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Jodie Whittaker gives a subtle, pained performance in Doctor Who: Flux – review

Jodie Whittaker gives a subtle, pained performance in Doctor Who: Flux – review
Penultimate episode serves up major revelations and tender moments

Pinch me if I sound crazy, but did last week’s Doctor Who… actually make sense? Flux finally started to move forward, with an episode mercifully based on just one story. But this week, viewers must steel themselves once again, because “Survivors of the Flux” marks a return to multiple timelines, with the last of the threads being tied up as the series draws to a close. No longer bogged down with having to explain what on earth is going on, Jodie Whittaker is really allowed the space to shine and she gives a subtle, pained performance.

After being turned to stone by the Weeping Angels, the Doctor is whisked back to a ship manned by Awsok (Barbara Flynn), who – bonus points to anyone who made notes – had warned the Time Lord she was responsible for the Flux back in episode three. The mysterious woman runs Division, a group from Gallifrey who interfere with time and space, which is a major no-no for Time Lords. Awsok’s ship, a gorgeously CGI’d neon light show, now sits outside the universe, which is about to be destroyed by the Flux.

There’s a natural chemistry between Whittaker and Flynn. Their performances are sharp and convincing, their conversation flowing with the ease of two characters who know each other but can’t tell why. Awsok tells the Doctor that “morality was always your flaw”, with the Doctor spitting back: “Morality is a strength.” And then our hero learns the truth. Awsok was the one who found the Doctor and took her to Gallifrey as a child, ripping her away from her other life. Awsok is the closest thing to mother the Doctor has. And voilà, the Doctor suddenly gains a whole load of mummy issues she never knew she had. As the Doctor rants about how Awsok “denied me my life”, it’s a nice reminder that everyone slips into “I didn’t ask to be born” diatribes around their parents – even Time Lords.

But lest it fully become EastEnders in space, Doctor Who needs its pantomime villains. The Grand Serpent (Craig Parkinson) has now overtaken military organisation Unit with anyone who gets in his way gruesomely destroyed, their skin bubbling like molten plastic before a large, snake-like creature slithers out of their mouths. Vinder (Jacob Harrison), meanwhile, has tracked down Swarm and Azure and ends up trapped inside their prison, where he’s united with Diane (Nadia Albina) who thinks she might have a way out of there.

The penultimate episode of any Doctor Who series has two main aims: winding things down while also setting up an explosive finale battle. For the most part, “Survivors of the Flux” does a pretty good job – even if certain characters are being reintroduced way too late. As for the showdown, planet Earth is not only the centre of the end of the universe, but also a Sontaran battleground. That’s about as dramatic as it gets.

This episode’s biggest strength, though, is Whittaker. In the moments with Awsok, she deftly mines the pain within the Doctor’s past. There’s also tenderness as she speaks to Yaz through a hologram, sweetly telling her companion: “I’m sure I miss you.” Writer Chris Chibnall is giving the Doctor the humanising moments her final act has been waiting for – and we’ll surely miss her too.