“Revolution of the Daleks”
Doctor Who: 2021 New Year’s Day Special
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Lee Haven Jones
Synopsis: The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?
The last time we saw the Doctor she was arrested by the Judoon and placed in a high security prison in an asteroid to serve out a lengthy jail sentence in isolation, so it’s safe to assume that her experience of 2020 mirrored that of our own following the coronavirus outbreak. “Revolution of the Daleks” picks up on that cliff-hanger ending from “The Timeless Children”, but it also serves as a direct sequel to the 2019 New Year’s Day Special, “Resolution” as it deals with the aftermath of the Reconnaissance Dalek’s attempt to take over Earth. Having not seen that episode since its air date, some of the call-backs were lost on me such as the use of ultraviolet light to teleport the Daleks into their metal casings. Despite these references, the episode remained accessible with bite-size recaps of both Jack Harkness and Jack Robertson’s prior involvement to refresh viewer’s memories.
Boasting the same cinematic sheen as previous instalments, there is definitely a big-budget feel to Doctor Who these days in terms of the directorial styles, however it can sometimes feel a bit too polished and lacking in substance compared to previous eras of the series. The whole episode felt a bit hollow at times to me, and while it was great to see Jack back in action, he didn’t really have a whole lot to do aside from a brief heart-to-heart with Yaz about the temporary nature of being a Time Lord’s companion. It was good to see Jack back with the Doctor, his first televised meeting since “Journey’s End”, and the dynamic between him and the Thirteenth Doctor was similar to his relationship with the Tenth. It would have been nice to see him interact with the Twelfth Doctor, but I guess that is what Big Finish audios are for…
The Dalek plot felt like a medley of previous storylines, mixing in elements of “Victory of the Daleks” with the government attempting to use Daleks as weapons, and “The Evil of the Daleks” where a Dalek civil war took place between pure and mutated Daleks. I quite like the new method of Dalek’s possessing human bodies to travel incognito, used again after debuting in “Resolution” as it makes the creatures even more deadly than before. The sequence where Jack had a Dalek attached to his face finally paid recognition to how the Daleks look like the face-huggers from Alien, offering a child-friendly take on that iconic scene from the movie.
While I enjoyed the concept of the government unwittingly 3D-printing a whole army’s worth of Dalek shells to be populated by Dalek clones, I didn’t quite buy the logic behind the Reconnaissance Dalek somehow building a secret factory in Osaka “using the internet” and then somehow turning the human workers into slop to feed his army. It seemed like a way to pave over plot holes to expedite the threat, but it would have been much more believable if the main Dalek was controlling the empty drones remotely using the neural network. Similarly, the Doctor’s escape from the prison seemed to be a bit too convenient considering the set-up at the beginning of the episode and I do hope that we will see some consequences of this event in future episodes. Hopefully the Doctor will return to being a fugitive, as she was when she first escaped Gallifrey, this time hiding from the law whilst trying to understand what crime her earlier self has committed.
One knock-on effect of the Doctor’s ten-month absence was the change in dynamic to the TARDIS team with Ryan deciding to stay behind, prompting Graham to make his own decision. It felt like a realistic end for the two characters, although I think part of me was hoping that there would be some kind of happy ending involving the return of Grace: either a parallel earth or through some other sci-fi convenience. However, it was nice to see them revisiting the bike riding sequence from “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, showing just how much the pair of them had grown close to each other and become a family, despite Grace’s absence. I wouldn’t rule out a guest appearance return at some point in the future, especially since they will be doing a Sarah-Jane Smith and investigating Earth-bound mysteries as a pair of private investigators. While it is sad to see both Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh leave the show, I think that reducing the TARDIS team is a positive move for the series going forward, hopefully giving Yaz more opportunity to develop as a companion, although the post-episode teaser suggests that John Bishop’s Dan might be more of a focus for the next series. At the very least, I hope Ryan and Graham’s departure means that the Doctor will now stop referring to her companions as her “fam” – it makes me cringe every time she says it.
On paper this should have been a blockbuster of an episode with the return of Captain Jack Harkness, two tribes of Daleks clashing in war above the skies of Earth and a potential prison break, but the set-pieces and storyline felt somewhat underwhelming and lacking substance. Sure, it looks glorious and I actually liked the design of the drone Daleks and the chaotic violence that ensued once they were activated, but it seemed like there was no real sense of peril to the episode despite the high stakes. I must admit that I was worried that there would be a weak plot contrivance for the Doctor to get rid of the original Daleks, but her solution turned out to be very ingenious and eliminated one of the loose ends from “The Timeless Children”.
Slightly reliant on remembering older episodes instead of standing on its own merits, “Revolution of the Daleks” was a shiny, high-energy adventure that moved too fast for its own good. There were a number of plot holes (Why did it take 4 mins for the TARDIS to travel to Osaka?) that made the story frustrating at times, and it seemed that finer details were glossed over in favour of delivering big set-pieces. The shake-ups to the status-quo at the end of the episode have me optimistic for the future, and I look forward to seeing what a brand-new companion can add to the series.