Welcome to the start of the end of Jodie Whittaker’s run as the Thirteenth Doctor. And, most importantly, welcome to the era of serialization Doctor Who! In case you missed the show marketing notes, showrunner Chris Chibnall decided to deal with the filming restrictions of a season of Doctor Who during a global pandemic by telling a long story through a six-episode miniseries. Today’s premiere, “Chapter One: The Halloween Apocalypse,” gives us a first look at what to expect from the serialized event which is officially called Doctor Who: Flux. And if this episode is any indication, it’s going to be a frantic affair.
“The Halloween Apocalypse” opens in media, with Yaz and the Doctor performing a death-defying escape to an alien planet. And the pace doesn’t stop until a cliffhanger set at the end of the universe. That’s a lot to understand, especially since the episode introduces not only new mate Dan Lewis (John Bishop) but also a half-dozen characters who are expected to recur throughout the serialized adventure. Thankfully, the episode’s fractured and frantic pace finds its center in a line the Doctor throws in halfway: “Nothing is as it should be, Yaz. Too unusual tonight. In an episode that doesn’t hold hands much as he jumps through time and space, this line offers a bit of solace on Chibnall’s part. This episode is Assumed be confusing, but it will all pay off in the long run.
At least that’s hope, even if the Chibnall era is no stranger to broken promises. But in the midst of the chaos, there are things about “The Halloween Apocalypse” that make me optimistic for the season. On the one hand, this episode does a good job of fleshing out the Doctor and Yaz status quo without relying on the kind of “stand and monologue” scenes that are often a weakness of Chibnall. Since Ryan and Graham left the TARDIS in “Revolution of the Daleks”, Yaz and the Doctor have become the kind of well-established duo that you only get when a mate has been around for several seasons. Like the Tenth Doctor and Rose in season two or the Twelve and Clara in season nine, they feel equal. But while the Doctor gave Yaz more responsibility and built up the fun side of their friendship, the former alien still hasn’t explained what she learned from her past in “The timeless children.”
In fact, what the Doctor passes off as a simple mission to “see a man about a dog” is actually an attempt to find out more about “The Division”, the secret organization she worked for. in its original cycle of regenerations now forgotten. The dog-like Lupari Officer Karvanista is the only living agent in the division the Doctor has been able to track down. But that becomes a secondary concern once she learns that Earth is in danger. One of the funniest revelations in the episode is that Karvanista and his Lupari fleet aren’t the ones who intend to harm humanity, however, they’re actually here to save it. Each Lupari is “species related” to a particular human. And despite all this bond, they have a duty to save their respective humans from the Incoming Flux – a sort of universe-eating force that destroys everything in its path. This is how Dan Lewis, a budding tour guide and Liverpool lover, ended up sailing through the stars, first on Karvanista’s ship, then on the TARDIS itself.
Reframing Karvanista as a gruff and reluctant ally helps allay my initial fear that this episode has too many villains. Instead, Karvanista shares more in common with the other recurring characters this episode features: the eccentric 1820s builder, Mr. Williamson, Sally Sparrow-esque, the modern-day mysterious woman Claire, the museum employee. / the potential love interest of Dan Diane, the Vinder vantage point operator (Game Of Thrones‘Jacob Anderson), and an Estarian commander. All of these characters share a sense of confusion and / or compulsion, from Karvanista’s need to protect Dan to Mr. Williamson’s need to dig random tunnels under Liverpool to a classic Sontarian bloodlust. Like the Doctor’s unspoken obsession with learning about his past, there is a sense that each of these recurring gamers are driven by impulses they don’t fully understand..
Indeed, the biggest weakness of “The Halloween Apocalypse” is that all feels pretty up in the air right now. This is especially true for a Tim-Shaw-meets-Red-Skull creature known as the Swarm, who breaks free from an asteroid prison, locates his sister as half of a couple living in the circle. arctic polar and activates a “psychic connection” with the Doctor. That’s a lot to consider, especially the sister’s reveal and the sister’s subsequent kidnapping of Diane, both of which feel like they maybe should have been saved for episode two. While Swarm’s people disintegrating powers seem to be tied to the almighty Flux, there isn’t much to cling to until he finally reveals that he is the deadly enemy. of the Doctor’s origin before his memory was erased. Now he’s back for one last fight.
While Swarm is one of the many elements of this serialized start to the season that fall under the “wait and see category,” there is also a confidence in this episode that hasn’t always been there in the era of the. Chibnall series. In particular, “The Halloween Apocalypse” does a good job of fleshing out Dan in relatively little screen time. If Yaz represents the excitable, confident and adventurous side of the Doctor, Dan reflects his selfless but also a little sad side. He volunteers at a food bank but is too proud to take anything to help him with his own food insecurity. And while he has the confidence of someone who will embark on conducting their own museum tour, it seems to come from a place of loneliness and longing more than anything else, much like the way Doctor’s adventures with Yaz disguise a deeper identity crisis.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Chibnall era is that it failed to paint a nuanced picture of who the Thirteenth Doctor is and how she is different from her predecessors. And while the introduction of a bunch of new characters might distract the Doctor, it could also be a way to shed light on new parts of his personality. As with most things in this episode, however, it’s a question that’s still very much on the move.
- The CGI for this episode is the richest since the Russell T Davies era. Perhaps this is a nod to the fact that Davies will be take over as showrunner again after the departure of Chibnall and Whittaker after three 2022 stages.
- While I’m sad to see Whittaker stepping down from his role as Doctor, I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to this version of the TARDIS. It’s so cramped and unwelcoming that it almost makes no sense when new companions are shocked that he’s bigger inside. (Maybe that’s why the Doctor must be the one saying Dan’s famous line.)
- The Lupari protecting Earth with their nested ships felt very Guardians of the Galaxy.
- While some of the humor in this episode seemed forced (especially the Sontaran stuff), I enjoyed Dan and Karvanista’s confusion over the “ancestors” and “four bears”.
- There is great tension in the scene where Claire is chased away by the weeping angel. He’s the character I can’t wait to learn more about.
- “What’s the point of being alive if not to make others happy?”