“Survivors of the Flux”
Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Five
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Azhur Saleem
Synopsis: As the forces of evil mass, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan face perilous journeys and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their quest for survival.
As with the first and third episodes of this series, “Survivors of the Flux” was a scattered affair that seemed pre-occupied with moving its characters into place for the next episode than actually delivering a satisfying standalone narrative. The episode consisted of three storylines; none of which intersected in any meaningful way – the first was the fate of the stranded companions left to their own devices in the early 1900s. With no mention of what happened to Peggy (presumably dumped in a care home somewhere), the trio of supporting cast members went on an Indiana Jones inspired trek across the globe (complete with the dotted line map graphic) on a half-baked quest to discover if any soothsayers of the era had a prediction of a future invasion. Given the amount of future invasions that would happen over the course of the series, they’d have a hard job discerning one from the other. With enough plot holes to pass for a block of Swiss cheese, it seemed like this subplot was a forced way for Chibnall to get the characters into the underground tunnels with Joseph Williamson.
The second plot was the Grand Serpent’s infiltration of UNIT; a process that took him over seventy years! While it was nice to get a view of UNIT’s history and how it came together (including an explanation behind its closure in recent years), this subplot seemed to be somewhat repetitive in nature and didn’t quite deserve the amount of screen time it got – especially for the reveal that this long-winded con was so that the Grand Serpent could let the Sontarans breach the Lupari shield. It was nice to see Kate Lethbridge-Stewart again (along with a voice cameo of her father) and part of me expected her to be revealed as a Division agent – especially with the recurring emphasis that Division hires from all species. Chibnall managed to get the tension going during that confrontation between Kate and the Grand Serpent; mostly because I thought he was bold enough to kill her off for dramatic effect.
The third sub-plot involved the Doctor finally confronting the head of the Division and getting some idea behind their scheme. I still find it difficult to believe that this all-powerful organisation has sat in the shadows for the lifetime of the series and allowed the Doctor to gallivant about, only to decide to confront her once she learnt of their existence. It was also difficult to believe they were as omnipresent as they claimed when they were meeting her in a half-destroyed space station located between universes with only a single Ood manning the ship. The Division’s plan is to jettison a whole universe in order to pass through into a new one and start from scratch: the ultimate reboot as it were. Multiverses are in vogue at the moment with both the Marvel and DC universes exploring the concept in their movies and TV shows, and while Doctor Who has flirted with the idea in the past, it feels like this storyline is a bit too familiar to others in the Aether.
As the Doctor and Tecteun discussed her origins once more, it seemed like Chibnall was doubling down on his Timeless Child retcon and by dangling a fob watch of the Doctor’s memories in front of us (and her), I suspect something will happen to permanently lose those memories effectively preserving the mystery around her origins and time as the Fugitive Doctor. As for Swam and Azure, it seemed they were released from captivity by Tecteun to cause havoc and distract the Doctor whilst the Flux was doing its handiwork across the universe. It appears the chaotic pair aren’t the masterminds behind the scheme but a couple of chancers wanting revenge against the Division themselves and their own mission has been about gaining access to the space between universes and then the multiverse proper.
As we head into the final episode, a few questions remain: What is the odd black-and-white house structure that the Doctor keeps seeing? What has happened to the TARDIS? How can the Doctor stop the Flux, and can she restore the universe to its former glory? How can she defeat Swarm, Azure and the Grand Serpent given they are so powerful? And, finally are there any more reveals about her Timeless Child past? It seems like there is a lot to unravel, but most of the previous episodes have been about setting up mysteries rather than resolving them so hopefully this final episode will be more straight-forward in its narrative. Ultimately, I suspect that Doctor Who: Flux will be remembered for being more convoluted than it needed to be, especially since the reveals in this episode seemed relatively straight-forward once they were explained. A lot of the mystery stemmed from the overwhelming amount of teases we had in that first episode, “The Halloween Apocalypse” – most of which have been explained or dealt with in subsequent episodes.
“Survivors of the Flux” suffered the fate of most penultimate episodes in that it was focused on setting events up for the finale. Yaz, Dan and Jericho’s journeys across the globe seemed like filler to pad out the episode (especially since it didn’t actually lead anywhere) as did the Grand Serpent’s long-winded takeover of UNIT. I’d have preferred to have seen more time spent on the Doctor and Tecteun’s conversation, but even that felt anti-climactic given the build-up. Throughout this series, it seems that the actual Flux has been the weakest element of the storyline and the best episodes have been the standalone ‘monster of the week’ chapters. Perhaps the series would have benefitted from the more traditional series structure with a subtle overarching theme throughout that culminates in a season finale, as opposed to sandwiching stories between two halves of a season finale. Did the episode leave me excited for the finale? Yes and no; I am looking forward to seeing how Chibnall plans to resolve this and whether a reboot may occur, but I am also a bit scared that it will lack the punch after six weeks of set up.
Score – ★★★ ½
Next Episode: “The Vanquishers”
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?