Review: Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks

And so the era that aspired to be an insipid Tennant era cover version seems determined to end with a series of dull and ill-advised specials. While Eve of the Daleks displays a level of plot cohesion and scripting competence that was lacking in Flux, it falls far short of even Chibnall’s previous new year’s day specials, let alone the likely standards of the actually relevant BBC One dramas so breathlessly teased beforehand. This is yet another Chibnall effort consisting of a handful of charming moments lost in a sea of opaque exposition, uncomfortable character dynamics, and grey, uninspiring locations. There are more laughs to be found in its cack-handed attempts to set up a running plot arc than in any of the actual jokes.

What makes this irritating is that it didn’t have to be this way. ‘Groundhog Day with Daleks’ is a perfectly decent pitch for a Doctor Who story, and COVID safety requirements limiting the action to one location and two human supporting characters should enable either a nice self-contained comedy or a claustrophobic drama. Plenty of Doctor Who stories have achieved impressive results by deliberately going small like this. But as a comedy, Eve of the Daleks is distinctly lacking. There are some fun scenes; John Bishop trolling a Dalek is self-evidently a great idea, and “Daleks do not have managers” is a nicely quotable line. But most of the other comedy ideas either grate (the middle-aged mother misunderstanding technology was not funny the first time, let alone the fifth) or are smothered by the relentlessly dour production.

And as a drama? Pffft. The business-acquaintances-to-lovers dynamic between Sarah and Nick lands on the wrong side of creepy (he keeps his exes’ belongings?), and their supposed “meet cute” feels like it merits at best a vague promise to get a coffee, and at worst a restraining order. The ‘escape the warehouse’ dynamic makes the whole thing feel like a very boring video game (hey, there’s the Terry Nation influence), and the Doctor’s plan to create a decoy loop but then execute the real plan tips over into the outright confusing. Chibnall still seems to think that ducking and letting the baddies shoot each other is a worthwhile thing to put on TV as opposed to the most clichéd dodge imaginable, and is apparently still so self-conscious about the Daleks looking silly that he’s given them laser miniguns that look far dafter than anything Raymond Cusick ever had the credit stolen for. About the only vaguely dramatic thing that happens is the show saying that maybe, possibly, hypothetically, there’s an outside chance that Yaz might be in love with the Doctor.

Ah yes. Having joked in my previous review that these characters were too poorly-defined to interpret a single meaningful glance as queerbaiting, I was honestly surprised to see Thasmin rear its head again so soon, apparently in all seriousness. The execution, of course, is complete horse shit. Giving Yaz nothing to do for three series (and indeed much of this episode) only to turn around and declare her in love with the Doctor with only two specials to go is such obviously perfunctory and half-hearted storytelling that I feel ridiculous even pointing it out. It certainly doesn’t help that it takes a straight man to actually initiate this supposed queer love story, with Dan referring to his vague and off-screen romantic disappointments in lieu of the Doctor or Yaz actually building off anything from their dozens of hours of shared screentime. The Doctor blowing off the possibility of discussing her feelings to go on more adventures would be one thing if this were the start of a new series, but with so little time left on the clock for these characters it feels like nothing short of shipping aporia.

Once again, Chibnall’s obvious desire to still be writing for the Tennant era sandbags a potentially worthwhile concept. (Incidentally, note how the kinda bullshit ‘real time’ format of this episode evokes 42). This is clearly setting up a repeat of the Martha dynamic; a companion who loves the Doctor, and a Doctor incapable or unwilling to return her affections. Setting aside the issues with this plotline the first time around — in hindsight, having the Doctor explicitly be less affectionate for the first black companion was an uncomfortable move, and it unfairly marginalised the quite good Freema Agyeman — at least series three recognised that this was its story and built the character dynamics around it from the start. We were meant to notice when the Doctor was distant or untrusting with Martha, and we saw that Martha was hurt by it. But Yaz has been neglected for too long by the actual show for that same show to turn around and try and sell us the story of her being neglected by the Doctor. A same sex romance between the Doctor and her companion could make a fantastic story. There may even be potential in an unrequited love story. But this is not, and at this point likely cannot, be it.

But hey, at least we got Karl back. If he Wilfred Motts Thirteen I am going to laugh so hard.

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