Warning: This review post contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen Survivors of the Flux, please leave now and return once you’ve watched it.
As the forces of evil mass, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan face perilous journeys and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their quest for survival.
Since the week before The Name of the Doctor, I have always approached the end of a series of Doctor Who with a sense of trepidation. Ultimately, I think that this is because of my love for the show, not wanting the finale to be a disappointment and perhaps getting my hopes up slightly too high. It’s unusual for me to start having these thoughts before the penultimate episode, but perhaps because there is just so much going on in Flux. Ultimately, this story doesn’t just tie-up loose ends across this series but across this era as a whole.
There’s a lot going on in this story, and I think it is for the most part well balanced, even if some bits are weaker than others. I think that it is quite difficult to judge the Doctor’s plot until we get some form of resolution next week, but it is certainly not something that really grabbed me terribly much. It does give us some answers to questions that we’ve had since the beginning, such as the origins of the Flux, a Division weapon to ultimately use against the Doctor’s universe as punishment for her choice to leave Division to explore the Universe. Perhaps it is the reveal of a multiverse that makes this a bit tedious – especially as arguably the biggest hitters in cinema at the moment, Marvel, are also expanding into this area now, and their shows Loki and What If…? have trodden this ground recently, as have DC with the Arrowverse. I don’t mind the Timeless Child idea and it has given us one of the best elements of the Whittaker and Chibnall era, the Fugitive Doctor, and the Division have been one of the more intriguing parts of this series. They are, of course, responsible for the Flux and indirectly responsible for Swarm being released from his prison, way back in The Halloween Apocalypse. As the Division prepares to cross the barrier between the dying universe and another, new universe, it feels as though there has to be some reset button somewhere to reboot the main universe, or we’re actually going into a new universe.
I think, ultimately, Division irritates me a little bit because of the problems that all-seeing entities ultimately have – their absence becomes glaring when considering the events we’ve seen that they haven’t been involved in. Maybe we’ll get some explanation for this next week, but I won’t hold my breath. We do at least get answers to what has happened to the people we saw abducted last week, who seem to be powering Swarm and Azure’s plans to do…something. With the return of the Sontarans, next week feels like it will be jam-packed whilst trying to provide a satisfying finale.
I find myself marooned a decade before I was born, in a century where I have a little too much knowledge of the atrocities to come.Professor Eustacius Jericho
I think where this story really shines, however, is in the majority of its subplots – I didn’t really feel like the Vinder and Bel subplot was very much advanced by them barely missing each other this week. However, something I was not expecting was the globe-trotting adventures of Yaz, Dan and Eustacius Jericho, as they attempt to decipher an ancient inscription. The Indiana Jones homage was great fun as well as giving us some action in a story that featured quite a lot of exposition and dialogue, and Professor Jericho adds another layer into the relationship between Dan and Yaz, and he never feels like he’s unnecessary. The scene with them in Mexico in 1904 is great fun, establishing their dynamic with a sense of intrigue and some humour as Dan and Jericho are unable to use the counterweight pulley system properly. There’s heart here too, as shown by the discussion the trio have in Constantinople waiting for the inscription to be translated, with Dan expressing concern that they may never get back to their own time and Jericho stating that the situation isn’t ideal for him either. Yaz is the most matter-of-fact in these scenes – her time with the Doctor has finally started paying off in this series – but her ‘exchange’ with the hologram of the Doctor is a hint that she’s not dealing with this as well as she would like. Perhaps this plot thread works best because it ties some of the more disparate elements and characters together, as Karvanista and Bel look to become fast allies in the battle for Earth against the Sontaran fleet and we finally get answers as to why Joseph Williamson keeps cropping up in the most unlikely places.
Anybody who has followed my review of Doctor Who, especially the Third Doctor stories will know that I am incredibly fond of UNIT, the Brigadier and of course, Kate Stewart, who makes a long-awaited return here. The plot with the Grand Serpent slyly manipulating his way to the top of UNIT as Prentis, murdering Farquahar and civil servants who get in his way. This glimpse through the history of British division of UNIT is full of some fan-pleasing moments, including featuring the infamous UNIT headquarters sign, an audio cameo by the Brigadier and a mention of The War Machines and a name drop for Osgood. It goes some way to explaining what happened to UNIT, between the end of the Capaldi era and Resolution, even if they do seem to have been active in some capacity.
Directorially, there are some great moments here, starting from the first moments with the shot of the Weeping Angels seemingly going on forever, and I really loved the effect of the Doctor breaking out the casing, and being put back into it – both of which were really effective. All of the more action-heavy stuff with Yaz, Dan and Jericho and Karvanista and Bel was really nicely handled but Azhur Saleem manages to make the more emotional scenes land too, whether this is brief moments of melancholy or scenes like the discussion with the Doctor. He, and the score, lend a real sense of unease and menace around the Grand Serpent and this adds to the sense of trepidation around Kate’s meeting with him – and I am not afraid to say that my heart was in my mouth in that scene. Tecteun’s TARDIS is also a beautiful piece of design, looking like an arboretum holding the multiversal secrets.
The guest cast are pretty strong here, although I did feel that Barbara Flynn was perhaps wasted as Tecteun, with this story not really giving her very much to do except spout exposition and her death at the hands of the Swarm doesn’t really make much of an impact. Craig Parkinson is great as the Grand Serpent, malevolent and suitably slimy, and that’s not even factoring in the serpents he can seemingly form. In his role as Prentis, he does feel like he could believably be another civil servant thorn in the Brigadier and Jon Pertwee’s side. His menace is perhaps best demonstrated when he spins a knife at his lunch with the outgoing UNIT official slowly, before offing him in his car later. The Grand Serpent has been forced to go solo, presumably due to the effects of the Flux. Jemma Redgrave is superb as Kate Stewart, perfectly forceful as she attempts to defend UNIT and her family’s legacy, and I am so glad she survived to fight another day. Her speech to the Grand Serpent is one of this story’s undoubted highlights, perfectly demonstrating her intelligence and ability that saw her rise to her position of the Head of UNIT. Robert Bathhurst’s Farquahar, on the other hand, seems to be a spiritual precursor to all those other officers in UNIT who are never quite sure whether to take the Doctor seriously or not.
I see you. I see you. Whatever you are. Hiding in plain sight for so long. Barely aging. You’re gambling that nobody cares, that nobody looks at UNIT any more. But I care. More than anyone.Kate Stewart
It’s weird to think that we haven’t seen our TARDIS team together really since Once, Upon Time and they haven’t really operated together for the majority of this series. That being said, it has allowed all three leads to shine, along with allowing for the introduction of the recurring and endearing Professor Jericho. Whittaker gets more and more chances to show different sides of her personality, especially good in her scenes confronting Tecteun and in her hologram “conversation” with Yaz. Gill again rises to lead her team in the pursuit of finding out when Earth’s eventual destruction will be, and they have a really nice dynamic, especially when they meet with the playful hermit in the mountains. Bishop still feels like a natural as a part of this team, although I’m fully expecting him to leave at the end of this mini-series. Dan’s knowledge of Liverpool and its history comes in useful when the story brings Williamson back in, revealing that his tunnels lead to various points of space and time.
Hey, Dan! Are you from Liverpool? Why have you never mentioned it?Yasmin Khan
Verdict: A story in which the subplots are possibly more interesting than the main plot. It’s all setting up an intriguing finale, which I hope will increase my opinion of this episode. The companions’ adventure and the UNIT history stuff are great though. 7/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Barbara Flynn (Tecteun), Craig Parkinson (Grand Serpent/Prentis), Robert Bathurst (Farquhar), Craige Els (Karvanista), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Nadia Albina (Diane), Nicholas Blane (Millington), Steve Oram (Williamson), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck), Barbara Fadden, Isla Moody and Lowri Brown (Weeping Angels), Simon Carew (Ood), Silas Carson (Voice of the Ood), Guy List (Waiter), Jonny Mathers (Passenger), Nicholas Courtney (Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart), Kammy Darweish (Kumar) & George Caple (Alfie).
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Azhur Saleem
Behind the Scenes
- The first story in this series not to feature a cold open.
- This story also reveals that the end of the Earth will come on 5th December, the date of broadcast of the final part, The Vanquishers.
- The audio cameo of the late great Nicholas Courtney is taken from Part 4 of Terror of the Autons:
Lethbridge-Stewart here; I want a call to the RAF.Corporal (well, really it’s the Brig, isn’t it?) Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
- Jemma Redgrave reprises her role of Kate Stewart, having last appeared in The Zygon Invasion. Redgrave has returned to the role for Big Finish, most recently at the time of writing in UNIT Nemesis 1, alongside Ingrid Oliver as Osgood.
- Robert Bathurst appeared as Padrac in the Eighth Doctor audio book series Doom Coalition.
The Indiana Jones-esque sequence with the companions in the temple in Mexico is great fun.
I’m probably worried for you, if you’re hearing this. And I’m sure I miss you.
I miss you too.
I know you do. I hope you said ‘I miss you too’, or else that bit’s weird.The Thirteenth Doctor and Yasmin Khan
Previous Thirteenth Doctor Review: Village of the Angels