Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks

When Doctor Who: Flux was approaching, my expectations were not high. Two seasons (plus specials) of underwhelming and frustrating episodes under the auspices of Chris Chibnall had made sure of that. But when the episodes hit I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised–there was some stuff I didn’t like but a solid majority of the story was fun and entertaining and even occasionally brilliant.

So as Eve of the Daleks approached, I was cautiously optimistic. After viewing the story, my sense of universal order in chaotic times is somewhat restored, as Doctor Who reverts to the same sort of flippantly sloppy storytelling that has characterized the last few years. In other words, I was disappointed by the special, both in the sense that it wasn’t very good, and that I had actually allowed myself to think it might be better.

The story had a pretty neat concept which seems perfectly suited for these days which are full of COVID-based limitations–a time-loop story retelling several dramatic minutes in a tight location with a small cast. (Indeed, I had the same general idea with a film that we are still trying to finish, called Stuck).

The issue is that when you have a story built on a high concept story like this, one hopes the concept will be developed and depicted intelligently, and there is just none of that in Eve of the Daleks. There is no logic or consistency with the story’s time loops, and only the vaguest sort of explanation for what is going on. The Doctor, for example, seems to insist that the time loops are getting shorter–so that at the end they have only one minute to achieve their goals. However, there is nothing said or depicted in the story to actually indicate that midnight had anything to do with the time loop–it’s just presumed by the characters and audience alike to give the story a New Year’s vibe.

Still, this should create a nifty sense of urgency about everything, but the story doesn’t let it. Instead, it takes moments where characters should be moving with a great awareness of imminent disaster and bogs them down with extended personal conversations.

Whether it’s Sarah and Nick, or Yaz and Dan, or Dan and the Doctor, the characters frequently seem to forget they literally have like four or five minutes to live. The result is that those interactions seem forced and cheap–I can’t really bring myself to care about Sarah and Nick’s developing relationship or Yaz’s unrequited feelings for the Doctor because the production is so clumsily flinging them in my face.

And the story makes room for these things simply by ignoring any sense of actual continuity in the various time loops. For example, characters always seem to start the time loops in the same place and in the same condition (alive) regardless of where they should be at each minute that the loop re-begins. It has the Daleks landing in exactly the right place to kill their enemies in one time loop, but massively delayed and confused about where to go in the next.

It has the characters sometimes taking several minutes to achieve certain actions, and other times seemingly doing the same things instantaneously (like in the last loop, they seem to go up five fights of stairs, gather a bunch of stuff, and then going back down the stairs to the basement, in less then a minute). And it has Sarah’s mother calling at “four minutes to midnight” in one loop and then keeps including these calls even when the loop starts after that time. It even has Sarah talking to her mother at 11:59 and then asking her to call back less then a minute later when it’s midnight.

This may seem like nit-picking, but this idea of continuity is the exact idea that the episode is built on. I’m not talking about the inevitable continuity snafus that sneak into any production (in the first loop, after Sarah hangs up on her mother at 11:56, her phone clearly says 11:51, for example). These are problems in the writing. The script wants me to care that this is a time loop, but can’t be bothered to invest in the concept enough to make it work.

And as much as I want to like Jodie Whittaker, I’m not loving the Thirteenth Doctor here. She spends her time waving her arms around, telling everyone to listen to stay still while she runs around insisting she’s going to fix everything, she makes wholly unconvincing inspirational speeches, and in the end doesn’t really do anything clever at all except for get her friends to build a bomb at super-speed (see above) and then trick the Daleks into shooting it.

(Why should an explosion made up of earth-bound fireworks and a few other odds and ends destroy even one, let alone, a bunch of Daleks? And why is she so confident she got all the Daleks in that blast? No reason, really, except that it is midnight and the episode is over?)

There’s one bit with Jodie Whittaker that I quite liked and that’s her exasperation at Dan when she is telling him that she has no idea what he’s talking about with regards to Yaz. Dan says that’s not the case, but I’d like to believe it was. We were all hoping that with the departure of Ryan and Graham, that Yaz would have the chance to really get developed this past season. That didn’t really happen during Flux and now it seems they are trying to do it during this story about her awakening feelings for the Doctor.

I’m not a fan of the idea. It’s hard to know which is more annoying–companions have unrequited love with the Doctor, or requited love with the Doctor. I’m hoping that they go with unrequited simply because that seems like it would be less distracting, but either way it’s unwelcome. The one-sided crush wasn’t a good look on Martha, and I found it tiresome that the lost love story with Rose hung like a shadow over the show a couple of years after she was gone. River Song was a bit of an exception for me, but in general, I’d prefer they avoid the trope all together.

Obviously, they are not, so as always, we’re just hoping for the best story possible in the year’s final two specials. It’s just that Eve of the Daleks does not make me hopeful about that.

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