Doctor Who Review: Revolution of the Daleks
Look, I’ll cut to the chase here: there’s nothing about these Doctor Who reviews that can claim to be remotely objective.
2020 was one hell of a fucking year, and the last time I wrote about this show was right before my life and everyone else’s took a screaming left turn into the unpredictable and downright unlikely. Coming back to this show, coming back to these reviews, it’s a happy place for me, and, when things have been so darn unhappy lately, I don’t have it in me to sit here and try to cast an objective critical eye over the pros and cons of Revolution of the Daleks. I got a little choked up at the opening credits; I am not here to sit, monocle in eye, to survey the latest offerings that Chris Chibnall has laid at my altar as the critical behemoth that I so obviously am.
So, with that out of the way, I’d like to talk a little about how I felt about this New Year’s Special. I was re-reading the one I wrote last year earlier today (yes, I really am that level of narcissist), and I stand by the main point I opened that article with – that the festive specials are inherently meant to be consumed at half-mast. You’re probably getting through the last of the selection boxes, a little drunk or hungover or both, and you’re not looking to have much more than some seasonal mush thrust into your face-holes for fun. So, does Revolution of the Daleks succeed on that level?
To be honest, it’s a mixed bag. Captain Jack Harkness is back, after a way-too-long banishment from the show by noted Harkness-phobe Stephen Moffat, and John Barrowman is as much of a heavenly, camp, swashbuckling delight as he always has been. In terms of the choice to bring him back as part of the festive special, I’m totally into this, and Barrowman brings a joyful energy to his return that makes it impossible not to love every moment of his screentime – he and Jodie share some great chemistry, and seeing one of the first queer characters I ever saw on TV years since I’ve come out and been comfortable with my own sexuality is a gift on top of that. As far as Jack goes, this episode is everything that I wanted it to be.
And the rest of it? The actual Daleks plot is pretty cack-handed and slapdash; Chris Noth is a welcome return from his batshit episode in Whittaker’s first season, and he’s bringing the panto villain energy that I enjoy, not to mention an appearance by Nathan Stewart-Jarett not playing an angsty young adult for a change. But it’s almost sidelined in this slightly lopsided episode, and the Daleks, for all I may be fucking sick of them, don’t do well taking a back seat. If you’re going to do it, do it right, you know? Most of the Dalek-ery is skimmed through to get to the parts of the story that really matter, and while I’m not exactly jonesing for more killer teapot content, it does make the main plot seem a little perfunctory. I do really appreciate the way that Revolution of the Daleks is so upfront about its politics – the fact that it broadcast on the same day as the unbelievable shitshow that has been Brexit and made a point to underline the danger of xenophobic border policing is no coincidence. It gives a bit of depth to what is otherwise a pretty thin excuse to chuck the Daleks back at us once more, because it’s Christmas, and what’s that about except seeing old friends?
Speaking of old friends. The banner moment for this episode is the fact that we’re bidding goodbye to Ryan and Graham (Toisin Cole and Bradley Walsh) for at least the time being, leaving the Doctor and Yaz to travel together for the forseeable future. Arguably, this is the actual centrepiece of this episode, and I think it’s handled…well. Not much better than that, but well.
Toisin Cole is a performer and a character in Ryan that I have had mixed feelings about over the course of his run, but I really enjoy his last main-cast episode here; both Ryan and Cole seem to have matured in the time since we have last spent with them, and that tracks with the way that the show is shifting his character into someone self-confident enough to stand on his own, outside of the Doctor. Cole and Whittaker share a great scene, where both acknowledge his need to move on, the grief that comes with losing time with a person you care about, and it’s enough to ground this entire plot in something that feels real and genuinely heartfelt.
Graham leaving with Ryan does feel a little perfunctory in this episode, but enough work has been done in the show as a whole to ensure that his desicion to go with his grandson actually makes sense. I’m sad to see Bradley Walsh go, I really am (not least because of the news that John Bishop is set to replace him, ugh), but the three-assistants patter has been making the show a little top-heavy for my liking. I think it’s the right choice in the long-term, but that doesn’t mean I’m mad about it in the immediate.
I do like where the show is leaving Yaz and the Doctor, though – Yaz and Jack share a scene early in the episode where he points out that life with the Doctor is never certain, and that Yaz is almost guaranteed to lose her again. The final moments Mandeep Gill and Whittaker share this episode are tense, even though Yaz decides to stay; she might have wanted to remain, but that doesn’t mean that the Doctor will always be able to fulfil her end of the promise.
So, in short, Revolution of the Daleks is barely about the Daleks at all. For the screentime they do take up, they’re fine, if perfunctory, but the episode is more focused on the emotional stakes of assistants shifting out. And, as someone who is here for the emotion – for someone who applies emotion over the bloody opening credits of this show – I can get behind that. Did we get to see the Doctor and Yaz kiss on the mouth? No, but we will, and that’s what matters. I can’t wait to see where this new turn for the show will take us, and I hope you’ll be joining me for my recaps come that next season.
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(header image via Radio Times)