Reviews | Written by Kieron Moore 25/11/2021

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX – VILLAGE OF THE ANGELS

If any monster created for the 2005-onwards revival of Doctor Who has reached as high-regarded a status as the classics – Daleks, Cybermen, the Master – it’s the Weeping Angels. Whereas those three big names have shown up pretty regularly across recent series, the Angels – like the Sontarans – haven’t been the main baddies of a story for around a decade now. A wise choice, then, for Chris Chibnall and his team to have picked the potato-headed warmongers and the stone assassins to be the big returning monsters showing up to cause mayhem in the midst of Doctor Who: Flux.

The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Devon village of Medderton in 1967, where they find a woman they met back in modern-day Liverpool, a house under siege by the Angels, and a search for a missing girl. No prizes for guessing what’s happened to the girl., but that’s OK, as there’s plenty more surprises to come.

This episode is, notably, the only chapter of Flux to have a writer other than Chibnall credited; Maxine Alderton, who scripted last series’ highlight The Haunting of Villa Diodati, shares credit with Chibs here. It’s familiar ground for her, as this episode shares a lot of tropes with Diodati – a big ol’ spooky house, a rogue subversion of a classic villain, a monster of the week plot giving way to the series arc. But again, that’s OK, as while we’d like to see Alderton spread her wings into different styles, this is all stuff she’s very, very good at.

The isolated village is a great setting for the Angels to be let loose, and it feels like Alderton and Chibnall spent a lot of time discussing what we already know about them and how to push all those abilities one bit further, resulting in a fast-paced series of exciting and spooky encounters. The image of an Angel becomes an Angel? What if the image is on fire? Remember when an Angel got inside Amy’s eye? What if a rogue Angel was hiding inside someone? That kind of thing. Of course, this idea of people turning into Angels comes back once more at the end, but we’ll get to that...

And, a great thing about the Weeping Angels is that they’re meant to be both very mysterious and very playfully cruel, which means any points where the plot doesn’t entirely seem to add together can be seen as the Angels dicking around with the heroes just for the fun of it. Why exactly was that wall between the two time zones there? Because the Angels wanted the companions to see what they had planned for the Doctor. The stone-cold arseholes.

Alderton writes Whittaker’s Doctor so well – improvising chaotically but ultimately in control, noticing crucial details like the hidden tunnel, allowed to lead her way through the story rather than just react to things; it also feels noteworthy that the Doctor asks Claire permission to enter her mind after the bizarre series of unconsented memory wipes she performed in last series’ Spyfall.

It’s another great episode for Yaz, too. She started this series strong before once more being dumped with the “What’s that, Doctor?” type lines for episodes two and three; here she gets to put her police training into practice when taking charge of the search for Peggy – an (all too rare for this era) example of a companion’s background informing their approach to a situation. Dan sort of stands around and looks confused, but to be fair, that’s what any of us would be doing if we’d been whisked into space on a non-stop series of chaotic adventures after our houses were shrunk (have they even had time for a nap since episode 1?).

There are very strong guest performances from Annabel Scholey as Claire and former Pirate of the Caribbean Kevin McNally as Professor Jericho. Claire’s backstory is a little light – it’s never explained why she’s letting Jericho experiment on her if she’s unwilling to tell him the truth. This is possibly because Claire is increasingly taken over by the Angel inside her, though Scholey does a great job of balancing all those aspects of the character – the trapped Claire, the rogue Angel bargaining for the Doctor’s help, the ultimately deceitful side of said Angel.

Jericho, meanwhile, is a surprisingly brilliant character – he starts as a patronising, uppity professor, perhaps, as the Angels taunt, made bitter by his regrets in life. But the experience brings out the better side of him, always full of scientific curiosity but ultimately caring. Some viewers understandably found his reference to storming Belsen out of place in a fantasy horror story, but that backstory isn’t treated lightly. The Weeping Angels are defeated by not looking away, not ignoring what’s in front of you, and there’s something striking about Jericho having learned a similar lesson from having been confronted by the horrors of fascism; his defiant cry of “I’m not blinking!” is a statement of the need to confront, not look away from, evil. We want to see more from this character.

Meanwhile, Bel and Vinder are still flying around missing each other. It’s fine, they make a sweet couple, and like last episode, it helps to add context to the greater arc of the series, even if it feels a little out of place cut into the A-story. (Annoying plot nonsense of the week – if the power on Bel’s recording device runs out mid-message, how come it still has power to play the message? And why can’t she leave coordinates with it some other way, like carving them into the stone or telling the nearby Inbetweener?)

Overall, Village of the Angels is a seriously good episode, the best instalment of Flux so far. Some ingenious uses of an iconic villain, a creepy horror atmosphere, and very thoughtful and fitting writing for both regular and guest characters. Definitely a Maxine Alderton episode then.

And, we have a new entry for the “best Doctor Who cliffhangers” clickbait lists – the Doctor being turned into an Angel! The combination of a perfectly planted “oh, that’s where this is going” twist, a gorgeously chilling visual (her coat becoming the Angel’s robes!), and that sense of “what happens next?”

What happens next is Survivors of the Flux, next week’s penultimate episode, which looks like all the answers about the Doctor’s past could be put off a little longer as the focus shifts towards many of the other strands going on (plus added Kate Stewart – a cheer was heard across the land from Moffat era fans as she showed up in the Next Time trailer). While we’re having a lot of fun with Flux so far, it all depends on how everything ties together in the end, and so the next two episodes will be crucial...