Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks
A warning of some mild spoilers as we delve into the Doctor Who festive special...
Despite the fact that we got a whole series of Doctor Who in 2020, it seems forever since it was last on our screens. It doesn't help that last year went on forever. Arriving on our screens on New Year's Day, the 'festive special' Revolution of the Daleks featuring the long-awaited return of Captain Jack Harkness to the show and plenty of Daleks. Lots and lots of Daleks. Plus a couple of swansongs thrown in to match. And at one of the longest running times of any special (it's not far off 50th special Day of the Doctor), there's plenty to digest.
It's one of the strongest episodes for Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, serving as something of a reflection on the events of series 12's Timeless Child arc, while also acting as a sequel to series 11's Arachnids in the UK and 2019 New Year's Day special Resolution. Chris Noth's ruthless US businessman Jack Robertson is back and this time, he's got his hands on Dalek technology, thanks to the equally ruthless ambition of Harriet Walter's Jo Patterson, who finds herself soon elevated to Prime Minister over the events of the episode - somehow, she is more believable than our current PM; think an anti-Harriet Jones and you're on the right path. Noth didn't have a great debut - arguably the toxic waste-infused spiders of his series 11 episode was one of the weakest in the current Chibnall era. But he is better served here, with a cocky arrogance and cunning ability to try and ally himself with the winning side - be that Patterson's rise to power or the Daleks themselves.
There's some clever commentary from showrunner and writer Chris Chibnall here on the age untrustworthy governments, border checks and national security, unscrupulous private funding of national governances, the refusal to trust in 'experts' and the ruthless ambition that puts power before the people. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Revolution of the Daleks is that Robertson emerges not only unscathed but in a direct line for the White House. Perhaps now that Trump is out, a Trump-esque politician vying for the big seat might be more palatable in future episodes?
Joining them is Nathan Stewart-Jarrett's Leo Rugazzi, the good-natured scientist that becomes enthralled in Patterson and Robertson's machinations, while unwittingly unleashing the Dalek threat. There's a lot of solid groundwork done before all hell breaks loose, that is very in keeping with Chibnall's loving homage to the Russell T Davies' era of Doctor Who. In fact, once you throw in Jack back into the mix and some crowd-pleasing references to Rose, it often feels as if you're right back watching the show from over a decade ago. Hordes of gold Daleks flying through the skies, a stand-off on the bridge between two rival enemies; there are moments when it feels quite like Doomsday Mark II.
That's not always a bad thing. There are plenty of exciting moments in Resolution of the Daleks. The moment the new Dalek security Drones are unleashed is terribly fun, while there is a strong Alien vibe to the Dalek attack in the Osaka laboratory that sees Jack and Yaz fall foul of the tentacled creatures. The Doctor's plan to unleash an even worse bread of Daleks is both clever and OTT, leading to a global threat on the level of many David Tennant show stopping episodes. Sure there are moments where it feels as if the episode is on a budget - the new breed of Daleks are pretty much dispatched off screen - but it's fun while it happens.
The longer running time gives the cast plenty to do. The first act doesn't quite play as you would expect, given what we've briefly seen in the trailer. There is a sense that the Doctor has been in prison a long time and there's some great gags with old aliens from the Doctor forgetting the Silence was there to Angela the Weeping Angel. The jailbreak is perhaps the most fun part of the whole episode.
I really enjoyed the interplay between Yaz and Jack; I'm really hoping that he is back next series as it felt as if Chibnall was tapping into that Jack-Rose / Martha vibe in their relationship. It was also Ryan's best episode in a long time. Tosin Cole was a real breath of fresh air in his early series 11 episodes, but his struggles his dyspraxia seemed to go largely as the show progressed and he faded into the background behind Yaz and Graham last series. But there were some beautiful moments in Resolution of the Daleks, particularly his chat with the Doctor onboard the TARDIS. Ryan had grown most of all in the ten months since the three companions were dumped back on Earth and his decision to leave was lovely and heartfelt. Coming back to the bike ride on the hills above Sheffield was a nice full circle moment to The Woman Who Fell To Earth.
Graham was a little short changed this episode, but then Bradley Walsh is such a good actor, any scenes with him are always a joy to watch. The fist bump on the Dalek ship was a delight - in fact the whole sequence with Graham, Ryan and Jack on the Dalek ship was fun - but his departure was second fiddle to Ryan's, forced more because Walsh was leaving than a realistic character moment. That aside, that final sequence was lovely and I'm sure we'll be getting a Big Finish boxset with Ryan and Graham saving the Earth in the near future. The room was certainly left open for them - no exterminations as was expected - along with Jack, who gave us another crowd-pleasing reference as he went to meet up with Gwen Cooper (I'm taking this as a head-cannon reference to setting up Torchwood series five at Big Finish).
Resolution of the Daleks was lots of fun, with some great social commentary by writer Chibnall and fast-paced direction by Lee Haven Jones. Sure, it was largely a rehash of Doomsday at times - the RTD-era vibes were strong with this one - but it gave every character plenty to do, with Ryan given a particularly strong swan song on the show and John Barrowman an absolute delight as Captain Jack. With two companions gone and the Doctor starting to address the trauma of Series 12, it feels as if this is a turning point in the Thirteenth Doctor's era. With series 13 promised later this year and new companion Dan on his way, I'm looking forward to seeing where the show goes next.