All right, so the first part of the six-part DOCTOR WHO season “The Flux” just aired, meaning that I’ve had time to gather my thoughts, which I’ll share with you here. As usual, this isn’t really meant as a review per se, more like just some casual conversation about the show, the story, and the direction.
So let’s start with the good: I did find that I enjoyed it a bit more than I have recent seasons, for all that it was far from perfect. Immediately, the relationship between the Doctor and Yaz is a thousand times stronger and more meaningful–bringing the central cast down to fewer Tardis-teamers means that everybody gets more screen time, and that was definitely true in this instance. Frankly, as I guessed I would feel last year, I would be perfectly happy to simply stick with the Doctor and Yaz as a two-hander and skip adding in a third player.
That said, I did find that I liked newcomer Dan. It remains to be seen how well he’ll integrate on a more permanent basis with the other two, but as a character-introduction and POV on teh Doctor’s world figure, it was a very nice first turn. I found him instantly likeable, even if it was occasionally difficult to decipher his pronounced accent. (Maybe it was just me, but I felt as though the sound mix had been changed up, making the music score more pronounced. While this may have been a move made in response to criticisms that the music has been a bit lifeless and background in the recent past, here it was maybe too much, as it occasionally made it difficult to decipher the dialogue.)
As a story, The Halloween Apocalypse doesn’t really work, but it was a decent enough opening salvo on what is meant to be a six-episode arc. A lot of balls were thrown into the air–including, frankly, a few that probably didn’t need to be in this episode. (I’m looking at you, 1899 Liverpool flashback. While I have no doubt that you will be relevant to the overall plot eventually, I also suspect that this entire scene could have been migrated to the start of whatever episode these tunnels are going to become relevant to the plot.)
There’s also a habit that writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall has that Dan Slott points to quite often, which is spending time unnecessarily with characters who are ultimately cannon fodder. In this story, he’s got a real point. The bit where we meet the nice couple living up at the Arctic Circle was a nice enough introduction, but if you cut it completely and instead introduced them with the later scene in which the villainous Swarm shows up in their bedroom, nothing meaningful would be lost. Oh, sure, maybe you’d care a fraction less when the husband gets disintegrated, but honestly, how much did you care as it was? So that time wasn’t spent all that meaningfully, and would have been better spent on a character or a plot element that was going to be a bit more relevant to the whole.
Because there was a lot going on throughout this episode–characters are thrown at the audience at a frenetic pace. Somebody said that it almost feels like three different DOCTOR WHO stories all overlapping, which is about right, and I’m sure part of teh effect the production team was going for. But to do that to maximum benefit, you need to understand which aspects of the overall story to emphasize and which to do less with. I can appreciate a puzzle box structure (those were a hallmark of Steven Moffat’s stories as a WHO writer, after all) but I do feel like by the end of the opening chapter, I should be able to have some sense of what the picture is. And we do get some sense of what the Flux is and what’s going on. But I confess, i can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason that the story is being laid out in such a confusing fashion is to conceal the fact that there’s a gaping emotional hole somewhere at its center.
What else? Swarm was fine enough (although again here, his introductory scene with the two hapless security officers went on for too long, and told us nothing more about him that that he was a bad guy.) I did feel that visually he was maybe a bit too close to Tim Shaw, the unfortunate alien menace from Jodie Whittaker’s first season. But like his predecessors, it seems Chris Chibnall has a type of alien look that he likes, and that’s forgivable. The Weeping Angels and the Sontarans both felt a bit wasted here, in particular the latter. Again, I might have saved them for next week, where it appears they’ll be a bit more germane to the core story. Karvanista I liked for the most part, once the episode stopped trying to convince me that he was a bad guy–I never bit, fellas, you didn’t sell it well enough. He looked good and had a strong but simple personality, and for all that he verged on a Wookiesque appearance, by the end of the outing he had become a distinct character. There’s a bit less to make of Claire, the woman on the street, though it felt like she got just the right amount of exposure and exposition here. And Vinder was wasted–as with the initial scene with the Arctic couple, you could have easily cut one or even both of his sequences in this episode and not lost anything narratively.
And finally, it’s clear that the overall story is going to be delving more deeply into the ongoing questions presented by the revelation of the Doctor as the Timeless Child last season. I said before that I would be perfectly happy to just get some stories before unraveling that knotted ball of yarn, but here I felt like a good balance was struck–the concern about the Division and the Doctor attempting to get to the bottom of those stunning revelations wasn’t the primary driver of the episode, which was nice. (Although, it is a bit coincidental that just after the Doctor makes that breakthrough, an old enemy from those long-forgotten days turns up again. But that’s so storytelling 101 that I’m willing to look past it.)
Performances were good across the board, and while Jodie’s Doctor still often felt as though she was confused and overwhelmed a hair more than I’d like, she also got moments to be strong and active, which I appreciated. I don’t need the Doctor to be all-knowing, but I do need her to be approached like the lead character. When she comes into a story, the story should begin to bend towards here simply by virtue of her very presence. That started to happen here (again, maybe in a more on-the-nose fashion than I might like given the telepathic messages from Swarm. I can’t say I love it when stories klonk on the Doctor’s head and tell her that they’re going on and that she ought to be involved. Is there any goo reason why Swarm should be broadcasting his intent to his oldest foe?)
Overall, a solid enough outing, and nicely entertaining. My personal score may go up and down a few points based upon how some of these elements play themselves out across the next five weeks. As usual, I’ll keep you all informed as we go.