“Eve of the Daleks”
Doctor Who: 2022 New Year’s Day Special
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Annetta Laufer
Synopsis: New Year’s Eve. Sarah is working – again. Nick is her only customer – again. Same old same old. Except this year, their countdown to midnight will be the strangest and deadliest they have ever known. Why is an executioner Dalek targeting these two people, in this place, on this night? Why are they having to live through the same moments again? Can the Doctor, Yaz and Dan save them and survive into the New Year?
“Eve of the Daleks” is the third New Year’s Day special in a row to feature the Daleks as the main threat, and yet again Chris Chibnall reinvents the aliens in a fresh new way. With “Resolution”, we saw a lone Dalek attach itself to a human host and construct a temporary shell for itself to attack the Doctor; In “Revolution of the Daleks”, we saw human-made Dalek drones and clones in a civil war against the original species and here, we see a quintet of executioner Daleks hunting down the Doctor in the midst of an ever-decreasing time loop. As much as the Daleks get overused as a villain, these annual specials have definitely approached the aliens from a different perspective each time to keep the stories fresh and exciting.
Picking up immediately after the events of the Flux miniseries, Chibnall’s script addresses a few of the unanswered questions, but still fails to provide any scale to the destruction caused by the Flux event. The malfunctioning TARDIS story-arc is given a resolution by using that trusty IT fix of “turning it off and on again”, although we’re never given an adequate explanation for what caused it in the first place. The Doctor claims it is Flux particles, but the malfunctions begun before it ingested the Flux at the end of “The Halloween Apocalypse”. The other loose end that gets picked up is the apparent extinction of the Daleks at the end of “The Vanquishers”; the Doctor is quite rightly called out on her decision to wipe out the Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen fleets using the second Flux and it seems that this decision will come back to haunt her in the future with the Daleks putting all their energy into executing the Doctor.
After the epic scale of the Flux miniseries, “Eve of the Daleks” is much more intimate affair with a single location housing the majority of the action and a minimal cast of characters. The story itself is also a lot simpler, even with the time loop plot mechanic, with survival being the main goal for the characters. Chibnall puts his own spin on the ‘time loop genre’ by having each subsequent loop get shorter, increasing the risk and peril as there is a finite number of loops before midnight, however this causes a few plot holes at times. I would have preferred the traditional time loop rules, or a different way of making them finite – perhaps the TARDIS could have been degrading each loop? My favourite aspect of time loop films such as Groundhog Day is the frequent repetition and subversion of recurring events – something that felt lacking in this episode as there were only a small number of loops and hardly any repeated moments. As is typical of Chibnall’s writing, the idea is intriguing but the finer details don’t quite hold up to scrutiny.
Fighting the Daleks alongside the Doctor, Yaz and Dan was Sarah and Nick, played by Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon. Thrust into a fight for survival, this mismatched pair predictably ended up as a couple by the end of the night, although I thought there was no real chemistry between the two at all. Nick was presented as a creepy introvert who admired Sarah from afar and turned up once a year to deposit his ex-girlfriend’s belongings into a storage locker. This just didn’t make sense to me – if he was shy and introverted, how did he have so many girlfriends? Also, if he was interested in Sarah, why would he continue to date other women? It felt like the script went out of its way to make him into a “good-hearted weirdo” to set up the reveal that Yasmin had feelings for the Doctor and didn’t make him into a realistic character. Sarah seemed a lot more rounded as a character and to be honest, I don’t think she’d be interested in him in the slightest. Her initial reaction to his creepiness was far more believable than her eventual warming of affection towards him.
The biggest talking point of the episode – at least on Twitter – was the confirmation that Yasmin had romantic feelings for the Doctor. This has been hinted at in scripts ever since “Revolution of the Daleks”, although I wonder if it is more a reaction to the vocal ‘Thasmin’ fan-base online than a natural development for the characters. Personally, I think the Doctor treats Yaz terribly as a friend, often withholding information about her past – each time she promises to be honest and open, she just changes the subject and avoids the truth. She does the exact same thing again in this episode, shutting down Yaz’s inquiries about what the Dalek said and distracting them with an adventure elsewhere. She’s a bad friend, and an even worse candidate for a partner, and given that she has a limited shelf life at the moment, we can expect that this particular plot thread will probably have an unhappy ending.
Despite the inclusion of well-worn plot elements such as the Daleks and Time Loops, “Eve of the Daleks” offers a glimmer of originality to kick off the Thirteenth Doctor’s final year of adventures. While the script didn’t take full advantage of the fun offered up by a time loop narrative, it was an enjoyable enough twist on the familiar ‘base under siege’ format. Aisling Bea and John Bishop both shine as comedians-turned-actors, both delivering strong and defiant performances against the menace of the Daleks. With two episodes left of the Thirteenth Doctor’s era, there is a lot of expectation for Chris Chibnall to wrap up all of the plot threads he has introduced before the next show-runner takes over, but I worry that we will not get satisfactory answers unless that final episode tackles the subject head-on. The next episode seems like it will be another standalone adventure, with the Sea Devils returning to the screen for the first time since 1984’s “Warriors of the Deep” and unlikely to delve into the nitty-gritty of the Flux and Timeless Child arcs. Frankly at this stage, I’d be happy with just knowing whether there is still a universe out there beyond Earth…
Score – ★★★★
Next Episode: “Legend of the Sea Devils”
This episode finds the Doctor, Yaz and Dan in 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat – from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching and a monstrous alien force which she unwittingly unleashes. Will the Doctor, Yaz and Dan emerge from this swashbuckling battle with the Sea Devils to save the planet?