When news first broke that Doctor Who wouldn’t be having a special episode airing on Christmas Day, but rather on New Year’s Day, a mere 7 days later, many fans lost their damn minds. I understand the push-back, to a point; the breaking of long-time traditions is a challenge, but if there is one thing that new showrunner Chris Chibnall has proven with this season of the show, it’s that – for better or for worse – he’s determined to do things that are new, different, and a little off the beaten path.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: For a 90-minute super-sized episode, this one is actually pretty easy to summarize. After a narrative open gives us some clandestine, National Treasure-level Earth history about a fierce battle in the 9th Century waged against an alien force and how the barely-defeated alien was split into thirds and buried at the ends of the Earth, the TARDIS picks up an alien signature on Earth in the “present day” because – well, timey-wimey, that’s just the convenient way these things work. The issue is, of course, tied to the historical intro: the alien thirds have rather easily (now that they have been awoken) found their way back together here in the 21st Century, and surprise! It’s a Dalek! But not just any Dalek – a Recon Scout, whom we’ve never heard of in the 50-plus years of Doctor Who so far but is conveniently the worst and scariest type of Dalek. Cue the dread-inducing music.
The episode tasks the Doctor with stopping this new Dalek threat before it can contact the Dalek fleet and have them come annihilate the planet (I really feel like the Dalek Fleet should probably be vaguely aware of Earth’s existence and general whereabouts by now). In between it all, the trio of companions – well, okay, really just Ryan and Graham, sorry once again you have nothing really to do, Yaz – deal with a lot of interpersonal drama, as one does when trying to juggle difficult family connections Earthside with the complexities of interstellar travel and general universe-saving.
The biggest issues, to me, in this episode, were the leaps of logic needed to make the story work. I’ll outline some of the most glaring and/or eye-rolling in the points below.
- In the opening narrative, the third “carrier” of the Dalek body was shot with an arrow and thrown from his horse, and then the bandits that shot him moved in to loot him. So, you’re telling me that looters didn’t take the strange-looking bag with exotic materials inside, instead leaving it right next to the man’s body – and no one else ever touched it, no wind or storm ever blew it away, so it could be found centuries later right next to the man’s body in an excavation?
- I understand that this is a New Year’s episode, but the Doctor and companions celebrating Earth’s NYE “across the universe” is a bit silly, with time being relative and all, isn’t it?
- I appreciate the occasional “Americanization” here and there, but when Lin is getting pulled over, they showed the car’s speedometer – it was in kph, as it should be in Britain – but the policeman walks up to the car and tells her how fast she was going in mph. QA fail, BBC!
- It’s preposterous to think that the Dalek would be able to go to the MDZ archive and find all his original Dalek weaponry conveniently sitting there since the 9th Century – and it was readily right on the first table in the middle of the first room he came to, no less!
- It’s even more preposterous to think that the Dalek can go to a farm and find everything he needs to recreate his armor – not only visually with all the bulbous marks on the lower half, but the helmet, the lights, the electronics… the rocket boosters… the missiles?! Even if this “farmer” was some sort of emergency-prepper fellow, then he wouldn’t have been subdued by a lone gunless police officer so easily.
- Seriously – the Doctor knows how hard it is to kill a Dalek. So, why/how is she so nonchalant after they fry part of the Dalek armor when Grant asks “is it dead?” “Yeah,” she says coolly, without even checking! And, surprising absolutely no one, it’s not actually dead. This, along with all of these points above, just feels like lazy writing across the board.
- Lastly, I found it extremely amusing that a commercial for Star Trek: Discovery aired during BBC America’s showing of this episode. CBS has got to market to their target audience, I suppose!
CLOSING THOUGHTS: My general feel for this episode, honestly, sums up both my high points and my complaints for this Eleventh season: the focus and presentation of the interpersonal drama is incredibly effective, the ideas for science-fiction stories are fairly solid, but the execution of said stories leaves much to be desired. It just feels like all the fun has gone out of Doctor Who, comparatively speaking to the vibe and excitement that the show has generated with previous iterations of the Doctor. Where does the blame lie? This is a hard question to answer; the acting, in my opinion, has been top-notch, and the actors are doing the best they can with what they have been given. Chibnall and his creative team should probably take a long look at what they want to accomplish moving forward, and ensure that they are avoiding the deadly trap of “change just for change’s sake” here with the Eleventh season and beyond.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ do not return to BBC America until “early 2020.“