Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks Review

Written By: Chris Chibnall
Broadcast Date: 01 January 2021
Featuring: 13th Doctor, Graham, Yaz, Ryan and Captain Jack
Synopsis:
The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?

Earth being a battleground to a battle between two sets of Dalek factions on paper seems like the shot of adrenaline Doctor Who desperately needs, especially when you take into account that the episode includes the reappearance of Captain Jack Harkness, the departure of current companions and a surprise twist ending. In reality, the focus on quiet and emotional conversations throughout stunt the interesting ideas floating around, making this yet another frustrating viewing for long-time viewers.

Even though the Daleks were billed as the headline act in this New Year’s Day special, the element that was most impressive was the fleshing out of the companions. It was no surprise when the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) was bailed out of the prison she was trapped in since the cliffhanger end to Series 12 by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), even though promotional images and the synopsis hinted that she would be in prison for the duration of this episode. The surprise came when it was revealed that the Doctor miscalculated the day she arrived back on Earth, effectively leaving her companions for ten months. The differing reactions to this from her companions Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) provided the best writing here from Executive Director Chris Chibnall. Yaz showed her police background with a determined, bordering on obsessive, search for the Doctor using post-it notes. Graham still held out hope for her return, and Ryan was resigned to the fact that the Doctor had gone but also felt a sadness in being abandoned. Though this didn’t really contribute much to the narrative until the final few minutes, the differing reactions to time between the relatively short-lived humans and the Time Lord who spent decades in prison was used to good effect.

Promotional Poster for “Revolution of the Daleks” (BBC, 2021)

The younger two companions were the focus with how this played out, in effect giving them as much character development as in two seasons of the show. Yaz had a conversation with Jack about the time he got abandoned by the Doctor back in the 2005 TV series, which mellowed out her own anger and convinced herself to re-join the Doctor on her travels. Ryan had a really beautifully written conversation with the Doctor where they both talked about recent developments in their lives. It was no surprise that the latter chose to leave the TARDIS crew at the end of the episode (along with Graham who didn’t really get much to do at all sadly), but it did feel like an anti-climax. The problem I have with the departure of Ryan and Graham is that they had very little to contribute in terms of the arc of this story; as usual the Doctor was the one to save the day (we will get to this later). It must be stated that the story arc for Ryan, and to some extent Graham, in “Resolution” was much more fitting of a departure, and next to this the episode pales. Their departure as companions was the least dramatic of any in the revived series, which isn’t a bad thing on its own, as many of the classic series companions left in this manner, but the emotional impact was far short of what was intended.

Though there were glimmers of brilliance in individual scenes (the quiet yet honest conversations between Yaz and Jack, and the Doctor and Ryan in particular), this special sadly suffers from an uneven narrative and a solution that feels ill-thought through and anti-climatic, which is a bit of a backwards step following the more solid Series 12. The scenes that should have been powerful and dramatic felt rushed and it must also be said that the first part of the central narrative, where a UK government minister uses the perished Dalek from “Resolution” to create new security drones, could have mostly been scrapped. There was no need for such secrecy when all promotional videos for this special gave away the fact this race would appear again, and “Daleks” is literally in the title of the episode. It could have been far more effective had one of the companions seen a news broadcast that featured that, and then the urgency would have been there from the outset. Cutting this out would have allowed more time for the Bronze Daleks, a staple of modern Who that was present for all of ten minutes before getting all but destroyed by the Doctor. As a viewer we are meant to cheer on Team TARDIS, but personally the fact that the Doctor lured a group of Daleks to Earth to do her dirty work only for them to be banished from the universe in a crushed TARDIS, as well as the fact that we know that the TARDIS is a sentient life form, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. What makes it worse is that there isn’t a reason given for this; the writers could have done something interesting with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor as a result of revelations from the previous series and spending decades in prison.

Promotional image of the 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) for Series 12 of Doctor Who (BBC, 2020)

The supporting cast did fairly well, though Chris Noth’s Jack Robertson once again chewed the scenery in a solid return following his appearance in Series 11’s “Arachnids in the UK” – even if more humour could have been thrown in at his expense. The same could be said for Captain Jack Harkness in this episode. John Barrowman did the best with some oddly bland and pale writing for his character, almost as though the Doctor had to be the biggest personality in the room and everyone else was more in the background. I’m not sure whether his character will return to the series again, but maybe his reference to Gwen Cooper hints at a future series of Torchwood. With all of this being said, it is good that the show can continue to surprise, as following the episode comedian John Bishop was revealed as to be playing Dan, the newest companion of the Doctor, in the next series. With regards to the next series, I am looking forward to it as there were many questions left unanswered at the end of Series 12, most notably regarding the Doctor’s past and origin.

On paper, “Revolution of the Daleks” looked to be a very promising episode, with the return of both Captain Jack Harkness and the Daleks, as well as the Doctor being in prison at the end of the previous series. Whilst there were some bright spots in character development and some nice touches in dialogue, the rest of the episode suffered from having too many narrative points to get through, and the Doctor’s solution to the Dalek problem felt misguided at best. Based on the elements it had, this special fell short of expectations, but there is hope that Series 13 will get back on track.

Star Rating: 3/5

Thank you for reading my review of “Revolution of the Daleks”. If you have enjoyed reading this post, feel free to like and subscribe to The Blogging DJ to receive email notifications when new posts are published. What did you think about this episode? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

In the coming weeks, I will be focusing on resuming my reviews of the Doctor Who episodes from Series 12, starting with “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror”, which will be published soon.

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