Doctor Who Flux: The Vanquishers

Flux has been a fairly complex story with lots of strands to the plot playing out over the six episodes. All those strands have been necessary, and feed nicely into the conclusion. Up until this final episode, I felt like there was a lot going on that seemed tangential and perhaps unnecessary, such as Vinder’s journey to find Bel and Diane doing a lot of apparently aimless wandering around, but those aspects of the story proved vital in the end, and the moment when Vinder and Bel were reunited was exactly the kind of soppy romance I enjoy.

When your story is divided into so many places, with so many people, how do you bring all that to a conclusion all in one episode? Chris Chibnall comes up with an entertaining solution: have the Doctor be in three places at once. That way she gets to encounter all the various characters who have had important roles in the story, and is integral in every aspect of the climax. It’s also a huge amount of fun.

“I’ve got such a crush on her.”

Talking of fun, I think Chibnall has pitched the Sontaran threat better than any writer since Robert Holmes. In recent years the humour has damaged their credibility, but here we are right back to the Sontarans posing a genuine risk, being clever enough tacticians to defeat Daleks and Cybermen, while still retaining the funny aspects of their characterisation (“chocolate!”). This episode could have been titled The Sontaran Invasion of Corner Shops, but Doctor Who has always been a show that gives us the universe while still being very British.

I suppose in a story this big and dangerous, not everyone could survive, but I was sad to see Professor Jericho go, in many ways the best character among the good guys. If Chibnall wanted to kill off one of his characters, Diane would have been a better choice, as her budding relationship with Dan needed to be ended in some way to give him the final push to go off travelling with the Doctor, and the way that happened was downbeat and perfunctory. But at least Jericho had a great send-off.

“What an awfully big adventure.”

It came as little surprise that we didn’t get any more information about the Doctor’s hidden past. That’s such a goldmine of story possibilities that it’s likely to be utilised piecemeal for years. The truth about Karvanista, a former companion of the Doctor who is prevented from telling her anything by a poison in his head, helps to make sense of how the Doctor’s hidden past works. Not only is she amnesiac, but she has been prevented from finding anything out thus far by the thoroughness and ruthlessness of the Division.

The Doctor’s encounter with Time was an interesting moment. It was utilised in a fairly mundane way, to give us the same kind of warning the Face of Boe gave to the Tenth Doctor.

“Nothing is forever. No regeneration, no life. Beware of the forces that mass against you, and their master.”

… or should that be “Master” with a capital M? Time as a thinking, powerful entity was a brave statement of a multiverse that has more going on than chaos and chance, and we got right to the heart of the core belief of the Doctor herself:

“There is a balance to the universe. It exists that way for a reason.”
“That is your faith.”

Together with her belief in the importance of protecting life and allowing civilisations to grow, it’s a strong representation of the kind of value system that would lead the Doctor to fight for what matters, a fight that now seems to have taken place across eternity. Chibnall had taken our favourite hero and made her even more amazing.   RP

The view from across the pond:

Strap yourselves in for the universe-destroying season finale to the Flux with The Vanquishers.  And what can I say about Jodie’s best season?  What kudos will I give Chibnall, Whittaker and the cast?  Sadly, I still want Chibnall out of the TARDIS.  Yes, he gave us one hell of a ride, but if I were to sum up the entire episode, I’d need to quote David Tennant’s Doctor here with…

“What?   What??  WHAT??!?”

I could almost hear the network execs telling Chris Chibnall that he has one hour to wrap it all up.  So he starts dishing out technobabble faster that the entire cast of Voyager for Jodie and company to blurt out as if it made any sense.  Yeah, Yaz mentions that she’s totally flummoxed by it all (“Normal service is resumed”), which is a neat way of letting the audience know we’re not the only ones sitting there with our mouths hanging open, but the resolution comes out as an empty victory.  We can’t understand all of what’s going on because we’ve been on the fastest talking roller coaster since time began, so we sit back and watch to see the outcome hoping it will all make sense.  There are honestly some top-notch moments here and some amazing visuals but they don’t make a weak episode any better or add sense to an otherwise confused resolution.

For example, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention Die Hard with Bruce Willis since it was from 1988.  (If you haven’t seen it, what the hell: spoilers…)  You know when Bruce walks out at the end to talk to Hans with the gun taped to his back?  You know what the plan is – it makes sense.  As the audience, we can figure out what’s coming.  Yeah, that’s a lot less complicated than science fiction and Doctor Who specifically but we should be able to at least piece together some of what is actually happening to feel the excitement.  And I know I didn’t understand what happened at the end because what it looked like to me was that the Doctor just tried to commit genocide on a really massive level against the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans.  Yeah, the Sontarans were trying to take out the Daleks and Cybermen anyway and maybe the Doctor would have allowed that to happen simply by not interfering.  But here’s the real problem: she does interfere.  She interferes by upping the corpse count by including the Sontarans in the mix.  Then, as if to put a cherry on top of her Death Sundae, she allows the flux to enter the Passenger thus canceling both out.  Ta-da!  Victory.  The good guys win by killing lots of bad guys and letting one really hurt dog help!  This is the definition of good guys provided by Chris Chibnall – the heroes who let the enemy die.   No, friends, don’t mention Paul McGann’s Doctor reaching out to the Master in the 1996 movie.  To hell with Tennant offering Davros the hand of friendship in Journey’s End.  Erase what you knew about Tennant and Smith offering peace to Zygons in the 50th Anniversary special Day of the Doctor.  And ignore Capaldi’s “always mercy” with young Davros in The Witch’s Familiar.  No, the good guys let death take place on a MASSIVE scale.

At least that’s what I thought happened, because that sure was how it seemed.  But I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer so I bet I missed something!  Although they did leave the Grand Serpent on a rock floating in space, you know, as the good guys do.  Half a sec, there was also that thing where Dan gets dumped by his would-be girlfriend because he was late after being abducted by aliens.  And the whole thing about today’s date, December 5th 2021, really amounted to nothing more than the day we watched this episode but has no other significance to the whole story.  And remember all the buildup to the Doctor’s past gets?  It literally flushed down the TARDIS toilet and can only be found if the Doctor really asks for it so… yeah.

The only thing I can hope is that with all the work Chibnall did this season to connect dots, maybe we’re not done connecting them and more of it will come together before he’s done.  But that doesn’t excuse this!  Here we had a chance to basically reboot Doctor Who, clearing out a lot of old material and making way for tons of new stuff, but as we see from the trailer for New Years Day, none of that amounts to anything because the Daleks are ALREADY back!  No new information comes of the Division. The fallout from the Flux is basically … well, this universal catastrophe was literally “hoovered” up.  There is no fallout.  Who knew all the Doctor needed was a good vacuum??  And Swarm and Azure get cast aside by the more powerful master … Swarm.  I mean, come on, with so many stunning visuals, they couldn’t give us one more monster?  They had to go with a duplicate Swarm???  Who then becomes a duplicate Doctor with a dark coat, so she can warn herself that her time as the lead actor in the series is coming to an end.  Been there, done that (Planet of the Dead)!

I should have known I was praising the series too soon, telling my friends to watch because Chibnall had actually surprised me with an intense season.  And yeah, I admit, he had – 4 of the 6 episodes are excellent.  One is solidly entertaining.  And then the finale left me waxing nostalgic for the Wilderness years where at least what was being written was quality stuff.  I tell a few of my friends that I think they are getting old and jaded by looking for that special something that originally pulled them into Science Fiction.  After this episode, I feel as old and jaded as I accuse them of becoming.  Where was my hero?  We had a multi-Doctor story, and I’ve yet to pinpoint where the hero was.  Certainly not the experience I had waited for but maybe my emotions are still in flux.  Better get out the hoover…  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Eve of the Daleks

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, Thirteenth Doctor and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Doctor Who Flux: The Vanquishers

  1. scifimike70 says:

    You both have very strong points to make. Particularly how much more watchable the Wilderness Years stories may have been on obvious levels. Certainly regarding villainous races like Sontarans thanks to Shakedown and Mindgame. When it comes to series arc closures in Doctor Who, when I reflect on The Armageddon Factor, Warriors’ Gate and The Ultimate Foe, I suppose we may expect an open mix of solidly good story material and over-the-top elements. There are favorable scenes here, certainly the potentially heart-to-heart scene for the Doctor and Azure, and the Doctor being more emotionally engaging with Yaz. The most profound scene is the Doctor’s decision to not risk losing her cherished identity when she asks the TARDIS to hide the watch from her. There can be some reminiscence of Total Recall in that decision. Being defined by who you are today, not your past, is of course always a most important message.

    Diane breaking up with Dan is very sad. But Dan can now be a companion and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. As for the genocide issues, which we’ve often addressed with some Star Trek reviews, it may be easier to get passed it this time, in the sense of course that we know the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans shall return, as they always do. And although I expected a natural astonishment in Kate’s reaction to finally seeing the Doctor as a woman, I’m glad to see that they got on so wonderfully on the spot. It’s always great to have strong female comradery in Doctor Who. It has been a bumpy ride. But Flux has found its special moments. Thanks again for all your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DrAcrossthePond says:

    For me, Rog, it’s all contingent upon whether or not CC (or future writers) use that material. I think it has potential but it felt like we were given a lot of buildup that amounted to nothing. I totally get it that she didn’t open the watch because, as we said, it overwrites her personality, but it didn’t. Think about it: Azure DOES open it, and nothing comes of it short of the weird house. Even if that was all we were getting, throw us a bone!
    Or do something else: Karavanista, who we’re unlikely to ever see again, could have gone out in a blaze of telling the Doctor something about her. If we see him again, I’ll take that back. But like Professor Jericho vs Diane, CC always seems to miss the target by just a bit. Not enough to make me hate the series by any means, but passing up great opportunities in favor of extending a mystery he is unlikely to feed into much more.
    Yes, he did a good thing in adding a layer of mystery to the character again. I just wish he did more than give us questions with no answers. 60 more years before those get answered…. ML

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      Agreed, the pre-Hartnell idea needs to be used more and I will be disappointed (and very surprised) if it isn’t. That will largely be a matter for future writers, though. Questions with no answers is a little unfair. We have a lot of detail about the Doctor’s past that we didn’t have before. We just don’t have *all* the answers, nor should we at this stage.

      Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        It will be interesting to know what Big Finish might have planned for it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Roger Pocock says:

        I don’t think their licence will allow them to do anything with it for a while yet, but I’ll be amazed if they don’t get a few dozen box sets out of the idea eventually. Endless possibilities, really.

        Liked by 1 person

      • scifimike70 says:

        It has seemed in some cases that the more spaced out over time, the better the impact for how Big Finish can build on something. The War Doctor’s prequel series took just two years since The Day Of The Doctor to get started. Class for BF also came just two years after the only TV season. So it’s at least hopeful that the story potential for any form of continuation will spark in proper time. As for whether or not we’ll see Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor come to BF for that, the creative potentials for her will be most interesting. Thanks, RP.

        Liked by 1 person

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