Doctor Who (S13 Review): A Messy Season Misses Its Potential

Doctor Who returns with a shortened season this year. Doc 13 had a notoriously mixed run, but how does her last full season treat her? Read on for my thoughts.

*Minor Spoilers ahead for Doctor Who: Flux, and Eve of the Daleks– mostly surface-level plot details*

Doctor Who: Flux is unique among Doctor Who seasons in that it’s more akin to a mini-series. S13 contained six episodes, each of them building out a major event-story. Most of the six were episodic adventures too, but they were all in service to the larger plot.

And what was this “larger plot”? Well, the end of the universe. So business as usual, right? Sorta. On;y this time the universe is ACTUALLY being devoured by a mysterious force known as “The Flux.” Entire worlds crumble in its wake– both in space and time. And The Doctor (surprise, surprise) is the only one capable of stopping it…

The arguable main antagonist of S13 is a new baddie called Swarm. Well- he’s a new villain to us. Apparently he’s a foe The Doctor fought in one of her past lives, before she had her memory erased. So yeah– The Timeless Child thing didn’t get retconned. They actually doubled down on it. I still don’t like this grand change in continuity but I respect that Chris Chibnall stuck to his guns, despite fan outrage.

Doctor Who S13 is one long identity-crisis for the Doctor as she tries to uncover her past. She’s desperate to discover who she used to be, and what “The Division” is. S13 also features an intergalactic love-story, a long-form infiltration of UNIT, Dog people, a mysterious old woman who hassles the Doctor, some mumbo-jumbo about a planet which contains the essence of time itself, and a 19th century Englishman who builds tunnels then shows up at inconvenient times. There’s even more, actually. And each of these things finds a place in almost every episode this season. Find out later if it all comes together!

The Doctor’s first concern of S13 is her heritage. She wants to know her history, and whether The Master lied about The Timeless Child. We actually learn some more about that ever-controversial story. Not much though. And that was disappointing for a plot-point which factors so heavily in the over-all story-line this year. But I also (admittedly) wanted to maintain what little mystery The Doctor’s character had left and not question this stuff too deeply. So the whole situation was lose-lose for me… The best I can say is that I stayed intrigued by this story till the end, and I’m curious to see where it goes in the future (or the past?).

Jodie Whittaker stares intensely in Doctor Who: Flux (a lot more than this)

Jodie Whittaker solidifies herself as more of a secretive, lying doctor. She’s even more full of it than some of her predecessors, and that’s saying something. Although she differs in that she’s The Doctor who lies to herself as often as others. Doc 13 consistently convinces herself of facts which negate the world around her. All this to say: Whittaker’s portrayal is a notable improvement this year. She feels more comfortable in the role. I finally like her incarnation JUST before she plans to exit. Figures…

S13 (specifically Eve of the Daleks) teased and paid off some revelations about Yaz (Mandeep Gill)! This new information took me out of left field. But it should have been more obvious in hindsight. These new changes didn’t have much of an effect this year, though I see potential for a good story in the next special.

We also get a new companion named Dan. He’s… alright. Dan is refreshingly average. He’s not so quick-minded as most companions but he’s no fool either. Dan is friendly and easy-going and casual. That’s kinda nice for variation, considering Yaz and The Doctor are more high energy. Dan contrasts with them nicely. John Bishop is perfectly likable and I’d like to see more of him going forward. The main issue with Dan: he’s barely a companion. Dude hardly interacts with The Doctor at all during Flux!

And that brings me to a major complaint about Flux: Yaz and Dan are effectively sidelined, and nothing they do matters for most of S13. They get a tonne of OFF-SCREEN character development though. And that’s annoying for so many reasons! Namely: Yaz has fought for screen time amongst other companions for the entirety of her T.A.R.D.I.S tenure, and now that she can get some spotlight they throw her further into the shadows! Meanwhile, poor Dan JUST got introduced and he goes through a season’s worth of character development without us seeing most of that transformation. Yaz and Dan were handled sloppily this year…

At least the Weeping Angels were used well. So were the Sontarans, for that matter. Their respective episodes rank among the best with these antagonists in YEARS. The Weeping Angels one in particular is one of Doctor Who’s best episodes in a long time. I’d recommend S13 if only to see that one. So this proves, once again, that historicals are the thirteenth Doctor’s most consistent highlights.

Swarm and Azure being maniacal villains in Flux

Swarm and Azure (Sam Spruell and Rochenda Sandall) were sub-par as S13’s main villains. They started out strong but never lived up to their potential (like most of this season). And that’s a real shame because those two could have been all-time DW greats: they’ve got creepy and unique designs, crazy power levels, and an appropriate beef with The Doctor. But their characters were 2-dimensional at best. I never understood what they were trying to do or why.

My favourite story-line this year concerned two newcomers named Vinder and Bel (Jacob Anderson and Thaddea Graham). They had almost nothing to do with The Doctor. At times it was like they were on a completely different show. But in this mess of plots, I happened to enjoy this one. Basically, a pregnant woman who survives The Flux searches the galaxy for her lover, and he for her. I guess they were supposed to represent what average humanoids across the galaxy were doing during The Flux? Like, they were an excuse to show us more of the tragedies.

Both of them were well-acted. I especially liked Vinder’s backstory. If these characters did anything for me, it’s restore my conviction that Doctor Who NEEDS more recurring characters who hail from anywhere other than modern earth. Classic Doctor Who did this all the time and it kept plot-lines fresh.

The Dog people (Karvanista and his race, The Lupari) are a fun addition to Doctor Who canon. Basically– they’re an alien species with an ancient connection to humankind. Each of them is bonded to a human and they are compelled by duty (and maybe biology?) to protect their charge. It’s just goofy enough to feel at home with other wacky elements of the franchise. But it’s not SO goofy I didn’t buy their purpose. Their ships were too conveniently powerful though. Like, for some reason The Doctor expects them to withstand a force which is ripping apart the rest of the universe? I don’t think so…

Craige Els as Karvanista in Doctor Who: Flux. A good boy if ever there was one.

Speaking of that force: The Flux is barely explained. For such a fundamental aspect of S13, that’s a HUGE problem. How did it work? And why did it only affect some stuff? The Flux is a scary idea in principle but it’s rules were entirely inconsistent. The Flux moved incomprehensibly fast in some episodes, and in others appeared to stop altogether. Sometimes characters desperately tried to outrun it, but sometimes they’d dawdle. Truth be told: The Flux acted at the speed of plot convenience. That’s traditionally a quick way to zap stakes from a story!

Doctor Who S13 was paced weirdly (like The Flux). Some episodes were breakneck, while others felt well-balanced. But if it sounds like there was too much going on for six episodes, you’d be right. S13 had no focus. We’d just bounce around different time periods to catch up on a crazy amount of subplots. This admittedly helped create an epic feel– like, “Wow! So much is happening. This season has an amazing scope!”– but “epic” doesn’t count for much when you’re not invested in the story. And S13 bounced around its plotlines so often I never grew attached to any one of them. Any interesting idea (and there WERE a lot of them) wasn’t allowed to properly develop.

I’ll give Flux this: the event did real damage to the universe. And it seems like that damage might last for a while yet. So the stakes were legitimate.

How about the New Year’s special? Solid all around. It took a premise I’ve seen many times over and kept it fresh. The new characters weren’t particularly likable though… Well– the one wasn’t, and the other was an OK one-off. The Daleks are weak and ineffective as ever. I naively thought (if only briefly) that the episode might fix that perennial problem. The Daleks WERE genuinely threatening for a while before getting dispatched in a disappointingly easy manner– as usual. This episode was about 10 minutes too long for its premise. But its confined setting was awesome and well-realized. They maintained the tension for longer than usual too.

In summation: Flux had a lot of great ideas, most of which missed potential, but it was still entertaining (and even had bright spots). Eve of the Daleks is a solid episode of DW which stumbles in a few areas. To put my scores on those thoughts:

Doctor Who: Flux is a decent watch If You’re Bored.
And the Eve of the Daleks special is Worth a Watch.

NOTE: I’ll be sure to review the next DW specials separately. I only included Eve of the Daleks with Flux because I got behind in my reviews and they came out close together.

How hyped are you for the next specials/ Russel Davies’ upcoming return to the series? What did you think of Doctor Who: Flux and Eve of the Daleks? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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