I have a question. Let’s suppose you own a company which has invented the most amazing 3D printers. These things are basically magical, capable of mass producing complex robots with a level of interaction that puts any other AI system to shame. Do you (a) market the magic printers, or (b) use the printers to make some pepper-pot shaped talking tanks to replace a few security personnel?
Let’s give that some thought while we wait four minutes for the TARDIS to travel between two points on a globe.
OK, let’s check our brains at the door, because this is a Chris Chibnall script, at his most clumsy. We’re used to those by now. The Doctor destroying one of the last surviving TARDISes, without a twinge of regret for killing one of the most incredible sentient beings in the universe? No problem. Who needs consistency between episodes anyway. Give the fans a few old monsters in a prison – that’ll do. They’ll be delighted to see the Pting again…
Speaking of prison, one would imagine after all this time that the Doctor is quite a difficult person to keep locked up. So if you’re going to have a story that starts with the Doctor in a prison, presumably you’ll want to think of a fiendishly clever way for her to escape? Nope, we’ll just have her sit there for years waiting for an old friend to break her out. Literally, years. But I guess that’s fine, because it’s a necessary plot point, so that the Doctor can get angst-ridden about letting her “fam” down, and they can all look mopey despite just getting their best friend back. Never mind about the years she’s spent in prison. She has just mildly inconvenienced some friends, so of course Doctor Wimp has to spend the rest of the episode feeling bad about that.
I hate how Chibnall’s episodes so often make me sound like Victor Meldrew, but really it was obvious a long time ago that he’s simply one of the weakest writers Doctor Who has ever had, let alone possessing the necessary talents to be a showrunner. Just look at the balls-up he makes of the departure of three companions here. He spends nearly 10 minutes on Ryan, who is frankly completely blank-faced and lacking in any hint of emotion, just like he’s been for the last two seasons. Jack has already been dispensed with in seconds, and Graham, who has been the only member of the regular team of four worth watching for the last couple of years, is written out virtually as an afterthought. Imagine that heart-to-heart between the Doctor and Ryan, rewritten as a scene between the Doctor and Graham. Now that would have had an emotional kick to it. I haven’t been so unmoved by a companion leaving since Liz Shaw went back to Cambridge between seasons.
As is often the case for a Chibnall script, all the good things about this episode are not his. Thankfully, he’s mining the past here quite extensively, so that means a lot of good things. Jack is as watchable and funny as ever, although it’s a bit like watching a Shakespearean actor turn up on Sesame Street, such is the inequality between acting abilities on display, with this great companion from the past crashing Jodie Whittaker’s miserable party. The new design of the Daleks is fun, fully earning the nickname “Darth Dalek” that almost immediately started doing the rounds on social media. There is little attempt to disguise the fact that much of the story is a rewrite of Remembrance of the Daleks, with two Dalek factions at war, and in light of that fact I did enjoy how Nick Briggs modulated the voices towards the oddly-sounded Remembrance ones.
Despite the usual clumsy writing and hollow emotions we expect from most Chibnall stories, I found plenty to enjoy here. In fact, I think we actually almost reached the dizzy heights of an average Doctor Who story, which is a much greater achievement than it sounds in light of what we’ve had to suffer during this era of the show. Despite the lack of anything you could describe as “acting” from Tosin Cole, I did like the discussion of the Doctor’s new past, which came across as a good attempt to calm rabid fans who are still foaming at the mouth about the big change he just wrote into the series:
“If I’m not who I thought I was, then who am I?”
“You’re the Doctor, same as before, same as always.”
There were moments where this felt like Chibnall defending his position and talking directly to fans, and I have to say I agree with his sentiments wholeheartedly:
“Things change all the time, and they should, because they have to.”
I’m itching for his big master plan for the show to continue, because I think it’s just about the only useful thing he has ever contributed to Doctor Who, so I’m taking Ryan’s suggestion for the Doctor to “find out about your own life” as a hint of what’s to come next year.
I also enjoyed the creepy moments. Somewhere along the line, somebody realised that what’s inside a Dalek is the most frightening bit, and scenes of those tentacles wrapping themselves around people are scary and exciting. I love all that stuff. And although I generally dislike the enforced emotion of everyone going all mopey with the Doctor, who is herself being all mopey, I did think the theme of coping without the Doctor was done well, used as an allegory for the wider topic of love and loss, something we can all relate to in some way.
“Enjoy the journey while you’re on it, because the joy, it’s worth the pain.”
Two long-standing companions gone in one episode, and the fans will just have to suffer the pain of that. Sniff. So farewell to… er… what were their names again? RP
The view from across the pond:
Chris Chibnall has done nothing if not created controversy around Doctor Who fandom. His introduction of the Timeless Child has changed the way many of us look at Doctor Who. And I get it! I am reminded of the movie franchise Halloween. In one movie, Michael Myers’s sister is dead and he’s chasing his last living relative, his niece, then three movies later, he’s chasing his sister who is alive. Then he’s rebooted as a kid with problems before it’s rebooted as the original run again but with more issues. His doctor understood the time of year he hunted, but later that plays no part… or does it… maybe? He’s a clone? Who, how, what now?!?!? The point is, I want better for Doctor Who. I want a cohesive universe and what was done with The Timeless Children changed what we know about the series. So when New Year’s Day came around, I had all but forgotten Doctor Who did too. This would never have happened pre-Chibnall. It was a blow to my psyche. Had I just outgrown the show, or has it changed unrecognizably? I put on the latest episode to see and was alarmed right off the bat. Chibnall does something immediately that bore the hallmarks of a writer without purpose. On screen appears the words: “367 minutes later”. It’s that level of arbitrary stupidity that puts me off. Why not say “6 hours later”? Then, still pre-credit, a guy stops for tea (at a Tea and Burger stand as I can only imagine in Britain) and he’s killed – but how did the bad guys know when he would need to stop for more tea??? It’s so thoughtless! And yet, right after the credits I was surprised at what I realized: I was captivated.
Whether it’s due to his writing being better than before or the caliber of the actors, I can’t say but Revolution of the Daleks does some things very effectively. For one, it makes the Daleks scary. (If I am completely honest, that’s been a Chibnall success even with last year’s holiday special. Daleks never struck me as scary until then.) The story has heart, talking about friendship, bonds, and loss. And it has humor. Good timelord, there are some fantastic lines in this episode. For long time fans, there are a metric ton of references and cameos. Among the cameos are a Weeping Angel, a Pting, a Silence, one of those scorpion creatures from the Tesla episode, a Sycorax and an Ood. Jack Robertson is back from last year’s Arachnids in the UK, sporting his Trump-red tie and attitude. Jack Harkness is back to his old shenanigans, with references to Rose trapped in her alternate universe and reminiscing over his first death at the plunger of the Daleks. “You never forget your first death!” He even references Gwen Cooper and her son.
I watched this episode twice already and mentally break it down into a few segments. There’s the emotional stuff with Yaz and Jack where they discuss what it is to be with the Doctor. The connection they develop is lovely. He tells her about his time period of the 51st century and identifies that Yaz really cares about the Doctor from a shove! The humor escalated here as well with Yaz observing that Jack needs a lot of praise, but then promptly praises him for shooting a Dalek off her back! Ryan gets some emotional time with the Doctor discussing how people change and not letting her off the hook when she tries to dodge a question. References abound to last season with the Master and the Death Particle, but the moment is captured by the sorrow hanging over Ryan; he won’t be staying with them after this adventure. This segment also gives the Doctor a chance to address the audience, and unlike last year’s Orphan 55, I did feel this was the Doctor speaking, not the writer. She says she’s angry about not knowing who she is anymore. Ryan tells her to address it and all will be right. The message is that things change and new can be scary! A smart message for the future!
And speaking of scary: The Daleks are frightening. I love the look of the octopoid creatures more than ever. They can exist outside their shells and no one is safe. The scenes of the octo-Dalek jumping down on Jack and Yaz are fantastic. The SAS Daleks add a level of threat that is equally frightening because they are ruthless even to their own kind, though I do question the logic of the Doctor bringing more to Earth! The prison escape may be ridiculous, but it sure is fun! I loved watching the crew tease Jack Robertson by not telling him what was going on. “What’s happening here?!?!” (Although equally, I do like that he tells the Doctor that she is getting worked up over 3-D printed shapes!)
There are also areas that I question. Would the Doctor really ever be locked up for “decades”? And upon escape, what’s to stop the Judoon coming back after her? I mean, they tracked her down once. And how did Jack identify her since he never actually made contact in last season’s Fugitive of the Judoon? Also, CEO Leo was able to clone Daleks – how? I don’t mean I need a scientific explanation but if I wanted to clone something, is there like a pharmacy I can go to with the cells of that which I want cloned? And why did Leo have to be shown to have a wife and children if he was just being written off? (Or is that a long game Chibnall has planned?) Also, how did Leo not know what the Dalek was up to in Japan? Isn’t he attached to the creature? And who built all those towering tanks? (Oh but it has got to be said, that I loved hearing the Daleks incubating, which we haven’t heard since Genesis of the Daleks!) And speaking of the Daleks, the water cannon in the man-made Dalek – how much water is that going to be able to hold? Finally, I’d say this isn’t the world of Doomsday because no one seems to know what a Dalek is. Seems with all the references to the past, continuity is very fluid when needed. (Maybe just enough continuity to fit into a water tank…)
Amazingly none of that really impacted my enjoyment of the story. The biggest issue I really had was when the Doctor lures her “pet Daleks” into the TARDIS. It’s pretty clear it’s her TARDIS and there was no reason to show us that if it was meant to trick the Daleks – it’s not like they know what inside will look like. The scene is little more than a stunt to trick the viewer and that’s unfair and treats the audience like children. I might have been knocked out of the story at that point if not for the deeply moving goodbye at the end. Graham doesn’t want to stop his travels but made a commitment to Grace to take care of Ryan and he honors that commitment. The payoff comes with a brief glimpse of Grace as Graham again tries to help Ryan learn to ride a bike, bringing their story full circle. I think this part sealed the deal for me. The emotional departure was as strong as so many departures of the past. Graham’s parting words to the Doctor was a lovely tribute to the day the fam came together: “I was wrong. We do get aliens in Sheffield.”
I won’t tell you this is the best Doctor Who holiday special; there are better, but I won’t deny, I am excited for the future of Doctor Who again and that’s a win in my book. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Doctor Who Flux: The Halloween Apocalypse