As the forces of evil mass, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan face perilous journeys and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their quest for survival…
Reviewed by Tim Robins
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
During Sunday’s Doctor Who episode, “Survivors of the Flux”, I began to wonder if the title was referring to the audience or, more specifically, me. There are lots of ways to tell a story and this was certainly one of them. But since the first episode of this current story, I have grown exhausted by episodes designed mainly to set up other episodes. There’s a difference between exciting revelations and info-bombing. The only question I was left with is – why was the BBC reportedly happy with this?
After the episode ended, a friend looked at me and said, “Good luck with your review” before disappearing into the night, leaving only cackling laughter ringing in my ears. And yet I know there are fans who loved the episode. What am I missing?
Perhaps it’s my age. I didn’t mind incoherent nonsense back in the day; Tim Burton’s Batman and Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen are among my top favourite films. But there’s a difference between an incoherent plot and an incoherent emotional tone.
“Survivors of the Flux” featured stuff happening. A character called “The Grand Serpent” (last seen in some other episode, in which he postured around a space station while being evil in an entirely conventional way) had now inserted himself across time in order to shape the formation of UNIT and so leave Earth wide-open for the Sontaran invasion of Earth’s history which, I believe, we already saw in episode two. Although that would mean that we’ve also already seen how they will be defeated by Dan and ‘Carbonara’ – the pasta sauce that walks like a dog that walks like a man. (A weak joke, I know, but not as weak as the juxtaposition of a “cute” time and space dog who is actually an alien warrior, a trait undermined every time we see his fursona on screen).
Craig Parkinson, as “The Grand Serpent”, was panto-perfect but I distracted myself by wondering if he was the Mara (from Kinda and Snakedance), who marked those possessed with a living snake tattoo on their victim’s hands. “The Grand Serpent” was able to manifest snaky millipede things from the mouths of UNIT big-wigs. They were an interesting addition to Doctor Who’s menagerie of monsters, but the laboured set up between his big snakiness and Robert Bathurst’s Farquhar, a UNIT co-founder, was cursed with on-the-nose, spell it all out why don’t you, dialogue worthy of the stories in a 1960s Dr Who Annual. This style of writing permeated much of the show.
Frankly, the concept of a time-travelling alien infiltrating UNIT on behalf of a classic Doctor Who monster would have been enough for at least two episodes on their own, but no. Instead, we were also treated to: time guff from The Ravagers, tedious Time Lord continuity and scenes of Yaz, Dan and Professor Jericho running around Earth in 1904, in the years following their temporal banishment last week by the Weeping Angels where, amongst a host of other characters, they bumped into the Liverpudlian time tunneller and exposition dumper Joseph Williamson (Steve Oram).
I have no idea why Yaz et al felt the need to go to the Great Wall of China to write a huge cry for help for Karvinista, unless it was related to the claim about being able to see the wall from space (you can’t). And if Dan’s Lupari protector was really looking out for him, wouldn’t Liverpool be the more obvious location?
But that’s just nitpicking. As is the observation that the Time Lords and their make-it-up-as-you-go-along history has always been the most boring part of Doctor Who’s mythology. Or that having a character who has lost their memory isn’t really that interesting, or dramatic, whereas past history has shown The Doctor being a mystery to others is.
No, the biggest problem for me was the ever-changing emotional tone. For all of one minute, I felt for the Doctor’s plight when she discovered that she was kidnapped as a baby by Time Lady Tecteun (Barbara Flynn) – but only for a minute, before I was expected to feel an exhausting array of emotions including: happiness, horror, excitement, terror and, finally, being awestruck, whilst picking myself off the floor from laughing at what I suppose was intended to be a rich vein of comedy gold.
Then again, this is a six-part story and no episode has felt as much as just one episode in a six-part story as this episode (although some have come close). Next week – Bel gives birth to The Doctor, The Great Serpent eats his own tail and I stare into the middle distance for the rest of my life… because if this is what counts as entertaining television, I’m giving up reviewing right here and now…
(No, Tim! Stay! We hang on your every word! Our week isn’t complete without your reviews! – Absolutely no one*).
Dear reader, a review is an opinion. Other opinions are available, including your own.
* Absolutely untrue! I enjoy Tim’s reviews, even if I might not agree with them – Ed
• Doctor Who is available to watch on BBC iPlayer | Official Web Site: www.doctorwho.tv
Doctor Who Magazine Issue 571, available now, reveals more about the first two “Flux” episodes, The Halloween Apocalypse and War of the Sontarans, Chris Chibnall’s production notes about crafting modern Who’s first six-parter, and interviews with Sam Spruell (Swarm) and Rochenda Sandall (Azure). Three variant covers are on offer, all available from newsagents and Panini direct | Azure | Swarm | Skaak
The Doctor: Jodie Whittaker
Yasmin Khan: Mandip Gill
Dan Lewis: John Bishop
Professor Jericho: Kevin McNally
Farquhar: Robert Bathurst
Awsok: Barbara Flynn
Prentis/Grand Serpent: Craig Parkinson
Bel: Thaddea Graham
Azure: Rochenda Sandall
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Azhur Saleem
Executive Producer: Matt Strevens
Executive Producer: Nikki Wilson
Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall
More Reviews and Production Information
Connor Johnston shared this flux chart – sorry, flow chart – on Twitter: “5 Episodes. 18 Paths. 1 Flux. Follow the paths of each character throughout Doctor Who Flux as we head towards the final chapter…”
“When I tell you this was the 100th attempt at trying to make this I am not even joking,” he added!
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide.
His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be a card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.