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Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (Review)

“Have you had work done?”

“You’re one to talk.”

Like Resolution before it, Revolution of the Daleks is a special that largely works through momentum and spectacle, while failing to cohere into anything greater than the sum of its separate parts.

The cobbled together Dalek casing from Resolution is a major plot point in Revolution of the Daleks, but it also plays as metaphor for the episode itself. Even as early as The Woman Who Fell to Earth, it was clear that the Chibnall era did not share the same strengths as the Davies and Moffat eras before it. It is impossible to imagine Chibnall constructing a holiday special featuring characters bantering around a couple of generic sets. If he did, it would probably resemble The Timeless Children more than Twice Upon a Time, with characters just expositing at one another.

Insert political joke here.

Instead, Chibnall tends to construct his more successful episodes around propulsion and momentum; he likes to have multiple characters doing things simultaneously, while constantly throwing new elements into the mix to maintain some sense of forward movement. Revolution of the Daleks is not so much an episode as a collection of familiar Doctor Who elements thrown into a blender with even more familiar elements thrown on top. There’s a frantic sense of “… and then…” plotting to the episode, as Chibnall rhymes off any story coming into his head.

The result is an episode that is messier and more overstuffed than Resolution. Indeed, Resolution might have somewhat bungled the eponymous reconciliation between Ryan and his father, but at least it understood that this relationship was meant to be both the heart of the episode and the pay-off to a thread running through the season. In contrast, Revolution seems like a bunch of stuff happening incredibly quickly as the stakes frantically escalate and the story switches before the audience can get bored of it.

To be fair, everybody looks at Christmas leftovers the same way.

Revolution of the Daleks doesn’t really work. After all, despite all the stuff that happens in the episode, it is hard to pinpoint what it is actually supposed to be “about.” There are certainly scenes and developments that feel like they should be important, but they never really feel like organic evolution from one scene to the next. That said, Revolution of the Dalek manages to avoid falling completely flat. The sense of constant escalation prevents anything from collapsing into itself. Revolution of the Daleks is certainly more Spyfall, Part I than Spyfall, Part II.

At the same time, it is hardly revolutionary.

“It’s hard to keep track of how many stories this is referencing.”

There is a valid criticism to be made of Revolution of the Daleks that the episode is just cobbled together from a variety of other sources. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as Doctor Who has a long history of picking up influences from across pop culture. However, the biggest problem with Revolution of the Daleks is that its primary sources seem to be other episodes of Doctor Who. Then again, given how radically The Timeless Children seemed to upset the status quo, perhaps this familiarity is a deliberate choice and an effort to reassure the audience.

The starting premise of the episode owes a lot to Victory of the Daleks, which was itself something of a loose remake of Power of the Daleks. This isn’t a bad choice, as Victory of the Daleks remains one of the weakest Dalek-centric episodes of the revival era, squandering a compelling premise: Winston Churchill and Daleks, in the Second World War. If the show has plagiarise itself, perhaps the energy is best spent trying to rework ideas that were undermined by clumsy execution.

Like Victory of the Daleks before it, Revolution of the Daleks finds a British Prime Minister throwing their lot in the omnicidal pepperpots. Indeed, the decision to shift the action to the present day with a fictionalised Prime Minister pushes Revolution of the Daleks closer to something like The Sound of Drums. Given that The Sound of Drums found a corrupt Prime Minister working with the Toclafane, a threat originally designed as potential surrogates for the Daleks, there is even a clever bit of metatextuality to all this.

This premise the British government employing Daleks would be enough to sustain an episode of itself, especially building off the cliffhanger from The Timeless Children, with the Doctor imprisoned by the Judoon. After all, there is a lot of clever and pointed commentary that could be drawn from the idea of the British government employing the Daleks. The Daleks have long been a stand-in for fascism and xenophobia, and given the direction that British politics have gone in recent years, there is a lot to say about that.

Smoke and mirrors.

Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat were aggressively political. Davies killed Tony Blair and stuffed him into a cupboard in Aliens of London and World War III. Later, he recreated the Falklands with space aliens in The Christmas Invasion. He then had the Master reinvent himself as a none-too-subtle parody of Tony Blair in The Sound of Drums. The show has a long history of skewering contemporary politics. Given the chaos in the modern world, there is a lot of material with which the show might work.

Sadly, the Chibnall era has never been particularly interested in biting political and social commentary. Revolution of the Daleks repeatedly gestures at something resembling political commentary, but never concentrates its attention or articulates a statement. The shots of Daleks working at “border control” is a striking image less than a day after Brexit, but Revolution of the Daleks refuses to connect the use of the Daleks by Prime Minister Jo Patterson to any latent racism or xenophobia.

To be fair to Revolution of the Daleks, the episode was written and shot in late 2019. This is evident even in the casting of Harriet Walter as Jo Patterson. Patterson is very clearly meant to be an analogue for Theresa May, given her relative no-nonsense style and her stoicism in contrast to Jack Robertson’s flamboyance. However, Theresa May was succeeded by Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in July 2019, rendering the implied reference almost a year and half out of date.

A lot has happened over the past year. An early scene with Robertson and Patterson features a “roleplay” of a public protest that is broken up by a Dalek. Like the Dalek at border control, this is a striking image. However, the episode never develops it. The past year has seen mass protests in the United Kingdom and the United States over systemic racism, but Revolution of the Daleks is never interested in developing that idea beyond a single striking image.

That’s not how you use a swab, Yaz.

Indeed, part of what’s frustrating about Revolution of the Daleks is how close the episode comes to making a barbed point, only to pull back at the last minute. Patterson’s big speech could easily have served as a parody of the sort of rhetoric that has permeated so much of modern politics. However, Patterson never quite lands on the verbal tics of British or American politics. She never talks about the importance of using the Daleks to “take back control.” The Daleks will not make Britain “great again”, but “are set… to make Britain more secure.”

The result of all this is an episode that feels incredibly empty and shallow. Earlier in the season, Fugitive of the Judoon landed on evocative imagery almost by accident: the idea of a black woman being aggressive pursued by a bunch of violent law enforcement officers with no accountability resonated strongly. In contrast, Revolution of the Daleks retreats from its more powerful or unsettling ideas. It never quite trips over into the backwards politics of Kerblam!, but instead seems intent to avoid saying anything at all.

Instead, Revolution of the Daleks just piles plot developments on top of plot developments. The episode opens with the recovery of the Dalek casing from Revolution, which is stolen by Jack Robertson and given to Leo Rugazzi. Leo then figures out a way to mass-produce Daleks as drones, which become a cornerstone of the British defense industry. On his own initiative, Leo also finds organic material inside the Dalek, and so clones himself a copy of the Dalek that was thrown into the supernova in Revolution.

Leo is unable to communicate with the Dalek, which largely plays possum while also hacking into various networks in order to create a Dalek nursery for itself. The Dalek does not attack Leo until Leo tries to throw it into a furnace, at which point it hijacks his body in a similar manner to Resolution. As the Dalek casings activate, the Dalek clones are also activated and all hell breaks loose. This is a rather convoluted and insane plot, even by the standards of Doctor Who, but it exists largely so that Chibnall can switch between genres at various points in the episode.

The media still weren’t sure of what to make of the latest cabinet reshuffle.

The idea of humans trying to exploit Daleks as servants before things go horribly wrong is lifted from Power of the Daleks and Victory of the Daleks. The idea of raising an army of Daleks from “liquidised humans” is lifted indirectly from both Revelation of the Daleks and Bad Wolf. The idea of a Dalek Civil War between “pure” Daleks and “bastardised” Daleks is a familiar element from stories like Resurrection of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks. There is also an all-out Dalek invasion of Earth, like from The Dalek Invasion of Earth or The Stolen Earth.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a “play the hits” approach to plotting a Dalek story. After all, the Daleks are such a fixture of Doctor Who that it is very hard to think of anything new to do with them. Even Resolution was effectively an update of Dalek, and one plot thread within Revolution of the Daleks is itself effectively a retread of Resolution, with the Dalek operating Leo like a meat puppet. It makes sense. This is supposed to be a big crowd-pleasing holiday story aimed at general audiences, so why not do as many Dalek stories as possible?

To give Revolution of the Daleks some credit, the episode seems to conceptually understand the role that the Daleks play within the cosmology of Doctor Who. In fact, the episode works best when it is pared down to the idea of the Doctor and the Daleks. With everything else going on, there is not a lot of time to unpack the consequences of The Timeless Children, but it is clear that the continuity developments have caused an identity ciris for the Doctor. “I’m not who I thought I was,” the Doctor confess to Ryan. “If I’m not who I thought I was, then who am I?”

The answer is obvious.  “You’re the Doctor, same as you always were,” Ryan states. This is where the Daleks come in. The Daleks have always been essential to defining the Doctor by opposition. The Doctor first became a hero when he encounted the aliens in The Daleks. After the Doctor regenerated in The Power of the Daleks, the Daleks became the crucible by which he was affirmed. The cleverest element of Victory of the Daleks is in having the newly regenerated Doctor validate the Daleks, while the Twelfth Doctor’s identity crisis plays out in Into the Dalek.

Corridors of powerlessness…

As such, the Daleks have always been the force against which the Doctor defines themselves. They serve that function very well in Revolution of the Daleks, as they help to get the Doctor out of her depression and affirm who she is underneath it all. “I’m the Doctor,” she states. “I’m the one who stops the Daleks.” Of course, this is perhaps the most basic function of the Daleks, and it was thoroughly subverted and deconstructed in the Moffat era Dalek stories, but at least Revolution of the Daleks understands it.

That said, it’s interesting how Revolution of the Daleks treats the Daleks. In keeping with the theme of nostalgia and fanservice that runs through the episode, it often seems like the Daleks are positioned as nothing more than a metaphor for themselves. Repeatedly, the Robertson asks the Doctor to refrain from using the word “Dalek.” He protests, “Please stop using that word. It has no meaning.” Of course, Robertson is a comedic antagonist, so the episode intends for the audience to disagree, but he has a point: Daleks are a fictional alien species from Doctor Who.

The Doctor proceeds to define the Daleks to Robertson. “To billions of people, Dalek means hate,” the Doctor boasts. “Daleks are creatures of hate and aggression. Daleks are insidious, relentless and clever, and, like hate, they will spread if they’re not stopped.” This is interesting. The Doctor is using the Daleks to explain hatred, rather than using hatred to explain the Dalek. There is an implicit expectation that the audience cares more about the Daleks than what they represent.

To be clear, this is not unfair or unreasonable. The Daleks are part of the visual language of Doctor Who. They have a cultural cachet that extends beyond the programme. They are a big deal. Indeed, it’s notable that the Chibnall era returns to the Davies era model of using the Daleks as shorthand for “event” stories. Davies tended to bring in the Daleks for season finales like Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways, Army of Ghosts and Doomsday or The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. It’s notable that both of Chibnall’s holiday specials revolve around the Daleks. They are a draw.

Would it really be that much worse?

However, Revolution of the Daleks repeatedly insists that the Daleks are a problem of themselves, and that hatred and aggression are problems because they flow from the Daleks. The Doctor’s objection to the British government deploying “drones” to suppress protestors is not the idea itself. The Doctor’s problem is that the “drones” look like Daleks. In the language of Revolution of the Daleks, Daleks are not evil because of what they represent but because they are Daleks and everybody knows that Daleks are evil.

Of course, it is a little awkward that the episode’s resolution is for the Doctor to weaponise the racism of the Daleks. It provides a fascinating mirror to the Doctor’s use of the Nazi’s racism against the Master in Spyfall, Part II, which still seems like a very uncomfortable choice for a family adventure show, given that the episode never pauses to unpack the implications of what the Doctor is doing.

Certainly, the Doctor’s use of the Daleks as a weapon in Revolution of the Daleks undermines a lot of the potential political commentary. After all, the Doctor really has no high ground in criticising Patterson’s decision to employ the Daleks as a weapon when she effectively did exactly the same thing. The Doctor’s decision to bring the even more deadly Daleks to Earth was reckless and would have had potentially catastrophic consequences if not for the spare TARDIS lying around and the Daleks blowing up their own ship.

The larger problem is that these elements are thrown into the mix on top of a variety of other plot threads, and nothing has any time to breath. Jo Patterson is a major plot driver for the first half of the episode, and then is brutally murdered before the plot transitions sharply into another sort of story. Jack Robertson is introduced as an industrialist hoping to profit off the Daleks, but wanders into the TARDIS, finds himself in the midst of an invasion, briefly allies with Daleks and then somehow blunders out of the story.

The hard cell.

On top of that, Revolution of the Daleks also has to be a story about the Doctor escaping from prison, reuniting with Captain Jack Harkness for some reason, reuniting with her companions after an extended absence, and then explaining the departure of Ryan and Graham while also retaining Yaz. All of these elements push against one another for space, and none of them really feel like they belong together.

In particular, Revolution of the Daleks tries to shoehorn in tension between the Doctor and her companions by having her escape from prison and end up abandoning her companions on Earth for ten months. Given everything else happening in the episode, this melodrama feels unearned. It makes sense that the characters might harbour some resentment to the Doctor for this, but it feels a bit unreasonable that it becomes such a big deal within the narrative.

After all, the companions returned to their normal lives. The Tenth Doctor treated Martha much worse in Human Nature and Family of Blood, not to mention The Last of the Time Lords. The Eleventh Doctor skipped twelve years of Amy’s life in The Eleventh Hour, and spent the rest of his tenure trying to atone. Given that the companions were not stranded in a hostile environment and the Doctor was in prison, not to mention the imminent Dalek threat, it seems fair to leave this issue on the backburner. It doesn’t feel organic that it dominates the dynamic.

Indeed, it’s tempting to look at Revolution of the Daleks as an example of Chibnall-as-producer effectively dictating to Chibnall-as-writer. The primary benefits of the episode’s structure are logistical rather than narrative. Revolution of the Daleks has a large cast, and they spend significant chunks of the episode’s seventy-minute runtime isolated from one another. Revolution of the Daleks is one-third of the way over before the Doctor reunites with her “fam.” As with episodes like Praxeus, this makes it easier to organise shooting schedules for the cast.

A feast or a fam-in.

However, while this approach to scripting makes sense in terms of easing the workload for actors like Jodie Whittaker or Bradley Walsh, Chibnall struggles to make it work in terms of character or pacing. Revolution of the Daleks is supposed to be about Ryan’s departure. The episode is supposed to build to his decision to leave the TARDIS. The episode should build to the point that Ryan’s departure feels like an organic character beat.

With that in mind, it is strange that Jack gives his big speech about being abandoned by the Doctor to Yaz rather than Ryan. After all, such a speech would foreshadow Ryan’s decision to depart in the same way that Sarah Jane’s story in School Reunion set up the departures of Mickey and Rose later in that season. It is also weird that the Doctor talks to Ryan about the events of The Timeless Children. After all, it is Yaz who is going to be the companion who has to deal with the fallout from that plot development.

Revolution of the Daleks is a story without any real clear arc or flow to it. The story moves in fits and starts, changing direction on a dime. Indeed, in some ways, the episode feels like it is a loose assemblage of familiar elements thrown together into a shape that is recognisable to casual observers as Doctor Who. It often feels just like “content.” It works significantly better than Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, but it is also quite similar in construction.

This desire to shape Revolution of the Daleks into something recognisable as Doctor Who is most obvious when it comes to the inclusion of Captain Jack Harkness. As with Fugitive of the Judoon, there is no reason why Captain Jack Harkness needs to be involved in Revolution of the Daleks. Of course, it is also debatable to what extent Jack needed to be involved in Utopia, The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords, but at least those episodes arrived relatively shortly after his original departure from the show.

What would shed some light on this? Torch would, eh?

After all, Jack was introduced in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, more than fifteen years ago. That is roughly the same size as the gap between Survival and Rose. There should be an entire generation of Doctor Who fans watching who have no idea who Captain Jack Harkness is and why he is important. As such, Revolution of the Daleks should probably have a compelling reason to resurrect the character beyond simple nostalgia and fanservice. However, there is no such reason, outside of Chibnall’s history writing for the character on Torchwood.

To be fair, Doctor Who has a history of bringing back these characters after these sorts of extended absences. The Brigadier is perhaps the best example of this, making his first appearance in Web of Fear, reappearing in The Invasion and becoming a regular fixture on the show from Spearhead from Space through to Robot. The Brigadier made an appearance in Terror of the Zygons, but was then absent from the show for an extended period barring a return in Mawdryn Undead during the show’s twentieth anniversary season and in Battlefield during the final season of the original run.

At the same time, this late return of the Brigadier in the twentieth anniversary season coincided with something of a creative slump for Doctor Who. Of course, this isn’t a problem with the Brigadier himself, as Mawdryn Undead is far from the worst story in a season that includes Arc of Infinity and Terminus. However, the revival of the Brigadier in Mawdryn Undead was a symptom of an underlying problem with that era of the show: Doctor Who was retreating into the comforts of nostalgia.

The twenty-first season opened with Warriors of the Deep, a piece of fanservice for … and The Silurians and The Sea Devils so bad that the BBC launched an internal investigation to determine how it made it to air. The following season would open with the monstrous fan service of Attack of the Cybermen. Ian Levine was brought on board as an unofficial consultant. In fact, the level of fan service in this era is so great that fans consider it a shame that the Sixth Doctor never got to have an on-screen encounter with the Brigadier, as if there was a checklist of continuity to satisfy.

Getting Jacked.

None of this is to suggest that bringing back Jack for no greater reason than to bring back Jack is setting the show on a path to the point where various senior creative figures think that something like Doctor in Distress is a good idea. Instead, it is a cautionary tale about the dangers of fanservice as an end unto itself, and a suggestion that it is right to be wary of elements inserted into overcrowded stories that exist for no greater purpose than to play to the existing fan base. After all, this is not a story like School Reunion, which uses a former companion in an interesting way.

Of course, Jack fits within Revolution of the Daleks as part of the broader nostalgia for the Davies era that permeates so much of the larger Chibnall era. To be fair, Revolution of the Daleks does feature cameo appearances from Moffat era monsters like the Silence and the Weeping Angels, with the Weeping Angels reportedly due to make a return in the season ahead. However, the Chibnall era has constantly harked back to the early years of the revival.

Arachnids in the U.K. was clearly a structural nod to stories like Aliens of London and World War III, Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel or The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky. The characterisation of the Master in Spyfall, Part I and Spyfall, Part II harked back to John Simm’s performance in stories like The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords or The End of Time, Part I and The End of Time, Part II. Even the destruction of Gallifrey reset the status quo to what it had been in Rose.

This influence is apparent even in Revolution of the Daleks. Chibnall even recycles jokes. At one point during his prison break, Jack produces a vortex manipulator. “How did you smuggle that in here?” the Doctor asks.  Jack responds, “Do you really want me to answer that?” It is a joke that the show has used with Jack before, notably with the weapon that he uses to threaten the droids in Bad Wolf, an episode that is repeatedly referenced by Jack over the course of Revolution of the Daleks.

It’s hip to have a square gun.

After all, there is one sizable difference between Revolution of the Daleks and Victory of the Daleks. Both Revolution of the Daleks and Victory of the Daleks climax with a confrontation between two different types of Daleks: the “older” gold designs from Dalek and a “newer” variant. Essentially, past and future collide and conflict. In Victory of the Daleks, the older gold models are destroyed by the “new paradigm” Daleks. However, nostalgia triumphs in Revolution of the Daleks. The older models show up and tear through the newer designs.

Some of this nostalgia is more subtle. At one point during her captivity, the Doctor quotes Harry Potter and the Philosopher‘s Stone to herself, which feels like something of a poor decision, given J.K. Rowling’s outspoken opposition to trans rights while the Doctor’s most recent regenerations have been read by many as a trans narrative. To be clear, it’s very obvious that Chibnall did not intend any offense or insult. The episode was written and filmed long before Rowling positioned herself as a critic of transgender rights.

Instead, it seems like Chibnall was just trying to tap into nostalgia. After all, the Harry Potter franchise arguably belongs to the generation of children that came of age with the early seasons of the revival. Davies frequently referenced Harry Potter, with the books serving as a touchstone in The Shakespeare Code and Davies even considering casting Rowling in one of his holiday specials. However, the reference seems likely to be out of date for any children who started watching with The Woman Who Fell to Earth, but perhaps they aren’t the audience.

This nostalgia invites a number of unflattering comparisons. Notably, Revolution of the Daleks features a showdown between the new Daleks and the older design. This calls to mind the confrontation between the Daleks and the Cybermen in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, which remains one of the most delightfully catty scenes ever to feature the iconic aliens. Daleks yelling at one another should make for compelling television – funny and horrific at the same time. Unfortunately, Chibnall lacks that flourish, and so it is all rather flat and generic.

Seeing little green… squids?

There is perhaps something telling in the way that the climax of Revolution of the Daleks borrows its imagery from Army of Ghosts and Doomsday. In Doomsday, “the Genesis Ark” hovers above London and starts spewing out Daleks into the sky. At the climax of Revolution of the Daleks, the Daleks all rush into the TARDIS. It’s a striking inversion. The “Genesis Ark” spews out Doctor Who into the world, while Revolution of the Daleks crams it all inside a recognisable shell. Of course the Doctor then collapses the TARDIS on top of the Daleks. This Doctor Who is smaller on the inside.

Indeed, it’s tempting to look at Revolution of the Daleks as something of a companion piece to Ascension of the Cybermen. The Dalek element of the story resembles nothing so much as the old “Dalek Civil War” stories of the eighties, like Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks. As Graham points out, the Doctor’s ingenious plan to resolve this Dalek invasion is that “this set of Daleks kills that lot”, with little nuance or creativity. The episode is (with one notable exception) merciless in letting the Daleks slaughter the guest cast.

As such, if Ascension of the Cybermen felt like an attempt to remake Earthshock on a modern prestige television budget, then the same is true of Revolution of the Daleks, which seems to aspire to recreate the least interesting aspects of the other [R-word] of the Daleks episodes as a blockbuster spectacle. There’s nothing wrong with recycling elements. After all, Bad Wolf is arguably just Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks combined into a single script. However, Bad Wolf aims for more than just “bigger budget reproduction.”

This lack of ambition is perhaps most obvious at the end of the episode. Jack Robertson somehow manages to survive his encounter with the Daleks. In a stronger episode, this would be a thematic point, similar to the survival of Slade in Voyage of the Damned. However, in Revolution of the Daleks, it seems to happen simply because Chris Noth is having fun in the role and its’ possible that the show might want to bring him back again. It feels somewhat strange that the obvious Donald Trump analogue becomes a recurring character after Trump was defeated.

“The license fee payers have had enough of experts.”

To be fair, Robertson is great fun in Revolution of the Daleks. Chris Noth is clearly enjoying himself, and the character’s outlandish cartoonishness arguably allows him to contort in ways that allow him to navigate the episode’s shifting narrative. It helps that Robertson gets some of the episode’s most fun lines. In an overt political shoutout, he reprimands Leo, “You know your problem, Leo? You’re too clever. This is why people don’t like experts.” At another point, he ruminates on the bureaucratic mechanics of the Daleks’ evil plan. He also gets to say, “Take me to your leader.”

Interestingly, Revolution of the Daleks makes a point of demonstrating that Robertson did not survive the events of Arachnids in the U.K. unscathed. Patterson notes that his presidential campaign was derailed by a “toxic waste scandal”, suggesting that there was some consequence from his actions. There was little in Arachnids in the U.K. to suggest that this would happen, with Robertson just walking away at the end like Ilin in The Ghost Monument, King James in The Witchfinders or Daniel Barton in Spyfall, Part II.

The implication from all of this would seem to be that maybe the Doctor isn’t as ineffective as she seems. Maybe all those characters were toppled after she left them, and it was all part of some clever planning. This would go a long way towards nullifying one of the core criticisms of this iteration of the character, arguing that the failure to show the Doctor actually stopping terrible people from continuing to do terrible things was not a character flaw but simply a gap in the writing.

However, Revolution of the Daleks then reverts back to the default. The episode’s final few minutes reveal that Robertson has emerged from the events of the episode politically unscathed, and may even be setting up another presidential run. “Can you believe that?” Graham asks. Ryan responds, “I can.” It’s a grim and fatalistic ending that doubles down on the cynicism that permeates the Chibnall era. Bad people do bad things, and there is nothing that any of the characters can do to stop them.

Just say “Yaz.”

Then, within a matter of minutes, the episode has zigzagged yet again. As the Doctor prepares to leave, Ryan decides to stay. “Me mates need me,” he tells the Doctor. He then clarifies that he thinks the world needs him. “You gotta fight for it, right?” The departure has not really been set up or foreshadowed, but that is at least an interesting angle. Ryan hopes to take what he learned from the Doctor and apply it to the real world. The Doctor even gives Ryan and Graham some psychic paper.

There is an interesting idea here. So much of the Chibnall era is built around the idea of witnessing and observing, particularly in episodes like Rosa and Demons of the Punjab. An extremely charitable reading of this theme is that the show understands that it is a television show and that it cannot literally change the world. Of course, this is itself a depressingly literal way of approaching the problem, and one more interestingly explored in Extremis.

However, there is something interesting in the idea of Ryan taking what he learned from witnessing and observing – what he learned from Doctor Who – and applying it to the real world. Indeed, the fact that Ryan’s departure comes directly after Ryan has watched Robertson leverage his betrayal of humanity into political success suggests that perhaps Ryan is ready to go beyond the limits of Doctor Who, that he might stay behind to clean up the mess that the Doctor creates. With his psychic paper, Ryan could easily take on Robertson. That would be growth.

Unfortunately, Revolution of the Daleks has no interest in this. Instead, the episode resets Ryan and Graham to the default from The Woman Who Fell to Earth, with Ryan learning how to ride a bike again. (The pair are even visited by the ghost of Grace, in what feels like a strange nod to Jenna Louise Coleman’s cameo in Twice Upon a Time.) It turns out that Ryan and Graham are just going to go about having generic Doctor-Who-like adventures involving rock monsters, rather than taking anything from the TARDIS out into a more grounded or real world.

Holding together.

These closing moments are typical of Revolution of the Daleks. They are awkard and clumsy, gesturing in interesting directions but retreating from those ideas almost reflexively. Revolution of the Daleks is a mess, but at least it’s a propulsive mess.

11 Responses

  1. Minor nit-picking but it’s mentioned in the episode that the Doctor away from the companions for “ten months” not “eight” and it’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” she quotes not “Chamber of Secrets”…

    but otherwise yeah, this review is spot-on

  2. Everyone’s going to say this…but I will to. I wish this story had mostly focused on Jack and the fam trying to defeat the Daleks on their own That could have made for a great character-driven story that RTD would have absolutely nailed. Overall, fun, but like the entire Chibnall era, comes across as wasted potential.

    • *Too*. Hate that typo.

    • Yep. I mean, I think people would have objected to a Doctor-lite holiday special, but I think it could work. It would be experimental and innovative. And the Chibnall era could use more of that.

      • I know it’s probably untenable considering the already limited amount of episodes Jodie Whittaker has–she has a contract, after all. The biggest plus would be that it would be great to see how these characters work on their own without the Doctor.

  3. Notice that the Doctor doesn’t show any opposition to the concept of “security drones”. She merely is perturbed by the usage of the Daleks’ likeness. Fascist Britain’s fine as long as her nemesis isn’t involved.

    • Yep. The Daleks are, like Jack, a piece of Doctor Who continuity. And they are the baddies. So whatever they are attached to is bad, not because the idea is bad, because they are bad.

  4. I’m surprised I haven’t seen any comments about the visual quality of the episode. Was it just me, or did the ‘look’ change about halfway through? I could’ve enjoyed it regardless of the look, though, if only the writing and direction (and editing?) were better. At one scene (when Robertson decides to make a deal with the Daleks and the Doctor barely reacts), I actually thought maybe they used rehearsal footage for the episode. Most of the episode was devoid of any emotion.

  5. Yawn.
    The only reason I didn’t turn it off was awaiting the next appearance of Chris Noth.

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