• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Three: Once, Upon Time (Review)

“Love is the only mission.”

Once, Upon Time is equal parts ambitious and frustrating.

It feels like an attempt to adopt the approach that Chris Chibnall took to The Halloween Apocalypse and apply it to a mid-season episode. Allowing for the tertiary plot involving Yaz, War of the Sontarans was recognisable as a fairly straightforward Chibnall era episode, albeit one tied to the season arc. It was a historical epic about a marginalised female hero like Rosa or Spyfall, Part II and it was also a modern-day invasion story like Arachnids in the U.K. or Revolution of the Daleks. Sure, the plot mechanics where governed by the larger concerns of Doctor Who: Flux, but it was recognisable as an episode of Doctor Who.

Blaster from the… future?

In contrast, Once, Upon Time is a radically different approach to Doctor Who on television, one that feels like an extension of the style of The Halloween Apocalypse. On some level, it recalls another of the bolder scripts of the Chibnall era, The Timeless Children, in that it really feels like Chris Chibnall is driving Doctor Who like he stole it. He is trying to do something new with a nearly sixty-year-old franchise. That is genuinely admirable, particularly given how traditionalist the rest of the era around it can feel. For Doctor Who to grow and evolve, it needs to be able to try new things.

However, that’s a very qualified comparison. Like The Timeless Children before it, Once, Upon Time is an episode that doesn’t necessarily work on its own terms. It demonstrates that an episode like The Halloween Apocalypse – an episode with multiple seemingly disconnected threads constantly pushing the narrative forward – only really worked as a season premiere. The Halloween Apocalypse worked because it started with a bang. The audience were oriented coming into the episode, which made the chaos somewhat compelling.

Time, pyramided.

In contrast, Once, Upon Time is too disjointed. It never provides the audience with enough to hold on to as it jumps from one concept to another. It is an episode that should theoretically have a set of clear emotional hearts – Dan and Diane, Vinder and Bel, the Doctor and her past – but gets too tied up in scale and speed to really ground anything that is happening. Once, Upon Time feels like a more dynamic version of The Timeless Children, a lot of exposition in place of what should be a compelling and engaging emotional narrative.

Once, Upon Time feels like it is trying for something new, but it isn’t quite succeeding.

Back up.

Continue reading

Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Two: War of the Sontarans (Review)

“I have Queen and Country on my side. That is all that I need.”

“She here with you right now, the Queen?”

War of the Sontarans is a basically functional episode of Doctor Who, even if it feels like a rough draft of a more interesting premise that moves quickly enough to dance over the more obvious cracks.

In some ways, War of the Sontarans feels very much like a proof of concept for Doctor Who: Flux, a demonstration of how exactly Chibnall is going to turn that frantic season-opener into a sustainable six-episode miniseries. War of the Sontarans settles down, severely trimming down the number of plot threads in play at the end of The Halloween Apocalypse. Diane and Claire are nowhere to be found. The Weeping Angels are entirely absent. Joseph Williamson only makes a minor appearance, serving primarily to remind audience members that he still exists.

“Queuing for petrol,
Queuing for petrol.
Queuing for petrol.
And I’m on a horse.”

So War of the Sontarans feels very much like a conventional episode of Doctor Who, albeit with considerably more plot crammed into comparatively less space, and with a secondary subplot that more directly ties into the larger arc. It’s not the most elegant way of structuring an event story like this, but it is a more workable model for six weeks of Doctor Who. This is an episode of television that will be easy enough for casual audience members to follow, even if they haven’t seen The Halloween Apocalypse. Indeed, it’s possible to argue that this is easier to follow than The Halloween Apocalypse.

For all the plot and narrative hijinks at work in War of the Sontarans, the episode is remarkably straightforward. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. War of the Sontarans touches on a variety of interesting ideas, but never lingering on any of them or pushing them too far into their more compelling implications.

Sontaring into battle.

Continue reading

Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter One: The Halloween Apocalypse (Review)

“You know, Yaz. I can’t help but feel like some of this is my fault.”

In the lead-up to the broadcast of Doctor Who: Flux, there was some debate about the marketting of the series.

After all, it seemed like fans knew more about the distant fourteenth season of the revival than they did about the looming thirteenth season. Information about Chibnall’s third season tended to escape into the wild rather than derive from a single coherent source. Former showrunner Steven Moffat seemed to (accidentally) confirm that the Weeping Angels were appearing. Part of the publicity campaign for Flux involved deleting the show’s social media presence. The first trailer was released only three weeks before the premiere. In interviews, Chibnall openly worried about “giving too much away.”

Dogged pursuit.

In some ways, this is typical of the larger Chibnall era. After all, Chibnall took great pride in seeding the phrase “the Timeless Child” in The Ghost Monument, only to eventually pay it off with twenty minutes of expository flashbacks in The Timeless Children. The Chibnall era is very plot-focused, which means that it is paranoid of potential spoilers, and it is reasonable to wonder whether that paranoia makes it harder to sell the show to the general public. For a sprawling six-part epic built around one of the BBC’s flagship properties, Flux seemed to fly in under the radar.

Then again, this makes a certain amount of sense watching The Halloween Apocalypse. The season premiere doesn’t really feel like an episode of television, at least not in the traditional sense. There is a relatively minor self-contained plot within the episode focusing on Karvanista and Dan, which is neatly wrapped up within the episode proper. However, that is just one thread of a story that cuts frantically from one thread to another, introducing a host of set-ups that promise the possibility and the potential of chaos.

Tracing an outline of the season ahead.

This is itself pure and unfiltered Chris Chibnall. It is the ultimate acceleration and culmination of the style that he adopted in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Inheriting the series from Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, Chibnall was a writer who lacked his predecessors’ skill with character and dialogue. Watching The Woman Who Fell to Earth, it seemed like Chibnall’s solution to this problem was to ensure that there was always something to cut away to – that he could get into and out of scenes quickly, to distract from the fact that his dialogue and characters felt rather generic.

The Halloween Apocalypse takes that idea to its logical extreme. It introduces a variety of disparate and disconnected elements that are presented as a series of mystery boxes, hoping that the audience will be enticed enough to keep watching – the Swarm and his history with the Doctor, the transformed Azure, the mysterious Vinder, Claire who appears to be from the Doctor’s past and/or future, the Sontaran invasion fleet, the mysterious excavations in 1820. None of these elements get any pay-off, or even development. Instead, they are simply spinning plates positioned for the rest of the six-episode arc.

With that in mind, the marketting strategy makes a great deal more sense. Why would Flux need heavy advertising, if the first episode was essentially a fifty-minute trailer?

Being a little cagey about spoilers.

Continue reading