Doctor Who: Flux – “The Vanquishers”

DW Vanquishers 1a

“The Vanquishers”
Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Six
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Azhur Saleem

Synopsis: 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?

The finale of Doctor Who: Flux was always destined to be a frenetic, fast-paced affair given the sheer amount of material that it had to get through to deliver a satisfying ending to the six-part epic, but I wasn’t expecting it the levels of dizziness and location changes that we got. Split into three, we got triple the amount of the Thirteenth Doctor as she attempted to save the universe in a way reminiscent of “Journey’s End” and “The Big Bang”, although rather crucially, I couldn’t tell if she’d managed it by the conclusion. The ending was a bit muddled to say the least, and unless I missed a line of dialogue, it seemed as if the original Flux event from “The Halloween Apocalypse” remained intact and the current universe remained on its last legs with Earth as one of the few remaining planets. Whether this was true or not, it felt as if we needed a line of dialogue in those closing moments to confirm the status quo of the universe going forward.

The climactic battle, which saw the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans all absorbed by the second Flux event, appeared to wipe those monsters out forever – however, the trailer for the next episode shows the Daleks back in action already. Hopefully we’ll get an explanation for this sudden return (even if it turns out that it’s another singular rogue Dalek hiding out on Earth) as it seems to contradict the high stakes of this episode. Part of me was expecting a reversal of the original Flux and restoration of the universe and I guess it is bold of Chris Chibnall not to do that and leave the universe fractured and destroyed, but he never quite confirms or denies if this is the case. While I’m sure future episodes will make it clear, and it might even be the plot of the remaining three specials as part of his era, but in terms of this six-part storyline, it felt unanswered and incomplete.

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With all the questions and mysteries seeded throughout the initial five episodes of the serial, I was expecting some momentous revelations in this final episode but it seemed too pre-occupied on resolving the excess cliff-hangers it had created – literally, splitting the Doctor into three to do so. Jodie Whittaker did a fantastic job interacting against herself, but it would have been brilliant if she’d been split into past incarnations of herself in a true multi-Doctor event. In order to save the universe successfully, it felt as if the threat of the Ravagers was significantly reduced compared to previous episodes. For creatures who could disintegrate their foes with a single touch, they spent far too much time gloating, explaining their plots and torturing the Doctor instead of actually doing anything. Looking back over the whole series, it seemed as if they were constantly thwarted by their own hubris rather than the Doctor. Even their final defeat was at the hands of another god-like entity.

Talking of which, one thing I hated about this series was the introduction of all these new (and previously unmentioned) celestial beings. I’ve never been a fan of physical representations of concepts like Time and Death in fiction, and that extends to this episode with the appearance of “Time” on the planet Time (insert eye-roll emoji here). This walking deus-ex-machina destroyed the Ravagers and restored the Doctor without any real rhyme or reason, offering the weak justification that her time is coming to an end anyway. Chibnall often reverts to introducing these omnipotent beings or organisations in his scripts to artificially increase the threat, and the Division has been the biggest example of this. Constantly referred to as the all-powerful and all-seeing, the Division seemed to consist of an old woman and an Ood in the end and was stopped relatively easily. At least Steven Moffat’s Silence had a decent number of members!

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Looking back at the serial as a whole, Doctor Who: Flux had too many ideas thrown into the ‘plot blender’ and as a result, we got a lumpy narrative. It often felt that the story was being delivered in a non-linear fashion to confuse us more than we needed to be, drip-feeding us pieces of information or introducing mysterious characters to drum up fan theories between episodes. The elements of the series that worked best were the episodes that focused on a specific threat, typically locked to one time period and location, with the more interstitial episodes lacking any real focus aside from prolonging the mysteries. At the end of the story, we’re no closer to finding out information about the Doctor’s past or her origins – in fact, Chibnall appears to reiterate his message from “The Timeless Children” that it doesn’t matter about the Doctor’s past; it is who she is now that matters. He seemingly ends the Doctor’s own obsession with finding out more about the Division, but I suspect the audience’s own desire for answers may see him (or subsequent writers) revisit this plot thread in more detail.

I may be somewhat excessively critical of this episode because of the amount of build-up and the high expectations I had for the conclusion, but there were some fun elements. Whittaker’s triple performance was fantastic and in the spirit of the chaotic energy of the finale. I also enjoyed the special effects for this finale – there were some gorgeous CGI moments that felt really immersive and showcased some lovely otherworldly vistas. Considering this series was produced in the midst of the pandemic, it does not feel like it has compromised on any of the production quality we’ve come to expect from Doctor Who in recent years. My main criticisms stem from the plot, specifically the structure of the storyline and the underwhelming resolution of the cliff-hangers. Chibnall did a brilliant job at setting the scenes and crafting a compelling (although sometimes confusing) mystery, but he failed to deliver a satisfying ending with too much left unsaid or unexplained. A perfect example is the scene where the Doctor effectively told Joseph Williamson to go home now and let them sort out the rest of the problem. It felt like Williamson was a proxy for the audience at that moment, told to go home and not worry about the specifics of the solution.

Yet another example of style over substance, it seems like Chibnall’s era will be remembered for big ideas but a lack of clarity over the details. Perhaps it would have been better if he’d stuck to his continuity-light approach seen in Season Eleven; at least then people would understand what was going on!

Score – ★★

Next Episode: “Eve of the Daleks”
Sarah owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned as they find themselves joining forces with the Doctor, Dan and Yaz in a fight against the Daleks.

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