Image Credit: BBC (Fair Use)
Image Description: The Doctor talks to Karvanista
Victoria Walker reviews the first episode of Series Thirteen – and warning – there be spoilers ahead!
Halloween saw the debut of Jodie Whitaker’s final series, and for his curtain call Chris Chibnall has decided to throw the format out and do a serial of proportions not seen since The War Games. The first chapter of Flux, The Halloween Apocalypse, was a melding of both old and new in what is, on balance, one of the best episodes of Chibnall’s tenure.
Fundamentally, I was very much entertained by this episode despite its flaws. Much like the episode itself, this review touches on several areas and is perhaps slightly scattershot in its delivery. The first thing that strikes me about the episode is the characterisation. With Ryan and Graham gone, it seems Yaz has come into her own as a companion, carrying all the confidence Clara did in her last series without the smugness that put a lot of people off. Alongside her, the Doctor seems slightly more combative than she has been in the previous two series, which is in line with the revelation we were treated to with The Timeless Children.
On the other side of the coin, the monsters are a mixed bag. The Lupari are just the right balance of slightly comedic and imposing that Chibnall has had an issue striking previously (see: T’Zim Sha.) The introduction of Swarm and his sister Azure, however, was unfortunately unimpressive thanks to the overuse of glitter and eyeshadow, character design once again taking away from what are meant to be very-serious (TM) antagonists (again, see: T’Zim Sha.) The reintroduction of the Sontarans came slightly out of nowhere, but it seems we are going to get a return to the more sinister characters we enjoyed in Old Who.
As for the plot, my usual tactic when watching episodes is an attempt to identify themes or inspirations. One of the limitations of this style of Chibnall’s writing is that trying to introduce such a large number of things leaves little time to say anything in particular about any of them. Loyalty is likely to be a theme given the nature of the Lupari and their species bond, in addition to the strengthened relationship between Yaz and the Doctor thanks to their offscreen adventures. While I’m sure Big Finish will be waiting to fill in the gaps, the element that is most apparent from this episode may be the fact the Doctor is still hiding the Timeless Child revelation from Yaz, and it seems likely the latter will be greatly offended when she finds out it has been hidden from her.
Beyond that, the themes aren’t too clear. The Sontarans being about usually introduces some theme of exploitation or war, but, teaser trailer aside, it’s not entirely sure where things are heading. Fundamentally, this episode is laying the groundwork for the rest of the series and there are several things presented to create intrigue, like just what was going on in 1820s Liverpool? But there’s so much groundwork about that each additional plotline becomes less and less impactful. There are parts I have only remembered in the course of writing this review, for instance, like Diana being forced into the house or the aforementioned glimpse of 1820s Liverpool. Had I not been writing this, I would likely not have remembered them until they are recalled in future episodes. Having all the questions raised in your first episode be ‘what is happening?’ is not an effective manner of producing intrigue. it tends instead to simply produce confusion.
While these are new areas of critique for Chibnall’s Who, there are still a few of the constant issues from the past couple of series still present. The shaky camera, for instance, was quite offputting and reduced the effect of the action scenes it was used in. Similarly, there were a lot of close headshots in places I would have preferred a wider shot to give depth to the scenes.
All that said, I don’t dislike this episode. As usual, it is enough for me that I didn’t feel inclined to check the time during the episode, and I did enjoy watching it. I was entertained by the cuteness of the Lupari, cointerpointed as it was by the funny and refreshing tête-à-tête between Yaz and the Doctor funny. I may level a lot of criticisms, but that is only because there aren’t many concrete themes to pick up on yet. I’m looking forward to developing my analysis further, but whether that will be possible after the next episode, or the end of the series, remains to be seen.