Warning: This review post contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen The Vanquishers, please leave now and return once you’ve watched it.
In the final epic chapter in the story of the Flux, all hope is lost. The forces of darkness are in control. But when the monsters have won, who can you count upon to save the universe?
This episode was always going to be the one that struggled under the weight of the five preceding parts and ensuring that loose ends are tied up. I’ve really enjoyed this return to serialised storytelling but was concerned that if it failed to stick the landing it may impact on my enjoyment of the story as a whole. I do have some problems with the ending here, but I’m happy to report that it didn’t completely mess everything up.
The story does rush through the plot points to get us towards our resolution, and this does mean the episode sets off at breakneck speed resolving last week’s cliffhangers. Underwhelming resolutions to cliffhangers are not unusual in Doctor Who, but even so, I thought that both dilemmas were easily resolved here. Rather than building suspense and having clever solutions, these feel like ways of uniting disparate threads of the story to allow them to be wrapped up easily Equally, the way that Vinder and Di escaped the Passenger felt a little too easy and would have appreciated some kind of indication that Di was making plans for her escape whilst in captivity in Passenger during some of the previous weeks. It is perhaps a bit unfair to lay this at this episode’s door, but it really reminded me of how easily the Doctor and Jack were able to escape from the prison in Revolution of the Daleks. There is a lot this episode does right though, and the main part of this is splitting the Doctor across three points of time, as this was again a useful device to allow the relevant threads to be knitted together. I think that, for the most part, this works okay, even if sometimes the gears can crunch a little bit too much in the narrative and conclusions get rushed. I think the worst case of this is the ultimate resolution to the Flux, as we are still no clearer at the end of the story what is left of the Universe, which has presumably been partially restored since (spoilers) the Daleks are back at New Year. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of this though, even when Dan is reunited with the Doctor and Yaz and asks where they are going. I really hope we get answers soon, as this feels like a glaring oversight – my guess is that when Time reunified the Doctor, it also did something to the universe, but an explanatory line of dialogue would seriously not have gone amiss. There do certainly seem to be a lot of stars when Karvanista, Bel and Vinder leave the Doctor.
This story does seem to close the door, for now, on the Timeless Child arc and the subject of the Doctor’s missing memories. We learn what the link is between Karvanista and the Doctor – he was a companion or an ally to Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor and he has a device in his brain that will kill him if he starts talking about Division or the times they shared. I was quite glad that this story did not show us the memories that the Doctor has lost, though, as it retains the mystery around the character and it is actually quite nice that the Doctor does not want to know what happened in the years serving under Division. Karvanista adds a sense of tragedy to these years but we as an audience don’t really need to see it. In my opinion, the fact that the Doctor has these memories back and stored safely in the TARDIS currently seems to be more important to the character than having them in her consciousness. This means that she cannot be held to ransom by malicious forces, like Division or Swarm, for the sake of these lost memories.
Peoples of the Universe, the warriors of Sontar offer you hope. To our long-time foes on the battlefield, we make this offer. In the face of an event which may extinguish us all, we offer the three fingered hand of uneasy alliance. We must join together to survive this threat against us. Except Rutans. Rutans, you remain hideous scum and must be obliterated.Commander Stenck
The Sontarans are probably my favourite part of this story and the arc as a whole. They have retained an element of their silliness with the addition of a chocolate addiction established in this story, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen them so brutal and effective as we have in this story. The casual way that the near genocide of the Lupari race is discussed is horrific and, along with the battlefield scene in War of the Sontarans, has re-established them as a force to be reckoned with in this Universe again. I’m not sure The Vanquishers has an ultimate big bad, as all the adversaries share an equal amount of focus, but it is nice to see the Sontarans in that role and the traditional two of the Daleks and Cybermen sidelined, although of course, both do appear here, but actually appear fairly fleetingly onscreen. Both actors playing the Sontarans do a great job, which is of course, old hat for Dan Starkey, but of course he deserves praise all the same, and new addition Jonathan Watson is great as Commander Stenck. Their ultimate plan, to confirm Sontaran universal dominance by wiping out their rivals, They are, of course, not really bothered about their alliance with the Grand Serpent once his usefulness to them has gone, and he feels sidelined to a certain extent. Parkinson does his best with what he is given to do, and still feels like a threat, and the creepy death snake thing still fills me with dread, so kudos to the production team for making that look so creepy.
Departing so soon?
Neigbourhood went downhill.Swarm, Azure and the Thirteenth Doctor
After being sidelined for the best part of two episodes, the Ravagers are back with a vengeance here, and are still quite menacing. Azure gets more to do here than she has done previously and Rochenda Sandall rises to the challenge admirably especially in her scene discussing their plan to repeatedly watch the final destruction of the universe on repeat. I feel that they lost some of their impact last week, and the packed narrative meant that they probably didn’t get the focus they deserved this time out, but Sam Spruell and Sandall have contributed to my enjoyment of this storyline.
I’ve been saying that Jodie Whittaker is getting better and better and this episode is no exception. She is superb playing three versions of the Doctor here, divided between her companions across the plot threads and in the interrogation scene with the Grand Serpent. She turns that scene completely on its head, even before there are two of her in the scene, and both she and Parkinson play it beautifully. I’ve seen some comments about the fact that the Doctor is essentially okay with wiping out three races in this story, but I feel that this isn’t a new dilemma for the Doctor – think about the Racnoss in The Christmas Invasion, or the army of the Daleks in Journeys End. The Doctor’s hands not always been clean, and whilst this didn’t entirely sit comfortably with me, I did not think it was out of character for the Time Lord.
Something that is really lovely about this episode is the fact that an obvious bond has built up between the Doctor’s two companions, Dan and Yaz. This series has been great for Mandip Gill as it has allowed Yaz to grow and her relationship with the Doctor has clearly deepened over this time. It’s possibly a bit strange to describe Dan as a companion, considering that he has not travelled with the Doctor very much up to this point – he is arguably more of Yaz’s companion than the Time Lord’s at this point. I certainly wasn’t expecting John Bishop to stay in the TARDIS beyond this episode, so that was a pleasant surprise as he has managed to prove himself to be a great addition to the show. I suppose with Di needing more time to deal with the fallout of this, it makes sense for him to continue travelling with the Doctor – there is not really anything in Liverpool for him at the moment.
We went all over the world. She was amazing. She is amazing.Dan Lewis
The TARDIS is quite crowded in this story, and so most of the cast outside of the main trio don’t get a lot to do. Bel is definitely much more likable than Vinder by the end of this series, capable of holding her own and trusted by the Doctor to go off and hold her own against the Sontarans. Meanwhile, Joseph Williamson, after being key to bringing the Doctor together with her friends, doesn’t really contribute anything else. Kate is hiding out in Joseph Williamson’s tunnels to lead the human resistance against Sontaran occupation, something that may make the return of UNIT seem like a possibility before the end of this era. I think that we are massively likely to see her at least once again, which is great as Redgrave is a delight as Kate and I’ve really enjoyed listening to the modern UNIT Big Finish stories recently, blissfully unaware that she would crop up here. Karvanista does get some of the main emotional beats here; dealing with the death of 7 billion of his people is an emotional gut-punch, equalled only by an almost punch-the-air moment as he takes his revenge on the Sontarans. I was sad to see Jericho’s fate – Kevin McNally has given life to one of the best characters in this series, and it was great to see this character experience things to give him a more rounded life. I really hoped that he would escape, but I think his card was probably numbered from the start.
Verdict: The Vanquishers manages to wrap up a lot of the dangling plot threads but leaves the main one frustratingly unanswered. There are good performances here, especially Whittaker who plays three parts of her personality, and the story is enjoyable. 7/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Steve Oram (Williamson), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Craig Els (Karvanista), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck), Dan Starkey (Senstarg/Shallo/Kragar), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Nadia Albina (Diane), Simon Carew (Ood), Silas Carson (Voice of the Ood), Jonny Mathers (Passenger), Sonny Walker (Stevie (Victim of the Grand Serpent)) & Nicholas Briggs (Voices of the Cybermen and Daleks)
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Azhur Saleem
Behind the Scenes
- This story is the third to take place on the transmission date in Series 13, and the second to take place on the exact date. Village of the Angels took place on the same date, but in 1967.
The interrogation scene between the Grand Serpent and the Doctor might be one of my favourite scenes with the Doctor so far.
You can call me Grand Serpent.
Is that what your parents called you? “Oh, look, darling, so cute.”The Grand Serpent and the Thirteenth Doctor
Previous Thirteenth Doctor story: Survivors of the Flux