Doctor Who: Flux and Eve of the Daleks

The plan had been to rewatch each episode of “Flux” – without BBC America’s ads if possible – and give each one their own post, but the kid and Marie were less than enthusiastic about the idea. I liked chunks of it – the first four episodes had some fine moments, and as much as I’d have liked a TARDIS without any men in it for a while, I think John Bishop’s Dan is great fun – but there was more grumbling around this parish than cheering. Then, in the way that most things Who go, it all fell completely apart at the end. Parts five and six were terrible. I mean, yay that we may be getting Lungbarrow on television, but that’s about it.

When it was good, though… “War of the Sontarans” was smashing, despite a weak ending, and “Village of the Angels” was the best thing done with those villains since series three. One day, someone’s going to get to do a deep dive into this season’s production, and unearth where these stories might have fit before COVID screwed with Chris Chibnall’s plans. Fitting these stories into the larger scale of “Flux” was awkward, and showed how the overall theme was a disappointment. That’s despite a couple of very interesting new villains in Swarm and Azure. I don’t think that they lived up to their promise. Events moved too weirdly and clumsily for that.

The biggest flaw is that “Flux” had quite enough villains already with Swarm and Azure, the Sontaran master plan, and Tecteun. Using the Angels as a side distraction worked to a point, but crowding the narrative with the Grand Serpent and UNIT just wrecked the flimsy premise. Suddenly, nothing in “Flux” had room to breathe, because some other random diabolical mastermind needed space. These were screen minutes that badly needed to be given over to make Tecteun a believable character with motives something other than what I’d expect from the Marvel movies, but instead we spend forever watching this guy set up a Sontaran invasion over the course of decades.

(Even worse, none of his material makes any sense, and I’m not talking about Chibnall’s frankly idiotic assertion that Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart was ever a corporal. The Sontaran invasion of 2021 requires Earth to not have a UNIT, so this guy goes back to the 1950s and builds one, to ensure that it is disassembled and scattered sixty-odd years later? The only thing about which we can agree is that we can thank God this fellow didn’t turn out to be the Master, which he probably was in an earlier draft of this balderdash.)

I guess the biggest disappointment is that the biggest Who story since “Trial” does the biggest job ever in ignoring what just happened in it. Okay, so Doctor Who always ignores the amazing consequences of the story it just told. That’s nothing new. “Logopolis” wiped out huge chunks of the universe and it hasn’t mattered once in the next forty years of storytelling. The British PM murdered the president and Anglo-American relations have not been shown to suffer. But the flaw, historically, has been that the show moves on and never acknowledges these wild dramatic change in future stories; the individual story that we are watching does feel the impact of the drama. This time, we seem to see two Sontaran invasions inside a week, along with the planet’s whole population rescued by single-person-and-dog spaceships, along with an alternate history where there never was a Russia, and a universe-snuffing extinction event, and at the end of it, that awesome museum in Liverpool is back open with business as usual instead of staying closed during the planet-wide “what the hell just happened” societal meltdown that this sort of thing surely should have prompted.

So I suppose there was another reset button of some kind along with the Flux destroying – slash – not destroying everything? It would help explain “Eve of the Daleks,” which we all enjoyed much more, because literally one year ago, a different British PM was exterminated on live TV by some Daleks, and the guest stars in this story act like they’ve never seen their like before. “Eve of the Daleks” was very entertaining for a lower-budget studio adventure, although, as time loops go, it was certainly no “Window of Opportunity”. I really liked the quiet stuff in this story: the mother who thinks cell phone lines will be busy at midnight, the storage units full of useless junk, Dan as the women’s wingman. I think it’s one of Chris Chibnall’s very best stories, and “Village of the Angels” right behind it.

But I am so glad that he’s going.

I think it might be Tecteun that’s been the final nail for me. I don’t believe there was really that much promise or possibility in the Division / Timeless Child idea, because it all still seems so incredibly unnecessary and complicated. It did give us the potential mileage of villains that the Doctor does not remember, but Swarm and Azure are gone already. They had promise, and “Flux” squandered it.

And Tecteun could have had a really unique perspective and point of view – and, in Barbara Flynn, they found a fantastic actress for her – but her motives didn’t make sense to me and her revelations of a multiverse just felt like jumping onto Marvel’s coattails. How much more interesting could this have been if the extremely rare parallel worlds in Who – “Inferno,” “The Age of Steel” – remained extremely rare and something that our players couldn’t put on a map and chart evacuation plans into?

Put another way, did anything about the Division that was revealed in this story surprise anybody watching this, or were we all able to understand the situation precisely because every other comic book and sci-fi media franchise has done stories so similar that this just seemed like business as usual?

I am so glad that Chibnall’s going, but I hope he does something really wild and completely unexpected before he goes.

Doctor Who 12.11 – Revolution of the Daleks

I was talking about Yetis on the loo in Tooting Bec? This might just be one of the very best examples in all of Doctor Who. “Revolution of the Daleks” is good, despite a few very large problems with its premise, but this little bit might just be the best part. Our son absolutely loves it. It is among his favorite of all Who stories.

I know that I should be saying that the character growth is the best part of the hour, because it’s clearly where Chris Chibnall’s heart is, but it’s not. I really like that in the ten months since her fam last saw the Doctor, Ryan has accepted that she is either dead or gone, and he has moved on. Yaz hasn’t. There’s a reason that “Thasmin” shippers are so loyal. So it feels weird that the TARDIS needs to take an uncharacteristic four minutes to fly from London to Osaka in order for the Doctor and Ryan to have a hearts-to-heart about something the story has already shown us, while Yaz has a chat with guest star John Barrowman about what it’s like to stop travelling with the Doctor. Flip the companions around and you’ve got a much stronger emotional story: let the men underscore what Ryan has decided, and let Yaz tell the Doctor how hard the last ten months were.

But where I just can’t get on board with this story is the really weird theft of the dead Dalek from 2019’s “Resolution”. I can buy that the scheming Jack Robertson, played again by Chris Noth, would want to get his hands on that tech within six hours of the Doctor and friends blowing it up, and television being television, I can even buy that his team has an agent in place at some random food truck on some bypass somewhere just in case the salvage driver wants to refill his tumbler with fresh tea, so they can poison him.

What I can’t buy is that since the dead Reconnaissance Dalek had virtually no alien tech inside its shell – it pilfered its laser gun from storage after some previous Dalek invasion and built the rest from scrap and salvage – it is actually necessary for Jack’s plans. He has teamed up with the woman who is about to become prime minister, played by Harriet Walter from the 1987 Lord Peter Wimsey series, to build an army of AIs in 3D-printed shells that look like the dead Dalek that attacked GCHQ in 2019. But why do they need to look like that when, stripped of their laser gun and armed instead with gas and a water cannon, they could look like anything?

Obviously, they “need” to look like that because they get a bunch of cloned, slimy, mutated Daleks teleported inside of their shells, and they get to have a big showdown with some proper Daleks. The Doctor called them to Earth, correctly guessing the proper ones wouldn’t stand to have inferior mutations rolling around. I guess it’s the cracks in the universe from series five again, because this really underlines that the events of series four’s “Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” didn’t happen here. And I guess I’m disappointed that we see another massive, planet-changing event – the PM is exterminated on live television – without any consequences ever being mentioned. I think there’s such a good story someone could tell, should tell, about the ramifications of these things.

With all that grumbling, I’m almost surprised that I do like this story after all. It may try to do too much on an unsteady platform, but it does it pretty well, and much better than the previous two hours. It has many clever and intelligent moments – the Doctor’s spare TARDIS resolution is terrific – and I enjoyed all the actors. Ryan and Graham’s departure seems a little long, but it’s entertaining. If the Daleks outside Downing Street is my favorite moment, Yaz shoving the Doctor is my second. It’s an hour that gives audiences a lot to chew on, even if the more you chew, the more you realize it doesn’t make the most sense in the world.

Also, it is way past time for the Doctor to start cleaning up all the alien tech left behind when an invasion goes south. Humans simply can’t be trusted with any of it, especially if Jack Robertson is among them, and she really, really should know that after all these years.

Doctor Who 11.11 – Resolution

From grownups, I have seen Chris Chibnall’s “Resolution” really get a kicking online, which is perhaps more evidence that grownups shouldn’t be allowed online. Given a chance, I’d happily give it more of a kicking, because it’s an hour of… let’s be charitable and call them missed opportunities. But among kids, I think this one must be a legend. Hands down, it is one of, if not the all-time favorite episode of our son. He may have forgotten about half of series eleven before this month, but he remembers every minute of this one. He has watched it repeatedly, and thinks its one of the all-time greats. He was eight when it first aired (three days before we watched “Resurrection of the Daleks” for the first time) and he’s probably come back to it more than any other Who story.

I do think that one of the few things it really does get right is that it serves as the real season finale, not “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”, which had aired about three weeks previously. It’s not just because it’s got a Dalek in it – something with more audience-friendly menace than Tim Shaw – but because Chibnall had actually been seeding the confrontation and reconciliation between Ryan and his father in several of the previous stories. That’s the resolution of the title that we were wanting.

That said, the business with Aaron is nobody’s favorite part of the story. A key piece of it, the long scene in the cafe, is a momentum-destroying block right in the middle of the rising action, and I’m troubled that the actual resolution between the two comes down to Ryan doing most of the work, and not his dad. However, resolving this background issue for Ryan just drives home that the BBC should have started the series three weeks later and shown all eleven installments as one run. But then I suppose that their commercial arm couldn’t have sold series eleven and “Resolution” as two separate DVDs, could they? What a bunch of jerks. Somebody tell me we’re getting a Complete Whittaker Blu-ray set this time next year, please?

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (parts five, six, and seven)

My previous two posts feel a little harsher than I intended them. I wouldn’t say that “The Evil of the Daleks” is at all bad, but it is really slow and while certain discoveries or recreations from the Troughton years have more than exceeded expectations – such as “The Faceless Ones” and “The Enemy of the World” – this one is good, but it’s not the masterpiece that legend claims. Although, happily, this is among those very rare Who serials that gets better as it goes along. The first four parts are pretty good. The last three are very entertaining.

Our son mostly agrees with my thoughts on its pace, although he liked this far more than any of the other animations they have released recently. Part five ends with three newly-born Daleks, having received a “whatever, Dr. Science” injection of “the human factor,” curious and excited and rolling around like happy toddlers, and the kid just fell apart laughing. These carefree and fun Daleks continue to amuse throughout the story’s concluding parts, leading to my favorite bit in the whole shebang. One of the mean Daleks gets sick of this bunch having infected dozens of others into questioning authority and talking back. The mean Dalek exterminates one of a noisy pair. His friend slowly extends its sink plunger to sadly touch the dead shell, quietly disbelieving that his talkative buddy is gone.

I sometimes wonder about the pipe dream American Dalek TV series that Terry Nation had hoped would start production soon after this and get his merchandising money flowing again. Nation had hoped that some studio could land a deal with a network, and then sell a bigger-budgeted film series back to the UK, with a dashing hero or two trying to save the world of the future from a pending Dalek invasion, with treachery and danger at each new planet on the way back to Earth. Boomers have always had a lot of affection from even the shortest-lived American adventure series of the 1960s – Honey West or Land of the Giants or The Green Hornet – in part because even though most of these shows didn’t last long by the standards of the day, they were merchandised like crazy and made it to the full 26 episodes, whereas later generations would see their flash-in-the-pan flops over and done within a month or two, before word of mouth could get around.

I kind of see The Daleks! (or whatever it would have been called) as something like that, something that Irwin Allen fans or nostalgists who remember The Invaders fondly would have kept alive through tape trading until Nick at Nite or TV Land or meTV resurrected them. It’s good that “Evil” was not indeed “the final end” as it was intended, and everybody’s glad the Daleks returned five years later, but I’d still like to see what could’ve been.

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (parts three and four)

You know, the Daleks were just more interesting in the sixties, before power creep set in and they had to be all sneaky and crafty because they were not indestructible army-killing super-tanks yet. At this stage, they’re so easily disposed of that Jamie and a friend literally destroy one by slamming it into a fireplace really hard. And their body count is so low that a supporting character completely freaks out when one of them murders a criminal who’d wandered in to rob the place. That’s two men they’ve killed! Two!

As much as I’m enjoying the Daleks in this, and as much as I’d love to have episode three recovered so we could see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines have a really surprising shouting match, this story really is the most disappointing experience. They’re all a little slow and measured by contemporary standards, and use that pace to establish mood and atmosphere, but “Fury From the Deep” moved like lightning compared to this. They could have compacted these four half-hour episodes into two and it would still be walking slowly in place waiting for the story to get to Skaro.

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (parts one and two)

Say, wasn’t this in live action the last time we saw it?

As is the way of these things, there’s still a baffling gap between the British release of old Who and the domestic. New Who we get a couple of hours later. Archive stuff, we have to wait two or three months. It’s like it’s still 1985 or something. The newest animated reconstruction is for the mostly-missing “Evil of the Daleks,” and it came out last month in the UK and is due next month in America. We looked at the surviving episode in July, our son still giggles about the Dalek telling Victoria not to feed the flying pests, and honestly, this one moves like molasses. The animation on these rebuilds is continuing to improve and impress, but it feels like the writer, David Whitaker, was really struggling to fill this one out to its running time.

Its great reputation came from somewhere, however, so I’m sure this one’s going to get better. I like Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines’ interaction, as always, and I like the little Easter eggs that suggest pretty much every band worth seeing in 1966 had played London recently enough for their posters and flybills to still be on the tops of the stacks glued to the walls. About the only thing I felt this really needed was a little bit when the Doctor and Jamie – who has not yet met the Daleks – are wondering who their unseen enemy is.

“You don’t think it’s the Chameleons again?” Jamie asks. What the Doctor should have replied was “Pfft! Those losers? Hardly.”

Doctor Who 10.1 – The Pilot

It really is weird that my two favorite seasons of Who in the modern era are four and ten, the last ones that their respective producers oversaw. Maybe this means that Chris Chibnall’s next nine episodes are going to pop for me? Fingers crossed, we will learn soon, and while we wait, we’ve got this almost perfectly brilliant run to enjoy again. I don’t like most of episode eight, and episode nine has a stunningly dumb thing in it, but almost perfect.

Sensibly, “The Pilot” is another entry-level episode, where our new audience-identification figure, a cafeteria worker named Bill Potts, learns that there might be something to those stories that the weird lecturer called the Doctor, who doesn’t often tutor students, has been at St. Luke’s in Bristol for between fifty and seventy years. And we see the weirdness of the world through her eyes, from a hugely effective horror scene where there may be something taking a shower in her apartment to a battle between the Daleks and the Movellans, making a tiny little cameo after a 38-year absence. The strange planet they visit has the sort of strangeness that we just wish all strange planets in Who had, and as though he remembered how great and effective the liquid-dripping dead people in “The Waters of Mars” toward the end of Russell T. Davies’s run looked, the antagonist in this story by Steven Moffat is similarly wet, creepy, and unforgettable.

Joining the TARDIS team this time, it’s Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts, who’s among mine and Marie’s favorite Who companions. I really like her a lot more than Amy or Clara. Matt Lucas’s Nardole is still here, faithfully spending his time showing students to the boss’s office while his aging robot parts need a bit of TLC. So they’ve been in Bristol since 1967, and possibly as early as 1947. They haven’t gone anywhere, since Nardole won’t let the Doctor forget his obligation to look after something in a vault. I love all the unanswered questions about this. I love how the Doctor’s office is the closest thing to his personal space that we’ve ever seen before, and that he keeps photos of his wife and granddaughter on his desk. It’s such a great premise that I’d grumble that they didn’t explore it more if the stories this year weren’t so good.

Doctor Who 9.2 – The Witch’s Familiar

I’m writing this the week that the season 24 Blu-ray set was released in the UK. I decided against getting the British limited editions, thinking they’re too expensive, too fragile, and too large, and complain about the domestic editions, which come late, and don’t even have a little insert card explaining what’s on what disk, instead. So this week, fans in the UK are revisiting the much derided-“Time and the Rani”, with which this story shares a very curious similarity in my book. Both of them suffer from a really poor part one and things get better from there. I think it’s notable because this happens so rarely in Doctor Who, a program which usually has great – or at least interesting – ideas and trouble making them stick.

Of course, “Rani” only goes up from utterly embarrassing to mediocre, but “The Witch’s Familiar” is so darn good that it defies belief. The first half, “The Magician’s Apprentice”, was overwritten and unnecessarily complicated. The second half is excellent and simple and everything that happens in it services the plot.

We learn a lot of bad fandom habits when we’re young. One of mine became unshakeable: I got to know Anthony Ainley’s Master, didn’t think the character was worth a darn, had my mind blown by the excellence of Roger Delgado later, and concluded that everybody since was wasting valuable screen time and real estate. And here, at last, Michelle Gomez has a script that lets her nail it. She isn’t given any of the self-consciously “wacky” stuff that was so annoying in the previous episode (see also: pretending to be a robot in series eight), and she carries herself with smugness, experience, and power and is a constant, tangible, very dangerous threat. In keeping with the character, she even knows Elton John lyrics. (And hey, belated kudos to the Doctor for a rare insight into modern culture: he played a bit of “Oh, Pretty Woman” on his guitar last time.)

Our kid was in heaven. It’s full of all sorts of Daleks and provides lots of fascinating backstory about how they use their negative emotions to get stronger. Plus, it’s packed with visual and textual nods to many previous adventures, it’s gross in places, Missy is incredibly evil, and, in a glory so crowning that it prompted about a full minute of laughing, Missy and Davros finally meet. It’s easily the best Dalek installment in at least six years, and so many of the next episodes are going to be even better.

Doctor Who 9.1 – The Magician’s Apprentice

Priorities. When “The Magician’s Apprentice” first aired in the fall of 2015, I was blindsided by the completely brilliant pre-credits sequence, revealing that the Doctor is helping a boy who turns out to be a Young Davros. It was one of a couple of times in Capaldi’s run that I swore out loud in complete surprise. Our kid, on the other hand, just said “Oooh, a Dalek story.” It turns out he’s even more in tune with them than I expected. Toward the end, he interrupted again to shout “Hey, I saw a Special Weapons Dalek!” I’m amazed he remembered them. They were only in one adventure and I didn’t think he rewatched that one. Guess it left an impression.

Otherwise, there’s a whole lot to dislike about this season opener. I think – and this is probably really nebulous – it starts with an elegant and simple plot and then it just gets bogged down in layer after layer of rewritten spectacle. The nonsense pictured above, in which the Doctor brings a big tank and some sunglasses and a guitar to the Middle Ages, is one that attracted a lot of derision, and I think with good reason. It reminds me of Moffat going overboard like he was doing in season six. It’s all over the place, even reintroducing Karn, last seen in the mini-episode “Night of the Doctor”, for all of sixty seconds. Moffat doesn’t let the simplicity of the plot breathe through the performances and the natural set pieces, shooting instead for distractions and buzz. Even Jemma Redgrave is here for more UNIT stuff and a big event with timestopped airplanes, snipers, and a jaunt to a plaza in Tenerife when Missy could have just shown up at Clara’s apartment.

It’s a story where Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez are by miles the best things about it. I love the way he says “Gravity” to her and she sneers/whines “I know” back at him. Something’s almost right about Gomez here. She’s almost perfectly the Master, but it’s just tiny little bits of the writing that get in her way. She still reminds me too much of Andrew Scott’s Moriarty in Moffat’s Sherlock, especially when she declines to explain how she survived her last appearance. In retrospect, producing both of these programs together didn’t benefit either of them.

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (part two)

Earlier today, the BBC announced the forthcoming release of their next animated reconstruction of a lost serial. “The Evil of the Daleks” was first shown in 1967, and, unusually for British television in those days, it was actually shown again a year later as a summer repeat, but the corporation soon did what they often did and junked the films and wiped the tapes for reuse. A film print of episode two was returned in 1987.

To celebrate the news, I suggested to our son that we give the surviving episode a spin and he couldn’t have agreed faster. He did briefly muse that it was a shame that it wasn’t the first installment of the serial that was available, but I reminded him that the first episodes of Dalek serials typically don’t actually have Daleks in them until the cliffhanger, and he said “Oh, yeah…”

Anyway, he enjoyed it a lot, and concluded that he was glad it was part two that was available because of a short scene where a Dalek, menacing the companion-to-be Victoria, played by Deborah Watling, warns her: “Do not feed the flying pests!” He mused “One of the reasons I like the Daleks is the mix of pushiness and slight ignorance. They don’t know what birds are… and they don’t care!” Bigots are like that.

“The Evil of the Daleks” will be released in the UK in September.

Doctor Who 8.2 – Into the Dalek

On the surface, “Into the Dalek” looks like just another Dalek adventure, just a small and low-key one, without many sets or speaking parts. The kid was incredibly pleased; it’s everything a ten year-old audience wants from Who, along with tips of the plot hat to an earlier adventure, “The Invisible Enemy” and its antecedent, Fantastic Voyage. It’s co-written by Steven Moffat with Phil Ford, who had contributed so many entertaining Sarah Jane Adventures, and it gives us a second glimpse of Michelle Gomez’s mysterious new character of Missy, who we met very briefly in the previous story. It also introduces Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink, a new recurring character who works as a teacher alongside Clara at Coal Hill School.

Unfortunately, it also introduces two new elements to Capaldi’s Doctor which I really can’t stand: he doesn’t know whether he is a good man, and he hates soldiers. Mercifully, these get resolved soon enough, but it’s the introduction that bothers me. There isn’t one. At some point in that summer of 2014, Moffat actually had to clarify that these are both holdovers from the hundreds of years that the last Doctor spent defending Trenzalore, because they aren’t detailed onscreen at all. I like that the twelfth Doctor is very brusque and rude, but I wish that he had quietly said something like “I’m sorry, I can see that you’d like to be a good person, but the last several hundred years were difficult, and I don’t want to be around soldiers right now.” The character may not have needed to know about that, but the audience did.