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The Ending Of Doctor Who Season 11 Explained

"Doctor Who" is a long-running BBC science fiction series about time and space travel and the unending parade of nasty that has somehow yet to kill off every single human the Earth has ever seen. Every few seasons, the titular Doctor, who's essentially a deity at this point, uses fancy alien magic to regenerate into a new body and, in this way, the show is provided a neat, canonical reason to literally never end. And who would want it to? The Doctor's travels have allowed audiences around the world to enjoy some of fiction's greatest monsters (this does not and never will include the Daleks, sorry).

But following such a story inherently requires a little research because nothing says confusing quite like overlapping timelines that only get progressively more loopy with each additional season. To better illuminate the expositional nightmare that is "Doctor Who," here's our breakdown of the 11th season's overarching story, and its ultimate conclusion. Buckle in for a long one, dear reader. 

A quick space opera refresher course

The 11th season of "Doctor Who" follows a number of standalone adventures which are only loosely tied together by an overarching plot. Let's hit the big beats here so everyone is working with the same information. The 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) literally falls from the sky after her most recent regeneration process causes the TARDIS to go haywire and launches her from the premises. Fortunately, she not only survives this but also lands directly in the middle of an extra-terrestrial attack. In this way, she meets Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), and Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh), who go on to become her affectionately named Team TARDIS.

Their first adventures together follow Team TARDIS locating the Doctor's TARDIS because it's a tad bit hard to travel the breadth of space and time without a proper ride. Once they do, however, the group realizes that the Doctor has very little control over the TARDIS, even less than she herself expected. This leads to more misadventures, the likes of which include an interdimensional mirror that serves as the entrance to a cage for a lonely, sentient plane of existence, a traumatic trip into Yasmin's family history and the infamous partition of India, and some good, old fashion witch burning in the 17th century. The season comes to a dramatic head when Team TARDIS travels to the planet Ranskoor Av Kolos to respond to an alarming number of distress signals.

Ryan Sinclair opens up to his step-grandfather

Each of the Doctor's three new companions comes prepackaged with their own story arc and, for the most part, these arcs interface with the final episode of the season. In the beginning, Ryan Sinclair, a working student on his way to becoming a mechanic, loses his grandmother Grace O'Brien (Sharon D. Clarke) when she is murdered by Tzim Sha (Samuel Oatley), aka the only recurring alien threat in the season. Since his mother has already passed away, and his father has abandoned him, that leaves him with only Graham O'Brien, his new step-grandfather, as family. This isn't ideal for Ryan, as he feels no connection to the man. The divide between them is exacerbated further by racial differences, as Ryan feels Graham could never understand him.

But despite these hurdles, traveling together with the Doctor begins to open Ryan up. He sees his step-grandfather grieving for Grace, and the Doctor shows them both how kindness can heal most wounds. On Ranksoor Av Kolos, the pair are sent after Tzim Sha, who is abusing the population's magical abilities to ensnare entire planets inside shrunken stasis pods. He also has a nasty habit of committing genocide on said planets, so stopping him is pivotal because he has set his sights on Earth. Together, Graham and Ryan stop Tzim Sha and shove him inside one of his own stasis pods. Feeling proud of his step-grandfather, Ryan offers him a fist bump, something Graham had been trying to make happen for the entire season. The pair have a long way to go, but it is certainly a start. 

Graham O'Brien chooses family over revenge

Ryan's pride in Graham isn't simply because they stop an erstwhile dictator, it's because he genuinely believes his step-grandfather was going to commit a murder, something that the Doctor refuses to abide. Graham didn't, but he wanted to. Like Ryan, Graham is devastated when Grace dies, and he frequently says that traveling with Team TARDIS helps him cope in ways that he could not have otherwise. During the penultimate episode, "It Takes You Away," he almost gives everything up to be with a magically constructed apparition of Grace (remember the sentient plane of existence from earlier?) but chooses his own reality because the fake Grace asks him to do something that would've hurt Ryan.

And to Graham, Ryan is everything. Despite the fact that his step-grandson refuses to view him as family, he makes every decision with Ryan in mind. Well, almost every decision. When the team travels to Ranskoor Av Kolos and Graham discovers that Tzim Sha will be there, he bluntly tells the Doctor that he will kill the man who killed Grace. When the Doctor opposes him, he remains firm, even with the understanding that doing so will end his travels in space. And yet, when the moment arrives for him to accomplish that goal, he chooses a lesser sentence for the alien assassin because he sees the look on Ryan's face. In that moment, Graham decides to be the family Ryan needs. Later, he confides to the Doctor that he felt weak, but the Doctor assures him that choosing life is always strength.

Yasmin Khan doesn't do much, not yet

While Ryan and Graham's plotlines deal with more present and pressing situations, Yasmin's story is playing the long game. In the short term, however, her arc more matches what the Doctor herself is struggling with (more on that later). When audiences first meet Yasmin Khan, she's a probationary police officer who wants to be doing something more meaningful than doling out parking violation tickets. When she joins Team TARDIS, she finally feels as if her actions matter, and she begins to flourish. Well, sort of. The thing was, she still doesn't know who she wants to be or who she was. In "Demons of the Punjab," she learns about her history, but otherwise, she just does whatever the Doctor tells her to do.

And that's what the Season 11 finale sees Yasmin doing. On Ranskoor Av Kolos, she, along with Greston Paltraki (Mark Addy), discovers where the imprisoned planets that Tzim Sha put in stasis are but, afterward, she immediately hands everything over to the Doctor. Later seasons would go on to see her unyielding faith in the Doctor yield, as well as uncover her romantic feelings for the Time Lord, but for the moment, Yasmin doesn't get to achieve nearly as much as she is capable of doing. For now, she's happily along for the ride. 

The Thirteenth Doctor is compassionate, clever, and oddly clueless

It is a widely held understanding that each regeneration of the Doctor is a direct response to what the previous Doctor felt they lacked. Consider how the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) was bold and responsive because the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) was ruled by fear. In this way, the Thirteenth Doctor is endlessly compassionate because the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) was an aggressive curmudgeon. This unshakable kindness suits her, too, and helps her shape better futures for her companions. Despite not being able to save Grace, she provides Ryan with self-esteem, Graham with understanding, and Yasmin with a compass point.

On the flip side, however, the Thirteenth Doctor is deeply unsure of herself. This is no doubt in part because she's never been a woman before (that she can remember, but that's another story) and she isn't entirely certain as to what that entails. On Ranskoor Av Kolos, she guides Team TARDIS through a multi-fronted assault strategy which ultimately ends in Tzim Sha's defeat and the recovery of the missing planets, thereby proving that she's still the Doctor she's always been. Of course, this would be the final season of the Doctor feeling such confidence, because the 12th season would go on to fundamentally alter everything but that's, again, another story.