It’s Jodie Whittaker’s last season, and the first fully serialized story Doctor Who has done since the Sixth Doctor’s tenure. Let’s take a look at the first episode of The Flux.
The Doctor and Yaz are hanging around in a spot of trouble in the future, upside-down and handcuffed by a Lupar named Karvanista (Craige Els), and having to get out of it in the usual fashion. In 1820 Liverpool, a man named Jospeh Williamson (Steve Oram) is running a mining operation, despite it seeming to have no clear purpose. In present day, Dan Lewis (John Bishop) is giving a tour at the Liverpool Museum despite not working there. He’s gently admonished by Diane (Nadia Albina), who he’s supposed to meet for Halloween drinks that night. The Doctor is trying to get back to Earth with Yaz, but starts hearing a voice from the prison where she was kept at the end of season twelve. A figure named Swarm (Sam Spruell) who has been kept there untold ages kills his primary guard by seemingly absorbing her life-force and renewing. The Doctor isn’t sure what this means, but is even more adamant about getting back to Earth—and its Halloween.
Dan is working at a food bank, but refuses to take any food for himself. He gives away candy to local kids though his own cupboards are bare. Karvanista shows up at his house and breaks down the door; he looks like a giant fluffy dog who tries to control Dan’s mind, but it doesn’t take. Karvanista puts Dan in a stun cube, and the Doctor and Yaz show up to Dan’s empty flat and all the traces of his kidnapping. A computer was left by the Lupar and shows an invasion force heading to Earth before compressing the house to pocket-size. Meanwhile in the Arctic Circle, a couple receives an alien warning buoy but choose to ignore it. The Doctor and Yaz meet a woman named Claire (Annabel Scholey) who insists that they’ll meet her in her past—she tells herself to head home and runs into a Weeping Angel. She knows how to handle them, but it doesn’t stop her from getting snatched.
A young man named Vinder (Jacob Anderson) on Observation Outpost Rose is making his usual report of this area of space, exactly like all the others, but suddenly there’s an outbreak of strange activity, planets getting eaten, and the outpost is compromised. Swarm arrives at the Arctic Circle and the woman there (Rochenda Sandall) is revealed to be his sister Azure in disguise. The Doctor and Yaz locate and board Karvanista’s ship—it turns out that the reason the Doctor was bothering him in the first place was because he’s the only member of the Division she could find and she’s been trying to get answers from him. In the process of talking to him (while Yaz breaks Dan out of his cage), the Doctor learns that Karvanista’s people—the Lupari—are not trying to invade the Earth, they’re working from an activated “species bond.” Each Lupari has a human counterpart, and they’ve all come to rescue humans from something called “The Flux,” which will overwhelm the universe entirely. The Doctor and Yaz run away from Karvanista with Dan, and the Doctor asks the TARDIS to track this phenomenon.
Thirty-trillion lightyears away, a couple of Sontarans (Johnathan Watson and Dan Starkey) seem incredibly pleased about the Flux overtaking the universe and plan to use this event to their advantage. The Doctor brings Dan and Yaz to the edge of the solar system to find the Flux: The Cloister Bell starts ringing because the Flux is somehow capable of completely destroying time and space. The Doctor can feel the universe breaking, and has another vision with Swarm—he claims that they know each other, that she doesn’t remember the first time they “danced across space and time” fighting each other, which gives him the advantage. Azure, meanwhile, picks up Dan’s date Diane and insists that they’ll have fun with her. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS toward Earth and drags the Flux in their wake, then tells the Lupari fleet to take on a formation that will shield the Earth entirely from it. They do it, but the TARDIS gets stuck in the Flux’s pull and they can’t escape. The Doctor tries feeding it Vortex energy from the TARDIS, but that doesn’t seem to do anything, and they’re about to be overtaken….
This episode is positively stuffed to the brim with Just The Most Things Ever, but… it’s also pretty great.
I’m reminded of all the specials Steve Moffat used to do, where he’d find “reasons” to put every creature and enemy he could think of into a single story, but they were always real flimsy reasons and it would wind up being a single soundstage packed to the brim with monsters that had no purpose, and it was always such a letdown. We don’t know where this particular serial is headed, but we’re being introduced to all these different groups via new threads and characters—it’s a ton to keep track of, but that makes it feel more urgent, and engages your brain better. Instead of going “ah yes, I recognize all these things, hm,” you’re being asked to spend more time wondering why all these aliens are converging and what it means.
And they get props for making the Weeping Angels scary again. That scene with Claire was excellent.
Swarm and his sister also seem a lot like Chibnall taking his very first villain for Whittaker (Tim Shaw, the tooth dude), shaking loose all the bits that didn’t work or make sense, and trying to reassemble it into something more threatening. So far so good? He’s appropriately menacing, and his powers do seem to have something in common with the Flux, so we’ve got something to build toward. But figuring out how his sister plays into all this, and how she knew to menace Diane, and why she was hiding out in the Arctic, it’s a lot. Also, I’m not entirely on board with Swarm’s prison break, it was all a bit too under-explained for my tastes.
The introduction of Dan Lewis was charming as all get out (whomst among us hasn’t wanted to give impromptu museums tours, or is that just a me thing), and they’ve done a great job of investing us right off the bat. It’s hard not to care about this awkward fellow and his life and his lack of food and his date with Diane, who just seems lovely. I wanted a season that was just Yaz and the Doctor, so they had to convince me to want him around, and I’m pretty sure I do? That was a tall order, quickly filled.
Speaking of Yaz, I’m very curious about where all of this is going… we’ve obviously missed out on plenty of adventures she’s had with the Doctor since Ryan and Graham left, and is not only even more hyper-competent than before, but accustomed to calling the Doctor on her BS. This has been a theme for a couple of companions, primarily Clara Oswald, and that level of competence comes with its own issues; most companions who wind up in that position get closer to death than others, or the question eventually becomes whether or not they’ve outstripped their need for the Doctor entirely and want to run off on their own. We have no idea if Yaz will be leaving when Whittaker steps away from the TARDIS, but she could easily stick around. If that’s the plan, I really hope they delve into this dynamic throughout the season. Yaz’s competence has always been at the forefront of her character, but there’s a lot that’s still missing, and I really want them to dive deep on that. (Also where’s her family, always bring them back, please?) She’s such a wonderful character and Mandip Gill is incredible in the part—give her more, we know she’ll run with it.
This episode also engages with a lot of the absolute nonsense that I know and love and expect from Who, and adding dog people who are “species bound” with humanity pretty much takes the cake on that for Chibnall’s run. It’s entirely ridiculous, and it comes out of nowhere, and no notes, please continue.
We’ve got about seven separate mystery threads, so here’s hoping that they all dovetail nicely into something that makes sense. Even just a little bit of sense, I don’t need a ton. It’s Doctor Who.
Stuff and Things
- Did… did the Doctor and Yaz fall onto a bed in the console room together? Did that seriously happen, that sounds like a thing my brain would fully make up.
- Obviously, any time you namecheck “Rose,” we’re gonna think of Rose Tyler. And given the Bad Wolf dispersal of clues throughout time and space for the Doctor from the very first season of New Who, it does make it possible that that her name as turned up as a deliberate ping in the Doctor’s direction.
- The Division, for anyone who has forgotten, is the group responsible for erasing the Doctor’s memory of all her previous lives prior to the First Doctor (William Hartnell), a place that she worked for up until that point. And obviously, Swarm insistence that they know each other but she’s forgotten is a reference to this, too. Wonder if we’ll get some answers through this story, or if Chibnall will turn that mystery over to Russell T. Davies once he’s back.
- That Sontaran exchange, though. “You look terrible, really awful” just, he seemed super into how rough his buddy looked and it was great, more of that please.
- This is the first time Doctor Who has done a fully serialized season since “The Trial of the Time Lord” during Colin Baker’s run in the mid-’80s. Highly recommend, if you’re looking for Classic Who stories to give you a good sense of the first run.
See you next week, Whovians!