Why do the villains in Doctor Who keep escaping?


That’s the question I’ve found myself asking every week during Jodie Whittaker’s debut series as the Time Lord, as baddie after baddie has had their plan foiled, only to sort of slope off without facing consequences.

In series 11 episode one, nasty Stenza warrior Tim Shaw (aka Tzim-Sha, played by Samuel Oatley) teleports home. In the second ep, cruel gamesmaster Illin (Art Malik) simply turns off his projection and carries on with his day. In episode three, time-travelling racist Krasko (Josh Bowman) is zapped into a different time period.

Arachnids in the UK’s wannabe politician Robertson (Chris Noth)? Free to just walk out of his hotel, escaping any comeuppance for the irresponsible business practices involving mutating spiders into aggressive giants.

The trend continues in series 11’s fifth episode The Tsuranga Conundrum, when the ravenous alien Pting floats off into space, its hunger for energy sated – for now – after the Doctor explodes a bomb in its stomach.

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Obviously we don’t expect the Doctor to actually kill her enemies – that wouldn’t be very Doctor-y – but in the past the Time Lord’s foes tended to get some sort of punishment for their evil actions. So why do so many baddies keep getting away scot-free this year?

Well, there are three options. The first option is that series showrunner Chris Chibnall is planning for some (if not all) of these characters to return, perhaps even for the series finale, where they can team up to take on the Doctor as a united force.

After all, the series’ second episode establishes what a threat the Stenza are to the galaxy after their debut appearance in episode one. Why make another reference to the species if they weren’t about to make a grand return, perhaps for revenge at how the Doctor humiliated their future leader back in Sheffield?

Furthermore, Ryan (Tosin Cole) sending Krasko to the distant past in episode three felt like a temporary fix rather than a permanent solution to his villainy. What are the chances he’ll find some way back to more modern times, now burning with resentment at the Tardis team’s actions?

Then there’s shady businessman Robertson, whose frequently-cited aspirations to become US President just scream that he’ll be back, fully elected as leader of the free world and with a bone to pick with our heroes. After all, who wouldn’t want to use guest star Chris Noth as much as possible?

It’s not a perfect theory – it’s hard to imagine these characters teaming up, and the inclusion of Krasko in any future episodes could dilute his impact in episode three’s moving story – but at the moment, it’s our best idea for why Doctor Who’s new monsters keep being left off the hook.

Unless of course, Chris Chibnall has another motive for all this. We’ve noted already that the Doctor never usually kills, but sometimes in the series, the Doctor’s actions have still led to villains meeting their maker, becoming victims of their own misdeeds thanks to the Time Lord’s indirect intervention.

Perhaps in his new take on the material Chibnall wanted to avoid this avenging side of the Doctor, while also teaching us a lesson: sometimes, the bad guys don’t get their comeuppance. The Doctor still saves the day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bringing justice to those who put the day in danger in the first place.

Fundamentally, maybe Chibnall wanted to refocus the Doctor away from any hint of violence, however indirect. In the course of that, maybe some villains have been getting an easier ride this year.

Then again, there’s also option three: that this is all just a coincidence.

Sure, a lot of Doctor Who villains have just sort of wandered off this year, but the way this has happened has varied considerably. Illin is never in danger during The Ghost Monument, but the deadly, ribbon-like Remnants by contrast are burned to a crisp. Didn't those monsters die? Weren't the spiders in Arachnids in the UK successfully foiled?

And what about Krasko? Yes, he’s alive, but it’s implied he was sent back to the dawn of human history. Realistically, how would he survive? He was probably gobbled up by a T-Rex on day one.

Even the Pting’s exit was a little more final than it might first appear, with the outer-space critter having apparently had its hunger sated for quite a while yet thanks to the Doctor’s actions.

Maybe we’re reading patterns into something that’s not there, and all the slightly anticlimactic villain exits will be over by episode six. Maybe it is a great big plot against the Doctor, and Tim Shaw, Krasko and the Pting are off enjoying a few brewskis together while they plot their revenge.

Either way, we can’t help but worry about the new Thirteenth Doctor’s approach to galaxy discipline. Five quid says the first time she meets the Daleks, they just get off with a warning.

Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays


This article was originally published on 4 November 2018