Much like they’re the backbone of the Rebel Alliance, pilots are the backbone of Star Wars storytelling, having been the subject of countless books, comics, and video games. But this is perhaps the best depiction they’ve ever had.
Victory’s Price, the final book in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed, gives us a tense, emotional conclusion to this story of daring pilots. Nearly a year on since the death of Emperor Palpatine, the fledgling New Republic is ready to bring the war to a final end. One of their prime objectives? Defeating the Imperial aces of the 204th, Shadow Wing. Who under the command of Colonel Soran Keize, have begun a second Operation Cinder, bringing devastation to world after world.
To hunt them down, Alphabet Squadron was brought together. Consisting of a defected, traumatized Shadow Wing pilot, Yrica Quell. A sweet, sadly no longer innocent boy by the name of Wyl Lark. A Theelin with a death wish struggling after an affecting experience with a cult, Chass na Chadic. An ex-Imperial rebel pirate, now seemingly a war hero for actions against the 204th, and somehow the most put-together of the squad, Nath Tensent. And finally, the mysterious Kairos, who no one knows much about, though we do peel back some layers to her in a beautifully told sub-plot throughout the book. The entire squad has been, are going, and are about to go through, a lot.
When we pick up, Yrica Quell has defected back to the 204th, in a story that leaves us guessing at her true motives. It’s a heartbreaking look at the damage divided loyalties can do to a person. This leaves Alphabet in a rough place, though they’re not alone in the fight. They have assistance from a battle group under command of Rebels fan-favourite Hera Syndulla, giving us someone of sound-mind to center us against the turmoil our other characters are going through. Even still, Hera struggles with the responsibility of command, finding herself missing the days of being part of a small crew of rebels.
This book, and the trilogy it belongs to, are some of the most impactful stories ever told in Star Wars. Taking a look at the trauma caused by war, none of our “heroes”, and I use that term in the lightest possible definition, are doing well. They’re all hurt in their own way. How Victory’s Price goes about showing this will break you emotionally. It broke me.
Alexander Freed may well be the Star Wars author with the best understanding of the toll war can have on someone, especially those who have lost countless friends to a constant stream of seemingly endless battles. While he writes some truly engaging, edge-of-your-seat battles between the pilots of Alphabet Squadron and the 204th, it’s in the quieter moments, when there’s no battle to win, or dogfight to duel, that he hits the highest of highs. These moments, especially one specific scene of a radio conversation with the enemy that is held without malice or objective, are where the book shines brightest. When it digs into who these characters are at their core.
To keep talking about Victory’s Price would mean going into spoilers. I don’t want to do that, because this trilogy has easily emerged as my favorite piece of storytelling to come out of Star Wars, and one I hope everyone can experience for themselves at some point. I’ll finish by simply saying that when I came to the end of the book I was left an emotional wreck for at least an hour, and it’s going to stick with me for a long while yet.
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!!!*
by Gerry Duggan, Stefano Caselli, and Edgar Delgado
Kate Pryde is my favorite character in all of fiction, with no exceptions. What Gerry Duggan has been crafting during his, thankfully, still ongoing run on Marauders for Kate has been nothing short of amazing. A new, seemingly permanent direction for a character that is in line with what has come before, all the while branching out into unexplored waters. Kate’s (long time coming) embracing of her sexuality is a massive highlight. As is her ever deepening relationship with both Emma Frost and Storm.
I cannot wait for the next steps of this journey in the new year and the promise of a Hellfire Gala is all too tempting.
by Jonathan Hickman, Lenil Francis Yu, and Sunny Gho
Hello and welcome to the single most emotional issue of a comic I have ever read. I’ve never been able to truly put into words quite why this affected me such, and I’m not going to try to here. I’ll just say that the story of Melody Guthrie, her death and resurrection (a running theme across this new Krakoan era of X-Men), is so beautifully told that I can’t help but cry reading it. Hell, I’m crying now just thinking about it.
by Zeb Wells, Dylan Burnett, and Mike Spicer
I came to this rather late. Zeb Wells (A lover of tugboats) is one of the GOAT writers, who’s work I adore, but this somehow didn’t pop up on my radar until a couple of weeks ago. Having now read it, I can say it was a massive mistake on my side to leave it for so long without reading, and I hope you will heed my words and pick it up.
It’s an incredibly simple premise filled with comedy and heart. Scott Lang has never been written better and we get some great development in his relationship with Cassie. And to top all that greatness off, Dylan Burnett and Mike Spencer’s art is so much fun to look at and gives the story a propulsive thrust that kept me reading and wanting more from this team.
Directed by Max Barbakow, Written by Andy Siara
2020 has been an odd year. I think we can all agree on that. When this released some 250 years ago back in July, we’d been stuck in our house for a number of months at that point. Then, almost out of nowhere along came Palm Springs, a time loop story about the monotony of life, and how bad it can be when days are repeating, while also having some incredibly fun moments between its cast, and truly great chemistry between Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. I couldn’t think of a better story for this year and it was a much needed viewing experience, one I hope you’ll repeat.
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
We all love to dunk on Mr. Nolan, but this film? It rules. A sumptuous feast for the eyes, with some of Nolan’s best directing work. I did not expect to fall in love with this as much as I did, but then, all of a sudden I found myself sobbing at the ending, at the beauty of the friendship between John David Washington and Robert Pattinson’s characters. Was that down to me not having seen my friends in months? Possibly, but this is still one of the best things I have seen all year.
Created by Simon Evans, Michael Sheen, and David Tennant
A show that could only be made this year. Following David Tennant and Michael Sheen playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves stuck in lockdown, trying to rehearse for a play. It is one of the funniest programs I have ever watched and was a balm when it premiered early on during this whole mess we are currently in. And with a second season due to premiere in the new year, now is the perfect time to catch up.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Siege of Mandalore
Written and Directed by Dave Filoni
I love Star Wars. The original run of The Clone Wars actually further deepened my love for the franchise more so than the films ever did. In the process, Ahsoka Tano became my favorite character.
So when Clone Wars got canceled and we never saw what happened to her around the events of Order 66, I was devastated. Of course, we did later find out she survived thanks to her appearance in Rebels, but there was always this question of how exactly did she make it through these dark times.
This year, we got our answers. And what answers they were. A siege. An incredible duel against Darth Maul. Mandalorians being badass. Order 66. All culminating in a fight against the clones, Ahsoka’s brothers in arms, with a final, haunting shot of Ahsoka looking out over the helmets of those fallen Clones she had called friends.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
Written and Directed by Mike Flanagan
I don’t think my thoughts on this incredible, heartbreaking show can be better summed up than with the below meme, so I’m going to leave it at that.
The Last of Us Part II
by Neil Druckmann, Halley Gross, and Naughty Dog
I have never had an experience quite like I had with this game. Horrific violence. An almost constant sense of dread. Sadness permeates every single moment.
But what sticks with me most, and the reason for my love of this game, are the moments of happiness and kindness tucked throughout. The Dinosaur. Ellie and Joel’s final conversation. Abby and her Dad helping out a trapped zebra. Every single moment that Ellie and Dina share together, from their dance to the weed farm, to their life living on a farm. The “Take on Me” scene. Those are what will keep this game in my thoughts for years to come.
by Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, and Aaron Dessner
I mean, come on. Did you really think I was going to end this list without mentioning the greatness of Taylor Swift, and specifically folklore? Of course not, it’s the album of the year. One that I have listened to far too much to be healthy. This is something that cuts to the core of how great music can be when heard in the right circumstances, and I love it so.