It’s the end of the Flux as we know it, but do we feel fine? The Vanquishers provides a mad dash to the finish line, answering most questions but at a dizzying pace that leaves little room for reflection
The end of the universe may not have come, but the end of Doctor Who: Flux is finally here! While fans have generally been full of praise for the series, many have given their approval with a caveat. It’s all hung on a satisfactory ending. After all, way back in The Halloween Apocalypse Chris Chibnall threw so many ball in the air with such abandon that one had to doubt if he could successfully catch them all. But now that the end titles have scrolled up the screen on finale The Vanquishers, has he succeeded?
At sixty minutes, The Vanquishers speeds through the many items on its To Do lists
Ultimately, we do get all the answers to all the outstanding questions we had, even if it takes three Doctors to fit it all in. We could have already guessed what was going on with Mad Mole Joseph Williamson. But we learn exactly why he built his tunnels and why they lead to those doors; the result of the Flux fracturing time backwards. We get some much needed villain exposition from Swarm and Azure (obviously all they needed was a hero held hostage to set them off monologuing.) They lay out their perverse philosophy of seeing life as a universal mistake to correct in a chillingly resolute speech. And they get their comeuppance, albeit it in a appropriate dark style. These supreme nihilists actually welcome their own annihilation at the hands of Time itself.
The team successfully drive the Sontarans off Earth, and the threat of the final Flux averted. The Doctor gets her memories back, even if only by getting them back in her own personal possession, and makes a decision about them. Vinder and Bel reunite, as do Dan and Di. Even the Grand Serpent gets an appropriate ending, doomed to be ruler of a kingdom of one.
The sheer speed of the finale never lets up, leaving some moments somewhat rushed
This does all come at a price however. The episode launches itself out of the traps at breakneck speed and never lets up. By the end, you could excuse a viewer being almost breathless with the dizzy pace of it all. As a result, it’s a finale full of fantastic moments, but which never takes the time to dwell on them. We may discover the secrets of the Williamson Tunnels for instance, but poor old Joseph himself is pushed off home with almost rude haste.
Claire and Jericho’s mission to the Sontaran ship is thrilling stuff. And the Professor’s heroic final moments a touching and appropriate end for one of Flux’s best characters. (And let’s acknowledge Kevin McNally as one of the serial’s standout actors). But in any other episode there might have been more space to acknowledge him going on his Peter Pan “awfully big adventure.” Similarly, the reunion of Vinder and Bel doesn’t really need anything more than them hugging and kissing and rejoicing in their upcoming parenthood. But it’s perhaps a little brief after all the build up over the past four episodes.
Focusing so much on the Sontarans leaves the Ravagers with surprisingly little to do
Partly this is down to the decision to focus so much on the Sontaran occupation of Earth, and their scheme to conquer what’s left of the universe. It leaves the Ravagers themselves little to do but cackle and preen before losing because they’re not paying attention. Appropriate for such a pair of narcissists that may be, but it might have been nicer to see more of them here at the end. In many ways, The Vanquishers is a fantastic adventure in its own right. It’s also effective at tying together and resolving the arc’s disparate strands.
But Blogtor Who can’t help but think that, taken all together as a six part serial, it makes Doctor Who: Flux a very oddly paced beast. Chapters One, Two, Four and Five all unfold as you might expect in this type of serial. But third chapter Once, Upon Time drives round and round in circles, metaphorically. And while old school six parters would typically coast across the finish line, running out of gas, The Vanquishers puts the accelerator flat to the floor to try and make it across the finish line.
Some of the mythology of Doctor Who: Flux remains vague by design
There are a few things for which resolutions or explanation aren’t forthcoming. But some will likely carry over to the specials, and others remain mysterious by design. What does a personification of Time actually mean? Well, what sort of answer could that have. Rather, it’s Chibnall’s answer to Graham Williams’ Black Guardian, and as vaguely framed. After all the raven hatted baddie brought to life so memorably by Valentine Dyall was the personification of darkness and chaos. And what exactly does that mean? These are elements that hint at Chibnall being just a crucial few years younger than his predecessors, and a child of later Tom Baker and Peter Davison rather than Pertwee and early Tom.
Meanwhile, the promotional image for Eve of the Daleks hints that the damage to the TARDIS will remain an issue. The Doctor has recovered the Timeless Child’s memories from the possession of her enemies, and healed that most offensive of violations. But she sticks a pin in the decision to actually explore them. It’s hard to blame her – how might the “Doctor” persona be swamped by the memories of dozens of perhaps less noble incarnations? But Blogtor Who can’t imagine next year won’t see the Doctor enter that spooky old house and meet its inhabitants.
Jodie Whittaker gives one of her finest performances as the Doctor yet
Possibly the only matter on The Vanquishers’ bingo card left unmarked is the little matter of the current state of the universe. In Survivors of the Flux, the Doctor conceived a plan to undo the Flux and restore reality as it was. But she never seems to get a moment to implement it. She shared it with the Ood, but we’re never told if he does it either. The general celebratory feel of the final scenes doesn’t suggest a shredded, half dead reality. But perhaps one more line of exposition in a rat-a-tat script filled with it wouldn’t have hurt.
That said, the almost frantic urgency with which we run through the episode does let it fit in many wonderful moments. Many of these are down to Jodie Whittaker herself. She truly revels in having a script as quick and sprightly as her Doctor. We’re well used to the sight of three Doctors flipping between sibling bickerings and mutual love-ins from moment to moment. But Whittaker makes it truly extraordinary by playing all three of them herself. And she’s particularly brilliant in her take down of the Grand Serpent during her interrogation. It’s particularly pleasing to see for a Doctor that, during her era, has been on the receiving end of exposition a little too often.
In turning the obstacles of pandemic filming into an opportunity to return to serialization, Flux is one of Doctor Who’s great success stories
The final scenes between the Doctor and Yaz were lovely, heartfelt, stuff too, with that single tear rolling down the Doctor’s face really pulling at the heartstrings. Some will undoubtedly be disappointed their relationship isn’t pushed further. But in terms of that standby of modern Who, the love between Doctor and companion that must remain unspoken because this is Doctor Who, the Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz are up there with the Tenth Doctor and Rose now. If only they could work it out, those crazy kids.
Mandip Gill should take a bow here too. Yaz’ position within the TARDIS hierarchy as clearly the team’s second in command has been a real boon and allowed Gill more space to show what can she do. She sells every inch of Yaz’ confidence, strength and emotion. Meanwhile, comic timing is second nature to Bishop, McNally, and Sontaran actors Jonathan Watson and Dan Starkey. With Whittaker matching them at every scene of mile a minute dialogue she gets, The Vanquishers is a fantastically funny episode that had Blogtor laughing out loud multiple times. Every gag, big and small, hits at exactly the right pitch.
As an episode in its own right, The Vanquishers brings Flux to a satisfactory close, full of action, thrills, laughs and emotion. And full of pace. Lots and lots of pace. Whether it will be as satisfying when rewatched as the sixth hour or a binge remains to be seen. But that rewatch is definitely in order. Flux has had its imperfections, like any Doctor Who story. But in taking the poisoned chalice of filming in covid conditions, it’s taken a reduced run of episodes, a smaller, recurring, cast, and a serialized format and turned it into pure wine. It’s by any measure, a remarkable accomplishment.
Doctor Who will return on New Year’s Day with Eve of the Daleks
Sarah (Aisling Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Adjani Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned as they find themselves joining forces with the Doctor, Dan and Yaz in a fight against the Daleks.