Revolution of the Daleks Review
This review was brought to you by 106 patrons over at Chrisine’s Patreon. Thank you to everyone who helped my daughter through a long, difficult, and ultimately transformative year. I’m real proud of her.
The nice thing about the festering debacle that was The Timeless Children immediately followed by the *entire rest of 2020* is that it finally lowers your standards enough to appreciate Chibnall. Was this good? Absolutely not. Did I care anymore? Also no. So, you know. Detente. It was, at the very least, not actively, malignantly bad. It was instead just sort of inoffensively there. An entirely adequate piece of Doctor Who. Given that even Davies and Moffat failed to achieve that about half the time on their Christmas specials, this has to be taken as some sort of result.
For the most part, what we have here is Chibnall’s worst instincts being overcome by sheer volume. At the end of the day a double companion departure, two returning villains, and Captain Jack is simply enough stuff that as long as you don’t do something like have the Doctor stand still for half an episode while the villain explains the plot to her you can probably just about make it work. Things explode at a basically reasonable frequency with emotional beats in the middle. One of the many problems with the Chibnall era has been that it’s never been entirely clear who it’s for. This is for hung over people who watched the show in 2008. There’s a reasonable number of those on New Year’s. So, you know. Job done. This is fine, as the kids say.
The problem with banal adequacy is that it’s easier to note the things that went wrong than the virtues. The directing was flat and unimaginative. (What on Earth was that “Yaz and the Doctor face the camera to deliver their final lines” bit? Why did we pan up the Dalek clone farm over a dramatic chord twice?) The emotional beats as ever suggest that Chibnall thinks they’re called that because you’re supposed tol club the viewer over the head with them, having characters simply assert the growth and characterization that Chibnall had forgotten to write for them previously. John Barrowman and Chris North spend much of the episode in a perverse duel to see who can offer the flattest line reading. (North ultimately runs away with it, as Barrowman’s efforts are undermined by his narcissistic desperation to be a fan favorite.) The Doctor apparently can’t be assed to even try escaping from prison for decades because she’s too sad over The Timeless Children. Which, I mean, that’s also kind of how I feel about it, but for fuck’s sake, even Eight tried to escape from prison regularly and he spent most of his era with amnesia about his amnesia.
The most egregious part of it, and the thing I’ll no doubt pick up most on if I ever hate myself enough to do an Eruditorum of this era, is the bizarre squandering of Daleks as cops. And look, I know this was all done in 2019 and wasn’t able to respond to anything that happened in 2020, but this still has to go down as one of the most amazingly wasted ideas in Doctor Who. What, exactly, does this episode think the problem with Dalek cops is? Is it that they’re fucking nazis? Is it that they’re inhuman and emotionless authority that prioritizes law and order over all else? Is it the severity or heavy-handedness of their tactics? No! It’s that they’re built on a corrupt contract with stolen alien technology, of course! Sure, they exterminate fake Theresa May, which, man, the 2019ness of the script sure shines through there doesn’t it, but even that’s fundamentally and crushingly vapid. Nobody can be surprised that there’s not much there to a Chibnall episode, but this is surely the most grandiose premise he’s ever squandered.
And yet for all of this I want to return to the fact that this was perfectly, mundanely adequate. You could show this to someone without embarrassment or undue disclaimer, though you’d need a lot of backstory fill-ins. That’s more than you could easily say about Voyage of the Damned, The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe or The Return of Doctor Mysterioso. It’s more than you could say about Orphan 55 or The Timeless Children too. And yet all of those stories are, inept as they may be, accurate descriptions of what their eras were. Show someone Voyage of the Damned and they get an accurate understanding of Davies in all regards save for basic quality. So what do you get if you show someone Revolution of the Daleks? What sort of show will they conclude that Doctor Who is? An aging franchise with its interests firmly rooted in the past, with little to offer save for past glories.
- Speaking of a Whittaker Eruditorum… it’s currently unlikely. As my reviews make painfully clear, I’m not having fun with this era. It’s a chore to watch once. The idea of writing a minimum of 60,000 words on it just to cover the actual episodes feels miserable. The idea of putting down a project I love like Last War in Albion to spend the better part of a year on it sounds even worse. If Doctor Who eventually gets good enough again that I feel a deep compulsion to write about it the way that I did after Series 5 then I’ll probably work through whatever backlog I have. But I want to be clear about what that bar is, because it’s “get someone who wrote over a million words about Doctor Who and then fell very out of love with the show to love it again,” and that’s not a small task.
- And speaking of Last War in Albion, the first bit of Book Three is already available for Patrons. It’ll be here in a bit; I want to bank a decent chunk before I start serializing.
- “I forgot you were here” is in fact a really good gag.
- Unlike the Harry Potter quoting. Not because Rowling is a TERF—that wasn’t well enough known in 2019 for me to be bent out of shape about it. Just because the setup of the Doctor talking to herself and telling herself “one of the classics” as a bedtime story in an episode shot not long after August 2019 was so obviously the setup for her to begin, “Through the ruins of a city stalked the ruins of a man…”
- I think the thing that most sums up this episode is the use of the squareness gun. It makes a return, clearly displayed so that fans can appreciate the callback. And then this cheeky, weird, silly concept that’s worth remembering fifteen years after its debut… gets used as a completely generic laser gun.
- The new Dalek design worked better on screen than it looked like it would in photos, though it’s hard not to be glad the classic design remains the standard. For all that trading on past glories is tedious, sometimes a truly perfect and iconic piece of design is in fact a truly perfect and iconic piece of design.
- Two of Chibnall’s most defining yet puzzling tendencies on display in the final thirty seconds: the belief that guest stars are the single most attractive thing about the program, and the belief that Doctor Who cannot function without a middle aged white dude.
- Another bewildering squandering: the Doctor was arrested by the Judoon. This story is about Dalek cops. There are no Judoon in it. That’s… weird.
- Also, this episode contains no actual revolution.
- No, seriously, did Chibnall just call it that to do an R of the Daleks story?
- That’s embarrassing, dude.
January 2, 2021 @ 12:17 am
Was he just afraid “Brexit of the Daleks” would be too on-the-nose? That’s why I’m going with “Exodus of the Daleks” for my Fake Doctor Who Story That I Will Assume To Be A Thinly Veiled Brexit Analogy Because I Don’t Have To Be The One To Make It Work.
January 2, 2021 @ 12:37 am
Your last bullet point made me laugh a bit – reminded me that Chibnall gave an interview a few weeks back where he made a point of saying the title meant something and wasn’t just so he could do an R of the Daleks!
“Not particularly,” Chibnall said when asked about if the episode’s title was connected to those earlier serials. “It’s not the driving force between using that title.
“It’s a resonant title across the whole of the episode, not just a very specific hark back to something from 1985.”
(From the Radio Times, if anyone’s googling to find it.)
January 2, 2021 @ 12:49 am
Technically the Daleks revolt for 4 minutes most of the way through the episode.
At which point a bunch of good cops rush in to save the day. Because of course the episode had to go out of its way to redeem police officers.
January 2, 2021 @ 3:14 am
Perhaps we are looking at it the wrong way and he isn’t going for R Of The Daleks but for something that rhymes with Evolution Of The Daleks, So next we can expect Devolution Of The Daleks.
January 3, 2021 @ 3:13 pm
I thought it was just because it went round and round…
January 2, 2021 @ 12:38 am
This really felt worse for me than any other Christmas or New Year special apart from ‘The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe’ and ‘The Next Doctor’. Most specials at least had imagination or humour or grandiosity or a scene where the Doctor is tortured by proxy with a stuffed toy.
This was just so boring. Everything happened a mile away and nothing felt really interesting. Everything just happened as you’d expect, and anything interesting the episode suggested was so quickly tossed aside for ‘Praxeus’ but worse. “How does the prison stuff work?” It bears no relation to the plot and is tossed aside. “How can the companions fight the Daleks without the Doctor?” Oh, look it didn’t matter, despite the fact they outright asked that question in the script.
Some stray observations:
-Jack says “You don’t get to chose to leave the Doctor.” What does he do at the end of the episode? Leave by choice for no reason but John Barrowman isn’t contracted to be a companion.
-Giving Robertson an anti-intellectual line doesn’t work if the intellectual being intellectual is what causes the problems to begin with.
-So the Doctor just killed a sentient Tardis there?
-The script is so desperate to not be more than vaguely liberal, it glosses over the fact that Fake Theresa May let Robertson kill a civil servant.
-Jodie Whittaker continues to do a great job. I really like her take on the Doctor when the script isn’t in the way.
-Having a gender-fluid character love Harry Potter is really stupid.
-At this point not punishing Robertson is just stupid. Even if 13 isn’t as ruthless as 6 or 7, would any other Doctor let a man who tried to sell humanity to the Daleks walk away at the end to achieve greater power. Just dump Robertson on a fertile planet with no life more intelligent than a fungus, or leak his betrayal to the press.
-So Chibnall really doesn’t want the publicity of having the first all female TARDIS team? Seems like an own goal that.
January 2, 2021 @ 1:13 am
I get that this was made in 2019, when the full extent of Rowling’s awfulness wasn’t as obvious (except to anyone actually paying attention), but my god they should have cut that scene this year. Especially as the plot reveal that happens immediately afterwards, the knock on the wall, is largely superfluous.
January 5, 2021 @ 11:14 am
“Having a gender-fluid character love Harry Potter is really stupid.”
I dunno. Lots of people still feel nostalgic about the books, myself included, even despite the awfulness of Rowling herself. If anything, I hope HP books can one day stand on their own, when their author and her TERFness is long gone.
“At this point not punishing Robertson is just stupid.”
My sentiments exactly. WHY won’t the Doctor (and Chibnall) finally punish the guy? What does it say about Chibnall that he can exterminate fake Theresa May, but faced with fake Trump, he can only leave us with the possibility of the guy gaining even more power?
“Jodie Whittaker continues to do a great job.”
And I still can’t enjoy her. Perhaps her performance has just been soured for me by the rest of Chibnall Who, but I often find her acting flat and repetitive. Still, she’s putting a lot of heart into it and I can respect that.
January 22, 2021 @ 2:54 pm
I think they assumed in 2019, that Trump would still be around in 2021 when they probably had a delayed gratification ending for the character planned. Unfortunately this denouement is going to fall a little flat now.
January 2, 2021 @ 12:41 am
Basically, there’s a better version of Dr Who on iPlayer right now called His Dark Materials.
And I don’t even like that show.
January 2, 2021 @ 12:49 am
Another review that precisely and eruditely sums it up.
I’m desperately trying to eke out a comment here because I really miss this, but it’s hard to keep an interest in a series whose makers don’t even seem to know what they are interested in. It launches with subtitles that set up a cheeky piss-take, then spends most of its time as straight-faced sci-fi. It sets up a story purpose built for political commentary then says nothing. It brings back a “fan favourite” then makes him irrelevant to the story, only there to trot out a few trailer lines at clunky moments before disappearing in a puff of ADR (which, fair play, was probably a compromise of production and as much as the actor/character deserves).
At least the ABC iView version of this episode did not include the trailer for the next series, so I got to enjoy the Doctor/Yaz era for a full minute before opening Twitter and losing the only optimism I had for Doctor Who 2021.
January 2, 2021 @ 1:10 am
So much incompetent plotting but the bit that stood out on first watch: Yaz gets a sample of the fluid to analyse, ten minutes later the baddie just tells us what the fluid is. This is classic Chibnall. Yaz should have analysed the fluid, then when we ask “What happened to all the humans?” we can put 2 and 2 together. Little things like that really bug me.
January 2, 2021 @ 1:25 am
At the end of the day, this is basically the best Chibnall can do. It’s probably his best script. That’s bleak.
Stray thoughts with some positives: Jodie was excellent. Tosin gave his best performance, I was really impressed at how he portrayed the character growth that Chibnall failed to actually write. I feel like Yaz is being set up for a bit of a Clara arc, especially since Praxeus, which I’m cool with.
I’m glad Ryan fell off the bike at the end, but the intention to overcome his dyspraxia by sheer force of will is still really grating.
January 2, 2021 @ 3:00 am
I don’t mind that so much. My son has been diagnosed with dyspraxia , and I have it (as in I’ve never been formally diagnosed with it but I’ve sort of reverse diagnosed it as every single trait that was the basis for his diagnosis is one that I displayed at that age, and in a lot of cases still do ). We have always taken the line that although dyspraxia can make it more difficult to do things that doesn’t mean he should just give up. I’m still trying to teach him to ride a bike so these scenes strike a chord (admittedly he’s 8 years old not however old Ryan is meant to be)
January 2, 2021 @ 1:34 am
I would much sooner show anyone Mysterio than this.
January 2, 2021 @ 2:33 am
Or Orphan 55
January 2, 2021 @ 3:00 am
I generally think that Mysterio was better than any episode of the chibnall era. And I am not really a fan of mysterio at all.This is the 1st episode of doctor who that I have actually hate watched since Colin Baker with the lead. I told a friend on Facebook that the episode was about Donald Trump and Theresa may teaming up with daleks to attack BLM protesters. The laugh he got from that was the only positive thing I can report from this story.
January 2, 2021 @ 2:47 am
I more or less agree – it was ok-ish.
I thought the whole Doctor in prison subplot was bizarre jsut because of how insignificant it turned out to be. Had Chibnall thought it would make a great cliffhanger then couldn’t think what to do with it?
I liked the idea that the politicians were letting in fascists by the back door , that seemed quite on the nose, but then the Doctor’s solution is to summon a different bunch of fascists to sort them out. Are we supposed to assume that no one at all was caught in the crossfire.
And Theresa May proxy bossing Donald Trump proxy around and persuading him to give the British governemnt an apparent asset for nothing? Really? That sounds like wishful thinking.
January 2, 2021 @ 4:19 am
Here’s what bugged me about the otherwise pointless prison thing: The Doctor, who has escaped innumerable prison cells and traps over the run of the show, was captured by the fucking /Judoon/ and successfully contained for decades until finally manly-man Jack Harkness showed up to casually rescue the little lady and carry her to safety! It is astonishing how utterly blind Chibnall is to his own internalized sexism.
I wish they’d given the show to Mark Gatiss. It would have been retro and perhaps boring. But I can imagine a Gattis series in which he’d chosen a female Doctor but otherwise made the show as reassuring to viewers as possible. Which would mean basically a female Jon Pertwee who would be hypercompetent and never just … helpless!
January 2, 2021 @ 4:48 am
Yes that’s true. The decision to make the Doctor more fallible just as Whittaker took on the role seems to have somehow resulted in her coming across as a “ditzy” stereotype. I doubt it was the intention but that’s what comes across.
January 2, 2021 @ 3:12 pm
One thing, casting a woman as the Doctor, was absolutely what the show needed. The other thing, dialing down on the grandiose goddishness of the character in favour of something a little more human, was at least a defensible choice.
Putting those two things together was very obviously a bad idea.
I have some hopes, though, that reducing the cast could help, if only a little. Some of this is because of how Chibnall’s era portrays the Doctor. But some of it is because there are simply too many main characters, and the Doctor comes across as passive and not capable of taking action because there isn’t time to show her taking action before what are often too quick and perfunctory resolutions to the plot.
Plus, I’m happy to see Yaz finally being given some room to develop.
Damn. While writing this comment, I just thought of another way in which this episode left low-hanging fruit on the tree. You have Daleks as police, and at no point do you exploit in any way the fact that one of your main characters is a police constable.
January 2, 2021 @ 5:00 pm
At the time when I posted the above comment, I had not yet heard the John Bishop news.
Oh well. It was nice to be able to look forward to a Doctor-Yaz Series 13 while I could.
January 12, 2021 @ 11:47 am
“the Doctor comes across as passive and not capable of taking action because there isn’t time to show her taking action before what are often too quick and perfunctory resolutions to the plot.”
Good point. Even during the Pond era Rory was quite often sidelined. It’s not easy to write a big TARDIS team.
Do you guys remember when we were debating whether punching a racist was a step too far for the Doctor? I miss those times.
January 12, 2021 @ 3:58 am
The more I think about this, the more I want to live in a parallel universe where Mark Gatiss is showrunner, Lara Pulver or possibly Amanda Abbington is the Doctor, and Rupert Graves could be her companion. For a costume, she could wear LITERALLY ANYTHING that Lalla Ward wore during her tenure on the show.
January 22, 2021 @ 2:58 pm
Like Sandi Toskvig maybe?
January 2, 2021 @ 4:51 am
Completely overshadowed for me by The KLF’s NYE release of Solid State Logik 1 featuring “Doctorin’ The Tardis” as the first track. Now idly wondering if they intentionally chose to do this in close proximity to the Dr. Who special, or if they care as little for the Chibnall era as I do.
January 2, 2021 @ 8:34 am
Was anyone else bothered by the companion’s non-reaction to the Doctor telling them she had been in ‘space prison’?
It was implied she had been in the prison for some time (years, I think?) And yet, there was no “Oh Doctor, that’s terrible you were in prison, are you ok, what was it like?” It was all “We had to live our normal lives on earth for 10 months – ACKNOWLEDGE OUR PAIN!”
It just seemed weird to me that the whole prison element was kind of pointless, and didn’t really have any impact on the story or characters. There was much more focus on the companion’s experience of living without the Doctor, never mind that she was in what looked like a horrific prison.
I basically agree with El on this episode – it was fine. Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it.
January 4, 2021 @ 3:34 pm
That was a bit bothering, but not as bothering to me as the total non-reaction from the Doctor to Captain Jack’s mention of Rose. I know Jodie didn’t watch the previous Doctor’s episodes before starting the show (at Chibnall’s suggestion), but he could have at least indicated in the script for her to have a reaction to the mention of her.
The Doctor killing a TARDIS was also a problem.
January 6, 2021 @ 6:46 am
Those are good points. The TARDIS problem somehow didn’t occur to me at the time of watching, but it is a valid point, and it’s not like there wasn’t a way around it. The Doctor could have rigged the TARDIS to drop all of the Daleks in a black hole and then fly off, or something…
January 6, 2021 @ 8:05 am
Well of course he told her not to watch them – otherwise she’d know what bits had been nicked.
January 2, 2021 @ 10:01 am
I gotta say, I’m way more angry about the JK Rowling bit than you. This episode might’ve been written last year, but Rowling’s mask-off transphobic essay came in June. That’s a full 6 months to cut out this very extraneous scene. And it really should’ve been – a promotion of Harry Potter is a promotion of JK Rowling, and she is using her power to harm trans people right now. To actively choose Harry Potter of all the stories in the world is tone-deaf at best and actively agressive towards trans people at worst.
Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but given that this is three weeks after the Tavistock ruling and one week after the BBC gave an award to JK Rowling’s transphobic essay, I guess I’m a little sensitive right now.
January 2, 2021 @ 11:44 am
Even if they wanted that scene in there, they could have cut around it and used ADR to make it Roald Dahl or Beatrix Potter or Captain Underpants or anything.
Leaving it in is so fucking stupid. God, I hate Britain at the moment.
January 2, 2021 @ 10:49 pm
Dahl would have been an… interesting choice, given that we’ve just recently once again reached the apex of the sine wave of public awareness of how jaw-droppingly anti-semitic he was, to the point of his grandchildren writing a public letter of apology.
January 3, 2021 @ 5:32 pm
I think the big difference between him and Rowling is that Roald Dahl is not currently doing anything antisemitic, cannot do anything antisemitic in future, and can’t benefit from his works being promoted, all by virtue of being dead. I still wouldn’t love him to be referenced, but it doesn’t do active harm in the way that promoting JK Rowling and her works does.
January 3, 2021 @ 10:50 pm
Didn’t know that. Have been keeping off the news for mental health reasons.
Yeah that sucks, but at least he’s dead.
January 2, 2021 @ 10:15 am
What was the point of the space prison thing?
Why was Jack actually in this?
Why did his constant mentions of being immortal come to naught in the actual story?
Why were the three regular characters given nothing to do except recognise what a Dalek was (strange that Theresa May and Donald Trump and that scientist guy wouldn’t know)?
Why was the Dalek that took control of the scientist guy a completely different character (demonic possessor) to actual Daleks (neurotic toddlers trapped in tanks)?
Why do I still watch this, even though I’m just thinking ‘how long till it ends’ all the way through?
January 2, 2021 @ 10:52 am
Also, I HATE the way Chibnall re-uses previous writers’ lines. In this case, re-doing “You didn’t need to kill him!” “Neither did we need him alive” from Doomsday. It happened with some of Moffat’s jokes in the last season, too. If you’re going to steal other writers’ lines then at least improve upon or add to them in some way, rather than just ham-fistedly regurgitating them.
January 2, 2021 @ 6:41 pm
He also stole most of Matt Smith’s regeneration speech with the “we all change all the time, and that’s good” conversation between Ryan and the Doctor.
January 2, 2021 @ 7:15 pm
Plus “Have you had work done?”
“You can talk …”
Pretty sure now that “Chris Chibnall” is a Markov chain bot.
January 6, 2021 @ 5:05 am
I’ve decided that Chris Chibnall is a Mark Gatiss, but his Doctor Who nostalgia only goes back 15 years.
January 6, 2021 @ 8:12 am
“Cheap and nasty time travel” in “Rosa” was the first time it stood out to me. Now I hear it everywhere. He also trends towards the word Creature rather than anything else. Which is part of his larger trend of having characters from completely different backgrounds use the same idiosyncratic vocabulary all the time.
January 2, 2021 @ 10:55 am
It aimed for mediocrity and more or less achieved it.
Why is that business man still alive? All the other major figures involved died, why spare him? Is he going to come back yet again?
January 2, 2021 @ 4:11 pm
Chibnall likes his medium-name guest stars, and it’s not like Chris Noth’s schedule suggests that he’d be averse to a recurring paid gig.
January 2, 2021 @ 11:57 am
“Forget about JK, even if they don’t like her they still love Harry right? I mean nobody ever falls out of love with a media franchise just because the author is terrible, right?” -someone, probably.
January 5, 2021 @ 11:47 am
The thing is, lots and lots of people do still love Harry. And many of them probably don’t even know how awful Rowling is because they haven’t kept up with HP news since the last book/movie came out. To them, that scene is just pure “aww, I liked that book as a kid”. To me the HP quote in this episode felt like the classic Chibnall “I know very little about this complex issue and I can’t be bothered to learn more”.
January 6, 2021 @ 3:32 pm
But even leaving aside the tone-deafness (at best), isn’t a Harry Potter reference just lazy in 2021? It was different in 2007.
Find something that will make the viewer sit up and say, “I wasn’t expecting that, but it’s perfect!”
January 2, 2021 @ 12:59 pm
One thing I really like about the Whitaker era and it shows up here as well, is that the right to remember that there is more than one city on Earth something which both Davies and Moffat seem to have forgotten for the past 10 series, with every other episode being said in London, and yes I know that Moffat sat his last series in Bristol but it didn’t really add much to the story whereas now it feels like Doctor Who is more global in a sense, and that’s a good thing because it’s not just a Saturday kids show anymore it does appeal to a much wider and more global audience.
I hope the show runners in the future remember this and don’t go back to setting all the episodes in a tiny corner of a tiny country on earth, and of course there are criticisms of stories to be made where the tardis is essentially used as an aeroplane, but I think in this particular case it works well to have the companions in different locations.
January 2, 2021 @ 3:26 pm
I agree with this. It falls for me under Chibnall making good or at least potentially good broad strategic choices and then the execution leaving much to be desired.
Getting out of London — definitely a breath of fresh air. Both in the sense of getting outside of Britain (Demons of the Punjab remains for me the best episode of this era) but also in getting outside of London within Britain.
In some ways, geographical choices might be the single way in which Chibnall beats Moffat for me — there was something that I’m less than keen on about Moffat’s choice to open his era with the mythologized conservative territory of the English village in the Home Counties.
If only Chibnall could marry this instinct to a similar one when it comes to nostalgia about Doctor Who itself…
January 2, 2021 @ 3:00 pm
Am I the only person who, when we had Daleks as riot police putting down protestors followed in short order followed by the Rowling reference, thought, “Oh my God, it’s as if Chibnall is deliberately trying to draw in Elizabeth Sandifer and then troll her shamelessly?” 🙂
But more seriously, reading here that this was written and filmed in 2019 (it is a sign of how much my interest in the show has faded that I read non of the publicity) does an awful lot to clear things up for me. It’s really bizarre how much this Just Doesn’t Fit in 2021.
Some of that might be fair enough — it would have been reasonably prescient in 2019 to postulate that framing the depiction of Daleks as police in terms of a desire for “security” would date so badly. (Although I have to agree with our hostess that it was frustrating to see Chibnall land on something so full of possibility and then do nothing interesting with it.)
But come on. Who in 2019 — even early in the year, and I’d assume that this was written and filmed comparatively late — would think, “So, this is being broadcast at the start of 2021. You know who people will be thinking a lot about by then? Theresa May!”?
Mind you, some of this would have felt dated in 2019. “The security equivalent of the iPhone.”
January 2, 2021 @ 5:37 pm
After watching this episode, I’m not sure Chibnall pays much, if any, attention to the news, to be honest. My March 2019, it would have been clear to most that Theresa May was going to be knifed in the back by her party, and the Johnson/Cummings era was coming into shape by early summer.
January 2, 2021 @ 5:18 pm
Yeah, I dunno. Was it Moffatt Who, which (even in its imperfections) is one of my favorite things ever? No. But I really enjoyed this. The criticisms are, I think, correct, but the balls to the wall exuberance of the thing, and some of the character bits, hit my blood stream like cocaine, and was pretty much what I wanted to ring in 2021. I could hate this itineration of DW, and I do have nagging irritations with pretty much ever episode, but it keeps bringing me back with little gifts, even though I don’t really love it and probably never will. (Stay tuned for more scintillating criticism from me in 2021!)
January 2, 2021 @ 6:21 pm
I do wonder exactly what Jodie’s fans see in this.
Let me be clear, a female doctor is a /fantastic/ idea and Jodie herself is not a bad choice for the role. The scripts, especially those from Chibnall, fail to make any real sense even in Doctor Who’s loose definition of “sense”. It seems to me that fans of the 13th Doctor are in love with the fantastic /idea/ of the character rather than the /execution/ of that idea.
January 2, 2021 @ 7:06 pm
Jodie’s performance is great for a few reasons, on the rare occasions the scripts let her perform.
-She has a nervous energy to her and her interactions with others, as if after everything in the Capaldi era she’s decided to try to maintain stronger relationships with others and make a “fam”, but is still trying to work out how they works.
-She lets herself be vulnerable. She talks to herself to work herself up, and needs people for the same reason. I think some of my favourite Doctors (5, 9, 12) let themselves be Doctors trying to live up to the ideal of the Doctor that they aren’t quite sure of yet.
-She’s a reflection of some neurodivergent women I know in the same way that Capaldi was of men. In short, close but not quite exactly the same. I say this as a neurodivergent person.
-She still has the fannish edge that I think contributed to Matt Smith and David Tennant’s popularity.
The issue, of course, is that so many of these attributes make her ‘weaker’ and more ‘feminine’. But that doesn’t stop it from being a good Doctor hampered by bad scripts though, because she remains to me a classic Doctor.
Of course, that doesn’t stop her era from being terrible. I think she’ll be remembered the way Peter Davison is: A great actor giving a performance hampered by the scripts who was at their best in a slightly weird world (It Takes You Away/Kinda) or when pushed into a corner by the brutality of the world (Caves of Androzani/Demons of the Punjab/Rosa).
January 2, 2021 @ 8:40 pm
For me, 13 manages to capture the worst elements of 3, 5 and 10. 3’s propping up of terrible institutions, 5’s ineffectual-ness, and 10’s bizarre moral righteousness.
I maintain that 13 is best when she’s being kind of weird and unhelpful, like her happily wiping Ryan’s phone in the first episode. More of that and less “pillar of hope” nonsense please.
January 2, 2021 @ 9:53 pm
Stronger relationships? Twelve had a stronger (even if fraught) relationship with Clara in Deep Breath than 13 has had with these companions for 2 seasons.
January 3, 2021 @ 10:46 pm
12 had better written relationships, but 13 is actively searching for relationships that it took 12 years to cultivate.
January 3, 2021 @ 8:14 pm
I’m watching it now. My good lord, this is dull. And plotting … so bad it hurts. I mean, one moment Mr. Big orders his chief nerd to kill the Dalek mutant. Later, he has no idea what it is – doesn’t even say “gee, it looks like that thing I ordered my head nerd to kill”. It’s full of “tell not show” moments. It assumes its audience know nothing and is happy to tell them over and over again. Urg.
January 4, 2021 @ 12:20 am
“This is fine”
Insert here that fantastic GIF of a group of young Black men going OMFG and one of them goes past the camera looking like The Scream
January 4, 2021 @ 12:12 pm
This is one of the few times I disagree with the general consensus on an episode. I thought this was a way above average episode of Doctor Who and would not be surprised if it comes to be regarded as a classic.
Big pluses from me:
Maybe I’m reading too much into it but the scene with the 13th Doctor and Ryan where they talk about the last 10 months had an amazing subtext of the Doctor being another absent parent who failed Ryan and Ryan feeling betrayed but also resigned. It was one of the most brutal and mature scenes the Doctor has ever been in. I almost expect her to go back for Susan now.
The Daleks were a fully realised empire again. I love Moffat but his later world building was not his strong points. They were far more real than the “room full of props” they managed last time on Skaro.
There were little iconic moments peppered throughout where concept and production came together. The Daleks taking over Number 10 and turning to the camera. The death squads unloading from the ships and passing over the crew on the bridge. The Daleks flooding into the TARDIS. The Dalek v Dalek battle. The Doctor facing down the Daleks “we are not pets!”. The Dalek taking over its machine after teleporting (so 1950s scifi!). All these little moments that are just damn cool. Even the Dalek possessing a human is now kind of iconic with the tentacles on the back.
There was some genuine Dalek carnage. A lot of people died. Just the way it should be!
The plotting was decent. Calling the death squads was a good plot twist. It was proportionate to the threat and it made sense “in universe” and wasn’t cheap. The alternative was some sleight-of-hand “I reversed the fluid feedback loop in the tanks in Osaka and that caused an explosive cascade across the world!”
Finally, if we compare it to RTD and Moffat xmas episodes, it holds up extremely well! I think people are being really unkind to this one!
January 5, 2021 @ 11:57 am
“the scene with the 13th Doctor and Ryan where they talk about the last 10 months had an amazing subtext of the Doctor being another absent parent who failed Ryan and Ryan feeling betrayed but also resigned”
Your reading is valid, but literally none of that was present in the episode itself. The characters haven’t acknowledged any of it and Ryan’s dad hasn’t been seen or mentioned in a looooong time which makes it unreasonable to assume most viewers would think about him during that scene.
January 6, 2021 @ 3:11 pm
Hmm. I think Luke M does have a point. Ryan’s dad was definitely a presence in this episode, enough so that I think Chibnall did do what he needed to do on that front.
I think the problem there, for me, is that Chibnall gave the main material about the Doctor’s absence to Yaz. I think that was a mistake, and that time should probably have been given to Ryan. Which is a wrench for me to say, personally, because I did like those scenes. But if this is the story of how Ryan leaves the Doctor, then it needs to be the story of how Ryan leaves the Doctor.
And one senses here that tendency of the Chibnall era to do what it thinks is playing it safe by trying to replicate the RTD era. Yaz = Rose, Jack = Sarah Jane — we’ve been here before.
I used to think that this was about RTD-era nostalgia, but now I’m not sure that “nostalgia” is the right word — because that tends to imply, on the one hand, celebration of and affection for the object of nostalgia, and on the other normally has some elegiac aspect of having lost that object, or at least some awareness of distance between you and it. Chibnall comes across to me as just treating the RTD era as a rulebook for how to write Doctor Who, without really dealing with the fact that successful imitation always means adaptation, translation, and dialogue.
January 5, 2021 @ 12:12 pm
I mean… I didn’t hate it. But it just wasn’t Doctor Who.
They brought back Jack and did nothing with him (he didn’t die once!). They gave the Doctor a second TARDIS and then just destroyed it. They created a new Dalek design and then got rid of it. It’s like buying a bunch of new, exciting toys and then just… not playing with them.
This whole era mostly feels like trying to recreate the RTD era from memory after watching it once a decade ago. What perfectly encapsulates the difference between the RTD and Chibnall eras for me is the companion’s reason for leaving the TARDIS. We went from “I’d rather die/burn/escape from a parallell universe than leave you, Doctor” to “Y’know, you were gone for 10 months and I figured I kinda prefer a life without you”. I can’t really blame Ryan though, I like my life better without Chibnall Who too.
Kevin Wade Johnson
January 14, 2021 @ 4:03 pm
“Speaking of a Whittaker Eruditorum… it’s currently unlikely. As my reviews make painfully clear, I’m not having fun with this era. It’s a chore to watch once. The idea of writing a minimum of 60,000 words on it just to cover the actual episodes feels miserable. The idea of putting down a project I love like Last War in Albion to spend the better part of a year on it sounds even worse. If Doctor Who eventually gets good enough again that I feel a deep compulsion to write about it the way that I did after Series 5 then I’ll probably work through whatever backlog I have. But I want to be clear about what that bar is, because it’s “get someone who wrote over a million words about Doctor Who and then fell very out of love with the show to love it again,” and that’s not a small task.”
Yeah, no kidding. I used to blog about whatever caught my attention, because there was so much, although never with Dr. Sandifer’s erudition.
If the post-Chibnall era becomes worth writing about, maybe just make the Chibnall era a chapter boiled down from a few essays/reviews. “Here’s what’s wrong with it,” since what’s wrong is what’s noteworthy, and get on to more worthwhile things.
(This is me trying to be supportive…)
Kevin Wade Johnson
January 21, 2021 @ 4:21 pm
You know, Chibnall’s writing isn’t just a letdown at the macro level, but the micro too. (I really can’t contribute here on the macro issues, not like Dr. Sandifer does. But I would like to contribute!)
But looking at particulars of the wording, compare the first season finales of the last two Doctors, and climactic passages from their big speeches:
Thirteen: None of us know for sure what’s out there. That’s why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you, constantly.
Twelve: I don’t need an army. I never have. Because I’ve got them, always them, because love is not an emotion. Love is a promise, and he will never hurt her.
In terms of cadence and rhythm, Thirteen’s is nothing special, because there are too many unstressed syllables (which don’t grab the listener as much), and too many repeats (her first sentence is three dactyls in a row) instead of changing it up.
In terms of powerful wording, compare abstracts like “what’s out there” and “the universe” compared to pointing (verbally) at Clara and Danny. As to emotional content, faith and surprise aren’t bad, but love, promise, and hurt are stronger.
Then there’s parts of speech. Nouns and verbs are the power words in English, because nothing gets done without them. Look at Twelve’s predominance of nouns and verbs compared to the number of adverbials in Thirteen’s. Twelve has no adjectives or adverbs, while Thirteen has “for sure,” “hopefully,” and “constantly.”
You get the idea. Twelve can convince us he’s thousands of years old and an alien, not just by his delivery but with the dialog he’s given. But Thirteen sounds like, well, pretty much any old optimist. It doesn’t help her “be the Doctor.”
March 30, 2021 @ 3:59 am
I’m a few months late on this!
The Harry Potter reference is an odd one, but one that fits in with the description of this episode being for hungover people who remember 2008. The “expelliarmus” reference in the Shakespeare Code was a good joke because JK Rowling was of the zeitgeist back then, but despite their enduring popularity the books aren’t really current enough for a similar joke to work in 2021.
To work, the “one of the classics” line really needs to be written in one of three ways;
Seriously – the Doctor is actually about to recite a classic from memory and begins “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or something.
In-jokey – the absolutely brilliant idea of her quoting Terrance Dicks from the post above
Culturally Jokey – the Doctor is about to recite a classic, but then reads something popular and recent, confounding our expectations.
If you go for the last one, it needs to be something up-to-the-minute. The joke of it being a Harry Potter book would have worked well in 2008, just as the Shakespeare Code reference did. Using it in 2021 is like doing the “Earth’s greatest composers” gag from The End of the World and still using Britney Spears’ Toxic rather than Billie Eillish or something.
As a 40 year old man, I recognise that the Harry Potter reference is a middle-aged man’s clutching at what he thinks is the big new thing. It’s the same mental tic that makes me think The Killers are actually quite a new band.
The joke as it stands, regardless of JK Rowling’s comments on trans issues, just makes the show look tired and past it; part of the cultural zeitgeist of the mid-to-late noughties with no real connection to the here and now.
August 15, 2021 @ 10:46 pm
Having finally caught up to here in my re-watch of the show with my kid, I think I have a solid answer to the question “who is this actually for?” even if it’s not a particularly comforting one for most people here: the Whitaker era is for my daughter, a neuroatypically-trending precocious 11 year old girl who fell in love with the show when she saw a scrap of it on a TV in a cafe at age 8, and for whom the show (which we’ve been working through from “Rose” onward for the last 18 months) has been a continuous comfort during the insanity of the pandemic. And with no irony at all, I’m thankful to Chibnall for that: the Doctor became a figure that my child could intensely identify with just at the moment when she most needed a hero she could do that to.
This isn’t to try to wave away any of the extremely real faults of this era that our host, my fellow commentators and myself have all grumbled about at length here: they’re all 100% correct. But… 11 year olds have a fundamentally different way of interacting with TV and movies than adults do: she’s aware (for example) that Blink is an amazing episode but she also really (god help me) loved The Timeless Children because big lore reveals area also amazing to her and she’s seen maybe 90 total minutes of the classic series and has nothing at all invested in the narrative consistency of the Doctor’s backstory.
And yeah, some of this is just that preteens have terrible taste in a lot of things, and the show is absolutely at its best when it’s trying to simultaneously keep them excited while still being worth watching critically as an adult which is a balance Chibnall is constitutionally incapable of striking. But between me and my daughter, if he was going to fail one of us I’d much rather that it be me.