Doctor Who – ‘War of the Sontarans’ Review

“Alright lads? I was just looking for the Pier Head.”

After last week’s fantastic but ever so slightly convoluted opener, this week’s episode of Doctor Who followed it up with an outstanding episode. And for my money, it was one of the very best stories of the entire Chibnall era. It ticked all the boxes of what makes a great episode of Doctor Who. The central story was split between the Doctor in the Crimean War, Dan in modern-day Liverpool and Yaz in the deep reaches of space on a planet literally called ‘Time’. The episode began feeling a little all over the place but Chibnall and co quickly reigned it in and by the end, these disparate stories were all cleverly intertwined. I’ll get into the specifics in a sec but it was so nice (and oddly nostalgic) to see an episode of Doctor Who where nearly every aspect just worked. The things I found didn’t work quite as well weren’t deal-breakers either. The small scene with the Liverpudlian industrialist was random and had no payoff but I’m sure that’s coming in later weeks. And maybe I was just in a good mood but in any other episode, Dan’s parents would annoy the hell out of me. But here, the humour worked. The whole episode was brilliant and a hugely entertaining hour of TV.

So as I said earlier, this episode continued the previous ones bold choice to have multiple storylines. It’s an ambitious but dangerous thing for any show to do but especially so for one such as Doctor Who, whose reach often exceeds its grasp. It worked here though, with all three stories being entertaining on their own before coming back together as one by the end. The main storyline saw the Doctor, stranded during the Crimean war. The TARDIS continues to play up, meaning the Doctor can’t leave. And if the Crimean war wasn’t bad enough, it turns out the British aren’t fighting the Russians as they should be. Instead, they are fighting the Sontarans, who for the first time in nu-Who actually appear quite menacing. They’ve used the Flux to rewrite the earth’s history with the aim of colonising. The Flux isn’t actually their doing though, they simply took advantage of it. We get no more real answers as to what it is but I’m sure that’ll all be explained in future weeks. The Crimean War segments are all wonderfully imagined, stretching every inch of that BBC budget I’m sure. The battlefield actually looks like a battlefield and the eventual clash between the British troops and the Sontarans actually feels pretty big. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is at her absolute best here; balancing out the jokes and ancient wisdom masterfully. Her interactions with Mary Seacole (a brilliant Sara Powell) is a highlight as is her head-butting with the British commanding officer General Logan (Gerald Kyd). A complaint of Whittaker/Chibnall era is that the 13th Doctor’s morality is all over the place. Here, however, when she tears into General Logan for eradicating the retreating Sontaran ships felt like the Doctor we all know and love. It gave me the 10th Doctor vs Harriet Jones vibes, which is always a good thing.

The Doctor’s plan to sabotage the Sontaran ships whilst they all conveniently took their essential 7 and a half minute rest break at the same time felt slightly too easy but they did hint at it early on and to be honest, everything else about this storyline was top notch so I really didn’t mind. And while Mary Seacole didn’t have a whole lot to do, it was so nice to see some representation for an often forgotten pioneer of modern nursing. It would have been so easy and lazy to just stick Florence Nightengale there instead and I applaud the show for casting some light on an equally important historical female figure. The Doctor’s parting words gave me the impression we might see Mary Seacole again, but I won’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, we had Dan zap back to Liverpool where it became apparent the Sontarans had begun to take over the world in the modern-day too. He gets saved from a platoon of Sontarans however, by his mum and dad – who is hilariously wielding a wok. As I previously noted, these characters could have easily been incredibly annoying. But thankfully I found them surprisingly funny. And even if you don’t, they don’t stick around long enough to grate too much. John Bishop’s Dan was a fun addition last week nut he didn’t really do much. I hadn’t made my mind up about him before this week’s episode but ‘War of the Sontarans’ cemented him as a worthy companion (and a really great successor to Bradley Walsh’s Graham). Dan gets all the best lines and actually saves the day. His buddy-cop style banter with the reappearing Karvanista is loads of fun too, I really hope Karvanista shows up a few more times before the end of the series.

Yaz’s storyline in this episode is probably the strangest but despite beginning in a bit of a baffling manner (just who is that random 1820s industrialist?) it soon becomes hugely enjoyable as it descends into hard sci-fi. There’s a planet called Time where it appears there is a secret sect of priestesses who gave me major Sisterhood of Karn vibes and who (I think) control the universe’s time stream? It’s wonderfully perplexing stuff which I’m sure will be explained more as the show goes on. Mandip Gill is so good as Yaz too, really coming into her own since the exit of Graham and Ryan. She’s joined by newcomer Jacob Anderson as Vinder, who sadly doesn’t get much more development this time around either. I assume this will happen in further weeks too. His cool space cowboy vibe is very entertaining though, and Anderson is great to watch.

Yaz’s storyline gets more complicated, however, when this series’ big villains Spawn and Azure, show up. Last week made them out to be supremely terrifying; they are older than almost everything and possibly have some sort of regeneration abilities too. This week they continue to be terrifying (especially after we see they’ve trapped Yaz and Vinder at the end of the episode) but did anyone find their appearance in this episode to be surprisingly camp? And that’s not a bad thing, I loved it. Sam Spurrell and Rochenda Sandall are obviously having a great time and the make-up is absolutely top-notch.

So that’s episode 2 of Doctor Who: Flux and if the show continues on like these first two episodes then we may have something very special on our hands. Everything about this episode is Doctor Who on top form, from the writing to the performances to the music to the VFX. And that’s not to mention the direction and cinematography, which was downright amazing. And to think a lot of this was made and assembled in lockdown blows my mind. The episode still has some dangling threads, not least of what the hell was that trippy black and white opening about? But I’m confident these answers will be revealed in the remaining episodes (hopefully along with a satisfying Timeless Child resolution). I’m in for the long haul now and I can’t wait to see what Chibnall and the rest of the crew deliver over the next few weeks.

Reviewed by Tom

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