DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Doctor Who: Flux episode “Once, Upon Time” is riddled with spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, Whovians! Doctor Who: Flux‘s “Once, Upon Time” throws everything into absolute chaos. If you watched this episode in utter confusion, you’re not alone. Even I had difficulties following along; it felt like sci-fi whiplash. Chris Chibnall pens his most frenetic, sardine-packed outing yet, but I understand the intention behind it.
While Chibnall’s style seems to be “toss in everything at once,” I believe his approach here is intentional. He wants us to be bewildered — the Doctor is everywhere and nowhere, all at once, and maybe he hopes we feel that way, too.
I don’t think the execution 100 percent pays off, but I feel this is the strongest episode of the season thus far. Bel is an excellent addition (even though that scene with her and Vinder is a bit cheesy for my taste), but I hope Chibnall slows the roll regarding new character introductions.
Ready to delve into “Once, Upon Time”? Let’s get to it.
We open with a new character, Bel (Thaddea Graham). She’s recording a message for an undisclosed someone. Bel reports on the devastating effects of the Flux as she flees from a bevy of Daleks. We see a swirling cloud of blue mites feasting on humans.
Meanwhile, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) watches as Swarm (Sam Spruell) almost snaps his fingers, which will kill Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson) with the unrestrained flow of time. The Doctor utilizes her sonic screwdriver and removes Yaz, Vinder and Dan (John Bishop) from the Temple of Atropos.
She places them in the heart of a time storm, with plans to conceal them in their respective timestreams. As the trio disappears, a Weeping Angel appears in their stead, confounding the Doctor.
Next, the Doctor stands outside the Temple of Atropos with Vinder, Yaz and Dan. The Doctor’s companions don strange uniforms, which further perplexes the Doctor. The trio categorizes her confusion as “temporal haze.”
Then, the Doctor snaps out of her confused state, ordering the group to end the Ravagers’ siege on Atropos and fix the time flow.
Dan winds up in Liverpool with Diane (Nadia Albina), and they keep inexplicably blipping to other locations in the city. Dan spots the blue mites while he and Diane sit on some stairs in unexpected darkness. We learn he was engaged to be married 15 years ago, but his fiancée ended it a few days before their wedding day. Dan asks, “When is this?” just like the Doctor did earlier.
Later, Yaz and the Doctor sit in a police car, dressed to the nines in police uniforms. Yaz spots a Weeping Angel in her side mirror while the Doctor shifts between Yaz’s partner and herself.
Vinder sits with Yaz, who’s sporting a military uniform. Vinder realizes the same situation occurred previously, in another time, but not with Yaz. Vinder interviews for the position of Guardian of the Grand Serpent, and he snags the post. The Doctor pops up as a hologram, and we learn she’s trying to navigate/rein in multiple timestreams at once.
Once Vinder accepts the job, Yaz vanishes, giving way to an older gentleman in the same uniform.
Meanwhile, the Doctor, Yaz, Dan and Vinder detonate a device that explodes the temple’s front doors. Back in the time storm, the Doctor confronts the Mouri, and they warn her that the pressure of the vortex will inevitably overpower her.
While inside the temple, the Doctor threatens the Ravagers, ordering them to stand down. We see Swarm and Azure (Rochenda Sandall) waiting in the wings. The Doctor spots the Fugitive Doctor/Ruth Clayton (Jo Martin) as her reflection on a reflective surface. Fugitive Doctor doesn’t recognize our Doc, so the Doc reckons she’s stuck in her memory. Reclaiming Atropos happened in the Doctor’s past.
Then, we see Dan run through a tunnel, and he collides with the man from 1820s Liverpool. The anachronistic gentleman shoots with a futuristic gun. Dan sees the blue mites, and, after almost coming in contact with them, he returns to topside Liverpool.
Bel finds a ship, arriving in the Cyber Zone. She observes a horde of Cybermen march away in the distance. She’s on the hunt for her companion.
Meanwhile, Vinder meets with Grand Serpent (Craig Parkinson), who he’s supposed to guard. Grand Serpent informs Vinder of an upcoming meeting with potential allies. He mocks Vinder and is your stereotypical ass**** who craves power.
Vinder doesn’t want to relive this memory, and I don’t blame him. Yaz plays video games with her sister, Sonya (Bhavnisha Parmar). Sonya morphs into the Doctor and disappears again.
We see the Doctor plead with the Mouri to help her save her friends in the present. Right now, they’re safe in their respective timestreams, but how long will that hold? Back at Yaz’s, we learn that this isn’t her house, nor did this memory happen. Suddenly, a Weeping Angel appears in Yaz’s video game. The Doc urges Yaz to keep her eyes on the Angel. It moves into the living room, but before it can lunge for the kill, Yaz destroys the video game console.
Later, we see the Doc confront Swarm and Azure in the past at Atropos. Their options are banishment or execution. The Doctor briefly transforms into the Fugitive Doc, then back to herself. Swarm informs her that his Passengers are, essentially, endless prisons, and they can hold millions of people. He proceeds to disintegrate one Passenger, and Azure does the same, to demonstrate how many lives they can eliminate instantly.
Thankfully, the Doctor summons the Mouri since they were locked away in one Passenger. Dan, Yaz and Vinder barge into the temple, imprisoning Swarm and Azure in stasis fields.
Back in the time storm, the Doc implores the Mouri to do the same thing with Swarm and Azure as they did in the past; send four Mouri to the present to save her friends.
Meanwhile, Bel leaves the Cyber Zone. Unfortunately, a bevy of Cybermen boards her ship, and she expertly shoots them, one by one. However, she incapacitates a Cyberman for interrogation. Bel reveals her mission “is love.” The Cyberman informs her that love is an emotion, and Bel kills it and forges ahead, undeterred.
We see Grand Serpent negotiate with the said potential allies, but he poses some conditions to obtain allyship. Firstly, he demands Vinder stop recording the conversation. Then, he asks the partners to kill a few targeted folks and make it look like an accident. You know, generally shady stuff.
Next, Vinder recounts that situation with Yaz, who’s in a uniform once again. Vinder wants to hold Grand Serpent accountable for his actions. However, he doesn’t want to relive this memory. Yaz submits a report, on Vinder’s behalf, against Grand Serpent.
Vinder sits in his old ship at the outpost. He records a message to a special someone, noting that he will be at the outpost for a long time. Vinder received a demotion after he reported his old boss.
In the time storm, the Mouri reveal they sent four of their kind to the present to help the Doctor. Now, she must depart her timestream, and the Doc begs to revisit one more memory — another puzzle piece.
She arrives in yet another mysterious location with an equally mysterious woman. This woman accuses the Doc of meddling with too many timestreams. The lady claims the universe is over, and the Flux was created purposely. In addition, this mystery someone strategically orchestrated because of the Doctor.
When the Doc returns to the present, we see Yaz, Dan and Vinder are safe. The Mouri are back in their respective places in the Temple of Atropos. Swarm and Azure reappear, revealing they pulled the strings on the whole shebang. They also hid Dan’s friend Diane in a Passenger.
After the formidable duo vanishes, the time-traveling crew departs. Vinder recognizes the TARDIS and wants to pilot it.
Our Doc wishes to learn about who created the Flux and why she’s associated with it. Oh, and remember that message Vinder sent? It was to Bel, who records one in return. We also discover Bel is pregnant with their child.
Team TARDIS transports Vinder to his homeworld, decimated by the Flux. His objective is to find Bel, and the Doc gives Vinder a device to stay in touch, should he ever need her.
Back on the TARDIS, a Weeping Angel leaps out of Yaz’s phone. The Doctor urges Dan not to blink and maintain eye contact. Suddenly, the Angel hijacks the TARDIS and takes control of it, to the Doctor’s abject horror.
I said it before, but it bears repeating — Swarm is a scary villain. With the Flux returning to play and Swarm’s advanced abilities, there might be genuine stakes for the Doctor.
I hope Jodie gets the sendoff she deserves.
Doctor Who: Flux airs Sundays at 8 pm on your BBC America affiliate.