Doctor Who rarely concentrates specifically on epic, long-form narratives. The classic series essentially told standalone stories within single seasons (1978’s “The Key to Time” and 1986’s “The Trial of a Time Lord” among the few featuring stories within an interlinked and specific arc). Since 2005, the revival’s previous showrunners Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have explored season-long narrative arcs to weave together significant events and character development. And now, out of necessity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chris Chibnall has re-engineered this approach to tell an ambitious single six-part story: “Flux”.
Featuring Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, Flux marries the old six-episodes-with-cliffhangers formula of classic Who with the multi-threaded, serialised thriller format of Chibnall’s own Broadchurch (2013–17) and, given the concentration of resources, embellishes it with spectacular, cinematic visuals that wouldn’t look out of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The latter is not an arbitrary reflection. Russell T. Davies is due to take up the showrunner reins again in 2023 when the series becomes a BBC co-production with Bad Wolf and, having previously expanded the Doctor Who universe with spin-offs Torchwood (2006–11) and The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007–11), it’s not a stretch to presume he’s eyeing up the possibilities again. As Sean Howe (author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story) notes, the MCU cleaves to how comic-book crossover publications push “the idea that these characters shared a world, that the actions of each had repercussions on the others, and that each comic was merely a thread of one Marvel-wide mega-story.” Chibnall himself has acknowledged the MCU as an inspiration for “Flux”. However, does a linked, serial narrative, often fragmentary and non-linear, with multiple plots delivered, in Chibnall’s description, “like a double espresso shot of Doctor Who“, maintain an audience’s interest and really explore narrative consequences?
The opener, “The Halloween Apocalypse”, has a frenetic, jagged structure that makes better sense placed in context with the other episodes that follow it. In isolation, there’s little accommodation to its audience, with the pre-titles plunging into a peril in which Yaz (Mandip Gill) and The Doctor (Whittaker) hang from a gravity bar over boiling acid oceans on a planet due to be engulfed by a red star after Karvanista (Craige Els) caught them “sneaking into his operations base unnoticed.” The questions come thick and fast before the typical ‘with one bound they were free’ resolution determines to show us an improved Doctor and Yaz pairing. They’re all chippy banter and comedic pratfalls while Chibnall foreshadows the Flux’s devastation after Karvanista, basically a big humanoid dog, claims he’s about to witness Earth’s future demise.
The pre-title sequence offers the dutiful but noisy, colourful spectacle and, as with the many branches of the MCU on TV and the big screen, if you don’t pay attention to what follows from the get go, you may feel, like some media reviewers, that “Flux” is rather too confusing over its six-episode run. Chibnall, like a manic barista juggling drinks orders, lines up several more espresso shots and the rapid fire delivery of information and appearances of various characters in very tightly edited sequences does becomes the de facto mode for many episodes, with chapter three, “Once, Upon Time”, and final chapter, “The Vanquishers”, carrying a particularly dense combination of visual and narrative information that’s often a struggle to process.
“The Halloween Apocalypse” drops the audience into various, separate situations, to rapidly introduce characters whose relevance only emerges several chapters down the line, and then it moves on. Hence, from a brief visit to Liverpool in 1820, as Joseph Williamson (Steve Oram) excavates his underground chambers and tunnels in Edge Hill, in mysterious response to something “cataclysmic”, it jumps ahead to the present day to meet Dan Lewis (John Bishop) at the Museum of Liverpool, waxing lyrical about the city’s creative and sporting legacy to a gaggle of visitors. The introduction of Bishop’s character is one of the saving graces of “Flux” and “The Halloween Apocalypse” introduces him as a witty and warm audience point of view, confused witness to the sheer madness unfolding around him. Bishop’s canny casting makes him instantly likeable.
Like a Victorian jack-in-the-box, Williamson springs up throughout “Flux” but it’s only until “Survivors of the Flux”, the fifth chapter, that Chibnall makes him and his activities more relevant to the plot. He’s an example of the problems that arise in populating such an ambitious story with more and more characters as it progresses. There’s little time to get to know him and he is bound to the mechanics of the plot, existing as a function, as a means to a narrative end. This is evident in both “Survivors of the Flux” and finale “The Vanquishers”, when his tunnels provide an expedient way of moving between past and future to clear up after several villains storm “Flux”‘s barricades. “Flux” resembles a fairground duck shoot where Chibnall lines the characters up and, then as the episodes roll by and they’ve fulfilled a plot point, they exit the stage —killed, reunited with a loved one, or seen disappearing through a door — and their importance is over, consequences be damned.
Dan’s backstory does provide the catalyst for various plot strands strewn throughout “The Halloween Apocalypse”, including the kidnap of Diane (Nadia Almina), Dan’s Halloween date, that again has relevance much later. Beyond some welcome emotional resonance for Dan, she’s little more than a gear shift for the story. One of the most surprising and amusing characters is Karvanista, the aforementioned humanoid dog, of the species Lupari, and literally man’s best friend. Bonded to protect Dan, he neatly brings together the TARDIS team and pushes the story forward. The Lupari’s intention, as a species bonded to humanity, is to protect Earth from the arrival of the Flux, a cataclysmic galaxy gobbling storm that interferes with the structure of time and space. Their protective shield around Earth is another narrative construction that has later ramifications.
As the TARDIS has a meltdown from the effects of the Flux, The Doctor witnesses, via a psychic link, the escape of a prisoner from a bleak asteroid. Swarm (his old form played by Matthew Needham) is a major villain who has had prior dealings with The Doctor. The trouble is, she can’t remember him! However, he becomes integral to some of the unresolved questions left over from the previous season regarding The Doctor’s past. Gradually, Chibnall feeds in details. Two guards from The Division, a covert Time Lord agency introduced in “The Timeless Children“, arrive to check on Swarm long after the events that take place in The Doctor’s past, later related to us in the third chapter “Once, Upon Time”. Gradually, it’s revealed that Swarm and Karvanista have close connections to The Division and The Doctor as “Village of Angels” and “The Vanquishers” go on to confirm.
Swarm (Sam Spruell as his regenerated form), having devoured the energy of his remaining guard, emerges as splendid villain— a great combination of design and performance —who seeks vengeance on The Doctor and Division for their past actions. Along with sister Azure (Rochenda Sandall), this pair of Ravagers offer the Time Lord very strong opposition as one of the best villains of this particular era as they dare to pull apart the threads that hold the universe together. However, Chibnall’s bait and switch impulse, to set up ‘the big bad’ for each episode and have The Doctor defeat each in turn, often pushes the Swarm and Azure agenda into the background in some episodes. In fact, their defeat is treated as something of an afterthought in the finale, when the two errant Ravagers offer The Doctor as a sacrifice to an embodiment of Time.
Yaz, now depicted as a knowledgeable, confident, capable companion in “The Halloween Apocalypse”, starts to question The Doctor’s motive for tracking down Karvanista. She’s unaware, at this point, that he’s one of the last remaining Division operatives with a former association to The Doctor. Another connection surfaces when Yaz and The Doctor are approached by Claire (Annabel Scholey), a woman who claims to already know The Doctor. She knows an awful lot about the nature of the Weeping Angels too. Again, we don’t see the resolution to this meeting until the fourth chapter, “Village of the Angels”. To expand the kaleidoscope structure of “The Halloween Apocalypse”, Chibnall also introduces Inston-Vee Vinder (Jacob Anderson) who, stranded on Outpost Rose making his 21,754th report, witnesses the Flux’s deadly effect on the structure of the universe. He also lines up the Sontarans, now poised to reap the post-Flux spoils. All in all, it’s an opening episode with multiple strands and characters being moved around, like furniture in a new home, and it’s therefore often choppy, busy and somewhat confusing.
Sandwiched in the middle of “Flux” are the more satisfying episodes “War of the Sontarans” and “Village of the Angels”. Both are magnificently directed by Jamie Magnus Stone. In the former, the audience is treated to a spectacular romp in which Dan’s character comes to the fore during his battle with Sontarans in a Liverpool altered by the effects of the Flux. On the other side of the Lupari shield that has protected Earth from the Flux, The Doctor and Yaz meanwhile enlist the help of this season’s celebrity historical figure, nurse Mary Seacole (Sara Powell), as the Sontarans relish their distinctly different take on the Crimean War. Time having gone a bit wonky after the Flux, Vinder wakes at the Temple of Atropos, the centre of the time disturbances that “Once, Upon Time” later unpicks.
The mix of “a real person from history”, as Dan puts it, with Sontarans and the Crimea is flipped with the tried and trusted formula of splitting the Doctor from her companions. Yaz is whisked away to join Vinder and Dan returns to an alternate Liverpool. Chibnall often repeats the idea of splitting the companions from The Doctor throughout “Flux” as it clearly appeals to his idea of running several plot strands at once. In some chapters it’s effective but in others it falters. However, cutting between the separate narratives in “War of the Sontarans” is adeptly handled and the Crimea and Liverpool sequences are bolstered by epic visuals. While The Doctor is stranded, as “Mary Seacole’s assistant”, in the midst of a futile war for sovereignty on an Earth (where Russia and China have been replaced by Sontar), in Liverpool there’s witty interplay between Dan and his parents as they tackle the Sontaran hordes with saucepans and woks (a technique discovered by a drunk fella in Birkenhead).
The Sontarans reenacting the Crimea features a great turn from Jonathan Watson as Skaak, the Sontaran commander who fancied a bit of horse riding, but it’s rather convenient that the Sontarans allow themselves to be vulnerable during their resting and refuelling cycle and, ultimately, provide the method of their own dispatch. Ironically, they’re caught out again in much the same way in the finale. Supposed to be adept at war, they emerge from “Flux” as distinctly one-dimensional strategists. Despite this, “War of the Sontarans” is a solidly entertaining episode, its wit and spectacle played out in contrast to a narrative steeped in death and destruction, with the battle between the Sontarans and the British forces rightly depicted as a pointless waste of lives. There are echoes of 1970’s “The Silurians” and 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion” with The Doctor’s horror at General Logan’s (Gerald Kyd) actions, blowing up the retreating Sontarans.
Meanwhile, Yaz bumps into our pop-up tunneller Joseph Williamson on Atropos because, mysteriously, “all is porous, all is broken.” Taking inspiration in the credo of ‘What Would The Doctor Do’, she sets out to repair the mysterious temple on the planet Time where the alien Mouri harness and control time, and, as “Once, Upon Time” later suggests, may well have been used in the distant past by the Time Lords to keep time in check. With the arrival of Swarm, Azure and their silent partner, Passenger, the fragile status of the Mouri, damaged after the effects of the Flux, embellishes the plot. Again, Swarm is satisfyingly evil in his treatment of “such linear creatures” as Yaz and Vinder and his machinations, to replace the damaged Mouri with Yaz and Vinder, and where “the full force of time will blast through them”, help push “War of the Sontarans” to an effective cliffhanger.
“Once Upon, Time” is a flashback episode with a difference and does prompt questions about which audience this series will appeal to, given it is driven by Who mythology. The casual viewer may be confused by its reliance on The Doctor, Dan, Yaz and Vinder phasing in and out of each others time streams and often embodying people each of them knew in the past. Triggered by The Doctor’s leap of faith jump into fractured time in an attempt to save Yaz, Dan and Vinder from Swarm and Azure by hiding them in their own pasts, the story is often opaque but not the completely indecipherable mess that either the Radio Times or The Independent claimed it to be. It’s appeal, particularly to those that want to know more about the pre-Hartnell life of The Doctor, lies in a fascinating glimpse into The Doctor’s hidden past, commanding a Division force attempting to set time back on track at Atropos during her first encounter with Swarm.
The Doctor —briefly seen in the form of Jo Martin’s past incarnation from “Fugitive of the Judoon ”— is on a mission to prevent Swarm from disrupting time. It is a treat to see Jo Martin back as the pre-Hartnell Doctor, when the current Doctor arrives in her own past. Martin’s Doctor is only briefly seen as identities phase in and out, which is a shame, but there’s a suggestion that the success of this mission frees Martin’s Doctor from her obligation to The Division. The Doctor’s forgotten battle with Swarm and Azure also underlines how, as their former ‘employee’, her past was hidden from her by The Division. This concern then begins to dominate “Flux”, with Chibnall marrying the revelations of the previous season to continue an exploration of The Doctor’s frustrating search for answers from The Division. Here, the notion that “time is evil” is first introduced and it too will have a bearing on the the final two chapters. The concept of phasing in and out of their own time streams marries Dan, Yaz and Vinder to their own back stories, recapping Yaz’s relationship with her sister and role as a police officer, Dan’s date and some background to Dan’s personal life and, significantly, Vinder’s fall from grace after whistle-blowing about the ethics of The Grand Serpent (Craig Parkinson).
Lining up more characters for the fairground duck shoot, The Grand Serpent is yet another villain (one too many perhaps) Chibnall introduces here, and whose fate is expanded upon in the events of chapter five’s “Survivors of the Flux”. “Once, Upon Time” also introduces Vinder’s pregnant partner Bel (Thaddea Graham), battling her way through Daleks and Cybermen to reach him. At this point, “Flux” feels overcrowded with characters all demanding space within each chapter and the resolution to their individual stories eventually makes for an equally busy and messy finale. The problem with this is that the audience needs emotional empathy with them and the structure of each chapter often doesn’t grant this. Characters are kept at arms length, they lose resonance and are exposed as plot mechanisms.
In this stand off with Swarm, Azure, and Passenger (a living prison storing millions of life essences), Chibnall again expands upon Time Lord mythology. This is “the Founding Conflict” and an attempt by The Division to end the Dark Times and gain control over time. I suspect these may end up as footnotes, meeting a similar fate to the story of Tecteun. Of the latter, Chibnall attempts to deepen the mystery by trying to obscure this in The Doctor’s flash encounter with a character named ‘Awsok’ (Barbara Flynn), who warns her that the Flux was intentionally made and unleashed and the Ravagers, Swarm and Azure, were freed deliberately to use their particles of force as a temporal poison “because of you.” There’s a lot left unexplained at this point and, in that it lacks a satisfying triumph to the events it shows, “Once, Upon Time” is little more than a jigsaw that toys, somewhat pointlessly, with Time Lord mythology, restores the Mouri and their control of time but then allows Swarm, Azure, and Passenger to escape.
In “Once, Upon Time”, Yaz is seen in her past, on duty as a member of Hallamshire Police, where she’s targeted by a Weeping Angel. One eventually escapes from Yaz’s phone and hijacks the TARDIS, taking us to “Village of the Angels”, by far the best instalment of “Flux”. It benefits from feeling almost like a standalone episode, with the absence of the Williamson, Karvanista, and Swarm subplots—thus allowing Chibnall and co-writer Maxine Alderton (responsible for the excellent “The Haunting of Villa Diodati“) to pause and concentrate on interesting characters and immersive atmosphere. They are helped in their efforts by the visual accomplishments of director Jamie Magnus Stone, whose work on this episode confirms he’s one of the best to have worked on this particular era of the show.
It’s 1967 and Claire Brown, whom we last saw during a brief but puzzling encounter with The Doctor in “The Halloween Apocalypse”, is taking part in Professor Eustacius Jericho’s (a splendid Kevin McNally) psychic research. Meanwhile, the local villagers of Medderton are searching for a missing child, Peggy (Poppy Polivnicki). After ejecting the Angel from the TARDIS, The Doctor, Yaz and Dan are plunged into this mystery, one which the local Mrs Haywood (Penelope McGhie) continues to warn the villagers about, demanding that Reverend Shaw (Alex Frost) count the gravestones in his churchyard. He has a nasty encounter with one gravestone too many.
Medderton is a cursed place, the site of mass disappearances, and, as The Doctor discovers, Claire and the Professor are intimately connected to this curse. It’s a cracking episode, doubling down on the modus operandi of the Weeping Angels with aplomb and broadening their Gothic appeal by knitting them into the machinations of The Division. The episode also evokes the very English terrors of John Wyndham and the folk horror trappings of Nigel Kneale and comes with a healthy injection of Sapphire and Steel (1979–1982) There are plenty of nods to the similar haunted village/house scenarios of previous Who stories from the classic era: 1971’s “The Daemons” and 1989’s “Ghost Light”, to the revival’s “Blink” in 2007 and 2013’s “Hide”.
Claire, The Doctor having recognised her from their 2021 encounter and concerned by her premonitions and drawings of the TARDIS and Angels, is the linchpin of the narrative. She’s been manipulated by a rogue Angel to draw The Doctor to Medderton, now a chunk of space and time isolated from the universe where the Angels have undertaken a quantum extraction on behalf of The Division. Again, it effectively splits up The Doctor and her companions. Yaz and Dan are hurled back to 1901 by an Angel where they find the missing Peggy in a deserted Medderton. There they discover that the village is crumbling away at the edge of space and time and, in a great twist, that, by 1967, the missing child Peggy will become the adult Mrs Haywood.
The only issue, in trying to keep other aspects of the “Flux” plot on the radar, is that Chibnall shoehorns in Bel’s continuing search for Vinder on the planet Puzano, scenes that would have better suited inclusion in the next chapter rather than used to dissipate the tension of “Village of the Angels”. Beyond that minor distraction, it’s a taut psychological horror thriller with a smorgasbord of truly uncanny moments, including the Angels attacking the Professor’s house, Angels popping out of premonitions and taking up residence inside Claire, becoming living drawings set on fire, images on television sets, and emulating the nightmares of Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) as their arms emerge from the walls of an escape tunnel.
Underneath it all is a subtext, resonating from Jericho’s experiences in the war and witnessing the horrors of Belsen. The Angels, representing the same horrors, require of him the psychic strength to face down an insidious, patient dissemination of evil and he’s initially found wanting. That’s also borne out by the rogue Angel, hiding inside Claire, who initially does a deal with The Doctor and then hands her over to them, as agents of The Division determined to recall the similarly rogue Time Lord. While it may also feel the sequences with Bel are somewhat disconnected, Azure’s use of Passenger to wipe out survivors of the Flux, where Puzano is a hunting ground for a power source, is equally disturbing, similarly connoting Jericho’s horrors at what he encountered at Belsen. There’s a lot of body horror too, from Claire’s calcifying flesh, the disintegration of Peggy’s guardians Gerald (Vincent Brimble) and Jean (Jemma Churchill), to the unnerving cliffhanger where The Doctor is finally turned into an Angel. Or… is she?
While that apocalyptic cliffhanger is exceptionally good, when we get to the next chapter, “Survivors of the Flux”, it’s undercut by the discovery that her transformation was merely a way for them to transport The Doctor to a Division ship. To no real surprise, given that Chibnall is expected to unpack more of his Tecteun backstory, The Doctor discovers that Awsok (Barbara Flynn, again) is in fact the regenerated Tecteun, the scientist who discovered the foundling Doctor abandoned at a gateway under the Boundary to another universe in “The Timeless Children”. Her questionable ethics once again come under scrutiny as not only did she kidnap the foundling (a child possibly waiting for someone to collect it, as The Doctor points out) but The Doctor’s ‘adopted’ mother has now set out to destroy the universe because of the Time Lord’s interference in The Division’s plans. She’s let the Flux and the Ravagers trash the universe and is heading off to another one to start over again. Tecteun’s story arc, divisive in “The Timeless Children”, fizzles out, a narrative cul-de-sac, and is left with nowhere else to go.
While The Doctor discovers what a terrible mother she had, Chibnall drops in yet another subplot to relate how The Grand Serpent arrives on Earth and infiltrates the newly set up UNIT. It’s symbolic that he’s first shown field shooting with the oily Farqhar (Robert Bathurst) because, like all the villains in “Flux”, he’s set up to vie with Swarm, Azure, and Awsok for duck shoot duties in this episode. Build them up and shoot them down. The Grand Serpent’s narrative purpose in “Flux” is kept back until the finale but it’s already overcrowded. This may well have occurred to Chibnall and, suffice to say, Swarm obliges and, after arriving on Awsok’s ship, using the power gained from the sacrifices on Puzano, his first duty is to disintegrate Awsok. So, what exactly was the purpose of creating Tecteun’s colossal chunk of mythology, only to shut it down. The Doctor’s only just got to have a row with her mother and she’s gone. It’s arbitrary and emotionally disconnected.
You can’t choose your parents, even if you are a Time Lord. Your mother’s in charge of an all-powerful, covert operation to shape and control events throughout time and space but wants rid of you because you’re a virus (the Flux and The Doctor could be seen as Covid metaphors if that’s your bag). It’s also galling that Awsok—Tecteun, or whatever she’s called—preserved all The Doctor’s former lives in a fob watch. Before The Doctor can get her hands on it, Swarm, and Azure take their revenge and then tease The Doctor and the audience with the possibility of a grand revelation. Again, it’s a mythology heavy episode, perhaps of little interest to a casual audience tuning in, that tries to unpick the motives for The Doctor’s escape from Gallifrey. Rather than being bored with the stultifying Time Lord society, it appears The Doctor was actually trying to escape from The Division to freely wander the universe. This feels like going to the well too often and Chibnall is not the only showrunner to have this pathological obsession with The Doctor’s identity and past. It’s become as boring as repeatedly wiping out the Time Lords and Gallifrey.
Meanwhile, Jericho, Yaz and Dan emulate Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), with some rather laboured comedy prat falls to show what a fun relationship they’re having, as they take the slow path from 1904 to reconnect with the future, despite the efforts of The Grand Serpent to stop them. From Mexico, to Constantinople, and finally to defacing the great Wall of China in Nepal, they’re on the trail of an offering pot to determine a date for when the world will end. Basically, they’re trying to know when the finale happens. In quite a poignant scene, via an adaptive hologram, The Doctor alerts Yaz to this event as it will leave its mark as ripples in time. The same could be said about their relationship, as they clearly miss each other, and it’s a welcome emotional pause before the screen gets plastered in dates and places to tell us where we are off to next.
The Grand Serpent is also manipulating events to ensure the Earth is left defenceless by compromising the Lupari’s attempt to maintain their shield. By manically drawing together previously far flung characters, this chapter feels like a placeholder for the narrative expediency that’s integral to the finale, Bel meets Karvanista, Vinder is absorbed by Passenger and meets Diane, and, finally, Joseph Williamson walks into a scene with some purpose and Yaz, Dan and Jericho learn how, in Liverpool 1904, he’s been popping up all over the place from the tunnels he’s been digging since the first episode. We learn that The Grand Serpent has a form, rather like the snake form adopted by the dying Master or a possessive Mara, that takes over human bodies. Perhaps he’s just a clunky great metaphor for the corrosive politics we’ve found ourselves lumbered with recently. Fortunately, Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) has been keeping an eye on his murky manipulations. It’s good to see her back in charge again, even if her character has to go dark to protect UNIT from the his plan to leave the Earth open to claim from various races keen to dominate what remains of the universe.
And so to the final chapter, “The Vanquishers”. It’s no exaggeration that this final hour has a huge amount to do to get the characters in the right place and bundle all the strands of narrative together. Having travelled to Tecteun’s ship — squashed between two universes and about to unleash the final salvo of the Flux — The Doctor escapes the clutches of Swarm and Azure. With Tecteun’s Ood helping her, she reverses the process that brought her to the ship and splits herself across three locations: the Division ship, Karvanista’s ship and the Williamson Tunnels. Chibnall’s scale is so expansive that one Doctor isn’t enough, or one superhero, if we’re taking the MCU analogy further, to take on Loki and the Chitauri alone. Let’s face it, thanks to The Grand Serpent she’s lumbered with Sontarans using a peace conference as a lure to wipe out the Daleks and the Cybermen as the final phase of the Flux destroys the rest of the universe. She has to enlist her own self to defeat their plans, stop the Flux and deal with Swarm and Azure. The latter’s intriguing idea of using the Flux on a loop, to replay the universe’s destruction over and over again sounds like Chibnall’s happy to inflict “Flux” on us forever, condemning us to an endless cycle of the story’s catalogue of destruction. “Flux” is fine as a one-off but as a blueprint for the future of Doctor Who, it’s not one I’d welcome.
The Sontarans reinvade the Earth and it feels like “Flux” is in a loop, an uninspiring retread of “War of the Sontarans.” Given this, new villains The Grand Serpent and the Ravagers also don’t really fulfill their promise. It also depends on whether you care enough about the characters and that’s a difficult ask given that many of them are plot functions and their emotional lives, the sparks that make them empathetic, are barely sketched in. Pity poor Diane, a wheel left spinning since the first chapter, whose function is to escape from Passenger with Vinder and then come up with the resolution to the oncoming final wave of the Flux. Given the Flux is anti-matter then, logically, it can be halted by matter and, after it trashes the Dalek and Cyber fleets, there’s plenty of matter inside Passenger to burn it out. Then, role fulfilled, she leaves the story. The Grand Serpent, function as evildoer completed, is bundled off behind a door in Williamson’s ever shifting dimensional tunnels. Williamson himself is sent packing back to his own time. It’s very much the duck shoot in its final phase.
Even The Doctor’s temptation to find out about her past lives is postponed. Taunted by Swarm and Azure, there is a fascinating scene where, after the fob watch that contains those lives is opened, she sees then represented as a dilapidated old house. Like evil kids pulling the wings off butterflies, the Ravagers painfully demonstrate their plans to use the Flux by torturing her, pulling the house to bits, rebuilding it, then demolishing it again. Azure’s speech about their obsession for destruction, their opposition to the life that The Doctor represents, is a well observed expression of the nature of evil. It’s probably the best scene in this chapter and shows that when it comes to evil, The Grand Serpent and his ilk are definitely also rans.
Sadly, the Ravagers don’t get a good enough comeuppance. They take The Doctor back to Atropos to hand over to their master, Time. Having failed to completely destroy the universe with the Flux, Time simply puts them on the very naughty step, casually wipes them out and then imparts a stern warning, telegraphing to The Doctor to beware of the forces that mass against her and their Master. If Time could do that to his minions then why not do it there, and then to The Doctor, or at least the one third of her that’s dotted around the narrative. Hats off to Jodie Whittaker who spends this chapter spouting off huge chunks of exposition, most of which you have to scrape away at to understand the semblance of the finale. She’s a trooper and stoically presses on.
There are lovely little character moments that Whittaker excels at, particularly when she’s reunited with Yaz and Dan in the Williamson tunnels but these satisfying, emotional little islands are caught in the deluge of information and images that Flux bombards the audience with. Similarly, the reckoning between The Doctor and Karvanista, that reveals he was an abandoned companion in her past life, is quite powerful, getting to the heart of what does happen when The Doctor leaves someone behind. It’s great to see Claire and Jericho reunited too but Jericho’s eventual sacrifice to the Flux doesn’t feel completely earned, despite his renewed courage offering some resolution to the character’s noted psychic damage. Again, emotional resonance is wanting when there are real consequences in the narrative.
At this chapter’s end, the universe is presumably a shrunken wreck but you wouldn’t know it from the happy departures of various characters. The Ood and Tecteun’s ship is presumably still out there on its way to the other universe, too. The Doctor has saved the day, fob watch reclaimed. However, with an aversion to seeing her past lives, she simply drops the watch into the innards of the TARDIS. “Flux”, ambitious in its ideas and scope, was at least visually impressive, but the narrative gears were set grinding away only for them to run down and stop. Expecting Chibnall to do a big reveal of The Doctor’s past lives was never really on the cards. Perhaps Tecteun, The Division and these past lives will end up being largely ignored once this era comes to a close but maybe he’s going to address some of this during the final three specials for 2022. As Tecteun so callously announces while destroying one universe before moving to the next, “we all need to clear up after ourselves.”
UK | 2021 | 6 EPISODES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
writers: Chris Chibnall & Maxine Alderton.
directors: Jamie Magnus Stone & Azhur Saleem..
starring: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop, Jemma Regrave, Kevin McNally, Craig Parkinson, Jacob Anderson, Thaddea Graham, Nadia Albina, Jemma Redgrave, Steve Oram, Jonathan Watson, Craige Els, Dan Starkey, Sam Spruell, Rochenda Sandall & Simon Carew.