Doctor Who: Flux, episode 1 review: Whittaker’s long goodbye has begun and it was bafflingly hectic
“Trick or treat, Doctor?” That was the topical threat as Doctor Who (BBC One) returned in an episode so jittery and frenetic, it must have eaten all the Halloween Haribos.
This sugar-crazed comeback was an improvement on the sci-fi franchise’s lacklustre recent efforts yet still suffered many of the same flaws: over-complicated plot, clunky moralising and a cast too big for its own good. We had half a dozen heroes and an intergalactic gallery of monsters when a couple of each would have sufficed.
As the departing 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker began her year-long swansong, joined in the Tardis by one familiar companion (Mandip Gill as the nice but underwritten Yaz) and one fresh face (comedian John Bishop as likeable every bloke Dan). Did you have “volunteers in a food bank” and “has a disabled girlfriend” on your box-ticking bingo card? This hectic instalment kickstarted a series-long storyline about “the fearsome Karvanista”, a spiky-faced psycho named Swarm and an orange dust cloud called the Flux, which atomised everything in its path.
Baffled yet? You soon would be. Settings spanned from deep space to the Arctic Circle and a Merseyside mineshaft. Weeping Angels were on the loose (don’t blink), bloodthirsty Sontarans prepared for war (don’t mention their potato heads) and an ancient evil was awakening in Victorian Britain (don’t exhaust the BBC’s stockpile of top hats and stick-on sideburns).
There was plenty to enjoy. Football fans would have cheered glimpses of Anfield and references to “Klopp-era Liverpool”. We had old-fashioned running-down-corridors and hitting-stuff-with-hammers. Several sequences were genuinely scary, others endearingly sweet – especially the idea of humanity being protected by a race of giant Border Terriers. Turns out dogs really are a man’s best friend.
An overloaded narrative and uneven quality were the problems. Writer Chris Chibnall’s script lurched from featherlight gags to heavy-handed exposition. Hokey CGI space-scapes recalled Professor Brian Cox’s new docu-series Universe. Jacob Anderson (aka Grey Worm from Game Of Thrones) played a character who was either a knowing homage to Lister from Red Dwarf or a blatant rip-off. Smegging strange either way. The usual mixed bag, then, but decent enough to stick with. Pray it doesn’t disappear up its own black hole like too many stories during Chibnall’s tenure.