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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.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Penumbra (Review)

Penumbra represents the beginning of the end, kicking off the epic ten-episode conclusion to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

To be fair, Deep Space Nine had already embraced serialised storytelling, whether in the seeding of gradually-building plotlines or its long-term character development. The show was most serialised in the audacious six-episode arc that opened the sixth season; A Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels. In some ways, the ten-episode closing arc is ultimately an extension of that basic idea. However, it is also something more complex.

When the moon is in the seventh house in the Kendra Province…

In some ways, this last narrative experiment would be the boldest creative decision of the entire seven year run. The production team had strained a little bit in structuring and pacing those six linked episodes; Sons and Daughters was notably the runt of the litter, telling a relatively standalone story about Worf while essentially repeating Kira’s character arc from Rocks and Shoals in a much less effective manner. As such, trying to tie ten hours of television together into a single cohesive narrative was a bold move. Then again, Deep Space Nine had never been short of ambition.

It is tempting to treat this ten-episode run as a single story, and it kinda is; Netflix labels the forty-five minute episodes as “Part 1”, “Part 2”, “Part 3”, “Part 4”, “Part 5”, “Part 6”, “Part 7” and “Part 8.” However, the run can also be broken down into smaller chunks. ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows were originally titled Umbra and Eclipse, suggesting a three-parter. In contrast, TV Guide listed the first four episodes in the run as a four-parter. When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind are definitely a two-parter. Extreme Measures is practically standalone.

Build a final arc.

Admittedly, the storytelling falters in places, as the production team’s reach occasionally exceeds their grasp. Some of these issues are outside the control of the production team, such as the budgetary concerns that hinder Extreme Measures. Some of these issues are entirely within the control of the production team, such as the pacing of the subplot with Winn and Dukat that leads to the most transparent stalling tactic in When It Rains…. Individual story choices are occasionally misguided, such as the emphasis on the Breen or the Pah-Wraiths.

Nevertheless, these ten episodes hang together surprisingly well. There is a sense of purpose and momentum running through these episodes that strengthens even the weaker hours. More than that, this ten-part saga includes some of the strongest episodes in the entire franchise, with episodes like When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind feeling like the culmination of more than nine years of storytelling across two different series. Though individual elements of this sprawling epic might miss the mark, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Dukat is of Bajor…

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Jessica Jones – AKA You’re a Winner! (Review)

AKA You’re a Winner! is certainly a much better standalone episode than AKA 99 Friends.

Of course, the episode is tied more tightly into the arc of the season around. Although AKA You’re a Winner! does little to advance Jessica’ on-going pursuit of Kilgrave, it does allow the show to advance many of its individual character plots. In particular, it allows Jessica and Luke a bit of space to advance their own plot while Hope Slottman deals with the consequences of her trauma and while Kilgrave begins to enact his own endgame. There is a sense of pieces moving around a chessboard, but moving with purpose.

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Despite the fact that AKA You’re a Winner! is less literally tied to the hunt for Kilgrave than AKA Crush Syndrome or AKA It’s Called Whiskey, it feels like it adds substantial more momentum to the on-going plot. The middle stretch of Jessica Jones represents the point at which the show has the clearest sense of drive and identity, the point at which the show is most comfortable in its own skin. AKA You’re a Winner! is a relatively light character-driven piece than the episodes around it, but it retains a firm grasp of the characters involved.

AKA You’re a Winner! feels like the kind of episode that Jessica Jones should have employed earlier in the season.

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