Doctor Who – Flux Chapter 2: War Of The Sontarans (S13E02) Review


Is Chibnall the Thane of Cawdor? Because nothing becomes his life as showrunner than the leaving of it, apparently. WAR OF THE SONTARANS brings us possibly his most complete and satisfying standalone DOCTOR WHO story yet, combining historical fact with science fiction, while still pursuing the ongoing series arc forward in workmanlike, if somewhat inelegant fashion.

Bounced by the impact of the Flux into the past, The Doctor, Yas and Dan find themselves on the battle-scarred and blood-soaked fields of Sevastopol and the presence of Mary Seacole (Sara Powell) confirms the Doctor’s suspicions: they find themselves in the front lines of the Crimean War. But something’s wrong. The enemy facing the stubborn pugnaciousness of the British army isn’t at all fond of fermenting potatoes into vodka. In fact, their only connection to potatoes is aesthetic – it’s the Sontarans. With Dan and Yas abruptly snatched away to different places in time and space, it’s up to the Doctor and Mary Seacole to find a way to save not only the Earth from Sontaran invasion – but history itself.

War Of The Sontarans Review
A stiff upper lip is nothing if not adorned by a luxuriant moustache.

The non-sequitur cliff-hanger resolution (often a favourite of Moffat during his era) feels like something of a cop-out of THE HALLOWEEN APOCALYPSE at first. “Something” happened off-screen as the Flux was about to engulf the TARDIS and in response, the Doctor’s redoubtable time jalopy flung itself back in time to relative safety. Would have been nice to namecheck the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) but perhaps it’s not as widely known as the Cloister Bell? There’s a wonderfully eerie black and white opening to the episode with some of the most striking imagery in the series’ long history but it’s gone in a blink of an eye and the Doctor is reunited with Dan and Yas and new friend Mary Seacole. In any event, the TARDIS’ continued weirdness with doors shows no sign of stopping, although this time the problem isn’t too many doors, it’s too few. Less than the minimum required one, in fact.

At first, Chibnall’s decision to separate the Doctor from her companions again feels a little tiresome and while it lacks any kind of explanation, their separated absences are necessary; Dan’s in order to give some MAWYDRYN UNDEAD parallel timeline energy to the script and Yas’ in order to progress the overall series arc, link up with Joseph Williamson (Steve Oram) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson) and encounter the Ravagers Swarm and Azure in a setting which very much feels like it might have been Chibnall kicking himself for his undue haste in re-destroying Gallifrey.

War Of The Sontarans Review
As a matter of principle, a Sontaran Soldier is never caught without a pot to piss in.

Of WAR OF THE SONTARANS’ three storylines (which do converge by the end of the episode), the Doctor’s is the most orthodox and refreshingly traditional. Accompanied by a real historical figure, she sets about defeating seemingly impossible odds to thwart the plans of an alien aggressor although fair play to Chibnall in not shying away from the bleak brutality of warfare and the patriarchal intransigence of the British establishment to countenance any tactic other than closing the war up with their English dead, even in the face of the obviously overwhelming superiority of the Sontarans. It remains something of a hallmark of the 13th Doctor that while she can usually get those sympathetic to her point of view on side, she appears to have little of her prior incarnation’s ability to take control of a given situation and cow even the most arrogant authority figure.

Still, with Dan’s help in the present day, at the other end of a nebulously alluded to Sontaran time corridor thingy, the Doctor emerges triumphant – only to have that triumph tarnished by the actions of a bitter and humiliated British General. Dan’s present-day storyline has a lighter tone that occasionally threatens to undermine all the good work Chibnall is doing. In the 1850s Crimea, the Sontarans are a ruthlessly efficient and insurmountable foe. In the present day, they’re still ruthless but also comedically lax in terms of security and vulnerability to a man with a pan. It’s fine to play things for laughs but Chibnall needs to take care he doesn’t – as he often tends to – stray into laughable instead.

War Of The Sontarans Review
You’re only supposed to blow the bloody Mouri off!

Of course, it’s Yas’ Sontaran-less adventures in WAR OF THE SONTARANS that carries the most import for the four remaining episodes as we’re introduced to a mysterious Temple of Atropos on the planet of Time along with its denizens, the Mouri, mysterious beings tasked with controlling time itself. It was in attempting to harm the Mouri that the Ravagers (now joined by silent henchman) provoked the animus of The Division who imprisoned Swarm in the first place. Of course, by the time the Doctor and Dan arrive on Time, Swarm and Azure have finally outwitted the quantum lock which prevented them from reaching the Mouri and have prepared a trap for our favourite Time Lord.

War Of The Sontarans Review
?Just give me one moment in time….?

In addition to the historical celebrity guest, returning monster and – it is a Chibnall script after all – some unnecessary domestic baggage for Dan, WAR OF THE SONTARANS also brings a welcome return for Karvanista who looks set to play a more pivotal role in Flux than we might have expected from an ‘alien of the week’ but despite its patchwork nature, it hangs together well, feeling more cohesive than last week and building momentum and intrigue for the over-arching story. There’s something undeniably epic about this current series of Doctor Who and you can’t help but wonder what we could have had if Whittaker’s reign had started with this kind of brio instead of ending on it. Next week, an evidently confident Chibnall tempts fate by including the word “Time” in the episode’s title, so I guess time will tell. It always does.