Doctor Who in Flux! Jodie Whittaker’s final season (with spoilers)

The thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, wraps things up with the six part Flux serial and three specials. I’m inclined to agree with most of the online commentary that Chris Chibnall’s farewell, like most of his run, didn’t quite work.It doesn’t help that Flux — the season-long story arc, a la The Invasion of Time —  follows on the big reveal of the previous season, that the Doctor had dozens of regenerations before the supposed First Doctor, all of which he spent in service to Division, a black ops organization on Gallifrey. The Doctor had the ability to regenerate before the Time Lords — indeed it was her foster mother’s research on the Doctor’s DNA that made it possible for other Gallifreyans to do it. I didn’t like this idea but I didn’t hate it as much as many fans did. However, this season makes it worse.

The Flux is a cosmic force that breaks into the universe, destroying everything. One alien race is trying to protect Earth from the damage; the Sontarans hope to exploit it and conquer whatever survives. A sadistic creature called Swarm wants to destroy the Doctor for imprisoning Swarm back in the Division era.

The Weeping Angels show up hunting the Doctor and Yaz (the other Whittaker companions have gone) but it turns out they’re working for the Doctor’s foster mum, the head of Division. That organization now encompasses multiple races and worlds, and Mom wants the Doctor to come back to them. They’ve relocated outside time-space so whatever damage destroys the universe, they can shift to another. Or the Doctor can stay behind and die.

The series carries over the conceit of the previous season that the Doctor is not only the star of the show but the star of the universe: even the Apocalypse is about destroying the Doctor. Division apparently has no interests other than the Doctor (we’re told they’re Big, Big, Big but we don’t see it). It’s as absurd as The Trouble With Girls but that comic-book series knew it was absurd; Chibnall’s Doctor Who doesn’t. “I approach everything with caution — or abandon, one of the two.”

The follow-up to thwarting Swarm, Division and Flux was three specials, with a fourth to come introducing the new Doctor (though it looks like Whittaker’s gone at the end of the third). Eve of the Daleks has the Doctor, Yaz, some bystandards, and some Daleks trapped in a time loop on New Year’s Eve. While the Doctor and Yaz remember everything from previous loops so do the Daleks, so there’s no advantage; can the Doctor break out of the loop before everyone dies? “The Doctor will not save you. The Doctor will never save you.”

The Legend of the Sea Devils was fun, but stuffed with enough elements it would have worked better as a four part serial in the old days.  In ancient China the Sea Devils are hunting down a priceless McGuffin, opposed by the Doctor and Chinese pirate queen Mrs. Chang. It’s fun, but not well structured. It does acknowledge Yaz and the Doctor have feelings for each other but the Doctor doesn’t want to act on them, knowing no Companion ever lasts. “That’s the trouble with history, it’s never like the books — sort of like Stephen King movies.”

The same can be said of what’s apparently Whittaker’s farewell, The Power of the Doctor. We have the Master posing as Rasputin, classic paintings getting transformed (so the Mona Lisa and The Scream show the Master’s face), mysterious volcanic eruptions, a cyber-planet appearing over pre-Revolutionary Russia and the Master regenerating the Doctor into a clone of himself, enabling him, he hopes, to blacken her reputation.

What makes it work is that along with Yaz and the Doctor we get Ace (Sophie Aldred), the seventh Doctor’s companion, and Tegan (Janet Fielding) from the Peter Davison era. Ace is as amazing as she was in the old show — informed that she needs to climb down inside a live volcano, penetrate a Dalek base and stop them blowing up the world, she grabs up an aluminum baseball bat — “I”ll show you how I smashed Daleks in ’63!” (a reference to Remembrance of the Daleks). And the ending, after Whittaker has an initial, temporary regeneration (into David Tennant — I’d sooner have Matt Smith or Christopher Eccleston), shows a Companions support group including Bonnie (sixth doctor), Jo and the First Doctor’s Ian (William Russell, still alive). And yes, a few of the surviving Doctors put in an appearance too (Ace seeing Seven again was a great touch). The nostalgia factor made me love this one despite its flaws. “I could call this The Master’s Dalek Plan — but I think I’ll just call it the day I finally killed you.”

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