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Doctor Who: Flux Episode 1 Review – The Halloween Apocalypse

Having survived the machinations of the canine Karvanista, it would be on-form for the Doctor to brush herself off and immediately get caught up by the real plot of the episode. Not this time, though. Despite his predilection for traps that would make a Batman villain blush, Karvanista’s not just a pre-titles joke – he’s a major player in the episode. Travelling to what he describes as “the final hours of planet Earth”, the TARDIS is forced to set off in hot pursuit, except that the ship seems to be struggling, not to mention leaking, for some reason the Doctor can’t pin down.

Chris Chibnall once again pens the first episode of the new series – he’s scripted or co-scripted all six parts this time around – and there are certain similarities to the first part of ‘Spyfall’ here. Big chunky subtitles carry us across lots of seemingly-unconnected locations as the story unfolds, while characters are introduced with just a few lines of dialogue before we’re whisked away to watch the next puzzle piece being fished out of the jigsaw box.

This is also a “new companion” episode, of course, so we do get to spend a bit more time enjoying the debut of Dan Lewis. He’s played by John Bishop, who imbues Dan with a kind of fragile cheerfulness that’s hiding the woes of a directionless and rather melancholic man – and it’s clear he’s fooling no-one. Dan is obviously fiercely proud of Liverpool, but the life he spends there seems to be as threadbare as his kitchen cupboards. It’s a similar sense of listlessness to Donna Noble before she reconnected with the Tenth Doctor in ‘Partners in Crime’, so let’s hope that Dan actually gets to remember his time in the TARDIS when all is said and done.

Speaking of forgotten things… While she’s wrestling with the TARDIS, the Doctor finds her mind yoinked halfway across the universe. She’s to bear witness to the escape of a mysterious alien as he breaks out of eternal confinement and dusts a couple of guards to revitalise himself. (Scripts during Chibnall’s tenure have a bad habit of leaving significant characters unnamed, but this is ‘Swarm’, at least according to the credits.) “Trick or treat!” Swarm declares upon his escape, keen to goad the Doctor and apparently equally keen to remind the viewers at home what day it is as if they weren’t already suffering from Haribo Remorse.

It’s made obvious that the two have past history which the Doctor doesn’t remember, and implied that she was once at least partly responsible for Swarm’s incarceration. Yes, for better or worse, we’re leaning back into the legacy of the Timeless Child and the Doctor’s past actions as part of The Division on Gallifrey – in fact, we’ll come to learn that her pursuit of Karvanista is the Doctor seeking answers about her wiped lives.

Karvanista himself arrives on Earth while the Doctor is telepathically-texting “new regeneration, who dis?” and breaks into Dan’s house, seemingly looking to pull off an old-fashioned alien abduction. Dan, though, gamely tugs at the alien’s dog-like whiskers and comments on what a nice Halloween costume it is, which is precisely the kind of attitude to take towards anyone who breaks into your house with an axe. This should be a cringe-inducing scene, but it works, largely because Karvanista isn’t just a Scooby-Doo villain. He’s an exasperated professional with a short temper and a job to do, and it sets him nicely apart from the scenery-chewing Swarm and his grand proclamations of universal destruction.

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