Before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of Doctor Who: Flux. After last week’s hectic opener, the second episode of Doctor Who’s special Flux story arc delivers one of the absolute best Sontaran stories I’ve ever watched. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed watching the Sontarans, from Helen Raynor’s electrifying The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky two-parter from 2008 to Strax the Sontaran’s hilarious antics throughout Matt Smith’s seventh series five years later, and now I can happily add War Of The Sontarans to the list.
As a quick recap for those who’ve seen last week’s “The Halloween Apocalypse”, Whittaker’s third and final series opened with an impending, end-of-the-universe event known as the Flux. A tidal wave of time/space energy was beginning to consume the universe. Wrapped around this central storyline, we had tunnels being excavated in 1820s Liverpool, Karvanista, one of the Lupari, a mysterious woman with time-travelling abilities called Claire, a Weeping Angel, two aliens who looked like Fabergé eggs, the TARDIS redesigning itself, and the Doctor’s secret mission to discover the truth behind the mysterious Time-Lord agency known as The Division. It’s a surprise it could all fit within the hour.
This week, we’ve got the Sontarans taking over Liverpool, with intentions to conquer time, and a mediocre subplot involving a planet called Time and a mystifying race known as the Mouri. There is some mention of the Flux and absolutely no explanation as to how the TARDIS survived the wave of energy from last week and landed in the middle of a Crimean War battleground in Sevastopol. I’m just shrugging my shoulders and going with it at this point. But on the subject of the potato-headed soldiers, War of The Sontarans will go down as one of Whittaker’s greatest episodes, so let’ begin with the spud-headed men of Sontar.
The Sontarans implement what the Doctor coins as a pilot scheme, invading key points of history throughout time and running riot. With the absence of Russia and China from maps of the world, the Sontarans are intent on launching a temporal offensive, sending a fleet of time ships to invade time. It’s a sharply written, engaging plot suited best in two forty-five-minute slots during the Russell T. Davies era. The Doctor does her utmost to prevent the Light Division in Sevastopol, led by the arrogantly Lieutenant General Logan from engaging the Sontarans. Does he listen? no. Instead, we’re treated to one of the single greatest looking battlefield set pieces ever seen in Doctor Who.
The saddest thing about this epic battle is that the BBC didn’t grant the producers another few million to flesh out the battle, because every second of it looked awesome. The interactions between the Doctor and General Skaak, particularly as Skaak realises that the Doctor is in fact a woman and tricking a Sontaran scout into parlaying with the General at the same time. It’s moments like this that remind me why Jodie Whittaker is so wonderful to watch as the Doctor. Plus, we need to mention Skaak’s decision to invade Crimea. Not only would it abate their hunger for battle, but it would also grant Skaak the chance to ride a horse. Who knew Sontarans had such ambitions beyond war?
It’s moments like this that remind me why Jodie Whittaker is so wonderful to watch as the Doctor. War Of The Sontarans offers a lovely reference to Lynx from the classic Jon Pertwee serial, The Time Warrior, John Bishop’s dippy-but-loveable Dan taking on the might of the Sontarans with his parents and a wok. Throw in some wok puns and a pan-fried Sontarans one-liner and I’m sold on John Bishop in the role. Then there’s his best line of the episode. Under the belief the Sontarans are big on Japanese food, Dan refers to the Sontaran’s Temporal Command as Tempura Command. It’s wonderfully witty and leaves me grinning.
There’s a growing friendship too, even if neither will admit to it, between Dan and Karvanista, who arrives in the nick of time to save Dan from Sontaran execution, before ploughing one of the time ships into the fleet along the Merseyside docks. A temporal implosion neatly wipes out the Sontaran fleet, before Lieutenant General Logan of the Light Division sneakily destroys the Sontaran vessels in Sevastopol in retaliation for the deaths of his troops. These particular moments are notable for giving this episode such large-scale, blink and you’ll miss it actions set pieces that make me despair at the episode’s slow and bumbling B-plot.
As you can tell, I’ve rambled on for some time about the Sontarans and failed to mention the elephant in the room. I’m referring to the dull, meandering side-story at the Temple of Atropos on the planet of Time. Yaz and Vinder (from the outpost during Episode 1) are transported to the temple. Yaz briefly meets philanthropist Joseph Williamson, last seen in Episode 1 excavating tunnels in 1820s Liverpool.
There’s little need to speak about him again, within a minute, he’s gone. Soon after, she and Vinder are recruited by the temple to repair the Mouri, the mysterious and mystical gatekeepers assigned to monitor and regulate time. Much like the Time Lords if I’m honest. With the Flux causing havoc throughout the universe, the Mouri is broken and time is disrupted.
The arrival of Swarm and Azure complicates matters. They kill the gatekeepers and seek to take control of the temple for themselves. Yaz and Vinder are forcibly opted in to replace the Mouri gatekeepers and the final moments of the episode leave the Doctor unable to prevent Swarm from activating the temple, which in turn channels temporal energy through Yaz and Vinder.
This, the Doctor knows, will kill them. The story is making a fraction more sense by the credits, but the Flux storyline suffers from some seriously uneven pacing. This side story, as convoluted and incomprehensible as it right now, is certainly the weakest aspect of an otherwise brilliant second episode.
There are some sizable plot holes War Of The Sontarans, however, did not address. We begin with the Flux, and whether or not it’s still consuming the universe at large. The last we saw of the tidal wave of time/space energy, entire solar systems were being devoured left, right, and centre. Then there’s Vinder, who abandoned his outpost to escape the Flux.
There’s no explanation as to how he arrived at the Temple of Atropos. The same can be said for Passenger, the silent hulking character with Swarm and Azure, and the mysterious house the Doctor hallucinates. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, sometimes, less really is more. What do you think of Doctor Who: Flux so far? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!