Doctor Who Brought It All Together… For This?

Doctor Who Brought It All Together… For This?
The Doctor faces down all the threads of the Flux. (Image: BBC)

Doctor Who’s latest season has come to an end with the conclusion of Flux, a storyline that started off weird and found little footing as it continued these past six weeks. But while “The Vanquishers” did its damndest to wrap things up nicely, its conclusion did little to demonstrate that this was an experiment worth watching.

Perhaps the most fascinating — and altogether damning — idea in “The Vanquishers” is that there were so many lingering plot lines built up over the last five episodes of Flux that the only way to coherently address them all, and not turn this final hour of the season into a repeat of the first, was to literally split Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor into three selves, and let her be involved with all the struggles of the week. First, she needs to escape the clutches of Swarm and Azure in the Division base; second, she needs to save Earth from Sontaran occupation (again); and third, she needs to reunite with Yaz, Dan, and Professor Jericho, especially now that they’ve discovered that the Williamson Tunnels and their creator are a massive series of interconnected doors across time and space.

This makes for a fun, and at least slightly more clear path connecting the disparate plot arcs of Flux than we’ve previously gotten, because one of the rare highlights of this season has been Jodie Whittaker’s performance as the Doctor. Her strong showings helped drag Flux’s episodes to the finish line, albeit often in a tattered state. But it also undoes whatever potential good will Flux had while it set up so many lingering questions and arcs, because everything needs to be dealt with now, no matter our investment in it, so most of the plot lines just straight up fizzle out.

Why did the Sontarans want to invade Earth? Well that one’s easy, they’re Sontarans, it’s what they do. Taking advantage of the devastation of the Flux to draw the Cybermen and the Daleks to its final point, tricking them into mutually assured destruction, would leave the Sontarans as the mightiest warriors left in a universe that is… basically just Earth at this point, considering the Flux will have destroyed everything else. Also, why is the Grand Serpent here? We never really get to find out, and instead of the master-planner ally to the Sontarans we saw built up last week, he mostly just gets to be very bad at torturing the Doctor until he’s shoved into a time door never to return.

Image: BBC Image: BBC

That’s kind of the running theme of “The Vanquishers” across these three major arcs — it wouldn’t be untrue to say that things are concluded, yes, but it would be very untrue to say they’re concluded with a sense of satisfaction that waiting six weeks for answers made worthwhile. Even the Flux itself is treated more as an aside than the universe-ending threat it was built up to this season, sucked away into a Passenger form and just left as-is.

Adding another two versions of Jodie Whittaker into the mix to solve all these threads expands Doctor Who’s roving cast of heroes — already bulked out by the addition of Jericho to Yaz and Dan — even more when Kate Stewart gets involved, and Joshua Willamson and the returning Claire — and makes for a compelling opportunity for Whittaker to have some fun literally with herself. But it also means that a lot of the narrative conclusion here is the Doctor explaining to everyone else what is going on, and then neatly wrapping up a plot thread by herself.

There is a small moment where Yaz, Dan, and the Doctor reunite that is emotionally well crafted, but it’s immediately undone by the fact that they take the back seat to both the Doctor and this expanded Team TARDIS, making it feel like there’s little in the way of narrative satisfaction to their arc in Flux. Dan, at least, gets to have a nebulous reunion with Di once she is freed from Azure’s Passenger form prison (which… just happens by Vinder shooting a door lock, making it feel pointless the Passengers were built up in the first place). Yaz in particular is left on the wayside as the three Doctors go about their business of checklisting what still needs to be addressed.

And when that checklist finally gets to what should’ve been the dramatic conclusion of Flux — the Doctor reclaiming her Gallifreyan fobwatch filled with memories from her lives well before William Hartnell stole a TARDIS and ran away — well… that just sort of ends too. Swarm and Azure, who spend much of the episode torturing the Doctor by breaking her apart and reconstituting her, hope to offer the Doctor up to Time itself, returning the three of them to Atropos as the Flux is about to devour all the remnants of the universe. Time, manifested as a series of blue particles that then just become a copy of Swarm (thanks, Doctor Who budget), promptly chastises the duo for letting the Doctor split herself across points in the timeline, making it impossible for Time to hoover her up as-is, and chooses to instead “ascend” Swarm and Azure, disintegrating them. That’s it. All the set up of why Swarm and Azure were doing what they were doing is cast away as simple vengeance for their imprisonment, there’s no dramatic reckoning, they just… stand there and dissipate. And then Time manifests itself as The Doctor — because there were apparently not enough Jodies Whittaker in the episode already — to essentially tell the Doctor that she’s about to die, only to peace out when the Doctor starts thinking about asking a question. Tune in next year!

Image: BBC Image: BBC

This sort of nebulous, half-hearted wrapping-up becomes most frustrating when the Doctor is left momentarily alone in the TARDIS at the conclusion of “The Vanquishers.” The day is saved, her friends are back aboard the TARDIS, and she has the fob watch full of her old memories. The hunt for these memories has driven so much of the Doctor’s personal arc over the course of Flux, pushed her to emotionally dark places as the desperation to know anything of her past made her reckless and distant from the people closest to her. But instead of reckoning with any of that, or even giving us the Doctor reaching some kind of peace with not knowing, but having access to, her past, “The Vanquishers” sees her chuck the fob watch into a hole on the TARDIS console, down into some impossibly remote part of the ship, unless she really wants to find it in the future. And that’s it! Flux ends there, yes, but it doesn’t end. It’s just much as it was for these past six episodes: A sea of teases to a weak conclusion that only leads to more teasing of what’s to come on New Year’s Day and beyond.

The biggest problem Flux had across its run was to keep enough narrative meat on its bones to feed all the conflicts it created. We had old villains and exciting new ones to explore, the continuation of last season’s major mystery, a new companion, and a chance for an old one to build her arc. Instead of running with any of that, we got fleeting asides and half-sketched ideas that looked like they would be explored, but just fizzled out. Flux’s most interesting dramatic evolutions were either curtailed or left on the ‘still-to-be-concluded’ pile.

Time has run out for this season of Doctor Who to do anything about that, but there’s still a New Year’s special starring Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor that could help make this season feel like it was worth our time. Time will tell if Chibnall used those final hours wisely. In the here and now we’re left wondering if Flux was really worth ripping apart the universe.

Image: BBC Image: BBC

Assorted Musings

  • So at the end of the episode as the Doctor says goodbye to Claire and Kate, everyone’s just… fine? The Earth is fine? The Universe is fine? We didn’t get to see it restored, but we’ve spent much of the last five episodes before this being told that the Flux has, at this point, destroyed almost the entirety of the universe. And it’s just fine!!!! It was always going to be, but I feel like Doctor Who should’ve shown us the universe being made fine again. That’s an important detail to show!
  • Speaking of important details: what happened to the millions of people trapped in Azure’s Passenger forms? Di implied that the one she was being kept in was empty save for her until Vinder showed up, and now it’s full of the Flux itself, so I really hope there was no one inside it. But there were multiple Passengers, so I hope someone got those people out off-screen at some point. Once again, an important detail to show!
  • One of the most frustrating things about this finale was Yaz feeling like she’s been stuck in the same loop with the Doctor since she joined team TARDIS. After coming into her own last episode to show what she’d learned, to end her and the Doctor’s arc with once again making a promise to let Yaz in just feels like a cyclical waste — especially when Yaz ends up feeling like one of the most sidelined characters of the episode. Even Jericho gets more to do, thanks to his heroic sacrifice!
  • Shout out to poor Karvanista though, who gets a real rough go of it here when we get to learn that not only did Division put a poison-releasing bomb in his head should he ever talk to the Doctor about their past together, but that the Sontarans committed genocide to take control of the Lupari fleet’s shield wall, leaving him all alone in the universe… until Vinder and Bel decide to hang out with him. If there’s one thread from Flux we pick up on next year before Chibnall and Whittaker exit the series, it’d be nice to see those three again. Maybe we’d actually get to find out what the Grand Serpent’s deal is!
  • Even when they’re now slotting themselves into the “tradition” of showing up for New Year’s Day specials — as you can see in the trailer for “Eve of the Dalek” below — did we really need the Daleks showing up? Or the Cybermen? Feels like appearance for the sake of it, really. It doesn’t really help that their appearance is hinged on the entire Sontaran gambit, either, making them feel like an ancillary excuse to bring in the other classic monsters.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.