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Can Doctor Who: Flux stick the landing?

Series 13 has been lauded as Chris Chibnall’s best – but it all comes down to next week's final episode.

Doctor Who
Published: Sunday, 28th November 2021 at 7:20 pm

It seems like Chris Chibnall is going out with a bang – or at least, a Flux – with his final full Doctor Who series. After mixed reviews for his first two seasons, most viewers seem to agree that the departing showrunner has finally found his feet with series 13’s unusual serialised structure, playing to his strengths as a long-form dramatist and pulling the audience along with regular, exciting cliffhangers.

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Highlights for me have included a pacy, mysterious opening episode and the peerless co-written (with Maxine Alderton) Weeping Angels thriller last week, but even looking more broadly Chibnall and company have managed to deliver entertaining Doctor Who fun week to week (all the more impressive given the lockdown conditions it was made in).

It’s been a hit, basically, for both Chibnall and leading star Jodie Whittaker, cited by many as the highlight of their joint Who run thus far. But I do wonder – with just one episode to go, can Doctor Who: Flux stick the landing? Personally, I have my concerns.

You see, after the highlight of Village of the Angels, this week’s episode – Survivors of the Flux – felt like a bit of a crash down to Earth. Filled with complex sci-fi exposition, scattered storylines and little of its own story, episode five is unlikely to wind up on many people’s "best story ever" lists.

The story woven by Doctor Who: Flux has been complicated, and the other shoe had to drop sometime when it came to explaining it all – apart from the Division twist, Village of the Angels was a bit of a "week off" from the main arc – but I had hoped it might be resolved a little more elegantly. And given how dense this episode was already, I’m worried that next week’s finale might have even more detail to get through.

And if it is a Timeless Children-style exposition-fest, it might bring down the rest of this series with it. After all, in its earlier episodes 2020’s series 12 had also been highlighted as a significant improvement from Whittaker and Chibnall’s first outing, with some stand-out episodes and more of an arc for fans to get their teeth into.

The Doctor on Gallifrey in The Timeless Children (BBC)

The Doctor on Gallifrey in The Timeless Children

It was the divided reaction to the finale that undid that goodwill. Rewatching series 12’s penultimate episode, Ascension of the Cybermen, I was struck that it was better than I had remembered, so overpowering had the discourse about the finale been in the weeks after. In the same way, if Flux has its own less-than-satisfactory ending, that’ll be all that anyone remembers of this six-part series.

But perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. It’s eminently possible that next week’s finale, having got past some necessary explanation and scene-setting in episode five, will bring back the excitement and action to wrap things up with a satisfying bow.

Helpfully, with three more specials to follow Flux (including one just a few weeks after) for Jodie Whittaker it’s not like Chibnall needs to conclude absolutely every storyline anyway – though you’d expect the main Flux and Swarm/Azure threat to be resolved, the Doctor’s past with the Division could still be explored in those extended episodes next year.

Personally? I’m hoping things avoid getting too bogged down next week, and that fans will be able to look back on this six-part experiment as being the quintessential Chibnall take on Who – well-organised, socially aware and full of great twists and big moments.

Maybe, just maybe, this era can end on a high before we start all over again with the next (somewhat familiar) showrunner. Assuming the finale doesn't just flux it up.

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Doctor Who continues on BBC One on Sundays. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.

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