Doctor Who: Survivors of the Flux

Well, that was a bit of a mess, albeit an exciting mess. But it really doesn’t bode well for satisfyingly wrapping up al of the disparate threads of this season in a single final episode. It also felt very much like a lot of the business along the way, while fun, was really there as a distraction to keep viewers from noticing that the Doctor spends this entire episode standing around not doing anything with a gobsmacked look on her face. It was a lot of sturm und drang, but signifying nothing, amounting to nothing. And there seriously are too many plates being juggled here, which is why the addition of an entirely new strand concerning the Grand Serpent (the guy whose misdeeds Vinder tried to expose and who got him exiled to the lonely Rose Outpost) popping through time and helping to first set up UNIT and then subvert it. This narrative thread occupied a great deal of this episode’s run time, and while the callbacks to history were fun enough, and it was nice to see Kate Stewart again, it all really seemed like material that we didn’t need (apart from perhaps a few scenes of the Grand Serpent’s, um, grand serpent killing people from the inside, guaranteeing the episode’s quota of monsters and bodies.)

I did rather like Yaz in a leadership role while apart from the Doctor. But while it’s a convention that the show has used on a number of occasions, I had a hard time with the skip-logic of the notion that she, Dan and Professor Jericho had been living in the early 1900s for three years already. Set aside the fact that the mission she and the others were on seemed to be nonsense on the face of it, given that the threat to Earth isn’t going to materialize until they’re all long dead and gone, but assuming they have been there for three years, then that’s a longer span of time than even Yaz spent with the Doctor beforehand (and Dan only had, like, ten minutes.) The notion that they were devoting their lives to this quest doesn’t really hold up on the face of it–which is maybe why nobody stops to think about it all that much, and we’re whip-cutting to different locations around the world in an instance with scant regard to just how much time and money and effort it would take to reach those places in 1904, an era before air travel. (also, is there any point to traveling to China and writing a huge message to Karvanista given that he, like they, is likely to not even have been born yet in 1904?)

I also may simply be multiversed out given how frequently that concept has been turning up in popular culture of late, but when we got to the moment where it was revealed that the Division existed outside of the Universe in the bleed between worlds, my teeth began to grind a little bit. It’s a fair enough element to bring into the world of DOCTOR WHO (and parallel worlds have been used in the series before, classically in Inferno and in the modern show in Rise of the Cybermen) but it was one of those moment where the creators are trying to make the scale larger and grander but the result is to make me care and invest less. That’s the thing about DOCTOR WHO: it’s the human stories that people remember, rather than the pyrotechnics. The Division overall struck me as nothing so much as a Q Anon conspiracy: an all-powerful, all-reaching conspiracy that has guided the development of the universe in secret that is simultaneously a group of bozos whose stronghold can be breached and its leader killed without much effort by Swarm and Azure. In trying to make the Division the answer to all questions, it becomes nothing: it can serve no particular agenda (what does the Division want? What has it been guiding the universe to, and why? I honestly cannot tell you.) it just goes where the needs of the storyteller need it to go, without a smidgen of underlying structure ot sense to it.

Likewise, the revelation that Aswok was Tecteun, the Doctor’s adoptive mother, fell completely flat, as Tecteun didn’t seem to have any more attachment to the Doctor than any other mad scientist threat from space, and the Doctor had no memory of her. So this profound familial connection was wasted, failing to provide greater emotional depth to the scene. And then, frustratingly, Tecteun is off-handedly killed off by Swarm, and the Doctor’s emotional response is no greater than if he’d just knocked over a lamp. There was just so much pontificating and explaining the plot in this episode (including that ridiculous sequence at the top where the Weeping Angels unpetrify the Doctor for a few minutes so that they and she can exposit back and forth at one another before they petrify her again and finish their delivery) without anybody involved seeming to be invested on an emotional level. The closest the episode comes is when Yaz sits and listens once more to the message the Doctor snuck into her bag before they were separated. That scene, at least, was about feelings more than plot (although there was a bunch of plot exposited there as well–the nonsense mission that Yaz and company undertake.)

The whole thing just seems so sloppy to me. The Division has decided to create the Flux to compress and wipe out our universe because the Doctor escaped their control and might maybe expose them? Does that make even the slightest bit of sense here? And then, having found the Doctor, Tacteun has the Weeping Angels pull her out of the universe and bring her to Division headquarters (the one place where you might presumably be able to stop the Flux, one would imagine) so that she won’t be able to stop it? This really does feel like an awful lot of nonsense plotting to me–and sure, you could make a case that what Tacteun really wants is for her adoptive daughter to rejoin her in the Division and return to her side–but that’s a leap that you’d have to make on your own, because the episode itself doesn’t really make that case. And really, if you’re wiping out the entire universe just because of the possibility that the Doctor might tumble to you and spill the beans, why on Earth would you bring her to you or invite her back into the fold? And if what you want is her back in the fold, why bother with unleashing the Flux in the first place, just send your Weeping Angel operatives to snatch her up as you just fif. Seriously, probably the first thing to have worked out in this story would have been, “What Does Everybody Want?” and develop them from there. What do Swarm and Azure want? Presumably revenge on the Doctor and the Division, though they seem to be taking the long way around to get there. And beyond that, who are they? What do they want? On the face of it, they’re bad guys because they’re bad guys and doing bad things because that’s what bad guys do. Seriously, I need a little bit more than that to work with, thank you.

And then–and then–Joshua Williamson, the mysterious historical figure who’s been popping up all throughout this season, needs to randomly walk into Yaz, Jericho and Dan’s shipboard cabin, so that he can point them in teh direction of his plotline without them having to work it out for himself. The historic tunnels he dug, we learn, are part of his preparations for the coming Sontaran attack that’s still a good century away. But somehow, digging them has opened up strange warp doorways to other places and times. Good news for the three Companions in terms of trying to get back home, but incredibly convenient from a storytelling point of view. And of course, Sontarans begin pouring out of the most dangerous doorway at the same relative time that they attack the Earth in 2021.

I can’t say that stuff isn’t happening in the story. But it’s too much stuff, and the center isn’t holding well. What ever happened to Peggy and that town that was floating around in Quantum Extraction? Given that UNIT recovered the TARDIS from it in 1967, it presumably was put back again, but it would have been nice to make that overt. Claire at least appears to be coming back in the finale, although she’s not so much as mentioned here either. And Vinder gets to bump into Diane inside the strangely-empty-seeming Traveler, pretty much simply to remind viewers that she exists and hasn’t been forgotten. Simply keeping track of it all is an exhausting task, and one that isn’t particularly fulfilling. (I almost forgot about the notion that the TARDIS was sick, given that we only see the thing for a second in a UNIT office in 1967.)

I don’t truly have any confidence that this production team can stick the landing next week and deliver a satisfying conclusion to this mess. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I really don’t think that I will be. It also seems likely that some of these threads are going to extend into the next three Jodie Whittaker specials given that the promotion for the first one which has already been released depicts an image of the TARDIS cracking, which makes me assume that the ship’s decay and disintegration is going to loop over into that story. I don’t know, I want to like this all way more than I actually do. But I am rooting for the show to achieve a miracle and pull out a win in the end. We’ll all see how it pans out in seven days…

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Survivors of the Flux

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Agreed on all counts. This week, especially, was a complete train wreck. To be fair, I was never bored, but mostly that was because I kept yelling “WHY?” at my television.

    “Why did you turn me into a Weeping Angel?”
    “It amused us.”

    Oh, fuck you, Chibnall. “Why did you turn me into a Weeping Angel?” “Because it made for a great cliffhanger and NO OTHER REASON WHATSOEVER.”

    I will add to your litany of observations that I thought Chibnall actually had one clever moment — statistically, he’s due — when we learned that the name “Division” referred to the space dividing universes. Which is pretty good. Except that also falls apart like tissue paper as we’re then told that Division (the organization) started within our universe, where it named itself “Division,” and only later found the Division (the barrier) once they decided to smush everything. Aaaarggh.

    There’s so much hand-waving in this story — I’m sorry, this march of happenstance — that I can feel the breeze all the way from England. And I admit I’m angry in part because this was sold to us as one complete six-part adventure and it’s going to be nothing of the sort. It’s a trailer for three specials that are still God knows how far in the future.



  2. I think the only episode so far that I’ve actually *enjoyed* was ‘Village of the Angels’ because that was at least coherent in and of itself and competently written. If Chibnall can indeed pull all this together next week so that everything falls into place and all his choices retroactively make sense then he’s a genius. Sadly, I don’t think he is, or can.

    I’ve recently been re-watching Hinchcliffe-era Tom Baker. For all its much smaller budgets and sometimes risible effects, it’s far superior to current Who.


  3. Just watched “Survivors of the Flux” and am wondering what the hell was going on. Years ago, I read that David Bowie used cut up newspaper or magazine articles, throw them in the air and create songs based upon the way the words / phrases came together on the ground. Honestly, this episode was little better… and, ultimately, made about as much sense. There is, I fear, no chance of our enjoying a satisfying conclusion the “The Flux” saga.
    Another thought: Aswok / Tecteun explains the nature of “Division” and the Doctor, of course, identifies the dangers inherent in Division’s plans. This should have been a pivotal moment, but I’m afraid all this viewer heard was “Multiverse” (more than once) and “What if, what if, Doctor?” I’d like to think this was a deliberate (and tongue in cheek) nod of the head to some comic book (and recent animation) inspiration, but I fear I may be wrong… and it was simply Chibnall’s wooden ear for dialogue surfacing yet again.


  4. Yeah, it was exciting (and turns out my taking over a month to watch these was dread of the Wearying Angels than the series as a whole) but exciting treading water. The only thing needed here was Aswok’s exposition and the tunnels. Everything else appears to be a distraction that the story should have been five episodes considering all the padding and time consuming nothing every episode has had. Chibnall does continue his three year master class in how not to write the Doctor, making them once again ineffectual. What amazes me is he can write Doctor Ruth like a true Doctor but has never achieved the same once for Ms. Whitaker.


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