Doctor Who: Teeming Adventure Roots Dangerously Immense Story

by thethreepennyguignol

When The Timeless Children came out, things were different – not just, you know, in the world, but in the show, too.

I watched that episode in Spain, with my dad, the last time that I would see anyone in my family in person for more than a year. And I still remember trying to get the internet to buffer so that I could see how this story unfolded, because I was just so intrigued as to how Chris Chibnall and company would bring it all together.

I loved that episode. I still do, actually. I like the whole Timeless Child arc, and something else that I remember like it was yesterday was sitting in the airport back home a couple of days later and scrolling through social media and being genuinely baffled by how much people hated this new turn the story had taken. For a lot of people, it seemed like The Timeless Children was the turning point where the Whittaker-Chibnall run on Doctor Who went from “bad” to “unforgivably awful”.

I get it. Doctor Who is a show that thrives on the familiar; it’s Saturday-evening TV, it’s family fun, it’s curl-up-on-the-couch-with-your-cats-and-chill entertainment. I’ve been watching it on the regular for fifteen years, and it’s that familiarity that pulls me back. Even when I’ve hated the show, I’ve watched it. I’ve looked forward to it. Well, maybe not that one, but you get what I’m saying. Despite the fact that the show is based on those wild sci-fi and alt-history concepts, the universe in which it operates – and the Time Lords in that universe in particular – needs to have a solidness to it, a central point around which everything else rotates. It’s how we, as viewers, stay grounded, so I get it – I get why people hated this twist. It changed everything about the show, about the Doctor, everything that we thought we knew. Or at least, put those changes into motion.

But I’m more interested in seeing what those changes are going to bring to the show next. How can you be mad at a twist if you haven’t seen how it’s going to unfold yet? Yes, there are changes to the fundamental fabric of the show, but we haven’t seen the patches Chibnall is planning to stitch in to cover them. That episode was a door opening to a potential new story-corridor; now, we’ve got to find out if walking down it is something worth doing. As someone who’s loved Doctor Who for most of my life, I’m always excited to see the new ways through which we as viewers can see this world. And while I liked The Timeless Children a lot, it was just the start. It’s this season, Flux, upon which the success of this new story hinges.

Which brings me to tonight: our first episode of this serialized arc of Who, The Halloween Apocalypse. And it’s got a lot to do here – sell us on a story that’s going to last longer than any single, focused plot has in the entirety of Nu-Who, introduce John Bishop as a new companion, and convince those people who were so viscerally put off by The Timeless Child revelation that there is still a reason to stick around.

So, the John Bishop of it all. Doctor Who has a habit of taking comedians and rehabilitating them into touchingly well-rounded companion characters (see: Catherine Tate, Bradley Walsh), and I had no doubt that they would do the same for John Bishop. He’s a one-shot assistant, which means he has an expiry date, like him or not. I haven’t seen him acting since Skins, which basically amounts to never having seen him act at all, but I like him a lot here: he’s doused in that Scouse charm (Scoused?), simply but effectively depicted as caring and selfless without too much shoving-down-of-throats, and, most importantly, he’s a vital part of the beginning of this huge new season we’re getting.

He’s kicking around in his council house next to Anfield (the little Klopp reference was just enough of a nod for me to know that my Liverpool-supporting brother-in-law is going to be delighted with this episode) when a dog-person materializes in his living room to kidnap him. But, as the Doctor and Yaz on an rescue mission soon find out, the dog-person (and oh, that make-up, that costuming – still a little silly, but in the most high-concept and gorgeous way possible) is amongst a fleet of dog-people coming to rescue the people of Earth from the incoming Flux.

The Flux here is depicted as a sort of giant cosmic drain unclogger, dissolving planets and people in its wake as it sweeps through the entire universe. The sheer scale of it, as depicted here, is honestly quite unsettling, and it feels like something of an appropriate hugeness for the story that we’ve been promised. If this is going to be a whole season’s worth of story, then it can’t be a planet, or a person, or a race of people – it’s got to be everyone, everything. Can the show handle something this huge? I’m not convinced yet, but I’d like to be. Chibnall is handling a lot of lore here, a lot of lore that many people think he has already screwed up, and whether he -or the show- can land it remains to be seen. It’s a risk, that’s for sure.

But, like almost all stories, the human (or, in this case, alien, but you get what I mean) representation of that threat is far more interesting in the immediate, and The Halloween Apocalypse doesn’t change that. The mysterious villains of this episode, and presumably this series (styled one part cenobite, one part 2016 beauty guru), are instantly intriguing, and the tantalizing glimpse we get of them interacting with the Doctor is specifically engineered to invite speculation, as one of them informs her that they know who she is – but that they’ve been written out of her memory. I imagine this will have some tie-back to the Timeless Child plot, as another part of the Doctor’s life that was taken from her, and I really hope that’s where they’re going with it; the temptation to pull in characters from the show’s huge lore must be huge, but I’d be very happy to see something that we haven’t encountered before.

But there are some monsters here that we have seen before, and I have to admit, it’s nice to have them back: there’s a rule of thumb in horror that if you can recognise a monster by its silhouette alone, you’re doing something right, and that’s just how the Weeping Angels are introduced in this episode. Eerie, backlit (NOT shown moving, this time, thank God), menacing – used judiciously, they’re some of the scariest and most creative monsters the show has ever come up with, and I hope we get to see a little more of them in this season after a great intro here.

It’s a packed episode – there’s so much here that I don’t really know where to start, to be honest. But the promise of sticking this story out for a good few episodes means that it just doesn’t feel rushed. This is the prologue to our story; a threat to Earth, a threat even the Doctor doesn’t understand, and that, to me, is exciting. I’m not sure if it will have won over the people who loathed the last season finale, but I’d love to hear what you think of it – love it? Hate it? Back on board or done for good? Let me know in the comments below!

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(header image via Radio Times)