Thoughts on Doctor Who Flux: The Vanquishers

The finale of Doctor Who Flux is here, and as usual, I have thoughts and spoilers-a-plenty.

The thoughts can be yours for free, of course, but as is typical I hate spoilers. It’s why for the season finale I’ve made the time to watch the show a lot earlier than the rest of the episodes prior to it.

I simply cannot trust the Internet not to spoil it for me over the course of the day.

I also don’t want to be that spoiler guy, so if you have landed here without watching The Vanquishers, then hit that back button, go watch it however it’s available to you, and then come back.

I’ll start talking broadly and in more detail after the embedded video clip. Scroll down further, and the spoilers are on you, not me.


Not particularly related to the episode; I’ve just been listening to this track A LOT of late.

The statement I’ve been making all season long is that it didn’t entirely matter if show runner (and primary season writer) Chris Chibnall put lots of story threads into the prior 5 episodes, or even to an extent how frantic it got during those episodes as long as he could stick the landing and tie it all up in a satisfactory manner.

It all hinged on this last episode, in other words.

Did he stick the landing?

No… sadly, I really don’t think he did. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy The Vanquishers, or some of the storytelling motifs or moments within it.

It’s just that as an entire entity, or a story designed to go somewhere it ultimately… didn’t.

"Not even my psychic abilities can make this one work, Doctor."
“Not even my psychic abilities can make this one work, Doctor.”

What we get instead is a “cunning” Sontaran plot that hinges on the Daleks and Cybermen being remarkably stupid in our universe, a very stalled and not terribly satisfactory “mystery” surrounding the Doctor’s Gallifreyan watch and villains who couldn’t decide if they wanted to dust the Doctor or not and so, so many unanswered questions.

Also, a fat Sontaran who likes chocolate, because apparently that’s funny or something.

We are the most fearsome clone race in the rapidly diminishing universe. Of course we have time to stuff around in corner shops.
We are the most fearsome clone race in the rapidly diminishing universe. Of course we have time to stuff around in corner shops.

It’s messy and incoherent, and I think that’s a massive shame because on an in-the-moment basis there’s some very good work going on there.

Azure and the Swarm are nicely malevolent in the way they try to torture the Doctor with her house of memories.

Jodie Whittaker’s triple Doctor run is smartly played and with a lot more nuance than we’ve seen in the past, a credit to her acting skill even if the plot and narrative aren’t quite up to snuff.

The wacky house was just a metaphor. That's actually OK.
The wacky house was just a metaphor. That’s actually OK.

Hell, I can even live with the technobabble about massive Dalek and Cybermen armies having enough mass to counteract the Flux’s antimatter somehow, because we’re talking about a show centred around a time travelling police box. A little technobabble is allowable.

However, it’s all got to hold together, and it doesn’t, even for a season finale where you might allow for a little more bombast. All the way through watching it, I was reminded of season four’s “Journey’s End”, which relies on a similar universe-will-be-ended-by-a-baddie conceit.

Journey’s End has similar technobabble, similar levels of complex casts to keep busy… but it primarily works leaving me with few questions and enough willing suspension of disbelief.

The Vanquishers just doesn’t manage that mostly because it just jumps over or around questions it doesn’t want to resolve.

It’s not seemingly in the service of adding mystery… it’s just that it doesn’t want you to think about prior plot points or ideas at all. For example (and there are probably others, these are just the random ones that occur to me)

  • Why do Azure and the Swarm allow the Ood to keep tinkering around? Easy dusting, no resistance, it doesn’t seem to be “needed” to manage the Flux and the Doctor is clearly conspiring with it.
  • “I can’t talk, because it would kill me” — I honestly thought this would be a moment for Karvanista to talk about the pain of being abandoned by the Doctor, a theme the show has used before. Instead, he’s got a poison bomb in his brain that somehow knows if he’s talking to the Doctor about the Doctor, killing him within three seconds. He then talks about the Doctor, and three seconds later… nothing. Robs the entire sequence of its impact (and it’s a lazy way around explanations). Also, the Doctor never once thinks about removing it at the end of the episode, because hey, it must be fun to have a killer bomb in your skull or something.
  • Speaking of lazy ways, when the Doctor needs the Tardis — which, let’s remember is crumbling and/or filled with Flux matter as of episode one — to work perfectly, it seemingly does again, flitting her and the rest of the Tardis crew between timezones to collect people as needed. She’s meant to be a temperamental type 40 capsule at the best of times… and this isn’t the best of times!
  • So… most of the universe is gone, then? The Daleks/Cybermen/Sontarans are gone, then? No, of course they’re not, and even the New Year’s Eve trailer makes that pretty clear. But it leaves a HUGE hole of what was lost, what wasn’t, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be 100% ignored in every way. While it would have been another storytelling convenience, a big ol’ wibbly wobbly timey wimey reset would have worked better here.
  • Why was Eustacius Jericho suddenly psychically suitable for the Sontarans to probe? Sure, he’s a researcher, but that doesn’t mean that he has the psychic juice to be actually useful. He’s there… so that he can die and have that kind of moment, and while it’s as well acted as it could be, it doesn’t feel earned or logical.
  • Why don’t the Sontarans shoot the Doctor on sight? They’ve seen her in this regeneration multiple times, and yet she can get captured by some, negotiate with others and deliver humans to them without issue!
We don't shoot the Doctor on sight because... ooh, look, chocolate!
We don’t shoot the Doctor on sight because… ooh, look, chocolate!
  • Why do the Lupari only have Flux resistant shields? They don’t seem to be more advanced than say.. the Daleks, or the Cybermen for that matter. It’s downright weird that only the Sontarans would realise the strategic advantages of Lupari technology.
  • What was the point of the Grand Serpent? Again, nicely acted but ultimately meaningless. Are Vinder and Bel the same race? If not, why not, given Vinder’s clearly in service to that species? If so, why don’t Vinder or Bel have mind snake killing things?
How did I get to Earth? How precisely did I 'help' the invading Sontaran fleet? Why did I do that? Why didn't they kill me once that purpose was done? Why do you expect any of those questions to be answered?
How did I get to Earth? How precisely did I ‘help’ the invading Sontaran fleet? Why did I do that? Why didn’t they kill me once that purpose was done? Why do you expect any of those questions to be answered?
  • Diane is great at expository technical dialogue around how the systems in the Passenger function. How? Where did she learn this, how does she know that tinkering with the glowing bit of the ground will open up a doorway out? It’s because the plot needs her to know, not because she’s some innate technology genius.
  • Equally, she dumps Dan because the show wants him on the Tardis, not because “Dan was late”. That whole scene is super awkward too, because for two people who have just been through an extraordinary shared experience, she’s remarkably two dimensional all of a sudden.
  • All of the Lupari save Karvanista are killed, and this is absolutely 100% tragic. Having Karvanista howl at the ceiling like a puppy that has been left home by its owner for the day 100% kills the moment.
  • Why did the Sontarans need to invade Earth specifically? Yes, I know, psychically learning where the Flux would conclude, plus nicking the only tech in the universe that can somehow shield from the Flux, but there’s NO established way that they’d know either detail in any way.
  • Equally, the Flux is meant to conclude on the planet Atropos so that the suddenly deeply religious Swarm and Azure can have their final victory there. Except that the Sontarans lure the Dalek and Cyber fleets to open space!
  • The scenes of the Daleks and Cybermen agreeing to “protection” from the Sontarans are downright galling. Sure, they’re going to betray each other pretty quickly, but it requires a LOT of idiot ball holding on behalf of the Dalek and Cyber commands for it to even get that far. Why not just kill thoseĀ  Sontaran clone troops and take the ships straight away? That would be the Dalek way — exterminate first and ask questions later.
  • I do like the triple Jodie gambit thing, and even the whole Three Doctors vibe it gives, but somewhere in the Universe, the Blinovitch limitation effect is sitting in a corner, sobbing quietly.
  • The Doctor is rather gleefully genocidal. Yes, sure, she doesn’t much like the Daleks, but we’ve come a long way since, well… this:
    The Doctor doesn’t offer an alternative way for more to live. She just allows the Flux to destroy, which is at odds with the established character in the most fundamental ways.
  • What happens to that Ood left between Universes? Is it still there?
  • I do not get team Bel on the Tardis. This will not stand.
  • Equally, there was no last minute appearance by Ace. This is just wrong.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Flux was positioned as the first big season-spanning story of the modern era. We’ve seen season arcs before, but nothing on this scale. It promised a lot… but ultimately, while I mostly enjoyed watching it, and I do remain a large scale Doctor Who fan, I can’t help but be disappointed.

But with all of the episodes of Doctor Who: The Flux now broadcast, I can finally rank them within their own season!

  1. Village Of The Angels
  2. War of the Sontarans
  3. Once, Upon Time
  4. The Halloween Apocalypse
  5. Survivors of the Flux
  6. The Vanquishers

Maybe New Year’s Day will bring better fare?

Next time: Eve of the Daleks. Which might just be about a lass called Eve…

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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