Reviews | Written by Kieron Moore 02/11/2021

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX – THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE

Back when Chris Chibnall took over as Doctor Who showrunner, a common fan speculation was that he’d move the series to a more long-form style of storytelling, bringing it in line not only with current telly trends but also with his own experience on shows like Broadchurch. His first two series did no such thing, sticking to Who’s established episodic format. But now... we don’t have Doctor Who: Series Thirteen; we have Doctor Who: Flux.

From the first instalment of six, which has the brilliantly B-movie-esque subtitle The Halloween Apocalypse, it’s clear that Flux’s tagline “one epic story” is no understatement. This opener builds up to an interstellar cataclysm seemingly destroying the whole universe, but before we get there, it has a Bond-but-in-space pre-title action sequence, a fleet of dog aliens, an escape from space prison, visits to the Arctic Circle and Victorian Liverpool, the introduction of several new returning characters, and the return of not one, but two popular villains – the Weeping Angels and the Sontarans.

It’s to the credit of both Chibnall and director Jamie Magnus Stone that the episode fits all this in without ever feeling too much. Though the episode ends on a rather chaotic series of flashes to the many different plotlines, we’re left with a lot of questions and an enthusiasm to have them answered rather than feeling left behind or unnecessarily confused, and the elements of returning continuity are handled with sufficient lightness of touch so as not to alienate the less hardcore fans. Chibnall seems in his element; the clunky plotting and dialogue that have marred several of his recent scripts are replaced here with a more confident, considered style, as if the delays to filming caused by the pandemic allowed him time to rework way past the first draft for once – a silver lining!

It’s also one of the most visually confident episodes the show’s ever done – the shot of the Doctor and companions looking out of the TARDIS into the vastness of space is gorgeous, soon replaced by the terrifying but equally impressive image of the Flux tearing through that same vastness. And the introduction of new villain Swarm is a scene sure to get kids behind the sofa (do kids still do that?).

This is the third series featuring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, and except for three specials in 2022, it’ll be her last. We’ve never had a bad word to say about her performance, but like with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, it seems her third and final series may be the one with the best grasp on what to do with her character. Series 12 saw her often very passive, culminating in a finale in which a whole load of backstory was explained at her while she nodded along, but here, it’s great to see the Doctor leading the story, actively tracking down both Karvanista and the source of the Flux. The links hinted at between Karvanista, Swarm, and the Doctor’s hidden past in ‘the Division’ set us up for some intriguing follow-up on the revelations of The Timeless Children.

Mandip Gill’s Yaz also seems to have moved on leaps and bounds. After being sidelined in the previous series – when the TARDIS was overstuffed with three companions – she seems to have built up confidence and expertise in her time travelling alone with the Doctor. This ‘hardened TARDIS veteran’ approach, reminiscent of Clara in Series 8 and 9, allows for some of the character’s best moments yet, with which Mandip Gill mostly impresses (though there are one or two odd line deliveries from her – the way she announces “trick or treat!” upon realising it’s Halloween is, well... surely they had a more natural take for that?).

Yaz isn’t the sole companion for long, as John Bishop’s Dan joins the TARDIS team. Despite everything else packed in here, The Halloween Apocalypse takes time to set up Dan as a decent guy – proud of his city and his community, working in a food bank to help the needy, but too proud to ask for help himself. This characterisation combined with Bishop’s chirpy performance makes for a very likeable new companion. Comedian Bishop also adds a sense of humour to the otherwise serious proceedings, particularly during his scenes with the furry Karvanista – “You look nothing like four bears” is one of the best, and silliest, jokes of Chibnall’s time on Who.

The Halloween Apocalypse is one hell of an opening episode, setting up Flux as a story to thrill the fans and bring back those disillusioned with recent series – this writer has had conversations with a couple of friends and relatives who had stopped watching the show, but on the basis of this, will stick around to see how it plays out. How fondly we’ll ultimately look back on this episode depends a lot on how its threads are paid off in those to come, and so we’re hesitant at this stage to give it the highest possible rating. But this is the most exciting Doctor Who has been in a long time, and we can’t wait to get answers to all our questions over the next five Sundays.