For Doctor Who fans, the next five weeks could be a trial by Tardis

In Doctor Who: Flux, John Bishop undergoes a body transformation worthy of Christian Bale

The latest season of Doctor Who (BBC One, Sunday) opens on Halloween night and is as overstuffed with sugary junk as a trick-or-treater's bag. One minute the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is battling a man dressed as a dog who has just kidnapped stand-up comedian John Bishop. The next an intergalactic contagion suspiciously similar to the Nothing from the NeverEnding Story is gobbling the universe. Guzzled in one go, the new Who risks bringing on a sickly rush.

This fizzing firework of an episode also features such notable Doctor Who baddies as the Weeping Angels (genuinely scary), the Sontarans (an evil race of space-going Mr Taytos), and an intergalactic warlock bearing a striking resemblance to the Red Skull character from the Marvel Universe. Even for veteran Whovians, it’s a lot.

Amidst the onslaught of cosmic terror – and that's just John Bishop's mullet – Jodie Whittaker's Doctor is meanwhile made to seem like somewhat of a spare wheel on the Tardis. That is, of course, a familiar flaw with Doctor Who as presided over by Broadchurch's Chris Chibnall.

Chibnall is a lifelong Doctor Who devotee. So it’s a surprise just how little insight he apparently has into what makes the character work. His tenure has been characterised by manic storytelling and character journeys that are all setup but which fail consistently at delivery. And his plots are often indecipherable in the extreme. If you can explain to me the beginning, middle and end of the Lone Cyberman arc, I’ll show you how to make a Sonic Screwdriver with two two straws and a battered cassette of Joe Dolan’s Greatest Hits.


Happily, Chibnall’s reign of error is finally coming to a close. He bows out next year, along with the fantastic Whittaker (who deserves much better). Sadly, their grand farewell is off to a confusing start with Doctor Who: Flux suffering from a terrible title (it sounds like Doctor Who: Reflux) and - again that old Chibnall failing - a premise that makes no sense.

The setting is modern Liverpool, where John Bishop undergoes a Christian Bale-esque full-body transformation to portray new Doctor's assistant Dan, a scampish Scouser obsessed with one of the local soulless soccer franchises. He is, in other words, John Bishop playing John Bishop.

As he waxes merry by the Mersey, out in deep space a creature that looks like Clive Barker’s Pinhead has escaped its cosmic prison. Meanwhile a star plague is devouring planets. And then the astro-doggie arrives and, with nary a trick or treat, abducts Bishop.

While all this is unfolding, the Doctor and sidekick Yaz (Mandip Gill) are careening around in the Tardis tracking weird signals from Earth. And there is a cameo from the Weeping Angels, the enduring gift to Who from former show runner, Russell T Davis, who will return to the role following Chibnall's departure.

Did I leave anything out? Chibnall hasn’t. With his Doctor Who tenure drawing to an end, it’s as if he’s determined to rebut in the most blaring way possible the criticism that his Doctor has just too much going on. Doctor Who: Flux is, alas, his most manic contribution yet to Time Lord lore. For Doctor Who fans, the next five weeks could be a bit of a trial by Tardis.