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Image Description: The Doctor stands in Division’s headquarters
Series Thirteen’s finale runs out of steam, but James Ashworth still found moments to admire
After Survivors of the Flux slammed on the brakes for the approaching finale, it seemed the scene was being set for a smooth end to Series Thirteen. The Vanquishers, however, decides to pick up the pace once more with a multi-stranded story that attempts to bring everything together. The result is something of a mess, but it is a testament to the rest of the series that it is something of an enjoyable one.
Just like its predecessor, The Vanquishers dodges a meaningful resolution to its cliffhanger, in this case by the Doctor just stepping out of the way. Though it is something of an anticlimax to start on, the pace soon builds as the Doctor is split across three strands in a battle to feature the many characters who vie for Series Thirteen’s attention. Arguably, the winner of this battle, as is only right, are the Sontarans, who return in a headline role for the second episode in Flux. As in War of the Sontarans, the episode strikes a middle path between Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat’s interpretation of the aliens, with the warriors presenting a serious threat yet also leaning into their comic side. Humour has been one of the series’ strengths, and a Sontaran acting quite literally like a kid in a sweet shop is perhaps a little overblown, but fun nonetheless.
Emotions, however, prove to be the episode’s undoing elsewhere. Throughout his tenure as showrunner, Chris Chibnall has not always been getting top marks in his emotional literacy, as this finale shows. Scenes of Azure confronting the Doctor on her morality are reminiscent of a similar moment in the novel Original Sin, and provide a compelling motive for both herself and Swarm; both of whom are an enjoyable presence throughout. However, the same literacy seems lost on Karvanista, who doesn’t need a physical MacGuffin to prevent him speaking when an emotional reason is already there and waiting.
This occasional blindness to emotion also extends to the relationships. Karvanista, in particular, is a victim of this. The episode is less interested in his trauma at losing his entire species than Diane’s inconvenience at being trapped in a Passenger for the series. While Diane has obviously been affected by the events of the Flux, The Vanquishers dwells on this for longer than the survivors’ guilt and heartbreak than Karvanista would find himself with as a result of suddenly becoming the last of his species. Meanwhile, Professor Jericho is dispatched offhand while the reuniting of Bel and Vinder falls almost entirely flat. Diane, Bel and Vinder are characters that the episode seems determined we should care about, but it cannot make up for the fact that their relative absence from the series makes this nigh on impossible. While their actors do the best they can with the material they’re given, there simply isn’t room for them in a series this short, and it can only be imagined what might have been had Series Thirteen been its intended length.
Though The Vanquishers may not be the finest of finales, it caps off a series that contains much to be admired. Yaz’s character has benefitted much from playing first fiddle to the Doctor, with Dan a useful foil. It has created favourites in Professor Jericho and Karvanista, while villains of all persuasions have been a delight. Its pace papers over some of the cracks of Chibnall’s earlier series, even if there are many issues that go unresolved. Whether or not there is much of a universe left to save on a weekly basis, it looks like a return to business as usual next time in Eve of the Daleks.
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