Doctor Who #1028: Revolution of the Daleks

"This is a PR disaster!"

TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.1 2021.

Captain Jack breaks the Doctor out of jail and they fight Daleks.

Okay, I don't think talking about what an episode SHOULD have been like is a legitimate criticism; you can only review the episode that was actually made. That said, I still have to share my version of Revolution of the Daleks because I do think it shows how much wasted potential the New Year's special had. What did we know before hand? The title, that the Doctor was in space jail, and that Captain Jack would show up (oh yeah, and the departure of two companions). It's clear to me that what the story should have focused on the prison. There would have been Dalek prisoners there, the Doctor would have had to compromise herself by allying with them to stage a prison break, Captain Jack shows up with the Fam to break her own and they arrive in the middle of the "revolution" and are shocked to see what the Doctor has been up to, shaking their confidence in her. A lot of the Dalek-fighting set pieces could have gone the same way with relatively easy tweaks. Instead, the the prison is used to drop references to past episodes/monsters, has the Doctor annoyingly quoting J.K. Rowling (no really, stop it Doctor Who, puts my teeth on edge, ESPECIALLY coming out of the female Doctor's mouth), Jack shows up and we're off running so we can't get a proper reunion (the scene in the TARDIS later is mostly about recapping the last season), and we're out with a bit of magic tech. The prison is just last season's cliffhanger, and it's resolved as soon as possible so we can then get into the actual episode. A total waste of resources and story potential. It looked cool, had a lot of atmosphere... It should have been THE setting for the story.

Instead, we get Yet Another Dalek I Am Your Servant Story(TM), and neither the Doctor nor the companions appear (aside from the recap) until past the 8-minute mark. The structure of the episode makes this a story about... drum roll please... Trump stand-in Jack Robertson from Arachnids in the UK! Yeah, nah man. Why would I ever want to see this character again? Of all the possible returning characters, Chibnall has gone and taken this jerk from one of the worst 13th Doctor stories (which he wrote, of course), and made Arachnids more important in terms of continuity (so I resent his presence even more). He markets Dalek shells as law enforcement drones, betrays humanity to the Daleks, and still manages to come out on top. Yes, it says something about today's propaganda-gobbling culture and the rise of oligarchs in the political sphere, but it also means he'll get a third engagement just so he can get his comeuppance, and if he doesn't, that's even worse. If this venal character did anything other than be annoyed and gloat, I might be more forgiving. But using him as a pseudo-companion is way out of bounds.

The episode does look and sound good. I like the big title cards for the shifts in venue. The new Dalek design is neat. The effects and music all work well. It's a bit unfortunate that Jo Martin's TARDIS gets turned into a void-cage for the Daleks, not because it's not a clever way to get rid of a Dalek squadron - it is - but because I frankly liked its retro-white design more than I do the crystal structure of the current TARDIS. Seeing more of it here just made me want the Doctor to at least start using the desktop theme.

Even when the plot is less than stellar, I can lay my hopes in the characters. Not sure how long the Doctor was in that prison (at least 19 years, the time it took Jack to get a cell next to hers), but her peppy explanation to the Fam, "I was in space jail!", is surely one of the series' great understatements. The companions COULD cut her some slack though. Jack and Yaz have a great scene where he tells her a relationship with the Doctor can't last, but it's worth the pain. She of course will be the last remaining companion at the end of this, and is definitely the most invested throughout AND the character I felt ill-served by the past two series. I was looking forward to her being sole companion so they could give her her due (until the end of episode teaser anyway, sigh). It's obvious from the get-go that Ryan wants to leave, having had 10 months to reconnect with friends and his dad, though the episode creates enough jeopardy for the departing duo to make you wonder HOW they'll be taken out of the series (and with two of them, there could be a variety of answers). Ryan still has a good moment with the Doctor, which teases her quest to find her origins (which I hope is a major component of the next series even if the BBC seemed to lack confidence in the Timeless Child concept after the usual naysayers loudly criticized it on social media), but it's no surprise, even without the benefit of spoilers, than he asks to leave at the end. I like how Graham is indecisive, really wanting to keep going, but ultimately unable to leave his grandson behind. The bit about the Doctor's dueling hearts. I do think the scene is a little flaccid however, it seems to take forever. The episode has pacing issues for sure, breakneck action followed by slow, quiet, character scenes, often hampered with exposition that doesn't really have any incidence on the story at hand and will ALLLLLL have to be repeated at start of season. Four people makes for many goodbyes, I guess, but it's a little sluggish. The boys not only survive, but armed with psychic paper, they plan to keep saving the world. It's a nice little finish for them, and a return to the bike-riding of their first story (a better call back than Graham meaninglessly admitting they get aliens in Sheffield at this point), though again, this is slow-paced and unexciting. I'm puzzled by the appearance of Grace in the sunrise, a weird shared hallucination that's even weirder when you notice the sun is also BEHIND them. Chibnall's trying to be touching, but he pushes too hard.

So yeah, there are some good set pieces, performances, and design elements. I like the show's continued commitment to setting its stories around the world (part of it happens in Japan, though of course, it's the British Prime Minister who gets exterminated and we never actually SEE any Japanese people). The Doctor takes a big risk pitting Dalek against Dalek, exciting. Ryan and Graham's farewell is earned and not a downer. But ultimately, Chibnall seems to know what ingredients go in a Doctor Who story, but only half-bakes the recipe.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Chibnall as show runner? I'm fine with his direction, casting and commitment to the show's current look. As a writer? I think he misses the mark. The derivative Revolution of the Daleks has its moments, but it's nevertheless a fumble.


Radagast said...

The ugliness with Robertson could have been avoided, I think, by using Lenny Henry's tech CEO from Spyfall, instead - he had a more ambiguous fate coming into things. (Maybe that was even their intention, but they couldn't secure the actor.)

Drinkplentyofmalk said...

Credit where credit's due, I'm glad they didn't make Ryan's dyspraxia just go away after he went on some fantastical adventures.
I do really love the fact that they have a little 'the adventure continues!' moment, even if the scene did a far more telling than showing.

This one did ultimately feel... odd? Like it was simultaneously rushed and also went through a ton of quick rewrites. Jack not even really getting a goodbye scene when it could have been thematically tied into Ryan and Graham's?
I do like that he also has a nice 'adventure continues' moment as well with namedropping Gwen, I'll admit. (A better on-screen 'sendoff' for the character than Miracle Day, I suppose.)
It's also a bit... unfortunate that the prison scene's good willed intent of 'hey, here's some fun fanservice!' accidentally highlighted the fact that the current era hasn't really given us any monsters that're as creative or memorable as the older material.

daft said...

After Spyfall, I assumed this episode was going the prison breakout genre piece aping The Shawshank Redemption, usually where Chibnall is on firmer ground. It seemed to take up an inordinate amount of screen time (2o mins?) for it to essentially go nowhere, the Doctor really isn't in any particular peril, and the 1st female Doctor ultimately needs rescuing by the matinee idol stand-in, girl power! :|

The storytelling is as flaccid as most of Chibnall's output has been throughout his career apart from Broadchurch, and S2 had its vocal detractors. It was nice to see that Ryan got to have an adult moment with the Doctor, but if you going to be fair, the moment isn't really earned in terms of character progression (on screen). And due to the presence of Captain Jack, Graham is almost entirely side lined in his departure story.

And just when you think a pathway has now been cleared for Yaz to finally step out of the shadows, they announce John Bishop as new companion Dan, who'll be more than likely a wisecracking Graham replacement with added physicality, no wonder she gets depressed.

LiamKav said...

I finally worked up the energy to watch this and, well, it was fine. Fairly exciting, things happen, fine. Just... fine.

I am beginning to get annoyed by Chibnall's "let's stop the plot so that two characters can sit down and have a chat about their character arcs" tic though. It happens a lot. Maybe show Ryan's friends? Show the Doctor being unsure of herself? Maybe intergrate it into the plot in some way?


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