Doctor Who – Flux Chapter 1: The Halloween Apocalypse (S13E01) Review

*SPOILERS*

The HAlloween Apocalypse

It’s hard to say where expectations are for THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE, the first episode of Whittaker’s third and apparently final, season of DOCTOR WHO. With the announcement of her, and indeed showrunner Chris Chibnall’s departure, the scene should be set for a celebratory romp to the finish line, as is par for the course during the lame-duck period of a showrunner’s tenure. Of course, Chibnall finds himself in the unprecedented position of being a lamer than usual duck as his successor is a known quantity, having been the showrunner to revive the show and take it to undreamt-of heights of success over a decade ago. Having evidently struggled with the pressure of the show since taking over, the driving intrigue behind this truncated season is what will he be capable of now the pressure’s off?

It seems the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Yas (Mandip Gill) have been busy since the dust-up with the Daleks and bidding farewell to Ryan and Graham – busy trying to unpick the Gordian knot of The Division (the shady Gallifreyan agency that seems to have been responsible for erasing The Doctor’s multitudinous former lives). Thus, THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE begins, as Chibnall’s scripts often do, with the implication that some fun and exciting adventures have taken place off-screen. Fortunately, there’s more than enough incident and event left for us to actually watch and it’s not long before the Doctor’s dogged (heh) pursuit of Karvanista leads her towards an Earth which is facing multiple, seemingly disparate threats and the Doctor’s most trusty tools – namely her mind and the TARDIS – are starting to behave distinctly oddly.

Ashes to ashes, planets to dust.

There’s a smack of cynical opportunism in the naming of THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE because, while it certainly tries to bring the latter, it provides little more than a token gesture towards the former, suggesting a couple of scenes and the title were hastily written and filmed once the BBC schedulers decided when the show would go out. It’s been a long time since we had new DOCTOR WHO gracing our screens and it’s evident Chibnall has spent the off-season bingewatching the MCU on Disney+ because there’s more than a whiff of THE INFINITY SAGA here, both in storytelling scope and even the visuals. Instead of the Infinity Stones, we have The Flux, instead of Thanos, we have “Disco Skeletor” The Swarm. The cinematic ambitions don’t end there, either, as THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE boasts the kind of sound mixing that would send shivers of appreciation down Christopher Nolan’s spine.

The Halloween Apocalypse Review
The ideas, as always, are good but the execution is a little ruff.

It’s a typically messy and chaotic script, but the saving grace here is that it’s the first part of a six-part story, so there’s no need for anything that’s thrown at the screen here (and there is a lot) to pay-off or even make sense, at least in the short term which suits Chibnall’s writing style perfectly. Whether he can stick the landing over the course of the next five episodes remains to be seen, however, as he’ll need to draw together the ongoing arcs of The Division, the origin of The Flux itself, whatever The Swarm and Azure are up to, the Weeping Angels, the TARDIS troubles and a woefully under-explained detour to 1820s Liverpool’s enigmatic Williamson Tunnels. That’s a big to-do list for a writer who’s known for scripts which just kind of stop rather than end.

Liverpool, of course, features heavily – both in its 1820s form and its 2021 incarnation, introduced with a scene-setting shot that makes it abundantly clear just why Liverpool Docks justifiably lost its UNESCO World Heritage Status. Indeed, it’s not too far from the truth to say Liverpool is a character of the story, or at least as much of a character as new companion Dan (John Bishop) is allowed to have. Dan, a down-on-his-luck scouser with a cliched heart of gold seems to have made the city of his birth his whole personality and we can but hope that some travel of the intergalactic and temporal variety broadens his horizons beyond a desire to never walk alone.

The Halloween Apocalypse Review
Yas, The Doctor and Dan wonder what else might come round the corner in an overstuffed episode.

Of course, everything’s up for retrospectively making sense as more of the story unfolds over the coming weeks and while it still has the chaotic and careless incoherence that often accompanies Chibnall’s ‘big idea’ episodes, dare I say it does feel more fun that it has in a while. The suddenly less-crowded TARDIS team has much better chemistry, The Doctor is acting a little more Doctory (although still too expository) and Yas seems to have more about her too. Dan fits nicely into the show, sparking off Yas and bringing a fresh dynamic to the show.

The Halloween Apocalypse Review
Disco Skeletor was unprepared for the Lego brick he stood on after escaping from prison

For better or worse, THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE sees Season 13 sally forth in bold, ambitious style. Chibnall’s written a lot of narrative cheques and we just have to hope he’s got enough ideas and skills in the bank to be able to cash them over the next five weeks.

7/10

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