Warning: contains spoilers for Doctor Who: Flux Episode 3 ‘Once, Upon Time’
Amid the confusion masquerading as mystery in ‘Once, Upon Time’, two characters shone with gratifying simplicity: Bel and Vinder – soldiers, heroes, lovers, and soon-to-be parents. While the scree of main plot offered obfuscation and revelations that didn’t reveal much (the Flux is a spatial weapon, the Ravagers are temporal poison, Planet Time is the Division’s dirty secret, yes but… the story?), Bel and Vinder are a foothold. They’re good people in love who’ve been forced apart but who want to be together, and we want them to succeed. Forget the end of the universe; those are all the stakes a story really needs.
We met Bel on the run from the Daleks, reflecting on life post-Flux to an absent Vinder and a present ‘Tigmi’ – a handheld electronic device that displays emoticons. (Later, we learned that Bel is pregnant and so can assume the device to be a kind of in-utero baby monitor that tracks the health of her unborn child. After Bel pulls off a loop-the-loop in a stolen Lupari ship, the device displays a heartrate she says is “slightly elevated, but that’s to be expected, right?”).
Bel escapes the Daleks, shoots her way through a battalion of Cybermen, and tells one who calls her stated mission of “love” invalid that “Love is the only mission, idiot.” As played by Thaddea Graham, Bel is determined, courageous, hopeful in the face of cataclysm, and very easy to like. While the Doctor’s still being frustratingly pinballed from one thing to the next by forces she doesn’t understand, it’s satisfying to watch at least one hero take action towards a straightforward goal.
Not just one hero, but two. The father of Bel’s child is Jacob Anderson’s Vinder, whose moral backbone and willingness to risk himself for others was established in this episode. Vinder’s “timestorm” experience took him back to the key moment of his recruitment as Guardian of the Grand Serpent (a self-regarding, self-tanned, unstatesmanlike leader who calls people ‘losers’ and surrounds himself with gold, played by Craig Parkinson). When the great snake used a political negotiation to secretly demand the murder of his enemy’s family, Vinder blew the whistle, and was sent to a remote outpost as punishment. Though resentful of his treatment, he didn’t become embittered by the experience. A romantic soul, Vinder continued to revel in the beauty of the universe despite his enforced exile.
Two heroic flying aces in love, separated but seeking each other across the universe is a part of Doctor Who: Flux that anybody can enjoy. Bel and Vinder’s is a simple story that provides a recognisable scale for a gigantic concept like the end of the universe, in a way that used to regularly happen when Russell T. Davies was showrunner. It’s small, accessible and meaningful, unlike the vast complicated tangle of everything else going on this series. All of which would be undermined if a new fan theory is proven true. Major speculation ahead. You’ve been warned.
A few elements of Bel and Vinder’s story are being interpreted to support a theory that they will turn out to be the Doctor’s parents. The couple’s unborn baby, some theorise, will somehow be the child discovered long ago by Gallifreyan space traveller Tecteun, who, as we learned in the Series 12 finale ‘The Timeless Children’ used the child as the genetic template for the regenerating Time Lords.
What’s the evidence? 1) Bel saying to herself/Tigmi “Wonder if he looks different?” after watching Vinder’s holographic message for the umpteenth time, prompting some to think that their people might regenerate and change appearance. 2) Vinder calls his last pre-The Flux report no. 21,754, which, if the reports are daily, would mean he’d been on Outpost Rose for 54 years. And even if he has to report 10 times a day, that would mean he’d have been there alone for over five years, which would make Bel’s still-not-showing pregnancy either a record breaker or extremely alien. Unless, that is… countless potential sci-fi options. 3) Something zapped Vinder to the Temple of Atropos after he evacuated Outpost Rose, which means that he, like Joseph Williamson, must be of special significance to whatever’s happening. 4) When Bel watched the Time Force particles destroy a pair of survivors, she said that she some days she feels like “they want to stop me from getting to you”. If The Flux is all about the Doctor – and it seems to be – then perhaps whoever sent it is trying to remove her from existence, wipe out The Timeless Child and everything that followed. Sounds like something the Master might do, perhaps? But then the child has already been conceived at this stage, so separating the parents now is a bit like closing the stable door after the genetic regeneration material has bolted…
It’s clearly not a perfect theory, and with any luck, it will remain just that. Because right now, there’s something refreshingly pure about Bel and Vinder’s story. If they turn out to be yet more cogs in this complicated machinery, replaying a tune from the Amy/Rory/Melody/River playbook with a Timeless Child twist, it will undermine the blessedly straightforward heroism the characters currently offer. Not everything in the universe has to be about the Doctor, surely?
Doctor Who: Flux continues on Sunday the 21st of November on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and BBC America.