‘Doctor Who: Flux – Village of the Angels’

Chapter four of Flux was a triumphant collision of some things old, some things borrowed and some things new.

The Hammer Films version of Quatermass and the Pit was released on 9 November 1967, 12 days before the events of Village of the Angels take place. The film of the 1958-59 BBC serial featured, like this week’s Doctor Who: Flux episode, an outlandishly-named professor conducting an experiment on a female colleague, with a machine attached to a headpiece that recorded her mental impulses during paranormal brainstorms. When you consider all that, the choice of the story’s date can’t have been a coincidence.

Professor Eustacius Jericho (Kevin McNally on terrific, stiff-upper lipped form) is an example of the series eating itself, as he’s the second Quatermass substitute Doctor Who has offered up in recent years. First off was Dougray Scott’s Professor Alec Palmer in Hide (2013), who was also conducting experiments into the paranormal in a creepy country house with the aid of a female volunteer, Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), wired up to recording equipment via a headpiece. In fact, writer Neil Cross originally wanted Palmer to be Quatermass, which pretty much explains everything. Not only was the central scenario in Hide identical to the one in Village of the Angels, but the latter story also borrowed Hide’s idea of a small part of rural England isolated in space. It was a wonderfully surreal image in an episode full of gothic surrealism.

As well as this ‘homage’ (ahem) and dip into the roots of Doctor Who, in Village of the Angels the title monsters also got to raid their back catalogue: angels existing in mediums like television broadcasts and drawings which, to paraphrase River Song, become Angels (check); a human being turned into an Angel (check); Angels laying siege to the Doctor and friends (check) and an Angel using a borrowed voice to undermine their prey (check). Their whole arsenal of scares was used to great effect.

The Doctor even got in on the nostalgia riff, dropping the most quotes from previous regenerations this incarnation has done in one episode: “Contact” and “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” (Third Doctor) and “When I say run, run” (Second Doctor). It was good to hear those again, as I grew up with that dialogue. Thinking about it, it was a shame no-one said “base under siege”, but you can’t have everything.

What stopped Village of the Angels lapsing into an unimaginative, mid-1980s retread of past glories was the new, central thrust of the narrative. Considering how divisive the Division plotline was in last year’s finale The Timeless Children, it’s really delivering the good this time around: the Angel hiding in the head of Clare Brown (Annabel Scholey) was one of many who worked for them – “the Division uses everything and everyone… every species, every world, every moment” – and was on the the run with knowledge about them, together with the Doctor’s missing memories. Her underestimation of how duplicitous these creatures can be delivered one of Doctor Who’s best ever cliffhangers, which really was jaw-dropping stuff.

With so much focus on the Doctor, Clare and Jericho, Dan and Yaz had to take a bit of a back seat, though it looks like what happened to them is setting up their plotline for next week. They did, however, get to share screen time with the striking child actress Poppy Polivnick, whose alarmingly blank-faced reaction to the death of a relative – “He was never nice to me” – was as chilling as anything the Weeping Angels got up to.

Further developing the narrative was the continuing saga of “life partners” Bel and Vinder, which, over only two episodes, has become the beating emotional heart of this series. In Bel’s scenes, set on her home planet Perzano, there was some interesting play with the idea of bogus religious sermonising, as Azure offered some of the survivors of the Flux salvation inside their inter-dimensional ally Passenger. A clever piece of plotting, this joined the creative dots with last week’s episode Once, Upon a Time, in which Swarm and Azure held millions of prisoners hostage inside their Passengers – presumably acquired in recruitment drives like the one on Perzano. Luckily, Bel was able to save The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison from temporal imprisonment, which was good, because his refugee Namaca was an engaging balance of fear and good humour.

On the acting front, Jodie Whittaker again had some good, dramatic moments, confronting Clare’s rogue Angel on a windblown beach. Clare herself was remarkable for having no background whatsoever, apart from being the 21st century victim of a Weeping Angel, so creating a totally believable and nuanced character from nothing was quite an achievement. On the impressive form she showed here, I’m thinking that actress Annabel Scholey could be a discovery on a par with Blink’s Carey Mulligan.

So – four out of four (apart from the dangling plot thread of why the Angels attacked the same village in 1901, but that might well be explained in the coming episodes). And, looking at the ‘coming next week’ trailer, I’m delighted I was right in predicting that Craig Parkinson would be back, this time intriguingly wearing a modern business suit. Considering how iconoclastic this series is being, I’d lay even money that his Grand Serpent might be the Master.

All things considered, it’s a shame that Flux is going to be finished in two weeks. Mind you, in this case less really does seem to be more.

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 robmay1964@outlook.com, and his website can be viewed at www.robfairclough.co.uk

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