Doctor Who: Flux Flubs The Finale In The Supremely Unsatisfying The Vanquishers

"Doctor Who: Flux" began with such promise. There was a newfound energy, a pep in the step of this serialized experiment that suggested that showrunner Chris Chibnall would be shaking things up after two mildly disappointing seasons. Heck, there were even a few jokes! But we all should've known as soon as the final episode, "The Vanquishers," started off with the time-honored tradition of Jodie Whittaker's Doctor spending a finale getting psychically blasted by a camp villain — Chibnall is back to his own worst tendencies.

Like most of Chibnall's finales, "The Vanquishers" ended not with a bang, but with a whimper — and a whimper that still left 90% of the universe completely destroyed, if I'm reading this right. We've seen this happen over the past two seasons, and in the episodes penned by Chibnall before he stepped into the showrunner role: a story starts off strong, with more abstract ideas and ambition than it can keep a handle on, and then it just ... ends. Never has this been more clear than with "Flux," the most ambitious, most unwieldy of Chibnall's stories, which ended up cracking under too many characters and a convoluted plot that was mostly explained by a breathless Whittaker standing in the center of a room.

Triples is Safe, Triples is Best

One Doctor isn't enough, how about three! Running from Swarm and Azure after their triumphant takeover of Division's spacecraft, the Doctor gets touched by Swarm and split across three realities — landing her in the Liverpool tunnels and in the Lupari ship with Karvanista and Bel, while her main body remains aboard the craft. But what appeared to be a huge setback for the Doctor ends up being the universe's salvation: this time, there's three Doctors, and they've got a plan.

In Williamson's tunnels, the Doctor reunites with the group, finally giving Yaz (Mandip Gill) the affectionate embrace she's long yearned for, and quickly going back to confusing everyone with her breathless spiel of technobabble. Williamson's reality-hopping tunnels also bring Kate Stewart (a severely underused Jemma Redgrave, especially after all the hype of her return) into the fold, who reveals that she's been behind a human offensive to infiltrate the Sontaran armies, which for some reason, are using corner shops as bases. Armed with that information, the Doctor puts her plan into action: splitting up the now unwieldy ensemble to be lead by each of the Doctor's — one of which conveniently reunites with her TARDIS thanks to Williamson's tunnels. Doctor No. 2 takes Yaz and co. to a corner shop where she bribes a Sontaran commander with chocolate to get Jericho and Claire into Sontaran psychic command. And thanks to the TARDIS, they're quickly reunited with Claire in 1967, dragging her into their plan to hijack the Sontarans' plans.

Doctor No. 3 has managed to get herself (intentionally) imprisoned on the Lupari ship with Karvanista by the Sontarans, though Bel given them the slip. But the Doctor takes the chance to ask about her long-buried memories of working alongside Karvanista in Division, though he is unable to answer — moody over their capture and by her abandoning him long ago, and by the fact that an implant in his brain would literally kill him.

You Are the Universe

The Doctor ricochets back and forth between her three realities, waking in one body while the other two apparently sleep — though as we see later on this is not the case, it's just Chibnall's easy narrative tool to pick up with each storyline. Doctor No. 1 is brought back to consciousness by Azure, who monologues about their plan (something, something, destroy "all spatial objects" and free the manifestation of Time?) while Swarm playfully toys with the Doctor, disintegrating her body before reversing the effects. "You are the universe, Doctor," he says, gleefully, as the duo chuckle in anticipation of the return of their "Savior."

Despite her primary body being disintegrated over and over, the other two Doctors don't seem to be much affected — apart from Whittaker's usually breathless performance becoming a hair more breathless to show the destabilizing effects of being, you know, split three ways. The Grand Serpent enters the Lupari ship to interrogate the Doctor and to inform Karvanista the rest of his race has been killed, and he is the last surving Lupari — only the first instance of genocide in this episode that is basically breezed over, apart from Karvanista letting out a goofy mournful howl. While the Doctor is being dragged to be tortured by the Grand Serpent, Bel lies in hiding to pull off her part of the plan. Meanwhile, Jericho and Claire have been taken to Sontaran psychic command, where Sontarans have been burning humans up like fuel cells to pinpoint the location of the Flux — and thanks to Claire's special psychic powers, they are finally able to.

Splintered Groups

Has anyone been more underused this season than Vinder (Jacob Anderson), the "Game of Thrones" alum that the show made a big deal of casting, only for him to disappear for two-thirds of this season? Even in his storyline, he gets overshadowed by Diane (Nadia Albina), Dan's lady love, who somehow has become a gung-ho gun-toting survivor during her imprisonment in the Passenger. It's thanks to her ingeuinity that she and Vinder escape the Passenger, sending a message out to the Doctor for their rescue. And ... they're rescued almost immediately.

That TARDIS is putting in a lot of work, not only picking up Vinder and Diane from inside the Passenger, but also helping the Doctor rescue ... the Doctor. The Grand Serpent's torture is not going so well, what with the Doctor not being "fully here" and everything, and just as he's had it with her plucky quips, Doctor No. 2 arrives to rescue No. 3, flirting with herself in the most fun performance that Whittaker has given this whole series. As painfully convoluted as this episode is, a little bit of Doctor-on-Doctor flirting admittedly goes a long way (see: all of the Matt Smith era), and Whittaker revels in finally getting to unleash some charm out of her otherwise chaste Thirteenth Doctor. 

But the gang is (almost) all back together, and the plan is starting to come together as well. "Splinter group 1 and 2," as the Doctor calls it, make contact with Doctor No. 1 on the Division spacecraft, to figure out how to stop the final Flux event, and what the Sontarans have up their sleeves. Turns out the Sontarans want to harness the Flux to win the ultimate victory: luring the Daleks and Cybermen armies into the final Flux event and wiping them out, leaving them the sole victors of the universe.

It's Only a Matter of Time

What's the solution to all of this? Well, it's all shockingly simple. The Flux is made out of antimatter, so what's the best way to combat it? Matter. And Diane, who comes out of nowhere in this third act, is the one with the answer: the Passengers are made of infinite matter. So the three Doctors rally the troops: taking remote control of the Lupari ships to manipulate the shields in the direction of the Passenger, sending Bel and Vinder (happily reunited in one of the nice character moments buried in this episode) off to blast away at the Sontaran ships, and waving her sonic around a lot. This all ends in the Flux getting sucked into the Passenger – negating is effects and saving the remnants of the universe, while still getting rid of those pesky Dalek and Cybermen armies (there's that aforementioned genocide that gets completely breezed past).

Meanwhile, Kate Stewart and Vinder team up to hold guns to the Grand Serpent's head and lock him on an isolated space rock, while Doctor No. 1 gets her final confrontation with Time itself on Atropos. It takes the form of Swarm, kills him and Azure, then takes the Doctor's form to warn her of her impending demise. "You can leave here but you can't outrun me... beware of the forces that mass against you, and their Master." Which gives a pretty obvious hint at the Big Bad for Whittaker's final episode.

And remarkably, everyone goes back to their normal lives extremely quickly — Dan back to crashing tours and getting turned down for that drink with Diane, leading him to happily accept the invitation to travel with the Doctor. We get a sweet, sincere moment between the Doctor and Yaz, in which the Doctor finally opens up to her after pushing her away (and literally being separated for three-plus episodes) and declares, "I want to tell you everything." The one thing she won't tell her about: the fob watch containing all the Doctor's past memories, which she hides deep in the TARDIS, never to be opened ... unless she really needs to.

And ... that's it? Apart from a few genuinely sad moments (RIP Jericho, you magnificent "scourge of scoundrels") punctuating the barrage of action and plot — and the Doctor explaining the plot — "Doctor Who: Flux" wraps up all too easily. It feels like it's missing an episode to get to this point — one that would go deeper into the lore of this physical manifestation of Time; linger longer on those genuine character moments; or give Vinder, the Grand Serpent, Bel, Karvanista, and basically all these new supporting characters more to do than just be there. And while this sudden ending can perhaps be chalked up to Covid cutting down the episode count, this is clearly a consistent problem with Chibnall's writing, and one that has kneecapped Whittaker's entire run. Like many of Chibnall's episodes, "The Vanquishers," and by extent, "Doctor Who: Flux" felt like a rough draft of a good idea, which was sketched out solely to figure out how to get from point A, to point B, to point C. What a disappointing way to end her final season, and what a low note on which to end a promising season.

Tidbits in Time and Space

  • The amount of wipe transitions in this episode (I counted at least 4) really tells on Chibnall's blockbuster-sized "Star Wars" wannabe ambitions ... which makes it more disappointing when it fails.
  • Love an Ood: "Your existence has become too unstable. Refreshment?"
  • Genuinely felt a pang in my heart for Jericho, who got not one but two great final lines, even if the latter is ripped straight from "Peter Pan": "Who has had a life like mine," and "What an awfully big adventure."
  • Could a spin-off for Karvanista and Vinder/Bel be in the cards?
  • Hilarious that the Daleks have all been apparently wiped out, but that they're back for round 3 of their Chibnall-penned New Year's Day special.