Doctor Who “Revolution Of The Daleks” Review

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Review of: Doctor Who
TV:
Christian Bone

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On January 1, 2021
Last modified:January 1, 2021

Summary:

It might not be revolutionary, but this fun, familiar, heartfelt Doctor Who New Year's special is just what we needed to kick off 2021 in good spirits.

Doctor Who

The world’s had a heck of a time of it since the Doctor was last on our screens. In the season 12 finale – which aired on March 1st, 2020 – Jodie Whittaker’s Time Lord was thrown in space prison by the Judoon. And later that same month, we were all imprisoned ourselves as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and plunged the world into quarantine. But in the Doctor Who New Year’s special, our heroine escapes her bonds. Unfortunately, we’re not quite out of the woods yet ourselves, but “Revolution of the Daleks” still provided a much needed home visit from the Doctor.

Filmed a long time ago in the far away land of 2019, “Revolution” presents us with a stuffed belated Christmas package. Connecting back to the last New Year’s special, it features the rebirth of the Daleks, retooled as Britain’s newest line in security and defense by a crooked Prime Minister (Harriet Walker) and duplicitous American entrepreneur Jack Robertson (Chris Noth). But it’s not long before the mutant meanies turn the tables and there’s a Dalek civil war unleashed on the globe.

Showrunner Chris Chibnall’s scripts are often at their best when he lays on the fan service thick and that’s definitely the case here. Not only does “Revolution” deliver a return for the Doctor and her oldest enemies, the Daleks, but it also brings back John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, following his small cameo in an episode last season. The best part is that, in contrast to how it was marketed, the special actually wastes little time in reuniting the Captain and the Doctor, with Jack quickly turning up to spring Thirteen from jail and get her back to Earth to face the Daleks.

The Doctor needing Jack to get her out of prison – rather than using her own considerable genius to rescue herself – is somewhat disappointing, but seeing as it allows us more scenes with Whittaker and Barrowman together, it was probably the right call. The duo’s chemistry isn’t up there with Barrowman and David Tennant’s, or even Barrowman and Christopher Eccleston’s, but they bounce off each other nicely and get some fun moments. Surprisingly, the deeper connection actually comes between Jack and Yaz (Mandip Gill), who have a heart to heart about what it’s like when your time with the Doctor is up.

It’s curious that Chibnall decided to give this exchange to Yaz, though, as she’s the only one of the current companions who’s sticking around. As we all knew going in, “Revolution” concludes with Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) electing to leave the TARDIS behind. What we do get instead, though, is a strong scene between Ryan and the Doc where both of them talk through where they’re at in their lives. The sequence provides us with some of Cole’s best work in the show and it zeroes in on how Ryan has grown as a person since his introduction, in a more organic way than the very on-the-nose final scene featuring him trying to ride a bike like in his first episode – though seeing Sharon D. Clarke as the much-missed Grace again was touching.

Unfortunately, there’s no real room in the episode for much of Graham before the big scene where the pair say goodbye to the Doctor and Yaz. Thankfully, Walsh – who’s always given the role his best – manages to sell his character’s sudden switch to deciding to stick with his grandson in Sheffield. The breakup of the fam, including a memorable shot of the foursome putting their heads together in farewell, is a moving affair. And while it falls far short of the best companion exits, like Billie Piper’s (whose Rose Tyler gets a name-check), it’s enough to make this the most emotional episode of the current era.

The coda to the goodbye is a terrific moment between the Doctor and Yaz which sees the latter console the Time Lord and tell her “it’s ok to be sad.” It hints at a deeper connection and friendship between the pair that could blossom in season 13. Of course, fans were looking forward to an all-female TARDIS team next time, and especially getting more from Gill, who’s routinely been sidelined. As it is, though, the BBC dropped a surprise announcement following the special, telling us that John Bishop has signed up to play new companion Dan. Right now, he seems like curiously close casting to Walsh – another middle-aged comedian/actor – but we’ll have to wait and see what kind of impression he makes.

Then again, that’s the biggest criticism that can be levelled at this special as a whole – it’s extremely keen to hark back to what we’ve seen before on the show. The plot is reminiscent of multiple Dalek stories of the past – “Victory of the Daleks”, “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” and “Remembrance of the Daleks” spring to mind – and the presence of Captain Jack, while delightful, isn’t exactly integral. The episode coasts by on the huge well of love fans have for the immortal Time Agent, and to an extent the Daleks themselves, rather than blowing us away with innovation, as several standout installments of season 12 did. However, given the year we’ve had since the TARDIS last materialized, a little nostalgia is more than welcome.

“Revolution of the Daleks” might not be a revolutionary chapter in the unfolding history of Doctor Who, then, but something this fun and familiar, as well as heartfelt, is just what we needed to kick off 2021 in good spirits. With any luck, we’ll be getting season 13 later this year.

Doctor Who
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It might not be revolutionary, but this fun, familiar, heartfelt Doctor Who New Year's special is just what we needed to kick off 2021 in good spirits.

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