Doctor Who: Flux – “The Halloween Apocalypse”

DW Flux - Halloween Apocalypse 1a

“The Halloween Apocalypse”
Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter One
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Jamie Magnus Stone

Synopsis: On Halloween, all across the universe, terrifying forces are stirring. From the Arctic Circle to deep space, an ancient evil is breaking free. And in present-day Liverpool, the life of Dan Lewis is about to change forever. Why is the Doctor on the trail of the fearsome Karvanista? And what is the Flux?

Possibly the most ambitious Doctor Who story since “The Day of the Doctor”, Doctor Who: Flux encompasses all six episodes of Series Thirteen, mirroring the format of the classic era’s multi-episode serials. Initially, I thought that the storyline would actually be six loosely connected stories with an overarching theme, similar to “The Keys of Marinus” but after watching this first episode, it seems like it will be an ongoing adventure across all six episodes. The titular Flux appears to be a wave of anti-matter wiping out everything in the universe, not unlike “the Nothing” from The Never-Ending Story. It seems tied to a mysterious foe called Swarm, who seems to share a history with the Doctor and the Division – the organisation who wiped her pre-Hartnell memories. Clearly, this adventure plans to deal with the unanswered questions surrounding the Doctor’s origins that were left over from “The Timeless Children”, and while I am hesitant to see where it might go, I must admit it has me wondering ‘Doctor Who?’ once again.

As the opening episode in a six-part adventure, “The Halloween Apocalypse” suffers from a deluge of scenes setting up future plot threads, often dripping in so much mystery that it is undecipherable. For example, one scene featured a group of workers building tunnels in 19th Century Liverpool and it seemed to have no bearing on the remainder of the episode. At least the other teases had some kind of follow-up that gave a hint at their context; the two Division agents in the Arctic attacked by Swarm, Clare disappearing at the hands of a Weeping Angel, Vinder escaping from the Flux. It felt like there were too many sub-plots thrown in at the start, which coupled with a Doctor who was also struggling to keep up with what was happening, left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Clearly, these seemingly separate storylines will eventually come together but it seemed like some of them could have been held back for subsequent episodes.

DW Flux - Halloween Apocalypse 1b

The episode opened up with the Doctor and Yaz in the midst of an adventure, chasing down the dog-like Karvanista for answers about the Division. At the same time, two Division agents were visiting the imprisoned Swarm – unfortunately becoming disintegrated once the seemingly immortal being escaped his prison. Swarm and his sister reminded me of Zellin and Rakaya from “Can You Hear Me?” and both seemed rather overpowered for the Doctor to defeat – able to transport themselves to Earth with ease, disintegrate people with a touch and it seems they might be linked to the Flux. If I’m throwing out my wild theories now, I wonder if the Flux is actually Swarm and his sister combined together, perhaps from the far future. It seems as if the Division were responsible for dealing with apocalyptic threats like Swarm, and perhaps wiping the Doctor’s memories was actually one way to stop Swarm from escaping and his recent escape was due to her beginning to remember the truth?

The episode also introduced John Bishop as Dan Lewis, a relatively ordinary bloke who happens to be dragged into the adventure because he was the designated human for Karvanista to rescue. There is something quite neat about the idea of a species-bond, and how the Lupari resemble “man’s best friend” – I wouldn’t be surprised if this species-bond is something the Doctor herself introduces to them in a future episode. Karvanista mentioned hitting a temporal bump that caused him to arrive early and save Dan, again, this could be the Doctor’s interference from the future helping out her past self. There certainly seems to be hints that Dan may be more important than he originally seems when his date Diane is abducted by Swarm’s sister. Bishop does a great job with the character, conveying a Northern working class cool to the TARDIS that pairs well with Yaz’s Sheffield background.

DW Flux - Halloween Apocalypse 1c

While there were a lot of new faces in this episode, we were also treated to the return of some older Doctor Who enemies, in the form of The Weeping Angels and the original Sontarans. Both of which seemed restored to their previous heights – the Angel was suitably scary as it advanced upon poor Clare, whilst the Sontarans seemed bloodthirsty and cruel; less cartoony than the blue-armoured versions that were shown in recent series. The next episode seems to focus more on the Sontarans, and I wonder if it will have a more traditional narrative structure as this episode felt somewhat scattered in its focus.

The Halloween Apocalypse” surpassed my expectations with some truly edge-of-the-seat action; I normally write notes for my reviews whilst I’m watching but when I looked down at my notepad as the credits rolled, all I’d written was the episode name. Chris Chibnall and director Jamie Magnus Stone nailed the dramatic stakes of the threat, giving this universe-ending Flux a sense of actual danger that was lacking in some of the previous apocalyptic adventures such as “Journey’s End” and “The Big Bang”. The Doctor feels at her most vulnerable, mostly due to the ‘Timeless Child’ identity crisis and pitting her up against a foe who knows her better than she knows herself is a first for the series. For once, the Doctor doesn’t hold all the cards as evidenced by her last-ditch attempts to escape the Flux at the end of this episode, and this new dynamic is exhilarating.

Sure, at times during this episode I wondered “what the Flux is going on” but I was fully gripped by the story and the mysteries throughout. Chibnall has made Doctor Who mysterious and unpredictable again, and while I am a bit hesitant on whether the answers will be worth it in the end, I can’t deny that I am extremely excited to go on this journey for the next five weeks.

Score – ★★★★

Next Episode: “War of the Sontarans”
During the Crimean War, the Doctor discovers the British army fighting a brutal alien army of Sontarans, as Yaz and Dan are thrown deeper into a battle for survival. What is the Temple of Atropos? Who are the Mouri?

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