I’m now at a point where I am not sure what to make of Doctor Who: Flux. The newest episode, Survivors of the Flux is the second to last episode of this season, and it’s making me more and more doubtful that the storyline can be wrapped up in just one more episode. Quite frankly, I’m becoming more sure that this story will bleed into the three upcoming specials. I hope that’s true because Doctor Who: Flux has thrown a lot at us, and Survivors of the Flux tried hard to tackle all of it but failed to do so without leaving me scratching my head.
Last week’s great episode Village of the Angels ended on a truly creepy cliffhanger in which the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) was forcefully transformed into a Weeping Angel. She now awakens, in a plot twist that I still don’t fully understand, in the presence of an Ood and a mysterious woman (Barbara Flynn) who was introduced in the third Flux episode. The woman reveals herself as Tecteun, the woman the Doctor once called “Mother.” In other words, she’s the one who stole the Doctor’s genetic make-up in order to harness the power of regeneration for the Time Lords. We also get more details about the organization Division, but I won’t spoil all of that.
We also get a few too many time-filling side stories. One involves Yaz (Mandip Gil), Dan (John Bishop), and Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally) trapped in the 1900s being bounced around various different nations at rates that I couldn’t keep up with. There’s also a side story with Vinder (Jacob Anderson) and Bel (Thaddea Graham), but it’s remarkably uninteresting for a reason that I’ve mentioned past, namely that there hasn’t been enough character development for Vinder to make him all that compelling.
On the plus side, we do get to see the return of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and UNIT (Unified Intelligence Taskforce) the military organization that investigates paranormal threats to the Earth and that has been an ally to the Doctor many times in the past. However, we also get a confusing backstory with UNIT connected to the Grand Serpent (Craig Parkinson), a villain introduced in Once, Upon Time.
Karvanista (Craige Els) makes an appearance as well, but it’s too brief to care all that much about.
If this plotline sounds all over the place and confusing, it’s because that’s what watching it is like.
This episode is nearly as confusing as Once, Upon Time, an episode I loathed to do a mixture of frustration and sheer boredom. In the last month since Doctor Who: Flux premiered, we’ve had so many characters introduced with connections to other characters, and we’ve had more storylines introduced than I can keep track of or care much about. For example, Karvanista revealed in the season premiere that he is connected to one human according to his species’ code, and in his case that human is Dan. While that sounds like an interesting storyline, it’s hardly been spoken of to the point of being forgettable. That’s just one example of all the craziness we’ve had to process in the last few weeks.
Trying to deal with all of this in six episodes was a major risk, and this episode makes me fear it won’t pay off. Survivors of the Flux is a clear attempt to start wrapping up this storyline, but it does so in a rushed way with very little character development to make the viewer care all that much about where the story is going.
The episode does have the bonus of finally getting some questions answered, such as what the Flux actually is, more its and pieces of the Doctor’s true origins since she isn’t really from Gallifrey, and more. But again, it’s all too much at once, and there’s nothing emotionally compelling going on.
And again, the show has very little character development going for it. The side stories with Vinder and Bel are boring to the point of barely being worthy of mentioning, Professor Jericho seems like he’s just there to be there, and Tecteun’s story wraps up before it has a chance to get all that interesting. The only remotely compelling characters are Dan who is a likable goof, Karvanista who wins points for a level of humor, and of course Yaz who remains compelling only for her longevity.
And personally, I don’t care for the Grand Serpent as a villain. While there’s some chilling menace about him, it’s not enough to hold my attention. Unfortunately, I think that’s the nature of many of these characters who were introduced in too short of a serial to be all that interesting.
While I’m giving this episode two stars, it’s more like two and a half. There is the bonus of having some of the stories of Division and the Timeless Child explained, and it’s done in a mildly satisfying way.
Unfortunately, that one strength is also its weakness. So many past storylines from Doctor Who have been so undermined, and now they are taking it to a new level by giving the Grand Serpent a role in UNIT’s formation. As great as it is to see Lethbridge-Stewart back, this feels like a dishonoring plot twist to involve her in. While that may have been Chris Chibnall’s weak attempt at being daring, it’s ultimately made Doctor Who feel like a different show, and I don’t really like this one anymore. Could Chibnall go out with a bow in next week’s finale? Perhaps, but it looks unlikely. All of the craziness Chibnall has created is so messy that I’m not convinced that even Russell T. Davies can bring Doctor Who back to its former glory.
All of that wackiness, as well as a convoluted and confusing plot, makes Survivors of the Flux a disappointing addition to Doctor Who: Flux. It’s not as disastrous as Once, Upon Time, but it’s a major letdown from Village of the Angels. I truly hoped when this season premiered that Chris Chibnall could end his reign as showrunner well, but I think trying too hard and trying to do too much in one serial has made his reign a bit of a mess.