Halloween has been and gone, which means that so too has the Doctor Who Series 13 premiere, The Halloween Apocalypse. It’s the start of Jodie Whittaker’s last season as the Thirteenth Doctor (though she’ll be in three specials across 2022 to round off her time in the TARDIS), as well as Chris Chibnall’s last as showrunner.
In his review, Simon Smith enthused about the episode as a whole, and about new companion, Dan Lewis, played by John Bishop:
“We also learn Dan is hopeless in love (with another winning performance, this time from Nadia Albina as Diane) and doesn’t have time for grifters. All of this we know about him before he even sees an alien. It’s a whole other level, a major step up for Chibnall in that regard, and it helps the rest of the episode immeasurably when you actually care about what’s happening to him. Considering Bishop is a stand-up comic in his day job, it’s no surprise that he’s also very funny and gets many of the best laughs this week.”
But what did the rest of the DWC crew think? We caught up with a few of them before they were affected by the Flux…
Broadchurch was a masterclass in suspenseful emotionally-led drama and misdirection. Chris Chibnall seems to do his best work when he has a broad canvas and time to build a narrative and characters – after two series of slightly off characterisation and inconsistent ethics/ rushed resolutions, I have the first inklings that he’s hit his stride and landed on a version of Doctor Who that he can excel at.
The Halloween Apocalypse was fast-paced, intriguing, and silly in more or less the bombastic and aggressively imaginative way I want Doctor Who to be. It wasn’t a full story by any means and wasn’t trying to be. It was something of an extended teaser and set-up. High points included the visuals with CGI that is genuinely impressive and probably the best we’ve seen on Doctor Who yet. And the new villains were stylish, chilling, and so far have me eager to find out more. There was yet another animal-based alien (eye roll) but this time with a potentially plausible sci-fi origin story and MO. And a cohesive heart-warmingness both to the characterisation and the overall role in the story was satisfying.
After feeling uninspired by Who of late, this is something different and I’m genuinely excited – time will tell!
I didn’t expect much from The Halloween Apocalypse, so I didn’t watch it until the next day. I had prepared lines such as ‘What the Flux was that about?’ and ‘Chibnall serves up a horror’, but in the end I quite enjoyed it. The story holds plenty of promise, in some ways more than I’ve seen for several years, and this includes way back into the Moffat era.
Of course, promise is one thing, delivery another, and it’s not all perfect. As I watched, I kept thinking the bits I liked best were the ones without the Doctor. The seeds for the big story (with one huge exception) built really well. I have to single out the character of Claire who was the most immediate and intriguing of all the Chibnall era. I was strongly reminded of Moffat’s best writing for the show (in my view, before he took over) and with the Liverpool history thread and even the space station escapee all show promise.
The dog aliens are not so convincing, they’re really just a Mcguffin. Well acted and sparred well with John Bishop’s Dan. Here’s a thing. Did you notice he’s from Liverpool? How heavy handed was the beginning?! Also, if Yaz stayed on so we can see her relationship with the Doctor in better focus, why bring Dan in so soon?
My biggest complaint is the yawningly dull ‘unknown dawn of time super alien destroys universe… because…’. If I want that, I’ll watch Marvel.
As to the wider plot, I dislike the Timeless Child idea in its entirety, but fair play to Chibnall for letting it drive a large chunk of the story.
So in the end a cautious ‘quite good’ and I’ll certainly be watching next week’s with some unexpected measure of positivity.
“Right, Chris. What sort of state are we in for the new series?”
“Matt! Matt, I was thinking. Do you think you could ever make a Zygon sexy?”
“I – I don’t – “
“I mean they’re sort of very distinct, aren’t they? They have a peculiar shape. It’s a bit phallic. But I’m just remembering Coneheads, that Saturday Night Live sketch with Dan Aykroyd, and I was wondering, if you got a Zygon to lounge in just the right way – “
“Chris – “
“I’m just remembering the Katy Manning photoshoot, and – “
“Chris! Can we focus?”
“Fine, yes, sorry, yep. Series 13, then.”
“Series 13. What are we planning?”
“Right. I thought in episode one we’d blow up the universe.”
“Okay, so high stakes. Like it. I presume you mean some sort of threat that overshadows the whole series and that the Doctor deals with at the last minute?”
“No, we actually blow it up.”
“…Right, and then?”
“Don’t know. Something.”
“It’s kind of a narrative cul-de-sac, isn’t it?”
“Only a little bit. And besides, we introduce a bunch of other stories and characters first. I’ve got scenes in the Arctic, scenes in Victorian London, scenes in a desolate alien prison that looks like the edge of hell – “
“Where are we planning on filming that?”
“Swindon. Then we’ll bring in all these new people and have them dig tunnels and stuff. And there’s this woman who knows the Doctor but they haven’t met yet.”
“That’s kind of been done to death, Chris.”
“Yes, but she gets touched by an Angel. And then there’s this fella, Dan. He works as a formula one driver.”
“That sounds prohibitively expensive.”
“All right, he works in a food bank.”
“And he’s kidnapped by a six-foot dog. From the North.”
“Yorkshire or Lancashire?”
“Is there a difference?”
“I – never mind. Are you going to explain who all these people are and what they’re doing?”
“No! That’s the brilliant part. We just leave the audience to figure it out.”
“And then fill in the blanks later.”
“If I remember, yeah. The thing is, they’re always complaining I’m too heavy-handed and obvious. This’ll really fox ’em.”
“The thing is, Chris, you’re not exactly good with dialogue.”
“I know! That’s the joy of it! We throw enough ideas at people, they won’t even care. Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle. How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”
“Chris! Sit down. This really isn’t the time for a soft-shoe. And my office isn’t big enough.”
“Anyway. You need to have some dialogue. How are you going to cover for your complete inability to string a sentence together?”
“We turn up Akinola and blame it on poor post-production.”
“I’ll have to smooth things over with the sound editors, but all right.”
“Meanwhile I’ve got this big bad villain who escapes from his cell and dissolves people.”
“Please tell me he doesn’t snap his fingers.”
“No, but I had this idea about a PELVIC THRUST OF ANNIHILATION, and – “
“Right. I’ll redraft. So there’s a bit of a chase and there’s the bit where Dan discovers the TARDIS and Yaz and the Doctor have a bit of banter.”
“And then we blow up the universe.”
“Precisely, Matt. Precisely.”
“I assume we keep this a closely-guarded secret so people’s jaws drop when it happens?”
“No, not at all. I’m planning on telling everyone in all the interviews.”
“Won’t they be disappointed?”
“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
“You’ve obviously never met Lance Armstrong. Fine, I think we’re done here.”
“Brilliant. Are there any Smarties left?”
“No. You ate them all.”
“Really? I hadn’t even noticed.”
When he was script editor of Doctor Who, Anthony Read wanted the biggest thing ever. In his case, it was the biggest monster ever, and he gave the brief to Robert Holmes. Holmes was dubious. Hampered by the concept, he handed in one of his weaker scripts for the series and we got to see Kroll in all his glory, with a flashing CSO line under his tentacles.
Beware of wanting the biggest thing ever. It often disappoints.
Biggest threat ever? Hmm. Can be quite boring, really, unless it’s properly handled. As Buffy sang, “Apocalypse? We’ve all been there.” A single Dalek as a latent threat against the colony on Vulcan is menacing. So is one in the bowels of Van Statten’s museum. Small but deadly threat, small scale. Less is more.
End of the universe? Well, it can work if you build up to it. When Davros wanted to detonate the reality bomb, we believed it. Here, we zooshed straight into the threat, and I didn’t buy it. The end of the universe is a science fiction cliche and it takes a highly skilled and highly imaginative writer to handle it properly.
Dan seems pretty good so far, though if our Foodbank (I help at the Bedford one) was as sparsely stocked as his was, we’d all go home. We hand out some 10 tonnes of food a month; Dan had barely enough for a day. Still, at least there was some acknowledgement of poverty in the UK as an issue, and the Mighty Mallet of Message was uncharacteristically muted this week. Yaz and the Doctor were much as usual; while the episode piled incident on incident, the pacing in many of the scenes themselves was leaden.
It did leave me wondering: who is this aimed at? The lovable space doggie – you’d think they’d have improved on doggie costumes more in the 38 years since the Garm – would have appealed to children, as would the pretty visuals and the sub-Douglas Adams humour in the teaser. And then you get some very gruesome deaths and horrid looking baddies. Jarringly inconsistent in tone.
Sorry. Didn’t like this ep at all.
Series premieres tend to be Chibnall’s strongest episodes. The Woman Who Fell to Earth was maybe the strongest part of Series 11. Spyfall Part 1 for Series 12 was a good set up as well.
So with The Halloween Apocalypse, Chibnall is dealing from a position of strength, as he knows how to set things up pretty well.
The highlights include Claire, a stranger who was immediately engaging and mysterious, “trailers” for upcoming eps with the Sontarans and Angels, and a sadistic fella named Swarm, with his sister, who abuses glitter make-up.
On the face of it, the Doctor looks like she’s way in over her head against this Swarm, an old foe of hers, who she doesn’t even remember. BAM! Suddenly, the Timeless Child concept which I LOATHED is now taking an interesting turn. For some reason, it never occurred to me that with the new billion year expanded history, the Doctor probably made a lot of enemies before the Daleks. Again, excellent set up.
Kavinista is a funny doggie, who is actually very funny and entertaining. The plan to use 7 billion ships to take 7 billion humans was ridiculous and illogical though, even after Chibnall’s reason he did it became clear. It took “man’s best friend” angle a bit too far, but hey, it wasn’t a deal breaker. I LOL’d when Dan tweaked Kavinista’s nose.
Ah Dan, a very nice man who should take soup when it’s offered. He comes from Liverpool and I already like him better than the Thirteenth Doctor’s other companions. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand his accent but I had no trouble. Although I had a lot of trouble hearing some of the Doctor and Yaz’s dialogue because of the music. Interesting.
As for Yaz, upon a second viewing, I think she took a step forward this time as a companion. Although I find her somewhat sudden knowledge of how to fly the TARDIS and ability to spot booby traps on the Doctor’s level absolute rubbish, she at least had more to do and say. She had great chemistry with Dan, far far far better than her chemistry with the Doctor.
So, great new villains, intriguing new characters, a very good new companion, an improved old companion, and an extremely interesting new threat in the Flux! By and large, a good start to the series. I just have to hope that Chibnall can give us a good pay off, just for once. Please.
That leaves us with the Doctor. She’s still the weak link with her forced wackiness, her bizarre, off-putting nature with Yaz, and the incessant waving of the sonic screwdriver. She’s still incredibly unimpressive. This massive story will be her last shot at becoming who this character needs to be.
As it stands, I can’t see any reasonable way this incarnation can win against Swarm or the Flux. We’ll see.
A fairly positive outlook for Series 13 so far, with a few niggles abiding, and an overall sense of caution being exercised. So how are you feeling about Flux, dear DWC readers?