Revolution of the Daleks, the 2020/21 festive special Doctor Who episode allowed several story strands room to grow, and also brought some to a conclusion. Did it entertain and was it that special? Be warned — spoilers follow.
Where were we? Back before 2020, we had a Dalek festive story in Resolution of the Daleks. Series 12 brought us a new Master, Captain Jack popped back, Cybermen, the (latest) destruction of the Doctor’s home world (Gallifrey) and the big re-invention of Doctor Who as Chris Chibnall’s vision took the Doctor to a new place where she wasn’t a Time Lord after all, and had many more past incarnations than previously known. A lot for fans to think about, and the Doctor needed time to reflect – so what better than an extended time in prison?
Of course, all this reflection and resetting needs a baddie to worry about, so what better than more Daleks, dodgy politicians (Harriet Walter as Jo Paterson) and, returning from series 11, Chris Noth as Jack Robertson. As though 2020 never happened, Revolution took us right back to the conclusion of Resolution and the fate of the Dalek casing left in GCHQ…
Jigsaw puzzle pieces
In some ways, Revolution felt like the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle. It had little bits of Resolution of the Daleks, it had Captain Jack (last seen in Revenge of the Judoon), and the Doctor in prison (from the end of The Timeless Children). With Graham and Ryan leaving the TARDIS, there were nods back to the very start of Jodie Whittaker’s era in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and an extra cameo as well for Graham and Ryan. What we have in this story, then, is a lot of lines drawn under the past two series. Mixing metaphors, it’s very much a garden in winter story, where the gardener takes stock, gets rid of some plants, prunes others and plans for future changes to the display.
A fair amount of time was spent establishing the drudgery of the Doctor’s incarceration. We had a Panini sticker album of villains in the exercise yard, and a sense of a lot of time spent in contemplation. What we didn’t have was agency. The Doctor made no contribution to her own escape, and it needed Captain Jack to come in and save the day. He also had the Doctor’s TARDIS, so most of the loose ends from The Timeless Children were swept away. All rather pointless, except for giving those back on Earth time to be without the Doctor.
If we deal with the villains, Revolution gave us a lot we’d seen before. Dodgy minister Paterson, dodgier businessman Robertson, foolish entrepreneur engineer scientist genius Leo Rugazzi (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), together with intricate schemes, 10 Downing Street, and Dalek ingenuity. Quickly the country is under Dalek domination, a trip to Japan finds a Dalek clone factory and 3D-printed mutant Daleks (a tautology?) conquering the Earth. What better way to deal with them? More Daleks! The obsession with racial purity has been done before, but it works here as a tidy solution with consequences. Luckily those consequences involve getting ridding of the spare TARDIS Yaz had been living in, so they were soon tidied away in a typical broad brush solution we’ve seen many times.
In fact, the whole plot was very much colour by numbers, with some saving graces, such as Robertson’s survival (and he must surely return). For us there were too many coincidences, Leo Rugazzi was too resourceful (engineer genius and genetic specialist?), but the new design Daleks worked. Nick Briggs was as capable as ever as all the Daleks, something we now can’t imagine anyone else doing in his place.
Ten months passed on Earth, and for we the fans, it’s also been ten months since the previous episode. With the pandemic, Covid-19 restrictions have impacted all of us, and seeing Doctor Who made before the world of lockdowns, masks and vaccines made it seem like a blast from the past. It did make us identify with Graham and Ryan, who had plenty of time to start moving on, and their departure from the TARDIS was made a very natural event. Yaz on the other hand has issues, and we expect them to be explored going forward.
Left alone, the fam did nothing notable. We’d have liked them to have had at least some kind of solo adventure, and when they did start to investigate Robertson and Daleks, they quickly found themselves out of their depth. While Ryan has clearly developed emotionally over the past series, Graham has become increasingly underused, and the show needed a shuffle.
What worked well was seeing Captain Jack be a little more serious and how he connected with Yaz in a mentoring role. This was one of the better aspects of the episode. Tangentially we note Jack has been in touch with Gwen Cooper — surely that will be explored at some point?
In the end the farewell speaks almost as much to the Doctor’s personality as those of the others. There are clearly many aspects of her identity she doesn’t get, and she is still vulnerable — though we note her version of the Doctor now has a commanding presence and confidence we felt it lacked at the start.
Chance to reset
There were far worse ways to spend an hour or so on New Year’s Day, and far less satisfying episodes of Doctor Who; in the end it looked good, ticked lots of familiar boxes, gave Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor a chance to reset, but never quite felt special. It did give a sense of new directions (and could a Torchwood series be on the cards?) Of course all fans will watch it. Will it attract any casual viewers? We shall see when the audience figures are revealed.