Sunday 9 January 2022

Groundhog Day of the Daleks

Eve of the Daleks is the first of three Doctor Who specials marking the end of Jodie Whittaker's tenure as the titular Time Lord in 2022.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, returns from the Flux for some déjà vu of the Daleks.

Guest post by Nick Smith

To say I had a quiet New Year’s Eve would be an understatement. I visited family in Upstate New York, near the Canadian border. No party. No fireworks. No TV. They have no TV, people!

Thank goodness for smart devices and streaming services and all that newfangled spangly stuff, thanks to which I was able to watch the brand-new Doctor Who tale, Eve of the Daleks, on my iPhone.

Unlike previous New Year specials, the tie-in with the holiday seemed less forced and NYE elements were put to good use. Having worked many a New Year’s Eve, I sympathized with Sarah (Aisling Bea) who is stuck in her storage facility while everyone else (even her Mum!) is enjoying their annual bong-bongs.

Almost everyone. She’s joined by Nick (Adjani Salmon), who has a crush on her. We get to know them in a long pre-credits sequence that has me asking, ‘am I watching Doctor Who?’

My question is answered by the arrival of a Dalek, which ruins the chance of the story becoming a full-on romcom. Or does it? The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) find themselves in a time loop with Sarah and Nick, trapped in a Day of the Daleks. The 2020s version of these metal menaces are violent, crafty, they can pop up anywhere… and they kill.

The first Skaro stories I watched were Genesis of the Daleks and its sequel, Destiny of the Daleks. Not only were these monsters important enough to have their names in the title, but they were also downright creepy. To young me, Tom Baker’s teasing didn’t stop them from being menacing and memorable. Their torture of Romana was as inhuman as their voice. They were a threat to be reckoned with.

Here they star in a story with lots of humorous moments and funny one-liners but they still manage to be threatening. Eve of the Daleks seems intended as a bit of a giggle after the more serious Flux. If this was part of a regular season, it would be the ‘comedy episode’ to break up heavier segments.

While the Daleks exterminate all over the place, Yaz’s character is developed when she admits her own feelings to the Doctor. This relationship is being built up slowly and I hope that writer and departing showrunner Chris Chibnall maintains this careful pace to create something more meaningful than the quick Doctor-and-Captain Jack Harkness snog as in 2005’s The Doctor Dances.

Maybe it was a tinge of loneliness in the cold wastes of the New York rust belt, or a drop of Dr. Pepper that went down the wrong way, but I must confess the end of the story with its firework-fueled explosion brought tears to my eyes.

The combination of wit, twists, dangerous situations, romance, likeable characters, kick-bump Daleks and the Doctor’s last stand all made this special… special.

Above all, though, the theme of hope and persistence overcoming death and darkness resonated with me on a cold January night and this was the closest I got to a New Year’s celebration.

Hope in the darkness. It sums up Doctor Who and it’s the reason why we shoot bright sparks into the cloying sky every New Year. That, and they’re both loads of fun.

Did you see Eve of the Daleks? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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