Reviews | Written by Kieron Moore 08/01/2022
DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS
The three New Year’s Day specials of the Jodie Whittaker era form a kind of trilogy, each featuring the Doctor’s most iconic enemies, the Daleks. This time around, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan find themselves trapped in a time loop in a self-storage unit, with an increasing number of Daleks on the loose and ready to exterminate them, over and over again.
As far as pitches for Doctor Who episodes go, “Groundhog Day with Daleks” is pretty top tier – a concept so solid that the episode’s guaranteed to be a fun time, even when coming from a writer as, erm... ‘inconsistent’, to put it politely, as Chris Chibnall. It’s also especially welcome as Eve of the Daleks comes after the epic – and epically overwrought – Flux, so it’s a welcome change of pace to have such a contained and conceptually simple story.
And indeed, Eve of the Daleks is fun. There is something about the concept that just works. We get lots of running around, lots of exterminations, and that good sense of chaos you want from a Dalek story. As long as you don’t think about it so much.
With high-concept plot devices like time loops, it’s important for the internal logic to be consistent. People have spent way too much time analysing Groundhog Day in an attempt to calculate how long Bill Murray spends repeating the same day, and the reason they’re able to do that is that the film sets out its simple concept and sticks to it. Here...
Well. Apparently, the time loop resets at midnight. This is never shown on screen, but merely assumed by the characters, presumably because midnight is a good-sounding time for a time loop to reset. As everyone gets exterminated before midnight each time, no one ever actually finds out what happens if they survive that long.
And, there’s the additional difficulty of the time loop starting a minute later each time. If the ‘ending at midnight’ thing had been set up properly, this would be a good way to keep raising stakes throughout. But it hadn't. And the script further muddles things by cheating this mechanic; in the final loop, the Doctor and co. run up to the fifth floor, pick up a trolley of explosives, bring them down to the basement, build a trap, and lure the Daleks into it. Supposedly in sixty seconds. In fact, this takes about two minutes of screen time, and that includes some clear jumps forward – cutting from the Doctor going up in the lift to her pushing the trolley of explosives, for example.
Now, we would rather enjoy the fun of running around blowing up Daleks than have to be so pedantic about plot mechanics. If we could enjoy the episode and then, a few hours afterwards, realise that things didn’t entirely add up, that would be one thing. But flaws on this scale are so noticeable on first viewing that they take you out of the story – it’s pretty unsatisfying.
On a positive note, the episode does populate this time loop plot with some fun characters. The absolute highlight is Aisling Bea’s guest performance as the building’s owner, Sarah. Bea brings a sass and comedic touch to the role that convinced us she would make a great companion, and her initially self-centred approach to survival adds a welcome twist to the group dynamic.
Her romantic subplot with Nick (Adjani Salmon) is a little awkward, though; despite Sarah at several points calling Nick out for being a “weirdo”, the episode doesn’t address quite how weird it is that Nick has collected so many belongings from ex-girlfriends and hired a (presumably expensive) storage unit in which to catalogue them. When they leave travelling together at the end of the episode, we’re left feeling that Sarah’s not going to survive her holiday, and Nick will return with a new item for his collection.
Meanwhile, with the main cast, the show finally addresses an issue that’s been bubbling under the surface – and which some fans have been clamouring for more of – for a while: Yaz’s unrequited crush on the Doctor. The scene in which Dan asks her about this, and Yaz finally starts to come to terms with her feelings, is nicely handled by both Chibnall’s script and Mandip Gill’s performance. This era has generally seen a step down from the two previous showrunners when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, so it’s nice that this story is finally being made text rather than subtext. But, it is a shame that it’s taken about three series – especially given that Yaz has often seemed desperately in need of any kind of characterisation – and with only two episodes to go before this TARDIS team depart, we do wonder how satisfying a conclusion it could possibly be brought to.
One final note: this is the first ever Doctor Who story to be set in STARBURST’s home city of Manchester. Which is nice. Even if it’s entirely set in a storage building and features no Mancunian actors – you could swap out the one line establishing the setting for any other city and nothing would change. They could at least have had someone listening to The Smiths.