REVIEW: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 13 Episode 3 – “Once, Upon Time”

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Once Upon A Time

Once, Upon Time is the third episode of Doctor Who Season 13, created by the BBC. The current showrunner and writer of the episode is Chris Chibnall. It was directed by Azhure Saleem. The show stars Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, with Mandip Gil and John Bishop acting as the companions.

The Doctor and Yaz found Dan, a normal Liverpudlian, captured by an alien with a dog’s head claiming to be his protector. In fact, this entire race of Lupari are coming to help Earth. Swarm, an ancient monster, is released from his prison and unleashes Flux. A wave of energy has devastated the universe and sent time and space haywire. As the Doctor and Dan faced Sontarans in both Liverpool and the Crimea, Yaz found herself meeting Vinder at the Temple of Atropos on a planet called Time. Here the Mouri control and protect Time, but two are damaged. As the Doctor and Dan arrive, Swarm and his wife Azure have put Yaz and Vinder in place of the Mouri. With a snap of his finger, Swarm can blast the entire force of Time through them.

To save her friends, the Doctor pushes all of the team into a time storm, scattering them across Time and space. Each member of the group is now trapped in their own memories, but things aren’t right in their recollections. People are different; places are wrong. Yaz is being hunted, and the Doctor relives a story she doesn’t remember. And a young woman explores a devastated and dangerous universe in search of her love.

Once, Upon Time is full. This is a gigantic episode packed with content and story and revelations, even more than the two proceeding it. The core plot is brilliant. Split into four as the different characters face their memories. Each one has a specific focus. The narrative is very unstable, leaving the audience confused but transfixed. And unraveling from the stories are other plot lines that will soon be proven to be important. Chibnall instills mysticism into each scene that maintains interest. Not just that, but past questions that have been haunting the Doctor start to intersect with the events happening in Doctor Who: Flux

Then there is this journey through a post-Flux galaxy that reveals much of what the Doctor and her friends will have to face if they ever leave the time storm. Old enemies fight for territory as everything changes constantly. And there is something even deeper that seeks to threaten this already fractured cosmos. So much is going on, but the storytelling methodology means that it is being pieced together slowly while the audience does not expect a single thing.

All three of the main cast members are given a psychologically scarring experience. The Doctor’s journey in this episode is fantastically written and acted. She is confused and scrambling to regain control of the situation but is rocked by perhaps the most dangerous storyline out of the group. By the end of the episode, she is furious, lashing out at anyone who stands in her way, including her best friend, Yaz. Speaking of her companion, Yaz is tormented in a terrifying and intense ordeal while those that Dan left behind on Earth become a worry for him. They have done little together yet, this team, but the individual arcs have been incredible.

But it was not the main characters in Once, Upon Time that stole the show. Instead, it was newcomers that absolutely shone. The MVP of the episode was Vinder, played by Jacob Anderson. He brings stoicism that is captivating. Although featured in the first two chapters, his arc unravels as he is thrown into the time storm with the others. But his story is full of history, powerful reveals, and heartbreaking decisions that highlight a brace and stunning sci-fi figure. Thaddea Graham plays Bel, this woman traversing the cosmos in search of the one she loves. She is a delightful character to follow, also having a lot of monologues in the form of narration. The Doctor also has one, which is a different and interesting technique in Doctor Who. If Bel and Vinder no longer feature in the series going forwards, then their endings are ambiguous but poignant. But hopefully, the audience will be treated with their presence going forwards.

The visuals are again varied in their quality. In huge displays of cosmic phenomena featuring ships and broken planets, it is jaw-dropping. There are fantastic colors and detail that inspire awe in a 24-year-old reviewer, let alone the younger viewers watching. Likewise, there are countless impressive and practical sets in this episode that contain epic costumes and prosthetics. This is what we have been accustomed to in Doctor Who. This is why it’s so disappointing to see CGI Daleks that lack texture. Or this floating blue swarm, supposed to be menacing, which is laughable in its execution.

Once, Upon Time is an excellent episode that combines the past, present, and future. Still early in the Flux storyline, Chibnall has continued to carve deep into the lore of the Doctor Who universe, changing what we all know about it. This long plot is ambitious, yet so far, the scale has not been too daunting and has been managed well. This episode has equal parts sci-fi wonder and pivotal character development. Every character introduced has been perfectly cast and has been played excellently. Old enemies will delight and unsettle the audience as we know what they are capable of.

Once, Upon Time is available on BBC iPlayer in the UK and BBC America in the United States.

 


Once, Upon Time
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Once, Upon Time is an excellent episode that combines the past, present, and future. Still early in the Flux storyline, Chibnall has continued to carve deep into the lore of the Doctor Who universe, changing what we all know about it. This long plot is ambitious, yet so far, the scale has not been too daunting and has been managed well. This episode has equal parts sci-fi wonder and pivotal character development. Every character introduced has been perfectly cast and has been played excellently. Old enemies will delight and unsettle the audience as we know what they are capable of.