Doctor Who Series 13, Festive Special
“Eve of the Daleks”
Posted by Kim
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As a great man once said: “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”
Really, there’s no better quote that sums up my relationship with Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who. While there are a handful of episodes that have been truly spectacular in my eyes, the majority of this era has seen me run the gamut of emotions from “I mean, it’s FINE, I guess?” to eye-rolling ambivalence to outright disdain. I’ve enjoyed the performances, but Chibnall’s Who just never quite been for me, you know? God knows the cast, especially Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill, have been doing their best with the material, but I’ve never quite found my emotional hook. And even in moments when I did, I lost it the very next episode. Much like Broadchurch (YEAH I SAID IT), Chris Chibnall has had a hard time sticking the landings with Doctor Who, and as any Olympic enthusiast knows, a lot can be forgiven with a stuck landing. And he just…hasn’t managed to stick one yet.
It pains me saying this! Believe me, I take no pleasure in it. I don’t LIKE not liking one of my favorite shows, a show that’s been a foundation for this website since it launched, and a show that’s given me an amazing community of friends. I thought the Flux miniseries was a full on mess with one absolutely brilliant episode that was immediately rendered useless in the first five minutes of the next. (I must shout out and thank Sage who took on the Herculean task of recapping every episode of Flux, even when she had the same feelings about the series as I did. It’s hard putting negative feelings about something you love out for public consumption, and she did it in wonderfully intelligent fashion.) I disliked Flux so much, that I actually wondered if it was time for me to tap out of the fandom for a bit, that I just needed to take a big step back and just wait for Russell T. Davies to return in 2023 with the sixtieth anniversary.
But then, like I said. Just when I thought I was out, Doctor Who pulls me back in.
I don’t know if it’s because my expectations were that low or if “Eve of the Daleks” was just that great of an episode, because I really fucking enjoyed it. Upon second viewing of the episode, I think it’s the latter, because I enjoyed it even more upon rewatch. What can I say? I’m a sucker for what essentially amounts to a bottle episode with perfectly cast guest actors and very real, specific, and immediate stakes in the form of some very pissed off Daleks. I’ll say this for Chibbers: I initially rolled my eyes when it was announced that the Daleks were coming back for a third “festive” special but he continued to prove that he really does does have a touch with Doctor Who‘s most famous monster. “Eve of the Daleks” felt new yet very familiar at the same time, and that’s why it worked.
The premise is simple. It’s New Year’s Eve in Manchester and Sarah (played to sardonic perfection by Aisling Bea) is stuck manning the check-in desk at the storage facility because her tenant Nick (Adjani Salmon, a wonderful mix of awkward and charming) is making his annual drop-off of seemingly random stuff to his storage unit. There’s a sad attempt at flirting and it’s painfully obvious that Nick has a crush on Sarah that she’s either oblivious to or choosing to ignore. He goes up to his unit which is meticulously organized by post-its stating a name and date and is starting to make his way back downstairs when he encounters a Dalek, who promptly exterminates him. Sarah is downstairs, answering calls from her mum who still lives under the impression that all of the phone lines will be busy at midnight.
Meanwhile, The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan land on a different floor of the storage unit because even the TARDIS is like “Guys, I don’t know what the Flux was either, I need a nap.” It’s not the beach vacation that The Doctor promised her companions, but the Doctor DOES detect a temporal disturbance which means a potential adventure. They track down the Dalek, who has just exterminated Sarah as well. After some classic Doctor vs. Dalek back and forth, the Dalek reveals that it’s learned from The Doctor’s previous methods of its systems with her sonic, the Doctor watches in horror as it turns its weapons on her, Yaz, and Dan. The warning that Time gave The Doctor at the end of “The Vanquishers” comes screaming back to her. The Doctor’s time with this regeneration is coming to a close and Jodie’s whispered “Not like this,” is beautifully played. The three of them are exterminated and boom, it’s the end of the episode and the whole of Great Britain is slammed with the most depressing holiday since Christmas 2012 when Victorian Clara and Cousin Matthew Crawley were killed off on the same day.
Everything resets, leaving Sarah and Nick with a strange sense of déjà vu as their interaction plays out exactly the same way it did before. The Doctor and her companions quickly realize that they are in some sort of time loop and quickly set out to save them. Both Sarah and Nick figure out they’ve been in this situation before and set out to change their fates; Nick’s immediate thought is to save Sarah, while Sarah’s is to find a weapon to protect herself. (We have no choice but to stan.) The Dalek outsmarts them all, anticipating their actions and killing them once again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat until you find a way out or the time loop closes. Whichever comes first.
I think what I loved the most about this episode is how active it felt, especially when it came to The Doctor. For so much of this era, it feels like The Doctor has felt incredibly passive, like she’s been defined by the things that have happened TO her rather than the things she actually DOES. The Master and his destruction of Gallifrey. The whole Timeless Child nonsense. The even more nonsensical Division story and “confrontation” with Tecteun. Chekhov’s fob watch that was bequeathed to her by Swarm and Azure that now resides in the bowels of the TARDIS. We’ve had multiple instances of The Doctor being immobilized while someone monologued at her and way too many times where the Doctor’s told us how she’s solved something rather than SHOWING US and letting us take that ride with her. It’s why “Eve of the Daleks” feels so fucking refreshing in the end because we’re with The Doctor and her companions the whole time, experiencing their failures and their victories as they try (and try and try) to escape the time loop. Frankly, it’s Writing 101. Always use active voice, kids. Your audience will be much happier for it.
The only time the episode didn’t work for me was, unfortunately, The Doctor’s big speech. It’s no slam against Jodie, who delivers it with gusto, but it just felt like a retread of every single other Doctor speech she’s given over the course of her tenure.
DOCTOR: Because something seems impossible. We try, it doesn’t work, we try again. We learn, we improve, we fail again, but better, we make friends, we learn to trust, we help each other. We get it wrong again. We improve together, then ultimately succeed. Because this is what being alive is. And it’s better than the alternative. So come on, you brilliant humans. We go again and we win. Deal?
I guess I’ve truly become a cynic in the past two years because reader, I swear to God, my eyes rolled all the way back in my head. I don’t know, you guys. After living through two years of a pandemic that the human race continues to bungle its response to on a daily basis, after watching an attempted coup happen on national television, after a year of elected officials trying to gaslight the public about said coup and feeling like the fate of democracy is balancing on a knife’s edge, the whole “we learn, we improve, we make friends, and we eventually succeed” shit comes off as heavy-handed to me. These aren’t the words I want to hear The Doctor saying in the year of our Lord 2022, y’all. I don’t know what words I WANT to hear, but I know it’s not this. It feels naive, and it feels gendered to me, and I hate it.
I don’t know if that’s my own internalized sense of misogyny speaking or not, but it just feels like The Doctor is continually being softened because of her gender. (Is it the making friends bit that sends me over the edge? It may be that. Has there ever been a Doctor as obsessed with being friends with EVERYONE as Thirteen is?) I realize the Doctor changes with every regeneration and with every actor, but at the same time, could you see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor delivering a speech like this? Matt’s? Eccles? I don’t even see David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, who is arguably the most emotional of the modern Doctors, delivering a speech like this one.
I understand that Jodie’s innate warmth is one of her greatest strengths as an actress, but it grows tiresome that Chibnall repeatedly goes back to the well of her Doctor being all peace, love and kumbaya, my fam! This woman has played Antigone, for fuck’s sake, let her tap into her rage! The Doctor had me more in the moment where she was basically like “Fuck this, now I’m really pissed off!” than she did with that speech. It’s like Chibnall is afraid of letting The Doctor get truly, TRULY angry on a regular basis, like he’s so concerned with making sure she’s likable that he prevents her from unleashing her inner Oncoming Storm. There’s a reason that one of my favorite Jodie moments is her “sometimes this team structure isn’t flat!” declaration in “Villa Diodati” and it’s because it gave me a good glimpse of the Time Lady Victorious. I know Twelve’s last message was “Laugh hard, run fast, be kind,” but this sanitizing of The Doctor is getting ridiculous.
But none of you came to this recap to read my thoughts on that particular moment of the episode, did you?
LIKE WE ALL KNEW THASMIN WAS REAL BUT HOLY SHIT THASMIN IS ACTUALLY REAL AS IN CANON.
Before I get into that, allow me a word about Dan Lewis. When he was first announced, most of us collectively groaned about Chibnall denying us a series of Space Girlfriends by shoving a middle-aged white man into the TARDIS. John Bishop immediately charmed me against my will in “The Halloween Apocalypse” and now, seven episodes later, I’m going on record to say that the current TARDIS team is stronger than the last one. No offense to Graham and Ryan, who were both very dear, but, through no fault of their own, their established family dynamic created an imbalance that consistently put Yaz in the background. With Dan, Yaz is on much more of an even playing field. Plus, Dan obviously respects her, both as a human being and as The Doctor’s senior companion. They obviously grew close over their four years of Indiana Jonesing in the past and they’ve established a lovely sibling-esque bond where they constantly bicker and pick on each other but they would end the life of anyone else who did the same.
Which is why it’s perfect that Dan is the perfect one to openly acknowledge the elephant in the room: that Yaz is in love with The Doctor.
This is such a lovely scene and Mandip Gill and John Bishop really hit it out of the park. It’s monumental for a companion to openly admit their feelings for The Doctor. So often as shippers we’re forced to rely on subtext, on lingering looks and longing glances, on the everyone else in the room can see it vibes that some of our favorite pairs have given off. Think about it! While it was widely accepted that Rose Tyler and The Doctor were in love, she didn’t put her feelings into words until she was trapped in a parallel universe. Clara and the Doctor were
obvious subtext, to the point where there are people out there who fiercely defend it as a paternal relationship. (I know, LOL.) So for Yaz to look at Dan and simply reply “Is it that obvious?” is fucking huge, and I still can’t believe they actually went there. Congrats, Thasmin shippers! You’ve earned this one.
Of course, because it’s Chris Chibnall, it’s not as easy as all of that.
Dan, having declared himself the captain of the R.M.S. Thasmin, tells the Doctor about Yaz’s feelings after The Doctor snaps at her and Yaz walks off hurt. (Which, let’s give The Doctor a bit of a break, they’re in a rapidly closing time loop, this is NOT the time for feelings.) “She likes you,” Dan states, defensive of his friend’s hurt feelings. “I like her too!” The Doctor replies as she goes through boxes, trying to put their latest plan into motion. “No, I mean she likes you.”
This is definitely where I needed to stop my recording and scream a little, rewind and watch it again. It’s one thing to have Yaz acknowledge her feelings, it’s an entirely different thing to loop The Doctor in.
But here’s where it gets a little thorny and where, as Sage often puts it, it’s a little obvious that Chibnall didn’t entirely think things through. Because we’ve spent less time examining Yaz’s personal life, we don’t know how she identifies when it comes to her sexuality, nor do we know if she’s publicly out if she falls under the queer umbrella. It’s hinted at in “Arachnids in the UK” when her mum blatantly asks Yaz if she and The Doctor are together (A mother always knows! She clocked those two immediately!) but it’s never been blatantly defined for the audience. Which that could be fine! Yaz may not know herself, and she’s still trying to figure herself out and that’s an important part of anyone’s journey. That’s why her reaction when Dan asks about her feelings is so layered. When Yaz says she’s never said it out loud, she could be saying that she’s never admitted her feelings for The Doctor out loud to anyone, including herself or she could be saying that she’s never admitted that she has feelings for a woman out loud.
That, my friends, is a totally different ball game.
Because, no matter how well intentioned he is, and how much the audience just wants SOMEONE to say something to get it moving with these two, Dan is breaking Yaz’s trust here. At minimum, he’s just snitching to his friend’s crush. At worst, he’s outing Yaz. I’m giving Chibnall the benefit of the doubt here, but it’s definitely something that should be noted.
The Doctor, of course, tries to play dumb, but it’s clear that Dan’s words get to her. This many regenerations into her life, The Doctor is well aware of the consequences of loving human beings. Curse of the Time Lords, blah blah blah. She’s kept her companions at arm’s length for a reason. Even if she opens herself up to the feelings she’s been harboring for Yasmin Khan, The Doctor already knows that her time is limited. She’s going to regenerate soon, and as much as a companion can claim to be prepared for it, they never really are. Loving Yaz and letting Yaz love her will probably only end in pain. But I think that’s why Dan gently urges the two of them to get their shit together. Because first of all, they’re wasting precious time being stubborn. And second, isn’t their kind of love worth whatever pain may or may not come in the end?
As the little gang of five watches Jeff’s fireworks explode over Manchester, having defeated the time loop, The Doctor glances over at Yaz. To borrow from another beloved genre’s show’s New Year’s Eve episode, the expression on The Doctor’s face says “well, the world didn’t end.”
No. No it didn’t.
And maybe, just maybe some people are worth the heartbreak that may come in the end.
- Yaz and Dan’s groan at being in Manchester for New Year’s was hilarious. We love regional pride in this house.
- We were ALL Yaz when she blatantly asked Nick if he had murdered all his ex-girlfriends. Another plot point that Chibnall put in for humor but didn’t fully consider the optics of it.
- I know I didn’t give Sarah and Nick their full due, but they were completely delightful. While I cringe a little bit at them ending up together in the end, I can understand why they did. But fair warning guys, according to the 1995 classic Speed, relationships based on tense experiences never work out. You’ll just have to base it on sex then.
- Aisling Bea especially killed this. Everything about Sarah is a mood. Plus, I want her cardigan.
- Jeff really seemed like a dick!
- OKAY but how about the way Yaz LOOKED AT THE DOCTOR after Sarah talked about good-hearted weirdos?!?! Girl, I can’t believe you even had to ask Dan if you were being obvious.
- Dan Lewis is the only person ever allowed to have a Karen moment.
- The Doctor was extra sassy with these Daleks and I loved it.
- “Did you duck?” “Yeah.”
- I think the storage unit with all the costumes was my favorite, followed by the stockpile of beans.
- Am I the only one disappointed that there wasn’t a full redesign of the TARDIS interior? What was the whole point of the “reboot” if there wasn’t a redecoration???
- Yes, that was Karl from “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” making a little cameo at the end.
We’re digging into the Classic Who archives for our next special, “The Legend of the Sea Devils.” See you in the spring!