Once, Upon Time
Episode 3 of Doctor Who Season 13 is a real step back for the series. It’s an unnecessarily convoluted, contrived mess that tries to be cleverer than it actually is.
We start the episode with a woman named Bel. With the Dalek Sector growing, maps no longer making sense and everything disrupted, strange swarms of blue, smoky CGI appear to be feasting on survivors. Bel is on the run, determined to escape the Daleks and get back to her lover.
Meanwhile, The Doctor thinks fast just before Swarm snaps his fingers. Grabbing Dan, they jump aboard the Mouri pedestals and find themselves sucked into the heart of the time storm. In doing so, the Doctor and her companions are thrown into different scenarios from the past. Dan is back on Earth, surrounded by those swirls of blue smoke, while he talks to Diane about his past. When he starts to become self-aware, he’s thrown back to Edge Hill in the past, temporarily.
The Doctor prepares for a siege of Atropos while Yaz (remember, she’s a police officer. Have you forgotten?) winds up on the job with her colleague, but a weeping angel lurks in the mirrors and begins stalking her.
Vinder’s vision is one that helps give context to him being aboard Outpost Rose, serving the Grand Serpent and being granted a new posting. Vinder serves as a whistle-blower though, especially when he notices corruption from the Supremacy during a secretive meeting. This singular act though sees him exiled. Vinder’s desire to try and do the right thing, ousting corruption, ultimately finds him shunned by everyone.
The problem with this time storm is that it’s incredibly volatile and seems to be breaking down. It doesn’t help that there’s a lone Weeping angel on the hunt for…reasons? Anyway, it’s a race against time and the Doctor does her best to try and save the day.
Before we see that though, we return to Bel. She’s commandeered a lone Lupari ship and managed to evade the Daleks. Bel winds up finding the Cyber Sector next, with numerous cyber-men marching. Still Bel continues on, evading cybermen that manage to board her ship, killing them all on her own. With one of the cybermen dying out on the ground, it divulges its entire mission to her. In exchange, Bel tells it that her mission is simply “love.”
The Doctor and her companions are thrown out the time stream after everything is fixed, partly thanks to four Mouri being returned to their posts. The Doctor though, is spat out before a strange old woman who appears to know what’s going on. She mentions that the Flux event was planned and that the Doctor apparently caused all of this. Before the chat can continue though, the Doctor is thrown back into the citadel with the others.
Swarm and Azure are there, claiming they knew the Doctor would repair this citadel. This was apparently their plan all along. The blue smoke we’ve been seeing happen to be Particles of the Time Force and they erode anything they touch. Laughing cruelly, the pair disappear from view, leaving the Doctor to take the trio back.
Vinder is dropped on his home-planet, determined to find his long lost love. And that woman is, of course, Bel. Will he find her? We’ll have to wait and see.
Back aboard the Tardis, a Weeping Angel projects itself out of Yaz’s phone and begins messing about with the controls. “The angel has the TARDIS!” The Doctor cries, as the episode comes to a close.
The Episode Review
I actually liked last week’s Sontaran detour. It was a nice, smart way to reintroduce the Sontarans and actually make them a credible threat – even if their aim was horribly inconsistent. The episode actually gave a purpose to the Doctor and did a pretty good job with its run-time to make her a competent character, determined to try and do right by both sides, especially her shock over the Sontarans being killed. This episode though? It’s back to the usual Chibnall mess.
The main premise is actually quite straightforward but Chibnall once again convolutes and contrives his way through a messy script that makes things way more difficult to discern than it should. In essence, the Doctor and the companions jump into this time stream, get lost, and relive past memories. Unfortunately, Weeping Angels are there – somehow – and end up disrupting everything.
To spice things up, we also get Bel’s scenes thrown into this, evading legions of Daleks and Cybermen in order to find her long lost love. It doesn’t really serve any purpose beyond the nice reveal that she’s involved with Vinder. What purpose do either of these characters have to the main flux storyline? By the end of the episode the answer is “nothing.” Hopefully this does get some sort of pay-off in the future but right now it’s just wasted screen-time. Screen-time, I may add, that could have been used to develop Dan further.
We hear through exposition about his past and how his girlfriend left him but…why don’t we actually see that? Couldn’t we have received a scene with his ex? And then glitch in and out images of Diane to show his fears and worries about his relationship with her? This could have been a great opportunity to develop him and Yaz but Chibnall doesn’t have the wherewithal to do that, clearly.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Dan’s final lines don’t feel consistent with his character either. He’s been established as a pretty positive, upbeat guy who always tries to see the positives in every situation… so why would he tell Vinder “mate, it’s a lost cause.” Would it not have made more sense to say something along the lines of good luck and keep the faith?
Ultimately though, this episode just felt messy and while some people will absolutely love the way all our favourite villains return, the script also returns to classic Chibnall era mayhem. A real disappointment.