It’s fair to say that most fans entered into Doctor Who season 13, a six-part event series titled Doctor Who: Flux with high expectations. It’s star Jodie Whittaker’s final season as the Doctor (save for a handful of specials that will air leading up to her regeneration in 2022). It was promoted as a huge adventure with an interconnected story that spanned six episodes rather than six standalone installments. And after the series’ highly uneven twelfth season, the idea of a story that allowed us to really drill down into the Doctor, Yaz, and new companion Dan Lewis felt like a necessary breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, the actual product has not really lived up to the hype. Five episodes in to Doctor Who: Flux, the much-ballyhooed single interconnected story has turned out to be a confusing mess, teeming with nearly a dozen ancillary characters the show doesn’t have time to fully explore. Rather than take the opportunity to tell a single story that finally explores what really makes the Thirteenth Doctor tick – the Chris Chibnall era has not been particularly interested in giving this version of the Time Lord much in the way of interiority – the show has chosen to tell roughly six different stories mashed into one, and we’re all left to simply hope that they’ll manage to tie together and pay off in the end.
(Which, for the record, hasn’t happened yet, and there’s only one episode to go.)
Doctor Who: Flux is full of good ideas when taken individually: The Lupari is the best new race of aliens this show has introduced in quite a while. Dan Lewis is a surprisingly charming new companion. Swarm and Azure are visually striking villains. And, on paper, the idea of a universe devouring anomaly is a compelling external threat. Even turning the Doctor into a Weeping Angel is a conceptually thrilling concept.
But, thus far, none of these things have actually really mattered – or even been that interesting to watch play out – and it’s incredibly frustrating. The origins of the Flux are as pedestrian as any of us might have feared, and tie back to the worst narrative thread of the Chibnall era: The bonkers Timeless Child storyline that rewrites the Doctor’s own history to no real end. (Are there people out there who think the concept of Division is interesting? Please tell me your secrets.) In fact, the Flux…is strangely weak and unimportant for an event that’s meant to literally devour an entire universe. (Is it…done now? I’m ashamed to admit I don’t even know.)
Despite being far more interesting and charming than any of us could have possibly expected, Dan has no real arc to speak of, other than his adorable protected status by way of the fiercely loyal Kavanista. He’s built a great rapport with Yaz, but the two have been shunted out of the Doctor’s orbit in various ways for most of the season, so much so that I’m not entirely sure it’s even fair to call him a “companion” at the moment.
As for Yaz, Chibnall’s Doctor Who remains as generally uninterested in her as it ever been, treating her at the same distant, arm’s length approach it has for the entirety of her run. (The one moment in “Survivors of the Flux” that felt emotional – the revelation that she’s watched the Doctor’s warning message so often she can recite her lines to it – would have probably landed a lot harder if this show had bothered to actually develop their relationship onscreen.)
And then there’s the small problem of the fact that we’re five-sixths of the way through this story and I’m not sure I can entirely explain to you what the story actually is.
The Flux has been unleashed to erase both the universe and the Doctor, but her evil mother (what a nonsurprise that revelation was?) apparently also wants her to return to Division because…reasons? Yaz, Jericho, and Dan are trying to pinpoint when the end of the world will happen (is there some reason it just…isn’t the date Dan was originally taken?) in order to…I don’t know, not save it from 1904. (Doctor Who is infuriatingly uninterested in the fact that these people have spent three years living out of time.)
The Grand Serpent has painstakingly infiltrated UNIT over many years and, obviously, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart has been smart enough to figure that out, but this entire subplot feels like it’s happening on a different show. Bel and Vinder’s star-crossed love story is being portrayed by a pair of extremely winning actors, but, again, seems to be part of an entirely different show. (Though I have a real fear that the shock revelation to close things out next week will be that they are somehow the Doctor’s parents.) What are Swarm and Azure even doing? Why does any of this matter?
I mean, the Doctor literally became a Weeping Angel and the show did nothing at all with it. (And, in fact, solved this crisis so easily that I’m honestly angry that they even bothered to include it.)
This season is a mess. And with just one episode remaining, it seems honestly impossible that the show will manage to even tie everything up at all, let alone in a way that feels satisfactory. And I truly, down in my bones, wish I didn’t feel that way, but I do, and maybe it’s time to stop making excuses for a season that is just, when it comes right down to it, not very good.
What are your thoughts on Doctor Who: Flux?