Warning: This review post contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen The Halloween Apocalypse, please leave now and return once you’ve watched it.
On Halloween, all across the universe, terrifying forces are stirring. The life of Dan Lewis is about to change forever. Why is the Doctor chasing Karvanista? What is the Flux?
It’s difficult to know how to feel about The Halloween Apocalypse at this stage, not knowing where all this setup is leading us to. I really enjoyed this for the most part and I certainly did not feel the fifty-minute run time. It feels different to previous series openers – for one thing, the amount of aliens we get in this story is off the charts with maybe The Magician’s Apprentice giving it a run for its money.
By all rights, this story should be a mess. It throws a lot of characters who I assume we are going to see a lot more of over the next five weeks into the mix, and on first viewing I felt a bit like Chris Chibnall was throwing things at a wall and seeing what stuck, but on second viewing I was surprised at how coherent it felt. We obviously aren’t going to get all the answers straight away, and with the length of the series this wasn’t going to be a self-contained adventure, but what this does is get the major players on the board and get them to where the narrative needs them to be. There are some bits that work better than others; personally, I struggled with the 1820s Liverpool setting and was almost surprised when it cropped up again in the closing moments of the story, and the creepy house that Diane enters at the end of the story, not of her own volition, seemed to really come out of nowhere. This is an episode that moves at a breakneck pace at times, starting from the cold open and it only lets up occasionally, but I think that is necessary to establish a storyline that centralises around the Flux, a threat that will overwhelm the universe. Overall, there is a lot to like in Chris Chibnall’s script, whether it is some of the humour – the moments of the Doctor and Yaz trying to disengage their voice-activated handcuffs was really amusing, especially when the Doctor thinks that she may have programmed them when she was the Twelfth Doctor, leading to attempting a Scottish accent. The cliffhanger is certainly one of the best of this era and I’m really looking forward to next week.
Feeling paralysed? Proof that your life’s work has ended in failure.The Swarm
I was really impressed by the Swarm, who I feel cemented their menace from their first appearance when being checked up on by En Sentac and K-Toscs, leading to his inevitable escape. The story does well at establishing him as a powerful and substantial threat in the scene where he incapacitates then kills his jailors, and also in the scene where he appears in the bedroom of Anna and Jón, leading to her transformation into Azure. I like the fact that this is an antagonist who has more knowledge than the Doctor, giving them a direct advantage over her, due to the Time Lords wiping her memories of the Timeless Child Doctors. As mentioned above, there are a lot of aliens in this story and I think that they all look fantastic, especially Karvanista. Speaking of the canine alien, I really liked the admittedly bonkers, but suitably Doctor Who idea that a species of canines would be species-linked with humans, which is really rather sweet, and the idea of their fleet coming to rescue humanity from its oncoming doom is an interesting and quite novel idea. I did wonder what it meant for humans who are allergic though. The scene where Karvanista breaks into Dan’s house was really good fun, tying into the Halloween theme and Dan obviously not taking it too seriously. On paper, Karvanista and the Lupari shouldn’t work, but Craige Els does some great work here to make them seem grounded. He seems reluctant and weary of his obligation to Dan under the species bond, especially as he doesn’t like him and I’m looking forward to seeing where he fits into the whole Division mystery the Doctor is on one to solve. The Sontarans make a brief cameo here, and they do largely seem to have dropped the more heavily comedic element that was prolific with Strax – understandably as part of Strax’s character was that after his rebirth after A Good Man Goes To War some of him ‘didn’t make the return trip’, but the humour isn’t entirely gone. It’s nice to have Dan Starkey back though!
There are some stunning moments of cinematography throughout this story and some great images. The shots of galactic destruction by the Flux are great, and I particularly loved the shots of the TARDIS firing vortex energy into it towards the end of the story. I think that one of the most effective moments of the story is where the Weeping Angel approaches Claire as she attempts to get her keys in the lock whilst keeping her eyes on it. The audience knows what the most likely outcome will be, but it’s still incredibly effective television. My favourite of these shots might be those of the TARDIS crew looking out at space in one of this story’s few quiet moments. It is beautiful. I think the malfunctioning TARDIS ironically worked quite well, and I enjoyed the doors springing up everywhere, which is presumably linked to the Flux, but it’s also quite nice to see that it is still temperamental. It has felt like it has perhaps been too reliable in the Thirteenth Doctor’s era, and I particularly welcomed the return of the mallet, which sounds like an odd thing to say, but part of the TARDIS’s charm is that element of unreliability.
I like what this story does with the relationship between the Doctor and Yaz, as we spend a long time in this story with just a TARDIS duo before they meet up with new companion Dan. This feels like a much more lived-in relationship now and Yaz has certainly benefited from the departure of Graham and Ryan. She can now co-pilot the TARDIS but still has some gaps in her knowledge, like not knowing what the Cloister Bell is or that the TARDIS is alive, which I found surprising. Maybe it was overused in the Eccleston-Tennant era of the show that I just think it goes off every five minutes. Yaz is also less afraid of challenging the Doctor about her lying and Jodie Whittaker is good here too, especially in the scenes where she is getting visions of the Swarm and feeling the destructive power of the Flux. I have enjoyed her performances throughout her era and am trying to savour them now that we know she is leaving. John Bishop is pretty solid and has promise as a companion, even if we only see a little of him as part of this TARDIS crew. We learn quite a lot about his character – he is selfless, a people-person and unsurprisingly quite witty, and seems to have the start of quite easy chemistry with both Whittaker and Gill. The dynamic between the two companions allows Yaz to show off her knowledge about the TARDIS, which is quite nice as she has been almost a wallflower for too long, and I’m hoping that we get to see both companions used to their full potential here.
Verdict: The Halloween Apocalypse did a lot right in setting up this new serialised storyline, establishing the main players. It does so at a breakneck speed and introduces a lot of characters, and greatly benefits from a second viewing. 8/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Craige Els (Karvanista), Steve Oram (Joseph Williamson), Nadia Albina (Diane), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Rochenda Sandall (Azure/Anna), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Annabel Scholey (Claire), Jonathan Watson (Ritskaw), Dan Starkey (Kragar), Matthew Needham (Old Swarm), Sarah Amakwah (En Sentac), Charlie Oscar (K-Toscs), Richard Tate (Wilder) Paul Leonard (James Stonehouse), Heather Bleasdale (Wilma), John May (Kev), Gunnar Cauthery (Jón) & Barbara Fadden (Weeping Angel).
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Behind the Scenes
- This story marks the start of a serialised storyline, the first for the show since Survival.
- Flux is the first six part story since The Armageddon Factor.
- The first Doctor Who story to be set at Halloween. It is also the fifth episode to be set on the same date it was broadcast, joining The End of Time, Part One, The Big Bang, The Impossible Astronaut and Resolution.
- The episode was broadcast with a dedication to Julie Atkinson, a Foley artist on the show from 2005 to 2017.
- Dan Starkey has appeared in numerous roles across the revived series, most notably as the Sontaran nurse Strax in the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor eras.
- Heather Bleasdale appeared in the Sixth Doctor Main Range release Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories, acting in Blood on Santa’s Claw and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.
- Gunnar Cauthery has also appeared in Big Finish audio plays including The Haunting of Malkin Place, The Galileo Trap and The Well-Mannered War.
- Barbara Fadden previously appeared in Demons of the Punjab and has had many uncredited roles in the revived series, in stories such as The Lazarus Experiment, Turn Left, The Pandorica Opens and Deep Breath.
- Craig Els previously appeared in the teaser for the introduction of Dan Lewis, playing his friend in Welcome to the TARDIS…
I think there are some lovely moments of cinematography throughout this story, but my favourite moment is with Claire and the Weeping Angel as she attempts to open her front door.
Right now you don’t have a house. Very soon you may not have a planet and there may not be a universe.
Is she joking?
Are you joking?The Thirteenth Doctor, Dan Lewis and Yasmin Khan
Previous Thirteenth Doctor review: Revolution of the Daleks