NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who”, including multiple major character deaths, are present in this review
Doctor Who’s ambitious persistent Series 13 narrative has finally come to a close, tying up another major era of the show, while foreshadowing the imminent end of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor. “The Vanquishers” is an extra long Doctor Who episode with a ton of moving parts, presenting a multi-pronged climax that’s built around several simultaneous threats. It’s certainly exciting, though considering that this season’s momentum was badly tripped up by its penultimate episode from the previous week, Doctor Who inevitably can’t fully course correct in the end. Thus, while this season finale is a commendably ambitious, potentially far-reaching climax to the proper Chris Chibnall-run seasons of Doctor Who, it also makes for a frustratingly uneven conclusion to Series 13.
The multiple threats of this season finale are in turn complemented by The Doctor being quantum-phased by the simultaneous reaction to her lost memories, and of Swarm attempting to disintegrate her. This places The Doctor in three simultaneous locations, with an unstable quantum form that often threatens to pull her between various mission objectives at random. It’s a weird, but fairly cool concept, and it allows The Doctor to address all of her many allies from this season simultaneously. Even so, and even considering this episode’s extended runtime, some resolutions inevitably end up being better than others.
Immediately, the Joseph Williamson Tunnels mystery ends up falling a bit flat, for example. Williamson is hurried out of the storyline after The Doctor makes contact with him, and from there, the Williamson Tunnels simply serve as a Deus Ex Machina used to dispose of at least one of the villains later in this episode. Specifically, the Williamson Tunnels eventually become the undoing of the Grand Serpent, who has allied himself with the Sontarans, as they prepare their campaign for ultimate conquest; Enabling the Sontarans to seize control of the universe, while they simultaneously wipe out the opposing Daleks and Cybermen with a false peace offering, all thanks to the ever-encroaching Flux.
This is where this season finale really runs into problems, despite its otherwise cool hook. First, Swarm and Azure end up revealing to The Doctor at Division HQ that the Flux is anti-matter from a different universe. If that’s the case then, why does anyone have any ability to stop it in the Doctor Who universe proper? The Lupari shouldn’t logically be able to concoct ships that can resist anti-matter from a different dimension, especially since they shouldn’t logically know it’s from another dimension! Moreover, the Sontarans somehow manage to kill every Lupari while The Doctor’s final plan to stop the Flux is being executed, something that feels pretty damn unlikely, especially given how quickly the events of this episode unfold. Finally, why in the bluest of hells would the Daleks and the Cybermen be stupid enough to agree to an obviously fake peace summit with the Sontarans?!
As you can no doubt determine, this season finale relies on a ton of contrivances to make its overly convoluted plot work. Some of these are pretty cool, mind you, such as The Doctor eventually getting Karvanista to hijack all of the Lupari craft surrounding Earth, sending out a simultaneous defensive pulse to knock out all of the invading Sontarans (this is another impossibly convenient Deus Ex Machina, but whatever), before the Flux itself gets turned on the Sontaran army, wiping them out in turn! This potentially creates the implication that every Dalek, Cyberman and Sontaran has now been destroyed in the Doctor Who universe (even if I doubt this will stick in the long term), right before The Doctor directs the remainder of the Flux into a Passenger Form, thus saving what remains of the universe from its destruction. Oh, and Professor Jericho dies during this effort too, I guess. Too bad he wasn’t around long enough for most viewers to care.
Oh, but even after the Flux is stopped, we’re still not done! The Doctor is eventually pulled back to the Temple of Atropos, where Swarm and Azure meet with the manifestation of Time itself. Time informs Swarm and Azure that the Flux has been stopped at this point, and kills both of them as a consequence. That’s a bit annoying, because we still barely know anything about these characters, where they come from, or why they care so much about sticking it to Division. Regardless, Time then sets The Doctor free from her quantum state, for the sake of plot convenience, though Time also warns The Doctor that her time is nearing its end. Doctor Who fans likely already know this, since Jodie Whittaker and showrunner, Chris Chibnall both announced their departure from the show earlier this year, but Time threatening that The Doctor’s latest death will be permanent feels pretty pointless all the same. After all, original New Who showrunner, Russell T. Davies has already been confirmed to return, to keep the show going in the post-Chibnall era. Thus, Time is obviously wrong here, making its threat to The Doctor’s existence feel completely inconsequential.
While we still have three standalone specials left in 2022 before Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is retired, we also get some bittersweet final turns for The Doctor as she says farewell to many of her current allies here. Of particular note, Kate stating that she’d love to meet the current incarnation of The Doctor again feels a lot more emotional than Time’s idle threat to The Doctor’s existence, because it better leverages the fact that we know Whittaker’s time as The Doctor is going to end soon. The reunion between Vinder and Bel also feels appropriately sweet, as does Claire finally getting to live her life again, free of the Weeping Angels.
The one resolution among the protagonists that doesn’t work that well is, unfortunately, the most significant one. After Dan returns to faking a job as a museum tour guide, he finally asks Diane out again… And Diane rejects him hard. Why? Who knows. There’s absolutely no reason for this reaction, and it’s needlessly cold and cruel. I get that the show had to come up with some sort of excuse for Dan to remain on the TARDIS as a companion, but did this plot turn really have to make Diane come off so harsh and unlikable in the process? Surely, now that Diane has been exposed to The Doctor’s reality, she’d be a lot more compassionate about Dan not showing up to a former date on time!
In any case, with the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans seemingly all being obliterated alongside the Flux, while Swarm and Azure are killed by Time, and the Grand Serpent is exiled onto a meteorite in deep space by the Williamson Tunnels (perhaps foreshadowing his eventual return, which would be welcome, because the Grand Serpent’s role feels somewhat pointless within this season), The Doctor is thus left to take Yaz and Dan to parts unknown, no doubt leading into her final three special episodes set to air next year. In summation, “The Vanquishers” inevitably fails to salvage a Series 13 storyline that already collapsed under its own massive weight, but it does manage to deliver enough cool Doctor moments to still feel reasonably fun to watch. The Doctor’s quantum state is utilized fairly well at least, and while most of the villains’ agendas had already stopped making sense by this point in the season, the way that the Flux is ultimately stopped is pretty cool, especially when it seemingly takes many of The Doctor’s greatest enemies down with it.
There is however one major foe that remains, with Time itself even teasing that The Master is preparing a new offensive against The Doctor. Perhaps this will be the basis for the Thirteenth Doctor’s final trio of episodes, or at least one of them. Either way, Doctor Who: Flux may unfortunately be Chibnall’s and Whittaker’s weakest season in several respects, as it quite noticeably fell apart while approaching the finish line, but let it not be said that they didn’t pull out every stop to end the Thirteenth Doctor’s proper season narratives with plenty of spectacle.
Doctor Who delivers a messy, uneven conclusion to Series 13 with, "The Vanquishers", though The Doctor's eccentric genius still manages to shine through.
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THE GOOD STUFF
The Doctor's quantum splitting is a cool hook
The surprisingly brutal destruction of the Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen
Time ominously foreshadowing the Thirteenth Doctor's end