Doctor Who is never one to rest on its laurels, is it?
Tonight’s debut episode of the new series makes that abundantly clear as it comes out of the gate swinging in this, the first part of a six part epic that immediately conjures up fond memories of vintage Doctor Who‘s serialised storytelling. Chapter One of Flux – The Halloween Apocalypse – doesn’t waste a single minute of its 50 minute runtime, packing in old enemies, new faces, intriguing mysteries, fresh peril and even the end of the universe itself before the cliffhanger sting hits. And whilst there are moments where the episode threatens to buckle under the weight of so many elements, it just about manages to weave it all together into something promising.
Flux opens in typical fashion, with the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) in deadly danger, but immediately begins to branch out further, with the story whizzing back and forth between modern day Liverpool, Victorian Liverpool, a solitary outer-space observation outpost, a secluded house in the Arctic Circle, a Sontaran battle cruiser, and a strange alien world that appears to be a prison for the series’ new antagonist. A deadly phenomena known as the Flux is spreading across the universe, devouring all life and matter in existence, and even the TARDIS itself appears to be dying as a result. As opening gambits go, The Halloween Apocalypse certainly doesn’t waste any time in upping the stakes!
Chris Chibnall‘s script is certainly ambitious in scope and poses a lot of compelling questions off the bat. Whether the answers to said-questions result in a more succinct story is hard to tell at present, but time can only tell at this stage. The huge number of disparate narrative threads here do feel a bit too far removed from one another, but there are definite signs that these threads will amalgamate in a satisfying, epic way as we move further into the story. Thus far though, it’s a bit of a chaotic start, with none of the storylines getting much in the way of breathing space amid the throng.
There’s a lot to like here though, and on its own merits, The Halloween Apocalypse certainly works, albeit more so when it comes to the smaller aspects. The episode never really delivers on the fear factor such a title promises, but the cameos by the Weeping Angels and the introduction of a strange, whispering house offers up some creepy moments amid all the explosions and runarounds. The introductions of the mysterious new villains are unsettling too – nightmarish, disfigured creatures bought to life by superb prosthetics design and haunting performances, they certainly fit the bill for a Halloween Who monster. The ambiguity behind their identity and their relationship with the Doctor offers up plenty of intrigue for the weeks ahead too, and promises to take the ongoing Division arc from Series 12 in an unexpected direction.
It’s also a fab introduction for new companion Dan Lewis (played by the excellent John Bishop). Though his character’s development feels truncated in the second half of the episode, its immediately clear that Bishop is a fine addition to the programme – instantly likeable and wonderful on watch onscreen. Both actor and character are a delight to watch, and we can’t wait to see how the relationship with the Doctor and Yaz develops over the rest of the series, nor can we wait to see how Dan takes to life aboard the TARDIS.
Kudos also to the direction from series regular Jamie Magnus Stone, which plays a big part in holding everything together. Juggling the various location and tone changes in a manner that ensures everything flows well despite the overstuffed nature of the episode, there’s a similar degree of ambition and scope on offer here in terms of the visuals, and whilst the opening acid trap escape doesn’t quite hold up as well as it should, the rest of the episode displays some superb visual effects work throughout (the Flux itself is wonderfully abstract and imposing in its depiction, a cut above the usual sci-fi space phenomena seen in other shows and films). Suitably with such big visuals, the score by Segun Akinola is big and operatic, but also quietly intense in spookier moments like the aforementioned Weeping Angel appearance.
All in all, Doctor Who: Flux is off to a good start, even if it does stumble somewhat under the weight of its many plot threads and characters. But bearing in mind that Chris Chibnall‘s finest work in television to date has been the brilliant serial drama Broadchurch, there’s certainly reason to believe that what we get here is just the start of something very special and there’s a very strong possibility that this new-ish approach for the show will pay off massively come Chapter Six. Time will tell. At the very least, its nice to see the show go back to its roots and go hard at delivering the biggest adventure it’s ever attempted since it returned in 2005.
Like any trip in the TARDIS, it’s difficult to know where we’re going next, but we’re certainly excited to see where we end up!