No Time To Relax
Tripwire’s man in Los Angeles Robert Cave casts his eye over the Doctor Who New Year’s Day special, Eve Of The Daleks…
Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Annetta Laufer
Well, that was great fun, wasn’t it? In a contrast to the six-part Flux storyline, Eve of the Daleks delivered a rewarding self-contained single-episode tale that was both satisfyingly straight-forward and yet contained hidden depths of narrative complexity. Sometimes less is more.
For the third time in succession the Daleks once more took centre stage for this, the latest of writer and showrunner Chris Chibnall’s three New Year outings. But this time out, his plotting felt more self-assured. He was no longer seeking to reinvent the Daleks or sell the audience on a completely new look for them. Aside from equipping them what could be described as a laser-machine gun to go with a more claw/fist manipulator arm, these Daleks looked very much as they did in the Russell T Davies era, and that’s OK. At this point, I don’t think Daleks need to be reinvented. All we really want, all we really need, is a compelling story for them, and Eve of the Daleks certainly delivered on that score.
After the events of Doctor Who: Flux, the Tardis needed some time to reset and reboot itself. Any plans that the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and companions Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) might have had for rest and relaxation while all that was going in was quickly thrown into disarray as they were dumped in a run-down self-storage business inside a shrinking time loop, complete with an unspecified number of Daleks bent on revenge. And before we even got to the opening titles, the entire Tardis crew, as well as storage business owner Sarah (Aisling Bea) and regular customer Nick (Adjani Salmon), were all exterminated. How’s that for an opening?
Fortunately, due to the time loop, which, we soon learned, was shrinking by about a minute each time it reset, the Doctor, and everyone else, were quickly back in the land of the living. It was also swiftly apparent that everyone inside the time loop remembered exactly what happened in previous goes-round. This all led to a story that was structured like a videogame, where death is not the end, as much as it is a learning opportunity, with the only hard ending being the number of times the diminishing time loop keeps resetting itself before disappearing altogether.
The Daleks, with their propensity towards the single-minded pursuit of a simple goals, are the ideal videogame enemy. An opponent of limited artificial intelligence and motivation. Even better, here they get to be a chillingly implacable foe that actually wins more times than it is defeated! This is a fantastically effective and satisfying fix to the fundamental problem that all recurring Doctor Who villains, and their writers, face: how can the baddies remain a credible threat if they are regularly defeated by the Doctor? Another story that pulls this off similar feat is Genesis of the Daleks, which inverts the stakes, and moral goals, of the Doctor and Daleks, resulting in a tale where the Doctor is left attempting to perpetrate a genocide, while the Daleks’ survival is their ultimate triumph and victory.
But over and above making the Daleks a credible danger once again, Chibnall also succeeds in pulling off a further tricky balancing act by making his Daleks both funny AND menacing. The one-liners about what Daleks don’t do, only serve to reinforce their unwaveringly narrow focus on their immediate goal of extermination, which they continue to accomplish for most of the episode.
Learning through trial and error is a recurring theme of the story, and it’s a great and inspiring message for resilience. Who doesn’t like the idea that all our failures are just steps on the path to eventual success? But simply learning from failure alone is not enough. How do you defeat an adversary that keeps adapting to counter your every plan? With surprise, subterfuge and diversion, and that is ultimately what team Tardis ultimately does, misdirecting the Daleks and defeating them where and when it counts; in the final layer of the finite and shrinking time loop.
Another running theme is romance, with Sarah slowly, and again through an iterative failure, coming to the realisation that Nick is both interested in her and he might be worth dating/going on a globetrotting adventure with.
If this was all this episode had to offer, it would still be a perfectly-structured tale of failure, learning and misdirection, but we got even more for our money; some stunning scenes of the Tardis reconfiguring itself literally before our very eyes and, even better, some character development for Yaz, as Dan confronts her about her romantic feelings for the Doctor. It is a beautiful moment, not just because it is the confirmation of something that a significant group of fans have been craving for a while, but also because it shows Yas making a discovery about herself. It doesn’t feel forced and fits with everything else we know about her character up to this point.
Will her attraction to the Doctor be requited? Probably not, and certainly the early indicators within the episode itself don’t look particularly promising, but that isn’t the point. Happy endings are not guaranteed – in Doctor Who or in life. We have no idea if Nick and Sarah’s romance/round-the-world adventure will last, but we can be reasonably sure that, even if things don’t work out, Nick won’t be placing any of Sarah’s abandoned belongings in a storage facility like he did with previous exes. I like to hope that is a mistake he has learned from as we all can learn from our errors.
As I’ve said numerous times here in the past, I really like Yas. She has a lot of skill and a lot of agency. The Flux storyline saw her leading her own little gang through three years of adventures across the Earth during the Edwardian era, all without any back-up from the Doctor. Those adventures will, no doubt, be expanded in time with the help of Big Finish, or some other Doctor Who licence holder, but they also demonstrate that Yas has grown to the point that she is ready to lead her own life on her own terms. While I don’t think she would really want to abandon Earth, or her family, entirely, I hope we get to see her make any decision about her future for herself when the time comes.
We have a while to wait before we find out what lies in store for Yas personally, but the trailer for the next episode, a special to mark the centenary of the BBC, looks fairly fantastic, and features some gorgeous-looking Sea Devils. I’m looking forward to it already.
The post Tripwire’s Man In Los Angeles Reviews Doctor Who: Eve Of The Daleks appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.
No Time To Relax Tripwire’s man in Los Angeles Robert Cave casts his eye over the Doctor Who New Year’s Day special, Eve Of The Daleks… Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks Writer: Chris Chibnall Director: Annetta Laufer Well, that was great fun, wasn’t it? In a contrast to the six-part Flux storyline, Eve of
The post Tripwire’s Man In Los Angeles Reviews Doctor Who: Eve Of The Daleks appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.Read MoreTRIPWIRE MAGAZINE