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Doctor Who – The Vanquishers review: Flux draws to a satisfying, if frenetic, conclusion

While the Time Lord is tormented and trisected, and “condragulations!” go to Swarm and Azure – one of our heroes must die…

Published: Sunday, 5th December 2021 at 7:20 pm
A star rating of 4 out of 5.

In the face of adversity may we find what makes us strong. This has certainly proven so for Chris Chibnall, the man with a show to run in the face of a pandemic. Forced to scale back, to operate in a climate of fluctuating COVID restrictions, he redrew his parameters in pursuit of the best Doctor Who he and his team could deliver. In that respect, they have achieved an impressive feat in the six-part Flux.

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Returning the programme to its original serial format has been the key win. It has allowed an engaging, occasionally gripping, series of storylines to evolve and interweave, build to effective cliffhangers, and then to resolve satisfyingly in this sixth and final episode.

At times, it’s been apparent that everything but the kitchen sink, the dog basket and the loo brush was being chucked into the mix. Multiple locales, time zones, Doctors… A barrage of old foes dusted down and given a chance to play outside again… Sontarans chiefly, but Daleks and Cybermen too – all looking foolhardy in this final conflagration… Even a friendly Ood joined the fray, while the Weeping Angels polished their badges as Who’s chill-supremoes.

Note that none of the creations from Chibnall’s past two series were called upon: no Stenza, no whispering-rag Remnants, no froggy Solitract, no shimmering Kasaavin, no Pting, no Dregs… Consigned to oblivion, perhaps. What’s positive is that he has now fashioned memorable opponents in the Ravagers, Swarm and Azure. Outstanding performances from Sam Spruell and Rochenda Sandall allied to fabulous costume, masks and make-up – “Condragulations!” to the design team. RuPaul’s Drag Race champions, eat your hearts out!

"We have everything we need – Division, the power to destroy your universe… and you!" gloats Swarm. They not only relish destruction ("The end of all spatial objects," purrs Azure helpfully), they long to replay the final throes of our cosmos, in a constant loop. Their finest moments involve tormenting the Doctor: Azure proffering the MacGuffin fob watch, "It will break your mind"; Swarm literally tearing the house down, as he rips apart and reassembles the crooked building that represents the Time Lord’s missing past. Then Azure finally steps from her sibling’s shadow to discuss with the Doctor their diametrically opposed faiths: life versus obliteration.

There’s an anti-climax when the ghastly pair meet their comeuppance and are frittered away by the embodiment of Time. They seem ecstatic about their exit. "Ascension…" coos Azure as she disintegrates. Maybe she is going to a better place. When Time takes on the form of the Doctor, with Jodie Whittaker’s benign face, I half-expected a reference to Kronos the "chronovore" from The Time Monster. It portends doom for this Doctor and heavy-hints a rematch with the Master.

Way before this, we’ve seen a fresh spin on The Three Doctors. "Wow, you’re cute!" she says to herself. "I’m being trisected across disparate dimensions. I’m split across three realities now. It’s quite draining and confusing and breaks every known law." It would be easy to take the mickey here, but Chibnall and Whittaker handle all this guff confidently, and provide a clever, new and very Who-ey way of telling a story and spinning plates.

Doctor Who Flux Jodie Whittaker

Chibnall’s Flux has trodden an eventful if uneven path, with one swill-bucket of bad dreams (Once, Upon Time) and one bona fide classic (Village of the Angels) along the way. The greatest triumph of this six-parter is that, while frenetic, it has given its characters space to breathe and come alive, which can’t be said of the usual, limited 45-minute format. We might not know much more about them at the end than at the start but they’ve become familiar and likeable and we root for them.

Warrior-lovers-reunited Bel and Vinder go off to make babies, in the company of Bungle-from-Bolton Karvanista, now the last of his kind. 'Claire-voyant' survives the Sontaran mind probe and arrives back in her own time with her 2021 hairdo miraculously restored. Resourceful Diane "may just have saved what’s left of the universe", but she still turns down Dan. The Grand Serpent gets hissy with the Doctor but she tames him ("I’ve put you on the very naughty step") and he’s abandoned on a minuscule asteroid.

With so much going on, Kate Stewart draws the short straw. So strong is Jemma Redgrave’s presence, there are scenes where I’m willing her to intercede with more than the few lines she’s allotted. She signs off with: "I like this regeneration. Hope I meet it again." Let’s hope that transpires in the coming specials. Kevin McNally is the other winner, in a way. His have-a-go-scientist, old-soldier Jericho is a splendid old chap but was always destined to be the one hero sacrificed in this piece. "What an awfully big adventure..." We salute you, Jericho.

A bedazzling CGI Flux-obliteration of planets, spaceships and archenemies is all conveniently hoovered up by one of those Passengers, whose silhouette still hits me as 'Ena Sharples in gimp mask'. Straggly ends are tied in a leisurely but satisfying wind-down. Dan (John Bishop) has earned his place among the Tardis crew, and the Doctor makes peace with Yaz (Mandip Gill). As it should, the focus narrows in on this pair, their heartfelt 'womance' and a well-placed tear. Both characters/actors have benefitted from this revised format.

In the final moments, though, Chibnall offers another reset, possibly just a pause. The Doctor drops her fob-watch memories into the heart of the Tardis – determined to remain “Doctor Who?”. Perfect.

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Doctor Who returns to BBC One on New Year’s Day 2022. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.

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