So, what was Doctor Who Flux about? Memories? Sontarans playing a trick to make them look like heroes? The Division? The Ravagers? Somehow the answer is both all of those, and none of the above. In the end, is Flux about anything?
Last week, we ended with the death of big-arc-character Tecteun, and the cliffhanger of the Ravagers moving to disintegrate the Doctor with a touch of the hand the same way. The cliffhanger is resolved by the Doctor moving away from the hand, and the episode moves away from many of its previous plotlines.
The Doctor, who has been trying to find her lost memories all season after the big set up in the Timeless Children, decides not to. Bel and Vinder get together, and that’s that. Four species get genocided, and this is barely touched on except with a sort of cheery line towards Karvanista in apology about his whole species getting wiped out. The universe isn’t restored (and if is it has to have been done so casually in a throwaway line that I missed it on first watch). Dan doesn’t get the girl, and it weirdly feels like an unearned and unexplained conclusion instead of twist on the formula. The Doctor and Yaz hint at feelings but it all remains under the surface so nothing has to be cut for overseas broadcast. The Flux is defeated by just chucking a guy at it. And Eustacious gets the best, and oddly quite emotional, scene in the episode where he decides to sacrifice himself. Swarm and Azure reach their boss, who kills them, and then just sorta lets the Doctor Who.
So what was Flux in the end? I’m not really sure. I’m not really sure it was anything beyond a six-week Doctor Who story. There were a lot of things I wanted it to be about, and a lot of things I thought it could be about even if I didn’t want them, but in the end it’s hard to tie all those things together.
If I was put up against the wall, I’d say it was about memories, but that doesn’t entirely pan out. The Flux isn’t solved with anything related to that, they just throw passenger at it and have him suck it up like a vacuum. Maybe you could make a case that as Passenger stores people inside himself, sucking up the Flux is like… preserving the memories of the destroyed universe the same way that the Doctor’s memories were chucked in that fob watch?
That’s a stretch, but it’s what I’ve got.
Swarm and Azure are a lot of fun, and their campy delightful performance is once again a highlight. Jodi Whittaker really goes for it in this one too, and she’s memorable in a way she wasn’t last week while being lectured at. She gets things to do, and she takes it. Weirdly, the Doctor being attracted to herself is one of the highlights of the episode. It was a good gag.
There were a lot of good gags: the Sontarans raiding corner ships for chocolate? Good gag.
There were a lot of good images. Even the overdone “CGI fleet of ships is all blown up” got a nice new visual take on it with the use of blues and greens against the orange wave of Flux. It was very pretty.
It didn’t lose my attention. I watched the whole thing.
But its hard to imagine I’m going to rewatch this and pull new things out of it in the way other Doctor Who finales have. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos has a lot of consideration as the worst finale in the Doctor Who Revival in many circles, but for all the complaints about it, that episode has themes and throughlines that play into the end of it. They’re often heavy handed, sure, but rewatching it I was able to pick up on ways that Chris Chibnall had written his themes in on multiple levels. Little details you could pick up on.
And I’m not sure that’s as easily found here. We’ll see. Predicting how people will see things in the future is always a roll of the dice. Maybe I’m missing something huge. But Flux doesn’t tie all its ends together, and doesn’t even tie them all up. We’re sent down a sprawling path, waiting for the clever way the threads will knot together, but some of the threads just sit there with frayed edges. We can only squint at them, and try to make reason from their form. Try to will a new meaning that we didn’t first see. I expect many fans will do that adeptly. But those threads are still frayed.
And that’s not a tragedy. I think a lot of folks can get maudlin about Doctor Who not living up to expectations. In the end, no matter how much it means to us personally, Flux is just a series of a TV show. There are going to be three more episodes with Jodi Whittaker, and then there will be a new Doctor and a new showrunner. Even if Doctor Who not being to your tastes was a moral sin, which it isn’t, there’s already a different future awaiting it. Its all been filmed. Its all in motion. It is what it is.
When Flux started, I thought it might really be a stunning swansong for this Doctor. I’m sure it will play better in a binge watch where you don’t have to wait week to week, and I’m sure if I do that in the future I’ll have a lot more fun with it. But what it isn’t is that unquestionable swansong. It would have been nice to be able to stand up and point to Flux and say “Even if you didn’t like the rest of her tenure, watch this!” The way you could about say, the last season of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.
In the end, it just is what it is. And really, I do hope you liked it.
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Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.