By the opening credits both the new characters introduced for this episode are dead, as are the Doctor and her two companions. Oh, and Nick Briggs got to say the line “I am not Nick” in a Dalek voice. It’s quite a start to the episode. I have a slight problem with it, though. Not the “Nick” thing. I think that’s a fun little in-joke, whether intentional or not, but it’s the ease with which the Dalek kills the Doctor.
I get what Chris Chibnall is trying to do here. If we look back on the most effective Dalek stories, the ones where a small number of Daleks proved to be a deadly threat would be near the top of the list. When the Daleks first returned in 2005 (Dalek), just one was enough to be a huge problem for the Doctor, and that’s a very good thing. Whist Chris Chibnall emulates that very well, and time loops are always fun ideas, a Dalek repeatedly winning against the Doctor diminishes the character and makes a nonsense of a lot of the previous 58 years of the show. Fans getting their knickers in a twist about how the pre-Hartnell Doctors mess up the history of the show (which they don’t), would have more of a point if they complained about things like this, which undermine the Doctor as a intelligent and resourceful figure.
The Doctor getting repeatedly killed could have been done right, and in fact has been done right before, but the situation has to warrant the defeats. Basically, the Doctor needs to be alone, with no friends and allies, nowhere to run (and a door that’s difficult to open doesn’t count), and no resources to help her. It literally has to be a problem with no solution. Instead here we have the Doctor trapped in a huge building, full of useful items (well, useful for somebody with the Doctor’s fierce intelligence), both companions and two other friends to help her, and yet she still gets killed by Daleks, repeatedly. I don’t buy it. I recently listened to a Big Finish with the Fourth Doctor where he reminisced about being in a dangerous situation with just a couple of useless items. I don’t recall the details and it doesn’t matter, but I think one of them was a piece of cheese. That’s my Doctor, the genius who finds a way out of any problem, using whatever he has to hand, not some loser who has to be killed eight times before she finds some very convenient fireworks to blow up a few Daleks with. Ace did better with a baseball bat. Worst still, the Doctor fails to save the lives of her friends, over and over again. Groundhog Day is a great film, one of my favourites, and it gets a cheeky name-check here, but Groundhog Day works because of the learning curve Phil goes on from idiot to somebody who is actually a useful, good person. This drops the good person in right at the start, and still makes her a loser. It could have worked, but the odds needed to be far more stacked against the Doctor. The odds need to not include two Daleks who exterminate each other when somebody ducks.
The element of Groundhog Day I most enjoy is the romance, and the same applies here. We are not even remotely in the same league in terms of characterisation or viewer satisfaction when the guy gets the girl, but it still gives this episode some heart. It kind of works as a lesson in speaking up about your feelings, because the unrequited love Nick has for Sarah becomes requited pretty quickly once he confesses to her. Aisling Bea is the latest in a long line of comedians to be given a chance at an acting role in Doctor Who. We have an extraordinary number of hugely talented comedians in this country, and most of them seem to be extremely good actors as well, given the opportunity. Sarah and Nick are both great characters, performed with humour and a great deal of likeability, and one line from Sarah is probably the standout moment of the episode, so much more thought-provoking than all the silly exterminations going on:
“My friend Lauren says that goodhearted weirdos are actually the keepers.”
Her friend Lauren is right. And as somebody who would like to think he falls into that category, writing for a bunch of readers who probably do too, it’s nice to see that important little fact of life acknowledged, but the big message Chris Chibnall was obviously going for with this episode was this:
“We improve together then ultimately succeed, because this is what being alive is.”
Very true. It’s just a bit odd that the Doctor and her companions couldn’t manage to “improve together” more quickly. RP
The view from across the pond:
One of the biggest problems with Doctor Who is that each writer puts a different take on things, whether a villain, character, story, etc which then gets undermined later by another writer. In this case, it was Rob Shearman in Dalek who did some harm with our favorite pepper pots, where they were suddenly the most hyper-intelligent, perfect killing machines with pinpoint accurate aim. It’s a problem for the series because in Eve of the Daleks, they might as well be Stormtroopers. The worst moment for this is when the terrified humans are running down a fairly narrow hallway and the Daleks, even with their new machine-gun attachment, can’t hit a single one of them. Also, we had seen in the past (Time of the Doctor) that the Daleks were afraid of the Doctor and avoided shooting him even though they wanted to out of fear. This was also a feature of David Tennant’s encounter in Evolution of the Daleks. So it’s a problem we just have to accept. And with the opening sequence they gave us, I have to be honest: I was willing to turn a blind eye to some of the inconsistencies.
The truth is, Eve of the Daleks is a fun New Year’s Day celebration. It’s effectively an escape room done Doctor Who style, with a time loop that can only be broken by getting out of the building. Like any escape room, you have 60 minutes to pull it off, and we complete the episode with about a minute and a half to spare. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was exactly what Chibnall had in mind when he wrote it. What makes it work is Nick and Sarah. Who am I kidding, it’s Sarah for me. Her biting, Irish sarcasm was outstanding and she won me over from her first minute on screen. Maybe it’s a mistake to be watching Dexter now because I could not help but be a bit worried that Nick was, in fact, a serial killer, so I was pleased that the story ended well with him and Sarah. (Although Chibnall is starting to make me think he can do continuity, and maybe we have something bad coming later…)
As you all know, I love continuity and I don’t mean just the comments that diehard fans will pick up on, like resonating concrete (Easter Egg reference: The Doctor Dances). The ideas that I did think Chibnall ignored at the end of Flux where nothing was said about the TARDIS being damaged and oozing, does turn up again, and that was a feather in the cap for our lead writer. To have that as the method of kicking off the evens in this episode was a nice touch. Alas, what was less acceptable was that the reset TARDIS looked exactly like it did before these events. I was really looking forward to a new interior knowing that Jodie’s era is coming to an end. Anyway, back to the pros… I loved that the Daleks were after the Doctor as a result of her actions trying to wipe them out in Flux. One might be inclined to think they deserved getting her since she really did setup the attack, but she tells the Daleks that was a Sontaran stratagem, to coin a title, but we know the truth. Well, what she said was partly true, but she just helped by upping the body count.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Yaz/Doctor -ship that was created here. I’ve been reading about it for a while, but there was never any indication of it, and it feels tacked on. Whether it goes somewhere or not remains to be seen. I think it could be interesting considering the Doctor is capable of changing genders; I wonder how that will impact Yaz’s opinion. On the other hand, I was very impressed with the Doctor’s idea of continuous improvement. It’s a topic we in IT talk about a lot. Try, try again. Maybe that is the Chibnall writing experience in a nutshell, eh?
So, was this a good episode? It did feel like it was unnecessarily confusing, but the characters were great and the isolated setting (even if it was the biggest self-storage in history) contributed to an enjoyable adventure. Don’t know if we needed constant references to “Jeff” but I can only presume that it was him watching the fireworks at the end. Did it matter? Ultimately no, but I’ll accept since the episode is just another excuse to celebrate the New Year. Happy 2022.
Now based on the trailer, Sea Devils are returning. All I know is that I hope they still have that awesome scream that Pertwee used to elicit from them in the old days. That’s a bit of continuity I don’t want to be without! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Legend of the Sea Devils