Doctor Who recap: Flux chapter six – The Vanquishers

·7 min read

“What an awfully big adventure,” said Kevin McNally’s Prof Jericho as he faced certain death at the hands of either a Sontaran or the Flux, or possibly both simultaneously. And in fairness to executive producers Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens, in pre-publicity they promised that Doctor Who: Flux was going to be an awfully big adventure. It was.

Did chapter six work as a standalone episode where Sontarans invaded Earth and used it as a base to conquer what was left of the universe? Yes. Did it work as a unifying story to tie together all the disparate threads of the past six weeks? Not always.

First up, things that were good. The portrayal of the Sontarans trod the line well from enjoyable buffoonery (getting addicted to chocolate, being regularly thwacked on the head) to grimness (not even blinking at the idea of wiping out the entire Lupari species to further their aims).

Steve Oram’s Joseph Williamson got back to his time, like Vincent van Gogh before him, knowing that his work was valued. And Jemma Redgrave was imperious as Kate Stewart. She said she hoped she would see this Doctor again. I hope we see them together again, too.

Chibnall delivered a multi-Doctor story a la The Three Doctors – even to the point of having two Doctors work together while one was stranded elsewhere – but with all three Doctors being the 13th Doctor. That allowed Jodie Whittaker to drive the plot forward in every location. It also made her vocalised exposition much more bearable when it was being delivered as a chat with herself over the Tardis console.

What didn’t work so well? They had earned victory in the end, because the Doctor had convinced the Ood stationed at Division to weaken the Flux, she herself had distracted the Ravagers and sabotaged the Sontarans’ plan, and Di (Nadia Albina) had inspired the idea of hoovering the rest of the Flux up with Passenger. However, the climax of the Big Bad arc was essentially that an even Bigger Bad rocked up, said they were displeased with failure, and bumped off Swarm (Sam Spruell) and Azure with very little fanfare. Before that, I thought Rochenda Sandall’s Azure was the pick of the bunch this week – she delighted in taunting the Doctor.

Whether this episode is a storytelling success depends on what comes next. If the following three specials pick up the loose threads as we head towards this Doctor’s regeneration, it may have worked as a springboard for those stories. If they don’t, and the end of the divisive Timeless Child arc is “The Doctor hides a fob watch inside the Tardis and we never mention it again,” that is rather more “OK, so what was the point of all that?”

The lengthy melancholy coda to this episode of everybody – except Prof Jericho – getting back to their correct space and time (but all seem to have lost something) also took the wind out of chapter six’s sails. But it was, for me, a decent episode that ended what was the best, most consistent season of the Whittaker era.

Sum it up in one sentence?

Time kills the Doctor’s enemies while she saves her friends and what is left of the universe; then she puts aside her quest for her hidden memories and mysterious past lives – or does she?

Life on board the Tardis

“Come on, Scouse. Let Yorkshire show you the way!” was probably the line of the night. I take my hat off to Mandip Gill’s Yaz, who has finally been allowed to be a strong, organised, effective companion in this series. I saw someone make the point that Dan (John Bishop) has hardly even spent hours with the Doctor, but he has spent years off screen with Yaz as the leader, and his tribute to her when the Doctor arrived in the Williamson tunnels felt apt.

The scene where Yaz and the Doctor spoke together alone in the Tardis felt like the closest we’ll get to the Thirteen-Yasmin “Thasmin” relationship so many in fandom have invested in. But I can’t be the only person who felt sad for Dan that Di’s reaction to her ordeal was to push him away for being late for their date-not-a-date at Halloween. At least it gave him motivation to get into the Tardis and leave Liverpool behind.

One of the most powerful scenes was about the life on board the Tardis we presumably won’t ever see, as imprisoned together on the Sontaran ship, it slowly dawned on the Doctor that Karvanista used to be her companion and that she had broken his heart. They must have gone through many scenarios just like that which she can’t remember. There’s a spin-off waiting for Jo Martin (the Fugitive Doctor) and Craige Els’ adorably grumpy space-dog character as her companion out there somewhere.

Mysteries and questions

For a series that threatened to answer so many questions and provide so many reveals, as an episode, The Vanquishers just … didn’t. Bel and Vinder weren’t revealed to be anybody important’s parents. We never saw any of the Doctor’s former lives. Nobody was the Rani in disguise. And Annabel Scholey’s Claire – to my great chagrin – may have made a welcome return and been a brilliant psychic, pivotal to the Sontarans’ plans, but was not revealed to be anybody who would permanently join the Tardis crew.

I felt especially teased in the scene where Craig Parkinson was torturing the Doctor, and she commented on his double pulse, and he said “You can call me…” and it wasn’t a build-up to him being the Master. He was a joy as the Grand Serpent, though, and deserved his fate.

Talking of Bel (Thaddea Graham) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson), did we really just watch six episodes of their quest to find each other to only see two scenes of them together, one of which was “By the way, we are having a baby?” and then that’s it? Surely not? But then last week I couldn’t believe they’d killed off Tecteun.

And did the Flux story really finish with most of the universe destroyed and the Doctor not trying to use the “seed bank” Tecteun mentioned on Division’s space station to try to restore and repopulate it?

Deeper into the vortex

  • The opening salvo of Commander Stenek’s message to space echoed the words of Anthony Ainley’s Master in 1981’s Logopolis, where he hooked up a microphone to a radio telescope on Earth and gleefully announced: “Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully. The message that follows is vital to the future of you all.”

  • Stenek also referred to the Rutans. Long cited as the perpetual enemies of the Sontarans, we only saw them once, in the 1977 Tom Baker story Horror of Fang Rock.

  • Given the not exactly cryptic warning from the Time entity at the end, it may well end up that Hot Camp Master™ – as Dan Martin used to call him – may have been pulling the strings all along. We will surely see him again before Whittaker leaves?

  • I got so excited about hearing Nicholas Courtney’s voice last week that I failed to notice they’d given him the wrong rank and then misspelled his character’s name in the credits. You’d think, in 2021, fan service like this would get the details right. But then, I think I’ve spelled Karvanista about five different ways in these recaps, so glass houses/stones, etc.

  • Sony has officially acquired Bad Wolf, which will be producing series 14 of Doctor Who for the BBC.

  • If the Sontarans killed all the Lupari, does that mean they killed my species-bonded personal walking-talking space dog? I’m furious.

Next time

There are three more Whittaker episodes left, starting with a New Year’s Day special that features Adjani Salmon, Aisling Bea, Pauline McLynn and, it turns out, Daleks! If you need more Doctor Who in the meantime, there is a new and enjoyable box-set of three audio adventures starring ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston reprising his TV role. Fantastic!

Flux / Series 13

Chapter one: The Halloween Apocalypse
Chapter two: War of the Sontarans
Chapter three: Once, Upon Time
Chapter four: Village of the Angels
Chapter five: Survivors of the Flux
Chapter six: The Vanquishers
New Year's Special: Eve of the Daleks

Series 38 / Season 12

Episode 1: Spyfall part one
Episode 2: Spyfall part two
Episode 3: Orphan 55
Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon
Episode 6: Praxeus
Episode 7: Can You Hear Me?
Episode 8: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen
Episode 10: The Timeless Children
New Year's special: Revolution of the Daleks

Series 37 / Season 11

Episode 1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Episode 2: The Ghost Monument
Episode 3: Rosa
Episode 4: Arachnids in the UK
Episode 5: The Tsuangra Condundrum
Episode 6: Demons of the Punjab
Episode 7: Kerblam!
Episode 8: The Witchfinders
Episode 9: It Takes You Away
Episode 10: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
New Year's special: Resolution

Series 36 / Season 10

Episode 1: The Pilot
Episode 2: Smile
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Episode 5: Oxygen
Episode 6: Extremis
Episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Episode 8: The Lie of the Land
Episode 9: Empress of Mars
Episode 10: The Eaters of Light
Episode 11: World Enough and Time
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls
2017 Christmas special: Twice Upon A Time

Series 35 / Season 9

Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice
Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar
Episode 3: Under The Lake
Episode 4: Before The Flood
Episode 5: The Girl Who Died
Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived
Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion
Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion
Episode 9: Sleep No More
Episode 10: Face The Raven
Episode 11: Heaven Sent
Episode 12: Hell Bent
2015 Christmas special: The Husbands of River Song
2016 Christmas special: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Series 34 / Season 8

Episode 1: Deep Breath
Episode 2: Into The Dalek
Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood
Episode 4: Listen
Episode 5: Time Heist
Episode 6: The Caretaker
Episode 7: Kill The Moon
Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express
Episode 9: Flatline
Episode 10: In the Forest of the Night
Episode 11: Dark Water
Episode 12: Death In Heaven
2014 Christmas special: Last Christmas

Series 33 / Season 7

Episode 1: Asylum of the Daleks
Episode 2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Episode 3: A Town Called Mercy
Episode 4: The Power of Three
Episode 5: The Angels Take Manhatten
2012 Christmas special: The Snowmen
Episode 6: The Bells of Saint John
Episode 7: The Rings of Akhaten
Episode 8: Cold War
Episode 9: Hide
Episode 10: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis
Episode 11: The Crimson Horror
Episode 12: Nightmare in Silver
Episode 13: The Name of the Doctor
50th Anniversary special: The Day of the Doctor
2013 Christmas special: The Time of the Doctor

Series 32 / Season 6

Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut
Episode 2: Day of the Moon
Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot
Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife
Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh
Episode 6: The Almost People
Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War
Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler
Episode 9: Night Terrors
Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited
Episode 11: The God Complex
Episode 12: Closing Time
Episode 13: The Wedding of River Song
2011 Christmas special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Series 31 / Season 5

Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour
Episode 2: The Beast Below
Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks
Episode 4: The Time of Angels
Episode 5: Flesh and Stone
Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice
Episode 7: Amy's Choice
Episode 8: The Hungry Earth
Episode 9: Cold Blood
Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor
Episode 11: The Lodger
Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens
Episode 13: The Big Bang
2010 Christmas special: A Christmas Carol

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