TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 49-60m) ***
BBC One
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Chapters: 1. The Halloween Apocalypse ***; 2. War of the Sontarans ***; 3. Once, Upon Time **; 4. Village of the Angels *****; 5. Survivors of the Flux ***; 6. The Vanquishers **
Exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson (1, 2, 4), Pete Levy (3, 5, 6); w. Chris Chibnall, Maxine Alderton (4); d. Jamie Magnus Stone (1, 2, 4), Azhur Saleem (3, 5, 6); ph. Robin Whenary (1, 2, 4), Phil Wood (3, 5, 6); m. Segun Akinola; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; cos. Ray Holman.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Craig Parkinson (Grand Serpent), Craige Els (Karvanista), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Steve Oram (Joseph Williamson), Barbara Flynn (Tecteun), Nadia Albina (Diane), Jo Martin (Fugitive Doctor), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck / Skaak / Sontaran Commander Ritskaw), Dan Starkey (Svild).
Ambitious and epic in scope this thirteenth series of the revived Doctor Who was also complex, confusing and populated by too many characters. In Flux, the Doctor and her companions navigate a Universe-ending anomaly called the “Flux”, while dealing with enemies and secrets from the Doctor’s past. The story is told in six inter-linking chapters. The result is a decidedly mixed bag. The chapters that could, with some slight tweaks, serve as standalone episodes – the almost traditional “War of the Sontarans” and the deliciously creepy “Village of the Angels” (superbly directed by Stone)  – are the ones that work best. As for the rest we had the enjoyable but overly frenetic scene-setting opener “The Halloween Apocalypse”, the baffling and confusing “Once, Upon Time”, the slightly less baffling “Survivors of the Flux” and the largely unsatisfying conclusion “The Vanquishers”, which left as many unanswered questions as answered ones. The production was certainly the most extravagant ever attempted by the series – crossing various timelines on Earth and locations across (and outside) the Universe. Each of these settings was superbly realised by excellent visuals and great CGI and the series has never looked better. The technical team can hold their heads high. The lead performances were, overall, good. Whittaker has settled into her Doctor well and at times showed the gravitas that had been missing in the previous two seasons. Gill had much more to do, and Yasmin became a stronger and more pro-active character. Bishop provided some good laughs and was likeable as was Els’ dog-like Karvanista. McNally was also extremely likeable as Professor Jericho and he played the role with conviction. Parkinson’s Grand Serpent was enigmatic and the Sontarans have never looked better. The side story concerning Anderson and Graham’s characters, however, felt phoney and could easily have been excised. Where the story was really lacking, once again, was in the writing. Chibnall has had problems throughout his run in creating engaging drama and logical plots. That malaise continued here despite the additional space. Instead of letting the story breathe, he decided to fill it chock full of confusing exposition and too many peripheral characters. The best stories of the previous two seasons had been those from other writers and the best story of this series included the considerable contribution of Maxine Alderton – the others were all written by Chibnall. Playing loose with the show’s mythos through adding more back story to the Doctor with the use of Flynn (as the Doctor’s “mother”); the re-appearance of Martin as another incarnation of the Doctor; and the mysterious Swarm and Azure holding the Doctor’s memories in Gallifreyan watch. But none of this is resolved in the finale with the Doctor fractured across three timelines. Chibnall may well address these loose threads through the specials to follow, but the immediate problem is the story concluded with the big questions remaining unanswered and it asks a lot of casual viewers to stick with it. When Russell T. Davies finally takes back the reins in 2023 my biggest hope is he takes the programme back to its core roots with more straightforward and engaging plots that use temporal physics as a travelling device rather than a central plot premise. History has shown that the episodes which play with temporal themes and settings are those that tend to satisfy the least. For now, we are left with a third successive frustrating series, albeit an improvement on the previous two, and the prospect of a New Year’s special which once again will put time at the centre of its plotline.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (UK, 2020) ****
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 26 January 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Vinay Patel, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Jo Martin (Ruth Clayton), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Neil Stuke (Lee Clayton), Ritu Arya (Gat), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Michael Begley (All Ears Allan), Judith Street (Marcia), Katie Luckins (Tourist), Nick Briggs (Voice of Judoon ), Simon Carew (Judoon), Richard Highgate (Judoon), Richard Price (Judoon), Matthew Rohman (Judoon)
      Synopsis: Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
      Comment: Well, last week I said I felt a strong story may be just around the corner. It’s difficult to fully assess The Fugitive of the Judoon in isolation because it is really a set-up episode which should hopefully pay off over the remainder of the series. As such it achieves its objective splendidly by creating some genuinely surprising plot twists. The episode, co-written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, started shakily with the Judoon arrival in modern-day Gloucester initially failing to grab interest. However, once the true reason for their arrival is revealed the episode shifts up a couple of gears and moves into one revelation after another to set up a hugely promising conundrum for the Doctor to solve. The return of Captain Jack Harkness was intriguing and his involvement in the story is still to be fully explained. Barrowman clicks back into character and Jack delivers a message of warning to the Doctor’s companions before vanishing again. The character of Ruth is the most intriguing and raises even bigger questions around the direction Chibnall is taking us with this series. The tension builds through the episode as the Doctor discovers the true nature of the fugitive. Whittaker delivers her strongest performance to date and finally gets some moments of dramatic conflict to work with. There are now many unanswered questions and it will be a real test of Chibnall’s skills as a writer to resolve them all satisfactorily. For now, we can be glad we finally have an episode worthy of the brand name and whilst I am hedging my bets on the outcome, I have much more optimism, albeit cautious, than at any time under Chibnall’s stewardship.