Jodie Whittaker’s lame-duck season gets off to an inglorious start. It’d be inglorious no matter what—it’s Whittaker’s last season—but there’s an added dig with the next series being outside the BBC’s control or something. Sadly, instead of going out with a bang, writer Chris Chibnall, whoever hired the effects companies, and director Jamie Magnus Stone have decided it will be a struggle to even get it to a whimper.
After an awful “action-packed” opening with Whittaker and companion Mandip Gill escaping an actually very easy to win no-win scenario, the episode starts going through some of the old tropes. Whittaker lying to Gill? Check. Whittaker not remembering something because there have been seventy-bazillion Doctors, and she only remembers a handful of them? Check. End of the universe? Check. Familiar aliens? Check. Familiar aliens desperately used for effect? Check. There’s even a future companion (Annabel Scholey) running into Whittaker before they meet. It really doesn’t help Scholey looks like former companion Jenna Coleman and has a very similar name. I was wondering if they’d just recast the part.
And some of these tropes aren’t even new to Whittaker’s “Who.” I’m pretty sure last season was Gill being mad at Whittaker for lying to her most of the time too. There’s a quick mention of the departed Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole, who apparently took all the heart with them when they left, but most of the companion stuff is setting up new guy John Bishop. He’s a Liverpool jingoist with a heart of gold, alternating between giving free tours in the Liverpool museum and working at a soup kitchen (even though he doesn’t have any food on his own shelves). He figures in coincidentally, with the bad guy who was after Whittaker at the open—Craige Els, whose alien costume reveal is one of the episode’s few smiles–kidnapping him from planet Earth.
Only Els’s motives turn out to make most of the twists involving the character, including the opening attempt to execute Whittaker, nonsensical. To be fair, I didn’t realize the giant plot hole was a massive plot hole until after the episode was over because I was too busy concentrating on the apparent season nemesis, played by Sam Spruell. I don’t think he gets a name in this episode because Whittaker doesn’t remember him, but he’s the Red Skull with Thanos’s zapping powers. They didn’t spend any money on the costumes—some of the masks are dollar store cheap or the big effects sequences requiring composite shots. Still, they did get an okay app to do the Thanos disintegration effect, which Spruell uses on various people throughout the episode.
Spruell’s got a nice and silly backstory—he’s been imprisoned from the start of time at the end of the universe (odd the Doctor didn’t run into him at the end of the universe a few seasons ago)—and it reminds of Star Trek V, which is the second time “Who”’s leaned on that Trek. Of course, they already did an imprisoned Satan years ago, just as ostensibly oblivious to the source material.
But this episode also ups the ante with a Star Trek: Generations “nod.” There’s a destructive force moving through the universe, destroying everything in its path. The only one who can stop it is a boy named Bastian Bux—wait, wait, whoops, NeverEnding Story. It’s not the Nothing, it’s not the Nexus, it’s the Flux, which is also this season’s subtitle.
Flux, not Not the Nothing, Not the Nexus, It’s the Flux, which is too bad because it’s a better title. “Who”’s something of a hopeless property, but it’s off to an even worse start than usual. Especially since the episode very intentionally doesn’t give Whittaker or Gill anything to do.