Doctor Who recap: Flux chapter three – Once, Upon Time

At one point, newly introduced Bel (Thaddea Graham) said: “I’ve no idea what that means, but it doesn’t sound good,” and it seemed she might be speaking about the episode as a whole. After last week’s fun romp with the Sontarans, this was a frustrating reversion to the mean of the Chibnall era. It looked good, but it was more a disjointed series of exposition scenes rather than a story that flowed. It was definitely the weakest chapter of Flux so far.

On the plus side, we began to get some answers – and a look at the Doctor’s history with the Division and a mission on the planet Time, which had been hinted at by Swarm in the previous two chapters. (That said, it might have been more fun to see the Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin) and Karnavista (Craige Els) let rip in those scenes rather than occasionally flickering into view.) Martin absolutely rocked it as the Doctor in Fugitive of the Judoon and has been desperately underused since.

I appreciate that the series was filmed under Covid restrictions, but an awful lot of the chapter seemed to consist of one actor standing on one set giving a monologue about what was happening. While you would miss out on some of the nice space visuals and the unexpected sight of Daleks floating through a forest, Once, Upon Time would work as an audiobook without much alteration. That is surely a flaw in a television episode.

Despite all that, it picked up in the last 10 minutes, setting up a couple of quests and more mysteries. If you were halfway through watching a movie – which I guess this is – we would be just at the point in the middle where everything seems hopeless.

Sum it up in once sentence

The regular cast are lost and confused as we learn a bit more about the Division’s ancient battle with Swarm and Azure.

Life aboard the Tardis

Vinder (Jacob Anderson) got his moment to enter the Tardis for the first time. Curiously, he already knew what one was (so we didn’t get “it’s bigger on the inside!”). We now find that he has been exiled for trying to be a galactic whistleblower and that his messages to loved ones were being sent to Bel. She is pregnant. We don’t know if he knows.

Relations between Yaz (Mandip Gill) and the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) were more fraught than ever – with some sharp words between them as the Doctor continued on what seems to be a one-woman mission to uncover her past. We didn’t get much more backstory to Dan (John Bishop), although we will presumably find out next week how he copes with loss.

Fear factor

They might have been in the trailer, but that barely counted as a cameo by the Cybermen. Weeping Angels were also used sparingly in this episode – but to much greater effect.

I found the idea of a hidden Angel creeping up on Yaz via the mirrors on her police patrol car a nice twist on their usual approach. Some younger viewers will surely be a little disturbed at the idea Angels can get at you from a video game, especially if you have to smash up your precious console to save yourself.

Sam Spruell’s Swarm had positively swaggered his way through the opening two chapters – he is easily one of the best “big bads” we have had in recent years on Doctor Who, absolutely relishing being evil for evil’s sake. I couldn’t say the same for Matthew Needham in the role of Old Swarm in the flashbacks, so it was a relief to get some of Spruell at the end. Rochendra Sandall didn’t have much to do as Azure, but did it as deliciously as ever.

Mysteries and questions

I enjoyed your theories below the line last week very much. Some thought the Mouri might turn out to be a Weeping Angels origin story – quantum-locked, linked to time? There had also been speculation Passenger might turn out to be housing Dan’s would-be girlfriend, Di (Nadia Albina), although older familiar faces (Sacha Dhawan? Timothy Dalton?) were bandied about. Now we know.

Steve Oram’s Joseph Williamson again made a brief, but perplexing, appearance. There didn’t seem any logic to him being in the Temple of Atropos last week; in his one scene this week, he had a ray gun in the 1820s. He speaks as if he has leaked from an episode written by Mark Gatiss – a constant jumble of words showing off the writer’s 19th-century vocabulary. I am not sure my kids have understood a single sentence he has uttered.

Lupari must live for a very long time as a species if Karnavista was knocking about with the Doctor in the Division. The fact that it was a multi-species team on the mission also poses a question: is the Division even really a Time Lord organisation? Or something else that sometimes employs Time Lords?

Barbara Flynn also made her first appearance as Awsok, the mysterious woman who seemed to give the impression she was running the universe – theories?

Deeper into the vortex

  • The final words from the Doctor were “The Angel has the Tardis” – an obvious nod to “The Angels have the phone box” from Blink, a line good enough to go on a range of T-shirts.

  • Jodie Whittaker was wearing her reversed coat costume in the scenes where she was placed into the Fugitive Doctor’s memories.

  • CGI Daleks floating through a forest rather avoids the historical problem of getting the props to work on rough terrain. We first saw a Dalek levitate up some stairs unassisted for sure in 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks, although a gravitational disk had been used by the deadly pepperpots to fly in 1973’s Planet of the Daleks – and you could argue we saw one levitate out of the sand of the desert planet Aridius as early as 1965 in The Chase.

  • In other news, fans of vintage Doctor Who can enjoy a new version of the lost William Hartnell story Galaxy Four on DVD and Blu-ray from tomorrow (15 November). The soundtrack has been turned into a cartoon and the release includes remastered versions of the surviving one and a bit episodes. It is nice to see the Hartnell era getting some love in these animated releases. Presumably now that they have Vicki, Steven and the first Doctor drawn, animations of the other – gulp! – 25 missing episodes from the original season three will be easier to make.

Next time

Next week it is chapter four: Village of the Angels. Co-written by Maxine Alderton, who wrote last season’s excellent The Haunting of Villa Diodati, I have very high hopes for this – and for the re-appearance of Annabel Scholey’s intriguing Claire.

Flux / Series 13

Chapter one: The Halloween Apocalypse
Chapter two: War of the Sontarans
Chapter three: Once, Upon Time
Chapter four: Village of the Angels
Chapter five: Survivors of the Flux
Chapter six: TBD

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