Doctor Who: Revolution of The Daleks Airdate: 01/01/21
These ‘Holiday’ specials have come to carry a lot of weight. It’s a bridge between the previous season and the one meant to come, so the pieces on the board need to be cleared and reset. But it also has to be a somewhat stand alone story for holiday viewers to pop into. Not to mention the continuing shifting pattern of television consumption, or 2020 being so freaking weird and sad and strange and sad.
So, in a way the production team couldn’t have completely known or planned when this was filmed in 2019, It comes very close to capturing 2020’s mood. And a bit too on the nose, in some respects.
So. We begin back at the start of that fictitious 2020- where the remains of the Reconlek from Resolution (oh-so-typically) don’t make it to the government safe storage and fall into the wringing hands of spider non-enthuiast John Robertson (Chris Noth, returning from Series 11). He’s now got a backdoor scheme to aid in the immediate political ambitions of a low level Brit cabinet member by harvesting the alien tech. Which, of course, couldn’t possibly go wrong in an Of The Daleks titled episode.
Flash forward to the now far more relatable concept of Space Jail, The Doctor appears to be trying to sort herself after last season’s “Timeless Child” reveal, which doesn’t appear to be going very well as it’s been 19 years for her. Also concerning: she’s reciting Harry Potter to herself. Obviously, we can conclude there’s no social media in space jail. Silver linings, you know.
Meanwhile, back on Earth- we find Ryan, Graham, and Yaz in various states of coping with The Doctor’s absence, which has been 10 months for them. So, perspective.
But sensing someone on Twitter might already be getting bored with the 70’s era stroll up and this all this ‘talking’, our heroes get hip to what happened in the ten minutes they weren’t in, The Doctor’s gets sprung from jail. Awkward Reunions, Lazers, Slightly More Feelings, and a yet another Dalek invasion of Britain ensues. Never you mind the implied body count, its all good fun.
There were a lot of things to like about this episode. The callbacks- both stylistically and visually to past eras of the show- were welcome and didn’t feel too out of sorts with last season’s Greatest Hits package. And Revolution does a fairly good job setting the table for the next series, so it functionally performs the task these ‘special’ deals are meant to do. I enjoyed Chris Noth’s performance much better here than in his previous appearance. John Barrowman did not disappoint here in a more substanative Captian Jack return than we got in the previous series. The Dalek twist as part of the episode’s resolution was nice to see (itself a callback to multiple points in both Modern and Classic Who). And, even a Torchwood return was slightly threatened.
It also made sense that it was time for the characters of Ryan and Graham to depart, given that we’d seen the lion share of their story two years back, and also that the writers never quite got the hang of finding meaningful things for the each of the four regulars to do most of the time. What we did get in the pair’s final scenes were well earned, though, and a welcome change from the trend of recent Who exits.
There were a few issues with the episode, though. With all the returning elements and callbacks to squeeze into the runtime, Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh get somewhat benched in their final outing.
And not all those callbacks were welcome. We get another shifty Doctor Who Prime Minister- because the fictional UK can’t have nice things in a post Harriet Jones world. Also another fully expendable start up tech guy. It’s weird that Modern Who never runs into tech brain drain issues.
And maybe this is a poke at television in general, but I question the continuing need for explicit continuity info dumps in the world of binged television. And there were moments in this episode- awkward patches of dialogue- that seemed to only be there in order to slip continuity notes directly to the audience. Characters don’t need to run into shot and immediately drop their entire previous history in their initial dialogue. Just give us what the story needs- if anyone wants to know more, it is so easy to go look it up.
Sigh. Ok, those callbacks. And while I’ve appreciated the Greatest Hits approach the show took in order to gently nudge certain portions of the audience toward the acceptance of percieved “radical” Series 11 changes, the sheer waves of fan service callbacks are starting to get a bit tedious to sit through. It’s the difference between Greta Van Fleet making perfect duplications of the records they’ve heard and Haim (whose members are somewhat closer in age to the GVF boys) taking the influence of the records they’ve heard and making something interesting and new out of them. They’re both entertaining, but there’s more substance to one than there is in the other.
And granted- while you do expect some level of call back in a thing with nearly 60 years of evolving continuity, viewers also don’t need a continuing stream of continuity reminders to get through an hour of television. Also, the writers shouldn’t have to feel obligated to place these things unnecessarily out of fear whomever’s writing the AV Club review this week pointing out the plot fragment of a 1972 episode the writers didn’t bone up on. And besides, Twitter hates everything anyway.
Having said that, I did like this episode a lot and I’m somewhat optimistic for this upcoming series. Even with the addition of John Bishop (whom I’m only familiar with via his Top Gear appearance and various panel shows)-fewer companions to keep up with, coupled with the smaller run, might lead to a bit less cruft in the episodes. Hope springs, right?