‘Doctor Who’ just messed up its own canon (again)

Doctor Who

Doctor Who: Flux reached its penultimate episode this weekend, but instead of starting to tie together the various threads of this complex time-hopping miniseries, it introduced some fresh plot streams into the mix. Case in point, “Chapter Five: Survivors of the Flux” featured the return of U.N.I.T., the alien-busting organization that’s been part of Who lore since the 1960s but was previously revealed to have been shut down in Jodie Whittaker’s first season.

“Chapter Five” finally provides an explanation for this shocking development. Evil alien the Grand Serpent (Craig Parkinson) had used time travel to infiltrate the upper echelons of U.N.I.T. since its formation, eventually giving him the power to shut it down in 2017, paving the way for his secret allies the Sontarans to invade Earth unimpeded in the present. It’s a cool reveal for sure, but unfortunately, the episode messes up U.N.I.T. canon in the process.

U.N.I.T. first appeared in Who in 1968’s “The Invasion”, in which it was explained that the organization had been set up following the Yeti attack on London in the same year’s “The Web of Fear”. Flux, however, revealed that General Farquhar (Robert Bathurst) was assigned to establish “the British end of a new United Nations taskforce” in 1958. That’s not just a full decade before U.N.I.T.’s first on-screen appearance, it also flies in the face of the long-term belief that U.N.I.T.’s creation actually happened in the 1970s.

Though they were broadcast in the same year, “The Invasion” is actually set four years later than “The Web of Fear”. The U.N.I.T. stories being set in the near-future persisted through the 1970s themselves, with Sarah Jane Smith revealing she’s from 1980 in 1975’s “Pyramid of Mars”. The problem was that this rule was forgotten later on, and 1983’s “Mawdryn Undead” treats the U.N.I.T. stories as being contemporaneous to when they aired.

Fans have generally decided to pretend “Mawdryn Undead” got it wrong and go with the traditional timeline, but Flux follows the 1983 story’s line of thinking. “Chapter Five” also features scenes set in 1967, with U.N.I.T. just gearing up to become the top military force we’re familiar with. The implication is that this tees up their first canon appearance in “The Invasion”, which aired the following year. But, as we’ve made clear, (most) evidence suggests it takes place in the ’70s.

So, not only does this episode reopen an old wound in the canon, it deepens it by adding in the curveball that U.N.I.T. was established in the ’50s, conflicting with the classic explanation that it was formed in between “Web” and “Invasion”. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, I guess.

Doctor Who: Flux airs its finale next Sunday on BBC America.