(Review) Doctor Who: "Eve of the Daleks"
We can't think of a better way to start a new year than with a Doctor Who adventure. Last time we saw #13, Yaz, and Dan, they had just saved some portion of the universe from the Flux. The Doctor apparently decided she didn't need to know more about her erased lives for the time being, and there was a hint of an overdue conversation between her and Yaz. It was a chaotic ending to a crazy Series 13, and now we kick off Jodie Whittaker's final run as our favorite Time Lord. How does 2022 begin for this crew? Let's discuss.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan are planning on decompressing on a beach while the TARDIS resets herself, following her contamination by the Flux. Of course, that's not where the trio lands. Rather than a beach on another planet, they find themselves in Manchester, England, on New Year's Eve stuck in a time loop with two strangers and a few Daleks. It's "Doctor Who meets Groundhog Day," as this group has to figure out how to stop being killed every few minutes. They eventually figure it out, and love is in the air.
- We haven't loved #13's holiday specials, largely because of the presence of American actor Chris Noth. He always seemed out of place and distracted us from stories that also weren't strong in their own right. There's no sign of Noth this time, a particular bonus, given the recent sexual assault allegations made against him. That's a good first step - now let's also have a fun adventure.
- The episode starts by introducing Sarah (played by Aisling Bea) and Nick (played by Adjani Salmon.) Sarah owns ELF Storage, and Nick apparently visits his storage unit every New Year's Eve. It's clear in the first minute that Nick has a crush on the harried Sarah, but she's oblivious to it. These two have a great chemistry right from the start. Even though you immediately know how their relationship will end, you look forward to watching it develop. This alone puts "Eve of the Daleks" ahead of the last two holiday episodes.
- Meanwhile, the Doctor, Dan, and Yaz are preparing for a vacation after the events of Series 13, and the Doctor still has to tell Yaz about her forgotten lives. The Doctor is preparing the TARDIS for a self-reset to purge whatever is left of its infection from the Flux. Don't love this, because the Whittaker era hasn't properly used the mighty blue box. However, we understand it can't be an escape hatch for the oncoming danger.
- Seems like a bit of a programming flaw that these three only have seven seconds to get out of the TARDIS, or else they'll die in the reset. The Doctor couldn't change that to at least a minute?
- Of course they haven't arrived on the alien beach. It would be more of a surprise if made it to their destination on the first attempt. In any case Cloister Bell is ringing, and the TARDIS looks to be in rough shape. The bell feels like a warning of the Doctor's impending death, but are the red cracks covering the TARDIS just part of the reset? Guess we're going to move on, because there's a temporal disturbance in the storage facility that needs investigating.
- Nick is on his way to his storage unit, when he comes across a Dalek who wastes little time killing him. Bye, Nick. The Dalek then finds Sarah, informs her that it is "not Nick,"* and promptly kills her as well. The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan show up right after that, and the Dalek also kills all of them. By our watch, we're 10 minutes into this show, and everyone is dead. Guess that's a wrap. Bye, folks!
- Of course, that's just the start of the adventure. Everyone is rebooted, and they all have a strong sense of déjà vu.
- *(Something about the Dalek saying, "I am not Nick" was particularly funny. Maybe it's because that's such a non-Dalek sort of thing to say, or maybe it's because Nicholas Briggs was doing the Dalek voice, which makes this Dalek a liar.)
- The sequence starts all over again, and it's all entertaining as hell. Aisling Bea is very funny, as she works through her anger about her mother calling on New Year's Eve, the fact that a Dalek keeps killing her, and that she has no idea what to make of Nick. Adjani Salmon has the straight role in this pair, and he also pulls it off well.
- Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and John Bishop feel like they've been together for much longer than six episodes before this. Whittaker and Gill have their roles locked down at this point, and Bishop's Dan Lewis has done a good job as the new human who needs things explained to him and is also able to occasionally add some humor. In hindsight, we would love to have seen this bunch together from the start, instead of wasting time with Graham and Ryan.
- What exactly is causing the time loop, and why is it restricted to this random building?
- Everyone finally meets, and Sarah goes off on the Doctor, asking if she's responsible for the killer robot that's already killed her twice. We need to find our more about Aisling Bea. She's quickly becoming one of our favorite guest stars in recent years.
- It turns out that Nick brings his ex-girlfriends' items to his storage unit. That's weird. Is he a serial killer? Apparently everyone else has the same question. No, he's just a odd and shy guy who dates a lot, and Sarah is still oblivious to why he is there for his annual visit. She goes off on him for being so strange, and so he decides to sacrifice himself to save her.
- We're having a great time with all of this, but why did the TARDIS bring the crew to this building?
- It's been fun so far, but it's also a little traumatic seeing everyone die again and again.
- The loops continue to reset, and Dan offers at one point to sacrifice himself to buy the Doctor and Yaz time. He says it's only fair since she saved the universe "last week." First, still under the impression most of the universe is gone. Second, we wondered just for a second if Dan might not make it. As far as we know, John Bishop is leaving when Jodie Whittaker departs, so could this be it for him? Dan has a funny interaction with the Dalek and does dies. However, he returns again, so we haven't seen the last of him yet.
- Nick finally confesses his crush to Sarah. Turns out it's been going on for three years. Aisling Bea successfully navigates calling him a stalker, but also being flummoxed by the revelation. Definitely need to know more about the actress after this.
- Aisling Bea reminds us a little of Michelle Gomez, and that's never a bad thing.
- It turns out that the TARDIS created the time loop. (Still not sure why the TARDIS brought them to this location.) Is that part of the self-reset process? Should the Doctor have known that? It's amazing in all these years, this is the first time she's ever initiated that process. In any case, the Daleks picked up on it and are there to kill her because so many of them were wiped out in the final Flux battle.
- The Doctor points out that what she really did was hijack the Sontaran plan, but let's be honest - the Daleks are kind of justified for wanting revenge. It was weird that the Time Lord who was so haunted by the events of the Time War really had no problem wiping out so many Daleks, Sonatarans, and Cybermen at the end of Series 13. That was poor writing from Chris Chibnall, but it's interesting to see the ramifications of her actions coming back to haunt her here.
- The time loops are getting shorter and shorter, and everyone keeps dying over and over again. Sarah is ready to give up, but #13 gives a motivational speech about perseverance that hits the mark. This is so much more interesting than anything she said in Series 13, and it's another frustrating reminder of how Jodie Whittaker was so poorly served by the material in her first two years in the role.
- We get yet another time reset that sees the Doctor telling Yaz and Dan to stay back as she gets ready to run out of the room. Yaz pleads, "Stop leaving us all the time!" and we did not expect what came next. After #13 was out of sight, Dan asks Yaz if she's told the Doctor how she feels about her. He's been with her for four years, and he's seen how she responds to the Doctor. This has been hinted at for ages, and now it's finally on the table.
- That's great, except that it should have come so much sooner, because we won't have enough time to properly explore it before the Doctor regenerates. Have this discussion at the end of Series 12 at the latest. Give us a full run of episodes to get into it, and then the inevitable separation could have been epic. This era could have been so much better with a more disciplined showrunner in charge. Hopefully Big Finish will get a crack at it down the road.
- Just a few minute later, an angry Doctor is sharp with Yaz, who leaves. Dan ends up telling the Doctor how Yaz feels about her. Not really his place to do that, and again, we're not going to have enough time to really dig into it. Damn it, Chibnall.
- Our heroes finally come up with a plan to blow up the storage building, break the time loop, and live to fight another day. There's a beautiful fireworks display, but come on, someone should have been kissing at midnight on New Year's. Sarah and Nick would have been fine, but #13 and Yaz would have been historic. Instead, we get some longing looks. Cowards.
- Sarah and Nick are off to explore the world, and the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan are back to the rebooted TARDIS. The interior looks great again, but there's still no recognition that most of the universe is gone. Maybe we'll revisit that later this year?
"Eve of the Daleks" was by far the best of #13's holiday specials. The story had a fun timey-wimey aspect to it, the performances were all great, and while there won't be enough time for it, it was good to see spotlight on the Doctor - Yaz relationship. As we said before, it was also a little frustrating, because it feels like the pieces are finally starting to come together for the 13th Doctor's era, and now the story is almost over. There's at least another full series' worth of issues to be addressed here, and instead, we're down to just two more episodes.
In any case, this was still a fun way to ring in a new year. We'll see you all back here again in the spring for the penultimate adventure (that features the return of the Sea Devils!)
Happy to kick off 2022 with the Doctor and friends. (pic via radiotimes.com)
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