As the New Year begins, a terrible evil stirs from across the centuries on planet Earth.
Well, after that teaser after The Battle of Ravkoor Av Kolos, it couldn’t really be anything other than the Daleks, could it? The obvious comparison is to Dalek, but with added family angst with the return of Ryan’s father, which I really felt slowed the pace of the first half down considerably and the episode struggled to really recover. I sincerely hope that, given the closing moments of this episode, this whole Ryan and Graham arc is to take more of a back seat when the show returns in 2020.
I will start with our first returning monster of the Whittaker era of Doctor Who – the Dalek. In a series with less than memorable foes, the Daleks are a more than welcome adversary here. This episode manages to find something new to do with a 55-year-old enemy, with the mutant usually controlling the machine shown to be equally resourceful and menacing without armour. The Dalek mutant being able to control Lin and later Ryan’s father makes them feel like a proper threat again, which they haven’t necessarily always been. The scenes where it is controlling Lin is where this new is at it’s most effective and makes it much more effective than the Dalek puppets we saw in episodes like Asylum of the Daleks. This added with Nicholas Briggs’ returning as the voice of the Dalek really helps with the menace of the episode, and the scene in the bathroom with Lin when the creature begins to speak is really fantastic. Briggs deserves a lot of credit for his new voice for the mutant outside the casing, which was particularly creepy. In Dalek, we saw the sheer power of one Dalek and this is largely echoed here with the Dalek able to create a makeshift outer shell for itself. I loved this rusty design for the creature, although I do have a slight issue with the fact that, despite being completely cobbled together out of odds and ends, there is no real feeling of the Dalek not being fully operational until the plot depends on it. However, this is a successful return for the Daleks and I hope that we get more returning villains when the series returns.
I always think I’m rid of them. Never am. Trust me, Graham, even if it’s just one, it’s enough.The Thirteenth Doctor
It is often said that the actor playing the Doctor doesn’t feel like the Doctor until they’ve faced off against the Daleks, and in modern terms, this is quite late for Whittaker’s Doctor (they appeared 12 episodes into Tennant’s run, but he only met them in episode 13). Fortunately, Jodie Whittaker certainly ups her game to face off against Skaro’s finest killing machines and she certainly feels as though she has the personal history of facing off against the Daleks. Her first face to face encounter with the makeshift Dalek in this incarnation is really great and we finally get a speech about the Earth being defended, and the final confrontation is also really great. As this is the last we will see of this Doctor until next year, it is perhaps for the best that the Daleks have waited for now, as this is definitely her best performance thus far. The nature of the threat seen in this episode means that she has to stop being as scatty and gives this Doctor some gravitas in her fear of the Daleks.
Oh, mate. I’m the Doctor. Ring any bells?The Thirteenth Doctor
Chris Chibnall’s episodes have largely been seen as the weakest part of this series so far, and whilst I largely liked the episode, it does suffer majorly with pacing. This episode does feature more action which is good and the majority of the Dalek element of the episode works really well, and the Doctor gets some great lines. On the flip side, there are moments that almost creak with predictability, for instance, when the doorbell rings, there is absolutely no doubt in the majority of the audience’s mind that it will be Ryan’s father or that his microwave will be crucial in the resolution of the story. This predictability is best exemplified when the Dalek mutant is possessing Aaron and Ryan is able to pull him back, whilst there would potentially be more dramatic heft and story possibilities if instead, Ryan was unable to save his dad. This would actually add an interesting dynamic between the Doctor and Ryan, with the latter holding the Doctor responsible for his father’s demise, and would give the episode some emotional heft. This would also help absolve the café scene between Ryan and his dad, which really makes the episode feel like has slowed to a crawl. The scene goes on for almost five minutes but certainly felt like much longer and could have been dealt with better, as you can almost feel the episode creaking as it attempts to move back up through the gears again. Additionally, the throwaway jokes here don’t really work and again impact the pace. The joke about modern families is bad enough, but the one that really irritated me was the call centre scene where it is revealed that UNIT has been suspended due to budget cuts. This joke seems ridiculously heavy-handed and defies logic – UNIT is an international organisation and it’s stretching credibility to suggest that Brexit would have any impact on it. UNIT have never been a match for the Daleks anyway, so I don’t understand why we couldn’t have had at least a nod towards them here instead of this completely unnecessary joke. Maybe it’s the Jon Pertwee era fan in me, but this really rattled my cage.
This episode does not help resolve the issues of an overcrowded TARDIS either. In addition to our four series regulars, we have three more guest cast in the shape of Aaron, Lin and Mitch which only add to this issue. As a result, it is no surprise that Yaz is sidelined yet again, but it is perhaps surprising that Graham gets thrown to the sidelines too. This does push Ryan front and centre of the story with a lot of time dealing with his relationship with his father, which allows Tosin Cole a chance to show us what he can do. Ryan has seemed like a bit of a blank canvas for some of this series, but whilst I criticised the café scene above, it has at the very least added something to this character. The guest cast perform their roles as well as the script allows, but I do wonder how much longer we can go on with this enlarged TARDIS team, as here it seems that Yaz is just the Doctor’s personal assistant and I would love her to have a more major role in the new series. I feel like I’ve said that quite a lot recently, but sadly she just feels quite a bit like superfluous at the moment.
Ok, stop. I don’t care how it’s been for you. This ain’t about us commiserating with each other. This is about you making things right.Ryan Sinclair
Verdict: A story in which the Daleks felt as though they packed a real threat again, but it did suffer from some poor writing in places which damaged the pacing. Jodie Whittaker’s performance facing off against her first Classic monster does help save it a little though. 7/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Charlotte Ritchie (Lin), Nikesh Patel (Mitch), Daniel Adeyboyega (Aaron), Darryl Clark (Police Officer Will), Connor Calland (Security Guard Richard), James Lewis (Farmer Dinkle), Sophie Duval (Mum), Callum McDonald (Teen 1), Harry Vallance (Teen 2), Laura Evelyn (Call Centre Polly), Michael Ballard (Sergeant) and Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks)
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Wayne Yip
Behind the Scenes
- This is only the second time that Chris Chibnall has written a story featuring a classic monster – the other time being The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, which saw the return of the Silurians.
- Wayne Yip is the first director in this run who has directed an episode of Doctor Who prior to this series. Yip directed The Lie of the Land and The Empress of Mars and several episodes of Class.
- The Daleks were last seen in Twice Upon A Time and last appeared as the primary antagonist in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. This is the first time since Victory of the Daleks that a new variant has been seen.
- This story broke the tradition of annual Christmas specials, something that had happened since 2005.
The scene with Lin in the bathroom where we see that the mutant is on her back. It is really well acted.
No matter how many times you try, no matter how long you wait, I will always be in your way, backed up by the best of humanity. Now, final, final, final warning – cos I’m nice, I really do try my best. Stop the signal, get off this planet.The Thirteenth Doctor