Once, Upon Time

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297c – "Once, Upon Time"
Doctor Who episode
Directed byAzhur Saleem
Written byChris Chibnall
Script editor
  • Caroline Buckley
  • Rebecca Roughan
Produced byPete Levy
Executive producer(s)
Music bySegun Akinola
SeriesSeries 13
Running time3rd of 6-part story, 49 minutes
First broadcast14 November 2021 (2021-11-14)
← Preceded by
"War of the Sontarans"
Followed by →
"Village of the Angels"
List of Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

"Once, Upon Time", prefixed frequently with either "Chapter Three" or "Flux", is the third episode of the thirteenth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, and of the six-episode serial known collectively as Doctor Who: Flux. It was first broadcast on BBC One on 14 November 2021. It was written by showrunner and executive producer Chris Chibnall, and directed by Azhur Saleem.

The episode stars Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, alongside Mandip Gill and John Bishop as her companions, Yasmin Khan and Dan Lewis, respectively.


With humanity now on the verge of extinction, the Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans occupy most of the remaining planets. In the Temple of Atropos, the Doctor jumps into the time storm and stalls Swarm by hiding Dan, Yaz, and Vinder in their pasts.

Dan experiences his date with his love interest Diane, until the Doctor appears as a hologram and Swarm's companion Passenger abducts Diane. Yaz talks with her police partner and tries to teach her sister a video game, but sees the Doctor instead. Vinder reluctantly relives his time assisting the dictatorial Grand Serpent and his demotion to a remote outpost upon revealing the Serpent's misdeeds, with Yaz as his superior and the Doctor as a hologram. Vinder makes video messages aboard the outpost.

Bel, a survivor of the Flux, evades the Daleks in a forest, finds a Lupari ship and weapons, and escapes to the Cybermen sector. Bel kills a boarding party, then confesses her motivations to the last Cyberman she kills: she is searching for her lover, Vinder. Bel finds Vinder’s messages, and comforts their unborn child.

The Doctor jumps into her own timestream and recovers memories of her past Fugitive Doctor incarnation and three other Division officers, including the Lupari officer Karvanista, raiding the Temple to confront Swarm and Azure. Swarm appears in his original form and has vessels called Passengers each storing hundreds of thousands of life essences. The Fugitive Doctor has secretly hidden six powerful Mouri priests inside, and unleashes them.

Back in her present, the Doctor finds the priests and encourages them to return to the temple, but the priests forcibly separate her from her past memories to protect her from the time storm's effects. Awsok, a mysterious old entity, chides the Doctor, claiming the Doctor's mission is futile. Awsok reveals the Flux was deliberately created and placed and is the Doctor's fault.

The Doctor returns Yaz, Dan and Vinder to the present. Azure reveals they knew what the Doctor would do and brought her to Atropos on purpose. Swarm reveals Diane's entrapment in Passenger, and the Doctor and Vinder promise to help Dan get her back before Swarm, Azure and Passenger leave the temple. The Doctor uses the TARDIS to return Vinder to his ravaged home planet and gives him a device to contact her. After taking off, a Weeping Angel jumps out of Yaz's phone and seizes the TARDIS console.



"Once, Upon Time" was written by showrunner and executive producer Chris Chibnall.[1]


The series is the third to feature Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor,[2] and Mandip Gill as Yasmin Khan,[3] with John Bishop having joined the cast for the series as Dan Lewis.[4] The episode featured a guest appearance from Craig Parkinson.[5] Jo Martin also returned as the Fugitive Doctor; her appearance was unannounced prior to the episode's broadcast.[6] Additional guest stars for the episode were announced on 4 November.[7]


Azhur Saleem directed the second block, which comprised the third, fifth and sixth episodes of the series.[8]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Rotten Tomatoes (Tomatometer)75%[9]
Rotten Tomatoes (Average Score)7.2/10[9]
Review scores
Radio Times[10]
The A.V. ClubB[11]
The Independent[12]
The Telegraph[13]


"Once, Upon Time" aired on 14 November 2021.[14] The episode serves as the third part of a six-part story, entitled Flux.[15][16]


Overnight the episode was watched by 3.76 million viewers; it was the fourth most-watched programme of the day only behind Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear, and Countryfile.[17] The consolidated rating counting all views across all platforms within seven days of broadcast was 4.67 million. The episode was the sixth highest rated programme on BBC1 for the week, but across all channels, it was the fifth highest for the day and failed to make the top fifteen programmes for the week.[18] The episode received an Audience Appreciation Index score of 75.[19]

Critical reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator website, 6 of 8 critics gave the episode a positive review, with an average rating of 7.2 out of 10.[9] Patrick Mulkern, a reviewer for Radio Times, stated that the episode was "one of the most dizzying and blatantly confusing episodes of Doctor Who."[10] The Independent's Isobel Lewis agreed, calling it a "meaningless mess", but said there were some "hopeful moments" among the "bewildering plotlines."[12] Meanwhile, Michael Hogan with The Telegraph disagreed, believing that the "disorienting" episode was the overall goal and that it was "jam-packed with treats for the fans."[13]


  1. ^ "Chibnall Has Written All of Series 13 Solo (Bar One Episode), Confirms Directors". Doctor Who TV. 15 October 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  2. ^ Collis, Clark (22 January 2020). "Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker will play time traveler for at least one more season". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 23 January 2020. Retrieved 23 January 2020.
  3. ^ Cremona, Patrick (30 November 2020). "Doctor Who: Mandip Gill says there's "more to come" for Yaz and her mental health storyline". Radio Times. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  4. ^ Foster, Chuck (1 January 2021). "New companion for Series 13". DoctorWhoNews.net. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  5. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (8 November 2021). "Doctor Who overnight ratings revealed for series 13's War of the Sontarans". Radio Times. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  6. ^ Fullerton, Huw (14 November 2021). "Doctor Who brought back another Doctor, and it's about time". RadioTimes. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  7. ^ Laford, Andrea (4 November 2021). "Doctor Who: Flux – 'Once, Upon Time' guest cast list". Cultbox. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  8. ^ Laford, Andrea (9 August 2021). "Doctor Who Series 13 and 2022 specials: directors and casting news". CultBox. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  9. ^ a b c "Flux: Once, Upon Time". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  10. ^ a b Mulkern, Patrick (14 November 2021). "Doctor Who – Once, Upon Time review: A feverish kaleidoscope reveals a few delicious gems". Radio Times. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  11. ^ "A trippy Doctor Who travels up its own timestream". The A.V. Club. 15 November 2021.
  12. ^ a b Lewis, Isobel (14 November 2021). "Doctor Who review, 'Once, Upon Time': Even the most feared villains in the Whoniverse can't save this meaningless mess". The Independent. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  13. ^ a b Hogan, Michael (14 November 2021). "Doctor Who: Flux, episode 3 review: a rollicking, timey-wimey greatest hits package". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  14. ^ "Once, Upon Time". BBC. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  15. ^ Haring, Bruce (9 October 2021). "'Doctor Who: Flux' Unveils Season 13 Trailer, Promises New Villains For Jodie Whittaker Finale". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  16. ^ Mellor, Louisa (9 October 2021). "Doctor Who Series 13 is Titled 'Flux' and Starts On Halloween". Den of Geek. Retrieved 9 October 2021.
  17. ^ Molina-Whyte, Lidia (15 November 2021). "Doctor Who overnight ratings revealed for episode 3 Once, Upon Time". Radio Times. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  18. ^ "Most viewed programmes | BARB".
  19. ^ Foster, Chuck (16 November 2021). "Once, Upon Time - Appreciation Index". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 25 November 2021.

External links[edit]