Before all that, though, we begin with Thaddea Graham as Bel. She’s a whip-smart survivor in the aftermath of the apocalypse, cadging rides from planet to planet in the ruins of a universe that, while not exactly ended by the Flux, is now a reality that many consider should be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery. We see an all-too-brief glimpse of Daleks – gorgeous, coppery Daleks with flared hoods around the eyestalks that are bound to pop up again in next year’s specials – and learn via Bel that it’s not just the Sontarans making last-minute power plays. Even as the universe crumbles, the show’s Big Bads are making last-minute land grabs to rule over the dust.
After the titles – and a lovely little touch this series is that while the words ‘DOCTOR WHO’ spin gracefully off-screen, the subtitle “FLUX” breaks apart instead – we’re back in the Temple of Atropos, where Swarm is about to dose Yaz, Vinder and the remaining Mouri with pure, uncut time. To stop her friends from being dry-roasted by this, the Doctor thinks on her feet and completes the circuit, taking the place of the last missing Mouri and bringing the brunt of the work onto herself.
Suddenly, Team TARDIS are back outside the temple, apparently engaged in some kind of military operation to recapture the inner sanctum. It’s not clear, least of all to the Doctor herself, if she’s been deposited into some kind of alternate history or if we’ve skipped far into the future and missed out on some kind of lengthy training montage where the gang regrouped, kitted up and got ready to take on Swarm and Azure. (The clues are there, but we’ll get to that…)
The explanation for what now happens to the companions is pure, glorious technobabble even by Doctor Who standards, as the Doctor attempts to ‘hide’ Yaz, Vinder and Dan inside their own timestreams, declaring that their memories, “past, present and future” will offer them the most protection from the ravages of time. (Or should that be the Ravagers of Time, given that’s the collective name for Swarm, Azure and their kin?) It’s twaddle with tenure, though – the last time we saw inside someone’s timestream it was the Doctor’s, while Clara and the Great Intelligence waged a war of attrition within.
The reason this works is that ‘Once, Upon Time’ uses what’s happening to the companions as a means to tell character vignettes and reveal more about who these people are, rather than focusing on the timey-wimey trouble behind it all. Let’s start with Yaz, as her scenes are the briefest and weakest of the three. Maybe it’s because this is Mandip Gill’s third year as a companion and so we’ve already seen quite a bit of her home life, the encounter that led to her joining the police and much of what drives Yasmin Khan to travel through time and space. Whatever the reason, we don’t really get any new insights about her here.
In fact, Chris Chibnall seems to know this is the case, as he decides to add a Weeping Angel to proceedings; one firstly stalking Yaz’s patrol car and then later manifesting via the game Sonya’s playing. The way it clambers out of the TV strongly evokes Amy’s first encounter during ‘The Time of Angels’. Yaz is comparatively rubbish at not blinking and the Angel’s in her living room almost immediately, but she’s able to give her sister’s console a good kicking and that seems to get rid of it. Not much new for Yaz, all told, and not much new for the Weeping Angels either.
You May Like Also