The Doctor meets her maker as Doctor Who barrels towards its endgame - British Herald
January 25, 2022
Entertainment

The Doctor meets her maker as Doctor Who barrels towards its endgame

The big question I’ve had all season is whether showrunner Chris Chibnall would be able to weave together all the compelling pieces of this Flux miniseries into a greater whole. And the rollicking, riveting penultimate episode “Chapter Five: Survivors Of The Flux” keeps that question up in the air as it delivers some satisfying shifts to the status quo but also focuses first and foremost on more set-up. In fact, “Survivors Of The Flux” reminded me of “The Halloween Apocalypse” in just how much information it throws out there as the episode hops between all sorts of different storylines before leaving things on a big cliffhanger. Still, with a stylish tone and some exciting character connections, it makes for a pretty damn fun placeholder.

Before we get into all that, however, let’s have a moment of silence for poor, forgotten Peggy, the time displaced little girl who gets nary a mention here. Though I’d assumed there’d be some payoff for that sweet hug she shared with Professor Jericho last week, instead the Yaz/Dan/Jericho throughline jumps ahead three years to 1904, where the trio are a well-honed team of globe-hopping, Indiana Jones-style adventurers looking for clues as to when and where the world might end. It was a task given to them by the Doctor, who recorded a secret hologram message for Yaz in case they got separated in the chaos of the Flux. And with little else to ground them, Yaz has clung to the mission (and the Doctor’s message) as her only lifeline.

That leads to a top-tier acting moment from Mandip Gill as Yaz forlornly yet lovingly watches the Doctor’s message for what’s clearly the umpteenth time. If there’s a big weakness of “Survivors Of The Flux,” it’s that it doesn’t make time for more character-centric moments like that. Though Yaz, Dan, and Jericho have a nice working relationship and an impressive array of adventure skills, their dynamics don’t feel all that different than they did last week. A three-year time jump could be a huge opportunity for the show to move its characters forward or deepen their relationships in unexpected ways. Instead the jump feels arbitrary and underutilized—it might as well have been six months as three years.

Thankfully, the Yaz/Dan/Jericho throughline is so fun and stylish (hats! pulley comedy! steamships! dead bodies!) that it mostly gets away with it. But where the lack of character work becomes a bigger issue is with the Doctor’s storyline. It (somewhat disappointingly) turns out that transforming the Doctor into a Weeping Angel was just a fun and easy method of transporting her to her new prison: A Division control center that sits between universes and is run by the mysterious woman from “Once, Upon Time” who turns out to be none other than Tecteun—the space explorer who found the Doctor in her “timeless child” form and raised her as half-scientific experiment, half-child.

The Doctor finally coming face-to-face with her Evil Mommy is a massive moment. And “Survivors Of The Flux” sort of knows that. Jodie Whittaker and Barbara Flynn get one really fantastic scene where they argue about whether Tecteun rescued the Doctor or stole her. Who might the Doctor have become if she’d been left underneath the wormhole where Tecteun found her? Yet, on the other hand, is what Tecteun did really that different from what the Doctor does with her companions? Is the Doctor also just a mad scientist running her loved ones through various physical and psychological experiments?

There’s tons of meaty stuff to dig into there, but a lot of the emotional weight of the Tecteun reveal succumbs to the sheer amount of exposition that throughline has to deliver too. Instead of centering first and foremost on the mother/daughter relationship, Chibnall has Tecteun lay out the massive scope of the Division, the nature of its universe-controlling mission, and the idea that the Doctor is a virus that infected their experiment, plus some details about how the Flux operates and the ways in which the Doctor still has a chance to save her universe. It’s a lot to take in, and the moment where the Doctor switches from processing her mom-related angst to chatting with an Ood about logistics feels less like an organic emotional reaction on the character’s part and more like the script clunkily keeping the plot moving forward.

Indeed, much of “Survivors Of The Flux” is clearly biding its time because Chibnall wants to save the big, explosive stuff for next week—with the ultimate time filler being Yaz, Dan, and Jericho’s pointless trip to write a message at the Great Wall of China. Still, what “Survivors Of The Flux” lacks in clear emotional arcs, it makes up for in fun intersecting storylines.

It’s an absolute joy to watch the Joseph Williamson subplot finally brought into the main story in a substantial way. All it takes is for the “Mad Mole” to wander aboard the companion’s ocean liner and mention his name for Dan to immediately recognize the famous Liverpudlian. (Did you know Dan is from Liverpool??) And even though the eccentric early 19th century tunnel builder is supposedly ancient history by 1904, Yaz, Dan, and Jericho are able to find him in his base of operations: An underground room with 12 doors that lead to 12 different places in time and space—all of which have been shifting since the Flux started. (Door nine now leads to endless death, for example.)

Equally satisfying is the way Karvanista and Bel cross paths when he recalls her Lupari ship to fill a gap in the shield around the Earth. Their initial animosity melts away when they find a common enemy in some invading Sontarans. It’s another element from early in the season that makes a welcome return here, courtesy of, unexpectedly enough, Craig Parkinson’s Grand Serpent a.k.a. Prentis. Though I’d assumed the Grand Serpent was a one-off bit of worldbuilding for Vinder’s backstory, it turns out he’s also responsible for a time-hopping masterplan to invade 63 years of U.N.I.T. history in order to lower the metaphorical gates for the Sontaran army. That leads to the very welcome return of Jemma Redgrave’s Kate Stewart, who was forced to go off the grid in 2017, but will hopefully make her glorious return in the finale.

Speaking of that finale, my biggest question heading into it is how the Ravagers are going to pay off. Though they’re easily the best of the various skull-like aliens Chibnall has crammed into his era of Who, they’ve still yet to fully click into place for me. And ending with a cliffhanger that sees them dust Tecteun and then threaten to do the same to the Doctor falls flat—especially since killing off Tecteun so soon after introducing her just feels like a waste. (Although maybe she’s not permanently gone?) It’s a flaw that’s easy enough to overlook in a penultimate episode that’s largely carried along by its zippy, stylish tone. Next week, however, the show will finally have to try to stick the landing.

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