The Vanquishers

Posted in Episode by - December 06, 2021
The Vanquishers

Aired 05 December 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Faced with the unenviable and yet unavoidable barriers, quirks, and opportunities that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought for the entertainment industry, Chris Chibnall brings his highly ambitious six-part serial Flux to a close with ‘The Vanquishers.’

Doctor Who is certainly not lacking with its list of villainous creatures, and although the likes of the Daleks, Cybermen, and more recently the Weeping Angels have all staked their claims as the most dangerous and fearsome, ‘The Vanquishers’ finally gives the Sontarans an opportunity to showcase the strategic prowess that has so often been stated as a core foundation for their race. Their attempted invasion of Earth and callous slaughter of all of Karvanista’s Lupari race is a smokescreen for the much more nefarious plan to lure their enemies to the last bastion of hope that Earth represents before betraying that offered allegiance to expose them to the Flux, in the process using the physical matter of their ships and lives to slow and even stop the Flux from progressing any further. There is no middle ground to this strategic approach that Dan Starkey and Jonathan Watson so capably portray, and although it makes no sense that the Sontarans explicitly refuse the hated Rutans the same opportunity as the Daleks and Cybermen given their anticipated end goal, this is unquestionably the most formidable that the Sontarans have ever appeared on screen and also introduces the surprising weakness of desiring human chocolate to add to the probic vents and scheduled refueling cycles previously shown.

Strangely, with the Doctor split across three locales due to her attempts to escape Division, her plan upon learning of the Sontaran’s is to further amplify the destruction by including the Sontarans in it as well. The Doctor is a character who almost uniformly offers even his or her greatest foes another opportunity, and without at any point showing any sort of remorse for the countless lives and worlds that have already been lost to the Flux, she does not seek any sort of alternative to averting the continued impending destruction of the antimatter wave. Instead, it’s Diane who has clearly learned an immense amount about the Passenger forms while trapped in one- mostly off screen- who offers up the idea of using this prison filled with limitless matter as a counteracting device. Naturally the Doctor has been quite busy with many other elements including the hope of recovering her lost memories that are literally dangling in front of her, but finding the peaceful option that avoids any further loss of life is a hallmark of the Doctor and doesn’t sit well with the continued compassion and concern that the Thirteenth Doctor has shown through her life to this point even if it gives a fitting ending and purpose to Diane and perfectly utilizes the storytelling potential of the Passenger that has been present and yet hardly a focal point throughout Flux.

With the Sontarans surprisingly taking centre stage, there is still some room for the threats of Swarm and Azure as well as the Grand Serpent to further develop, at least to some extent. Swarm and Azure, of course, were initially set up as the ages-old threat who could remember battles against the Doctor that she does not, and the scope of their threat to watch the universe die over and over again with the Doctor as witness certainly hints at a deep knowledge of everything that the Doctor holds dear and what would cause her the most internal anguish and suffering. However, while them not expecting a triphasic split is certainly understandable, the duo is mostly all talk here and is quite easily dispatched by the manifestation of Time that seems to have set an arc in motion for Whittaker’s remaining three episodes. Likewise, the utter conviction and depravity of the Grand Serpent whose actions so moulded Vinder but that he cannot distinguish from any other day expertly captures the requisite menace that such a character needs to work. He will bargain with whomever gives him the greatest advantage, and there are clearly no boundaries he will not cross to get whatever he wants. Given his isolated fate that again only came from the Doctor’s unexpectedly split state of being, it certainly is possible that he could cross paths with the Doctor yet again in some form, and the performances of Sam Spruell, Rochenda Sandall, and Craig Parkinson all do well with their allotted times that are clearly far too short to create a credible layering of multiple threats on top of the Sontarans’ audacious scheme.

The downside of such an eventful six-part saga is that there all but inevitably have to be some major characters who are sidelined more than others, and while this was the case for Swarm, Azure, and the Grand Serpent on the villainous front, it’s also the case for Vinder and Bel who are limited more or less to a brief reunion scene in which Vinder learns they are expecting as well as for Kate Stewart who after a triumphant return last week hardly has anything to do except to be the face of the human resistance and to give a few directions. Likewise, with most of Diane’s story occurring off screen and Jericho and Claire being subjected to the Sontaran’s psychic probing, there simply isn’t enough time to adequately delve into the many distinct threads in play for the supporting characters either. At the very least, Jericho is given a momentous sacrifice even if it does come as the result of an accident more than anything else, and Kevin McNally is superb throughout to convey the pride and happiness of a man who has experienced so much on such a grand adventure. Still, despite there clearly being enough material for another ten or fifteen minutes to fully explore in order to truly deliver the intended emotional impact and especially to explore the Doctor’s response to this new universe, this very much is Jodie Whittaker’s moment to shine, and she capably handles the tremendous amount asked of her while paying homage to ‘The Three Doctor’s in a solo capacity. Confident, cheeky, and capable, the very best of the Thirteenth Doctor shines through at all times despite a scheme that does seem quite out of character, helping to provide a stabilizing force in an assured but chaotic finale that leaves plenty of plot threads dangling.

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