What’s The Show? The Doctor Who New Year’s special, Eve Of The Daleks.
What’s It All About, JG? The Doctor, Yaz and Dan land on New Year’s Eve in a self-storage depot while the Doctor attempts to purge the remaining Flux energy from the TARDIS. Turns out doing that causes a time loop, which the Daleks pop into in order to extract revenge for the Doctor wiping out their war fleet with the Flux. Also there are Sarah (a brilliant Aisling Bea) and oddball Nick (Adjani Salmon), who’s storing the possessions of ex-girlfriends there and using it as an excuse to see Sarah, on whom he has an unrequited crush. Every time the Executioner Daleks – with the really cool Gatling gun weapons – kill them, time resets and the loop becomes just that little bit shorter, so its up to the Doctor to figure out how they can defeat the Daleks, keep everyone alive, and escape the loop before time runs out.
Why Did You Give It A Go? Come on, you know the answer by now.
Is It Any Good? Oh yeah, it’s great! Indeed, while it’s effortlessly the best of the three specials that the Chibnall era has given us, it’s quite possibly also the best individual episode of his entire span as showrunner as well, and probably the best thing he has written for Doctor Who full stop. One of the things that has become clear across Chibnall’s time in charge, both as a writer and as a showrunner, is that he’s consistently improved. So sure, the first season was a bit of a dud, but his second season improved noticeably, Flux improved again, and here we are once more seeing a conspicuous development in his abilities. This just feels so much like the way not only a holiday special should work but also just a cracking episode of Doctor Who should work as well.
Shorn of the need to shoehorn in lots of continuity, bafflegab or ongoing plot points what we are left with is a stripped-down, bare-bones story which has just five character, three Daleks and one location. That means everything gets room to breathe, and as a result this feels like the rare Chibnall story that has the right amount of plot for the amount of time it actually has to fill. Flux, messily entertaining though it was, ached for more space – especially the way-too-hurried finale – but here the story we get is the story we need for the episode that’s required. Everyone gets their little moments in the story that make them come alive, we have enough time to spend with the small guest cast to care about what happens to them, and the Daleks – the very epitome of less-is-more – manage to be properly threatening for the first time since… Er…. Well, let’s just say it’s been a long time. There’s only three of the buggers, but they are usefully deployed, adding additional tension when the second and third ones turn up just as we figure out the loop is getting shorter. They ramp up the danger without just going for jeopardy inflation and it works incredibly well. It’s nice to see them being written as spiteful as well – they’re specifically targeting the Doctor now, a pleasing reminder that, despite how Nick and Sarah refer to them, they’re not just robots – there’s a creature in them and they despise the Doctor. Excellent stuff all round!
And lo, look at how the Doctor is written! Funny, fast-thinking, occasionally unsympathetic, intense… a whole range of emotions that gives Jodie Whittaker loads of material to work with, and work with it she does. She is – as with Flux – on fire during this story, whether catapulting about the building trying to figure out how to save everyone, or getting the Big Doctor Speech, which she absolutely nails. And, crucially, the Doctor figures out how to defeat the Daleks and escape so she’s actively the protagonist in her own story, rather than just standing around having other people explain things to her (“The Timeless Child” most egregiously, though by no means the only example) or relying on a cliche like a Big Noble Sacrifice. She works out how to defeat the Daleks, puts her plan into action, and it work. To quote an earlier incarnation, fantastic! The Doctor is a joy to behold during this story, and Jodie Whittaker remains simply magnetic to watch.
How Man… You know, I think we can skip this section when it comes to Doctor Who now. I’ve seen ’em all, and there’s only so many ways to try and make a bit of a joke about it.
Would You Recommend It? I would indeed. It’s just so nice to have Doctor Who that stands on its own merits and doesn’t require anything more than sitting down and watching it. Again, Flux was pretty close, but all the Division stuff and the thread of the Doctor’s lost memories means it can’t ever come across as standalone (despite its two best episode basically being exactly that). Here, this is just a rollocking good adventure, delivered in just the way it should be.
Except… one of the great things about Eve Of The Daleks is that it’s not just a rollocking good adventure – it’s actually about something. And the thing that it’s about – learning, not making assumptions, and growing as a result – applies to every character here. The Doctor is directly challenged by Dan about why she is pretending to be much less emotionally aware than she clearly is, putting her into new emotional territory she’s not used to being challenged on – you couldn’t imagine Ryan pulling her up like that. Dan himself doesn’t get a lot of screen-time during this episode, but his gentle compassion with Yaz is a real highlight of the episode, as he learns how to best support his friend. Sarah, a character who at the outset of the episode is bored, frustrated and at a complete dead-end, learns to set aside her prejudices about Nick and takes positive action to actually do something to improve her life. Nick, who starts the episode as a fairly standard-issue oddball-weirdo, just needed some help to right the ship. And, while admittedly killer aliens from another world is unusual therapy, by the end he’s in a happier, better mental place as he breaks his own implicit and self-imposed time-loop of always coming back to the self-storage facility. That’s some nice thematic resonance, that is.
And then there’s Yaz. The big reveal of the episode – that she’s romantically attracted to the Doctor but only really just coming to terms with that fact herself – is a potentially divisive moment, yet it’s handled incredibly well. Mandip Gill excels here – quite possibly her best Doctor Who scene so far, and she’s had a few good ones – bringing out Yaz’s confusion, the difficulties she’s having wrestling with feelings she’s not accustomed to, and just completely landing this side of the character. Her being attracted to the Doctor is both emotionally consistent with what we know of Yaz, yet also works well as a new facet to her character and it will be fascinating to see where this goes in the two remaining specials.
What also works well, though, is that this doesn’t feel like a retread of past Doctor/companion attractions – this isn’t the explosive love of Rose and the Doctor, the cheeky innuendo of Captain Jack, the frustrated dismissal of Martha’s feelings, nor the short-lived flirtations of Amy (to say nothing of the whole Clara thing, which is kind of different). This feels… fresh, and there just hasn’t been a serious same-sex Doctor/companion attraction before (Jack is many things, but definitely not serious). The quiet, understated nature of it helps as well, and is one of the times when Chibnall’s instinct to under-write, rather than dialling the emotions up to eleven, really pays dividends (alongside Mandip Gill’s brilliance in that scene, real credit to John Bishop is due too, who exactly lands Dan’s warmth and understanding). It’s also worth nothing, in passing, that queer Muslim women are not exactly common on television, so definite points there too, and all round this aspect of Yaz is handled incredibly deftly.
And though it’s not quite perfect, the quibbles are all very minor. The romcom tropes around Sarah and Nick are a little heavily leaned on, especially with the happily-ever-after ending. One can always question the logic of temporal mechanics, especially when it comes to time loops, though this one is refreshingly bafflegab free. “The TARDIS caused it,” is all the explanation we get and all the explanation we need – more than enough to get things going without the need to drag everything to a standstill and staring explaining that it’s actually a temporal hysteresis or something. The Daleks can’t hit anything for shit, even with their impressive new Gatling guns, but that’s pretty much a trope at this stage as much as it is a criticism (and fair enough – they do get plenty of exterminations in even if a human running down a corridor poses a challenge to their targeting systems). And the whole storage building being brought down by all those fireworks might be pushing things a bit, though there is a reason you don’t store gunpowder in old buildings after all. And let’s all say a big hurrah for the return of Seasonally Appropriate Signifiers, in this case loads of fireworks going off because, well, it’s New Year. It’s cheesy, but it works.
Ah, in the end this is just great Doctor Who. Go watch it!
Scores On The Doors? 9/10