Doctor Who: Flux continues. Not Doctor Who: Fluxx–that’s a card game, which I think we have in my house somewhere. But the new season of the long-running TV series.
(Daily Doctor Who #352)
Before it all started, we were promised that Flux would be a story of epic length and epic proportions–maybe the biggest the show has ever offered. And so far Chris Chibnall and his team have been delivering on that front! Not only does the whole story feel grand in its scope, but the individual episodes have been packing a lot into them and making great use of the longer run-times of the current era.
The first episode of Flux introduced a whole bunch storylines and characters. How well it’s done this is still to be determined–it all depends on how well those plots get followed-up on and develop over the rest of the whole adventure. War of the Sontarans wisely focuses in mainly on one of them–the Sontaran incursion into human history. The script does a good job explaining the connection here very simply–the Sontarans took advantage of the Flux incident to lay claim to earth (with a nice call-back to their first appearance way back in 1974). So it doesn’t have a lot to do with the larger plot, but it slots nicely into it without being unnecessarily confusing.
The storyline gives room for head writer Chris Chibnall to do one of his favorite things, which is to highlight lesser known but worthy historical figures. In this case it’s pioneering medical worker Mary Seacole, as played by Sara Powell. Seacole is used quite well in the story, with significance given to her character but in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the story itself. Plus the alternative history plot means one can easily overlook any historical innaccuracies (as opposed to say, the Rosa Parks appearance from Series 11).
The Sontarans themselves have been redesigned to bring them a bit more in line with their appearance in some of the classic series, which I wouldn’t say is necessarily better or worse, but works just fine. Personality-wise they are a bit of an odd mix–some of the goofiness of Steven Moffat’s Strax character is still there, which clashes a bit with the more serious military force they are supposed to be. I like the earnestness with which the Sontarans are treated and the graveness of the threat that they are said to represent, but I’m still waiting for a story which effectively highlights their vaunted military brilliance.
Certainly The Sontaran Strategem from Series 4 came the closest from the modern era. But here they are seriously undermined by how stupidly they get defeated. What sort of strategic thinking puts an entire army onto the same sleep cycle? Why wouldn’t they mix it up a bit and put a few squads on guard? Obviously it’s to allow the Doctor come up with a simple solution, which makes the climax of the story a bit less satisfying than it could have been. The Karvanista’s plan to wipe out all the Sontarans in the present is similarly deus ex machina, and thus a bit cheap.
Having said that, I think the episode was still quite good and enjoyable. The episode perhaps does the best job of the entire Thirteenth Doctor era at making good use of the entire regular cast. Splitting up the three leads gives each one a chance to be the star of their own story, which is not the approach we’d want to take all the time, but it works here. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is as good as she’s ever been, and Mandip Gill’s Yaz is also developing nicely.
John Bishop’s Dan continues to impress, and I especially enjoyed his joke about Japanese food (“Tempura Command” and so on.). In general there is a stronger sense of wit and fun throughout the whole episode which I have been missing for the last couple of years.
In terms of the main plot, we don’t get the most movement in this episode (as far as I can see), but I’m hopeful that with almost all of the primary characters all together in the same setting at the end that we are ready to really push forward on this next week. If the episode can offer a few solid answers to some of the lingering questions, even while new ones are brought up, than I think it will serve the story well. Ideally, we’ll get a clear sense of what is going on with the Swarm, Azure and the Passenger and why the temple they are in at the moment is important. If we don’t then I’m concerned that the story will begin to buckle under its own weight.
• Do the figures in the temple have anything to do with Weeping Angels? They are “quantum-locked” which is the same condition that the Angels endure. Are we seeing an origin of Weeping Angels?
• We have a Planet Time and hints at the Doctor’s unremembered history–it wouldn’t be surprising if all of this ended up having something to do with the origins of the Timeless Child.
• What story points from last week were not addressed this week at all? The mysterious woman Claire and her connection with the Doctor and the Weeping Angels; and the bizarre torture that Azure seemed to be inflicting upon Dan’s semi-girlfriend Diane. That doesn’t count the questions which are hinted at here but not really developed, like the question about the purpose of Williamson’s tunnels, or why Azure was hidden as a human being on earth.
• Hey, in reviewing this, I’ve just discovered that Joseph Williamson is a historical figure and the Williamson Tunnels are a real thing, and that people really don’t know what their purpose is! That’s fascinating! Look at that–Doctor Who is being educational, to children of all ages!
• I really appreciated the way that the Doctor’s hair became more and more messy as the story continued. I felt that was really believable given the situation–running around a timey-wimey version of the Crimean War and all.
Anyway, when all is said and done, I’m looking forward to seeing things unfold next week!