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With the Tardis team stranded in 1904, the Doctor discovers her adoptive mother is destroying the universe as Flux careers towards its conclusion
This chapter opened with a monologue in which Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor talked rapidly, explaining everything to the audience while up against a CGI background of a million Weeping Angels, and my heart sank again. However, on the whole, I think chapter five of Flux went on to swerve the worst of that regular pitfall of the Chris Chibnall era, serving up multiple interesting threads, gradually bringing the characters together and hopefully setting us up nicely for the resolution next week.
What you thought of the episode will depend very much on whether or not you care for the Timeless Child arc. We now know that Division started as a secret way for Time Lords to interfere in the development of the universe and has grown and spread to encompass more species and an ever-expanding mission – one they want to take to other universes, burning ours behind them as they leave.
Barbara Flynn’s character was revealed to be Tecteun, the Gallifreyan who found the Timeless Child and stole its genetic secret of regeneration for the Time Lords. The scenes between the Doctor and Tecteun were tense, but neither we nor the Doctor know enough about this character – whom we have seen previously only in brief flashback sequences – for it to have real bite.
I must confess, I wasn’t expecting to see Craig Parkinson’s Grand Serpent again – and certainly not on Earth, carefully manipulating Unit in the background throughout the organisation’s history, so that was a bolt from the blue. With Swarm and the Sontarans relegated to the end of this chapter, he was a delightful second villain of the piece behind Tecteun. There was lovely attention to detail in the depiction of Unit through the years (and the idea of getting into your car to find an alien assassin waiting for you has a long and noble history in Doctor Who). Jemma Redgrave was steely as ever as Unit’s boss, Kate Stewart.
Sum it up in once sentence
The Doctor met her adopted mother for the first time in a long time and found that Tecteun was planning the destruction of the universe.
Life aboard the Tardis
My favourite strand of the episode was the adventure of Yaz, Dan and Jericho in 1904. Like something out of Jules Verne, Indiana Jones or Tintin, their worldwide quest to decipher an ancient inscription gave us action as well as laughs. The hermit in Nepal issuing a string of dad jokes, and Karnavista’s exasperation after they went to all that trouble to get a message to him, were amusing – but these sequences also made it clear that Yaz (Mandip Gill) had taken charge of the team in the absence of the Doctor. The scene between Gill and Whittaker’s hologram message was touching, and Kevin McNally’s Jericho made a great foil for the dynamic between Yaz and Dan (John Bishop).
One of the nice things about the story was the way it set up mixed double-acts for next week. Bel and Karvanista fighting Sontarans should be fun, while the combination of Vinder’s principled soldier and Di’s furious modern-Earth scouser immediately showed promise. Plus, finally, we found out how Joseph Williamson had been making his slightly irritating 19th-century gobbledegook cameos in different times and places throughout the story.
The monster of the week had a very human face: Tecteun, the Doctor’s own “mother”, willing to destroy the universe to cover up her actions. Tecteun tried to turn the tables on the Doctor, suggesting that her habit of picking up companions and friends and taking them on a journey was akin to a form of experimenting on them, just like Tecteun had experimented on the Timeless Child on Gallifrey all those lives ago.
I know the Timeless Child arc has been divisive, but it works. It makes the first Doctor’s flight from Gallifrey instinctive – to get away from the abuse and misuse that had happened before their mind was wiped. We have been given so many different half-explanations of why the Doctor fled Gallifrey in the past 58 years. In many ways, this brings us closer to what William Hartnell told us in 1963 about him and Susan Foreman being exiles “cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection”, rather than the idea that the Doctor just got bored and wanted to see the stars.
Mysteries and questions
I am probably reading too much into it, but the tattoo of the snake on the wrist of the waiter who tried to kill Yaz and Jericho in their steamship bunks put me in mind of the 1982 Peter Davison story Kinda, in which the evil Mara disguised itself as a snake tattoo on the body of the people it had possessed.
Unit having the 13th Doctor’s Tardis in their HQ in the 1960s is going to cause some timey-wimey problems isn’t it?
It seemed odd to cast someone as brilliant as Barbara Flynn as Tecteun and then have her bumped off after just a few scenes opposite the Doctor. I wonder if we will learn that the Ravagers haven’t been killing the people they disintegrate, but sending them to another universe or dimension.
Deeper into the vortex
It was a delight to hear the tones of the late Nicholas Courtney in Doctor Who again. He first appeared as Bret Vyon in The Daleks’ Master Plan with Hartnell. He later played Colonel and then Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in Doctor Who, from 1968’s The Web of Fear to 1993’s Dimensions in Time, featuring in 24 stories alongside every Doctor from Patrick Troughton to Sylvester McCoy. His final television appearance in the role was in 2008 in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Enemy of the Bane. Courtney died in 2011.
The line Courtney says in the background – “Lethbridge-Stewart here; I want a call to the RAF, please” – is dialogue taken from part four of Terror of the Autons, broadcast on 23 January 1971.
The reference to the Post Office Tower business was talking about 1966 Hartnell story The War Machines.
Redgrave first appeared as the Brigadier’s daughter Kate Stewart in 2012’s The Power of Three. This was the seventh episode in which she has appeared to date.
I should have pointed out last week that McNally has been in Doctor Who before – he played Hugo Lang in Colin Baker’s (generally poorly regarded) first story as the sixth Doctor, The Twin Dilemma. It is nice to see him given a brilliant character to play on the show.
That was the last regular episode of the Jodie Whittaker era that isn’t a season finale or a special. How time flies.
That felt like a decent penultimate episode of a six-part story. Flux has been a bold and necessary shift of the programme’s format and is easily the best of Whittaker’s three seasons. But can Chibnall stick the landing? Will the Doctor end up saving Earth and her friends, resetting the universe, finding out who Bel’s baby is going to grow up to be, and restoring her lost memories? I would bet on at least two of those things happening, but the jury is still out on where the Timeless Child arc is going. We will find out in The Vanquishers.
Flux / Series 13
Series 38 / Season 12
Episode 1: Spyfall part one
Episode 2: Spyfall part two
Episode 3: Orphan 55
Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon
Episode 6: Praxeus
Episode 7: Can You Hear Me?
Episode 8: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen
Episode 10: The Timeless Children
New Year's special: Revolution of the Daleks
Series 37 / Season 11
Episode 1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Episode 2: The Ghost Monument
Episode 3: Rosa
Episode 4: Arachnids in the UK
Episode 5: The Tsuangra Condundrum
Episode 6: Demons of the Punjab
Episode 7: Kerblam!
Episode 8: The Witchfinders
Episode 9: It Takes You Away
Episode 10: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
New Year's special: Resolution
Series 36 / Season 10
Episode 1: The Pilot
Episode 2: Smile
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Episode 5: Oxygen
Episode 6: Extremis
Episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Episode 8: The Lie of the Land
Episode 9: Empress of Mars
Episode 10: The Eaters of Light
Episode 11: World Enough and Time
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls
2017 Christmas special: Twice Upon A Time
Series 35 / Season 9
Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice
Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar
Episode 3: Under The Lake
Episode 4: Before The Flood
Episode 5: The Girl Who Died
Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived
Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion
Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion
Episode 9: Sleep No More
Episode 10: Face The Raven
Episode 11: Heaven Sent
Episode 12: Hell Bent
2015 Christmas special: The Husbands of River Song
2016 Christmas special: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Series 34 / Season 8
Episode 1: Deep Breath
Episode 2: Into The Dalek
Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood
Episode 4: Listen
Episode 5: Time Heist
Episode 6: The Caretaker
Episode 7: Kill The Moon
Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express
Episode 9: Flatline
Episode 10: In the Forest of the Night
Episode 11: Dark Water
Episode 12: Death In Heaven
2014 Christmas special: Last Christmas
Series 33 / Season 7
Episode 1: Asylum of the Daleks
Episode 2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Episode 3: A Town Called Mercy
Episode 4: The Power of Three
Episode 5: The Angels Take Manhatten
2012 Christmas special: The Snowmen
Episode 6: The Bells of Saint John
Episode 7: The Rings of Akhaten
Episode 8: Cold War
Episode 9: Hide
Episode 10: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis
Episode 11: The Crimson Horror
Episode 12: Nightmare in Silver
Episode 13: The Name of the Doctor
50th Anniversary special: The Day of the Doctor
2013 Christmas special: The Time of the Doctor
Series 32 / Season 6
Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut
Episode 2: Day of the Moon
Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot
Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife
Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh
Episode 6: The Almost People
Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War
Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler
Episode 9: Night Terrors
Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited
Episode 11: The God Complex
Episode 12: Closing Time
Episode 13: The Wedding of River Song
2011 Christmas special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe
Series 31 / Season 5
Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour
Episode 2: The Beast Below
Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks
Episode 4: The Time of Angels
Episode 5: Flesh and Stone
Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice
Episode 7: Amy's Choice
Episode 8: The Hungry Earth
Episode 9: Cold Blood
Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor
Episode 11: The Lodger
Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens
Episode 13: The Big Bang
2010 Christmas special: A Christmas Carol