you’re thinking, can I keep up the pace? Can I really hope to say something new about every story? Will anyone read this thing? Is it all going to be a colossal waste of time?

I’m here with some good news. The answers to those questions are, yes, you’ll keep up the pace. In fact, you’ll publish at least one post a week (and sometimes more) for five and a half years. That’s nearly 300 posts and well over 300,000 words. And yes, you’ll more or less say something new about every story. Occasionally, you’ll even manage to be funny. (Though you make lots of typos. My favourite is when you go on about a “rouge Cyberman”, closely followed by when you talk about a female military officer’s rack, when you mean “rank.” You like that one so much you never bother to change it.)

Will anyone read it? Surprisingly, yes. They’ll even contact you to say so. From all around the world. You’ll make new friends and that’s something that hasn’t even crossed your tiny little 2013 mind has it? As for a waste of time… no, it’s the opposite of that. It’s hugely enjoyable. You won’t regret it.

(In other news, there’s gonna be a new showrunner, a female Master, a female Doctor, a gay companion and the Fish People make a triumphant return to the series. One of those things is a lie, have fun finding out which. And Donald Trump… oh, probably best not to think about it).

Your last post is this one and it’s on The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. No, not more typos, that’s what the episode is called. You haven’t heard of it yet, because it’s years away from being conceived of. It’s an understated season finale, in which the Doctor (her off Broadchurch) stumbles across an old enemy (*cough Zaroff! cough*) who is merging super-advanced technology with the faith of an ancient race of mystics to steal the plot of The Pirate Planet.

It’s an odd piece of work. It’s not a big, bombastic season closer as we’ve seen in previous years (the Doctor even has dialogue which refers to a couple of them fondly, just to hammer home the point). It’s kind of about chickens coming home to roost; the Doctor’s humiliation of said old enemy (no, not Zaroff. But wouldn’t that be great? This one is called Tim Shaw. No, not him off the Demtel ads.) has caused him to stew for three thousand odd years, during which time he’s managed to convince two of the ancient mystic race (the Seussical sounding Ux) to help him build a super weapon.

They are a bit slow on the uptake, these Ux, having taken three thousand years to work out that guy with his enemies’ teeth embedded in his head and an army of robots (who, by the way, have the shoddy marksmanship of those old UNIT soldiers of yore) at his disposal may not have the best interests of the universe at heart. But I suppose the point this episode is making is that blinkered adherence to faith can lead you some distance up the garden path.

The other question it poses is whether the Doctor’s pal Graham (him of the UK version of The Chase) is going to give in to his desire for revenge and shoot Tim Shaw for killing his wife, back in the first ep of this season. Which technically he didn’t actually do, but that’s probably unhelpful to point out. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ve watched enough Doctor Who to know by now that it’s unlikely to produce an episode celebrating revenge as a satisfying and justifiable course of action. So it’s probably enough to point out that for our two characters contemplating murder here as a cathartic act, one friend and one foe, it works out OK for one of them.

The Battle of RAK, as I’ve just christened it, is surprising only in its determination to not be surprising. You, 2013 Johnny, are in the tangled midst of the Steven Moffat era where everything is complicated and moral decisions are painted in many shades of grey. Not so much anymore – the show is now in a place where its messages on good and bad are much simpler. Its pace is slower and the Doctor’s back to travelling with three companions. I’m not the first to say that it’s reminiscent of the Hartnell era, and that, as we know, is a double-edged sword.

Talking of Hartnell, you’ll start your random journey with The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and oddly enough, it and The Battle of RAK have things in common. The TARDIS crew is battling to fight an enemy whose plan is well underway and reaching its climax, they end up saving loads of trapped extras running away in a quarry and the plot involves moving planets across the cosmos. If your blog has a theme, it’s thinking about what each story is about and why that matters (well, most of the time. Sometimes you just take the piss). At heart, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Battle of RAK and everything in between is about how cruelty and tyranny can be countered with intelligence, bravery and wit.

And throughout, the Doctor is the same character you’ve always loved and admired, fighting against the odds, battling brawn with brains and generally putting things right. And she still has that same faith that people are basically good and if you give them the chance to be, they’ll make the right decisions.

“Keep your faith. Travel hopefully,” the Doctor tells the Ux at the end of this episode. “Go forward in all your beliefs,” her predecessor said all those years ago, at the end of that Dalek invasion. The Doctor’s still urging her audience to have confidence in their abilities and just go for it. It’s good advice. You should take it.

And here’s one more spoiler for you: for all the randomness you’re about to dive into, the surprising part is that the things that make Doctor Who the best TV series ever made never leave it. It never gives up on being smart, funny and engaging. It always seeks to fire up its audience’s imagination, armed only big ideas, compelling performances and charmingly inadequate production standards. When you think about it that way, it’s not random at all.

Yours,

Future Johnny.

LINK TO The Seeds of Death: Oh and this thing. It seems like a good idea at the start, but let me tell you, it will drive you mental. “It’s late,” Mrs Spandrell will say, “go to sleep, you fool.” “No!” you’ll retort. “There must be something linking Inferno and Love & Monsters and I’ve got to find it! Does anyone turn into paving stone in Inferno? Or does Elton Whatsit wear an eyepatch?” So many times you’ll want to quietly retire this part of the blog like a long running DWM feature suddenly dropped without comment.

But against all odds, we’ve made it and linked every story in this random chain to each other. And by pointing out that because The Battle of RAK has an opening sequence set in 2018, both it and The Seeds of Death have scenes set in the 21st century, my work on this particularly pointless feature of the blog is done. You have been warned!

NEXT TIME: An afterword.

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