Tuesday 30 November 2021

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who: Flux Chapter Five - Survivors of the Flux

Doctor Who: Flux Chapter 5 - Survivors of the Flux

After that shocking cliffhanger at the end of Village of the Angels I think it's time for some answers. With only two episodes of Doctor Who: Flux left, there's still an awful lot of ground to cover when it comes to all the various plot threads that have been running through the miniseries. Who is Swarm? What do the Division want with the Doctor? Why is Joseph Williamson running around time and space? And how is the Doctor going to save everyone from the cataclysmic event that's ravaging the universe? In the fifth chapter of Flux we see what little is left of it, in a story entitled Survivors of the Flux. With this chapter the story returns to being solely written by show runner Chris Chibnall, with both this and the final episode being directed by Azhur Saleem.

The Doctor meets TecteunYaz in 1903

After being captured by the Weeping Angels and recalled the Division, the Doctor comes face to face with her adopted mother Tecteun once more. Here she learns about the true purpose of their Division, as well as the reasons behind their engineering of the Flux event. Meanwhile Yaz, Dan and Jericho, still trapped in 1901, travel the world to determine the date in which the Earth will be destroyed.

Elsewhere throughout time, a man named Prentis attempts to insert himself into the creation of UNIT - with the aim of one day becoming its director. He eventually succeeds in present day, however Kate Stewart is able to see through his lies and determine what he really is - a hostile alien, the Grand Serpent.

The Grand SerpentSwarm

Finally addressing the biggest elephant in the room, Survivors of the Flux is all about getting to the bottom of this Timeless Child plot line. Unfortunately the wonderful cliffhanger of the previous episode proves to be little more than an elaborate fake-out (the Doctor reverting back in the opening scene no less), but it is about time we got to the bottom of all this. Aboard a Division space craft she meets a lone Ood as well as the mysterious woman we met in Once, Upon Time - credited as Aswok but now revealed as the latest regeneration of Tecteun. It's revealed Tecteun is a leader in the Division, which has secretly been meddling in the growth of civilisations across time and space. Furthermore they created the Flux as a means to dispose of the Doctor, destroying the current universe they inhabit and moving to a parallel one - the one at the other end of the wormhole the Timeless Child was found under. Oh, and all the Doctor's lost memories are also being stored here in a Biodata module fob watch.

All of this is presented as a series of supposedly huge revelations, but unfortunately many of them fall flat. A secret sub-sect of Time Lords doing to exact thing that the Time Lords repeatedly chastise the Doctor for isn't momentous in the slightest, and neither is Doctor Who attempting to do some big multiverse reveal there have been multiverse stories in the show since the 1970s. Most of the runtime for these scenes is simply used to reiterate what we already knew about the Timeless Child (which in turn only aired last year, so it's hardly forgotten). Tecteun tries to tempt the Doctor into regaining her history, offering it at the expense of the universe. But it's no moral quandary at all, but of course the Doctor was never going to consider it in the first place. It's still entirely feasible that at the end of all this the Doctor will still just reject her past memories, rendering this whole endeavour rather pointless in the first place. While The Timeless Child may have presented all these big revelations in the first place, ultimately its moral was that you shouldn't let your past define you. There's still every possibility that Flux could just continue with that narrative.

TecteunThe Ood

The "big" Tecteun reveal also feels like a bit of a moot point, because by the end of the episode she's gone anyway - seemingly killed by Swarm and his gruesome powers. The audience barely had any time to take in who Tecteun even was - this wasn't some "Mister Saxon"-type character that had been peppered about the series prior, she was someone who briefly interrupted one already very dense episode with little to no fanfare. At the very least it was quite nice to see an Ood again, a race that's arguably another backbone of modern Doctor Who. Said Ood had some good comedy lines, and it was nice to see the Doctor play upon their inherent compassion in order to find out more about the Division's plans.

The worst thing of all about all the Doctor revelations being so uninspired and uninteresting is that the rest of Survivors of the Flux had so much potential. Separated from the Doctor by both time and space, Yaz, Dan and Jericho embark on a globe-trotting adventure that sees them accomplish more in an hour (well, technically three years by their time but still) than they probably have the entire series. Excavating tombs, fighting off assassins, meeting gurus and defacing landmarks - there's just so much fun and adventure oozing from these scenes that it isn't even worth thinking about the logistics behind the whole thing. After making such a great first impression alongside the Doctor in the previous episode Jericho also proves to be an excellent fit alongside Yaz and Dan too, making it all the more of a missed opportunity that he isn't ever going to be a full-time companion. Yaz's time with the Doctor has made her the perfect leader for this situation and here she charges in head-first, giving us that same confident character we saw at the start of Flux but have been largely denied throughout Yaz's "development". Meanwhile Dan just continues to be Dan, the perfect everyman to this weird and wonderful story. John Bishop continues to be an absolute joy in the role - so simple in his delivery and comedy but so down to earth and relatable too. It's a shame that he probably won't be hanging around the TARDIS for long.

Team TARDIS in NepalMeeting Joseph Williamson

The one downside to team TARDIS' world tour is that ultimately it doesn't actually achieve very much. They manage to get half a date for when the end of the world will take place (which cleverly happens to be the date the last episode of Flux will be airing), have a really awkward comedy moment with a guru and then tell Karvanista to come and pick them up from the past...which he's unable to do. While there actions are far from futile, you can't help wish they had a bit more purpose to them. With Karvanista proving to be no help salvation instead comes from another Flux regular that's been long overdue some explanation. As it turns out Joseph Williamson has been popping up all over the place because the tunnels he's been excavating in Liverpool are actually time tunnels leading all across the universe. Rather convenient for our heroes, but makes sense given how Earth has become central to the Flux event. Williamson himself probably wasn't all that necessary to the story thread, but it's nice that Chibnall was able to throw a bit of Liverpuddlian history into the story.

An even bigger shock than Williamson finally having purpose was that it appears we aren't quite done with the Grand Serpent just. The character made a rather unimpressive debut in Once, Upon Time but now he's back to invade UNIT - with Chibnall taking us on a behind the curtain tour of its origin. As well as some fan service moments like references to The War Machines and a brief voice cameo from the Brig himself, we see the Serpent attempt to slither his way up the ranks of UNIT - eventually succeeding only to come to blows with Kate Stewart. Kate is a character with tons of potential but has been largely underutilised onscreen, but in these brief moments she definitely lives up to her father's name - staring down the threat before escaping death to fight another day. It's then revealed that the Grand Serpent's plan was to drop Earth's defences so that the Sontarans can exact their revenge. While it's nice to see that the Sontarans' role in Flux is far from over, if the Grand Serpent is now going to be pushed aside that's rather underwhelming. It does seem they have some sort of agreement, but how much time can be devoted to it when there's so much else to cover in the finale is another matter entirely.

Kate Stewart ReturnsA Sontaran Alliance

As for the rest of Flux's regulars, it's rather slim pickings this week. Bel is pulled away from her rescue mission because she's flying around in a Lupari ship (bringing her into contact with Karvanista), while Vinder finds himself on the receiving end of a Passenger's beam - meeting Diane in the process. These are very small scenes, but comfortably set up their places for the finale and add more connections between all the major players. Swarm and Azure have a few choice moments, but only really come into importance at the very end of the episode. Between the Division, Swarm, the Sontarans and the Flux itself it's become impossible to pinpoint a "main" villain in this series, but Swarm's sidelining over the past few episodes certainly hasn't done him any favours. He was hyped up as one of the Doctor's oldest enemies and made a really strong first impression, but everything since then has been painfully underwhelming. 

The one thing that's never proved underwhelming about Flux though are the visuals. The whole series has felt cinematic, but Survivors of the Flux is particularly special in this regard. Whether it's the period drama aesthetic of Team TARDIS' 1903 adventures or the sci-fi magic of Tecteun's Seed Vault, this is one gorgeous looking episode. The production team have really excelled themselves with Flux given the current climate, and it'll be exciting to see how this era's last few episodes are able to propel these visuals even further.

Tecteun's Seed VaultWorld-hopping in 1904

Survivors of the Flux is an episode that offers some extremely strong non-Doctor related content, however the scenes involving the Doctor herself crumble under the weight of uninspiring lore reveals. Does the Doctor's past matter or not? Even the show seems unable to decide at this point, in which case one has to wonder whether all this controversy and upheaval was worth it in the first place. Worse still is that, ambitious as it may have been, Flux still feels like an incomplete story - and with only one part left to mop up all these lingering plot threads (although admittedly some may run into the future specials) it's hard to imagine how it's all going to get wrapped up neatly. Guess we'll find out next week, as The Vanquishers sees Sontarans, Daleks, Cybermen and more return for a good old fashioned (new) Doctor Who series finale.

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