Amidst the chaos of being repeatedly exterminated by a particularly persistent machine-gun wielding Dalek, Doctor Who still finds time for a bit of romance
Starring Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and John Bishop
Everybody’s heard the phrase “New Year, New Me” and, while it’s not quite the end of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the beloved Time Lord, Eve of the Daleks certainly signals a return to more traditional Doctor Who storytelling after Chibnall’s epic, blockbuster Flux. A story that spanned the known universe – and then some – as well as multiple time periods and a wide assortment of alien races, Flux was a story that didn’t do things by halves and, by the end, turned out to be dramatically overstuffed. Eve of the Daleks, by contrast, is far more simple, confining the events of the episode to a singular location with a core cast of merely five battling against the Doctor’s most iconic foes.
Following in the footsteps of Resolution and Revolution of the Daleks as a New Year’s Day Special featuring the Daleks, Eve of the Daleks also deals with the consequences of the second wave of the Flux Event, in which the Doctor stood by whilst allowing the Sontarans to decimate the Cybermen and Dalek forces.
Deciding to reset the TARDIS after the damage it sustained during the Flux, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) prepares for a beach holiday with Dan (John Bishop) and Yaz (Mandip Gill) where she can finally let Yaz in on all that she has been going through since the Master revealed her true identity as the Timeless Child. The TARDIS being the TARDIS, however, they instead find themselves in the ELF Storage Facility in Manchester on New Year’s Eve 2021. They are not alone.
In addition to Sarah (Aisling Bea) and Nick (Adjani Salmon), the group are being tormented by an Executioner Dalek (voiced, as ever, by Nicholas Briggs), dispatched to execute the Doctor as a consequence to her defeating the Dalek war fleet in the second wave of the Flux (even though it technically wasn’t her). Before the clock strikes midnight, the Dalek has successfully eliminated every single character, courtesy of its shiny machine gun exterminate attachment (coming soon to Toy Stores in 2022, probably).
Fortunately, the TARDIS’ reset has created a time loop within the ELF building, which swiftly resurrects the entire TARDIS team and Sarah and Nick to boot. The episode wastes little time, allowing all of the characters to swiftly remember what had just happened and allowing them to get on with the business of defeating the Dalek they are trapped in the time loop with. To complicate matters further, the time loop is getting shorter by one minute each repeat, and the Daleks continue to be one step further ahead than the Doctor and her team, using their previous actions to predict what they are going to try in the next repeat.
Advertised by Chibnall in the lead up to the episode as a “rom-com with Daleks”, Eve of the Daleks certainly proved to be entertaining at the least. With each time loop getting progressively shorter, there’s action aplenty and the pacing doesn’t seem to drag, though the same repeating locations proves challenging to find engaging and the Daleks’ sinister air wanes after their initial reveal. To call it a comedy would be misleading. Despite the abundance of comic talent on offer: John Bishop, Aisling Bea, Adjani Salmon and Pauline McLynn in a brief appearance as Sarah’s mother, the highest accolade that could be granted to this episode would probably be lightly amusing. That isn’t necessarily meant as a criticism. There are plenty of funny moments, but none more so than other Doctor Who episodes which haven’t been described as comedies.
Additionally, there was a slight plotting inconsistency which proved jarring, which was a temporary thought from Sarah that, since Nick had not previously survived past 11:55, he would be dead before the following loop began but, considering Sarah perished within the first 20 seconds of the following loop, this idea seemed to dissolve without consequence as quickly as it began.
Ultimately, the largest consequence of this instalment is the confirmation of Yaz’s burgeoning feelings for the Doctor which, up until now, have been consigned mainly to subtle, longing looks and endless Twitter speculation. While this is neither the first time that Doctor Who has toyed with attraction between the Doctor and their companions (Rose, Martha, Amy and Clara, for example), nor indeed the first time that a companion has been confirmed to be queer (Jack, River, Clara and, most notably, Bill have all been confirmed members of the queer community, as well as many other Classic companions, such as Mike Yates, Ace, Nyssa, Tegan and Liz Shaw within spin-off materials), it is the first time that a character has been shown to be questioning their sexuality.
While Bill was confident within Doctor Who‘s tenth series that she was a lesbian, Yaz admits, in a particularly vulnerable moment with the very forthright Dan, that she’s never admitted her feelings for the Doctor to anybody, or even to herself. The tremendous resonance with many members of the queer community with those lines – and indeed any viewers who are exploring and defining their own sexualities – is absolutely astounding for a programme that has as wide a reach as Doctor Who. While the Doctor and Yaz are yet to have had a conversation between the two of them about their feelings, Dan – with good intentions, we are sure (though you can tell that the episode was written by a straight man, as no queer writer would have willingly outed a closeted character so casually without consequence) – this is bound to crop up within Whittaker’s final two episodes now that it has been verbalised.
With Eve of the Daleks released, there are only two episodes left with Whittaker’s Doctor, starting with Spring’s Legend of the Sea Devils and a yet-to-be-titled special airing in October as part of the BBC’s centenary.
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