Doctor Who review: Revolution of the Daleks

More Daleks! I do love how opinion is divided between ‘Daleks are the reason to watch the show’ and ‘Daleks are so overused’. Personally, I think that by the end of the Tennant era, Daleks needed a bit of a rest – each Dalek story was bigger than the last and they started to veer towards self-parody. I think Moffat called it right – the Daleks kept to the sidelines. There continued to be the suggestion that the Daleks were still out there causing general devastation, but any stories featuring those evil monstrosities being kept fairly small scale.

Revolution of the Daleks is probably the biggest one we’ve seen since the Stolen Earth – this is a genuine attempt at global conquest and I think finally the show has the room for a bigger scale Dalek incursion, because this one felt right. It was still relatively low key in some ways, and kept to his usual trick of keeping the plot character focused, which I think was wise. Anything larger would have needed at least a two-parter, and we all knew that the episode, for all its threat, was about the departure of Ryan and Graham.

So, to start, I think the general plotting of this episode was excellent. We came into it not certain how it was going to play out, whether the companions would spend most of the episode without the Doctor, how the Doctor was going to escape the prison, and fully expecting the Daleks that we had seen in all the promotional videos to be genuine: Chibnall proving himself just as much of a troll as Moffat, leaving legions of fans needlessly bemoaning the redesign. And then we encounter the story, and it all felt fresh and exciting. At one point I wondered whether Chibnall had done a complete slight-of-hand trick and we weren’t actually going to get ‘Daleks’ at all, merely a dangerous prime minister in charge of alien tech…

So, we get a little section with the “fam” and how they are dealing with life without the Doctor. Here, the show goes straight into the difference between Yaz and the other two. There are some parallels here with Rose at the end of the first series, except, importantly, Rose’s overwhelming refusal to give up on the Doctor no matter what is clearly signalled as a virtue and the thing that ultimately saves the day, here it is more of a problem. Clearly a huge amount can be said about how impressively comprehensive a job Yaz engaged in, but it wasn’t healthy, and it was ultimately fruitless. This scene definitely shows that Yaz shares Rose’s impassioned locality to the Doctor, but it also highlights the character’s weakness, her inability to move on – Yaz, like Rose, has started to define her worth in relation to the Doctor and is unable to comprehend giving her up. Ryan and Graham, on the other hand, have started putting their life together. And they’ve clearly grown due to their travels: Ryan is far more together and capable of living his life and both of them are taking a wider interest in the world around them. It is they who spot the threat to humanity.

And, again, we get the hapless trio attempting to play the Doctor, like in Spyfall, and failing. But not so comprehensively nor so ignorantly. Sure, they don’t have the Doctor’s magic paper, yet, but once the Doctor appears on the screen, they are able to direct her immediately to where she needs to be.

The Doctor’s time in prison is interesting. She’s spent years there, and the implication is that she’s been bored out of her mind. There’s some nice moments with her fellow inmates which are clearly played for laughs Although, if the Judoon are quite so powerful enforcers that they break into a TARDIS and can take down the combined powers of the Weeping Angels and the Pting, I do wonder if there’s anything they can’t do. And it appears that the prison even proved more than a match to our Time Lord. 79 years and still no escape? That’s unheard of! That said, what seemed to be going on here is that, coming on the back of all the revelations in the Timeless Children, the Doctor seemed to have given up. She no longer knew who she was. It does seem possible that the Doctor used the 79 years in prison to have a really good mope.

What I liked was how the story took the time to explore the emotional consequences of the events of the events from the last story. Yaz, as suggested above, hasn’t been dealing well, and neither has the Doctor. When the fam are all reunited, kind regards of the long awaited Captain Jack Harkness, they take the time in the midst of action to have some real heart-to-hearts. The conversation between Jack and Yaz was lovely. Sure, Jack returned to give the show a bit of sass and fun for the festive special, but Barrowman gave this heartfelt moment his all. The real treat, however, was when we saw Ryan taking the counselling role. Throughout their run, Graham has been the emotionally mature one, the one who manages the emotional needs of his friends. The fact that Ryan can do that was a lovely way to signal how much Ryan has grown.

From there, however, we get nicely into the action. Jack Robertson with callous disregard for anything but his own career and ambition meets a similarly minded politician, prepared to do anything to get herself into number 10. The characters they portrayed were all too familiar, but if it felt a little on the nose, it seems only fair. The thing that made this work so well here is how frighteningly plausible it seemed. Let’s be clear here, we didn’t need the Daleks taking back control of their travel units for this to be scary – the drones’ capability and potential were there whoever was controlling them, Daleks are just ready made fascists who didn’t require time for start their atrocities.

I do like that the Doctor’s solution to the problem has precedent. In Blood of the Daleks, for example, he realises that the possible dangers of a new strain of Daleks make a temporary alliance with his old enemy to help wipe them out preferable, knowing that the Daleks abhor an aberration. Here she realises that that same solution is the simplest option. I do wonder quite what her plan had been to destroy the Daleks left on Earth had Jack not gone traitor, though. (Blood of the Daleks does at least involve guaranteeing both factions wipe out each other). And, if I had one complaint, the “come into my parlour” trick did feel a little too “sudden magic wand” for me, but it was probably worth it for the “the Daleks are not pets of the Doctor” line.

Of course, the whole point of this story was the departure of Ryan and Graham. We were geared up for a death, and whilst that may have made a fittingly grand conclusion to their journeys, I think the hope and optimism of their departure was really what was needed. I love that it was Ryan who chose to go, and dear old Graham, who would have happily lived out his life with the Doctor, loyal to the last to his grandson. The past two series have very much about been about Ryan and Graham’s journey (to potentially to the detriment of Yaz’a), beautifully bookended with the scene on the bike. And I don’t think we could have had a more satisfactory conclusion to that arc.

So, that’s it for Doctor Who for a while. We hear that the new 8 episode series, which introduces a new companion, will air as soon as it has finished filming, and I can’t wait. There’s clearly a lot more for this TARDIS crew to explore.

Happy New Year!