Doctor Who: Flux, Beginning of The End

With Jodie Whittaker’s era of Doctor Who finally coming to a close, what does this mean for the series as a whole? What does Whittaker have to show for her many years as the Doctor?


Nick Fewings / Unsplash

Here is a vintage police public call box. Long time fans of Doctor Who recognize it as The Tardis, a signature feature of the original series.

After two fairly disappointing seasons of Doctor Who, many fans were curious but hopeful for Jodie Whittaker’s final season as the titular character of the Doctor. Under showrunner Chris Chibnall, the long-running British sci-fi show has become quite controversial among fans, who call his writing questionable and are still upset over the “Timeless Child” retcon that changed the very foundations of the show (Retcon “is a shortened form of retroactive continuity, and refers to a literary device in which the form or content of a previously established narrative is changed”). In this piece, I will be covering seasons eleven and twelve, and generally mentioning season thirteen, called Flux, so be warned for moderate spoilers ahead.

Let me begin by saying that this season of Doctor Who is definitely better than previous ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. There are still many flaws with the writing and overall pacing, but it’s still more enjoyable than seasons eleven and twelve, which I found nearly unwatchable at times. At least with these newer episodes, I am on the edge of my seat, but I think that’s mostly because of how many different side plots and storylines there are going at the same time. As is, it seems like the writers can’t possibly tie every loose thread in each episode.  This is actually a major problem in this season. It feels like there’s too much going on.

For example, the Doctor and her companion, Yaz, are running around trying to save the planet, but every few minutes or so, the show randomly cuts to a side plot. Usually this involves Bel, a survivor of the Flux, and her journey across the universe to get back to her partner Vinder. It disrupts the flow of the main story and often happens in the middle of something important. 

At one point there is yet another scene from the B-plot with Bel, after the credits began to roll. It felt extremely out of place, and even felt as if the creators had forgotten to add the scene elsewhere, so they just stuck it at the end.

I think one of the main positives and strengths of the newest season is that Yaz has gotten a lot more screen time, and her character is finally being developed. In the past two seasons, she was sidelined and didn’t really get as much time to shine or do much beyond the bare minimum of reactions to what’s happening around her. Now, she’s comparably much more fleshed-out, and the audience can actually see how being a police officer in the past has affected her decision-making and problem-solving.

It’s also much more clear that she’s trying to be the Doctor, for better or for worse. Even if it almost feels a bit too much at times, it finally gives her character something to do besides standing around confused in the background. One nice detail is that on her hand she writes WWTDD as in “What Would The Doctor Do?” Finally now Yaz has her own personality and is active in each episode, though it still feels like she is being pulled from scene to scene by the plot, it is certainly an upgrade. I really hope that she will still be present in future seasons so that we can continue to explore her character and even how Whittaker’s regeneration will affect her.

I think the reason we haven’t already gotten to know Yaz is because of the imbalance between the dialogue, emotion, and the plot. The episodes just don’t communicate the characters’ wants and goals very well, which not only hinders their own development but also how they interact with each other. An example of this is how so-called “heartfelt” moments are broken off from the rest of the story. As a result, these last few action-packed episodes haven’t had much room at all for meaningful dialogue or conversations between characters. 

The biggest detriment to this style of writing is the handling of the Timeless Child retcon: In the last episode of season twelve, the Doctor finds out that she is the Timeless child (a being from another dimension or universe that gave the Timelords their power to regenerate) and that everything about her past was a lie. There are problems within the episode itself, but to sum it up, the Doctor goes through a small identity crisis over the course of the episode but ultimately decides that she is sure about who she is despite having seemingly innumerable past lives that she knows nothing about. 

Even though she resolves that crisis, one would still expect for her to feel the effects of this new information in the newest season which is set at most, a few weeks after season 12. Yet, there is almost no reference at all to the Timeless child retcon in Flux. It’s so strange, because it feels like the Doctor is being sidelined in her own show. The writers neglect to talk at all about her feelings or thoughts and she even acts cold and standoffish to Yaz who is supposed to be her closest friend, which also completely goes against her otherwise cheerful and “quirky” personality.

The main problem of Chibnall’s writing as a whole for his era is that Jodie Whittaker, breaking ground as the first female doctor, isn’t given a defining set of character traits, goals, or overarching themes or tension. She often deviates a lot from previous iterations of the Doctor and doesn’t really hold the same core principles.

Whittaker is supposedly the most experienced and moral character in the show, but her actions don’t reflect that. In the episode “Arachnids in the UK” from season eleven, she opposes using guns to kill the arachnids because she believes it’s inhumane. That’s all well and good until her alternative is to lock them in a room and just wait for them to starve to death. That’s obviously much more inhumane, yet everyone seems to agree with her about that being the best course of action. 

The Thirteenth Doctor (Whittaker) only holds the same beliefs on the surface, such as opposing guns or violence, but she doesn’t have them for the same reasons as previous Doctors. Here, the Doctor doesn’t have much of a reason for deploring guns besides that she simply doesn’t like them. Before, the Doctor was opposed to guns because they didn’t believe in meaningless bloodshed and revenge. For anyone interested, youtuber Jay Exci goes into much more detail about this in her video essay aptly titled “The Fall of Doctor Who.”

The Doctor having corrupting morals is a running feature in the show, with both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s doctor undergoing some aspect of corruption or a change in morals. However, this situation is outwardly different, because the show is still trying to show Whittaker as the pinnacle of good and morality, yet the writers, and most importantly Chris Chibnall, can’t seem to actually stick to that framing. 

The writing style of other head writers of Doctor Who such as Russel T. Davies and Steven Moffat seemed to mature as the seasons progressed. The stories were more fleshed out, the characters were complex and relatable, and the Doctor was at the center of it all, still going through the motions and changing as they traveled across the universe.

Tiago Cecchi ’22 agreed. “The Twelfth Doctor, [Peter] Capaldi was my favorite because Moffat’s writing was really the best towards the end and he just perfected his style,” Cecchi said. Capaldi was the Doctor who preceded Whittaker. While some were skeptical with the direction the writer’s were taking with the character, he became a fan favorite by the end.

I would love for Whittaker to receive the same amount of adoration and praise that previous actors had playing the Doctor. It is sad that even after three seasons she is yet to really grow into the role and make it her own because of the writing. Right now the show is really frustrating to watch since the back-and-forth writing takes away any weight and emotion for the supposed “arcs” the Doctor goes through. But if the show could somehow acknowledge the Doctor’s current flaws and grow from it, I’m sure that the audience would see Whittaker’s potential. 

Tiago Cecchi ’22 agreed. “The Twelfth Doctor, [Peter] Capaldi was my favorite because Moffat’s writing was really the best towards the end and he just perfected his style,” Cecchi said.