Doctor Who Review: “The Vanquishers”

“It’s not like we haven’t had enough to do.”
–Doctor Who

The Flux ends in a chaotic mess of excessive plot threads, extraneous characters, unanswered questions, and wasted potential. The current Doctor will return on New Year’s for an encounter with the Daleks, but we’re no wiser about the mysteries and retcons added by Chris Chibnall, we’re possibly staring into a Whovian multiverse, and a certain arch-enemy of the Doctor’s is possibly back in play.

Title: “The Vanquishers”

Directed by Azhur Saleem
Written by Chris Chibnall

Cast
Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor
Mandip Gill as Yasmin Khan
John Bishop as Dan Lewis
Steve Orama as Joseph Williamson
Nadia Albina as Diane
Rochenda Sandall as Azure / Anna
Jacob Anderson as Vinder
Kevin McNally as Professor Eustacius Jericho
Annabel Scholey as Claire
Craige Els as Karvanista
Thaddea Graham as Bel
Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart
Sam Spruell as Swarm
Jonathan Watson as Sontaran Commander Stenck
Craig Parkinson as Grand Serpent / Probably not the Master but might as well be.
Dan Starkey as Senstarg / Shallo / Kragar
Nadia Albina as Diane
Simon Carew, Silas Carson as Ood
Jonny Mathers as the Passenger
Sonny Walker as Stevie
Nicholas Briggs as Voices of Daleks / Cybermen

Premise

The Doctor, occupying three different points of space-time simultaneously, and aided by a small army of companions (some of whom she has never really met) takes on the NAMES while intervening in the Sontarans’ attempts to exploit the Flux so that they can conquer the universe, an effort which engages them in a war with the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Lupar.

If all that sounds awesome, it’s not. The finale plays like the result of an improv game based on Doctor Who story premises and played by a band of lunatics.

High Points

Some of the new companions– Dan Lewis, Eustacius Jericho– work remarkably well. The explanation for Williamson’s Tunnels, a real-world mystery, works in the Whoniversal context. As for the overall arc, The Flux contains quite a number of good story ideas….

Low Point

….but the finale develops none of these in a sensible or coherent way. They have only wasted the potential of those story ideas and characters, and, more offensively, they’ve wasted the retcons imposed on the series. After teasing the Timeless Child as a major mystery, they abandon it. The Doctor and Division? That mostly remains a secret.

If you’re going to mess with the mythos, at least have your changes mean something.

The Scores

Originality: 3/6 The series has never had an episode this chaotic before, so there’s that.

Story: 2/6 The Flux contains enough plots and characters for a couple of seasons of episodes, tossed together pell-mell and not permitted to develop properly. The death of a certain character conveyed some nobility, but that was mainly the actor. The scene would have made more sense if he’d been a true companion and we had gotten to know him. The loss of entire races and systems, meanwhile, seems to get shrugged off.

Acting: 4/6

Emotional Response: 2/6

Production: 5/6

Effects: 5/6 Alien-occupied cities! The space outside the universe! Three different spacefleets! The episode certainly looks spectacular…. Except, of course, for the Ravagers. Even their ending looks stunningly lo-tech.

Overall: 3/6 Thomas Bacon, over at Screen Rant, makes an interesting case that the failure of the recent seasons has nothing to do with the Doctor (she’s excellent) or even the retcons, but the handling of the companions. It’s worth a read.

In total, “The Vanquishers” receives 24/42

5 replies on “Doctor Who Review: “The Vanquishers””

  1. J_W_W says:

    “If you’re going to mess with the mythos, at least have your changes mean something.”

    The changes were never meant to mean anything for the mythos, they were meant for The Message(tm), so it didn’t really matter if they made any sense to the overall story at all.

    Regarding the Screen Rant story, I believe this is correct. As I didn’t stop watching the show with the latest regeneration of The Doctor, I stopped watching shortly after Clara’s ending left a real bad feeling that the Doctor wasn’t really enriching any companion’s lives (the Doctor can save the universe, but can’t save one person). Rose and Amy got futures that were ok, but were anything but great endings, but Clara and Martha and Donna all ended up kinda hosed after being with the Doctor. And by the 12th Doctor it got to be too much for me to keep watching. I think part of it was a try at making a companion with a story as compelling as Amy’s, but that just ratcheted up the danger and in the end Clara just gets one last heartbeat to squeeze her time into. Her ending just kinda sucked and was dark and sad. That fine for a companion’s story, but they all seemed to go that way. And for a show based on what fun and how important to see time and space with the Doctor, it really didn’t make it seem the adventures were actually enjoyable anymore. So I stopped watching and nothing since has made me want to come back.

  2. JD DeLuzio says:

    We can agree on the mishandling of companions, to a degree, but I’m not sure what Message could be found in the Timeless Child concept. It just feels like they decided to do something bold and daring and then had no clue where to take the idea, especially once it met with decidedly mixed reviews from fans. But if they were going to do it, and then dangle it as a major part of The Flux, it needed some sort of payoff.

    • J_W_W says:

      Then the question is, were they doing something bold and daring for the boldness of it, or were they doing it to further the Doctor’s story? That they can’t seem to tie it into this season says it was more just a bold idea that was for show and not for the show.

  3. lost says:

    I would tend to agree that handling the companions and supporting cast has been a major problem. Starting with having three companions, which is really too many for all of them to get enough screen time to treat them fairly. The larger Tardis crews worked okay in much of the classic series simply because individual stories had more screen time, but even then, larger groups suffered in some stories, especially the shorter ones that were more ambitious. (Classic stories were usually the equivalent of 80 minutes or so runtime with quite a few running into the 2 hour range.)

    Flux itself seems to have suffered from cutting a longer story down to six episodes. It feels a lot like it should have been eight, or maybe ten episodes. With a bit more screen time, they could have dealt with some of the plot threads in more detail. In particular, I think it would have worked better if they could have built up the various backstory bits and the setup for the Flux itself over an episode or two instead of having to shoehorn it into other episodes as flashbacks, side stories, and so on. A whole adventure with Williamson, and adventure encountering Bel and Vinder back home, and adventure or two searching out Karvanista, that sort of thing. Then it could have been orchestrated into a much less frenetic finale. (Come to think of it, Dan getting involved due to the Williamson tunnels would have had some good potential to detangle some things.)

    In light of limited screen time, deferring further exploration of The Retcon was probably a good idea. I suspect that it will either be explored a bit in the specials or left for Davies to explore or ignore.

  4. Well… yup. That’s done, lets see where we can go next, shall we?

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