Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Six
Doctor Who concludes the Flux arc with a Sontaran master plan and a risky plan to save the universe as well as everyone in it.
I’ve mentioned in almost every review that “Flux” isn’t really an arc; it’s a collection of largely stand-alone stories that periodically mention the cataclysmic event. Another thing I frequently mention is that universe ending threats aren’t interesting because they raise the stakes to a laughable level and often prompt a resolution that is difficult to connect to because it has to be as outlandish as the source of the threat itself.
Despite giving the arc its name, the Flux is oddly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There were scenes where Bel talked about how difficult living in a post-Flux universe was but they were quick asides that failed to hold much weight especially with them ultimately going nowhere. In fairness, my prediction that the arc would end with a reset button was incorrect but the lack of a reset doesn’t make what was delivered any better.
The problem is consequence, or lack thereof. There’s no sense that anything happening in this story meant anything to anyone who was involved. The Doctor figures out that stopping the Flux requires enough matter to be put in its path so that it’s cancelled out since it’s an anti-matter phenomenon. It isn’t explained why all the planets it chewed through weren’t enough to stop it but Doctor Who has never been overly concerned with scientific accuracy. Ultimately it’s no different than any other baseless solution to a large scale problem the show has come with previously. The problem is the lack of emotional connection and the fact that the solution doesn’t flow naturally from what has been set up over the course of the arc. It started with an insurmountable problem and ended with a magical solution so there’s very little to actually say about it.
Another issue is that the surrounding details are ultimately meaningless. The Sontarans have invaded Earth because they want to find out the location of the final Flux event so that they can lure the Dalek and Cyberman forces under the false pretence of a proposed alliance in order to put them in the path of the Flux and wipe out their enemies. It’s a solid enough conquest plan and makes enough sense but the episode fails to set up the Sontarans as any kind of credible threat. Manipulating one through the promise of chocolate robs them of any menace and how easily they were defeated feeds into that. As the main antagonists of the episode -and arguably the arc- this is a major problem though it is oddly fitting with the idea that they are but one item on a long list of inconveniences the Doctor has to deal with.
That’s more or less all this is, a collection of inconveniences that the Doctor has to tick off before getting back to her life of roaming time and space. She manages to take out the Sontarans along with the Daleks and Cybermen in a really casual way while dealing with the rest of the list. Her casual decision to commit -or allow- genocide is completely at odds with her character as the Doctor has always been shown to see destroying their enemies as a last resort. Previous iterations have been very clear on offering the choice to back down before taking regrettable action. There wasn’t even the smallest hint of remorse on her part nor was there any hesitation before carrying out the plan. There was no moralising, emotional stakes were non existent and nothing that happened changed the characters in any meaningful way.
These events should represent a massive paradigm shift for the Doctor Who universe. The destruction wasn’t undone so as far as this episode delivers the Flux event wiped out countless planets and civilisations which should change the landscape significantly in terms of how those who survived feel about their own futures. That could still be explored but there’s no sense in this episode that it’s as significant as it needs to be. The Doctor never laments that she wasn’t able to save the universe before a sizeable chunk of it was wiped out nor are any of the characters heading out to explore it are in any way concerned about what they’re heading into so the arc ends with the characters behaving as if everything is back to normal when the reality is anything but. Similarly, everyone on Earth should be reeling from the very public Sontaran invasion but there’s no suggestion of ongoing consequences to that either.
A major misstep is the handling of Karvanista in the wake of the realisation that all of his people are wiped out. He is the last of his kind just as the Doctor once was but there’s barely a mention of it. Karvanista ends the episode joking about not letting Vinder and Bel join him on his travels rather than unimaginable grief over the loss of his entire species. He wasn’t a well developed character throughout this arc but he had a great deal of potential and focusing on his loss would have been an easy way to provide emotional grounding for the purposes of this episode. He has a direct connection to the events because of what they cost him so should have been an emotional focus. Instead it was an incidental detail that received barely any attention. Vinder and Bel joining him was a good idea as they were in need of a fresh start so could have resolved to help him through his grief and help him find purpose again. The impulse to provide an optimistic conclusion is certainly understandable but it isn’t acceptable when it comes at the expense of what makes sense.
The splitting of the Doctor into three was a reasonable idea that allowed the different elements to be tied together through using her as the focal point. It also allowed Jodie Whittaker to have a lot of fun playing slightly different versions of the Doctor. She bounced off herself believably and her manic energy linked the different locations together nicely. There was also an impressive contrast between the two Doctors who were actively working to solve the problem and the one stuck outside the universe largely powerless to do anything until a particular point. Swarm and Azure attempting to tempt the Doctor with the Fob Watch fell completely flat because it lacked the gravity of Tecteun’s efforts in the previous episode. In theory altering it from being an offer that would compromise her principles if accepted to a carrot being dangled in front of her that is now unattainable is an interesting progression but it gets buried underneath everything else the episode contains so lacks weight.
Added to this is how underwhelming Swarm and Azure remain as antagonists. Their plan to free the entity known as “Time” from imprisonment and merge with it is understood but is another thing that has no weight associated with it. They succeed and then disappear as if they were never there so it’s not clear what is lost or gained by what they set out to do. It largely provides an excuse for the Doctor to meet Time itself with it taking her form before warning her about her own ending as well as the return of the Master. It’s a very quick scene that could have been so much more considering the magnitude of what the Doctor has encountered. I suspect this entity will return in the specials and be a big part of this Doctor’s regeneration but there should have been more to their interaction considering the build-up.
The Doctor’s decision to store the Fob Watch in the TARDIS and ask it not to allow her access to it was a really nice touch. It highlights the Doctor’s fear of her own past. Jodie Whittaker’s performance perfectly sells the internal battle between that fear and her curiosity. At this point she has resigned herself to the notion that learning about her past might fundamentally change her own perception of who she is and what she has chosen to be so deciding for now that she’s better off not knowing makes sense. It’s something she will likely revisit before coming to her regeneration but the fear and uncertainty is a believable driver for her decision.
Her conversation with Yaz about the distance she maintains is a good scene but doesn’t further their connection in any real way. She acknowledges that she has been doing it, explains that her actions were driven by trying to track down the truth about herself and apologises for it. Broadly it leaves them where they were when the arc started though there’s the suggestion that things can improve from here. Yaz not letting her off with treating her that way simply because she acknowledged it was a really nice touch as it shows how deeply it impacted her. It’s the closest this episode has to an emotional catharsis and is elevated by the skill of the actors performing it. The Doctor/Yaz dynamic remains very engaging and the little touches throughout where they talk about missing each others are strong reminders of that.
Dan and Diane’s conclusion is a bittersweet one. Her inability to process all she has experienced and live a normal life with him in it following these events is both moving and tragic. Emotional weight is lacking almost everywhere else but the breakdown of this relationship was believable with Dan working to repair it and Diane not having the emotional bandwidth to allow him to do so. Diane was a character deserving of more attention and Dan wasn’t as fleshed out as he could have been but their final moment really worked. It furthers the idea that the Doctor is a destructive presence in the lives of those they encounter and those left behind are forever changed.
Bel and Vinder’s reunion worked as well as it could have considering how poorly developed the characters were up until this point. This is another example of actors elevating material that wasn’t strong enough to serve what was supposed to be coming across. They could have been cut from this story entirely with very little changing but at the very least it’s possible to understand that them being reunited after a long time apart is a reason to celebrate. Vinder getting revenge on the Grand Serpent by exiling him was supposed to be poetic justice but the presence of the Grand Serpent was distinctly lacking so it didn’t have the necessary punch.
One conclusion that did work was Jericho’s. His heroic acceptance of the inevitability of his own death was a powerful moment. Reflecting on the life he had after meeting the Doctor and deciding that it was enough for him was brief yet believable. As with every character the lack of time to properly develop him was detrimental but his end worked all the same.
Flux is something that won’t stick in my brain for very long but the confusion will linger the longest. In the wake of the finale I’m left wondering why so many characters were introduced just to be sidelined and barely developed, why the constant diversions were necessary and why the finale was largely spent wasting time before a catch-all solution was presented? I get the sense there were a lot of things Chris Chibnall wanted to explore before giving up his position as showrunner but he lacked the skill or time -or both- to properly cover them. It’s unfortunate that this attempt to do a contained arc was such a misfire but it has never been more clear that it’s time for new/old blood to have a go at this franchise.
A clumsy ending to this arc that fails to address consequence of the events and has very little to emotionally connect to. A high stakes universe ending event typically ends with a catch-all solution that isn’t built to over the course of the story. That’s exactly what happens here and it’s striking that the Doctor willingly commits genocide without no moralising or remorse. The Sotarans never rise to the point of being a credible threat thanks to how they’re handled and the resolution ultimately makes their appearance meaningless despite their prominence in the arc. Bizarrely the overall events don’t represent a paradigm shift for the show itself. The destruction caused by the Flux isn’t reset but that’s not a good thing when the fallout is completely unaddressed. No mention is made of the destruction that remains in place and what that might mean. At no point does the Doctor lament being unable to save everyone and the impact on Earth following a very public invasion receives no attention. Karvanista losing his entire race and being the last of his kind has no emotional resonance with no grief being displayed by Karvanista.
Splitting the Doctor into three was a reasonable idea that connected the various plot elements nicely while allowing Jodie Whittaker to have some fun bouncing off herself. Having two of them be active while the third being largely powerless was a nice touch as well. Changing the Fob Watch from a temptation where the Doctor accepting the offer means compromising her principles to a carrot dangling in front of her that she will never obtain was in theory a good idea but got buried under the other content. It also suffered because Swarm and Azure are so underwhelming as antagonists. Having them succeed in their goal only to disappear invites questions around what the point of their inclusion was. The embodiment of Time’s interaction with the Doctor was very brief and basic with a cryptic warning of things to come that feels far too familiar. There were some strong character moments such as Jericho’s moving death. Yaz and the Doctor’s conversation about how the Doctor kept Yaz at a distance was really strong with an impressive showcase of their dynamic found elsewhere in the episode as well. Bel and Vinder’s reunion worked well enough due to the actors but their characters ultimately added nothing. Dan and Diane’s conclusion was tragic and moving and represented the closest thing to emotional catharsis the episode offered. Ultimately Flux was forgettable and wasted too much time on unimportant elements that went nowhere while failing to explore what was interesting. It’s time for Doctor Who to move to new/old blood.
- the three Doctors idea
- the Doctor and Yaz discussing the Doctor keeping Yaz at a distance
- the moving and tragic conclusion for Dan and Diane
- the Doctor’s believable decision to have her past remain a mystery
- Jodie Whittaker’s excellent performance throughout
- Jericho’s death
- actors generally elevating subpar material
- a catch-all solution that doesn’t flow naturally from the story being told
- the finale amounting to a list of easily solved inconveniences
- the Doctor showing no remorse over her decision to commit genocide
- the Sontarans being more laughable than threatening
- very little consequence to anything
- not addressing how the destruction that remains will affect those that survived it
- the Doctor’s interaction with the “Time” entity being brief and underwhelming
- Swarm and Azure amounting to nothing
- the loss of Karvanista’s entire species prompting almost no reaction from him
- lingering confusion as to why many of the characters were here at all
- far too much going on with little to no complete coverage
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