WHERE TO WATCH: BBC iPLAYER
[Warning: this review contains spoilers.]
Believe it or not, Doctor Who Series 12 finished just ten months ago. A long ten months, for sure. Now, art reflects life, as new year special Revolution of the Daleks begins with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and her friends also having struggled through a period of isolation – her in space prison; Ryan, Yaz and Graham abandoned on Earth. Thankfully, the story quickly moves on... to a scene of police brutality against protestors. Remarkable that this was written and filmed before the events of 2020, isn’t it?
The violence is a test of new “defence drones”, developed by American tycoon Jack Robertson (last seen in 2018’s Arachnids in the UK) and based on the reconnaissance Dalek (last seen in 2019’s Resolution). But the Doctor’s companions are on the case, soon joined by the Doctor herself, sprung out of prison by Captain Jack Harkness (last seen in 2020’s Fugitive of the Judoon).
That’s a lot of returnees, before we even mention how the events of The Timeless Children are brought in, but the continuity adds to the story without overburdening it – a more confident grasp of Who continuity than we’ve seen in showrunner Chris Chibnall’s era so far. It’s satisfying to see the last episode’s revelations having emotional consequences rather than being left aside, as well as various loose ends being tied up, and on a more playful level, cameos from monsters created by all three of post-2005 Who’s showrunners. And importantly, all this continuity adds to the episode without overburdening it or leaving the more casual or hungover viewers confused.
Indeed, Revolution nails that New Year’s Day action-adventure tone. Though 70 minutes long, it rarely lingers, and the plot escalates naturally with none of the major plot logic stumbles that have let down a few other Chibnall episodes. The Daleks are on delightfully villainous form, and all builds satisfyingly to a showdown aboard a very nice Dalek saucer set – but not so nice that we don’t share in Captain Jack’s enthusiasm for blowing it up.
In leaning into this frothy blockbuster style, though, the episode abandons its more interesting concept – Daleks as police enforcers. We never see the ‘drones’ properly deployed before they’re turned into full-on Daleks, nor do we get a sense of the public’s response to them. Instead, the story swiftly moves on to a more traditional invasion story. While it’s always enjoyable to watch a big Dalek shoot-out, the Who episodes that become classics do so on the strength of their ideas, and so, while we were never expecting this to be a hard-hitting thesis on police brutality, it’s a shame to see such an intriguing idea largely squandered.
What Chibnall’s script is more interested in is where its leading characters are at. A common problem throughout the past two series is that the three companions have felt generic and samey. But here, more than ever before, a story clearly accentuates the differences between them, in particular how Yaz’s pining for life with the Doctor is at odds with Ryan’s need to forge his own path.
This is articulated in two contrasting two-hander scenes – Yaz with Captain Jack, and Ryan with the Doctor. The dialogue is occasionally clunky, with on-the-nose lines like “And how do you feel about that?”, and some things are told to us when they should be shown – Ryan talks about how his friends need him and how he’s found his purpose on Earth, but neither of these are evident in the plot we’re shown. But, there is a spark to Team TARDIS here which has often been missing over the past two series. And that's not just down to the addition of Captain Jack and his sly quipping; the dynamic of the three main companions is finally working.
And then it comes to an end. Ryan and Graham decide to call it quits on their TARDIS travels. It's not a sad end, though, as it's about time for a change in the line-up, and it's very nice to see – despite Captain Jack’s warning that “you don’t get to choose how your time with the Doctor ends” – them given the agency to leave on their own terms. It’s a much more satisfying exit than how recent companions have been written out via one big sci-fi contrivance or another.
Revolution of the Daleks isn’t going to go on many lists of favourite Doctor Who episodes – it fails to delve into its one big idea, and some of the dialogue could use another script pass. But it has a lot going for it – it’s a fast-paced, crowd-pleasing Dalek shoot-'em-up; it confidently and satisfyingly draws together elements from across the show’s recent continuity, and it’s one of the better companion exit stories we’ve seen in a long while.
Yaz and the Doctor remain in the TARDIS, but as the post-credits teaser reveals, they won’t be alone for too long. Here’s what we know so far about Series 13.