Doctor Who (2005) s13e03 – Once, Upon Time

One of the reasons it’s easier to look at this season of “Doctor Who” through the lens of previous sci-fi is just talking about the new season of “Doctor Who” is boring. And narratively cheap. Chris Chibnall’s script this time uses two major manipulative devices just to get it across the finish line, and it’s literally about all the series bad guys taking over the universe. Even with the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Angels, it’s a snoozer.

The episode opens with a title card—“Bel’s Story”—and then we meet Bel, played by Thaddea Graham. She’s on one side of the galaxy, post-Flux, trying to get to the other. She’s got a long-lost love to reunite with, and her only friend is a Tamagotchi. Now, it turns out the episode will be all about two Flux events, with Graham in one of them, but the episode hinting she’s in the other one. Would it be better if she were in the other one? Who knows, but it wouldn’t be as dull. It’s really dull, real rote, once Chibnall does the big reveal.

Though I guess the special effects on Graham’s spaceship journey are better than anywhere else. When Jodie Whittaker’s stuck in the time stream—she’s unstuck in time, we’ll get to it—the special effects are of the “oh, they’re supposed to be bad” quality. Sort of like the villains’ rubber masks. We also find out the bad guys are called “The Ravagers” this episode, which is definitely from Guardians of the Galaxy but I think the term’s been used at DC Comics too. It also doesn’t describe the villains well, like trying to imagine them sitting around and coming up with that name for themselves. The bad guys are mad because there’s a planet Time, which the Doctor apparently helped create then forgot.

No mention of the Time Lords this episode, like Chibnall’s only allowed to mess with canon so much before they hit the reset button at the end of the season.

The heroes are all unstuck in time. Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop, and Jacob Anderson. Whittaker’s got the ostensible A plot, about the first time the Flux happened, where she isn’t exactly herself, and she’s actually not remembering things right, but it’s suitable for reveals. Her team looks like Gill, Bishop, or Anderson, but we soon find out they aren’t actually those people, and it’s not the future; it’s the past. We also meet Barbara Flynn, who’s very ominous, and you expect her to wink at the camera and joke about being the “Master of Her Domain” or something.

Anyway, Whittaker’s portion of the episode looks like someone really liked the apocalypse epilogue in Zach Snyder’s Justice League. Or at least some of the CGI backdrops. So many lousy CGI composites in this episode. So many.

We get Anderson’s origin story, involving future white people still being racist. Gill fills in as other characters Anderson is misremembering and has the most acting work in the episode. It’s admirable work from Gill, though her actual character gets the shaft. Damsel in distress stuff when she gets it. Bishop’s got a busy work plot to make it all about saving a different damsel for him.

The cliffhanger’s effective at least, but they’re really sending Whittaker out with a lackluster finale. Especially when we find out she shouldn’t even be in the episode; she’s stealing someone else’s place. The whole thing is an eyeroll.

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