Doctor Who: This? All Rather Daedalian, In Sincerity
“Well,” My partner scoffed as the credits rolled on this week’s episode. “Good luck with that.”
And good luck I shall need, my dear and darling Doctor Who denizens, because this outing, Survivors of the Flux, was…a lot.
It’s kind of frustrating to write a review of an episode like this, when there is clearly so much left hanging to be resolved next week. Given the serialized nature of Flux, I assumed that there were going to be episodes near-impossible to really analyse on a weekly basis; this is probably the first that has really stood out to me as a first part, with most of the other episodes containing some aspect of episodic storytelling to work with. Survivors of the Flux is very much a lead-in to the finale, which is fine for me as a viewer, and extremely annoying as a reviewer.
All this to say that I’m not going to sit here and speculate on What It All Means, because I’m sure I’m much better off doing that next week once we have more parts in place to work with. What that leaves me with is a few scatterings of storylines to pick through, and what better way to round off a Sunday evening than to nibble on them like the leftovers of a particularly delicious but overtly oversized meal?
I would like to start this, as I would every day of my life, with Yas. Mandip Gill and company (by which I mean, Dan and Professor Jericho from last week) are launched back to the early part of the 20th century to charge around the world and follow a mystery left behind by the Doctor to discover the date of the end of the world. If you’re into Unchartered, The Mummy, Indiana Jones, anything of that nature, there’s a lot here to enjoy – not too much indulgence in genre silliness, given how much has to happen this week, but it’s fun seeing Mandip Gill getting to live her Lara Croft fantasy and look great in a hat while she does so.
And now, I know that I spend an inordinate amount of time in my daily life and in these reviews especially discussing how much I would love to see Yas and the Doctor form a romantic relationship, but honestly – if this episode wasn’t dangling that, I don’t know what was. Yas has been left a message by the Doctor, that she replays for the nth time as we watch; it’s an obvious parallel between Vinder and Bel from a few episodes before, an explicitly romantic connection, and it’s hard not to see that as some nod towards the feelings that, at least, Yas has some of those feelings for the Doctor. I’d love to see the show follow this up, as it would give it a real deep-seated seeding on a rewatch, but I’m not sure if I actually think it will or not. While there’s precedent in the show for queer WLW relationships, and we know the Doctor has been in love with women before, it’s a big step to have the main character in a gay relationship, one that I’m not sure the Flux – with all its enormity and such a huge plot to resolve – really has time to float that in the meaningful way it deserves.
On Earth, Prentiss slithers his way into U.N.I.T, and we follow several decades of his slimey work to allow himself to offer the Earth to the Sontarans. Honestly, I wasn’t super into this plot; I really do love the idea of U.N.I.T, and I’m especially a fan of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (and Jenna Redgrave’s commanding performance as the iconic brigadier’s daughter), but there was something a bit workmanlike about the execution of this storyline for me. It’s a necessary part of the set-up for this finale, but the writing just isn’t there in the way I want it to be – it’s ticking off a series of plot points to make sure the audience has everything it needs for what comes next, rather than having the fun that Mandip Gill and company have with their genre sidekick goofery. I was particularly disappointed by Kate here, not because Jenna Redgrave’s not serving like she always is, but because the dialogue felt so stilted and gloopy and first-draft-y, a scrawled note hastily pushed under the table in the middle of a final exam rather than the simmering tension it should have been.
The Doctor, of course, has been snatched by the Angels and brought to the mysterious woman she met a few episodes ago – swiftly revealed to be her pseudo-mother, Tecteun, from The Timeless Child. This was the juiciest part of the episode for me, as Tecteun reveals that she’s willing to offer the Doctor her lost memories if she agrees to let the Flux continue unhindered, and it makes for a really compelling conflict. Jodie Whittaker, like I said last week, has this anger and destabilizing panic to her that she’s never had in her run before, and seeing her getting to bounce off of Barbara Flynn as Tecteun is genuinely great.
Flynn has this maternal but not warm air to her, her relationship with the Doctor spiky and potentially explosive, and their scenes together really feel worthy of a plot this big – as Tecteun’s plan is teased out, it feels like we’re finally starting to see everything fit together, and in a way that pulls the Doctor and the Timeless Child twist back into action. I’ve been a Timeless Child apologist since day one, and I’m really glad that Chibnall is making it matter to this season in such a central way. Dangling the Doctor’s memories in front of us is so tempting as viewers, always wanting more from this character, and it feels like about the only thing that the show could give us that feels big enough to risk a whole universe for.
This is a pretty entertaining episode, though whether or not I’d call it a good one really hinges on whether next week can stick the landing – if it’s great, then this is the start of a triumphant final act, and if it’s not, then this is the beginning of the fizzling put of Flux as a season. I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends, and if this episode is going to get a retrospective fondess – or turn out to be the start of a tragically bad end for Flux. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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(header image via The Guardian)