On Saturday 1st January 1972, Terry Nation’s creations made a glorious return to Doctor Who after a five-year gap, and in full colour for the first time to boot, in ‘Day Of The Daleks’, a story which involved temporal shenanigans. Five decades to the very day, the malevolent pepperpots saw in another New Year, in ‘Eve Of The Daleks’, no doubt a deliberate play on the name of that earlier story.
Although some might suggest that ‘Groundhog Day Of The Daleks’ would be a more apt title, given this latest adventure focuses upon a time loop, with the Bill Murray vehicle having brought that sci-fi staple into the mainstream, without all of the technobabble or nerdy trappings usually associated with it. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in a time loop yourself, with the last three New Year’s Days having seen the Daleks cropping up on each occasion. Déjà Who.
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Although a lot of people will have used Groundhog Day as a frame of reference for Chris Chibnall’s story, the actual plot is actually closer to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ‘Cause And Effect’, as both have the main characters meeting their apparent end before the main titles, only to be resurrected, and have to relive the events over and over, until they find a way out of it. Live. Die. Repeat. Very Edge Of Tomorrow. Yet ‘Eve Of The Daleks’ has a twist which does manage to make it stand apart.
Unlike the others, the Doctor and her fam are not projected back to the exact same point that things actually started on each iteration; instead, the loop shaves a minute off the time they have available in which to try and dodge the seemingly inescapable fate of complete extermination at the hands (or appendages, if we want to be strictly accurate) of their foes. It ups the ante considerably, as rather than being an endless cycle, the time loop only has a limited number of runs before it closes forever, giving only so many tries.
Having thrown everything at the recent Doctor Who: Flux, a rather convoluted – if undeniably ambitious – six-part epic story, Chibnall has thankfully pared things right down, with a scaled back episode which, while still referencing some of the events of Flux, works as a standalone seasonal special. In ‘Eve Of The Daleks’, we get a stripped-back story, set in just a single location with the most minimal cast of characters, and it works an absolute treat. Perhaps the lesson learnt here by Chibnall has been that less is sometimes more.
Having fewer additional players means the characterisation and performances are more exposed, but thankfully Aisling Bea is superb as Sarah, owner of the storage facility in which everything takes place. In equal turns funny and feisty, while at the same time vulnerable, Bea nails every single beat here, making her one-shot turn genuinely memorable. Perhaps a tad less successful is Adjani Salmon’s Nick, but the fault here is far more with the writing than the acting, as Salmon turns a potentially creepy guy as scripted into somebody who ends up rather warm and endearing.
The blossoming love story we get between Sarah and Nick is mirrored by some developments between the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and Yaz (Mandip Gill). The fandom has for a long time been ‘shipping’ their fantasy pairing of ‘Thasmin’, with their desire to see romance bloom between the duo. Chibnall has also been accused of queerbaiting in his writing, as hints had been made of Yaz having burgeoning feelings, but never expanded upon – at least, not until now, as the subtext was to finally become far closer to actual text, thanks in no small part to Dan (John Bishop).
As a new arrival and outsider, Dan was able to see what both Yaz and the Doctor had missed or ignored, and gave Yaz the chance to finally confront, and then admit, she had feelings for the Doctor. Given the fact we have seen an outright love story between the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler, along with unrequited feelings on the part of Martha Jones, we should be familiar with the notion of there being romantic interest in our hero, whether reciprocated or not. So then why all the big controversy here?
Perhaps due to the fact that this ultimately seems doomed before it ever really gets off the starting blocks. With only a pair of specials to go until Whittaker’s departure, it may be a case of too little, too late, as the likelihood is that things will not come to anything in time; even if Yaz carries on, should a man be the next Doctor, it may upset the dynamic, as Yaz’s sexuality is still to be determined. Another contentious issue for some seems to be the very notion of the Doctor engaging in a same-sex relationship.
Some viewers, apparently, seem to have a level of tolerance on a par with the Daleks. And everyone’s malevolent metal meanies were certainly on good form, having taken almost six decades of screen time to finally learn from some of their many mistakes, and become a far more formidable foe as a result. Of course, every opportunity is still taken to poke a bit of fun at them, giving them chances to shout about all of the qualities or attributes that they lack. A nice little in-joke was giving the voice of the Daleks, Nicholas Briggs, a name check of sorts.
‘Eve Of The Daleks’ proved to be a fun, undemanding romp, the perfect fare with which to see in 2022, the beginning of Whittaker’s lap of honour as the Time Lord. Appropriately, it appears ‘Eve Of The Daleks’ will stand up to repeat viewings. Oh, and as for that jaw-dropping, punch-the-air moment in the teaser for the next episode…