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Doctor Who: Flux, Chapter Five: Survivors of the Flux

"You won’t be told, will you?"
"It’s a defining trait."

'Doctor Who: Flux' reaches its penultimate episode. It's got a lot of good stuff, but one has to acknowledge that there's a heck of a lot of bookkeeping going on here.

Of course, to be fair, that's kind of always the case with penultimate episodes. You need to both start providing some explanations for what's gone before, as well as set up where and in what condition everyone needs to be for the big finale. But at the same time, you can't provide too much of the explanation, or make it too obvious how the finale is going to down based on how you get all your characters placed. Oh, and if you could also tell an interesting story that advances the overall plot, that would be great.

Penultimate episodes are hard. That's the point I'm making here.

'Flux' has chosen to handle this by making a hard divide between four distinct plot threads, none of which interact with one another in any way until the final moments. It's as if the actual characters had sat down for a quick conference before the episode started, took a look at the things this episode needed to achieve, and said, 'Right, I'll handle explanations about what's happening. You guys establish the specifics of the exact timing of the big finale so that we get a bit of a countdown clock going. You go get in place for when we need you next week, and if you guys could provide some vignettes covering 50 years of in-universe Easter Eggs for reasons not yet disclosed, that should have us sorted. Break!'

So, let's start with the Edwardian adventures of Yaz, Dan, and Professor Jericho. This plotline is by far the most fun, while also being the least consequential. Still stuck in the first few years of the 20th century, Yaz and her crew have been sent on a mission to find out what day, exactly, the big final battle will be. Obviously, they take this as an excuse to do a ridiculous amount of Indiana Jones LARPing.

This is huge a treat to watch. We get lines on old timey maps to indicate where they're traveling, adventures on steam ships, exotic locales, and a sinister shadowy enemy who sends assassins to prevent them from achieving their goal. We even get a poison tooth capsule, preventing the gang from getting any answers from their captured assailant. I'm kind of a sucker for that particular old saw, although I do always wonder how they don't accidentally poison themselves while trying to eat an unexpectedly solid walnut, or something.

I don't know why I was surprised that Professor Jericho was still with them, since they obviously wouldn't just ditch him in 1901, but it was a very pleasant surprise to have him here. Perhaps this whole plotline is best summed up by his scene with the Hermit, literally sitting on a mountaintop in Nepal. It's a lot of fun, the jokes are funny, and it feels like they make some progress. But then they go to all the trouble of taking his advice and sending a clever message to Karvanista, only for Karvanista to see it in 2021 and literally just shrug and say, 'I don't have time travel you moron.' So, it's all a total waste of time, but was a lot of fun while it was happening. That's kind of this plotline in a nutshell. Be gentle biting down on it if you have any currently poisoned tooth capsules.

The next least significant plotline, to which considerably less screen time is given, is the stuff happening in the present day. Bel has tracked down the last life forms in the universe (outside of Earth) to the Ravagers big scary monolith/station. Just as she's about to land there and hopefully be reunited with Vinder, the Lupari ship that she stole several episodes ago gets auto-recalled by Karvanista and warp jumps all the way back to Earth just as Vinder lands at the monolith looking for her. Sigh. I'm really rooting for those two.

That's a fairly significant thing, actually. The six-episode run time given over to telling one story has helped all but one of the supporting characters to really flourish. We care about Bel and Vinder finding each other because we've been given enough breathing room to invest in them. We enjoy Karvanista's company because we've been given enough time to get to know him, which has allowed him to become more than the initial character description of 'grumpy space dog,' which is without question what we would see him as if he'd only appeared in one episode. Professor Jericho feels more like a companion than a plot function at this stage, to the extent that when we hear about how his studies have led him to know about this particular hermit, you're more likely to think, 'how interesting,' as opposed to 'how convenient.'

Really, all the present day thread accomplishes is getting Vinder into the passenger form to connect with Di, who thanks to some fairly clever structuring a couple episodes ago he knows is a friend of Dan's. And there the two of them wait for their chance to get a little payback in the finale. Bel, as previously mentioned, is poised above the Earth with Karvanista in what can be described as a 'mis-matched buddy cop' kind of dynamic, which works well for both of them.

And it's at this point that we get two small connections to the other plotlines. First, Vinder (and by proxy the viewer) get the information that we are 'space,' while the ravagers are 'time' and that we're both their playthings and their fuel. Upon announcing this, the ravagers promptly eat all the remaining lifeforms of the universe up and use that energy to pop over to the Doctor's storyline for the big cliffhanger. Second, it's at this moment that the Grand Serpent's plotline catches up to the present day and released the forces of the Sontarans onto what is now a defenseless Earth where they can menace both Bel and Karvanista in Space:2021 and Yaz, Dan, and Professor Jericho in The Cave of Time, 1904.

How are those tied together? We don't yet know because the one supporting character that they haven't fleshed out at all is Williamson, and he appears to be related to the explanation of what's happening in the caves. Did I let that stop me from making a gratuitous reference to a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book from the mid 1980s? Of course I didn't. Have you met me?

Next up we have the Grand Serpent Presents: A brief overview of the history of UNIT, in which we see how he's been secretly stealing plans from HYDRA and insinuating himself into the very organization dedicated to fighting threats just like him. There are about four billion fun little easter eggs in these scenes, only one of which I'll spoil for you, as it involves a very pleasant audio-cameo. They make a very nice use of an old audio clip of Nicholas Courtney speaking to someone on the telephone which we hear from an adjacent room and are told that they brought in Lethbridge-Stewart after they missed 'that business at the Post Office Tower'. That's a reference to the classic Who story 'The War Machines', which aired in 1966.

It's not at all clear how the Grand Serpent got to Earth, nor how he's popping around in time doing all of this, but it doesn't feel like we're supposed to understand it yet, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Presumably, with the rest of time and space destroyed, he's latched onto Earth as the last place available for him to rule, and so that's his plan.

And here's where we need to talk about something pretty ugly in the subtext of this one. The date that Yaz and crew are looking for is the date when 'any survivors of the universal catastrophe will come to Earth as the last ground remaining and try to claim it for themselves.' And indeed, we see the Grand Serpent setting the Sontarans up to do just that. This is a clearly xenophobic riff, that I don't think for a second the people making the show intended to make, although make it they did. Anyone who survives a cataclysmic event in their own land and is heading toward yours for the purpose of, you know, surviving, must be presumed to be the enemy and fought off at all costs.

That's the subtext, and it's so far beneath this show that I don't like even commenting on it. like I said, I'm certain it's not intentional. But do better, show.

Which leaves the Doctor, and here's where all of the information and explanations really go down. I don't know why it never occurred to me that the woman with the fabulous hat might be Tecteun, the Doctor's adoptive mother, but I really liked the reveal. I also liked the surprise of killing her off there at the end of the episode, I did not expect that at all.

As to the Division's actual plan, they basically just saw that the Doctor had learned about their existence and her past connection to them and said, 'Screw it, we're destroying all of time and space in this universe specifically to spite you and moving to the universe next door because we're a multiverse now.'

I sort of like that as the reveal to be honest. It's just so monumentally petty. And the explanation for what the name 'Division' meant was quite clever. Lovely visual representation of the concept as well. Although I wouldn't mind a bit of clarification as the is the next universe over in a multiverse is the same as a parallel world or not, because they seem to be indicating that it's a different concept, but I don't entirely see how.

So, the pieces are in place, and we end on another great cliffhanger. Let's see how this all plays out.

Bits and pieces:

-- Time, particularly in the Yaz plotline, is curiously linear for having been destroyed. Are we to assume the Lupari blockade is also protecting them from that?

-- People that review television are pretty much the last people in the English-speaking world to regularly use the word 'penultimate.' In the same way that the American NFL broadcast pre-show announcement is the last place anyone uses the word 'disseminate.'

-- One thing that's easy to overlook in the evolution of the Weeping Angels as monsters is just what gigantic dicks they are, canonically. We're told her in no uncertain terms that they enclosed her in a Weeping Angel form to transport her for no other reason than that was the meanest way to do it. Dick move, Angels. Dick move.

-- So, the big creepy house that looks like the poster for the film Cabin in the Woods is a visual representation of the Doctor's lost memories of all her pre-Hartnell lives. I like how understated the reveal of that was.

-- Nice little in universe explanation for why UNIT was unavailable to participate in 'Resolution' there.

-- I only know Robert Bathurst, here playing UNIT founder General Farquhar, from Downton Abbey, which made a lot of the UNIT setup feel very strange.

-- Has Dan spent more time with Yaz than Graham did at this point, chronologically speaking?

-- The Doctor is much more open and sensitive to Yaz' feelings at this stage. I like how they've developed that.

-- They make a big deal about how the Ood is getting ready to release the 'final flux,' so we haven't really destroyed the universe yet, we swear.

-- Didn't Einstein say that Time and Space are the same thing, just viewed from different perspectives? Can the resolution for all this be the Doctor picking him up to sit everybody down and explain that, followed by a potluck supper?

-- Vinder's claim that he'd found the missing people seems a little odd, since at no point had he mentioned knowing that anyone was missing, nor being particularly inclined to look for them, had he? Did I miss something?

-- After all the online bitching about how they had to 'fix' the Timeless Child reveal, I couldn't be happier that they took this opportunity to double down on it and double, extra, super confirm it to be true.

-- I find Williamson's growly Charles Dickens-esque voice to be really irritating.

-- Dan and Yaz have a really pleasant Jamie and Zoe vibe between them.

Is that a Grand Serpent, or are you just happy to... Oh God, I'm so sorry for that.

Dan: "Answer the question, or I’ll bite your toes!"

General Farquhar: "An incredible stroke of luck, you being here."
Grand Serpent: "Isn’t it."

The Hologram Doctor: "I’m probably worried for you if you’re hearing this. And I’m sure I miss you."
Yaz: "I miss you too."
The Hologram Doctor: "I know you do. I hope you said, ‘I miss you too,’ else that bit’s weird."

Bel: "That huge monolith doesn’t look foreboding at all."

Tecteun: "I do blame myself a little, but mostly I blame you."

Hermit: "So, what’s the gossip? From down there. Who’s kissed who?"
Professor Jericho: "Gossip?"
Hermit: "I don’t get any up here. I’ll take anything!"
Professor Jericho: "I mean... I think the telephone’s been invented..."

The Doctor: "I’m very good at pulling rabbits out of hats."
Ood: "I have no rabbits."
The Doctor: "It’s a metaphor."
Ood: "Or hats."

Seriously great hat.
The disparate strands of this one are a little more noticeably disparate than maybe they could ideally be, but it gets a lot done, has some very entertaining bits, and generally sets us up where we need to be for the final episode. And anyway, as I said, penultimate episodes are hard, so I tend to be a bit lenient on them.

Nine out of thirteen penultimate Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, at this point Dan is far more Yaz's companion than the Doctor's.

    Did Vinder find out about the people taken by the Passenger from the guy Bel saved? I got the impression that's who he was referring to.

    I'd comment more but I've seen the next episode and don't want to accidentally spoil anything.


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