Fifty years to the day since Doctor Who legends Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney faced the Day of the Daleks – and I was sitting there on New Year’s Day 1972, glued to our temperamental telly – the current winning team of Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill and John Bishop gamely take on the Eve of the Daleks.
This special has been touted in some quarters as “a romcom with Daleks”. If that’s showrunner Chris Chibnall’s aim, it falls down on the “com” front. Odd, given that most of the cast (Bishop, Aisling Bea, Adjani Salmon and Pauline McLynn) are more recognised for comedy. Yes, there’s the occasional amusing line or incident but no more than in a standard episode. The wittiest stroke is an in-joke when an indignant Dalek blurts, “I Am Not Nick!” – voiced, of course, by Nicholas ‘Nick’ Briggs.
Eve of the Daleks fares better in the “rom” department. Sarah and Nick are a couple of weirdos. He’s weird for using the storage facility only to preserve the effects of his failed relationships, dated with Post-It notes. She’s weird for keeping Elf Storage open for her sole customer Nick and his annual visits on New Year’s Eve. Despite strong performances from Bea and Salmon, they remain to the end a mismatched, unconvincing pair.
Far more romantic heft comes in the shape of Yaz. Just when she and Dan are looking superfluous to the material, making up numbers as Dalek fodder, Dan cuts to the heart of the matter and asks Yaz outright about her feelings for the Doctor: “Have you ever told her? How you feel about her?” For the first time she has to vocalise her adoration of the Time Lord. “I’ve never told anyone. Not even myself.”
This is by far the loveliest aspect of the special. We’ve been here before with Rose and Martha’s adoration of David Tennant’s Doctor and Amy’s flirtation with Matt Smith’s. All long ago. Yaz-and-the-Doctor has been simmering for years. Mandip Gill plays the emotion subtly and tenderly, as does Whittaker, who, like all incarnations before her, must rise above earthly desire and romantic entrapment.
The Daleks are on sturdy form in their third successive New Year’s Day special after Resolution (2019) and Revolution of the Daleks (2021). Interesting that no matter what reboots they undergo, they always revert to the gorgeous bronze models brought in back in 2005, even if the latest trio are tooled up with an eight-barrel gun at the tip of the exterminating shaft. As they emerge from shadows and time and again get the better of the Doctor – “Daleks learn!” – their menace is enhanced, even if the repetitive rounds of extermination soon lose impact and engender the ennui of a video game.
The time loop structure, losing a minute each time, is worthy of former showrunner Steven Moffat, while the use of a countdown in real time (albeit looped) also recalls Chibnall’s underrated Doctor Who debut episode 42 way back in 2007. If there’s one glitch, it’s how Sarah’s mammy (McLynn) keeps phoning, when she is outside the time loop.
Eve of the Daleks succeeds as a contained piece, a ‘locked-room’ thriller, sagging only a little in the middle but gaining momentum in the final minute’s loop. Anyone who’s ever spent time wandering through the warren of a dimly lit storage facility will know how damned creepy they can be – even without a Dalek materialising at every turn.
The final explosion and demolition of the multi-storey building is another of this era’s impressive CGI effects. If you think the chap at the end, gawping at the fireworks, is vaguely familiar, he is Karl (Jonny Dixon), the crane operator that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor saved in her debut episode in 2018. That seems so long ago, and now we’re approaching the end of days for this Doctor, just as Whittaker has become so persuasive in the role. Only two more specials to go…
The teaser for the next episode ends with a further echo of 1972 – a glimpse of a Sea Devil. Classic monster lives again! Chibnall brought back their land cousins, the Silurians, with some success in The Hungry Earth in 2010, so I’m cautiously hopeful for Legend of the Sea Devils.
Read more about Doctor Who:
- Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks’ time loops explained
- Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks addresses series 13 Flux plot holes
- The Sea Devils will return to Doctor Who in Spring 2022 special