So the 2021 Doctor Who New Year’s special, written by head writer Chris Chibnall, has aired, and not surprisingly, it wasn’t perfect. But at the same time, it wasn’t terrible. There were goods and bads, so we’re going to have two posts about it…what I liked and what I didn’t like.
Bad news first.
(Daily Doctor Who #42)
1. The Doctor’s imprisonment amounts to nothing
The Judoon showing up to arrest the Doctor was the fun, last minute cliffhanger at the end of the previous season. The imprisonment held promise from a storytelling point of view–it was presumably going to tie in to why the Judoon were chasing the mysterious “other” Doctor that we saw in Fugitive of the Judoon. So the thought was that it was going to tie into the show’s larger mysteries. Or if not, it was at least going to tie into the plot of this New Year’s special.
And so it did, inasmuch as that’s where we find the Doctor at the start of things. But, aside from delaying her showing up into the main plot, and giving an excuse for Jack to turn up, it really has no bearing on the story at hand. So, a potentially cool idea is basically wasted.
2. Similarly, Jack’s appearance amounts to nothing
Or more accurately, John Barrowman’s appearance here as Captain Jack retroactively means his appearance in Fugitive of the Judoon amounts to nothing.
I don’t mean that Jack didn’t have anything to do in this story–he certainly did. But when he was teased last season, there was a sense that there was more to be explored with him–what was he up to, why he knew about or was concerned with the Lone Cybermen, and so on. But from what we can see in Revolution of the Daleks, there’s nothing more to see there. His appearance this time around has nothing to do with those circumstances, and after a quick throwaway line, any questions that might be leftover are tossed away as irrelevant.
Really, I guess, the Doctor should have just told him, “Don’t worry, Jack. The Master showed up and Tissue Compressed that plot completely away.”
3. The Doctor has nothing to do with her own jailbreak
I like it that the Doctor needed help, but the jailbreak was an opportunity for the Doctor to be clever, which is something that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor could definitely use more chances to demonstrate. The jailbreak should happened as we saw, but then when something goes wrong it’s the Doctor who figures out how to improvise the last steps.
Or even better, the Doctor could have been using her time in jail to cleverly figure out who is really behind her imprisonment, in some way that ties into the current plot. (See #1 above. Sigh).
4. Leo Rugazzi
Leo was a likable guy and it was sad to see him abused and then murdered so brutally.
But…the entire plot of the story is built upon the inestimable, incalculable, unimaginable stupidity of this one character. He clones an alien monster? He gives it access to the internet? He does all this without telling anyone? What an idiot.
5. How did the Dalek do all that?
But then, maybe Leo was thinking, “Well, even if I do give this alien access to the internet and it turns out to be smart and evil, there’s no way it can build a whole death factory in Japan without anyone noticing, hire a bunch of people to do complex manufacturing with no managers, and then trick them into murdering themselves, while meanwhile upgrading schematics without anyone noticing so we will 3D print alien weapons that are well beyond current technology…right? Because that’s completely implausible.” And he’d be right.
The big question that is outstanding to me…did the Daleks’ secretly build their teleportation devices with the 3D printing, or through the Japanese workers who somehow did everything without supervision?
6. Jack Robertson’s betrayal
Of course, Jack Robertson is an immoral guy, but he’s obviously also a smart businessman. It’s blatantly obvious to anyone with a brain that there is no making deals with the Daleks. Furthermore, the whole “local opportunist tries to make a deal with alien conqueror” trope is soooo overused in Doctor Who. It’s tiring.
And again, it amounts to nothing. The Daleks find out the Doctor is present, which is something that I could easily come up with a top ten list of more interesting ways for them to have found that out. And then the companions grab him and he seems to just go along with it.
7. The Dalek Theft
The scenes at the start of the episode were well produced, but ultimately a bit time wasting. We watched the driver get hired, and then tricked and then murdered, all with a fair amount of detail. In retrospect, that time could have been used better elsewhere, especially with more development of the Doctor’s imprisonment.
8. Everyone giving the Doctor grief
People spend a lot of the episode angry at and hurt by the Doctor for disappearing on them for ten months. But you know what, after their initial reaction, what should have happened is that someone found out that the Doctor was attacked and brutalized and then imprisoned for decades, and then the “fam” should have all apologized for being jerks about it and shut up about it. The Doctor’s hand-wringing over the whole thing was uncalled or and disproportionate.
9. Ryan’s Departure
To be clear, I don’t mind that Ryan has left, and I don’t mind the manner in which he left, and the scene itself wasn’t badly done by Tosin Cole and the others. It’s just that the episode had to do a lot of work in order to make it into a meaningful character moment for him. It made the lack of development that the guy has had over the last two years quite conspicuous.
10. Introducing John Bishop
Not technically part of the episode, but obviously connected strongly with it.
I don’t know anything about John Bishop so the guy might be amazing but it’s a disappointment that the show is casting a new companion to join the Doctor and Yaz. Over the last two seasons, the program has struggled time and again to use three companions in a meaningful way, so that all three consistently suffered for it (you can see this by the way Bradley Walsh had almost nothing uniquely his own to do in this episode until it was time for him to announce he was leaving). I was hoping that with the cast paired down to the Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill that it’d give the chance for the two of them to really shine. Of course there’s no reason that two (or even three) companions can’t work perfectly well, but the current team have yet to prove that they can do it.
Good news…coming soon!