Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Two
“War of the Sontarans”
Doctor Who continues with its self contained season long arc with trouble from the Sontarans and further clues as to the nature of the problem.
Continuous arcs are tricky on episodic television as there is a need to make every episode distinct in that it tells a story while having it meaningfully serve the main arc. Often this takes the form of early episodes presenting an unconnected problem while offering reminders and small pushes forward on the ongoing arc. This episode very much fits into that model and is very frustrating as a result.
The Flux is foremost on the Doctor’s mind early on as the fate of the universe is at stake. At first she’s shocked to find herself on a distinctly undestroyed field with the TARDIS and her companions nearby. She theorises that the vortex energy mixed with the Flux has given them this chance to survive so gets on task with figuring out their current circumstances and starting to puzzle out a solution. The breather they’ve been granted is short lived when Yaz and Dan get whisked away to another time and please leaving the Doctor on her own.
This splits the action into three locations, two of which deal with the Sontaran problem. The Doctor finds herself in an alternate history working with Mary Seacoll (Sara Powell) and General Logan (Gerald Kyd); the latter a man completely unwilling to accept that the Sontarans are a superior force that his army are no match for. He is a source of endless frustration for the Doctor who is routinely dismissed by him on account of her gender but she refuses to let his sexist attitude stop her from saving people.
She can’t access the TARDIS or her companions but she still has her brains and her wits which often proves to be more than enough in a given situation. She informs the Sontarans that the Doctor is in the area without revealing her identity to them in an effort to learn more about their plans. In essence she uses fear and her own reputation to make inroads. It’s a common tactic for any incarnation of the Doctor as the numerous encounters with each of them being a victory on his or her part has cultivated a well deserved reputation. Seeing the Sontaran recoil at the mere mention of the name is telling and the reaction when returning to the rest of the army similarly shows that the Doctor is far from defenceless though it’s also true that her reputation will only take her so far.
Ultimately the Sontaran plot isn’t that interesting because the Sontarans themselves aren’t that interesting but it is enough to divert the Doctor’s attention for a while. Of course she does save the day and the ongoing arc is represented by her learning that the Sontarans didn’t cause the Flux. They merely took advantage of it because they saw an opportunity to wage War. Their motivations are simple and in keeping with prior depictions of them but it still doesn’t make them interesting and they serve as little more than a distraction to the ongoing Flux plot. The Doctor is stuck and has to deal with the Sontarans for that reason but beyond that there’s minimal meaningful connection for her.
Far more interesting is her relationship with General Logan. He challenges her at every turn and even in victory proves himself to be less than gracious. At that point he still shows her disrespect which prompts her to angrily state that people like him cause her to question why she bothers with Humanity. The answer to that question is obvious but the Doctor being pushed so far to the edge by the end of the universe and a general throwing every attempt to help her back in her face takes a toll. Jodie Whittaker’s performance in her scenes with General Logan is excellent; the growing exasperation is evident as well as the desperation brought on by all of the spinning plates.
Her relationship with Mary Seacoll is interesting as well. She’s a historic example of a strong woman doing everything she can to make the best of a bad situation. Everything she has accomplished despite the hopeless situation is evident and she acquits herself admirably at every turn. There’s a real kinship between Mary and the Doctor that makes their conversations compelling to watch. The mutual respect is quickly established but feels earned and helps carry this portion of the episode with believable emotional grounding.
Dan is whisked back to his home and finds the Sontarans have invaded. He teams up with his parents who have figured out how to resist the Sontarans. This creates some amusing off the wall exchanges where ordinary people have quickly become accustomed to guerilla warfare. It’s something that wouldn’t work in many other properties but for Doctor Who it feels right at home. The show has always championed the idea of the ordinary realising their potential and becoming extraordinary in the process so this fits into that ongoing theme very well. Dan proves to be capable, intelligent and calm under pressure which shows clear potential for him to be a strong companion. Being separated from the Doctor and forced to handle an alien threat on his own so soon presents a clear challenge for him that he rises to. Things do happen that are beyond his control but that doesn’t impact the promise he shows. This was an economic way to establish early on that he’s a worthy companion and arguably necessary considering the brevity of this arc.
As with the Doctor dealing with the Sontarans, Dan’s part in the plot similarly feels like busy work. The episode doesn’t try to pretend that the Sontarans are going to be any more than a challenging distraction but from a storytelling point of view the time could be used more effectively. From a character point of view it works well because it showcases Dan’s capabilities but ideally this should be accomplished while fleshing out the ongoing story being told rather than pushing it into the background.
The majority of progress on the Flux plot comes from Yaz’ contribution. She finds herself in the Temple of Atropos on the Planet of Time. She meets up with Vinder and they get to know each other by detailing their titles to one another. As with the Doctor and Mary this quickly establishes a baseline of respect between them and they quickly work to understand their surroundings. They are met with A.I. driven pyramids that ask for their help in repairing the temple but the mystery remains around where they are and what the temple does. Yas typically acquits herself well, drawing on the experience she has gained while travelling with the Doctor to figure things out. As always she approaches the situation calmly and bravely while clearly impressing Vinder with her abilities.
There isn’t much beyond that in terms of characterisation. Yaz doesn’t develop as she merely uses skills she already has and Vinder is little more than a presence for Yaz to talk to. As with the previous episode it’s unclear what his role is or why he’s important though he does at least seem to have skills and knowledge that will prove useful. This is very much setup for the remaining episodes but pairing up Yaz and Vinder was a great opportunity to start developing Vinder as a character. Fortunately Jacob Anderson has plenty of screen presence, has strong chemistry with Mandip Gill and carries the scenes well but the material could be better.
In service of the larger arc some information is revealed that creates more questions. The A.I. makes reference to the Mouri; a species that built the temple to control time with it all passing through them. Without that control time is designated as evil according to the Mouri necessitating that control. The temple needs to be repaired in order to restore that control or the universe will be flung into chaos. The Flux may be as a result of that or it may be unrelated but there’s a sense of something far larger going on that needs to be explored.
At the moment the idea is introduced and largely left as an open question to be answered in the coming episodes. This works because the mystery is interesting and the idea that time is something that the Doctor doesn’t fully understand has the potential to be a really eye opening revelation for her. As a Time Lord/Lady one thing she could be sure of is that she understood time and how it works but finding out there’s another party who controlled it could feed into her uncertainties about her identity. My prediction is that the Mouri are the species that the Doctor originated from or that they’re connected to them in some way but equally that could not be the case.
The cliffhanger with Swarm and Azure altering Yaz in some way to act as a temporary repair for the temple raises the stakes appropriately. Having the Doctor find that her companion has been used by an enemy will naturally encourage her to feel responsible with the guilt that comes with that. Added to that is it highlights how capable the villains are with no boundaries when it comes to going after their particular goals. They also have more information than the Doctor which puts her on the back foot. As with Vinder and other characters there’s little in the way of characterisation for these antagonists which makes them feel somewhat pantomime in they way they are deployed. Jodie Whittaker does a lot of heavy lifting to sell the Doctor’s reaction to all she experiences but the antagonists are so far fairly weak outside of what they have managed to accomplish. Four episodes remain in this arc so there is still time to develop the characters and flesh out the ongoing narrative in satisfying ways.
An episode that did well with some character beats but spent too much time on an unconnected plot to the detriment of the ongoing arc. The Doctor being separated from her companions and the TARDIS while having to deal with a sexist general who doesn’t listen to common sense was an interesting challenge for her. Using fear as a weapon against the Sontarans worked well and bought her the necessary time to come up with a plan. The Sontarans themselves weren’t that compelling as antagonists as they never are but the situation was compelling enough. Far more engaging was the the antagonistic relationship between the Doctor and General Logan with her being pushed to the end of her tether and even saying that people like him cause her to question why she bothers with Humanity. Dan dealing with the Sontarans in his own time was a great showcase for his potential as a companion along with the amusement created by him and his parents fighting back using guerilla tactics. The main arc doesn’t develop but Dan’s clear potential is explored which works.
Yaz and Vinder on the planet called Time is another showcase of Yaz’ skills and experience as she works to puzzle out the situation. Vinder remains light on characterisation but Jacob Anderson impresses with his presence and has great chemistry with Mandip Gill however briefly shown. The slight furthering of the main plot adding in the idea of time being an evil force in need of control and the temple needing to be repaired in order to maintain that control creates further intrigue. The idea of the Doctor having her identity called into question by finding out she doesn’t actually understand time is potentially fascinating and revealing notion for her to ponder. Azure and Swarm are underwhelming as antagonists based on this episode though do enable an engaging cliffhanger than indicates they have no boundaries which in theory makes them a strong challenge. Four episodes remain so there is still time to develop and resolve everything in a fascinating way.
- the Doctor forced to handle a situation without the resources of her companions or the TARDIS
- using fear to buy time with the Sontarans
- the antagonistic relationship between the Doctor and General Logan
- the Doctor and Mary Seacoll’s well developed connection
- Dan proving himself as a capable companion
- Dan and his parents engaging in guerilla warfare
- Yaz once again showing her capabilities
- compelling details around time as an evil force needing to be controlled
- introducing the idea that the Doctor doesn’t understand time and how that impacts her sense of identity
- putting the ongoing arc in the background
- the Sontaran plot acting as a distraction that barely feeds into the ongoing story
- Vinder still lacking in characterisation
- Azure and Swarm being underwhelming as antagonists
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