Doctor Who: The Halloween Apocalypse

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.

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Halloween Apocalypse

  1. There are actual tunnels built by Joseph Williamson under Liverpool,in the Edge Hill district,that nobody knows the reason he had then dug for. In fact every year they actually discover more tunnels. Incidentally just along from where his house was is the place of the worlds first railway terminus on Crown Street.

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  2. I hated the first half of the episode from the first frame. There’s nothing particularly surprising or clever to the “hey, we’re actually upside down!” gag since it’s telegraphed immediately by the way her hair and clothes hang. I don’t like being 20 seconds ahead of a punchline. And as we’ve discussed, seeing the Doctor helpless and hapless is a cross Whittaker has been forced to bear by a writer who couldn’t write a commanding hero if he were waterboarded. I loved the complexity of the deathtrap, but they escaped from doom almost completely by luck and impossible gymnastics. (I don’t buy that even an Olympic-level athlete could hurl themselves in a direction where they could grab what they were hanging from.)

    Black goo leaking in the Tardis. “Nothing to see here!” Note to Chibnall: having the Doctor so obviously lie to Yaz over and over *and over again* in an episode without paying it off and without giving me any confidence that there’s a good long-game reason for it does not endear me to her.

    I felt like Dan’s setup, while it served its purpose, was perfunctory, shallow, easy writing. He’s a good guy because he works at the food bank and sacrifices his soup for a hungry person? You would (rightfully) never let me get away with something that facile and cliche. Think about how cleverly Rose, Donna, Amy, and Clara were brought on stage and weep.

    AND why on fucking EARTH would Karvanista leave a “deathtrap” in his wake that’s a fully functional laptop? Why not just a goddamned BOMB? Because, by a happy stroke of luck, it was the only way the Doctor would have learned what’s going on, that’s why. What would have happened if the laptop had never been turned on? And why is Karvanista “covering his tracks” in the first place? To what end? Who the fuck does he think is following him? This entire bit was insane and violated one of my cardinal storytelling rules: you’re allowed to use coincidence to make the hero’s journey harder, but never easier.

    The woman who got caught by the Weeping Angel deserved her fate. The Angel’s not going anywhere, for Christ’s sake. Take your time and find the keyhole. You KNOW BETTER than to steal REPEATED glances away. All you had to do was get inside and close the door without blinking. You had one job. That was it. You failed, and since you failed purely because you made dumb choices, I don’t like you.

    However–as much as I hated the first half, it did turn a corner once the Sun Eater–sorry, Flux–showed up, so I’ll stop bitching now. The back half didn’t save the first half for me, but at least it was better executed. I actually admire the attempt to have, like, three entire episodes happening at once, but I worry that Chibnall’s not capable enough to make anything of it.

    I will also say this: I’m actually less bothered than you and Dan about how Chibnall tends to linger on cannon fodder characters because spending that much time on them always makes me think they might survive.

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  3. The breakneck speed and the constant tossing out of new places and characters made the story zing along but couldn’t paper over Whitaker doing incredible work just so her character from always seeming the completely idiot Chibnall writes her as. Dan is a super nice guy but with how stiff he moved and acted, I just can’t warm to him. I liked Vinder more in less time. BTW, why is Vinder a guest star and Dan a companion when they’ll both be in six episodes and debuted at the same time?

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  4. I think you are being very kind in your “casual conversation” about Ep.1, though I find myself more aligned with Mark Waid’s position. I don’t want to repeat anything said above, but merely add that much as I had hoped / wanted to enjoy this series opener, I was unable to do so. Chibnall is still virtue-signalling at the expense of plot and real character development and I can, so far, detect no improvement over the last disappointing series.
    John Bishop strives manfully in his role as new companion Dan, but his limited acting experience shows. That’s no biggy given some of the performances of previous companions over the decades, but I fear his “professional Scouser” personality (and the strength of his accent) may prove off-putting to some, particularly viewers on the other side of the Atlantic. In fairness, he IS a highly watchable and enjoyable comedian and I am willing him to succeed in his acting endeavours.
    Let us hope that Ep.2 proves a distinct improvement on this series opener.

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