Read Orla’s Take on ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ here.
It’s certainly a pleasure to usher in another year with a new episode of Doctor Who, something that has become a custom over the past few years. Following the controversial series twelve finale, ‘The Timeless Children’, the pressure was on for Chibnall to deliver an exciting festive special that reinvigorated people’s love for the show. Did he succeed? In my personal opinion, just about.
Focusing on a corrupt government that elects the notorious pepper-pots to police the country, Revolution of the Daleks is pertinent in its themes. It might not be the most biting, complex critique, but it gives the episode its own intrigue. It holds prescience and allows for its satire to bleed into the drama. Elsewhere, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) begins the episode imprisoned. These scenes, while perhaps not as built upon or prolonged as they should be, allows for some nice callbacks and really tender moments for the Doctor, including one great segment where the Doctor reads herself a bedtime story, offering a more insightful look into her mental state than we’ve seen before during Whittaker’s run.
This episode also marks a more-than-welcome return for John Barrowman to the show, as fan-favourite Captain Jack Harkness. Barrowman is delightfully charming and steals every scene he’s in, making a return after an eleven-year absence look effortless. Chibnall brings a character-driven focus to this episode, giving some much-needed layers to characters that hadn’t yet been given them. There are two really great scenes in particular, one with Jack and Yaz (Mandip Gill), and another with the Doctor and Ryan (Tosin Cole), which breathe some new life into the two younger companions. This episode also showcases some of the cleanest and most grandeur cinematography the show has ever seen (the Doctor looking out of her mid-flight TARDIS while Daleks swarm the sky around her? Breathtaking).
A major part of this episode also concerns the departures of Ryan and Graham (Bradley Walsh). The former’s exit is handled quite nicely, and it makes sense given its build-up throughout the previous series, particularly in the episode ‘Can You Hear Me?’. However, Graham’s goodbye does feel a little tacked on – Graham himself doesn’t really get enough to do this episode in order for his absence to leave enough impact. It works in theory, but not quite in execution.
Narrative-wise, Chibnall’s work feels a little lazy. There’s plenty of fun to be had within the story, but it feels anticlimactic. As previously mentioned, the Doctor’s prison scenes should’ve been padded out a lot more; it would’ve given us an insight into ‘the fam’ having to deal with the Dalek threat themselves, upping the stakes tenfold. Similarly, as much as I feel the episode’s slower pace is refreshing, it also appears aimless, given how quickly the central conflict is resolved. It gets to a point where Chibnall didn’t have enough time to resolve every plot thread properly, so instead it ends with the snap of his fingers. Again, it’s all great fun, but the conclusion needed more time to feel more satisfying and refined.
It’s certainly an exciting, and at times emotional, escapade for the Doctor and co., but it doesn’t feel as tight or cohesive as it should. Plenty of narrative threads are concluded anticlimactically, but the character work, Jack’s return, and a fun, exuberant story make it a step forward for the current era of the show.
The Doctor Who special ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ is available now on BBC iPlayer.
Words by Eddie Nourse