Aka, Attack of the Colons!
(Daily Doctor Who #345)
Well, the new season of Doctor Who is upon us! Created under the pressure of COVID-related restrictions, will the demands of real-life limitations result in a greater creativity and ingenuity in the final product? Or will the show crumble completely under the increased pressure.
Well, so far, it looks pretty good.
Flux has just gotten started, of course, so it’s impossible to really judge yet. But I thought I’d jot down some quick notes based on my initial reaction.
Right from the get-go, things move at a pretty dizzying pace, with the Doctor and Yaz starting off in the midst of danger. The plot keeps moving pretty intensely for the entire runtime (a solid 50 minutes), jamming in a lot of concepts and characters. But for the most part, it managed to keep the central characters at the heart of the story, integrating plot and character in a way that this era of the series has not succeeded at so far.
Yaz, certainly, is used much more effectively than ever before, and not just because she knows something about how to operate the TARDIS. Rather, it’s because her role has become much more clearly defined–the “senior” companion who knows what to expect, and also knows when the Doctor is being less than transparent. This is a character who is no longer in awe of the Doctor, which gives her a different sort of perspective on the Doctor as a person. She was making small moves to this position in the previous series but now she is fully there, and it’s a welcome sort of shift.
The episode is obviously the debut for John Bishop’s Dan Lewis as well. When I heard about the character I was bit worried that the TARDIS would once again become too crowded for the writers to do everyone justice (a major problem for the last two years of the show) but Dan starts very strongly. He is instantly established as a bit odd but likable in his first couple of scenes, and then really won me over when he is being kidnapped by the dog-alien. He is understandably confused but highly adaptable, in a way that reminds me of classic-era companion Jamie in some ways.
And Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor herself gets a lot of good material as well. She gets to be clever, funny, and heroic, which is kind of the trifecta of characteristics that defines the Doctor. She also follows up appropriately on the whole Timeless Child debacle from last season. Obviously, I was not a fan of the big twist (or really, any of the big twists from Series 12), but if you are going to introduce something like the Timeless Child and not fully explain it, it makes sense that the Doctor would be out there looking for answers. It’s just a bit silly (and artificially melodramatic) that she hasn’t explained what is going on to Yaz.
There are lots of menaces and threats in this story. Obviously, there is the Flux itself–a giant cataclysmic space-time event which destroying everything in its path even more effectively than a wall of anti-matter did in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Then there is Karvanista, the dog-like alien who keeps coming into conflict with the Doctor, even if it turns out that he’s not that bad after all.
Also, there is a Weeping Angel who is sending the mysterious newcomer Claire to the who-knows-when. And then also Sontarans who are just generally standing around being unpleasant and weird.
Neither the Sontarans nor the Weeping Angels come off all that well in this story, but the Swarm does, and since he seems to be the main villain that’s a good sign. It’s interesting that he knows the Doctor from the distant past. We don’t really much about what he is up to yet, but the deaths he causes–looking a bit like a little mini-Flux effect, acutally– are certainly creepy looking. With his girlfriend or whatever that he rescued, he kind of reminds me of the guy thing from Can You Hear Me? last series. Hopefully there story wraps up more satisfactorily.
And really that’s the comment that I have to make about this whole series–hopefully it wraps up well. And not just wraps up, but carries on over the entirety of the story. The Halloween Apocalypse is a great first chapter, but Chris Chibnall has fooled me with his opening acts before. It makes me a little nervous that so many story threads and plot points are introduced at this stage–there is a real risk of them not developing or landing well.
But for now, things certainly seem promising. My kids and I enjoyed the episode a lot, and we’re excited to see the follow-up next week!