Eve of the Daleks

This post contains spoilers for Eve of the Daleks. If you have not seen it yet, please go away and come back afterwards!

I’m trying to figure out which one is most unlikely – time loop with robots or three people from the council working on New Years.

Nick

Synopsis

On New Year’s Eve, the appearance of an executioner Dalek means Sarah and Nick’s countdown to midnight will be the strangest and deadliest they have ever known. Can the Doctor, Yaz and Dan save them?

Review

Happy New Year everyone! Eve of the Daleks is the first of three specials leading up to the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration this Autumn and I have to say that after watching this episode, I am really excited for what’s coming up. This story is our New Years’s Day check in with Skaro’s favourite pepperpots. I enjoy this story as much as the other Dalek stories of this era, and I think Chibnall knows how to write a good Dalek story.

This episode did feel like a bit of a pallette cleanser after the end of the Flux storyline in The Vanquishers, which was no bad thing. It was quite nice to come back to a format that is relatively familiar in Doctor Who history, the base under siege style of story, but with a neat twist of the time loop to keep things interesting. It also benefits from having a smaller cast, something which hindered some parts of the serialised Flux plot, where we had to keep flitting between characters every few moments to keep each storyline moving. There’s a sense of cleaning house here too, with both Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker’s time ticking away towards the Autumn special, with the Doctor repairing her TARDIS after the events of the Flux storyline and the Daleks being out for revenge on the Doctor for the trap which wiped out the Dalek war fleet – along with the Cybermen and the Sontarans. Presumably this means that both those races are still out there too, in the Flux ravaged Universe, something that is not mentioned here, but Dalek Command is certainly still up and running.

It was not without its flaws though, as I felt the cold open dragged too much and had an almost laxadaxical approach to setting up the story. Introducing us to our main guest stars felt like something that could have happened a bit more dynamically. I make it about 9 minutes and 15 seconds before we head into the opening credits and the episode does struggle to pick up the momentum again immediately afterwards. On the other hand, I suppose it does allow the audience to ground themselves in the time loop premise through Sarah and Nick’s repeated conversation immediately after the credits roll, dealing with a feeling of discombobulation. I feel that the director Annetta Laufer has some nice touches to convey their sense of disorientation here. There’s a lot of running down corridors and standard Doctor Who fare for her to get her teeth into here and she certainly does a good enough job with what the story asks for her otherwise. Visually, I really enjoyed the effect of the console room folding in on itself in the final moments of the cold open, which looked amazing.

I did like some elements of the time loop established here, like the fact that our main characters can remember events that have happened to them in previous time loops and that the time loop gets shorter each time, adding a sense of peril. Chris Chibnall also allows characters like Sarah to realise that they are in a time loop before she even meets up with the Doctor, which is something that felt a bit new and unusual for the show. It’s a simple plot structure, but it does work well here. This is the first story to have a time loop central to the plot since Meglos and it is a device that I do enjoy in other things – like Groundhog Day for instance – but I haven’t watched a lot of other time loop stories in other mediums but maybe this is something I need to look into further.

Daleks do not have managers!

Dalek

I think that the Daleks are used well in this story, even if they aren’t really at their most terrifying here. I think the sense I came away from this episode is the almost juggernaut threat of them – they will not stop until they achieve their goal – which I don’t think is always conveyed in other stories. I suppose in a story like this it’s always something that’s going to be clearer anyway, with the story essentially being on repeat and the Daleks being one step ahead for most of this story’s runtime. The most horrifying part of this story is the basic concept – being stuck somewhere with Daleks hunting you down. There is almost a sense of inevitability about them stopping the Doctor’s plans, especially after we see the main cast exterminated so many times here. It almost goes without saying, but Nicholas Briggs’ voice work needs heralding again here. He has been a mainstay of the show since its revival and he continues to capture the perfect attitude and diction of the Daleks. Equally, Dalek Operators Nicholas Pegg and Barnaby Edwards are such dab hands at this now and make being a Dalek look easy.

The story brings in two main guest characters here, and I think both shine. I was a bit skeptical about Aisling Bea, but by the end of the story I was pleasantly surprised. She brought her usual manic energy to the part and it really worked here. Both she and Adjani Salmon’s characters felt relatably flawed enough to be real people rather than poorly developed characters, and the story did do incredibly well to make Nick especially likeable. When it was revealed that Nick was using the storage facility to keep his ex-girlfriend’s belongings, I was worried about where the story was going with this character but it managed to somehow make him slightly less creepy than this premise. Both of them are flawed – Sarah mentions that she tends to push people away and hasn’t spoken to her mother since August – but both are played with such heart that I certainly started to root for them. Both characters manage to grow through the course of the story, and I was perhaps naively thinking that Sarah was going to end up getting a trip in the TARDIS. I like the fact that she is clever enough to work out things without the Doctor, including that if the time loop closes beyond 5 minutes to midnight with Nick dead, he will remain dead. Equally, Nick shows that he is able to think on his feet, ducking when confronted with the two Daleks facing each other. Despite adapting to the sonic screwdriver, Daleks seem unable to prevent other Daleks from getting caught in the crossfire…

My wife and I have recently started re-watching Series 11, which I have mixed feelings about. I mostly enjoyed it when it was first broadcast, but have not had the same feelings when revisiting most of it. The reason why I bring this up is that Yaz and Dan feel like they have so much more of a friendship than she ever did with Graham or Ryan. Whilst she shared nice moments with the latter two, it felt like it was always relying on the set-up from The Woman Who Fell To Earth and not really developing over the course of two series as the trio learnt how to deal with the situations the Doctor landed them in. Here, Yaz is the experienced hand whilst Dan is still relatively green around the gills – this episode takes place shortly after the end of The Vanquishers, which from Dan’s perspective happened about a week ago – and the fact that they have travelled together, especially through that time spent travelling with Jericho, really seems to reflect on screen. Mandip Gill and John Bishop deserve credit for allowing this relationship to feel as established as it is and their conversation about Yaz’s feelings for the Doctor is one of the best moments of the story. They also have quite a nice level of joking around with each other and have quite a nice sibling style relationship – Yaz telling Sarah that she can’t be mean to Dan because that’s her job was one of my favourite parts of this. They have such easy chemistry together, which leads them to having a much better defined relationship than this Doctor’s companions have had before. Bishop continues to be a delight, especially in his interaction with the Dalek in reception of (S)Elf Storage when he acts as a distraction for the Doctor and Yaz to get upstairs.

Not like this.

The Thirteenth Doctor

Jodie Whittaker continues to be in fine form as the Doctor here, even if she does have some weaker lines like the one about humanity late on in the episode. She is suitably funny and clever here and she certainly feels suitably Doctory. Whittaker is at the peak of her powers and I really hope that she gets some good material to work with in her final two specials. The consequences of her Doctor’s actions look to be coming back to haunt her, as much as the Doctor would like to insist that she simply hijacked the Sontarans’ plan here. There’s a quiet moment in this performance that I really liked, that many may have overlooked in the episode, which is above – Jodie Whittaker’s line before she and her companions are exterminated – is so perfectly delivered. This episode also confirms what many fans have suspected, that Yaz has feelings for the Doctor. Regular readers of my blog may know that I was not a fan of this happening when it was Rose and the Tenth Doctor in the second series, and I’m a little bit worried where all of this is heading. I’m along for the ride, and Whittaker and Gill are great in those scenes but I guess I’m carrying the scars from Series 2 and the fallout that carried over into Series 3. I hope that Chris Chibnall proves my misgivings wrong and delivers a strong resolution to this plot thread, Yaz’s reproachment of the Doctor that she is always leaving her and Dan behind is great and Gill manages to capture the pain of someone who has been abandoned by the Doctor for three years really effectively through one line.

Verdict: A fun ride, if a bit slow to get going, Eve of the Daleks kicks off Jodie Whittaker’s final few stories with a good Dalek adventure. 8/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator #1), Nicholas Pegg (Dalek Operator #2), Jon Davey (Additional Dalek Operator), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Pauline McLynn (Mary) & Jonny Dixon (Karl).

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Annetta Laufer

Behind the Scenes

  • The first episode to air on British Television on a Saturday evening since The Doctor Falls.
  • This story has the longest cold open in the show’s history, at a little over 9 minutes and ten seconds. The previous holder of this record was The Return of Doctor Mysterio.

Cast Notes

  • Aisling Bea is the sixth performer to appear on Doctor Who and as a participant in Taskmaster after Greg Davies, Frank Skinner, Ben Bailey Smith (Doc Brown), Charlotte Ritchie and Lee Mack.
  • Jonny Dixon reprises his role as Karl from The Woman Who Fell To Earth in the closing moments of the episode.

Best Moment

Despite my misgivings about where the relationship between the Doctor and Yaz is going, the conversation between Yaz and Dan about those feelings is a really lovely and heartfelt moment.

Best Quote

She likes you.

I like her too.

No, I mean…she likes you.

I don’t understand what you’re saying, Dan.

I think you do, but for some reason you pretend to me and to her that you don’t.

Dan Lewis and the Thirteenth Doctor

Previous Thirteenth Doctor review: The Vanquishers

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