Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Five
“Survivors of the Flux”
Doctor Who approaches the finale of the Flux arc with the Doctor coming closer to understand her origins and being presented with big choices to be made.
As an arc, “Flux” has been problematic as the event itself has faded into the background for the most part. This has resulted in some very strong largely stand-alone stories such as the previous episode but the drawback is that failing to give the ongoing story much attention means that episodes like this exist where the pacing is breakneck in order to force all the disparate elements to come together. Much of what was offered here amounted to table setting for what is likely to be a confusing exposition filled finale that will rush to answer all of the questions where a measured approach was possible.
The problems with this episode begin very early on with the resolution to the excellent cliffhanger from the previous episode. Having the Doctor transformed into a Weeping Angel was obviously never going to stick but relegating it to nothing more than a travel method to bring the Doctor to Division -where did the “The” go?” is incredibly disappointing. I personally don’t have a clear idea of what could follow that transformation but there was definitely more potential attached than it being a glorified teleportation. The scene where the Doctor asked the Angels questions around what they are and what they want with her was a shallow attempt to attach some form of meaning to what had happened to her but it’s quickly discarded in favour of what the Doctor spends the rest of the episode doing.
Fortunately what she ends up doing is really interesting. Barbara Flynn’s Awsok returns to tell the Doctor about the Flux and fill her in on what’s really going on. She reveals herself to be Tecteun; the woman who found the Doctor as detailed in “The Timeless Children” and violated her to unlock the secret of regeneration so it could be passed to her own people. The difference in perspective on how Tecteun and the Doctor see their relationship is really compelling as there’s a massive disconnect between the two. Tecteun sees herself as a mother figure who took in a lost child, raised her, gave her purpose and helped her build a life for herself. The Doctor sees Tecteun as someone who kidnapped her, robbed her of the opportunity to explore where she came from, violated her through experimentation and then stole her identity. She laments the fact that she will never know what she could have been or where she came from as all opportunity to explore that was taken from her.
In terms of personal details around the Doctor’s history the episode is light on answers but positioning Tecteun as one who taunts her with that knowledge being something she has the power to return was excellent. The lack of knowledge being provided is the core of the drama and the Doctor is rightly frustrated by not receiving the answers she needs to gain closure on her identity crisis. Tecteun has all the answers and the only thing the Doctor can do to get them is compromise her foundational principles which becomes the struggle she deals with throughout.
Tecteun’s installation draws comparisons to the Garden of Eden through the mention of the Seed Vault; a repository of everything required to recreate the destroyed universe in a new one. It’s a hub of creation though the symbolism is mixed as Tecteun sees herself in the God role since she wants to create a new universe but she is actually more closely related to the Devil/serpent -there is an unrelated serpent elsewhere in the episode- that tempted Eve with the apple. In “Genesis” the apple represents knowledge and the Doctor is confronted with an offer of knowledge through the fob watch containing all of her stolen memories. Tecteun is willing to give it to her in exchange for allowing Tecteun’s plan to play out with no interference from her. She even tries to sweeten the pot by promising to leave Earth intact and allowing her friends to survive but the key cost is that the Doctor has to allow the universe to die. The Flux could also be likened to the flood that necessitated the creation of Noah’s arc with a direct reference to that being found in the first episode where the Humans were being saved one by one.
The alternative is bleak. If she refuses then the Doctor can return to the dying universe and fight a hopeless battle to save it from what Tecteun deems to be the inevitable. Either the plot hasn’t been well thought out or there is more to the overall situation than is currently known as if the end of the current universe is as inevitable as Tecteun claims then the Doctor’s interference wouldn’t be an issue. It would be unsurprising if Tecteun was worried about the Doctor putting a stop to her plan though her death makes it difficult to follow up on this.
It’s unfortunate that this episode is so busy because the temptation of the Doctor ends up being but one element among a sea of others which means there isn’t enough time to create the required tension around it. The Doctor’s decision to reject the offer because compromising who she is in this life to fulfil her own desires is out of the question for her. Jodie Whittaker’s performance perfectly conveys the inner turmoil when the Doctor is faced with this choice before shifting to the confident declaration that the terms of the deal are unacceptable. The doubt gives way to a confident -bordering on arrogant in keeping with the Doctor’s personality- declaration that she will find a solution on her own terms and Jodie Whittaker nails every aspect of this turbulent emotional journey.
Where this falls down is in the explanation of Tecteun’s motivations. Her desire to reboot the universe is poorly justified given the available information and bringing in the idea of the Doctor being analogous to a virus getting in the way by inspiring hope across the doomed universe doesn’t receive enough coverage for it to become much more than a grandiose statement. The Doctor is understandably confused by the explanation that Tecteun would wipe out an entire universe just to stop the Doctor causing headaches for Division. Tecteun’s offer to the Doctor makes even less sense when considering this fact as her entire universal destruction plan seems to be entirely founded on getting away from the Doctor. Tecteun’s death may mean that this point is never clarified. On a character level there was so much more that could have been done with the Doctor confronting her abuser. Potential that is now lost with Tecteun’s death. It does nothing to increase Swarm and Azure’s value as threats because of the surrounding confusion. They mention Tecteun freeing them but the events of this episode prove that to be a roundly terrible idea. Of course it’s possible that Tecteun is simply mad and has no idea what she’s doing but given the enormity of events she needs to be more than that and likely never will be.
There is merit to the idea that Tecteun is using her power and privilege to recognise a terrible setup that she helped create and washing her hands of it. Instead of using what she has and what she knows to help fix it, her approach is to turn her back and start fresh elsewhere in the hope that the same mistakes won’t be made. This is a very particular comment on problems facing the real world caused by those who have power failing to utilise it in positive ways. The episode has nothing to say on this idea beyond the Doctor condemning it and commenting on Tecteun being wrong to use the power she has because she is directly influencing things that should have been allowed to progress in their own way, at least according to the Doctor.
Even considering the messy motivations there are some fascinating details worth unpacking around Tecteun. There are clear parallels drawn between her and the Doctor on different levels. Her headquarters give off a distinct TARDIS vibe with a central console and the general space inviting that comparison. She has her own companion who is unquestionably a servant. It’s a dark reflection of the Doctor/companion dynamic with the Doctor’s approach being to befriend those they bring with them albeit stopping short of regarding them as equals. This has become apparent through her treatment of Yaz in terms of the distance being maintained. The Doctor’s resentment of Tecteun comes from the perception that her life was stolen from her; a reading of the Doctor/companion relationship could be that the Doctor is a destructive force who ruins the lives of those who travel with them. David Tennant’s Doctor does plainly state that he destroyed Martha Jones’ life so there is definite precedent for that line of thinking.
I mentioned above that the Doctor confronting Tecteun is analogous of someone confronting their abuser. The Doctor could be unknowingly perpetuating a cycle of abuse through they way they interact with their companions. It’s certainly harsh to suggest that the Doctor unintentionally ruins the lives of those they travel with because of a buried trauma that they are unaware exists but the idea is an interesting one and offers something of an explanation for how those relationships often come to an unpleasant end for the companion whether they end up stranded somewhere, dead, moving onto another form of existence or simply having to live day to day processing everything they’ve experienced while having no outlet for the lunacy surrounding it. As with most things in this arc it’s unlikely to receive the attention it deserves which is highly unfortunate as this is very much the foundational character story and it invites further coverage.
Elsewhere, the companions are working to find out information that could prove helpful. Yaz, Dan and Jericho scour the globe in the early 20th century trying to find out the exact date of the end of the world by investigating relics. This is mostly great content for these characters as they are have plenty of agency using their skills and intelligence to progress through the scavenger hunt. Yaz naturally slots into the leadership position, Dan’s way with people helps them along the way and Jericho’s intellect is a great resource. All three of them have something important to bring and their dynamic is a lot of fun. Yaz watching the hologram of the Doctor that successfully predicts her exact responses was a particularly poignant moment that reinforces how effective a team they have become. No mention has been made of Yaz being frustrated with the Doctor keeping her at an emotional distance in a while but reinforcing the bond that has grown between them was a strong touch. Both of them admitting they miss the other was genuinely moving and further hints at something more than friendship possibly existing between them.
As good as these scenes are there is a rushed quality to them as there is with everything the episode offers. Part of the problem is the lack of time to take a breather and focus on the characters outside of their frenetic quest. Scenes in the cabin on a ship as they were travelling from place to place were the idea opportunity for such moments but they were often interrupted by another crisis to be dealt with. In general it feels like content is being rushed through in order to reach the conclusion which means that the characters suffer as a result.
Another problem rears its head when they leave the message for Karvanista so that he can collect them from 1904. He can’t because he doesn’t have access to time travel which makes for an obvious obstacle to putting that in place. This stands out because finding a way for someone to retrieve them was never the objective; it was stated earlier in the episode that they were looking to find out the date of the end of the world with the ongoing assumption that the Doctor would eventually find them. It’s possible that the objective changed as this plot takes place over a long period of time but it wasn’t detailed in the episode if so meaning that it stands out.
There are other plot points within the episode that don’t have enough time to resonate in the way they need to. Vinder has been largely wasted over the course of this arc outside of strong content in the third episode that provided a strong sense of his morality. Since then he has had very little to do and spends this episode being put into place to hopefully be useful in the final one. In concept his separation from Bel and desire to reunite with her is strong but in execution there’s very little emotional hook associated with it because Vinder has been so poorly served as a character. Bel doesn’t fare much better but has a far more memorable presence.
The Grand Serpent/U.N.I.T. plot is something that might make a lot more sense once the full picture is known but in the context of this episode alone it added very little. It works well enough because the Grand Serpent is cold and threatening with plenty of menace in his scenes but it’s difficult to latch onto what the point of his inclusion is especially with so little time left to wrap everything up. As an antagonist in another story, the Grand Serpent could have been strong but here he gets somewhat lost among the glut of other plots. There was clear potential to make him a personal antagonist for Vinder but as with many things associated with this arc there isn’t the time to explore these ideas in any major way.
Kate’s appearance was a welcome one as it always is and she was used in interesting ways. She acts as a foil for the Grand Serpent and takes umbrage at his policy of interference as he shaped U.N.I.T. in secret. The organisation is something she feels a deep connection to because of her family history so the notion of it being corrupted since its inception is personally insulting to her. In a way it mirrors the Doctor’s realisation around her identity though the detail is lacking where Kate’s concerned. It remains an interesting detail nonetheless and sets up a strong antagonistic relationship between her and the Grand Serpent. If only there was time to dive into the detail of all of these interesting ideas.
An interesting episode that delivers really strong content around the Doctor as she confronts her lost identity and makes great use of the companions by allowing them to have considerable agency. The resolution to the striking cliffhanger from the previous episode was disappointing but the Doctor’s interactions with Tecteun were interesting on a number of levels. A clear comparison can be drawn between Tecteun’s installation and the Garden of Eden with Tecteun taking on the role of the Devil/Serpent even though she sees herself in the God role. The fob watch takes the place of the apple and the temptation for the Doctor is gaining the knowledge about herself that she is lacking. Ultimately she decides the price is too high and stays true to herself. There are unanswered questions around why Tecteun would offer the deal at all and her overall motivations are poorly explained but it’s interesting to see how she and the Doctor are positioned. Tecteun sees herself as a mother figure who found the Doctor and raised her but the Doctor sees Tecteun as an abuser who robbed her of her life. There is a suggestion that this trauma sits beneath the surface and informs the companion relationships the Doctor has cultivated over many lives though there’s no explicit commentary on that. Similarly there is little commentary on the idea that Tecteun is using her power and privilege to escape a situation she played a major part in creating. The Doctor comments that she was wrong to user her power to influence events in any way but beyond that there’s nothing to say beyond the obvious parallels to the real world.
The companions looking to find important information works really well as each of them bring something unique to the story and have plenty of agency without directly supporting the Doctor. It all moves far too quickly and there’s very little time to focus on character but they are used well and there is one engaging scene where Yaz watching a hologram of the Doctor reinforces the strength of their dynamic while further hinting that it runs deeper than friendship. There are some issues with focus such as the bizarre detail of leaving a message for Karvanista despite returning to their own time not being the objective. Other plot points such as Vinder’s desire to reunite with Bel do little other than set up what his role might be in the next episode. This isn’t helped by Vinder’s lack of proper characterisation. Bel doesn’t fare much better but is a stronger presence. The Grand Serpent plot may make more sense once more detail is added in the next episode but it added very little to this one beyond the Grand Serpent being cold and threatening. Kate’s inclusion is interesting as her realisation that U.N.I.T. has been corrupted since its inception mirrors the Doctor finding out that her life as she knew it was a lie. This revelation is a personal insult to Kate who has a defined family history with the organisation. If only there was time to dive into the detail of these interesting ideas.
- Tecteun’s offer being comparable to the Devil/serpent tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden
- the Doctor seeing Tecteun as an abuser who stole her life with Tecteun seeing herself as a mother figure
- the Doctor’s decision to stay true to herself and refuse to accept the offer
- Tecteun being a dark mirror to the Doctor including the companion relationship
- suggesting that the Doctor’s sometimes problematic relationships with companions are a reaction to unknown trauma
- the companions having plenty of agency in their plot
- reinforcing the strong Doctor/Yaz relationship
- Kate’s realisation that U.N.I.T. has been corrupted from inception mirroring the Doctor’s realisation around her unknown identity
- too many ideas thrown into one episode with very little exploration of any of them
- the objective in the companion plot changing
- relentless pacing that prevents compelling characterisation
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