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Doctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (Review)

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos ends the eleventh season on something of a damp squib.

To be fair, there were a lot of hurdles facing The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos from the outset. Most obviously, the expectations of a season finale. Unlike when Doctor Who was first broadcast, season finales are a big deal. They are part of the structure and rhythm of a season of television in a highly competitive market place. Indeed, one of the big innovations of the Davies era was understanding this, with Russell T. Davies building all of his season to bombastic blockbuster season finales.

Hunting their quarry.

There are a lot of expectations heading into a season finale. The episode has to at once exist in the context of what came before and gesture towards the future, satisfy the audience who watched every episode leading into it and offer a compelling reason to stick with the show through a long hiatus. That reason to stick around does not have to be a hook or a plot point, it can simply be, “this show does stuff that nothing else on television is doing.”

However, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos faces a number of problems in this regard. Most obviously, it is only a single episode long, which means it is formally indistinct from the nine episodes before it. More than that, it has to cram a host of plot and character work into that space, which needs to be “bigger” (or even just “more”) than the rest of the season. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos has to be a blockbuster episode despite being indistinguishable from Kerblam! or The Witchfinders or It Takes You Away.

Actually, more like Paltraking down their quarry…

There is a reason that Moffat’s two single-episode season finales are among his most divisive, and those were consciously designed to defy the formal expectations of the season finale. Although The Wedding of River Song did not quite work, it was structured more as a fun run-around season opener than an epic season finale, most of its questions long answered. The Name of the Doctor was less of a season finale and more a springboard to The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Even then, Moffat returned to two-part finales in the Capaldi era.

To be fair, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos might be able to get away with this if the show had been seeding momentum leading into the finale in earlier episodes so that story begins with a sense of stakes. Think about the way that The Long Game set up Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways, or the way that Tooth and Claw or Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel built to Army of Ghosts and Doomsday. More applicable to The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, consider the repeated references to missing planets in the lead-in to The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End.

“Orange-a glad it isn’t the stinkin’ Daleks?”

There are undoubtedly aspects of The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos that were seeded earlier in the season. Tim Shaw from The Woman Who Fell to Earth, the Stenza weapons testing in The Ghost Monument, the lost world in The Demons of the Punjab. However, none of these were developed with any sense of urgency, nor maintained across the length the season. None of them make any lasting impression. It is a minor miracle that any of the characters remember Tim Shaw, as he was never a compelling villain in the first place.

The result is a season finale that aspires towards a sense of scale that never feels earned, that never pays off, that never engages. It is a good thing that Resolutions will arrive in a little over three weeks, as it’s very hard to imagine The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos sustaining audience interest until the series returns in 2020.

“Battlefield: Ranskoor Av Kolos.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Broken Link (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

What is perhaps most surprising about Broken Link is how quiet and subdued it all it.

The fourth season began with a bang, with the dissolution of the alliance between the Klingons and the Federation that had been established in Heart of Glory and dramatised in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In fact, The Way of the Warrior featured the largest and most impressive combat sequence in the history of the Star Trek franchise to that point. Even allowing for The Sacrifice of Angels and What You Leave Behind, the fourth season premiere still ranks as one of the most elaborate set pieces in the franchise’s history.

Pray... for... Odo...

Pray… for… Odo…

Broken Link consciously circles back to that. It features the first reappearance of Robert O’Reilly as Gowron since The Way of the Warrior. The episode makes it clear that the problems depicted in The Way of the Warrior are only worsening. There is no small suggestion that Gowron is hoping to turn the cold war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire into a shooting war. Broken Link is very much a show about taking the status quo that was established in The Way of the Warrior and ramping it up.

However, what is most striking about Broken Link is the manner in which it escalates the situation. Not a single weapon is discharged in Broken Link, which is the last season finalé of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine not to feature a combat sequence of some description. The actual plot of the episode is remarkably straightforward and linear, keenly focused on a single member of the ensemble rather while relegating politics into the background. Even in terms of the scripting of the episode, care is taken to slow the pace down and allow character-driven dialogue scenes.

Oh no, Odo!

Oh no, Odo!

The result is a strangely intimate season finalé, one free of the bombast that comes with the season-bridging two-parters favoured by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. It is interesting to compare Broken Link to something like Basics, Part I, if only because the latter would never make room for Jadzia joking about being surrounded by “naked men” or Garak playing “Star Trek Cluedo” with Odo in sickbay. In fact, Broken Link is even relatively quiet by the standards of Deep Space Nine, lacking the galactic status quo shift of The Jem’Hadar or A Call to Arms.

As with a lot of the fourth season, there is a sense that the production team have made a point to learn from the third season: to improve upon what works and to fix what doesn’t. The Adversary was something of a happy accident at the end of the third season, a script thrown together at short notice when Paramount vetoed a season-ending cliffhanger that would be loosely adapted for Homefront and Paradise Lost. The slow character-centric tension of The Adversary was never intended to close the third season, but Broken Link realises that such an approach worked well.

"Melting! Melting! Oh, what a world!"

“Melting! Melting! Oh, what a world!”

The result is an episode that feels incredibly comfortable in its own skin. Deep Space Nine is well aware of what it is, regardless of the direction and input that the studio offered the production team at the start of the fourth season. In fact, despite its somewhat relaxed pace and the space that it affords its character interactions, Broken Link is remarkably focused on what it wants to do. The closing line of the episode (and the season) is clever, consciously tying back the bold new direction of The Way of the Warrior back into the series’ own larger endgame.

In hindsight, Broken Link is something of a misleading title. Instead, it ties everything together.

Only a stone's throw away...

Only a stone’s throw away…

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Millennium – Goodbye to All That (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Goodbye to All That is not a bad place to leave Millennium, truth be told.

Sure, the episode has its problems, but that is true of pretty much every third season episode. However, showrunners Chip Johannessen and Ken Horton do try to offer the show some sort of closure. While Emma betraying Frank before he rides off into the sunset might have been a nice set up for a new fourth season status quo, it also feels like a nice place to leave the show as well. Director Thomas J. Wright frames that closing shot beautifully, to the point where anything that follows does feel like a coda to the three-season show.

Don't be dark, Frank Black...

Don’t be dark, Frank Black…

More than that, there’s a curious magnanimity to Goodbye to All That. The episode seems to suggest that perhaps Millennium has finally resolved all its internal conflicts about its own history. As with Borrowed Time, The Sound of Snow or Collateral Damage, there is a sense that Goodbye to All That is trying to create a cohesive theory of Millennium – suturing together three very different seasons into something approaching a singular entity. The task is impossible, but Goodbye to All That makes a valiant effort.

Yes, the actual plotting is ridiculous and Goodbye to All That tries to do too much in a single forty-five minute episode, but these are far from the worst vices of the third season. It is too much to suggest that Goodbye to All That wraps up Millennium on a high, but it does allow the show to bow out with its head held high.

"You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding..."

“You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding…”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Learning Curve (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, Learning Curve is the last episode broadcast as part of Star Trek: Voyager‘s first season. It’s hard to get too excited about – or be too disappointed by – that.

Learning Curve is a bit of limp finalé to a mediocre season. Like a lot of the season before it, it’s a passable execution of what should have been a fantastic concept. (Boy, that really is Voyager in a nutshell, isn’t it?)

Is the show finally starting to gel?

Is the show finally starting to gel?

Learning Curve‘s position in the broadcast order was apparently a bit of blind luck. It was actually the fifth-last episode produced of the show’s first season. It just found itself broadcast in the “season finalé” slot when UPN decided to hold back the remaining four episodes of the season until the Fall, to broadcast leading into the second season.

However, despite this, Learning Curve seems as good a choice as any to close out the first season – and certainly a better choice than Brannon Braga and Jeri Taylor’s preferred candidate, The 37’s. It returns to the conflict between Starfleet and the Maquis promised in Caretaker, but only fleetingly acknowledged in episodes like Parallax or State of Flux. Although the execution leaves a lot to be desired, it does create a sense that the show has come something of a full circle.

It's Chakotay or the high way...

It’s Chakotay or the high way…

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Don’t Leave Us Hanging: Going Out on a Cliffhanger…

So, I saw the final episode of V last night. Talk about disappointing. The series throws us a giant big cliffhanger and then… boom! It’s cancelled by the network in what has been referred to as a “bloodbath.” What makes it more frustrating, though, is the fact that the cancellation was quite probable even as early as last year, so it wasn’t as though the series was cut down in its prime without any warning. The cast and crew knewthat there was a fairly significant chance that this episode would be the last to see the light of day… and they ended on a whopping big cliffhanger anyway. I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed.

After two years, the visitors are sent packing...

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