REVIEW: Revolution of the Daleks

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Doctor Who is back! Following on from the earth shattering events of The Timeless Children, which saw the Doctor learn the truth about her past before being arrested by the Judoon, and the Fam left behind on Earth, Revolution of the Daleks is this year’s New Year’s Day special… and what an episode! Daleks! The return of Captain Jack! The end of the road from Graham and Ryan! There’s certainly a lot to talk about here, so without further ado, on with the review!


The Doctor

Series 12 saw the Thirteenth Doctor really come into her own, and that continues in Revolution of the Daleks, which is quite possibly Jodie Whittaker‘s most assured performance yet. From her elation at seeing Jack again and her seething anger at the return of the Daleks to her despair at Ryan and Graham’s departure, Whittaker gets to play all sides of the character in this episode, really solidifying how comfortable she’s become in the role, with none of the awkwardness we saw in some of Series 11.

While her time in prison does get touched upon, briefly with Jack and then a little more extensively with Ryan later on in the episode, I felt the psychological consequences of the Doctor’s imprisonment weren’t very well explored here. By the end of the episode, I was left wondering why Chibnall chose to put her in prison at all, especially considering how quickly in the episode she was let out. Maybe it would have been better to have her locked up for a little longer, with the Fam setting about solving the Dalek problem on their own? This would definitely have been beneficial both in terms of the Doctor (seeing the prison storyline play out properly) and the Fam (taking over the plot to a greater degree).

Furthermore, I didn’t think we got enough of the Doctor against the Daleks in this episode. Her confrontation with the Recon Scout in Resolution was on the of the highlights of that story, so I was a little disappointed that, aside from a brief chat with Dalek-Leo and a couple of generic flying Daleks at the climax (as a hologram, no less!), there wasn’t any proper Doctor VS Daleks moment in the episode. She doesn’t even encounter any of the new black Daleks, which is a major missed opportunity…


The Fam

Bradley Walsh as Graham, Mandip Gill as Yaz, Tosin Cole as Ryan – Doctor Who Special 2020: Revolution Of The Daleks – Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBCA

It’s the Fam’s final outing here, as Graham and Ryan leave the TARDIS behind and, by and large, they are well-served by this script. Mandip Gill gives the standout performance of the three, brilliantly capturing Yaz’s heartache at being left behind by the Doctor. From her harrowing experiences in the Kasaavin realm back in Spyfall and the revelation of her mental health struggles in Can You Hear Me?, to her emotional reunion with the Doctor and heartfelt conversation with Jack in this episode, Yaz, once hailed as the weakest of Thirteen’s companions, has blossomed into such a captivating character over the course of the last series and, with the news that she’ll be staying on for Series 13, I hope we’ll see more of that development in the future.

Also putting in a blinder of a performance is Tosin Cole, who gives it his all in his final episode playing Ryan. His conversation with the Doctor as they travel to Osaka is one of the highlights of the story, showing just how far Ryan has come since we first met him in The Woman Who Fell To Earth two years ago. Cole gives an understated but effective performance throughout, meaning that, when Ryan finally reveals his intention to leave the TARDIS at the story’s close, it feels earned and well-signposted, especially given his storyline in last series’ Can You Hear Me? Ryan is still definitely my least favourite member of the Fam, but Cole’s performance and Chibnall’s writing in this episode have helped to change my outlook on the character somewhat.

Despite a strong performance, though, I felt that a little more could have been done to build up Ryan’s departure. Of course we had Orphan 55 and Can You Hear Me? last year, both of which furthered Ryan’s arc and contributed to his newfound desire to stay behind on Earth, but it would have been good to see some more of that unfold on screen here. We should have seen Ryan going about his normal life, going to work, seeing his friends, and gradually realising he prefers being back home. Instead, all of this is dumped on us during his conversation with the Doctor which, while well-written, completely goes against the golden rule of “show don’t tell”.

Sadly, I thought Bradley Walsh was given the short shrift here, which is a massive shame given that this episode is his final outing as Graham. While, as always, Walsh gives a very strong performance, there’s nothing in Revolution that he can get really his teeth into. I’d have liked a moment akin to his heartfelt chat with Yaz in The Timeless Children or his emotional farewell to Prem in Demons of the Punjab: another character-defining moment before he departs the TARDIS. Unfortunately, we get nothing of the sort, though his final scene with Ryan was undeniably touching, and brought a tear to my eye…


Jack’s Back!

John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness – Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks – Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBCA

Ever since his surprise return in Fugitive of the Judoon last year, it’s been a question of when, rather than if, John Barrowman would be returning to our screens as Captain Jack Harkness. And here he is in Revolution of the Daleks, back in all his glory in time to stop the Daleks from taking over the planet again.

It’s like Barrowman never left; he slips back into Jack’s coat effortlessly, and strikes up an intriguing, if a little under explored, new dynamic with the Thirteenth Doctor. The scene where he turned up in prison just in time to bust her out was a real punch-the-air moment, and his conversation with Yaz later on was one of the major emotional cruxes of the episode.

Aside from that, though, I felt Jack was a little underserved here. Of course, it’s great to see such an iconic and well-loved character back after so long, but apart from those two moments above, he doesn’t really add much to the story. Heck, he doesn’t even get a farewell scene at the end of the episode, saying goodbye to the Doctor over the phone in what seems like a bit of hasty ADR.

This is probably the biggest disappointment of the episode, especially given that there’s so much Jack could have done here. The Doctor’s just discovered that there’s years of her life that she never even knew about… why not bring up the two years that the Time Agency wiped from Jack’s mind? And where’s the terror we saw in Jack last time he faced the Daleks, in The Stolen Earth? Sure, he mentions how they were responsible for his first death (while also giving Rose Tyler a welcome namedrop), but it would have been good to explore that some more, even just a bit.

None of this ruins the episode, of course, but the missed opportunities definitely stand out. In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Jack again in the future, maybe even in Series 13… Fingers crossed!


Guest Characters

Chris Noth as Robertson, Harriet Walter as Jo Patterson – Doctor Who Special 2020: Revolution Of The Daleks – Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBCA

Another Jack returns in Revolution of the Daleks: Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), who we last saw in Arachnids in the UK back in 2018. Robertson was probably my least favourite part of that story, simply because I think he was such a missed opportunity. A blatant allegory for Donald Trump, there was so much potent, subtle political satire that could have been done with the character, but Chibnall eschewed that in favour of over-the-top histrionics. Thankfully, a lot of that is rectified in this episode.

Noth’s performance, while still fairly broad, is far less hammy than in his last apeparance, and Chibnall writes him less as a caricature, which is great. He pretty much fills the role you might expect here, so his side of the story is a little predictable, though I was surprised that he wasn’t killed off by the episode’s close. Might we be seeing Robertson again in the future? After this episode, I honestly wouldn’t mind.

The only other two guest stars of note are Harriet Walters and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who play Prime Minister Jo Patterson and tech whizz Leo Rugazzi respectively. It’s a shame they’re killed off so early on in the story, not only because both actors put in very strong performances, but also because there’s lots of potent political satire that could have been done with them, particularly the former, who, with her “stability and security” catchphrase, is a blatant riff on former UK Prime Minister Theresa May.


The Daleks

– Doctor Who Special 2020: Revolution Of The Daleks – Photo Credit: Ben Blackall/BBC Studios/BBCA

I can’t quite make up my mind whether this is a good Dalek episode or not. On the one hand, I’d say that it is. After all, we get a cracking new redesign, the return of the beloved bronze Daleks, lots of extermination and a big, CGI extravaganza of an invasion towards the end of the story.

On the other hand, I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities here. The image of humans using Daleks to stay secure is incredibly potent, but ends up getting dropped without ever actually becoming something. Sure, the first half of the episode is devoted to setting up the Defence Drone Daleks with Robertson, Leo and Jo, but as soon as they’re revealed to the public, they turn evil. We never get to see the Daleks as Defence Drones.

This, like I mentioned above, is such a waste of an opportunity for some really strong political commentary. The notion that an ostensible force for good could become a ruthless killing machine is incredibly pertinent given the horrifying police brutality we’ve witnessed of late, and could have been explored to a much greater degree. Furthermore, the idea that the Daleks, even without a mutant inside, become dangerous anyway due to Patterson’s corrupt power is such a powerful one, so it’s such a huge shame that it’s never used.

What we do get, though, is good stuff. It’s been so long (basically since The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End in 2008!) since we’ve had a proper Dalek invasion story, so seeing a whole army of the things flooding out of their spaceship to slaughter humanity was a truly standout moment. It’s just such a shame that the Defence Drone Daleks were so severely mishandled, otherwise this could have been a properly fantastic Dalek episode.


Direction and Music

Overall, Lee Haven Jones does a brilliant job directing this episode. From the banality of the scenes on Earth with the Fam to the exciting actions of the epic finale in the sky, he brings Chibnall’s script to life with flair. Highlights include the sweep through the SAS Dalek ship when they’re first revealed, the prison break scene, and the scene where the Daleks flood into the decoy TARDIS, all shot wonderfully.

That said, Jones’ direction wasn’t perfect. For example, we get pretty much the same shot of the Dalek cloning factory twice in the episode, with both shots serving to do exactly the same thing: reveal the clones to the audience. This is the type of clumsy repetition that should be easily seen and removed in editing, so it’s a mystery as to why two pretty much identical scenes like this were left in the episode.

Segun Akinola returns once again as series composer, and his music is better than ever. My favourite tracks were definitely the piano versions of Ryan and Yaz’s themes that cropped up throughout the episode, though the electronic, almost dubstep remix of the Dalek theme was also very memorable. I did find it odd, though, that Graham’s theme wasn’t used at all in his final episode, nor was the brilliant new theme for Captain Jack introduced in Fugitive of the Judoon.


Random Thoughts

  • The orange, blocky font used for the episode’s captions is really, really horrible
  • It was great to see the Weeping Angels, Silence, Sycorax, Ood and Pting return in the prison scenes, and even more exciting to have the Thirteenth Doctor (sort of) face them for the first time
  • The updated title sequence with its new colour scheme is absolutely stunning
  • The switcheroo at the climax with the spare TARDIS was a great way to solve both the Dalek problem, and the problem of having an extra TARDIS lying around on Earth, and doesn’t seem like a deus ex machina
  • Hearing mention of Rose Tyler and Gwen Cooper from Jack was properly exciting as a long-term Doctor Who fan
  • Where were Ravio, Yedlarmi and Ethan from The Timeless Children? They were left behind on Earth with the Fam, yet they didn’t even get a mention? And what about the little frisson of romance between Ravio and Graham from Ascension of the Cybermen?! Surely it wouldn’t have hurt for Chibnall to put in a line or two about them?

Overall

Revolution of the Daleks is, by and large, a strong episode. There are a fair few moment that definitely could have been better, particularly with regards to Ryan and Graham, but equally there’s a lot that worked here, like Yaz’s character development. Direction-wise, the episode is flawless, with some truly spectacular visuals, while Segun Akinola continues to bless us with some fantastic music (now available on Spotify!). Overall, this story builds on the success of Series 12, and sets up Series 13 with flair.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Revolution of the Daleks is available to watch on BBC iPlayer

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