Before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of Doctor Who: Flux. We’ll start with Craig Parkinson’s Grand Serpent. According to Chibnall, the role was written with the Line Of Duty actor in mind, and it’s clear to see why. Parkinson excels as the villainous, intergalactic dictator on Vinder’s home planet, first introduced in “Once, Upon Time”, who plotted to take out political rivals over peace talks with an alien race called the Alforia.
Skipping ahead to Episode 5, the Grand Serpent has installed himself on Earth in 1958, assisting in the development of UNIT. He begins a patient, deadly ascent to the top of UNIT’s hierarchy as Chair of the Oversight Committee. As he progresses, he assassinates anyone who threatens his mysterious intentions with an alien snake and later attempts to take out Kate Stewart by planting an explosive device at her home, after she threatens to expose him as an alien impostor.
His ultimate endgame has been to form an alliance with the Sontarans in preparation for an invasion of Earth, a doomsday event foreshadowed throughout the episode, the very same battle the Doctor tasks Yaz, Dan, and Jericho in preventing while stuck in 1904. There’s only one drawback to Parkinson’s role in this series, and that’s the amount of screen time he’s given. The argument was made a few weeks earlier in my review for “War of the Sontarans”, in that their story would have served better as a standalone fixture, disconnected from the Flux storyline, and it’s the same for the Grand Serpent. His rise to power throughout UNIT’s history makes the shortlist of the best highlights from Flux, behind the Sontarans, last week’s “Village of the Angels”, and the Division, which makes for a neat segue way back to Jodie Whittaker.
After being double-crossed by the Weeping Angels, the Doctor is transported to the Division, a command ship existing outside of the universe within the void. This is a neat explanation as to why the Doctor has been unable to track down the mysterious Time Lord agency. Barbara Flynn reprises her role as Awsok, making a brief appearance toward the end of “Once, Upon Time”. This week we learn that Flynn is in fact Tecteun, the Doctor’s adoptive mother who’d discovered the Doctor as a child and raised her on Gallifrey. It seems rather obvious in hindsight but it’s still a surprising twist. The Division, as Tecteun explains, originated on Gallifrey, and was tasked to protect the galaxy.
The group fiercely expanded across time and space, becoming as Tecteun describes, “colossal”, shaping and guiding events throughout time, employing creatures including the Weeping Angels out of necessity due to the scale of their objective at hand. It’s revealed the Division designed the Flux to destroy the universe in a bid to protect the organization from the Doctor and maintain its existence while Tecteun also erased the Doctor’s memories and stored them in a Gallifreyan fob watch. Plus, we’re given another glimpse at the mysterious house the Doctor envisioned at the beginning of Episode 2, which somehow ties into her past and connects to the fob watch. It’s unclear how many memories and incarnations the Doctor had lost, but Tecteun chillingly offers her a choice, return to the universe set to fall to the Flux, or rejoin the Division on the promise of complete memory restoration.
It’s one hell of an ultimatum, with Tecteun even promising to spare the Earth and the Doctor’s friends in return for the secrets within the watch. Following some rare comedic interactions with an Ood, the Doctor discovers that the Earth will be the final planet to fall to the Flux, as the majority of the universe has been wiped out. The final phase of the Flux event is being engineered from the Division command craft as The Division prepares to move from the old universe to a new one. It’s an exhaustive storyline crammed into less than fifty minutes of an episode, especially when you consider the wealth of other subplots at play. Chibnall’s expositional method of storytelling has been prominent throughout Flux, but the answers we’ve been given make up for any writing downfalls.
For the most part, the Division storyline has paid off well. The explanation as to how the Flux came to be is absurdly daft and needlessly complicated, almost as daft as the Nepalese soothsayer in 1904 with a penchant for comedic outbursts. It’s a further shame Tecteun is killed in the final moments of the episode following the arrival of Swarm and Azure, an antagonist duo who’ve cropped up on occasion to remind us they might still be a threat. Swarm and Azure have been able to cross into the void and board the Division command ship, courtesy of harvesting the energy from the thousands of survivors they’d abducted from Puzano in Episode 4.
In revenge against the Division for their imprisonment, Swarm kills Tecteun. To be fair, Sam Spruell and Rochenda Sandall’s respective performances as Swarm and Azure have hit all the right villainous notes, but it’s left me wondering if they’ve been entirely necessary for the series, making little impact in the story overall. Elsewhere, we’ve got Bel and Karvanista on a Lupari craft. The Lupari shield has been protecting the Earth from the Flux since “The Halloween Apocalypse” opener, but now they’ve got issues. The shield is breached, and to make matters worse, they learn that the Sontarans are preparing an attack, leaving them outnumbered and outgunned.
Various storylines neatly converge by the time credits roll. We come to understand that Joseph Williamson’s tunnel network leads to various time zones and locations, explaining his various cameos throughout the story thus far. As established earlier, the Sontarans have formed an alliance with Parkinson’s Grand Serpent, and begin to simultaneously ambush Dan, Yaz, Jericho, and Williamson in the tunnels beneath Liverpool, and Karvanista and Bel on board the Lupari craft, before their fleets descend above the Earth.
“Survivors of the Flux” crams more than fifty minutes’ worth of content into an episode less than so, and it’s exhaustive, at times confusing watch. Before you can take a breath, the episode transitions from one location to the next, throwing out lengthy amounts of exposition as the story progresses, and sadly neglects to shine enough light on some of this series’ most promising and memorable villains.
The penultimate episode in the Flux saga will surely leave most of us scratching our heads and having to jump onto the BBC iPlayer and rewatch it again. We’ve had answers galore and a lovely cameo from Jemma Redgrave’s long-missed Kate Stewart. Here’s hoping she’ll be back for the finale next week. The inclusion of UNIT and Craig Parkinson’s portrayal as the Grand Serpent is worthy of high praise. The same can be said for the Sontaran twist, the Division storyline gaining well-deserved momentum and a funny Ood.