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Monday, 6 December 2021

Doctor Who: What The Flux Just Happened?

As became increasingly obvious during the five weeks of set-up, Doctor Who: Flux was stuffed with too many dangling plot threads and spurious supporting characters to do anything other than crash and burn in its chaotic and disappointing finale.

The funfair ride had taken an intriguing trajectory for the first half of its run, building to an apex with the wonderfully creepy Village of The Angels, but then as it rattled back downhill, racing towards its conclusion, the whole enterprise leapt off the tracks most spectacularly.

The quicker current showrunner Chris Chibnall is locked out of the Doctor Who production office the better for the show.

On a positive note, The Vanquishers - the final chapter of Doctor Who: Flux - looked truly epic and was certainly a visual treat.

But the style couldn't mask the lack of substance.

However, while Chibnall may be rubbish at sticking the landing with his big sci-fi beats, his character material was largely on point.

Shippers around the world must have been punching the air when Yaz and The Doctor had their moment of extreme sexual tension in the TARDIS towards the end of the episode (only to be hilariously interrupted by Dan).

With The Doctor split into three parts - across three time streams - for most of The Vanquishers, Jodie Whittaker once again showed why she is so magnificent in the lead role.

Jodie's Doctor is a joy to behold, whether she is outrageously flirting with one of her other selves or systematically unpicking the plans of one of the many villains.

As is always the case with weaker Doctor Who stories, the actors aren't to blame, that falls squarely on the shoulders of the writers... or, here, the singular writer, Chibnall.

But, again, I have to reiterate, some of the characters enjoyed strong resolutions to their arcs, such as the heroic Professor Eustacious Jericho (Kevin McNally), the 'mad' Victorian tunnel builder Joseph Williamson (Steve Oram), and psychic Claire Brown (Annabel Scholey), who would have made a grand companion to The Doctor given half a chance.

On the other hand, as magnificent as it was to have Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) return to frontline Whoniverse duties, she was totally wasted in this episode, and really could have been left on the bench for all the impact she had on events.

Given the casual way, she reunited Jdie's Doctor with the TARDIS she left in the 1960s, are we supposed to believe that for the last 60 years U.N.I.T. had a 'spare' TARDIS locked away and none of the previous 13 (or more) iterations of The Doctor - or 'their' TARDISs - sensed this? 

Good old Diane (Nadia Albina), having spent 99 per cent of the story trapped inside The Passenger form (and was, inexplicably, the only soul out of millions not turned into fuel by The Ravagers) emerged like a deus-ex-machina with the perfect solution to whole Flux situation.

Given the sciencey nature of this, though, it's really something that would have been more convincing if The Doctor had thought of it.

But then we could have lost Diane from the story as well... but Chibnall does like to pack in as many supporting characters as he can.

Diane (Nadia Albina) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson)

Having been introduced as a universe-shredding force of ultimate cosmic destruction, by the end of the season, The Flux had slipped into the background as a rather nebulous and ill-defined annoyance rather than the reality-destroying threat we were originally sold.

Did The Doctor's implementation of Diane's idea restore all the damage the Flux had left in its wake, or has the universe been shrunk down to Earth and a handful of other solar systems? 

Will The Flux actually ever be mentioned again? Will it have any lasting impact on the Universe?

A blessed relief in Chibnall's script was the artful sweeping-under-the-carpet of the whole 'Timeless Child' plot, side-lining it so that it can be forgotten about (much like The Flux itself, I'm guessing) or picked up again at some far future date by a more competent writer.

Even the much hyped and super-sinister Division dissolved into a big ball of nothing and was promptly forgotten in this overegged mess. 

The spooky (not 'Lungbarrow') black-and-white house of The Doctor's dreams turned out to be a metaphor for her forgotten, earlier lives. I'm okay with that as, at least, it's an answer. 

I have to ask, though, what was the point of spending so much time on the story of Bel, Vinder, and their "as yet unborn" child?

Who were they? Why were they so important that we had to spend so much time with them?

For all the impact she had on the narrative of Flux, Bel could have been cut out of the show completely and nothing would have changed.

That would also have freed up more scenes - and time - to devote to actual important aspects, such as Yaz and Dan's adventures away from The Doctor.

And the "as yet unborn" child was one of the worse examples of a misfiring Chekhov's gun in the show for years.

Craig Parkinson as The Grand Serpent

Talking of elements that amounted to nothing: what was purpose of The Grand Serpent in the greater scheme of things?

Why, for instance, all the bally-hoo about his involvement in the establishment of U.N.I.T.?

Perhaps his story isn't over yet, as it was suggested that he was possibly Time Lord-adjacent, with his two hearts and unspecified time travel ability. But then again, I'm still waiting for a resolution to Krasko's arc from Rosa!

One of the major problems of Flux was its surfeit of villains.

The glorious Ravagers, Swarm and Azure, built up some brilliantly at the start of the six-episode story, were cut down too easily (much like Tecteun in Survivors of The Flux), to make way for the next Big Bad, the avatar of Time itself, which delivered The Doctor her own "your song will end"/"he will knock four times" ominous prophecy.

Given how much screen time was allotted to villains' monologuing and explaining the plot to The Doctor, we didn't even really get a coherent explanation for the Ravagers' millennia-old enmity for the show's central character.

Then, again, perhaps The Grand Serpent's allies, the Sontarans, were supposed to be the major villains of the piece?

One minute they are amusingly raiding British corner shops to satiate their craving for chocolate, the next they were committing genocide on Karvanista's Lupari race (one of several genocides committed on The Doctor's watch this episode with, uncharacteristically, little pushback). 

The problem with the mass murder of the Lupari was that not only did it all occur off-screen, diluting the horror, but we've never actually met - or even seen - another member of Karvanista's canine kin, so this casual atrocity carried no dramatic weight whatsoever and felt simply gratuitous. 

And how was the Sontaran's plan to halt The Flux supposed to work? If the mass of the Dalek and Cybermen fleets was enough to halt the flow of anti-matter, what about the mass of all the planets and galaxies the Flux had supposedly gobbled up on its way to Earth... or was it Atropos? 

Annabel Scholey as Claire

Given the amount of death and destruction scattered throughout this episode alone, it barely gets a believable acknowledgement: for instance, Karvanista recovers from the total annihilation of his species quite quickly, while Yaz and Dan barely register the death of someone they shared off-screen adventures with for three years.

Way too much of Doctor Who: Flux was just thrown at the wall to see what would stick, posing many more problems than it answered.

The story launched with great gusto six weeks ago, promising plenty of plot, but fizzled out at the end, suffocating under the weight of its unresolved storylines.

Perhaps we'll get some answers in Jodie's final three episodes, although the New Year's Day special looks like a self-contained Dalek-fest rather than a "big arc"-heavy tale. 

And the last one - which will see The Thirteenth Doctor regenerate into The Fourteenth at its conclusion - is part of a massive BBC-wide anniversary celebration, so is more than likely to be a standalone story akin to The Day of The Doctor than an extension of the Flux shenanigans.

Of course, the production crew should be applauded for creating such an impressive, large-scale, sci-fi epic as Doctor Who: Flux during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but that doesn't excuse Chibnall's inability to deliver a satisfying conclusion to his overstuffed story.

But ever onwards and upwards: the next special is only four weeks away, and it looks fun... even though it's apparently written by Chris Chibnall, the man who - before he was showrunner - gave us such Whoniverse 'classics' as The Power of Three, Dinosaurs on A Spaceship,  and Torchwood's Cyberwoman.

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