Doctor Who Season 13 ("Flux") Review
By MARK WILSON
Can a full story arc be redeemed by a good ending if the early and middle parts weren’t that great? That’s my conundrum – and also summary – of this weird season.
I like the idea of having a single, unified story like this. Only one other time did Doctor Who try something similar (“Trial of a Time Lord” in the Colin Baker era). I think the show should experiment more with this format. The fact that this attempt was a bit clunky shouldn’t detract from its ambition.
Showrunner and writer Chris Chibnall takes the kitchen sink approach, though, and the results are as messy as expected. He messes with structure like Stephen Moffat did in Blink, but with only a fraction of the coherence. The contrary opinion would say that such stories are meant to lurch and weave until coming together in the final act, and that’s true. What’s more, the last hour of Flux is quite harrowing and clever.
Jodie Whittaker is also the best she’s been. And the newcomer (John Bishop as Dan Lewis) works a lot better than expected. He’s asked to carve out a memorable niche for himself in a story with EVERY idea and side character being given ample screen time and…he actually manages to pull it off believably. I genuinely like his character. Having shed the excess weight of the previous two seasons’ companions, Dan and Yas (Mandip Gill) work well in tandem.
So there’s more to like here than in earlier Chibnall/Whittaker seasons. I just don’t think the script has the discipline to make the entirety work.
The show as a whole is also starting to suffer a bit from a problem that plagues comic books. The unstoppable, universe-ending MacGuffin or Entity is old news, so a bigger, more terrifying universe-ending threat needs to be summoned. Then when that’s over…the cycle continues until the escalation reaches a point of rapidly diminishing returns. In fairness to Chibnall, with fewer such threats established, former modern-era showrunners didn’t have to contend as much with this problem. But there was already a bit of this fatigue with Moffat’s “Silence” organization. Chibnall’s “Division,” and all its implied machinations since the start of the show’s run, are just a bit exhausting. And the hilariously quick offing of the Doctor’s “mother” was a casualty (literally and figuratively) of the dozens of balls the script was trying to keep in the air at any given point.
My other big gripe: the villains are not particularly memorable. I just finished watching Flux this evening as I write this and I literally can’t recall their names. They look pretty neat, at least. The good guys are given several memorable moments, and it even gets me to like a ridiculous dog-like character. But the villains are only there to menace and glower and pontificate. I can’t connect with them. The Master, the Daleks, Davros, Sharaz Jek…the show’s history is littered with memorable foils to the Doctor’s efforts. But I suspect these villains won’t become recurring or beloved in the same way.
Despite all of that, I have a warm feeling in my core that I associate with the best DW stories, and it’s because despite the overly convoluted setup, that last hour is quite good. All of the acting is on point. Seriously, the supporting cast in this one is excellent, often turning coal into diamonds just by being so likable. Karvanista, Vinder, Bel, Professor Jericho and others all leave an impression, and it mixes the clever and epic in ways that are reminiscent of the best DW.
General consensus seems happy for the imminent return of Russell Davies as showrunner, and I’m excited for that as well. But I wouldn’t have minded one more season with the Whittaker/Chibnall duo, to see if, having found their footing a bit (the subsequent New Year’s special is also solid), they could deliver something on par with the better parts of this final stretch of their tenure on the show.
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