So the 2021 Doctor Who New Year’s special, written by head writer Chris Chibnall and starring Jodie Whittaker, 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.
We had the bad news yesterday, so it’s time for the good news.
(Daily Doctor Who #42)
1. Captain Jack was used well
I’m not the biggest fan of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack, but I appreciated the way he was used here. His affection for the Doctor seemed genuine and his usually frequent sexuality-based jokes were kept as a minimum. The consequence is that Jack came across as a character, and not just a source of coolness or comedy. His speech about being not knowing when one’s time with the Doctor will end was a bit of a highlight of the episode.
2. Yaz’s characterization
A genuine problem with the current era of Doctor Who is the near-lack of significant characterization for the companions. The last season was making efforts in this direction, especially with Yaz, and Revolution of the Daleks represented a big step forward in this category. Her stress about having lost the Doctor, while a bit misplaced, was a bit more interesting than Ryan’s stress about the Doctor returning. Her decision to stay with the Doctor, even without Ryan, was believable.
3. Including the opening title sequence
You wouldn’t think this would be a critical thing to mention, but after the opening title sequence was left out of the last New Year’s special (not to mention Jodie Whittaker’s first story, The Woman Who Fell to Earth), I had reasons to not be confident. But no fear–the team have decided not to shoot themselves in the foot and have indeed included the opening sequence and its iconic theme music. My daughters pointed out that the sequence was colored more brightly than before as well.
4. Some cute dialogue
It didn’t reach the heights of the Steven Moffat’s glory days, but there was some nice dialogue throughout the episode. I enjoyed the Doctor’s casual snark during the prison sequences (“You can’t eat the cage. Believe me, I’ve tried,” for example) and Captain Jack had some good one-liners (“You never forgot your first death.”) But the best was Yaz putting Jack in his place with, “Are you feeling insecure? You seem to need a lot of validation.”
5. The trick with the TARDIS
I think the directing, editing and acting of the scene could all be improved, but the Doctor’s trick with the extra TARDIS at the climax of the story was pretty clever. I’d still like to see Daleks inside the real TARDIS someday.
6. The cinematography
One thing that the most modern Doctor Who continues to do very well is its cinematography. There is something lush and beautiful about all its imagery. This is especially evident in the episode’s final sequence, with Graham and Ryan’s vision of Grace. The action sequences, though slow in coming, were also well shot.
7. Cameos that reflect the entire series
In prison with the Doctor were, amongst other things, an Ood (from Russell T. Davies’ era), a Silence courtesy of Steven Moffat) and a Pting (from the tenure of the current showrunner, Chris Chibnall).
8. Jack Robertson’s survival
I was surprised when Jack Robertson making it out of his original outing in Arachnids of the UK alive. When he was announced to be returning this time around, I wondered if it were possible that he’d somehow live through the story again. Upon finding out he seemed to be fulfilling the “collaborate with alien invader” trope, I thought “No way, this guy’s definitely dead,” because those guys always die. Then, when he actually betrayed the Doctor I thought for sure he’d be dead. So it was a pleasant surprise when he actually survived the story as well. Chris Noth actually does quite a good job in the role, so I’d be happy if we get to see him again.
9. Graham’s Departure
Where Ryan’s departure required a lot of build up and justification, Graham’s made perfect sense. It’s not telegraphed at all, but when his grandson decides to stay behind, we immediately understand why Graham would opt not to continue traveling. It’s a lovely scene as performed by Bradley Walsh, bringing to a good conclusion the closest thing that any of these companions had to a story arc over the last two seasons.
10. Graham & Ryan’s final scene
Concluding the episode with Graham and Ryan after the TARDIS has left, revisiting for the first time in ages the fact that Ryan has Dyspraxia, was a really nice way to conclude the episode. It’s too bad that the characters’ relationship couldn’t have been written with this much depth throughout the last two years.
All in all, though it has problems, Revolution of the Daleks is a long way up from terrible, and and even longer way up from the previous installment, The Timeless Children. Here’s hoping the forthcoming Season 13 can continue the trend!