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Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Five: Survivors of the Flux (Review)

“We’re not in the universe.”

Survivors of the Flux marks a return to the narrative style of both The Halloween Apocalypse and Once, Upon Time.

It’s not so much an individual episode of television so much as it’s a space in which the larger narrative threads of the season advance itself. While it’s not as scattershot as Once, Upon Time, it lacks the clarity of focus and momentum that held The Halloween Apocalypse together as a season premiere. Surivivors of the Flux often feels like things happening, which is particularly noticeable in the two story threads focusing on the Great Serpent and the separated companion crew, which are largely a series of disconnected vignettes jumping through time and space respectively to provide a sense of scale to the adventure.

Tomb to manoeuvre.

Even more than The Halloween Apocalypse, Survivors of the Flux is an episode that hinges heavily on the looming series finale. The nature of Doctor Who: Flux places a lot of weight on The Vanquishers. If the season finale is suitably compelling, any earlier missteps will either be retroactively justified or easily excused. However, if the last episode of the set collapses into itself, it may erase a lot of the more interesting ideas leading into it. It is best to travel hopefully, but The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos and The Timeless Children are perhaps cause for concern.

Survivors of the Flux is not only a heavily serialised instalment, it’s also recognisable as the first half of the season finale. It is comparable to something like The Stolen Earth or Dark Water. The best of these penultimate seasonal episodes manage to balance a compelling self-contained narrative, or at least engaging character work, with the necessity of setting up larger plot arcs to pay off the following episode. Survivors of the Flux feels a lot more like homework than episodes like Heaven Sent or World Enough and Time.

Glowing concern.

In terms of meat, the focus of Survivor of the Flux rests with the Doctor. To a certain extent, the Doctor’s sequences with Tecteun serve to double-down on the revisions to the show’s mythology in The Timeless Children. “Was what the Master told me true?” the Doctor demands, effectively allowing Tecteun to independently validate the exposition in The Timeless Children. It’s very similar to the sequence where Luke visits Yoda at the start of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, to affirm the big reveal that Darth Vader was Luke’s father in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

There are potentially interesting ideas sugested in these scenes between the Doctor and Tecteun, even beyond the production convenience of blocking most of Jodie Whittaker’s scenes with Barbara Flynn. It’s notable that Tecteun’s headquarters looks like something of a botanic TARDIS. The tree at the centre of the space obvious evokes the “world tree”, but it also recalls the classic TARDIS console. Tecteun even has her own companion, with an Ood who exists to impliment her every wish. It’s a canny and pointed mirroring of Tecteun and the Doctor.

Survivors of the Flux leans into this. The Ood is obviously presented as a servent, rather than an equal, playing into the tension between the Doctor and Yaz that has been playing into the season since The Halloween Apocalypse. The Doctor resents Tecteun for disrupting the course of her life. However, Tecteun sees it another way. “You judge me for giving you the journey of a lifetime,” Tecteun responds, explicitly calling out the Doctor for the way that she treats her companions. Survivors of the Flux seems to suggest that the Doctor’s relationship with her companions is an echo of Tecteun’s abusive relationship with her.

This is a bold choice. It’s arguably even bolder than the actual revisions to the show’s continuity in The Timeless Children. While Doctor Who has been willing to be critical of the Doctor and companion relationship before, most notably in stories like The God Complex or Kill the Moon. The Doctor’s treatment of companions like Sarah Jane Smith was implicitly criticised in episodes like School Reunion, a point reiterated recently with Jack Harkness in Revolution of the Daleks. However, Survivors of the Flux goes even further than that. The Doctor’s relationship with companions isn’t just dysfuntional. It is cycles of abuse, passed down.

A Tectical Disadvantage.

It’s worth noting that this is the heart of the show. The relationship between the Doctor and her companions is the engine on which the series runs. There are reasons to be critical of that relationship, most notably for the way in which it was previously rooted in patriarchal power. However, when Steven Moffat picked at the relationship between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, it was part of a larger process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Clara called out the Twelfth Doctor for his abusive behaviour at the climax of Kill the Moon, but then spent the next season-and-a-half trying to build a better version of that dynamic.

It’s entirely possible that Chris Chibnall is doing something similar here, that he is picking at the core relationship that has powered decades of Doctor Who as part of a bold reinvention of the series. However, it’s worth noting that Chibnall really doesn’t have too much time to repair the dynamic that he has shattered. There are four more episodes of the Chibnall era. One of them will be the season finale of Flux. Another will be the story of the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration. That doesn’t leave a lot of room to try and put the broken dynamic back together again.

Otherwise, it’s a hell of a bold statement to make the central relationship at the heart of Doctor Who the uncomfortable echo of a trauma that the Doctor only subconsciously remembered. What happened the Doctor is horrible, and it’s an interesting choice to invite a direct comparison between that abuse and the behaviour of the central character across the nearly sixty years of the show’s history. Survivors of the Flux suggests that the Doctor was a companion once, and that the experience scarred them so severely that they’ve spent thousands of years replaying that horror on unsuspecting mortals.

To be fair, it’s possible to read Survivors of the Flux as a particularly bracing and brutal criticism of the entire concept of Doctor Who. After all, the characterisation of Tecteun and Division is very consciously framed in such a way as to suggest that they parallel the Doctor. Tecteun boasts that Division have “guided and shaped events” across human history. The Doctor is horrified to discover that Division “interfered. In contravention of all Time Lord directives.” She is so aghast that he tries to properly quantify the scale of the crime, “How much did it interfere?”

An odd Ood.

It goes without saying that, historically, the Doctor has been eager to “interfere in direct contravention of all Time Lord directives.” The Doctor’s decision to leave Gallifrey has been debated and discussed since the very start of the show, but one of the more consistent interpretations has been a rejection of that Time Lord passivity. The Doctor has consistently railed against Time Lord society, from stories like The War Games and The Deadly Assassin through to The Trial of a Time Lord and Hell Bent. So it seems strange to see the Doctor championing Time Lord virtues, particularly in opposition to Tecteun herself.

This isn’t accidental. It’s a theme threaded through the three primary strands of Survivors of the Flux. Most notably, Yaz is very careful to avoid interferring with human history in the three years that she spends in the early twentieth century. Jericho explicitly mentions the importance of keeping his knowledge of what will come – including, per Village of the Angels, the Holocaust – to himself to preserve the ordered flow of events. Yaz is even careful with the historical artifacts that she has to recover. “Technically it’s theft,” she tells Jericho and Dan. “If we take it, we have to bring it back once we decode it.”

In isolation, this is an appealing idea. After all, Survivors of the Flux takes care to frame Yaz’s globetrotting adventures like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Mummy, and so there is something commendable in Yaz’s refusal to plunder ancient tombs and stress the importance of respecting the relics of ancient societies. However, in the larger context of the Chibnall era around it, it plays back to that romantic aspiration of non-interference. It’s not the Doctor consigning Noor Inayat Khan to her death in a concentration camp in Spyfall, Part II, but it’s a reflection of the same basic impulse.

This is most obvious looking at the plot thread focusing on the Grand Serpent, operating under the alias “Prentis.” If Yaz represents an idealised from the Doctor, a character who takes pains to leave everything as she found it, then Survivors of the Flux positions the Grand Serpent as the exact opposite. As Kate Stewart points out, the Grand Serpent has been using time travel to shape and manipulate history, altering the flow and outcome of events. “You just seem to pop up whenever suits,” comments one official of the Grand Serpent, a criticism that could just as easily be levelled at U.N.I.T.’s erstwhile scientific advisor.

Division’s (A)Prentis?

There’s an awkward conservatism at play in Survivors of the Flux, an emphasis on the idea of ownership and identity that seems somewhat at odds with the traditional values of Doctor Who. In the past, the Doctor has never seemed particularly concerned about their own identity or back story. In Hell Bent, the Twelfth Doctor is only interested in the grand mythic prophecy of “the Hybrid” insofar as it gets him what he wants on Gallifrey. Moffat played with the mystery of the Doctor’s name in episodes like The Wedding of River Song, but seemed to suggest that it might simply be “Doctor Who” in stories like Twice Upon a Time.

In contrast, the events of The Timeless Children refocus the Thirteenth Doctor’s arc around questions of identity. However, the Thirteenth Doctor isn’t just compelled to discover what she did in the service of the Division. She’s also preoccupied by the live that Tecteun stole from her. “What if I was waiting to be collected?” she asks Tecteun. “You denied me my life.” At one point, Tecteun challenges her, “You think you could have been something else, someone else?” The Doctor responds, “Maybe. I’ll never know.”

It is a strange emphasis to place on the Doctor’s childhood, particularly in light of the conversation between the Thirteenth Doctor and the Ruth!Doctor in The Timeless Children. In that episode, the Ruth!Doctor made the valid argument that the Doctor was defined by who she chose to be rather than whatever she might have been before. It makes sense that the Thirteenth Doctor should feel like her life has been stolen from her. After all, she had decades of service to the Division wiped from her memory. However, there’s a strange emphasis on the Doctor’s birthright and inheritence in Survivors of the Flux.

This is interestingly parallelled with the episode’s treatment of Kate Stewart. Kate Stewart has always been a character tied to the history of Doctor Who, the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a character who haunted episodes like The Wedding of River Song or Death in Heaven. However, Survivors of the Flux foregrounds the idea of Stewart’s heritage. It seems like directing U.N.I.T. is an inherited position that is the birthright of Kate Stewart. “This task force has been many lifetimes’ work for me and my family,” Kate warns the Grand Serpent, suggesting precisely the sort of identity that Tecteun took from the Doctor.

U.N.I.T.’s Stewart.

(It doesn’t help matters that Survivors of the Flux falls backwards into one of the more uncomfortable themes of the larger Chibnall era. Early in the episode, Yaz watches a holographic message from the Doctor. The Doctor warns Yaz that Earth will need protection from the “displaced creatures who need a home” after the natural disaster, leading to “a battle for ownership” over the planet. It’s worryingly close to the language of “the great replacement”, the idea that migration and other factors are radically altering the demographic make-up of developed nations, and that this poses an existential threat to the integrity of those nations.

It seems likely that the Flux has created a class of dispossessed alien refugees without a home or a clear identity, at least based on Bel’s experiences in Village of the Angels. Theoretically, the Doctor should be sympathetic to all those homeless aliens that have had their history and their origins erased and devoured. However, the Chibnall era has been weirdly hostile to these sorts of migration narratives, to the point that the genocidal Dalek in Resolution was even described as a “refugee.” Entirely unintentionally, the Chibnall era seems inherently wary of those people without homes or without roots or without anchors.)

Survivors of the Flux also leans into some of the “Chosen One” subtext of The Timeless Children, with the Doctor herself asserting that role in conversation with the Ood. “I can save them,” the Doctor tells the Ood. “I’m the one.” That is a very interesting and very specific choice of words, one that centres the Doctor in a larger mythic narrative. As with the emphasis on scale and spectacle in Once, Upon Time, it does feel like Chris Chibnall is trying to build a version of Doctor Who that can compete with Star Wars. The Doctor is a chosen one with a mysterious back story, just like Luke Skywalker.

There are certainly interesting ideas at play in Survivors of the Flux. As with stories like War of the Sontarans or Once, Upon Time, it feels like Chibnall is constructing Flux as a gigantic metaphor for the existential crises facing modern civilisation, whether climate change or the erosion of democratic norms or even the constant set of financial crises. In stories like War of the Sontarans or Once, Upon Time, Chibnall seemed to be playing with the idea of fascists to exploit such chaos for their own political ends, with the breakdown of order turning the universe into a few dogs fighting among the ruins.

Angel of Mourning.

Survivors of the Flux approaches the same broad idea from a different angle. Tecteun reveals her plan to the Doctor. The Division is going to effectively abandon this burning universe and escape into the wider multiverse, effectively wiping their hands clean of the entire experiment instead of actively using their power to fix the existing problems with the wider universe. Tecteun feels like a very deliberate commentary on billionaires like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson, those extremely privileged and wealthy people who can afford to literally just excuse themselves from the problems facing humankind.

It’s a clever and commendable idea, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like Chibnall has too much to actually say about that trend beyond the fact that it is simply horrifying. After all, the Doctor isn’t arguing that Tecteun should have used her power and influence in a different way, the Doctor is arguing that Tecteun was wrong to use her power at all. It’s an interesting thematic resonance running through the season, but it still feels rather abstract.

To be fair, there is perhaps something to be said for Chibnall’s emphasis on “Division” as the primary antagonist in Flux. After all, so much of the chaos across these episodes has been as a result of literal division, the idea of the breakdown of communication and trust, the collapse of order into chaos. It’s notable that so many characters drop the definite article when talking about “Division”, as if talking about the concept itelf rather than a specific group of people. This is reinforced in the episode’s opening minutes, as the Weeping Angels use similar abstract nouns to describe themselves, “We are conversion. We are transport.”

Thematically, it makes sense that “Division” should be the real antagonist of Flux, if only because this implies that “Unity” will be the heroic counterbalance. After all, the Lupari ships are able to protect Earth from the Flux by forming a protective barrier in The Halloween Apocalypse. They literally come together to form a shield around the planet. It seems likely that, building into The Vanquished, the big central theme of the finale will be the various separate groups of heroic characters finally working together to overcome “Division” and restore order to a fractured universe.

That old battle axe.

Finally, with regards to Tecteun, there’s an interesting “comic book” sensibility to the concept of “Division” literally positioning itself outside the universe and threatening to expand into “the multiverse.” The concept is somewhat underdeveloped as a possible critique of imperialism or colonialism, and the emphasis on the “multiverse” lines up nicely with the shift taking place in various contemporary blockbuster properties like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe.

There shades of gigantic comic book crossovers like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Final Crisis to the revelation that Tecteun has positioned her observation post “outside one universe, on the cusp of many others.” It is very similar to the Monitor’s role in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Similarly, the official plot synopsis of Survivors of the Flux, with its emphasis on how “the forces of evil mass” as the heroes face “seemingly insurmountable obstacles” recalls the basic premise of Final Crisis as “the day evil won.”

This isn’t a surprise. Russell T. Davies’ last season finale, Journey’s End, was effectively Doctor Who doing a comic book crossover in the style of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Final Crisis. More to the point, the show has a long history interwoven with comic books, with Alan Moore serving as a major influence on the Andrew Cartmel era of the series. There’s something potentially ambitious in all of this, with Chibnall aiming for a sort of grand scale equivalent to – if not greater than – what Davies pulled off with Journey’s End.

There is also perhaps something interesting in how Survivors of the Flux seems to mirror Loki. Obviously, the two shows had no direct influence on one another. Flux was in production long before Loki aired. However, it’s still interesting to see the two seem to reflect each other so well. In some respects, both Flux and Loki could be seen as an attempt to “prestige”-ify Doctor Who, albeit coming at the concept from two diametrically opposed angles. Loki is an attempt to create an American answer to Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, while Flux is an attempt to build a version of Doctor Who that looks more like American cult television.

Sticking out from the pack.

There are other aspects of Survivors of the Flux that feel of a piece with the larger themes of the Chibnall era. The subplot focusing on the Grand Serpent and U.N.I.T. feels very much like an attempt to create “a grand unified theory of U.N.I.T.”, in much the same way that War of the Sontarans tried to create “a grand unified theory of the Sontarans” and Village of the Angels tried to create “a grand unified theory of the Weeping Angels.” To a certain extent, it could be argued that The Timeless Children was an attempt to create “a grand unified theory of the Morbius Doctors.”

There is a lot of continuity in Survivors of the Flux, and the episode deliberately foregrounds it. After all, this is an episode that treats the line “I’m Tecteun” as a major dramatic revelation, expecting the casual Sunday audience to rock backwards in their chair at the discovery that Barbara Flynn is playing the character who was introduced during an exposition dump in the previous season finale. Watching Survivors of the Flux, one gets a sense that the episode’s subplot of motivated in no small part by an effort to clarify “the U.N.I.T. dating controversy.”

Survivors of the Flux draws together a lot of strands of Doctor Who continuity and fanon, rendering a lot of previously implied ideas part of the show’s canon. The reference to “the whole thing at Post Office Tower” seems to effectively position The War Machines as something of an unofficial starting point for U.N.I.T., pushing the organisation’s origins earlier than the Brigadier’s appearances in The Web of Fear and The Invasion. Metatextually, this makes sense, as The War Machines was one of the first stories in the show’s history to imagine the Doctor solving an existential threat to the world outside the audience’s window.

Similarly, Survivors of the Flux makes a point to explicitly define U.N.I.T. as “a new taskforce set up by the United Nations”, erasing subsequent attempts to put distance between the United Nations and the fictional organisation. (Later stories would insist that U.N.I.T. stood for UNified Intelligence Taskforce.”) It is a very deliberate and very precise sort of flex, one that feels like it’s very important for the episode to nail this particular flag to the mast.

Heil Serpent.

However, there’s a weird sense of self-importance to all this. As with a lot of Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who, it’s hard not to get the sense that the most important thing to the show is Doctor Who itself. There are echoes of Ascension of the Cybermen to all this, in which a major subplot seemed to effectively argue that watching Earthshock was much more interesting than watching Call the Midwife or Poldark or Downton Abbey or the traditional Sunday evening fare. In Bad Wolf, Russell T. Davies positioned Doctor Who as part of the television landscape. In Ascension of the Cybermen, it stood in opposition.

Survivors of the Flux takes a surreal amount of pride in the idea of U.N.I.T., a fictional organisation that exists entirely within the world of Doctor Who and which largely served as a handy storytelling device when the show decided to exile the Third Doctor to (somewhere close to) modern day Earth. “National Health Service be damned,” boasts General Farquhar. “U.N.I.T. is the project for which the public will be grateful.” The disbanding of U.N.I.T. in Resolution was part of a sinister alien plan. Kate Stewart offers a stirring warning to the Grand Serpent, “You’re gambling that nobody cares – that nobody looks at U.N.I.T. anymore.”

This is all very strange. Survivors of the Flux seems to care as more about the enduring heroism of an entirely fictional piece of Doctor Who continuity than it does about the entire planet. It’s a very odd emphasis, but it’s one that prioritises Doctor Who continuity ahead of absolutely everything else. There’s no real biting political commentary about these sorts of institutions or the politics that drive them, just an understanding that this piece of Doctor Who continuity deserves to be venerated and respected.

It’s particularly frustrating because the plot focusing on the Grand Serpent feels like a very long walk to a very obvious conclusion. The Grand Serpent has stood in the shadows, manipulating decades of U.N.I.T. history, all so that the Sontarans can launch an invasion of Earth. It’s all very convoluted. Why does the Grand Serpent shut down U.N.I.T. before the events of Resolution? Why not earlier? Why not continue ruling it from the shadows? After all, it is not as if U.N.I.T. has ever been particularly effective at stopping alien invasions like Army of Ghosts or The Sound of Drums or The Stolen Earth.

Shadowy figure.

More to the point, even allowing for the Lupari defense shield around Earth, there are more efficient ways of manoeuvring the Grand Serpent into that position. If the Grand Serpent’s narrative role is to allow the Sontaran invasion of Earth, there are ways to do that which do not involve referencing stories that very few members of the viewing audience have ever even heard of. The Grand Serpent could easily have posed as a refugee and travelled with Bel to Karvanista, which would have made for some nice tension, and set up a nice betrayal; if Bel wants to help the “survivors of the Flux”, why not manipulate that?

Even in terms of specific Chibnall era continuity, it might have made more sense for the Grand Serpent to serve as campaign manager for Jack Robertson, and to manipulate his way to power through episodes like Arachnids in the U.K. It would feel just a little bit like the Master’s masquerade as “Harold Saxon” in The Sound of Drums, but there’s not anything particularly wrong with that. The idea of the Grand Serpent manipulating the election of the President of the United States to serve his own sinister agenda would certainly be a pointed and timely piece of political commentary, galvinising the themes of the season.

After all, there is something inherently conspiratorial about Chibnall’s plotting of Flux. Part of this is just down to the heavily serialised structure, which encourages apophenia in the audience. Trying to piece together the larger narrative in the middle of the season often feels like trying to construct a conspiracy narrative with incomplete data. However, it’s more than just that. Building from The Timeless Children, Chibnall has structured Flux as a series of “secret histories” and “hidden narratives”, where there’s always another secret waiting to be revealed or another layer to be pulled back.

Everything in the world of Flux is connected, encouraging audiences to take out their cork boards and their red string to tie it all together. Characters are tied together. Sinister forces control the universe. Everything is part of a much larger plan. The world is run by cabals that are acting agains the interests of ordinary people. After all, if the Flux itself is the literal embodiment of chaos, then Flux is an attempt to build an ordered narrative around chaos. That is the appeal of conspiracy theory, after all, and it’s a mode of thinking that draws people to these sorts of serialised narratives – the idea that there is an overarching “plan.”

Galaxy’s Edge.

In some ways, function follows form. If Flux is built like a standard serialised narrative, and a standard serialised narrative is built like a conspiracy theory, it makes sense that Flux is populated with figures who feel like they emerged from conspiracy theories. Flux is full of secret people standing in secret rooms, dictating the course of history from the lacunas in the official narrative. The villains of Flux live in the gaps. They exist in the continuity void. So building a larger continuity becomes a heroic act. Establishing a concrete “canon” from Doctor Who becomes justifiable, as it removes the spaces where these monsters can lurk.

This is perhaps the hear of the Chibnall era. It is about imposing order on chaos. It’s about removing ambiguity or nuance. It’s about imposing concrete meaning on abstract ideas. It’s a very rigid and rational approach to writing Doctor Who, and one that is very much at odds with the franchise’s traditional laissez-faire approach to these concepts. Flux seems to suggest that the solution to the eponymous existential crisis is to nail everything down as firmly as possible.

Ultimately, it feels like the Grand Serpent plot doesn’t exist because it’s the most logical or most efficient way for Chibnall to advance the plot that he wants to tell – the betrayal of humanity to the invading Sontaran fleet. Instead, it feels like it exists primarily as an excuse to tie together various disparate threads of continuity. It exists to both reference a host of in-jokes and to make the universe feel smaller. It’s full of easter eggs to satisfy long-term fans who obsess over this sort of thing, but those eggs are just empty calories.

It is very clear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a major influence on Flux. This has been obvious from the upside-down introduction of the Doctor and Yaz in The Halloween Apocalypse, which recalled the opening of Thor: Ragnarok. It was also reflected in the visualisation of the Flux swallowing planets like Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Even Swarm’s threatened finger-snap in War of the Sontarans felt like a very direct allusion to one of the most iconic moments in modern blockbuster cinema.

A little tied up.

So it makes sense that the Grand Serpent’s plan in Survivors of the Flux should feel like an allusion to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with the Grand Serpent hijacking an organisation heirarchy to serve his own sinister purpose. The snake tattoos and imagery even evoke the image of the mythical “HYDRA” as a sort of scaled and reptilian beast, while the idea of well-placed secret operatives evokes the perversion of S.H.I.E.L.D. by HYDRA. It’s a shame that the commentary feels just as shallow.

There would be an interesting story to tell about U.N.I.T. as an organisation that had been given too much power, and which had allowed its influence and mandate to grow and expand over the ensuing decades. There would be a potentially biting piece of political commentary there, made all the more effective for the fact that the audience is invested in U.N.I.T. It would genuinely challenge the audience, and ask them to consider what they had invested so much faith in following. However, Survivors of the Flux isn’t willing to make that point.

There’s also a strong sense of Avengers: Infinity War as a major influence on Flux. Indeed, watching the section of the plot focusing on Bel and Vinder, as the two wander through a devastated cosmos and keep narrowly missing one another, it recalls the structural elements that Infinity War borrowed from Game of Thrones. In particular, it recalls the plot thread focusing on Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy exploring the ruined cosmos left in the wake of Thanos. The cosmic wreckage that Bel surveys and that Vinder visits feels a lot like the devastated Knowhere or the Forge of Nidavellir.

That said, the globe-trotting adventures of Yaz, Dan and Jericho feels like something taken from an old-fashioned pulp adventure, particularly as the characters deal with would-be assassins and journey around the world. Of course, the pandemic restrictions have obviously prevented the show from filming abroad as it did with The Ghost Monument or Demons of the Punjab, but it is nice to see Chibnall continuing to push for a sense of genuine scale and adventure to the series, as the characters journey between Mexico, Constantinople and Nepel.

Raiders of the Lost Arc.

That said, the most obvious pandemic restrictions aren’t those in front of the camera. Due to the recent outbreak, the production team had to cut the number of episodes in the season. It seems likely that this accounts for some of the rushed plotting and the various contrivances at play. Chibnall’s plots have always hung together rather loosely, relying on massive coincidences and happenstances to move the story along while hoping that the audience won’t necessarily notice the inelegant sleight of hand.

In The Halloween Apocalypse, Dan ends up with the Thirteenth Doctor by sheer coincidence because he happens to be the human that Karvanista is assigned to protect and because Karvanista just happened to be a Division operative. This is fine, this is the kind of coincidence that is just a basic plot instigator, even if it seems weird that Karvanista’s allegience to the Division has never really come up again. However, the plot then also requires the convenient leap of Karvanista’s ship getting stuck in a time loop, meaning that he also arrives on Earth early.

In War of the Sontarans, these contrivances all escalate. When Yaz and Dan are scooped out of time, they both happen to get dropped exactly where the plot needs them to be for the story to advance. Dan returns home to Liverpool to fight the Sontarans and Yaz is sent to the planet Time. Again, these sorts of contrivances are excusable, as they are necessary to keep the narrative moving along. They only become a problem when the story slows down so much that these contrivances begin to add up.

In Village of the Angels, the Doctor just happens to find a rogue Weeping Angel with knowledge about the Division. The episode then neatly resolves itself when that rogue Weeping Angel strikes a deal with its “extraction squad” to take the Doctor instead, while leaving Yaz and Dan (and Jericho) stranded in the countryside rather than feeding on them. Again, all of this feels like it’s plotting that is necessary for the characters to end up where they are supposed to be for the story to move in the direction that it needs to move.

Ringing a Bel.

However, as the series reaches its conclusion, these sorts of contrivances become more noticeable and more objectionable. After all, the entire appeal of a conclusion is that it brings the various narrative strands together. Making convenient choices in setting up those strands is fair play, as that takes place far enough away from the conclusion that it doesn’t feel like cheating. However, these contrivances become harder to ignore as a story builds towards its crescendo. It is easier to notice when the orchestra is skipping a beat – or several.

Survivors of the Flux reveals that the Grand Serpent who sabotaged Vinder’s career in Once, Upon Time is also a Division operative who has been manipulating the history of U.N.I.T. That feels like a choice that makes the universe of the show smaller, suggesting that there are perhaps only a few dozen people who actually matter in the grand cosmic scheme of Flux. Similarly, it is revealed in Once, Upon Time that “the Passenger” can hold millions of people. So it seems somewhat convenient that Vinder and Diane find each immediately upon his arrival inside.

Are they the only two people inside? They are the only two people who appear in the sequence, and Swarm seems to imply that he is collecting “friends of the Doctor’s”, but Diane doesn’t seem too surprised to see another person, but is instead surprised to see another person who is armed, exclaiming, “Finally, someone with a gun.” So it seems like a massive coincidence that the two characters just happen to find one another, even though the plot requires that they do.

(There is perhaps something similar at play in Dan’s attempts to message Karvanista across time. Time travel has always been somewhat fluid on Doctor Who, and it’s often better for the show to avoid getting into the whole “timey wimey” aspect of it. However, if Yaz, Dan and Jericho wrote the message in 1904, it seems strange that it should take so long for Karvanista to read it in 2021. After all, Karvanista has been in orbit of Earth since The Halloween Apocalypse. It’s a weird narrative beat, and one that isn’t even offered a handwave of an explanation.)

A Swarm Swelcome.

Flux is building towards a conclusion with Survivors of the Flux. As with both The Halloween Apocalypse and Once, Upon Time, Survivors of the Flux bets big by effectively offloading any real dramatic or character pay-off until The Vanquished. It’s a strategy that has propelled a lot of Flux to this point, perhaps to diminishing effect. With Survivors of the Flux, the cracks are a lot more evident, and it feels like the show is straining under the weight.

28 Responses

  1. Can’t believe he’s adding *another* subplot with this much already on the table. It’s so difficult to even get at what this series is about, with all these extraneous threads all over the place.

  2. “Survivors of the Flux seems to care as more about the enduring heroism of an entirely fictional piece of Doctor Who continuity than it does about the entire planet. It’s a very odd emphasis, but it’s one that prioritises Doctor Who continuity ahead of absolutely everything else.”

    It seems the biggest problem the Chibnall era has in relation to continuity is the same on the JNT era did: it listened to certain sections of the fandom just a little too heavily.

    Specifically, Chibnall seems to be listening to the bit of the fandom that does want explanations for why or how things happened. Why do the Sontarans have probic vents and wear armour, some fans ask. Chibnall writes War of the Sontarans. The Timeless Child twist exists effectively for the purpose of giving an explanation for the Mobius Doctors.

    Even this episode’s subplot on UNIT seems to be the result of listening to the fans. Not only is it for the fans who demand an official explanation for how UNIT came to be but those who do actually feel that it deserves this kind of prominence. It very clearly exists to appease the fans annoyed about Resolution sacrificing UNIT for a joke about Brexit, because according to them UNIT can only be destroyed in a blaze of heroic glory or because an alien was smart enough to get rid of it.

    • Yep. This is exactly it. My parents and siblings and friend don’t really care about U.N.I.T. They certainly don’t want a potted history of U.N.I.T., and they certainly don’t want it in the penultimate episode of a season that hasn’t been at all interested in U.N.I.T. to this point. (Where was Kate Stewart during the previous Sontaran invasion in War of the Sontarans?)

  3. Ehh….this was a nonsensical pile of gibberish. I think you’ve been nicer to this season than I would’ve been. It’s an absolute mess from a macro-perspective.

    • Oh, I try to travel in good faith and give the benefit of the doubt, even when it maybe hasn’t been earned. But The Vanquishers does break me. Particularly when, in hindsight, so much of Survivors of the Flux turns out to be utterly, utterly pointless.

  4. Something you missed in the UNIT dating fiasco. Chibnall royally screwed up with that ‘Shouty Corporal’ bit. If Lethbridge-Stewart’s a Corporal in UNIT in 1967, how is he a Colonel in the Guards just a few years later in ‘Web of Fear’?

  5. ” It’s worryingly close to the language of “the great replacement”, the idea that migration and other factors are radically altering the demographic make-up of developed nations, and that this poses an existential threat to the integrity of those nations.”

    Uh dude I actually live in America, am in Vegas rn and live in California and was just living in Florida. America is literally overrun with illegals everywhere and it is altering the demo make up. If you look at statistics we’re not even majority white in a few years tf. You really think illegal immigration isn’t a problem? You live in Ireland anyway the hell. You don’t need to frame it in “right wing” terms either because Clinton was bitching about illegals in the 90s and everyone was applauding him because its common sense that hiring illegals to do labor for cheaper is going to cause problems and the whole reason its illegalized. Illegals should not be allowed into the country and if they are offered jobs it should be at the same wages as anyone else. Not to mention that since the Iraq/Afghan pull out we took out refugees from there and they just walked out of their shelters and now are wandering around and some of them were confirmed Al Quayda. Yup America’s just totally making too big of a deal of illegal immigration and its obviously horrible demonstrable effects on the society let me tell ya smh

    • Yes. I’m Irish. Two hundred years ago I would have been considered subhuman to the British and the white settlers of the United States. (Nothing like an attempted ethnic cleansing by the British to drive migration, and to let my ancestors know precisely how welcome they were in the United States.)

      That’s changed, of course, and I’m lucky enough to enjoy the privilege of being seen as white, but you’ll please forgive me for not jumping on the bandwagon of considering anybody not from my country of origin of being some sort of parasite out to usurp or supplant me.

      • I’m not saying anyone from a different country is here to usurp me, I’m a Jew myself so that means my ancestors were immigrants as well. I support legal immigration and don’t mind for instance people from Peru or France or wherever the fuck coming here LEGALLY! To allow illegals to take over the country so the Dems can win elections is such a ridiculous overreach of americas a melting pot ever and it’s just straight up unconstitutional. I like how you don’t even bother with my argument and just label me as racist or afraid of other people coming into the country which isn’t even true. How tf has ILLEGAL immigration become a positive thing in liberal circles? It’s so retarded and you don’t even want to actually have a discussion about it so you’re just like “ehhh you’re just racist and don’t like other people.” Motherfucker I’m literally friends with an Asian Muslim, a black Jew, a dude from peru…. I don’t mind other cultures and people who actually want to assimilate into America and learn our culture and add to it. Illegals don’t do that and shouldn’t be allowed into the country because they’re yknow ILLEGAL! I was talking to my Peruvian friend about his trip from Peru to California and he told me he had to get vaxed and wear a face shield and 2 face masks just to get over here on plane meanwhile Mexicans who are unvaxed just jump the border. And that article you linked to saying Carlson is a white superemacist is retarded as again what he was saying was that Dems bring in illegals so they can win elections which is a demonstrably true fact. Im not scared of other cultures or other people or whatever the fuck, I don’t even care as long as they’re legal but caring about laws makes me racist 🤦‍♂️ Why tf do you think no one has a problem with Cubans?

      • … really, you’re wondering why this nonsense got flagged automatically by WordPress’ spam filters?

        It’s just proof that not everything is a conspiracy, despite your paranoia.

        (Also, speaking of paranoia, I never called you a racist. I pointed out that somebody who creates a false equivalence between non-white people and citizens not born in the United States and “illegals” is probably a racist. You can choose to be that person if you want, and I’ll admit that the weird connection you seem to insist on making between “illegals are rigging elections!” (conspiracy nonsense with no basis in fact) and “people of different backgrounds are legally exercising their democratic rights in a way that upsets me!” (which is how democracy works) certainly seems to suggest some equivalence on your part.)

  6. I just watched Tucker’s Great Replacement segment for context and what he’s saying isn’t “white supremacist,” he’s just pointing out that the democrats use illegals to win elections and get more votes which is a fact if you look at poc or immigrant voting habits.

    • Just a head’s up here of something you should probably be aware of: (a.) you have to a U.S. citizen to vote in the U.S. elections and (b.) investigations into the 2020 election found fewer that 475 potential instances of voter fraud.

      So, yes, any indication that immigrants are coming to rob white people of their political power is inherently racist nonsense, not least because it seems to equate

      poc or immigrant

      with “illegal immigrant.” Not everybody with more melanin is an illegal immigrant. Not everybody who wasn’t born in your country is an illegal immigrant. Not everybody (or even anybody from a statistically noteworthy perspective) who votes according to different beliefs from you is an illegal immigrant. And saying that people who are legally citizens don’t belong in your country because of their place of birth despite following the rules sounds pretty… suspect to me.

      But this sort of nonsense equivalence is exactly the point I was making.

      • Lol dude, ok if illegals have no impact on voting then why have traditionally republicans places like Nevada suddenly become dem right after being invaded by tons of illegals? In the tucker video he was literally talking about how the black population went from 15 percent in the 80s to now about 8% and is overwhelmingly Hispanic. Also how many illegals have become legal citizens due to coming in illegally and having babies here? That’s not going to get counted on an “illegal immigration” count and also since you didn’t source it I have to doubt the legitimacy of it anyway. But Dems literally talk about this shit all the time, they’re like oh the demos of Texas is changing and becoming less white so soon it will be majority democrat. This is basic common sense and just looking at voting records. Oh and people who vote differently for me? I’m fucking liberal! I voted for Biden in 2020, sanders in the primary, and Hillary in 2016 and sanders in the primary for that. But thank you for just instantly categorizing me as a right wing bigot trump supporter becsuse I don’t like illegals 😂 I literally mentioned a goddamn bill Clinton speech Jesus Christ.

      • I mean, maybe – and hear me out here – traditionally conservative parts of the country had enough integrity and basic decency (and faith in American ideals) that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a racist moronic narcissistic sociopath whose mismanagement of American affairs turned the nation into a joke to foreign powers and led to the death of more Americans than Vietnam, the Second World War and the Korean War combined.

        That would seem to be Occam’s Razor. If you look at what Trump did to the United States and assume that the only way he could lose is because of some vast nonsense conspiracy, maybe… you should take a deep breath and just look around again.

      • I forgot to put “in la” when I was talking about the black population.

      • “People in your country don’t belong even though they’re following the rules” wtf are you talking about dude? I’m talking about illegals who came in ILLEGALLY and aren’t following the rules tf!

      • You’re not, though.

        There’s no evidence at all that illegal immigrants voted in any significant or even statistically insignificant numbers. So you’re really just complaining about

        poc or immigrant

        people exercising their democratic franchise. You’re suggesting an equivalence that is… unsettling. I never suggested any connection, you volunteered it. I suspect, because there’s no actual evidence to back up your conspiracy theories about illegal immigrants voting, so you pointed to a group you considered equivalent.

      • Abs the reason I said poc in that statement was just to point out the fact that pocs typically vote left I’m not saying I have a problem with pocs Jesus Christ. You won’t even bother listening to my fucking argument because you’ve already pigeonholed me as someone who’s racist , voted for trump and hates anyone who isn’t white which couldn’t be further from the truth but that’s all liberals do over the fucking internet now because they can’t actually have regular discussions and just show racist and Hitler at you.

      • Never called you a racist. Never mentioned Hitler. You appear to be Godwinning yourself, and accusing me of orchestrating some sinister conspiracy against you so you can feel like a victim.

        It’s all very intense. But maybe just acknowledge there’s no evidence of illegal immigrants voting, and that suggesting their (non-existent) voting habits were equivalent to that of minorities and legal immigrants was a false equivalence, like comparing apples and an empty box.

      • Test

      • Push my comments through dammit why do I have to be modded now?

      • Your comments are being caught by the automatic spam filter, which is – admittedly – doing a good job of catching nonsense comments full of swear words and paranoid accusations. WordPress will be receiving a positive review from me. I do try to keep the tone at least somewhat civil on the blog, and the filter recognizes that. I am approving the comments as I see them, but – truth be told – I don’t really have any particular interest in approving comments from people posting paranoid nonsense accusing me of things I haven’t done because it plays into their own sense of victimhood.

        That said, there is perhaps an irony here in you realising how hard it is to force your way into a conversation when you don’t follow the rules or the procedures. It’s not a sinister conspiracy, it’s just the system working. Still, consider this a warning. I let this round of nonsense through because I don’t want to play into your paranoid victim narrative. I’m not going to keep going to the effort if you’re just going to repeat nonsense.

        And before you complain: you have a right to free speech, I don’t have an obligation to publish your speech.

      • Push my comments through dammit

      • When you ask so nicely, how could I refuse?

      • They don’t even id check you in America when you vote you idiot 🤦‍♂️

      • Actually, a solid two thirds of states have voter identification laws. So you’re talking nonsense. Plus, voter fraud is voter fraud. If there was this epidemic, there’d be more than 475 potential cases among a population of 250 million. But you’re a smart guy, you understand that.

        After all, recent years have shown us that the authorities don’t really need a reason to persecute minorities and people of colour.

        Also, if you were wondering why your comments were getting flagged by the spam filters on the site, that sort of casually insulting nonsense would be a key factor. The filter does a good job trying to keep the tone of discussion on the site civil at least.

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