Doctor Who: Flux is the show's first six-part adventure since Classic Who and 1979's "The Armageddon Factor" during the Fourth Doctor era. (Once the series crossed into the 1980s, serials shrank to 3 and 4 parters; even "Trial of a Timelord" was originally three four-parters and a two-part finale.) It feels fitting because the series feels very much like it's returned to its very early roots for the first time in the reboot era.
From nameless aliens covered in crystal prosthetics and glitter to a dog race that really is man's best friend and ship interiors that look like the 1970s designed them, this final Chris Chibnall Doctor Who season feels like it throws all the way back.
Yaz: Pro-tip, Dan Lewis: Don't diss the designated rescuer.
Chibnall wrote all six parts of Flux, and this opening episode feels a LOT like Season 12's premiere, "Spyfall: Part 1," a James Bond-like riff on the Doctor. The opening in medias res adventure that starts off this season also wouldn't be out of place in a Bond film -- though it might have a better CGI budget were it in one. But it's over in a few. The Doctor and Yaz fall into bed together in the TARDIS at the end of their escape. (Yes, really.) Also, Yaz has evidently come into her own working with the Doctor, and the lack of distraction from Ryan or Graham means she finally gets ample time to be the leading companion.
That being said, it's hard for anyone to get a lot of screen time in this opening episode, even the Doctor. There's a cast of thousands to introduce, located all over time and space. First, Williamson (Steve Oram) in Liverpool, 1820, driving his underling Wilder and his overlord Stonehouse insane with his obsession with tunnel digging. Then Dan Lewis (John Bishop) in 2021, the unofficial guide to Liverpool. He's about to go on a date with Di (Nadia Albina), who works at the Museum of Liverpool while he makes no money working in a food pantry.
Before it's all said and done, Dan will not make that date, as fans already know he's the new companion. But he's not whisked off of Earth by the Doctor. Instead, he's taken by Karvanista (Craig Els), the Lupari who was just hanging the Doctor and Yaz out to dry in the opener. At first, it seems random --why is this dog alien randomly kidnapping this nobody? But as noted, the Lupari are man's best friend. There are 7 billion of them heading to Earth, not to invade, but to rescue their assigned humans (yes, probably even LFC's Jürgen Klopp) from the coming apocalypse. brought to you but the Letters F, L, U, and X.
The Flux is introduced by a different character altogether, Serving Commander Inston-Vee Vinder of Kasto-Winfer-Foxfell (Jacob Anderson). He is hanging out at his post in the Observation Outpost Rose when it comes through and takes out the Thoribus trifecta. He does the unthinkable and abandons his post to survive. However, before he goes, everyone gets a good look at this "Hurricane-like" destructive force. At first, it seems like it might be a natural phenomenon. (Climate change parable, anyone?) But it is a weapon that appears to be controlled by Swarm.
Oh, right, all this, and I haven't even mentioned Swarm (Sam Spruell), whose name we only know because the end credits helpfully list it, the Evil Glitter Alien who just escaped from confinement after several thousand years. He turns everyone he comes in contact with into glittering dust motes, so we won't worry about them, except maybe the one who smashes alarm systems. He turns her into a female Evil Glitter Alien upon dusting, who the credits name Azure (Rochenda Sandall). He's hanging out inside the Doctor's head, letting her know they'll be facing each other, just like they met each other before.
When did they do that? It's not clear, but his impressed face at how thoroughly any memory of him has been wiped suggests he's probably from her Timeless Child days. Oh, you thought that storyline was just going to die? Au contraire, my friends. The whole reason the Doctor was tangling with Karvanista in the first place is he is the only creature she can locate who was part of The Division on Gallifrey, a.k.a. those who made her what she is.
Unfortunately, all that will have to wait since the Flux decided to head right to Earth. Though the Lupari are happy to save their human friends, the Doctor's directing the entire Time Vortex and the Heart of the TARDIS at it doesn't do squat. The result is a cliffhanger where all three TARDIS residents and the Blue Box herself are about to be disintegrated for all time. At least it brought back my personal favorite TARDIS sound effect, the cloister bell, for the occasion.
They aren't even the only ones whose lives are left dangling either, since Dan's poor date Di has been captured by Azure. Also, there's Claire (Annabel Scholey). She arrives out of sequence to say hello to the Doctor, only to leave again to be killed by a Weeping Angel. However, she still has some part to play at some point. Oh, and the Sontarans are coming. Why? Why the hell not? Next week's episode is called "War of the Sontarans." It would be awkward if they didn't show.
Was that a good episode? Not really. It had all the zany of a Moffat joint on full throttle, and none of the coherence, and those who know how incoherent Moffat got will know that's saying something. Perhaps this will all make sense when Part 2 (and 3-6) arrives. But the biggest mistake binge shows make on streaming is to think that no single episode needs to stand on its own and that viewers want a 10-hour (or 6-hour) movie. Any show, especially one that arrives weekly, needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, and this has about seven cold opens and then credits.