It’s not a spoiler to say that Revolution Of The Daleks features Daleks, is it? Maybe it is. In any case, within this article there be spoilers. You have been warned.
No, really, there are spoilers here for the New Year’s Day 2021 special episode of Doctor Who, Revolution Of The Daleks.
I hate spoiling things for readers who might just want an assessment of a show rather than a detailed discussion of it, and if that’s you, then back away slowly, go watch Revolution Of The Daleks, and come back when you have.
Beyond this video embed, here be spoilers. Rant over.
Seems like the obvious song, no? I think I saw these 4 chaps on Doctor Who once, too…
Revolution of the Daleks opens with a scene from Resolution, the 2019 New Year’s Day special. Yes, it feels weird to think of that as two years ago, especially as I watched it live to air on the BBC that year. No such joy this year, but ABC as usual comes through with iView availability ahead of its “broadcast” at 7:31pm tonight for those who prefer linear channels.
Anyway, it sets the scene for Revolution of The Daleks pretty simply. The scout Dalek from that show is defeated (sorry, spoiler if you’re way behind there, I guess) and its innards are stolen by that most British of methods… a cup of tea. It feels a little silly and at the same time quite appropriate really for what is a fairly basic Doctor Who Dalek story.
Which makes it a little annoying that it’s an episode with quite so much expository dialogue. I don’t think too many viewers — not even the family or younger child crowd that Doctor Who is aimed at — can’t more or less see what’s going to happen. The interest lies in the showing of how, and the character work that happens along the way, plus of course a few big bangs and the threat of Daleks that was fairly well realised back in Resolution.
Does it succeed? Maybe. Immediately upon watching it, I made the classic error of checking social media, only to be hit with equal waves of congratulations and derision. So very many folks loved it, and a seemingly equal number thought it was terrible.
I honestly think it sits somewhere in the middle, but then I see so many reflections of arguments that have hit Doctor Who fandom over the years. Those who hated it didn’t like that Captain Jack didn’t do as much as they’d liked, or that Graham and Ryan were leaving, or in some cases simply that Jodie Whittaker happens to possess ovaries.
That last group can of course go hang themselves, because I’ve no time for that kind of nonsense. Equally, if you feel the need to respond and the use the phrase “virtue signalling” to explain to me why it’s dreadful, then don’t bother — just slither back to your own slimy and repulsive corner of the Internet, thanks.
So in the interests of balance, what works — and what doesn’t?
Revolution Of The Daleks: The good stuff
It’s a fun enough romp: Not every story is going to be world changing, and the fact that it’s been many months since we’ve had a “new” episode of Doctor Who makes it hard to pull significantly at the heartstrings. That’s especially true given the revelations in The Timeless Children. Doctor Who totally can — and I’d say should — take time to just enjoy being a sci-fi romp every now and again. I rather enjoyed the resolution of this particular show in terms of playing to Dalek racial purity — it probably helps that I watched Remembrance Of The Daleks again not that long ago, because that makes the same point, albeit with slightly fewer Daleks.
Nice new Dalek design I may go down in flames for this, but I rather like that black, menacing Dalek design. Mind you, I also felt that the spray hose bit was something of a callback to the Peter Cushing Doctor Who movies, so maybe I overthink these things.
Subtle enough continuity nods The callbacks to Rose Tyler and Gwen Cooper were handled as they should have been; they didn’t feel like they were sledgehammered in, but instead were parts of normal speech that made sense of where both Rose and Gwen have ended up. Although presumably this also means that Miracle Day never happened. I think we’re all better off believing that.
Impressive production given 2020 Was this the most visually spectacular episode ever? No. But given the real world situation through 2020, when most of the production for this particular show would have happened, I think it’s actually quite well realised, with decent effects work, some of the better music I’ve heard in Who for a while, delivering an overall solid episode as a result.
Some great performances Yes, I know, the internet’s most mutant fans hate Jodie Whittaker with a passion, but I’m entirely happy with her performance here. It’s not my favourite of the episode, however. That credit goes to Mandip Gill’s Yaz, who did some great work here in creating a believable, first mourning, then celebrating character. That, as always isn’t just a question of the dialogue given to her, but also the smaller acting choices, whether she’s chatting to Captain Jack in clearly not Osaka, or deciding to stay with The Doctor at the end. I even believed she’d spend days in the mostly-defunct TARDIS writing sticky notes trying to get it to work. Sure, she failed, but the intent was there, and it was believable.
Keep killing British PMs! Seriously, having the job of British PM is THE worst in the Whoniverse. You’re lucky if you just get deposed. Then again, given recent UK political history, a few exterminations here and there wouldn’t go astray…
Revolution Of The Daleks: The middle ground stuff
Ryan and Graham’s departure: I’ve honestly wavered as to whether this belongs in the plus or minus column. Yes, it was widely spoiled by the Internet (thanks, Internet! Keep up the terrible work!) weeks beforehand, but I don’t so much care about that. Doctor Who as a show is one where actors come and go over the years.
I’m much more interested in the story that’s told around them, and the reasoning behind their departure. Now, I loved the callback to the bike riding above Sheffield right at the end, even if the ghost image was a tad hokey. That worked well… but what wasn’t perhaps as well situated was Ryan’s reasoning behind all of it.
Even one short scene showing how he’s adapted back to Earth life, how he’s comfortable with it and how that 10 month gap really changed his outlook would have gone a long way to explaining his departure. He’s the crux of why Graham leaves — and that’s fine and well within character behaviour — but that sole scene between Jodie and Tosin Cole felt more crowbarred and less natural. Maybe that’s the performance, maybe the dialogue… but either way it fell a little flat to me.
Revolution Of The Daleks: The not-so-good stuff
The damned expository dialogue: Showrunner Chris Chibnall hasn’t — in my estimation – quite cracked that whole “show, don’t tell” thing, and this episode had just a few too many sequences where it was pretty obvious what was going on, or where details that didn’t need covering were covered. Did we need to know that the Security Drone Daleks were going to be made in the UK so that Jack Robertson wouldn’t have his tax details exposed? Sure, you get a light Donald Trump gag out of it — sort of — but it was ultimately screen time that could have gone elsewhere.
Less is still more So there’s thousands of Black Drone Daleks all over the UK, and you solve that with racially pure Daleks, which is fine enough. However, I’ve seen that shot of thousands of Daleks pouring out of a mothership so many times now, and I’ve made this point every single time. One Dalek can be super scary in the right environment, such as the obvious example of Dalek. Millions of them? Well, that just dilutes the threat, really. While it would have retread the ground of Resolution to only have the one Dalek present, it would have made it clear just how much peril they represented.
Did The Doctor really just kill a TARDIS? That new design is going to take a while to embed with me, to be honest, but I can work with it even if I am a bit of a roundel classicist.
What I’m more concerned about is the mechanics of how and why the Doctor turned a TARDIS into a Dalek killing trap. We know — from The Doctor’s Wife and elsewhere — that the heart of the TARDIS is a living entity in its own right. Has the Doctor really just killed one of probably only two — maybe 3 or 4 depending on your perspective on the Master and the Rani — TARDISes left in the Universe? I would have forgiven a few chunks of exposition to clear this up, really!
(While I’m bitching about the TARDIS, that whole “The Daleks MUST not know where I am” bit followed by “I’ll just park it on top of Tower Bridge in full sight of EVERY Dalek” was quite dumb, even if it was meant to set up the trap later).
Revolution Of The Daleks: The verdict
Overall, what I want out of Doctor Who is an hour or so of enjoyable entertainment, a sense of feeling as though it fits into the Doctor Who universe that I’ve been a fan of for more than 40 years now and perhaps a few surprises. Did I get that out of Revolution Of The Daleks?
Yeah, I did. It’s not an all-timer episode, and expecting that against the backdrop of the reality of TV production in 2020 is asking too much, I think. There are flaws, to be sure, but I’ll always take decent-if-not-great Doctor Who if the alternative is no Doctor Who at all.
One more thing!
If you did watch — as I did — the episode on iView, you didn’t get the announcement at the end. No, not the “The Doctor Will Return” one, which anyone could see coming, but this:
Yep, that’s John Bishop, a UK standup comedian not terribly well known in Australia. I’ve already seen a few mentions suggesting that a disaster area is on the way, that it’s stunt casting, and so on and so forth, because this is what fandom does.
I’ll be waiting to see actual episodes and see what the character of “Dan” actually does, and how season 13 rolls out. At least we now know that there’ll be new Doctor Who in 2021 to enjoy!
Revolution Of The Daleks is available to watch on ABC iView now, and will air on broadcast ABC at 7:31pm tonight
Images and copyright and stuff: BBC