The following contains spoilers for Doctor Who S13E5, “Survivors of the Flux” (written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Azhur Saleem)
Chris Chibnall is back to being the sole credited writer for Doctor Who S13E5, “Survivors of the Flux” The events of the season so far are finally coming together, and the episode is surprisingly effective. “Survivors of the Flux” also proves the worthiness of having the entire Doctor Who: Flux framework over the season. All the stories, even the seemingly unconnected ones, have been pointing to this moment and everything is actually tied together instead of being left as a mystery box.
Yaz (Mandip Gill), Dan (John Bishop) and Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally) are still living in the early 20th century. The dynamic between them is very fun and the duo of Dan and Jericho fit in pretty perfectly as Yaz’s companions. In fact, Dan could probably be more accurately described as Yaz’s assistant than the Doctor’s. He has barely spent any time with the Doctor and now he has traveled back in time to 1901 and then spent the three years traveling the world with Yaz.
Yaz leads the others in a quest around the world where they have Indiana Jones (or really the serials that inspired Lucas to create Jones) style adventures hunting for archaeological evidence of the Doctor and their way back home. Their entire side adventure is a fun, if rushed, endeavor. Doctor Who S13E5 is definitely more entertaining because of their interactions though. The three of them are great together and they play off of each other well. I can’t help but be left wishing that these three had actually become the TARDIS team, at least for awhile.
Yaz, Dan, and Jericho’s travels are filmed and designed to look very similar to the old adventure serials that were the basis for the story. The sets themselves look very spare, cheap, and rickety. (Which has been a theme throughout the season.) The filming itself has been so low quality at points that it seems the show is trying to ensure that it doesn’t look out of place if watched back to back with a Tom Baker story from the 70s. It may have been due to budget or COVID constraints but, either way, Director Azhur Saleem uses the cheap looking sets to the advantage of the story. By leaning into these possible disadvantages the show is able to feel unique and vital, at least in part because it sometimes looks so amateurish.
Dan’s Liverpudlian background has been at the forefront throughout the season, and never more so than in Doctor Who S13E5. Dan realizes that the man who has been popping up throughout the season is Joseph Williamson, the eccentric tunneler from Liverpool. “Survivors of the Flux” finally brings him into the main story and it makes sense that this particular part of Liverpool’s odd history is what ultimately will save the day. His tunnels seem to be the way that Dan, Yaz, and Jericho can escape the past and they ultimately find him…only to wind up blitzed by an invading army of Sontarans.
The Sontarans are able to attack because of a breach in the Lupari defenses and an insider who is able to destroy earth’s defenses. In an attempt to seal the breach in the shield around earth, Bel’s (Thaddea Graham) salvaged Lupari spaceship is recalled by Karvanista (Craige Els). The two of them wind up together, first fighting each other, in yet another of the season’s many “let’s have these two characters fight for no real reason” gimmicks, and then against invading Sontarans of their own.
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is completely apart from all of those storylines. Indeed, she is completely outside of the universe. “Division,” it seems, was a more literal description than anyone had anticipated. The Doctor is however not a Weeping Angel as the ending of “Village of the Angels” was, as expected, just trailer fodder. As happens all too often on the show, particularly in these Chibnall storylines, that entire climax is not only immediately undone, it is rendered utterly meaningless within the opening seconds of Doctor Who S13E5.
Instead, it turns out that the entire abduction was just a plot to remove the Doctor from the universe so she could not save it. The Angels have brought the Doctor to Division headquarters, in a dimension between parallel universes, to face Tecteun (Barbara Flynn). Tecteun is both the leader of Division (seemingly, but it is a bit unclear if there are any other members of Division at all) and the person who found the young “Timeless Child” and raised her to become the Doctor. She is the Doctor’s mother and tries to convince the Doctor to allow the destruction of the universe so they can explore the new one, which is likely where the Doctor originated.
Tecteun hits the Doctor squarely where it hurts most, which seems an appropriate move considering the backstory, her own sordid history with her companions. “They are your experiments just like you were mine.” The Doctor insists that this isn’t the case, that she cares about the companions, but it all has a hollow ring to it that both the Doctor and Tecteun can recognize. The Doctor does have a moral code, and that makes her at odds with the Division and its mysterious lunacy, but she also does tend to use those around her to her own ends. Tecteun also has the Doctor’s memories of previous lives sealed inside a fob-watch, and attempts to bargain these memories and the lives of the Doctor’s friends in exchange for the rest of the universe.
Tecteun’s TARDIS-like lair holds various forms of life that she says she is taking to a new universe to populate, as she has set the Flux to destroy the old one. But it is unclear whether she is actually planning to do anything noble in the new universe. The idea that all of these machinations have been put into place, and all these plates are spinning but that we have not been able to see any of the motivations behind the actions is still the biggest flaw of the whole season so far.
There are a lot of interesting machinations, like The Grand Serpent (Craig Parkinson) infiltrating U.N.I.T. but there is no reason for him to be doing what he is doing (unless the serpent like appendage he uses to murder is an allusion to the TV Movie and an old friend). Though it does herald the all too brief returns of Alistair (the late Nicholas Courtney’s voice on a recording) and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave). But everything happens because it has to happen for the plot to move forward, which makes many of the answers terribly unsatisfying.
Just as it seems that the Doctor may be able to turn the tide on Tecteun and save the day, Swarm and Azure show up to ensure none of that can happen until the finale. Swarm (Sam Spruell) notes with glee that their plan this entire time was to get through to Division with the Doctor, unfortunately how that plan was enacted is set aside entirely for drastic effect. Swarm touches Tecteun’s face and she is dissolved away, taking the answers the Doctor so desperately craves away with her.
Doctor Who S13E5, “Survivors of the Flux” sets the stage pretty nicely for the finale. The last cliffhangers leave everyone in some form of danger. Yaz, Bel, Dan, Karvanista, and Jericho are staring down Sontarans. The Doctor is trapped in Division with Swarm and Azure. Tecteun is dead. But, Vinder (Jacob Anderson) and Diane (Nadia Albina) are inside Passenger, with a gun, planning an escape which seems set up to have them rescue the Doctor in the nick of time. There is only one episode left in Doctor Who: Flux and it could still either pull together and satisfy or be a tremendous disappointment.