Episode 1 of Doctor Who Season 13 begins with Yaz and a bunged-up Doctor stuck upside down on a gravibar in a world of trouble. With ominous warnings about the final few hours of Planet Earth and a daring escape into the Tardis, the Doctor remains determined to track down this fiend and put a stop to their plan.
We then skip across to Liverpool in 1820 with a businessman named Mr. Williamson excavating tunnels. Others believe this is the work of madness, especially given he’s using back-breaking laborers to do the dirty work, but it’s clear there’s something more at work here. So what could it be? Well, we jump forward to the Museum of Liverpool where we’re introduced to Dan, and the history of this city.
Back in the Tardis, the Doctor grabs her head in pain as we skip once more to an unknown location where a creature known simply as “Prisoner Swarm” is freed thanks to a chamber malfunction. He’s been waiting for this opportunity for a long time and now, he’s ready to put his plan into action. “Trick or treat Doctor,” He says telepathically, as we skip back to the Doctor who realizes this menace is about to begin on Halloween.
Speaking of Halloween, Dan finds himself in the presence of a warrior known as Karvanista. He tries to use mind control on Dan but it doesn’t work. Instead, this strangely northern creature locks him in a stun cage instead. Yaz and the Doctor are hot on his trail though as it seems like there’s more going on here than we first thought. Seven billion Lupari ships are bound for Earth but why did Karvanista take Dan? And is this an invasion fleet bound for Earth? Before we find out, the house they’re in suddenly implodes, sending Yaz and the Doctor hurtling out to safety as Dan’s house turns into a miniature.
There’s a seemingly disparate scene in the Arctic Circle here, before we whiplash over to outer space where Karvanista shows Dan where he is. It’s a brief scene before we jump back to the Doctor and Yaz. Honestly, as I’m writing this I understand how messy this recap must seem and while I could course-correct this, I’m actually going to keep it in this order to show how sporadic this opener is. Anyway, I digress.
Down on Earth, the Doctor and Yaz meet a woman called Claire who recognizes the pair. Apparently they met in the past, which is the Doctor’s future, but their meeting is brief, given the Doctor has plans to find Karvanista. When she catches up with him, she tries using the “Earth is protected” line that Matt Smith nailed so well and it falls flat.
While she keeps Karvanista busy, Yaz helps free Dan. Only, there’s more going on here than we’ve been led to believe. It turns out for every human there’s a paired guardian Lupari. With the species on high-alert, only to be used in the worst crisis, Karvanista mentions the Flux is coming. So what is this? Well, a scene involving Outpost Rose seems to hold some clues, as Officer Vinder is forced to abandon ship and try to outrun this strange cloud, which destroys everything in its path.
Meanwhile, Claire runs into a weeping angel before being thrown back through time. We also get a scene at the other side of the universe involving the Sontarans too, although again, it’s a brief moment before we’re pulled back to the Doctor. Aboard the Tardis, the Doctor breathes heavily, realizing she can feel the universe breaking apart. After a brief moment with our strange prisoner, where he ends up as a vision for the doctor, she races back to Earth as the Flux begins chasing her.
The Doctor sets up a special formation for the Lupin ships to encase the Earth as protection, while the Doctor finds herself faced with the end of the universe. “I always wondered what it would feel like.”
The Episode Review
Well, where do you start with that? Let’s begin with the positives. Dan’s character is a really nice inclusion to the Tardis crew and actually doesn’t feel like Graham 2.0, which is what many were afraid could happen. So far, he’s not another “you’re doing it mate!” meme in Chibnall’s era.
The idea of the Flux is an interesting concept and something that helps to bring a fair few of the Doctor’s oldest enemies into one story that’s going to stretch across an entire season. Again, that’s nice to see as it mixes things up and allows for a much more longer plot to play out.
Unfortunately, all this good work comes at the hands of Chris Chibnall’s writing. This episode in particular is a mess, in terms of editing, pacing and dialogue. For some reason we get each of these different character scenes spliced up and chopped across 50 minutes of relentless action, like hyperactive children were used as the test subjects for this. It’s unnecessary and incredibly messy.
The Operation Outpost Rose and Claire scenes, for example, could easily have been grouped up to help the pacing of this chapter, instead if reduced to 3 minute bite-size segments split across the whole episode. That’s before mentioning the detour to the Arctic circle, along with the random chase sequence featuring the Doctor right at the start of the chapter.
The dialogue is still a massive problem in this era too, with Claire inexplicably knowing exactly what to do with the Weeping Angels. Hopefully that’s explained in later chapters. Likewise, the fact that the Doctor was confused by Halloween is another eye-rolling moment, while exposition is delivered unnaturally, with jokes that fail to hit most of the time.
However, it’s still early days and this season is only six episodes so there’s plenty of time for Chibnall to pull it out the bag and write some good material. Then again, based on his previous work it’s probably best not to hold your breath. A messy, sporadic, hyperactive episode to start us off; be careful you don’t get whiplash watching this one.