Sunday 2 January 2022

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 2022 New Year's Day Special - Eve of the Daleks

Doctor Who - Eve of the Daleks

It's the beginning of the end, but the moment has been prepared for. Despite Doctor Who: Flux being confirmed as her last series, the 13th Doctor will still return for three special episodes in 2022 prior to her regeneration, at which point Jodie Whittaker will leave alongside show-runnner Chris Chibnall. The first of these three specials is of course the now-annual New Year's Day episode, which once again pits the Doctor against their greatest enemy - the DaleksEve of the Daleks was once again written by Chibnall, and directed by Annette Laufer in her Doctor Who debut.

Nick and SarahThe Doctor, Yaz and Dan

Following the damage done to the TARDIS by the Flux, the Doctor attempts to reset the ship which will leave it out of action for an unknown period of time. Rather than arrive at the beach planet they had intended, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan arrive at a storage facility minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve - where Nick is dropping off a Monopoly board much to the irritation of its owner Sarah. But the Daleks have also arrived at the facility, and it isn't long before all five of them have been exterminated.

Immediately though time resets, and the five find themselves alive again minutes before their fatal Dalek encounter. In order to defeat the Daleks and escape the time loop, the five will need to work together with precious little time to spare.

The Daleks arriveExterminated!

After the complexity of both the Flux storyline and the Timeless Child revelations that were introduced before it, what really stands out about Eve of the Daleks is its simplicity. There's no grand designs to this story or furthering of 13's ongoing narrative - it's about five people being trapped in a building with Daleks. Though there are numerous references to Flux over the course of the episode (the main two being the damage done to the TARDIS and the Daleks chasing the Doctor for destroying their war fleet), these mentions are light and don't have any major bearing on the enjoyment of the episode as a whole. For the first time in a long while it feels like a casual viewer could drop into this episode of Doctor Who and get almost as much out of it, which is exactly the kind of attitude a New Year's special should take.

The simplicity of the plot certainly isn't to the episode's detriment though, as it provides it with an opportunity to instead work on something Chibnall-era Who has often struggled with - its characters. Whereas Flux's oversized cast led to numerous characters not really contributing anything to the overall story, Eve of the Daleks is a far more focused character piece that's as much about its guest characters as it is about the main cast. Starring in this episode are Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon as Sarah and Nick respectively, both of whom shine in their roles. Bea as the exasperated and somewhat self-centred (at least initially) Sarah, and Salmon as the lovesick Nick. The portrayals certainly aren't perfect - Nick's cataloguing of his exes' possessions comes off as more than a little creepy, and that behaviour is both played for laughs and ultimately rewarded with romance, but it's fair to say the pair are among the more memorable guest characters the show has had in recent years. 

Escaping the DaleksYaz confesses

But the big revelation coming out Eve of the Daleks is the confirmation of Yaz's romantic feelings towards the Doctor, which have only become more and more apparent as her time in the TARDIS has gone on. As poorly handled (as well as extremely mistimed given the pair only have two episodes left together after this) as this has been to begin with, it's been great to see Yaz finally get some actual definition to her character after floundering about for so long. While Dan has his moments in the episode, particularly getting the pair to actually confront Yaz's feelings for the Doctor, Yaz is very much the focus here. Given the emphasis placed on it here one would hope that this will become a major plot point in the lead up to the Doctor's imminent regeneration, but how it will be handled is anyone's guess. Yaz's feelings might be all too clear now, but the Doctor still has some serious communication issues that resonate throughout the episode. This has been true of the 13th Doctor since Fugitive of the Judoon, with the reveal of past lives she can't even remember having spiralled into actively shutting her friends out of her life - immediately changing the subject when questioned either obliviously or aggressively. Flux repeatedly saw the Doctor running off to tackle things alone, and Eve of the Daleks sees that tactic catching up with her. It's only when she actually tells her plan to everyone else that they're able to work together and defeat the Daleks. Is the Doctor's denial of Yaz general alien obliviousness, or an attempt to hide her own feelings? Either way the Doctor's repeated shutting out (as well as shutting down) of Yaz has been an interesting way to take their relationship following the departure of Ryan and Graham, and even if their love doesn't have a happy ending (and with a regeneration incoming it's fair to say it won't), Yaz having to come to terms with the Doctor not necessarily being the person she wants her to be is an equally fascinating place to take their story. 

The Daleks are all on top form too, their effectiveness again emphasised by simple the story is. Of course they aren't happy that the Doctor recently wiped out millions of their forces, and an extermination squad of three heavily armed Daleks is all that's needed to get the job done. Eve of the Daleks debuts brand new "gattling gun" style rapid fire weaponry, something which the Doctor clearly wasn't prepared for. That cold opening of the Doctor's horror at not being able to jam their weapons, met with the cold response of "Daleks learn" is one that deserves to go down in Doctor Who history. It's a shame that the new "Death Squad" claw appendage, previously introduced in Revolution of the Daleks, couldn't have been debuted with such significance - instead just being there for the sake of being different. Granted these Daleks' still struggled to kill anyone that wasn't standing directly in front of them, but at least they had the sense to exterminate the Doctor repeatedly without hesitation. As the Daleks' capabilities have evolved over the years so have their schemes and motivations, but ultimately you really can't beat running away from them down an abandoned building/corridor. The modern-style Daleks work perfectly for this too, their blue lens eerily illuminating the dark building. There are plenty of holes you could pick in their plan (like why they only blocked off the entrance), but the stalking and killing of their prey - as well as adapting to and learning from a time loop that wasn't of their own design, is the Daleks at their deadliest.

Dan confronts a DalekDaleks in the dark

Given that we begin 2022 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Daleks' "big" return in Day of the Daleks, it's rather fitting that we open it with another time-twisting story featuring three Daleks. Time loop stories have always proved popular and although Eve of the Daleks doesn't necessarily do anything new with the concept, it has a clear idea of what it wants to do with it. The rules of the time loop are laid out clearly, and the added caveat that the it gets a minute shorter with every reset adds a sense of urgency that's often missing from this kind of story. Despite the whole basis of a time loop being steeped in repetition, the fact the cast clock on to what's going on so soon allows each reset to take a slightly different form.

One last surprise Eve of the Daleks has in store is the surprise return of Karl, Sarah's mysterious business partner who's later revealed to be the same Karl that appeared all the way back in The Woman Who Fell to Earth in 2018. Karl's cameo at the end may not have any real bearing on the episode itself nor is it in any. way substantial, but it does feel symbolic of change. With both Chibnall and Whittaker about to leave the show to usher in the second era of Russell T Davies, Karl's reappearance takes us all the way back to the 13th Doctor's debut - reminiscing on what would be fair to call a somewhat contentious era for the series, but has undoubtedly had its own distinct feel and identity.

Enjoying the New Year's FireworksKarl returns!

Daleks on New Year's Day might have become passé for some people by now, but Eve of the Daleks proves to be Chibnall's biggest hit with the bronze-clad pepper pots yet. Brilliantly simple in both its set up and execution, Eve of the Daleks is a wonderfully fun time-twisting romp that isn't without its flaws but never stumbles in the same way Resolution or Revolution of the Daleks did. As potentially the last time we ever see the bronze Daleks that have dominated modern Doctor Who, this was a good note for them to go out on. The race is on to the 13th Doctor's final outing, but in the meantime we have the excruciating wait until Legend of the Sea Devils - an adventure in 19th century China starring the pirate queen Madame Ching (aka Zheng Yi Sao) and the first proper appearance of the classic monsters since 1984's Warriors of the Deep. There's still plenty of life in the Chibnall era yet.

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