Doctor Who: Flux review - A promising and absorbing start to Jodie Whittaker’s closing run

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·3-min read
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 (BBC Studios/James Pardon)
(BBC Studios/James Pardon)

Doctor Who is in a bit of a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey space right now. Chris Chibnall is still in post as showrunner, but he and current Doctor Jodie Whittaker have announced their exit at the end of this season with Russell T Davies set to return in Chibnall’s place.

Whittaker’s time in the Tardis began as a conscious effort to shove Doctor Who away from the convoluted plotting and fan-servicing of Steven Moffat’s era and back to basics: stories about historic figures, a nice gang of humans in the Tardis, and some adventures across the cosmos.

She’s got a lot of fans – including me – but, as ever, the mardiest voices tend to carry furthest, and what began as a bit of snark among a few fans about Chibnall’s writing has turned into something more unpleasant.

So the Halloween Apocalypse represents a clean slate. It’s the first of a mini-series arc entitled Doctor Who: Flux ahead of three specials next year. Six episodes, one story, and absolutely no mention of last season’s Timeless Child storyline, which agitated some fans pretty intensely by appearing to completely rewrite the Doctor’s origin story.

John Bishop, right, is the latest Tardis recruit (BBC Studios/James Pardon)
John Bishop, right, is the latest Tardis recruit (BBC Studios/James Pardon)

It’s a bit of a relief to find that Whittaker’s closing run as Doctor starts promisingly. We meet Doctor and Yaz (Mandip Gill) as they’re about to be dropped into a sea of boiling acid by an armoured alien called Karvanista. The Doctor’s got a plan, but the voice-activated manacles she’s stuck in aren’t listening to her: “Maybe I was Scottish when I set these up?”

Meanwhile in modern day Liverpool Dan, played by John Bishop, gets dragged into things when Karvanista, who turns out to be ​​a heavily armed seven-foot Mancunian-accented Border Terrier, comes trick-or-treating round his Anfield home.

There’s a long tradition of comedians popping up in new Who, from the very good (Bradley Walsh and Catherine Tate) to the truly repellent (Peter Kay playing a big green blob designed by a child for a Blue Peter competition). Bishop’s debut is a mixed bag.

He’s at his best when sparring with Yaz over the relative merits of Liverpool and South Yorkshire, or opening up a new, intergalactic front in the Liverpool-Manchester rivalry with Karvanista. When he’s turning more earnest – and there’s quite a bit of that here – he suddenly looks a bit glazed. Hopefully he’ll warm up a bit.

With five more Flux episodes to come, there’s a lot of plates to start spinning. We’ve got an existential threat to the universe that’s eating planets and making people burst into very Marvel-ish clouds of dust. Back in 1820 in Liverpool, a man with huge mutton chops named Williamson is paying workers to dig vast caves for purposes unknown.

Whittaker’s closing run starts promisingly (BBC Studios/James Pardon)
Whittaker’s closing run starts promisingly (BBC Studios/James Pardon)

It’s certainly the most Scouse episode of Doctor Who ever. There’s even a little nod to the local tradition of Mizzy Night, in the shape of a thirty-something trick or treater with some cans and a dozen eggs ready to spray Dan’s house. And it turns out this Doctor might secretly be a Red herself.

Unfortunately, it looks like the newest opening among the very cool bars on south Liverpool’s Lark Lane might be the hellmouth itself.

On top of that there are some mysterious skull-faced aliens putting visions in the Doctor’s head, Game of Thrones’ Jacob Anderson marooned in space, cameos for two classic Who villains, and an intruder at an Arctic research station.

As I say: a lot going on. The Halloween Apocalypse is more intriguing and absorbing than thrilling, and feels a lot like 50 minutes of foundations being carefully laid down for the five episodes to come.

But it all hangs together quite well, and there’s enough here to suggest Whittaker’s Doctor will go out with a bang.

Doctor Who continues Sundays at 6.15pm on BBC One

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