❉ Robert Fairclough reviews the latest ‘Chapter’ of Doctor Who: Flux...
I’m delighted to report that the penultimate episode of Flux delivered mesmerising plot twists, epic revelations and a brilliant cliffhanger.
Having said that, of all the episodes, this one threw up some significant red flags for me in terms of plotting. While it was fun to see Dan, Yaz and Professor Jericho go all Indiana Jones, searching for an ancient relic that foretold the date of “the battle for the Earth”, I wish a little time had been taken to explain how they were able to afford their cruise through 1904 Egypt, Constantinople, Nepal and China; even if Dan was sleeping under the bed in Yaz and Jericho’s cabin to save money, they’d been stranded in the 1900s with no contemporary cash. Secondly, painting a message to Karvanista by the Great Wall of China presumably allowed the dynamic trio to see what it looked like from up high, but if if the Lupari didn’t “have time travel”, how was he able to see it from space in 2021?
And where was young Peggy, the sole survivor of the Weeping Angel attack on Medderton, who was sent back in time with Dan, Yaz and the Prof? For an early 20th century philanthropist, the permanently bad-tempered Joseph Williamson was also remarkably accepting of temporal doorways to other worlds in his tunnels under Liverpool… Hmm. Perhaps these questions will be addressed in the final episode.
If they aren’t, I guess it was inevitable that, with such a complex story, some threads would be left dangling.
You couldn’t say that about the Doctor’s trip to the Division space station, though, which was leaving one universe and attempting to breach the next. OK, poor Jodie Whittaker was once again trapped in Exposition-ville, but the revelations that came thick and fast in these scenes – and I’m not going to spoiler them here; they’re monumental – were handled so well by Doctor Who’s star and Barbara Flynn that they really worked as drama. And for anyone who thinks that Chris Chibnall can’t do memorable dialogue, think of the exchange between Whittaker and Flynn about morality, which ends with the latter’s acid comment about the Doctor: “You inspire. Make people question. Rise up… That can be problematic.”
There was some nice, humorous byplay with the Division Ood (Simon Carew/Silas Carson) too:
The Doctor: I’m very good at pulling rabbits out of hats.
Ood: I have no rabbits.
The Doctor: It’s a metaphor
Ood: Or hats.
It didn’t need to be there, but it was nice bit of character humour. It shows how far we’ve come, as I can’t see this exchange being at home in any of the totally plot-serving dialogue of Series 11. Mind you, the light touch wasn’t all successful: the ‘humorous hermit’ scene in Nepal fell rather flat.
I was over the moon to see that the third major narrative strand this week welcomed back Craig Parkinson as the Grand Serpent. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on who the major villains are in Flux, Chibnall throws a major spanner in the works. Somehow, this enigmatic character is interfering with the timeline of UNIT – Earth’s defence force against extra-terrestrials, in Doctor Who since 1968 and who the Doctor once worked for – assassinating obstacles to his ambitions with alien snakes psychically projected into the bodies of his victims.
I can’t decide whether I’d like the Grand Serpent to turn out to be the Master or not, as it really sounds like the sort of thing the Doctor’s arch nemesis would do, especially when you see how this plotline plays out at the end of the episode. Suavely adjusting his cuffs after a murder, and with tattooed (hypnotised?) followers scattered throughout history, the Grand Serpent’s whole raison d’etre screams ‘It’s the Master!’ We’ll see; if he isn’t, he’ll be remembered as one of the best original adversaries created under Chibnall’s regime. I’ve also got a sneaking suspicion he’ll be turning up in the three special episodes in 2022.
In terms of acting, Parkinson was one of the standouts this time around, clearly relishing every malicious line he was given to say. Easily matching him was Jemma Redgrave as the returning Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, impressively passionate in defending UNIT and leaving the Grand Serpent in no doubt that she was on to him. Mandip Gill and John Bishop had some good material, too: Yaz is developing a pragmatically tough (callous?) side, ordering Dan and Jericho to dump a dead body in the sea, while her emotional bond with the Doctor is still hard to read – is it platonic affection, our something else? In the scene in the cabin when Dan tried to comfort Yaz, it was notable that even after spending four years together trapped in history, they still weren’t so close that he could put his arm around her.
I’ve talked about a lot here, but I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Five episodes into Flux, I think there’s so much going on in this epic story that it’s going to be puzzled over, discussed and analysed for a long time to come – perhaps more than any other Doctor Who story.
Everything’s in place for the final showdown. I, for one, can’t wait
❉ Doctor Who is a BBC Studios production for BBC One and a BBC America co-production. BBC Studios are the international distributors for Doctor Who.
❉ Robert Fairclough writes on a variety of subjects, including mental health and popular culture (sometimes both at once). He has written six books, contributes to magazines and websites, and writes regular blogs about projects he’s involved in for The Restoration Trust. He can be contacted on email@example.com, and his website can be viewed at www.robfairclough.co.uk