Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, John Barrowman, Chris Noth, and Nicholas Briggs
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Lee Haven Jones
“*YOU* *WILL NOT* *ESCAPE US, DOCTOOOOOR!*”
“Yes, I will. Every time.”
Justin Partridge: The Doctor and her beloved Fam reunite just in time to stop a brand new Dalek invasion in Revolution of the Daleks, Doctor Who’s latest “Festive Special”.
WELCOME to GateCrasher’s inaugural Doctor Who review column! I am Justin Partridge, the galaxy’s worst Doctor Who fan and highly emotional follower of the show since the 2005 reboot (and slightly before, but that’s for later).
Joining me on this wild, wonderful journey is GC social media maven and actual British person, Ethan <Last Name Redacted By Orders From The Division>!! How are you doing, Ethan?
Ethan: I’m doing great, thanks, Justin. Much happier after a LONG year to have the Doctor back in my life. Speaking of which, I’ve been watching the show much the same, since March 2005 and have been crying over it ever since, with a bit beforehand as well (but again, that’s for later).
JP: And we are here to pick through the whole of this new festive special. Honestly, now having slept on it and seen it at least twice for this opening column, I might even call it one of my favorite episodes of the Jodie/Chibnall era! I sincerely can’t wait for this. Talking Doctor Who with other fans is the kinda insanity I live for so I can’t wait to crack on.
ETHAN: I agree completely. I thought after finishing it for the first time it was the best of the current era, and having done a second viewing I think I can say definitively that it is, at least for me. And as our Twitter DM’s show, we can talk about this mad, wonderful show an awful lot.
JP: ENOUGH of the preambing! Let’s GET IN!
So we open roughly directly after last year’s Festive Special Resolution. Well, specifically we open 367 Minutes After the Doctor and the Fam’s defeat of the Reconnaissance Dalek.
Though the husk and screaming squid inside the Recon Dalek has been destroyed, private sector interests led by Chris Noth’s Jack Robertson are tipped off to its transport and promptly whisk it away for their own nefarious purposes.
It’s a very OOD opening but one that instantly engages I think. Not only do we have some juicy texture connecting it to the previous special (of which it is arguably a direct sequel to) but we get hefty check-ins with our incarcerated Doctor and the stranded Fam.
What about you, Ethan? How did this specifically silly but well laid out opening grab ya?
E: Much like the rest of the episode I loved it. Right from the off, with the parodic “A Long Time Ago” text, I knew we were in for something special. I especially enjoyed how we got to see what happens to the mess the Doctor leaves after they’ve saved the World. Granted, it doesn’t go well for this delivery driver, but it’s fun to know the government has a place for it all. (Maybe one we’ll see in the future *eyes emoji*)
And then after those glorious titles, we get right into what happened to the Dalek casing, and what exactly the delightfully awful Jack Robertson, who I will be referring to as Mr. Big from now on, has been up to.
Justin, your thoughts on this rather… politically resonant scene?
JP: Truly, truly loved it
We got little bits and bobs about how the Daleks were going to be appropriated as security drones and how they had been woven into the fabrics of British infrastructure (at least as much as Chibs allowed us to know).
But seeing the episode just fully leaning into this aspect almost IMMEDIATELY (heightened to a tremendous level of visual intensity by director Lee Haven Jones) was a real treat. Doubly so as it was scaffolded to tremendous character beats for the Fam and the still imprisoned Doctor, languishing in the Judoon prison counting cameras and reciting books to herself from memory.
So after this cold open, we are tossed roughly ten months to a year into the future. Ryan, Yaz, and Graham are trying to move on with their lives while Mr. Big is calling in deals with the newly installed Prime Minister Jo Patterson, once a lowly undersecretary who tipped off Mr. Big to the transport of the Dalek shell, starting her rise to 10 Downing Street.
It’s all kinda shoe leathery, I’ll admit, and the time skip isn’t handled as well as the opening, boldly credited vignettes but it’s filled with great character moments from the whole Fam, buffeted with more heartbreaking check-ins with the Doctor.
The plot itself is very McCoy Era Dalek intrigue, veering dangerously close to Dalek-Hammer 40k as two factions of Daleks square off for control of the planet and the pleasure of killing the Doctor. To be totally honest, it got a LOT crazier than I was expecting it to for being away for so long but it’s all very much rooted in the character and Jodie’s Doctor (much to the episode’s strength).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We have to talk about The Doctor in prison. So while the Fam is Defending The Earth, the Doctor has spent what seems like years in the orbiting prison asteroid. Every day she is summoned from her sleep, given “exercise” through a yard filled with monster-iffic cameos, and then marched back to her cell in order to do it all again the next day.
My stance on Jodie is pretty well known at this point as I somehow conned a whole other website to let me scream about how much I love her and her take on the Time Lord but MAN ALIVE is this just a great sequence of acting from her. She’s selling every single inch of the pain of her confinement just in looks and slow, almost lumbering movements. Almost as if her inner light (forgive me the Care Bear terminology) has been stifled instantaneously with the separation from her Fam and TARDIS.
What did you think, Ethan? Am I projecting? Is it just because she’s been gone so long?
E: You are definitely NOT projecting. I too love Jodie a whole bunch. Everything in her prison scenes is incredible, having some of the most vulnerable moments we’ve seen not just from 13, but her previous incarnations as well.
One line specifically stood out to me in showing how even in this vulnerable state she still hasn’t lost that spark of goodness inside her, and her want to help. “Stay strong, people counting on you”. In an episode filled with great lines from the Doc, this one stood out to me as being an almost perfect distillation of the Doctor’s mission. A “never be cruel, never be cowardly” for a new decade, so to speak.
CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS.
He’s back, ready to break the Doc out of prison with a plan involving some impossible gadget, a lot of running, and of course, his handy Vortex Manipulator smuggled who knows how. There’s not a moment lost between them. John Barrowman heaps the cheese factor of Jack on hard. And after his great, but all too brief encounter with the Fam last year, it’s great to have him meeting a new Doctor for the first time.
Once they escape with a time (and space) jump, they end up in the TARDIS with plans to get back with the Fam. Although there’s bound to be some timey-wimey mishaps going on there.
How did you feel about the good Captain being back in the fold?
JP: I am of two minds about Jack.
On one hand, Barrowman has an instant cocksure charm with like…everybody. Something his appearance in Fugitive of the Judoon played up quite nicely, allowing him to be the foil for the Fam and not yet the Doctor. Chibnall even makes a few callbacks to the snap flash connections Jack made with Yaz, Graham, and Ryan while the Doc was getting her world shattered (not for the last time in that series, mind you).
That same instant chemistry extends to him and Jodie, which I’m very happy to see. Their madcap escape from the prison, inspired by speed runs of Super Monkey Ball apparently, is a wonderful button on the melancholically repetitive life we’ve seen the Doctor settle into.
There is also a truly wonderful scene between Jack and Yaz, en-route to investigate the Dalek infrastructure, wherein Jack provides a crash course in the emotional fallout of being a Companion. What that takes from you, what that gifts to you, and how it can all end at the blink of an eye. Barrowman and Gill play the moment beautifully, once again given a keen theatrical look by the close-up heavy direction of Jones. By now you’ve heard the line he drops here “You don’t get to choose when it’s over”, which is some Martha Jones erasure I can’t abide but the moment is strong throughout an episode filled with good moments.
At the same time…Barrowman is problematic, having engaged in some Intermediate Level Hacky Transphobia at some conventions, on top of just being a generally polarizing and slightly chippy character when it comes to his involvement within Doctor Who. It’s bittersweet I think for sure.
But also at the same time, I’m infamously NOT a Torchwood person so I might not be sitting in the cheap seats his inclusions are playing to.
WHAT ABOUT YOU, THOUGH?! I think you for sure have more contact with Jack and Torchwood than I do. To me, it’s like, HES fine in bursts and guest spots but I don’t want him recurring again.
(Especially with the incoming…new addition.)
E: Jack, and Barrowman, can be especially polarising (thank you for bringing that up, by the way). To specifically target how Jack can be a bit much, so to speak. I’d say he works better as a Doctor Who character than a Torchwood character. Outside of Series 3 and a few select episodes of earlier series’ I was never much of a Torchwood guy myself. Doctor Who should not be an adult, even if it’s a spin-off. Jack works far better when he’s being, to borrow a term from the great Mickey Smith, “Captain Cheesecake”. A goofy, innuendo-laden character.
And you mentioned you don’t necessarily want him recurring, and I agree, but based on how the episode ends I can see the production team, and Chibnall especially, with his history working on Torchwood, bringing Jack into a Brigadier-type role. A recurring ally to help the Doctor when they’re on present-day Earth. Which the episode establishes Jack will be sticking around for a while as he mentions catching up with Gwen Cooper, a Torchwood alumnus.
Jumping tracks, I want to talk about the Fam. Firstly, Yaz. Now I can shout about this in a public forum, Yaz is CLEARLY in love with the Doctor. Everything she does during those 10 months without her is trying to find a way to reunite. That’s not something any old friend would do. Now granted, there is nothing set in stone regarding this, but it’s hard not to look at it in this way. Hopefully next series we’ll see some further development regarding their connection.
*breathes* Sorry about that. Just needed to get that off my chest. How did you find the Fam in this episode?
JP: Aw, god I would truly love for Jack to become the new Brigadier. I also think that’s a wonderful bit of comparative language. He absolutely works better on Who because Who takes advantage of Barrowman’s natural theatricality and genuine sincerity when saying shit like “Dalek Clone Farm” and “Warpstar”.
BUT ALSO, a very strong Fam episode too! For all the monster-based hijinks of the prison sequence and the regular check-ins on the dawn of these new Drone Daleks, the Fam is very much front and centre throughout Chibnall’s script. This is a relief if I am being honest because I was genuinely convinced someone was going to die, prompting one of the other companions to leave in grief.
But that didn’t make what we got any less heartbreaking, despite Chibnall’s wonderful explanation of the exiting companions’ reasons for doing so. I will also agree that Yaz and the Doctor’s exchanges throughout the episode are…rather charged. There is an intensity not only to the way Yaz is reacting to the returned Doctor but a real yearning behind the eyes of Gill in this episode that I hope she gets a chance to turn into the further text of the show. I normally don’t love much when the Doctor has romantic relationship’s with the companions (because ya know…ew) but I would really love if maybe this leads to Yaz confronting some stuff about her own feelings toward women in general, joining her alongside Tegan and Nyssa as the latest Friends of Ace within DW.
I also really enjoy that the script doesn’t let the Doctor instantly off the hook for the huge gap in time in which the Fam thought she might have been dead (Ryan going as far as to just ASSUME she is, in some wonderful bits of pragmatism showing through in this story). Instead, they make her confront it with each of them in one-on-one scenes. My only complaint with this is that I wish she could have gotten a bit more face time with Graham, but the other scenes are so strong, it doesn’t really hamper my enjoyment of the whole thing.
As the Doctor, Jack, and the Fam regroup into the TARDIS, the episode then starts to take on a pretty breathless pace. You see, apparently Curtis from Misfits, who has been working for Mr.Big cloned a naked Dalek from DNA strands left inside the husk the Recon Dalek. Naturally, this leads to the Recon Dalek immediately jabbing a tendril into his brain and making him work to allow the Recon Dalek a foothold in the galaxy from which to conquer with this new off-shoot Dalek variants (introduced to the world in a fawning live address from the new Prime Minister. Harriet Jones, eat your heart out).
It is full tilt Ben Aaronovitch madness and it really starts to sing here. Obviously, people’s mileages are going to vary as to if they find the Daleks intimidating or not, but the episode really works hard to sell the threat of them, offering imposing vistas of Daleks choking the skies around Bristol with the TARDIS keeping watch after landing on top of the iconic Suspension Bridge.
But it isn’t just all smashy-smashy pew-pew stuff (though there is plenty of that too). There is even a hefty amount of piss-taking surrounding the American obsession with power and freedom, the security state, drone policing, and the nature of hate. The latter was given a truly imposing brass personification in the return of the 2005-2006 Dalek designs. All gleaming brass and booming Briggsian voice modulations. I have to admit, I audibly SCREAMED seeing the, I guess “modern classic” designed Daleks? They are certainly the Daleks that I personally feel the most connection to (even though I am quite fond of the New Paradigm “Power Rangers” Daleks DO NOT @ ME).
So even with all this amazing character stuff and wonderful acting moments, we get like…a Dalek-on-Dalek war with some social commentary to boot. Kinda the best-case scenario, really. I saw someone say that they wished the episode was “meaner”, but…this is also an episode where the Recon Dalek is gunned down after appealing rationally for their life having “given their life to the Dalek cause”.
What did you think of this Dalek court drama that unfolded within the oversized runtime, Ethan?
E: Oh I ate it up. A Dalek Civil War is, as you mentioned, a very specific Aaronovitch-ian type story, drawing a lot from his work on the classic episode Remembrance of the Daleks, which also happened to have some up-front politicking to say.
And then we get THE moment. The Nu-Daleks have been defeated, leaving the Doctor with a Dalek Death Squad to face down. So what does she do? She does what any good hero does. Pulls a Luke Skywalker. Fools the Daleks into a spare TARDIS that was lying around (it’s a long story), making it seem she’s there, before revealing she was (force) projecting herself via hologram from the One and Only TARDIS. And in turn sets the spare to self-destruct, vanquishing the threat.
Touching back on what you said about Ryan and Graham’s departure, I’m in full agreement that it was a genuinely touching scene, allowing them to go out on their own terms. Ryan’s chat with the Doctor earlier on was nothing short of brilliant, and a great way of teeing up that he had moved on from adventures in time and space. Graham, while I too wish he’d had a bit more prominence in the episode itself, is the member of the Fam who has had the most character development during the previous two series. And so letting the episode focus more on Ryan and Yaz was a smart choice on Chibnell’s end.
Besides, Graham gets the best, most emotional line of the episode as he and Ryan leave, a couple of Psychic Papers in hand, off to defend the Earth:
“We do get aliens in Sheffield”.
A brilliant call back to his first appearance and a fitting send-off. I’m getting a bit emotional, so Justin, any final thoughts?
JP: I MEAN, only to also say that I was just wracking sobs throughout the last twenty minutes of this thing too. But you nailed it, they absolutely go out on their own terms. And moreover, it feels genuinely earned in a way that I don’t think a lot of modern companions got a chance to leave with. Most of the time it just felt like a story thing, in which they HAD to leave either to get some new job or to lead their own show somewhere.
But I feel really great about where we leave Ryan and Graham, as well as where we leave the Doctor and Yaz, both still standing in the box that can give them infinity and still know that “it’s okay to feel sad”. I, uh, might have needed to hear that during a year that constantly made me a level of sadness that I didn’t even know was possible.
But all told honestly, I think Revolution of the Daleks is going to be an episode that just appreciates the further away we get from 2020. Not only is it a tremendous follow-up episode to the series that preceded it, but an episode that encapsulates everything fun and highly emotional about Doctor Who in one slickly produced, tremendously acted package.
I couldn’t have asked for a better episode to start out this column with. We need a name now. And suggestions on where we should go next. We have talked about books. We have talked about audios. There is a whole ass Dalek cartoon on YouTube we could do. The world is our…space oyster, I dunno. You tell us.
Until then, be seeing you.
SONIC PULSES (or whatever else we want to call this).
-We touched on it a bit, but we get mentions of Gwen Cooper and her son here which is really fun.
-Mr. Big’s constant shittiness and capitalist biases provide the episode some really funny lines from him (which Noth delivers the hell out of). We hope he pops back up just to get annoyed at the fact that he’s popped back up in another episode.
-Another Highlight Line: “Are you feeling insecure, because you seem to need a lot of praise…” “I DO?!”.
-Ethan has read/listened to most all the Time Lord Victorious content and keeps shaming Justin about it. It is decidedly NOT (it is) COOL.
-We also mentioned the “spare TARDIS”. This being the TARDIS of the Jo Martin Doctor (or Fugitive Doctor which also sounds tres badass) which also served as Yaz’s makeshift HQ post-The Timeless Children. Guessing she’s gonna be a touch mad to know her ride got crunched and sent to the heart of no-space.
-If you desire more Dalek goodness and intrigue, the Big Finish website is running a sale on a TON of Dalek-centred productions until the 8th.
-Highlights include the just-released first volume of Out Of Time, which finds the Fourth and Tenth Doctors squaring off against the pepper pots in a church that exists outside of reality, The Time Lord Victorious Dalek Time Squad Trilogy, and finally, the Sixth Doctor adventure Order of the Daleks, which features a freaking STAINED GLASS DALEK. *EN-JOOOOOY!!!*