NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who”, including a major character death, are present in this review
The Doctor’s mission to liberate the village of Medderton from its Weeping Angel infestation has failed. Even worse is that The Doctor has now been captured by the Angels, revealed as agents of Division, the shadowy Time Lord-adjacent organization that’s somehow tied to The Doctor’s unknown origins. Fortunately, this finally primes The Doctor to decipher the remaining mysteries related to her unknown past during Doctor Who’s penultimate Series 13 episode, “Survivors of the Flux”, while her companions and Professor Jericho remain marooned in the 1900’s, seeking an artifact that will supposedly reveal the date of a great, Armageddon-style battle on Earth at some point in the future.
This narrative leap for the companions and Jericho is pretty significant. The trio have seemingly become Lara Croft-style tomb raiders during the three-year span that they’ve remained in the 1900’s, eventually coming across an ancient pot that seemingly has a doomsday prophecy depicted on it. I don’t know why these characters are suddenly concerned with some other apocalypse, considering that the Flux is currently ravaging the universe in present-day 2021, but I guess we had to tie them to Doctor Who’s latest major plot developments somehow, even while they remain cut off from The Doctor. Even more mysterious is the fact that assassins employed by the Grand Serpent, the very same political figure that Vinder was formerly charged with guarding before his banishment to Outpost Rose, appear to be pursuing Yaz, Dan and Jericho, seemingly aspiring to keep The Doctor’s companions from discovering whatever it is they’re looking for.
This is another major leap for the show’s 1904 storyline, one that also somehow ties in to the creation, and eventual destruction, of UNIT. Yes, UNIT is back in the picture for Series 13 (sort of), and retroactively adding the Grand Serpent to their inner circle turns UNIT’s confusing canonical history into an even bigger mess of inconsistent lore. That feeling pervades this entire episode, in fact, and if I’m being honest, “Survivors of the Flux” feels like a mess all around, despite its intriguing developments surrounding The Doctor herself. Perhaps this is a consequence of Series 13 being considerably shortened to just six episodes. Regardless, this episode is awkwardly scrambling to cover a ton of necessary narrative ground, before the following week’s season finale.
Like I said, The Doctor seems to remain a compelling presence here at least, and the mystery of her origins remains an effective draw, even when the Weeping Angels pull The Doctor out of the universe itself for her meeting with Division. In the first of several promising twists around this point, the mysterious old woman that The Doctor made contact with during time’s unmooring at the Temple of Atropos is now revealed to be Tecteun, The Doctor’s adoptive mother, who is all in on Division’s true purpose; Black ops-style history manipulation that skirts around the Time Lords’ code of not influencing the path of civilizations. The Doctor, being a rogue agent from Division, eventually broke away from the organization’s selfish manipulation of the universe, and subsequently became a, “Virus” in Division’s over-arching agenda for all worlds across space and time.
This is why The Doctor herself has been blamed for the Flux, which was, naturally, created by Tecteun, via an Ood servant. Division created the Flux to destroy the universe because The Doctor had meddled too much in Division’s meddling (that’s a pretty big mess, to say the least!), eventually prompting Division to scuttle the current universe, and use the Flux to launch them to a new one, while also destroying the old universe in the process. Tecteun eventually attempts to bribe The Doctor with her lost memories, retained within an enchanted stopwatch, as a means of trying to get The Doctor to return to Division, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone that The Doctor refuses this offer. This refusal ends up being moot anyway however, because Swarm and Azure invade Division HQ soon afterward, and kill Tecteun. This once again leaves The Doctor at the mercy of these two mysterious villains for the end of this episode, hopefully setting up a promising lead-in to the following season finale.
It’s very frustrating that the core storyline about The Doctor is so engaging here, but everything surrounding it is a hasty, ill-defined sludge of half-baked setup for what’s to come. Karvanista somehow pulls Bel from the middle of space after a Lupari ship randomly breaks away from Earth’s shield, to start, and neither of these developments are explained or justified at all. Yaz, Dan and Jericho also eventually re-encounter Joseph Williamson of the Williamson Tunnels fame, who soon after leads the trio to a series of inter-dimensional doors, doors that appear to be ready to give way to some sort of evil. Finally, Vinder ends up being placed in a Passenger Form by Swarm and Azure, whereupon Vinder meets Diane. This is a lot of convenient, confusing coincidences, and that’s before considering why the Grand Serpent is suddenly tied to UNIT, with only Kate Stewart (she’s back too!), seemingly resisting his influence, and being revealed to have faked her death before going dark.
It’s interesting that Doctor Who would resurrect UNIT in some form here, considering that New Who has made it a point to remove UNIT from its storytelling for the past several years. The organization is still technically defunct, but the otherwise clumsy retcon surrounding the Grand Serpent does allow Kate Stewart to re-enter the picture, which may help contribute to crafting an especially exciting season finale to follow this episode. Frustratingly though, “Survivors of the Flux” feels dense, convoluted and often tedious to watch. It strains far too much to get many of the show’s leads into place for the climax of Series 13, though at least the narrative continues to do right by The Doctor, particularly as she once again faces her stolen past.
The ambitious narrative surrounding the Flux and Division is starting to buckle under its own weight, so it feels like the show could go either way when it comes to how satisfyingly it can wrap up Series 13 in the following episode. As The Doctor indicates however, she’s pretty good at pulling rabbits out of hats, and Doctor Who will indeed need to pull a pretty sizable rabbit out of a pretty hefty hat in order to make all of this Flux nonsense feel like it organically flowed together all along.
- The Doctor's disturbing confrontation with Tecteun
- Kate Stewart returning to the series
- Swarm and Azure seizing control of Division
- The companion storyline is too weird and contrived
- UNIT's return to the narrative is extra confusing
- The Lupari storyline no longer makes sense