Thoughts on Doctor Who Flux: Once, Upon Time

Flux moves onto its third episode, and I sure do have some thoughts on that.

However, as is traditional around these parts, I absolutely hate spoilers with a passion that would make River Song blush.

And as we all know, River Song very rarely blushes.

With that in mind, if you’ve landed here before seeing the third episode of Doctor Who: Flux, back away now. I’ll give you a little spoiler space in the form of a YouTube music clip. Lurk beyond there, and you’ll find spoilers.

Really, given this episode, there’s only one clip that will do.

This week’s episode is only PG on ABC iView, with no particular warnings. Maybe all the kids are scarred enough already?

We start, not with what’s happening to the Doctor, Yaz, Dan and Vinder, but instead with Bel’s story. I’m a sucker for a Scottish accent, so I’m instantly hooked.

Bel is a mystery, although unusually for this season, she's not a mystery for all that long.
Bel is a mystery, although unusually for this season, she’s not a mystery for all that long.

Here’s the season’s contractually obligated Daleks. Got to keep the Terry Nation estate in cigars and caviar, I guess.

Bel is on a mission that… will become clear. Depending on who “her love” is, though I kinda did peg where this would end up before the episode’s conclusion. Because really, while it jumps around time, giving us a mixture of confusing detail and fan service, this episode is mostly about Vinder.

That’s 100% fine; if you’re going to introduce a potential new companion, and especially one not from modern day Earth, the more backstory the better.

Just like it jumps around the time stream (and spends quite a bit of time inside a cheap fiscally prudent kaleidoscope set), this week’s episode is highly reminiscent of The Halloween Apocalypse, with lots of clues, characters and little in the way of actual resolution of events.

Which makes it very difficult to really judge it as an episode in its own right. Sure, we get a bit of Jo Martin’s Doctor, setting up the whole Planet Time business some time in the past, and that’s nice foreshadowing… erm… preshadowing? It gets murky when you have this much time travel in a single story, or even a six parter.

You are me and I am you and this is your past and my present and also my future. Nobody knows who the Walrus is, goo goo ga joob.
You are me and I am you and this is your past and my present and also my future. Nobody knows who the Walrus is, goo goo g’joob.

Which is funny when you think about Doctor Who, a series that is literally about time travel. It’s not that there’s never been stories like this before, but most have made the actual journey comprehensible along the way.

Dan totally should have "accidentally" got his spare latte in a reusable cup!
Dan totally should have “accidentally” got his spare latte in a reusable cup!

Instead we get this snippets approach, showing off Dan and Diane’s courtship-that-isn’t-a-courtship with time jumps in-between, but again, mostly Vinder and bits of Bel’s journey towards each other.

Vinder’s story is rather predictably tragic; as soon as he’s appointed to his post as the bodyguard of the obviously corrupt “grand serpent” of his world, he’s faced with a moral conflict that he has to resolve. Snakes in charge rarely ends well.

You know, it's possible I'm really a good guy, totally redeemable. Nah, only kidding, I'm evil smirking trash!
You know, it’s possible I’m really a good guy, totally redeemable. Nah, only kidding, I’m evil smirking trash!

There’s some lovely tension around the did-he-didn’t-he burial of the plot that also gives us the direct journey to his being cast aside on Outpost Rose as we’ve already seen.

It’s all a bit Quantum Leap-ish in the way that the BBC saves on actor fees has Yaz, Dan and The Doctor play the roles of other characters in Yaz and Vinder’s timestreams. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you.

Maybe it would be best not to point the comical pew pew gun at Dan. Maybe.
Maybe it would be best not to point the comical pew pew gun at Dan. Maybe.

I still have zero idea what’s going on with the Victorian era dude, tunnels and the rest, and clearly I’m not meant to. Which brings me to my primary criticism of the episode, and it’s this:

I wasn’t bored, but I couldn’t have followed it all, because we’re not meant to. That’s a fine storytelling device to use, but writer and show runner Chris Chibnall has already used it in the first episode.

We’re three episodes in, and it’s gotten murkier as the presumed finale on the planet Time has instead been sidestepped, placing fresh Moré — Morhey? Moray? — in the temple to restore things.


Hush, Dean.

Except, you know, not. Not at all, because now we have a fresh character — villain, presumably, not named but the credits call her Awsok — telling the Doctor that the time has come for this universe to end, presumably tying into the whole “timeless child” business introduced last season.

So that’s Once, Upon Time. I enjoyed watching it, because it’s Doctor Who, and I usually do, but it needs to start actually tying details together in a satisfying way. Can Chris Chibnall stick the landing? He’s got three episodes left to do so.

Random side thoughts:

    • Love seeing Cybermen with proper classic era heads. Just me?
    • How does Vinder KNOW what a TARDIS is… and feel confident he alone could pilot one? What does that reveal about his society and his skill set?
    • If Bel is with child, presumably Vinder wasn’t actually stationed at Outpost Rose for all that long before the Flux hit. Either that, or his message contained more than a hologram…
    • Once again, one Angel is scary; many Angels diminish the effect. That ending with an Angel in control of the TARDIS is interesting… if they can keep the scale small.
    • “What do you want” “To reign in HELL”. Are we sure Chris Chibnall isn’t nicking script notes from Hellraiser’s Pinhead?
    • Slight annoyance: Vinder gets home with little fuss. The classic way you get a companion, Doctor, is because the TARDIS isn’t reliable! It’s cracking up and filled with goo — you’d think it’d be less reliable, not more!
    • I want Bel’s PDA/Phone thing. Just me?
    • If they’re doing an old-school anagram thing with Awsok (a la the way they used to hide The Master in the credits) they’ve not given us much to work with. Unless the new baddie is either called Soak or Woks.
    • Speaking of PDAs, Yaz appears to have an older Samsung phone — maybe an S4,  I think. I’m probably the only person who cares about that detail, mind you. Although if it is an older version of Android, it might explain how the Angel got in there. Got to keep those security updates flowing to keep your phone safe, Yaz!

Next time: Village of the Angels

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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