Season 13 of Doctor Who, subtitled Flux, finally premiered with an episode aptly titled “The Halloween Apocalypse,” considering that it aired on October 13, 2021. However, it stands as an unfortunate beginning to a season, which started with too many tricks and only just a few real treats.
This episode is packed with plenty of new universal threats, fast action, and introductions to new characters, including Dan Lewis, the new companion. However, instead of teasing a new universal-scale danger in the premiere while introducing a new companion, “The Halloween Apocalypse” gives Flux a meager running start that feels as if it never quite catches its footing.
“The Halloween Apocalypse” is literarily bursting with new “stuff,” and everything is happening all at once, without any clear explanation as to what’s really going on, except for the fact that the universe is about to end. The chaotic jumble of events depicted in the episode is the foundation for a narrative that’s supposed to unfurl in the next five hours, given that Flux is supposed to be broadcast as a six-part mini-season, as opposed to its usual format. And that is, in essence, the issue with the episode. It contains too many elements, and the entire 50-minute run time feels like several Doctor Who episodes compressed into one, baiting the viewers to “decompress” the narrative throughout the rest of the season. But is it worth it?
Well, it might be too early to tell. For now, let’s break down the episode, which kicks off with a movie-scale action sequence featuring awe-inspiring CGI effects. Both the Doctor and Yaz are suspended on a gravity bar, above an ocean of acid, by a being called Karvanista. There’s nothing much to tell about Karvanista since we can only see his hologram, but he seems like a methodical antagonist. Not only did he set up the grav-bar to drop the Doctor and Yaz into an ocean of acid, but he also added precautionary measures like killer drones set to destroy them if all else fails on a planet that is soon to be engulfed by a giant red star.
Needless to say, our heroes manage to escape in a fantastic getaway scene, which also gives a friendly nod towards Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. And quite possibly the Harry Potter films, and a particular game of quidditch, considering that the gravbar gets broken in two, and both the Doctor and the companion ride the halves back to the TARDIS. The episode then cuts off to an 1800s mining site in Liverpool, and two gentlemen arguing the purpose of the tunnels being excavated, with pretty dramatic mentions of the ongoing “cataclysm” that only a mysterious work foreman knows about. Next, the episode cuts to the Museum of Liverpool, introducing Doctor’s soon-to-be companion Dan Lewis, before coming back to the TARDIS. Which is leaking oil? Or whatever type of fluids the Time And Relative Dimension In Space machine uses.
And that’s when Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has a vision of a creature imprisoned at the beginning of time, who apparently has known the Doctor since forever, and from countless battles they fought. The TARDIS heads to Earth in pursuit of Karvanista, who kidnaps Dan. Unfortunately, the Doctor and Yaz arrive a minute too late, discovering a Lupari invasion fleet, the race of humanoid dogs that Karvanista is a member of, heading towards Earth. Afterward, they’re greeted by a mysterious woman Claire, who claims to know the Doctor from her future (and to the eyebrows lifting for a potential Clara nod you may need a muscle relaxer). Regardless, the Doctor and Yaz continue to pursue the villain, catching up to him on his ship.
Karvanista reveals that he and the Lupari are, in fact, saving humans from Earth’s approaching destruction by an unknown force that consumes everything in its path. In the meantime, Claire gets captured by a Weeping Angel, one of the predatory creatures introduced in the tenth episode of Season Three, back in 2007. The Flux, which looks like a giant sand storm but in space, causes a lone member of a remote outpost to evacuate his position, while the mysterious and previously captive creature, now named Swarm, revives his sister Azure. Fan favorites, the Sontarans, also make their appearance in the show as they turn their insatiable need for battle towards what appears to be the Flux and the prospect of the destruction it brings.
In the episode’s concluding moments, the TARDIS takes the Doctor, Yaz, and new companion in tow, Dan, to an empty area of space in pursuit of the Flux. The Doctor has another vision of the Swarm, who we’re probably going to see more of, during the continuation of the narrative; he claims to know her, but she apparently doesn’t recall. With the Flux now hungrily heading towards the TARDIS and the Doctor leading it to Earth with a plan, she instructs Karvanista and the Lupari fleet to form a barrier around the planet to protect it. The TARDIS, unfortunately, remained outside the shield, and despite the Doctor’s best efforts to thwart its advance, the last thing we see is the Flux hitting the TARDIS.
It’s pretty evident that Flux is different – everything is happening at once, across both time and space, and there’s no clear way as to how things are connected. So who’s Swarm, and what’s the Flux? Why is the Doctor, whose main superpower is being two steps ahead, seemingly so far behind and out of step on this? Well, despite all the chaos, “The Halloween Apocalypse” does leave a nice cliffhanger to sate the fandom’s curiosity, at least until the next episode comes out of the time stream.
7/10 – the Season 13 premiere is most likely to captivate the attention of die-hard fandom due to all the surprises and answers they’ll uncover as the story progresses. New fans probably won’t be as delighted since the episode has quite a lot of material to chew on, and the taste might prove a bit too strong.