"Good-hearted weirdos are actually the keepers."
IN THIS ONE... Groundhog Day on New Year's, with Daleks.
REVIEW: Eve of the Daleks is nominally a New Year's special, but it at least pays lip service to Christmas (ELF storage still has its decorations up), and by virtue of its plot, Groundhog Day (Feb. 2). What it isn't is an answer to what happened to the universe post-Flux. Remember, the destructive wave entered our solar system and Earth would be gone if not for the Lupari shield. Well? There's talk of having saved the universe "last week", but does that mean there was a reset and billions of sentients didn't die after all? The dialog isn't very useful in this regard, and the only confirmable consequences are the wounded TARDIS having to reset (and we see it from the inside, cool!) and the Daleks wanting revenge for their fleet being destroyed. Like the mechanics of this story, better not to look at it too closely, eh? On a real-world note, another thing that doesn't seem to have happened in the Whoniverse is the pandemic as there's a plentiful lack of masks, but we do see it in the production - small cast in a closed environment here.
So Groundhog Day! I like time loops, and not just because they revive the cast after they all die in the opener. Time loops are a puzzle the heroes must solve. Usually, it's a question of personal growth, but here, it's a chess game between the Doctor's extended fam and the Daleks. Each side tries to anticipate what the other will do and plays the next loop accordingly. Plus, there's a tension-building countdown as the loop gets shorter by a minute each time. And it works as a theme too. The guest characters, Sarah and Nick, are in their own time loop, going nowhere in their lives and through these events, deciding to go on a trip and see the world. Less overtly, we could say the Doctor and Yaz's relationship is also on loop. The Doctor continually fails to answer Yaz's questions (about the Timeless Child, etc.), and Yaz continues to suffer unrequited feelings for the Doctor without saying anything.
Ah yes, Yaz luvs the Doctor. That's this episode's main contribution to the unfolding narrative. Long held as a fan theory, Yaz and Dan (who have been team mates for several years, from their perspective) actually say it (and Dan goes round and confronts the Doctor with it too). With so little time left on this Doctor's clock, it's difficult to imagine how it might go any further before the change. Still, it's nice to be right and it makes for a great pair of scenes (Mandip Gill's best performance?). Nick also obviously loves Sarah, though if he does, why does he only go to her storage place once a year? Just to avoid Jeff? And what's hoarding all his ex-girlfriends leftovers? Is he even painted as someone who has this many romantic entanglements? How long have they been in this situation? Feels a little like they overdid it on the quirks and they don't all fit together. I may not buy it, but Aisling Bea as Sarah is still a lot of fun. She owns the episode with her dry humor and occasional flashes of heart. The Doctor plays oblivious to Yaz's feelings, but Sarah obviously regrets her sarcasm towards him and eventually makes a plea to save his life even on penultimate loops.
Caught in the TARDIS' time loop (the old girl protects them even in its wounded state, or maybe it's just leaking fluid)with them are the Daleks. They're the now classic Time War models, but fitted with laser Gatling guns that can kill more people more efficiently (unless you walk 'round them, apparently). It works for a story where even the Doctor can't keep from getting zapped. Best moment though is a Dalek denying that it is Nick (Nicholas Briggs playing its voice, of course). All in all, because it's not really about THEIR plan or a problem they cause, it's easily the best Dalek story of the era.
THEORIES: Who was Jeff? The ELF employee who uses the facility to store all his stuff, much of it against the rules of the place (even if it IS useful for blowing up Daleks), is never seen. He's a recurring gag, obviously, but what if it's more than that. Had he been in the episode at all, he might have been watching the fireworks at the end instead of Karl from The Woman Who Fell to Earth. For all I know, some audiences thought that was the case. The most likely suspect then is Jeff Angelo from The Eleventh Hour. Maybe he got a job with a science expert on the Doctor's say-so, maybe not, but the guy with the objectionable browser history could also be the guy with the objectionable hoarding habit. A crazy theory is that a future version of the Doctor spends a few years working at ELF and filling the place up with weirdness AND explosives so he can save his own life in this era. That's a more Masterly scheme though. The Doctor wouldn't like to stick around this much. But Jeff not showing up for work on New Year's, so as not to meet herself... Look, your head canon is your head canon. Stock it with whatever you like, there ARE no rules.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A clever little time loop story with at least one engaging guest star, but it's still holiday fluff. My biggest thrill, honestly, is one of my favorite Doctor Who monsters showing up in the next episode teaser.