Harkening back to the serial nature of Classic Doctor Who stories, the last series of Doctor Who, Series Thirteen, was six episodes telling one massive story. Named Doctor Who: Flux, this series premiered on 31 October 2021 and each episode was released in weekly installments with the finale airing 5 December 2021. Filmed amidst Covid restrictions, I’m not sure how long the original arc of Flux was intended to be but the effects were evident in many ways, from lack of location shoots to the primary cast playing multiple roles to a narrative running over with story bits. While I adore the Thirteenth Doctor – seeing her as “my Doctor” in as much as I can see any Doctor as “mine” when I love them all – and largely love what Chris Chibnall has done with the world of Doctor Who during his time as showrunner, Flux was…rough. Watching it week to week there was so much I enjoyed but I also felt the narrative was overcrowded, trying to do too much with the time they had and ending with many questions lingering in my mind. So I wanted to see if watching this one sweeping story in one sitting affected my understanding of the story!
As I like to do from time to time, this piece will be my stream of consciousness response to the experience. What did I learn taking Doctor Who: Flux in one sitting?? What questions still linger?? Without further adieu, allons-y!
1) “The Halloween Apocalypse” has one of my favorite openings to any Doctor Who series or episode :). Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill have THE BEST chemistry! It’s clear the Doctor and Yaz have been travelling together for awhile since saying goodbye to Ryan and Graham in “Revolution of the Daleks” and I just hope we get some of those stories. I’d like a trilogy of novels, one comic series, and several Big Finish audio adventures minimum of the Doctor and Yaz bouncing around the universe together.
2) I adore John Bishop’s Dan Lewis. He was a companion I loved as soon as I met him! Also, I can’t watch this episode without thinking of this tweet now:
3) It is so exciting to meet Swarm, a being so evil he’s been “imprisoned since the dawn of the universe.” Whenever Doctor Who goes back to the dawn of the universe, whether with a species like the Racnoss or a being like the Beast, I get excited. It’s such a fascinating idea to consider.
4) The tension building in the first episode is masterful! Even having seen it several times before and knowing where it goes, my heart’s in my throat at times.
5) I love the Doctor and Yaz together :). And I love that Yaz has learned how to fly the TARDIS!
6) Why would you call a location “Observation Outpost Rose” if you weren’t going to do anything with it?? You don’t say “Rose” in Doctor Who for no reason! Bah X /.
7) Why was Swarm imprisoned in an undisclosed location since the dawn of time while Azure was hidden in the body of a mortal woman in 2021? How did her imprisonment work if they’ve been captive for billions of years?
8) The idea of the Lupari being species-bound to humanity is the cutest thing ever. I want to meet my own Lupari guardian and go on road trips together.
9) Something else super adorable was the “Doctor Who Flux Challenge” videos they did on the Doctor Who YouTube channel! Each week Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and John Bishop would compete in a new game so I’m gonna sprinkle them through the post should you want to enjoy any of them! They are so much fun to watch and it turns out Mandip is crazy competitive! I love it all :). Here’s the “Halloween Trick of Treat Challenge”:
10) When I first watched “War of the Sontarans,” I hadn’t seen the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith first meet them yet. But now I have that memory and as soon as the Doctor said, “I’ve faced the Sontarans before,” I thought of the Doctor and Sarah in the Middle Ages with Linx and it made me smile.
11) The Mouri and the Temple of Atropos? “Time is evil”? “Time is a force”? Time “must not be unleashed”? I don’t understand what they are doing with the concept of time within the Doctor Who universe. That’s something I’m learning with this single sitting rewatch. Doctor Who: Flux setup so many exciting mysteries! But I know (or I think…unless this changes) many won’t be resolved and that frustration makes it harder to enjoy the good.
12) What wasn’t frustrating in the least though was “The Sontaran Catapult Challenge”:
13) I’m not scared when Swarm kills a Mouri because I don’t know who the Mori are or what they do…
14) The cliffhangers are SO GOOD.
15) What strikes me as I watch episode three, “Once, Upon Time,” with all the characters scattered through “disrupted time” is a sense of “the tragedy of time.” Bel and Vinder. Dan and Di. Professor Eustachius Jericho and Claire Brown. The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan. Karvanista and everyone! Flux introduces so many interesting characters and, given the fact that it’s Jodie and co.’s last full series, we’ll never get to see any of these characters developed to their full potential :/.
16) In her memories, the Doctor sees/relives Swarm telling her, when she was the Fugitive Doctor and working with Division, “There is no greater battle than this – the battle between time and space.” So…what?? What does that even mean? What are time and space then? Why are they fighting? How are they fighting? Why do Swarm and Azure side with time? Also, Bel says “the Flux is eroding space and time is running wild.” What is even going on here?
17) Jodie, Mandip, and John were perplexed in their own way in the “What’s in the Box? Challenge.”
18) I would’ve really liked to see Bel and Vinder’s story – two separated lovers trying to find each other again as they crisscross a universe decaying from the Flux – play out across a full season of ten-to-thirteen episodes.
19) Claire’s been stuck in the ‘60s for two years – 1965-1967. That idea just terrifies me. Conceptually, I really think the Weeping Angels are the creepiest, most horrifying beings in the Doctor Who universe. The Daleks will exterminate you. The Cybermen will convert you, which has to be a kind of death in its own way. But the Weeping Angels steal your life and once they send you to the past there’s no way back. You just live out the rest of your life without any hope of returning to your life and those you love again. Between that idea and my residual emotions around their introduction in “Don’t Blink” and what happens with Amy and Rory in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” nothing scares me in Doctor Who quite like the Weeping Angels and this fourth episode, “Village of the Angels,” takes full advantage of their creepiness.
20) The idea that the Gallifreyan black ops unit, the Division, would use “every species, every world, every moment” – but especially creatures like the Weeping Angels – to accomplish their ends makes them all the scarier. It also opens the door for wider commentary on the morally questionable motives and methods of such organizations.
21) This fourth episode is the single best, most insane, most unexpected and horrifying cliffhanger ending I’ve ever seen in the 580 episodes (and counting!) of Doctor Who and Classic Doctor Who I’ve yet seen.
22) OF COURSE we need “The ‘Don’t Blink’ Challenge”! I would totally crush this one by the way ;D.
23) I wish the series had time to fully dwell on the horror of Yaz, Dan, and Professor Jericho being trapped in the past for three years. Last episode ends with them in 1901. This episode, “Survivors of the Flux,” begins with them in 1904. They are not only trapped in the past but they are desperately trying to find a way back to the future (heh) to help the Doctor stop the end of the universe. That sounds like a fresh kind of hell to me.
24) The part of the story set in 1958 weaves the Grand Serpent into the creation of UNIT. I struggle with this for two reasons. First, it seems to imply all UNIT’s actions in Classic Doctor Who, indeed all UNIT’s actions in general, were overseen by this villain. I never really care for story twists like this. Are we supposed to discount the good UNIT did? Or is the threat minimal as they still did so much good? Second, I still don’t understand who the Grand Serpent is so I don’t understand why any of this matters.
25) Awwwwwww, I love the scene of Yaz replaying the Doctor’s hologram message to her <3. It was sweet, with a tinge of heartache, the first time I watched it but I’ve only grown to love it more in light of “Eve of the Daleks” and “Legend of the Sea Devils.”
26) By this point in the series I’ve lost all sense of what the Ravagers are doing. Swarm and Azure were introduced as this frightening, intriguing, vast mystery of a threat…and then sidelined since the Temple on Atropos. They still look creepy but my sense of them as a threat is buried under all the other threats each episode introduces.
27) So Division exists in the space between universes, like their headquarters is floating in the Void wrapped around the multiverse. Ok. From there they manage their operatives. Ok. Division created the Flux to destroy the universe because they were “wary” of the threat the Doctor posed now that she no longer works for them. The Doctor asks, “How much power do you imagine I have?” and Tecteun’s replies, “You inspire, make people question, rise up. You give them hope, that can be problematic.” Ok. But I still only understand Division as a vague shadow organization (which I like! I’m glad we don’t have all the answers) so this explanation means little to me.
28) This is getting heavy and confusing so here’s “The Doctor Who Emoji Quiz” for a breather :).
29) I do love what they do with the Doctor and Tecteun. Far from her being “the Chosen One” in any way, shape, or form, we learn the Timeless Child was kidnapped, a child stolen from her family and people to be used by Tecteun. It returns all the mystery to the Doctor’s past (like there was in Classic Doctor Who) without elevating her above the Time Lords as some divine being.
30) Seeing Kate Stewart fighting for UNIT and calling Osgood is exciting…or would’ve been if I had any idea who the Grand Serpent is or what his role is in this story. I mean it seems like he played around with UNIT for fifty-two years to drop Earth’s defenses for the Sontaran invasion fleet but why? Who is he? Why is he working with the Sontarans? What does he get out of this?
31) Swarm killing Tecteun was anticlimactic and felt like a huge waste. Why introduce this character who, in many ways, is the Doctor’s original enemy – the woman who kidnapped her as a child, coopted her ability to regenerate, and stole untold millennia of memories form her – just to kill her?
32) I would watch the heck out of a show with Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor travelling with Craige Els’ Karvanista.
33) Why would they introduce a concept as interesting as it is adorable as every single human being on Earth having a species-bond Lupari protector only to kill the whole race five episodes later?
34) The Flux being an antimatter threat coming from outside the universe while the Doctor herself is split across three locations is a clever nod to the first multi-Doctor team-up story where the First, Second, and Third Doctor unite to stop an antimatter threat in 1972-73 serial “The Three Doctors.” The part of the Doctor with Swarm and Azure never meets the others either, so we only see two Doctors working with each other while one’s acting on their own, just like in “The Three Doctors”!
35) Time killing Swarm and Azure also feels anticlimactic as I still don’t understand how time as a being works or what it’s goals are.
36) Ok, so let’s see if I’ve got this. The Division unleashed the Flux – an antimatter wave – to destroy the universe because they didn’t trust the Doctor loose and doing her own thing, planning to hop to another universe once this one was destroyed. The Sontarans took advantage of this crisis and invaded Earth looking to a) finally conquer the planet that’s evaded them for years and b) use it as a staging point to wipe out the Daleks and Cybermen leaving them the ultimate vanquishers in whatever is left of the galaxy. All this makes sense. The Grand Serpent is a failed dictator who was somehow overthrown and looking to use the Sontarans…in some way…to return to ruling…Earth, maybe? It’s the Doctor’s theory but he never confirms this. Grand Serpent remains vague. Then there’s the Ravagers. Hm. Division battled and imprisoned Swarm and Azure at the beginning of the universe. Got that. Then they broke out. Ok, classic villain move there. And they sought to…free time…because it was at war with space…as both concepts are sentient beings, I guess? Because time had been imprisoned on Atropos…by…someone, the Division, I think…and watched over by the Mouri for…reasons?
36a) While the narrative feels a lot tighter to me watching it in one go, it’s still a little frustrating I had to to make this much sense of it. And even if the plot points/threats are clearer, I still feel all the characters – Di, Bel and Vinder, Claire and Jericho, Azure and Swarm, and definitely Grand Serpent – needed and deserved more development.
37) It makes me happy Di was the one who ultimately figured out how to defeat the Flux! I really enjoyed her character and I appreciate her casting in regard to disability visibility. I appreciate how we saw Di as the Dan’s romantic interest, figure out how the Passenger Form worked, and sort how to stop the Flux without her disability ever being a “story point,” too. She is disabled, yes. but that’s just a part of who she is.
38) When the Doctor FINALLY opens up and tells Yaz, “I want to tell you everything” and then that tear falls down her face when Dan calls Yaz to help him find his room?? Awwwww, MY HEART <3.
39) I’m glad the Doctor didn’t open the fob watch and get her memories back. I like the mystery and I like these story options are out there floating around to be used by future writers of the show, novels, comics, and audio dramas.
40) Um, so did they undo the Flux?? It doesn’t seem like they did at all so does that mean the majority of the universe – as well as all the Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans – remains destroyed?!!? THIS SEEMS LIKE A STORY POINT THEY NEEDED TO BE CLEARER WITH.
41) And finally we have “The DIY TARDIS Challenge” to bring it all home.
42) As far as closing thoughts go, “Village of the Angels” is my favorite episode in this series. Also, I think “The Halloween Apocalypse” is a really strong series opener, rife with tension and laying out so many intriguing mysteries to unfold. However, it’s frustrating how many of those mysteries were only partially resolved. I grant Covid affected things and I’m forever grateful they made Doctor Who: Flux for us to enjoy in the midst of the pandemic. But I think, with a limited episode count, it would’ve felt more coherent to narrow the villains. It could’ve been the Division/the Flux/the Sontaran invasion. Or Swarm and Azure/the Flux/the Division. Or the Sontaran Invasion/the Flux/Grand Serpent. I also grant it’s easier to say this when I’m not the one making the show and I have the benefit of time to sit, digest, and consider it. Still, it felt like a lot.
As far as I’m concerned though, even clunky/quasi-confusing/cluttered Doctor Who is still better than 95% of the stories out there. Also, Doctor Who: Flux did have a lot of jaw-dropping, heart-filling, speculation-inducing moments I enjoyed even on my first watch. Also also, it was followed by “Eve of the Daleks” and “Legend of the Sea Devils” which are two of my favorite episodes of the Chibnall era!
While I’m excited to see what Russell T Davies has planned for his return and I can’t wait to see Ncuti Gatwa become the Fourteenth Doctor…my heart is not ready to say goodbye to the Thirteenth Doctor and the Chibnall Era yet! I predict many tears will fall with the Centenary Special.
6 thoughts on “What I Learned (and Questions Remaining After) Watching Doctor Who: Flux in One Sitting”
If the Angels sent Yaz, Dan and Jericho back in time then wouldn’t that necessarily trap them in the past without any way back to the future? I know they find the secret doorway and all that jazz but shouldn’t that even be prohibitive since the angels are stealing the temporal energy of the life that was to be, thus preventing any return to that same timeline?
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I have spent A LOT of time thinking about this! What I’ve figured out is Moffat had to “tweak” the Angels to get the end for Amy and Rory where they are trapped in the past. In “Blink,” the Weeping Angels send people back to the ’60s, right? BUT the Doctor and Martha easily come back once Sally and Larry send the TARDIS back to them. Then in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” Amy and Rory get stuck there in New York City in the ’30s. But when I rewatched that episode paying attention to/for this, Moffat wrote there are “weird time storms” (my paraphrase) around NYC which means he can’t take the TARDIS back their to save them.
So this means there’s nothing which prevents the Doctor from going back to save people the Angels send back outside of narrative twists (it remains to be seen if that affects what the Angels feed on (like does rescuing someone then “starve” the Angel who sent them back?)). This also adds a VERY DARK bit to “Blink” because it means, when the Tenth Doctor tells Billy Shipton, “I’m sorry, I’m so very sorry” and says he has to take a message to Sally Sparrow and he has to live the intervening decades to do so, the Doctor is sacrificing Billy’s life to save himself and Martha.
In a battle between a Weeping Angel and a Silent, who would win?
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Ooooooooo, I’ll have to think about this. But my gut would be the Weeping Angel. They can attack in the blink of an eye and, when they are observed, they are stone. So when the Silence would turn, if the Angel could still see them then they wouldn’t have forgotten them yet and would attack. But the Silence, if it was looking at the Weeping Angel, it’s just looking at a stone and I’m not sure their zapping abilities would have much effect on a stone.
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I just finished this season and I am glad to see that we share many of the same reactions! I was initially interested in a season that seemed tighter and to have one overarching plot line, but the potential here seemed to be thrown away by the addition of so many villains. I kept losing track of them, forgetting they were even still in the game. Then I got confused as to what a bunch of them were even trying to accomplish.
Like…the Weeping Angels are just there to take advantage of chaos? I guess the Sontarans, too, since there is no guarantee Earth will even survive the Flux? How do the Lupari ships work to maybe stop the Flux?? Who is the Grand Serpent and what is his interest in UNIT? Why does he want to work with the Sontarans in the first place? Does he even need them? And, yes, what does it MEAN that time and space are “at war?” And since when was Time a being? And how do the Mouri work? And…and…and…
Also, I was really hoping you’d clear up for me if three quarters of the universe is gone now because I kind of started drifting away due to my ENTIRE INABILITY TO FOLLOW THE PLOTLINE and I wasn’t really sure because I didn’t remember any reversal of the universal erasure, but it seemed like that SHOULD have happened? Because the show said the Flux would end at Earth and it rather looks like Earth is the only thing left in the universe, but that doesn’t make sense, does it?
I have no idea what I’m supposed to think of Division. Initially I thought they were scary, but then I couldn’t figure out what their purpose even is. And, yes, it was a waste to get rid of Tecteun right after introducing her and setting her up as a nemesis to the Doctor!
And at first I thought, “Time running wild,” meant history was changing and maybe would also explain how Vinder and Bel seemed to be like super advanced humans, but are also around in 2021? But I guess not. Bel and Vinder are great, though, and I’d love to see more of both.
I think the Weeping Angels episode was my favorite because it was largely self contained and I felt like I actually understood what was happening.
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Are you ready to play “Let’s Theorize and See If We Can Figure Out What They Never Explained On the Show”?? Ok, let’s go.
Round One: As far as reversing the Flux goes, my best guess is it was a) and editing mistake, b) a scene they didn’t get to film/had to cut because of Covid issues, or c) both a and b. My reason for this is Swarm and Azure make the point of telling the Doctor they are going to rewind and replay the Flux again and again and again from Division headquarters just for the joy of watching her precious universe be destroyed. That was a VERY specific ability/piece of technology to have access to at Division HQ and I can’t imagine a reason for including such a specific point in the plot if the Doctor wasn’t originally going to use the same technology to reverse it. I’d bet there was a scene – or at least the idea for a scene – where that fragment of the Doctor, along with her Ood buddy, reverse the Flux before she leaves Division.
Round Two: As to the nature of Division, I know Chris Chibnall was very open about wanting to restore “the mystery” to the Doctor. That – the Timeless Child and countless unknown lives before Hartnell’s First Doctor – was the pitch to the BBC that got him the job. That was in place before he even cast Jodie. Back in Classic Doctor Who, the Doctor wasn’t even identified as a Time Lord until the end of the Second Doctor’s run in Series Six and regeneration wasn’t explained or defined as a concept until the end of the Third Doctor’s run in Series Eleven. So they were trying to make the Doctor’s being/past/life a mystery to the viewer again. That being said…I wonder if the plans for the Division will be a Doctor Who spin-off show :8. I hesitate to even type that but I know Russell T Davies wanted to build a Doctor Who Cinematic Universe before he was even hired back. And they have Disney production money now… I’ve not heard anything official but I can imagine a world where the Doctor, as a play-by-her-own-rules agent of the Division, going on secret missions for Gallifrey through time and space, was a plan.
Round Three: I wonder if Bel and Vinder even are human? You know? When Rose tells the Ninth Doctor he looks human, he tells her, “You look Time Lord!” And the Doctor often finds races who, for all manner of reasons (probably most often the production budget), look human but aren’t. Maybe that’s who Bel and Vinder were? Humanoid aliens but not Earth humans? Still, it would’ve been nice to have something like that mentioned in the show…
I’m relieved to know you struggled with this, too. I watched the whole series with Mom and then, come Monday, I’d talk with my friend Jamie about it. Jamie was confused as we were and Mom would always say, “Well Jamie’s confused, too! No wonder we can’t get it.” So Jamie validated our confusion to Mom a bit XD. Now you will, too!
Also, AHHHHHH, you’re almost caught up! You only have three specials left! For what it’s worth (and no spoilers, obvs.), I really liked the specials to follow. They were some of the most fun, self-contained stories we get in Chibnall’s tenure. And I understood what was going on in all of them and I could follow the plot XD. So that was nice! I’ll be excited to hear what you think about them, too.