Flux finally starts to offer up answers, though feels simultaneously overstuffed, yet also uneventful
Starring Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and John Bishop
Regardless of one’s personal enjoyment of Doctor Who‘s thirteenth post-revival series, one thing that cannot be doubted about Flux is its seemingly boundless ambition. Each episode up until this point has introduced multiple, in many ways unrelated plotlines and juggled them, leaving audiences guessing as to what the main trajectory of Flux may be. While some of this has seemed messy, and has certainly relied upon commitment from the audience, it has certainly been intriguing and played to Chibnall’s strengths with serialised storytelling. It also most certainly has not sacrificed upon diversity within its storytelling, managing to make each instalment clearly distinct from the one before and managing to incorporate huge swathes of the universe and many iconic Doctor Who monsters.
Fortunately, “Survivors of the Flex” finally starts to wrap up some of these questions. However, it does so in an episode which flits from short scene to short scene at a rate of knots and simultaneously feels incredibly eventful but also remarkably simple. It also manages, despite clarifying some elements from earlier in the series, also throws in more villains to the mix, muddying a storyline that was becoming blessedly clear.
Last week’s cliffhanger was probably one of the most tense yet, with the Division recalling the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) into service and transforming her into a Weeping Angel in the process. Meanwhile, her human entourage, Yaz (Mandip Gill), Dan (John Bishop) and now Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally) were left stranded in the early twentieth century. However, Flux being Flux, the cliffhanger skirted on by with little consequence, quickly revealing (as any logical viewer would have been able to identify) that the Doctor had not literally been transformed into a Weeping Angel – or, at least, not permanently – but was merely put in this form to be transported to the Division.
Despite the fact that she had clearly been told that she was being recalled to the Division, the Doctor still managed to be surprised when mysterious woman (Barbara Flynn) revealed that that’s where she was. The principal plot revelations of the episode surrounded this woman really being Tecteun, who had found the Doctor abandoned and brought her to Gallifrey in the first place, stealing the power of regeneration from her for the Time Lords.
In the process, it was also revealed that, as well as housing the Doctor’s memories in a fob watch, she had also been the orchestrator of the Flux, as a means of destroying the old universe and striking out into the next, all out of fear of the Doctor’s meddlings into the Division’s shady past which, apparently, operated under the opposite principle to the Time Lords, involving themselves in the destinies of other planets and communities and manipulating them whenever the mood struck.
Fortunately, as explanations go for the wild happenings of this season, this makes a lot of sense and is satisfying for an audience. It successfully ties up the Timeless Child storyline and looks set to deliver answers on that front. Unfortunately, however, it slightly squanders this point of drama. The Doctor is clearly angered at Tecteun, and tempted by her promise to leave Earth alone should the Doctor accompany her to the new universe with her old memories (quite how the Earth would survive without the sun is anybody’s business, but let’s leave that to one side for the moment), but the arrival of Swarm (Sam Spruell) and Azure (Rochenda Sandall) in the Division’s secret base and destroying her seems to wipe out the Division as the actual enemy, once again preventing the Doctor from actually having a force to rally against.
First, she was angry at the Time Lords themselves for lying to her and using her. However, they had been destroyed (again) by the Master. Now, the maternal figure who potentially kidnapped her and experimented on her is also gone, leaving many questions unanswered.
That’s where “Survivors of the Flux” falls down. Instead of actually leading to a conflict with the originator of the devastating event – Tecteun – it now appears that the finale is caught up with multiple other villains who are jumping upon the Flux opportunistically. Swarm and Azure have had spurious motivations for quite some time, despite being visually stunning, they still seem to have few goals other than achieving destruction and revenge.
The episode spends a disproportionate amount of time establishing the Grand Serpent’s (Craig Parkinson) in the genesis of UNIT. While this does explain UNIT’s dissolution, and allow the return of Jemma Redgrave’s Kate Stewart, presumably so that their presence in the finale doesn’t come completely by surprise. The problem is that the Grand Serpent, who has only appeared very briefly, is still shrouded in so much mystery that they do not have suitable presence as a credible villain. To introduce the Grand Serpent and the Sontarans as an Earth invading force, even though this was foreshadowed in the companions’ storyline still seems awkward and messy, and makes the overall clarity and cohesion of Flux as a whole suffer (though it is impossible to say before the finale airs).
Yaz, Dan and Professor Jericho’s adventures provide a nice energy, with an Indiana Jones-esque globetrotting caper, which finally integrates Williamson (Steve Oram) into the plot, revealing that his tunnels, for some reason can allow him to travel in time and space. While trying to work out the date that alien invasions will occur as a fallout from the Flux, they are also beset by assassins, presumably sent by the Grand Serpent, who seems to have an alliance with the Sontarans.
The episode moves along at a pleasant pace, but it is also doing what much of Flux has done: setting things up for future conflict. Williamson’s tunnels are bound to reunite the Doctor and her companions; Bel (Thaddea Graham) and Karvanista (Craige Els) have been brought together against the present-day Sontarans; Vinder (Jacob Anderson) and Diane (Nadia Albina) find themselves united inside the Passenger; while the Doctor, along with enemies Swarm and Azure, are in the one place which holds the potential to reverse the Flux on the cusp of universal destruction.
Ultimately, “Survivors of the Flux” is pleasant enough viewing, but it does throw new elements into a storyline that seemed to have plenty of potential of its own. Flux‘s level of uncertainty from episode to episode which once served to be intriguing now seems to verge on the edge of inconsistent. Hopefully this Sunday’s finale provides a satisfying conclusion to Doctor Who’s most ambitious tale yet.
Doctor Who: Flux airs on Sundays. You can catch up on BBC iPlayer.