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Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks’ time loops explained

We break down every loop in the new festive special, and puzzle out some of the confusing “rules” of the episode.

Doctor Who
Published: Saturday, 1st January 2022 at 8:00 pm

New Doctor Who New Year’s special Eve of the Daleks traps the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and four others in a deadly time loop, with our heroes forced to run from and outwit a squad of Daleks, only for everything to reset and force them to try again a moment later.

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It’s like Groundhog Day, basically, as Dan (John Bishop) notes at one point – though there is a twist. Unlike other eternal time loops, this one’s getting shorter by a minute each time. And also unlike other time loops, there are loads of Daleks trying to kill you within it (which would be a great deleted scene with Bill Murray, admittedly).

It’s all a rollicking good time and by the end you’ll be left with a big smile on your face – but you’d be forgiven for being a bit confused by the time the credits roll as well. Wait, why did the loop lose a minute every time? Who made the loop? Were the Daleks trapped in it too? And why was it so important they got out at midnight – couldn’t they just hide until the loop finished, then exit the building?

We’ve spent a while puzzling it out, and we think we’ve just about got it nailed – so here’s our answers to any lingering time loop questions, plus a full breakdown of every loop in the episode.

Who made the time loop?

As it turns out, it wasn’t the Daleks trying to trap the Doctor – they did that with a simple forcefield over the door. No, the time loop was seemingly created by the TARDIS itself to try and protect the Doctor, Dan and Yaz (Mandip Gill) from their certain death.

It may also have been a side effect of the special "reset" the TARDIS was going through, which also attracted the Daleks’ attention in the first place. In other words, the loop was a good thing – helping the Doctor, not the Daleks.

The Daleks plan was just to seal the building and do some shootin’, and they got more than they bargained for.

Why did the time loop get shorter?

Doctor Who

John Bishop, Mandip Gill and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks (BBC)

As noted, the main twist on time loops in this episode is that the loop got shorter each time, giving the Doctor and co less time to escape the Daleks with every go-around.

The Doctor explains this is because "whatever’s made the time loop can’t sustain it", noting it might be "under some sort of pressure." In other words, the damaged TARDIS is losing its grip on the loop gradually, making it a limited-time protection for the Doctor and her friends.

What made the loop reset?

This might be the crucial point in understanding this episode – unlike Groundhog Day, it seems like the loops don’t reset at a particular time. Rather, the loop resets when characters die – exactly the same as hit Netflix series Russian Doll.

In other words, the loop was protecting the Doctor from death by giving her another go. And that’s also why it was important for the gang to get out of the building before the final loop closed – once that was gone, assuming they were still trapped in the building, it was only a matter of time before the Daleks finished them off for good.

Note that you never see a reset when any of the characters are left alive – it’s death, not a deadline, that marks the change. All the Daleks have to do is kill everyone enough times, and the loop will stop.

Were the Daleks trapped in the time loop?

Doctor Who

Dalek - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: James Pardon

No – the Daleks were teleporting in from an outside location, and the loop only existed within the self storage building itself. This is why the Daleks were able to appear in different locations during the loops – though what this means for the two that Nick (Adjani Salmon) killed is anyone’s guess.

It’s also why the resets only happened when the human (or Time Lord) characters died, rather than any Daleks. Presumably, there were only five Daleks assigned to this mission in total, which is why there weren’t any more teleporting in after the loop closed.

Why did they have to get out at midnight?

Doctor Who

The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER) - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: Sally Mais

Here’s how the Doctor explained her end goal during the episode: 

"If we can stay alive and be outside the building when midnight hits, we might stand a chance of getting clear of this."

Frankly, this point is a little confusing. How did the Doctor know that the Time Loop couldn’t just continue on, even if the beginning was getting shorter? If they survived long enough past midnight and kept going, presumably the loop would just tick a minute forward and reset them from that point?

Well, possibly not. Though it’s not made entirely clear in the episode, it seems likely that just before midnight was when the time loop was first activated – the first death of the Doctor, Yaz and Dan, in other words. The loop was a reaction to this first death, so it stands to reason that this is when it naturally ends – otherwise it’s not a loop, it’s just an infinite respawn.

Yes, the Doctor and co. could evade the Daleks past this point – but with the building still sealed and the Daleks after them, it’d only be a matter of time before they were killed again, this time without the protection of the loop. So the Doctor’s plan makes sense – use the last couple of loops to draw in the Daleks and destroy them (so they can’t just keep going after them, this time without protection) and escape the building, which they’re trapped in by a Dalek forcefield (The loop itself didn't trap them inside).

That make sense? No? Well maybe we can work it out further.

How many loops were there in Eve of the Daleks?

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Aisling Bea, Mandip Gill, John Bishop and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks

We counted nine loops – Sarah was right with her estimate that she’d been killed eight times over the course of the night – and they were as follows:

  • Loop 1: Original course of time, starting 23.51. Nick killed in corridor, Sarah killed in reception followed by the Doctor, Yaz and Dan’s death in reception.
  • Loop 2: First repeat, starting 23:52. Nick tries to save Sarah, gets killed in reception. Sarah looks for a weapon, killed on fifth floor. The Doctor, Yaz and Dan are killed in reception again.
  • Loop 3: Starting 23.53. Nick, Sarah, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan all meet for the first time, hide in Nick’s unit and realise their predicament. Nick pointlessly sacrifices himself, while the others are killed in Nick’s unit after agreeing to head to the fifth floor and look for materials to destroy the Daleks next time around.
  • Loop 4: Starting 23:54. Sarah ends up ignoring the plan to look for Nick. The Doctor and Yaz head to the fifth floor, but Dan gets off to help distract a second Dalek in reception (where he is soon killed). Sarah and Nick try to escape through the basement but are both killed. The Doctor and Yaz find the stash of hazardous materials, but are cornered and killed by a Dalek while there.
  • Loop 5: Starting 23.55. The Doctor, Yaz and Dan head up and meet Sarah in the reception, and argue about the plan. Sarah notes that so far, in no loops has Nick survived past five to midnight. This worries her that if he dies in this period the reset won’t be enough to save him, as the next loop will start beyond his death (it's not clear if she's right about this but by this point, no characters have died earlier than the staggered start of the next loop).The Doctor goes to help Nick, but he manages to outsmart two Daleks into killing each other. The pair return to reception and the entire group hatches a plan to fetch the hazardous materials from the fifth floor, wrap them round other hazardous materials in the basement and destroy the Daleks (and the building) in an explosion. But they’ll have to do it in the next loop. All five characters are then killed in reception.(Note: It is slightly unclear why they don’t attempt to escape through the basement door in this loop, especially given that the Doctor has time to make an emotive speech. Maybe they just wanted to lure the remaining Daleks in, as Yaz notes there are bound to be more. If they didn’t, they could escape and face more Daleks outside the protection of the loop.)
  • Loop 6: Starting 23.56. The One Where the Plan Goes Wrong. Sarah is killed in the elevator, while Nick is similarly exterminated in the corridor of his unit. The Doctor tells Yaz and Dan to stay in the basement, where they have a heart-to-heart; they are soon killed by Daleks. The Doctor reaches reception, but is exterminated again.
  • Loop 7: Starting 23:57. Sarah and Nick head to the fifth floor, but Yaz tells Sarah and Nick to join her, the Doctor and Dan in the basement instead. The Doctor explains her new plan – in the penultimate loop, do misleading things to confuse the Daleks and stop them from guessing the new plan. All five are exterminated in the basement, but in an empowering way.
  • Loop 8: The decoy loop! Starting 23:58. Nick hides in his unit and has the Dalek destroy his ex-girlfriends’ possessions; he is then killed. Sarah reaches the top floor in the lift, where she is killed. The Doctor, Dan and Yaz hang out in Jeff’s secret room, and are killed.
  • Loop 9: The final loop, starting 23:59. The Doctor and Yaz grab the fifth floor materials, joining the other three to make the trap for the Daleks in the basement. At 10 seconds to midnight Sarah’s mother calls, her voice tricking the Daleks into firing, destroying the building and themselves…just as the loop closes for good.

And then it’s midnight. Happy New Year!

It just about all holds together, we think, though the rules are a little confusing. For example, Sarah’s mother calls at four minutes to midnight initially, but calls later once the loop progresses beyond that point. Was this a second call, or the original delayed?

Does this mean they’re being put back at different points in the timeline, or just being given less time from the same points? And are characters only 'reset' from their position at whatever time it is from the first loop, or the loops that came after? Surely the latter has to be true, or some of them would be dead when there's only a minute to go?

In the end we’ll probably have to wave our hands about a bit and say wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey – but in an episode this fun, it probably doesn’t matter that the whole thing isn’t completely airtight. And we're sure that in the months between this and the next episodes, fans will have managed to work out how it does make sense after all...

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Doctor Who returns to BBC One for Legends of the Sea Devils this spring. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.

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