It’s been over ten months since Revolution of the Daleks aired, and over a year and a half since Season 12 of Doctor Who ended. That’s a long time since the major bombshell of The Doctor’s true origins were revealed. Unfortunately, The Halloween Apocalypse doesn’t really address this revelation, but it does add a major new event threatening the universe: The Flux.
The season premiere also introduces us to Dan. He will join Yaz and The Doctor for all six episodes of Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall’s last full season helming the ever-enduring sci-fi show. It’s a lot for the first episode to balance, and it does buckle under the weight of all this content at times. Even with this shortcoming, it is an enjoyable start to the season. It does a good job of creating a compelling sci-fi mystery that should have audiences excited for what’s to come.
Doctor Who airs on Sundays on BBC One (UK) and BBC America (US), and is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Story – Too Much, Yet Not Enough
There’s not much plot to sum up in Episode 1 of Season 13, which is strange considering it felt like there was so much going on.
The core story follows The Doctor and Yaz chasing a Lupari called Karvanista, so The Doctor can get answers about The Division. Karvanista kidnaps newcomer Dan and locks him on his ship. Yaz and The Doctor track them down while having an argument amongst some odd goings-on in the TARDIS. The Doctor learns about The Flux destroying the universe, and we’re left with her and her companions in yet another perilous predicament.
In between The Doctor’s adventure, the audience is taken to 1820’s Liverpool, a Sontaran ship, an encounter with a Weeping Angel, the introduction of two new villains, a kidnapping, and a space station with the very interesting name of “Outpost Rose”. All this packed into a 50-minute runtime makes for a fast-paced adventure. This can be a little hard to keep up with at times. However, it does make up for this disjointed narrative by sewing a compelling mystery throughout each scenario. By the end of the episode, I was very curious about the new villains and characters, and what their involvement with The Flux is.
As a stand-alone story, The Halloween Apocalypse doesn’t work. As the beginning of The Doctor’s journey into investigating The Flux, it absolutely delivers. It’s just that it feels like this story would have benefited from a binge-watch release schedule. Instead, we have to wait for weeks to get answers to all these questions set up by the premiere. This wouldn’t have been an issue if there had been a more compelling contained story in the premiere. Instead, all we’re left with is the beginnings of a mystery.
Characters & Performances – Time’s Up
Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor continues to be the best thing about this current iteration of New Who. Whether she’s word vomiting technical jargon to Yaz, or saying everything she needs to with a single look at the new villain, Whittaker makes every second of her performance mean something. Although her Doctor’s story as The Timeless Child is only briefly touched upon in the episode. However, its ramifications continue to cause friction between her and Yaz.
Mandip Gill as Yaz has a larger presence on screen now that Graham and Ryan have departed. It will be interesting to see how her character develops over the course of the season now that she has more time to grow. For now though, she is still stuck in a rather generic role of the plucky sidekick. Her pressing of The Doctor for personal answers does add a little nuance. Though it’s still nowhere near as much as Mandip Gill’s charming performance deserves.
Rounding up the new team dynamic for Season 13 is John Bishop’s Dan. He’s seen to be struggling financially, and cares a lot for others. Bishop gives a solid performance, and his interactions with his Lupari kidnapper are the funniest parts of the premiere. However, it is disappointing that Dan didn’t get a full episode dedicated to his new companion status. Being thrust into an already packed episode doesn’t give Bishop a chance to really sell Dan to fans.
Although there were a lot of new characters showcased in The Halloween Apocalypse, Sam Spruell as the new mysterious villain, Swarm, was a standout performance. He manages to walk a fine line between camp and restrained, giving a chilling vibe without sacrificing that wonderful silliness Doctor Who does so well.
The episode is constructed really well for having so many moving parts. Although there were maybe too many different events occurring, it was all for the purpose of telling one story. This made The Flux take on an appropriately epic scale.
What was also gained in achieving this however, was a hectic, breakneck viewing experience. The 50 minutes fly by while watching, but this makes for quite a jarring ending. It certainly felt like the first part in a larger story. I imagine it will benefit from a repeat viewing after all six episodes of The Flux storyline have aired.
Cinematography & Sound – A Modern Mirage
Comparing the CGI from the earlier seasons of New Who and now is an incredible way to appreciate just how far the show has come. The Flux disintegrating planets is the best use of CGI I’ve ever seen on Doctor Who. Additionally, all the scenes involving the backdrop of space make use of the incredible effects to sell the characters, and the audience, on just how beautiful the universe can be. It’s part of what makes the show so appealing. This aspect just keeps getting better and better due to improving computer technology. It’s also helped by the fantastic cinematography and art direction unique to Chibnall’s time as showrunner.
Although I don’t personally think the current music of Doctor Who hits the same highs as when Murray Gold was composer, it still does a fine job in conveying what it needs to. When the ante amps up, so does the score. It does feel like it is sometimes missing those fairytale lilts that Gold brought in more fantastical moments, but in the case of The Halloween Apocalypse, this makes sense. There wasn’t a lot of wonder going on here, but intense moment after intense moment. The music replicated this cadence well.