Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter One
“The Halloween Apocalypse”
Doctor Who returns for the first chapter in a six part continuous story where the fate of the entire universe hangs in the balance.
Changes are afoot on Doctor Who with lead actor Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall due to step down next year. A lot of speculation is lobbied in the direction of what returning showrunner Russell T. Davies will do with the show when he takes back the keys to the TARDIS. Until that happens we still have some stories starring Jodie Whittaker left to be told.
Since its return in 2005, Doctor Who has delivered loose arcs that play out over the course of a season but has never told a continuous multi part serialised story. The time travel premise in theory makes that more difficult as there are limited problems that could plague the Doctor across all of time and space. Considering Doctor Who’s unlimited storytelling scope coming up with something should be no issue and so far the Flux appears to be a threat credible enough to have the Doctor’s attention over the six chapters.
Unfortunately it’s another story about a threat to the entire universe. Doctor Who goes to that well all too often and it always has the same problem. Stakes at that level are completely unfathomable so it’s very difficult to invest in them. It also comes with the threat of the story being resolved with no real consequences as the resolution can’t involve the universe being destroyed so it almost demands a reset. Not that consequences are impossible but it’s unlikely that anything significant to the Doctor, her companions or planet Earth will stick.
The threat to the universe is known as the Flux; a fast moving anomaly tearing across the universe disintegrating everything in its path. Its origin is as yet unknown but it’s beyond the understanding of even the Doctor. There seems to be an intelligence at play as indicated by it following the TARDIS and it’s immune to vortex energy from the heart of the TARDIS so it’s a threat unlike anything the Doctor has encountered. It’s not unheard of in the run of the show but it’s unusual for the Doctor to come across something without having some idea of what she’s facing so to see her totally stumped by it and terrified as a result is significant. She has limited time to figure it out and no idea where to start so from that point of view the threat is credible as the Doctor is very much fighting uphill to understand the current situation.
Related to the Flux are a series of mysteries that vary in levels of intrigue. The most prominent one is also solved within the episode. It relates to Dan Lewis (John Bishop); a down on his luck Scouser who remains in high spirits despite his tenuous financial situation. He is quickly established as having a good heart, an appreciation of history and a sense of humour. He is kidnapped by a doglike alien named Karvanista (Craige Els) who is one of billions tasked with saving every Human being on planet Earth. The twist of the kidnapping being an act of benevolence is very Doctor Who and works really well in context as it highlights to the Doctor -and the audience- that there is a something bigger at play. It also puts the Doctor in the position of asking the wrong questions and going after the wrong thing for a short period of time until she gets wind of the threat the Flux represents. It’s also an effective rug pull for the audience who are encouraged to believe that Dan is important when in actual fact he’s a bystander caught up in the ensuing chaos. It’s dumb luck that means he’s the first Human picked up and more happenstance that he ends up becoming embroiled with the Doctor.
So far Dan is an engaging enough presence if a little bland. He takes everything in his stride no matter how bizarre it may be which makes it difficult to connect to him as there’s no sense of wonder or terror associated with his entire world being turned upside down. His reaction to learning the TARDIS is bigger on the inside is very understated and his first look at Karvanista isn’t at all believable. A problem with the episode is that it never stops to breathe and let moments settle and this is most evident through Dan with the episode not taking the time to explore him adjusting to what he has been exposed to. Having him be fundamentally an affable and generous person who focuses his attention on helping others has a lot of potential and will likely endear him to the Doctor.
His dynamic with both the Doctor and Yaz works fairly well. Most of his interactions are with Yaz with minor hints as to what his relationship with the Doctor might be like. Connecting with Yaz over the pride each take in their home towns goes some way towards grounding the high stakes sci-fi plot playing out. It serves as a reminder of what they’re working to save with simple statements about how they view the places they’re from. It offers an impressive contrast to the depersonalised widespread destruction with a reminder that there are places at risk with cultures of their own. Dan’s introduction where he talks about the importance of Liverpool’s history sets up that idea with Dan and Yaz continuing it in their discussions.
Another mystery connected to Dan in a way is around Diane (Nadia Albina). She starts off seeming like an unremarkable person just as Dan does and ends the episode being lured into a run down house by Azure (Rochenda Sandall) for reasons that remain unknown so far. The episode does enough to make her memorable thanks to a strong back and forth between her and Dan where they make plans to go for Halloween drinks with it being “not a date”. How she will factor into the overall narrative remains to be seen but there’s a tangible connection to Dan that can be developed.
A woman called Claire (Annabel Scholey) embodies another mystery. She makes cryptic remarks about knowing the Doctor even though the Doctor isn’t aware of her yet. She also states that they will cross paths again before the Doctor leaves in the TARDIS. Shortly thereafter she encounters a Weeping Angel with her fate left a question mark until later. The Weeping Angel sequence is appropriately tense and helps to paint Claire in a sympathetic light despite there being nothing to her. With this being a continuous story laying out questions to answer later is reasonable but this episode throws a lot at the viewer with limited time to process any of it. This works when considering the Doctor being caught up in the pace of events but there’s a lot for the audience to keep track of going into the remaining chapters and there’s a risk some of it will be forgotten or thrown by the wayside.
Further mystery surrounds the Ravagers, represented by Swarm (Sam Spruell/Matthew Needham) and Azure. Swarm is particularly interesting as he has a prior connection with the Doctor that she has no memory of. The answer will be that she will have encountered him during one of the lives predating the incarnation she identifies as her first but it raises the issue of identity where the Doctor is concerned as she has a lot of lives she has no memory of so doesn’t feel that she really knows herself. It isn’t explored here but her reaction to Swarm’s familiarity with her highlights that it still weighs on her heavily.
The episode also introduced Vinder (Jacob Anderson); an officer manning an observation outpost known as Rose. The main takeaway is that he has the most boring job in the universe but remains in high spirits as he has plenty of time to enjoy the view. His job becomes far more interesting when he becomes aware of the Flux and witnesses it disintegrating all the planets in its path. He escapes and is left on the board for the coming episodes. Much of his screen time hinges on the audience investing in his survival but not enough is done to make him compelling enough to be more or less important than anyone else featured. He’s less a character so far and more a function of the plot designed to provide a reaction to the Flux. It works but it’s distinctly lacking in character which lets Vinder down considerably.
There is some excellence on a character level, specifically where the Doctor and Yaz are concerned. Their dynamic is excellent with a strong sense that they have been travelling together without anyone else for a while and have developed into a really effective team. Yaz has experience dealing with the sorts of problems the Doctor gets involved in, helps to fly the TARDIS and is very confident when it comes to tackling a given situation. It’s in keeping with what was previously established about her character and makes strong use of the obvious potential that always existed. It’s great to see Yaz as a capable companion able to handle herself in a crisis and having plenty of agency when it comes to figuring out how to proceed.
Despite how effectively they work together there is a great deal of friction between them because of how secretive the Doctor is. Yaz calls her out on keeping things from her. She reminds the Doctor that they’re supposed to be friends but she still refuses to let anyone in. The Doctor is predictably dismissive of this and would rather remain on task but there’s a strong sense that they have these conversations frequently and Yaz is rapidly losing patience with being kept at a distance. Yaz wants this to be a full partnership with no secrets but the Doctor still sees it as her being in charge with Yaz being the person who tags along. For their connection to evolve the Doctor’s mindset has to change and it’s clear that Yaz isn’t prepared to accept anything less than total trust between them. It’s a refreshingly new twist on the Doctor/companion setup which makes Yaz unique in that she strives to be the Doctor’s equal where she thinks that showing this Human the wonders of the universe should be enough by itself. It forms the beginnings of a commentary on inequalities within relationships and how they can be damaging which highlighting flaws on the Doctor’s part that she needs to work on. It also hints at her inability to reveal the extent of her emotional issues so there’s a lot to play with here.
As the first part of a continuing story this episode works fairly well. Most of what it offers are questions that need to be answered though it often strays into the territory of too much setup and not enough payoff. The pacing of the episode is relentless which prevents a lot of the content from taking on added meaning. The clumsy montage at the end to serve as a reminder of everything that needs to be considered only serves to highlight how much there is on the table. It’s a strong enough outing to offer plenty of intrigue with lots of potential to develop as the arc progresses.
A promising start to a continuing story that particularly excels in its depiction of the Doctor/Yaz dynamic. The biggest problem so far is that the stakes are unimaginably huge with the entire universe at threat. Such plots don’t tend to end in meaningful consequences as the threat itself has to be undone but it’s notable in that the Flux is a complete mystery to the Doctor which presents a compelling problem as she is fighting uphill to understand the situation. Related to the Flux are other mysteries with the most prominent being solved within the episode. Dan’s introduction and abduction is answered when the Doctor learns that Karvanista is one of billions tasked with removing all Humans from Earth in order to save them. The benevolence of the plan is a good Doctor Who style twist that nearly dovetails into the Flux as a threat. Dan is an engaging character if a little bland; his less than passionate reaction to having his world turned upside down by all that he experiences is distracting though his back and forth with the Doctor and Yaz works fairly well. Bonding with Yaz over having pride in their home towns personalises the widespread destruction somewhat and establishing him as an affable and generous person creates a lot of potential. Other mysteries are unanswered such as Diane being lured into a run down house and Claire’s prior association with the Doctor with Diane being more engaging because time was taken to establish her as an actual character where Claire is founded entirely on the mystery surrounding her. The Weeping Angel sequence was appropriately tense but it remains to be seen if Claire will be more than a simple mystery.
The Ravagers are intermittently interesting because of what Swarm means to the Doctor. It’s likely he refers to knowing her during one of the lives she doesn’t remember which brings up the identity conundrum surrounding her as there’s so much of herself she doesn’t have access to. Vinder’s introduction doesn’t do enough to encourage the audience to invest in his survival as there’s a lack of character there. The episode does excel in its depiction of the Doctor/Yaz dynamic. It’s clear they’ve worked well together and built up a strong rapport with Yaz gaining experience as she goes. It’s a unique approach to the Doctor/companion relationship and it’s noticeably flawed in the way the Doctor approaches it. Yaz is frustrated with the Doctor keeping her at a distance and the Doctor thinks that showing her companion the wonders of the universe should be enough by itself. It forms the beginnings of a commentary on inequalities within relationships and how they can be damaging. Most of what the episode offers are questions to be answered which works well enough but it strays into the territory of trying to do too much. The clumsy montage at the end highlights this though there is clear potential at the same time.
- the Doctor/Yaz dynamic
- clear growth from Yaz through the experience she has gained
- Yaz pushing back against the Doctor for keeping her at a distance
- Yaz and Dan’s home town pride serving as a reminder of what is at risk
- the Doctor being completely baffled by the Flux
- the tense Weeping Angel sequence
- a reminder of the Doctor’s issues of identity
- Dan’s unrealistic reaction to what he is exposed to
- the pace of the episode preventing anything from feeling significant
- the inability to invest in Vinder due to a lack of character to him
- introducing far too much with comparatively little payoff
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