A few days on from a brand new episode of Doctor Who, I present an alternative review to Revolution of the Daleks. Buckle up. This may get ugly.
2020 has been a tough year for so many people. A global pandemic. Lockdowns. An ever-increasing death toll as a result of coronavirus. Doctor Who should provide a distraction. An escape from the world around us for 75 minutes. Revolution of the Daleks should’ve promised an exciting adventure with one of the programme’s most popular creations. Instead, we were presented with a plotline which saw a politician triumphantly present new ‘defence drones’ outside 10 Downing Street. Drones which looked suspiciously like Daleks. We all knew where this was headed…
The opening salvo of this episode began with the events of Resolution (of the Daleks) broadcast two years ago. Following a coincidental stop at the wrong roadside snackbar, the reconnaissance Dalek goes missing. Some time later curiously familiar Defence Drones are tested in front of a politician in a mock protest. In fairness this has been a year where violent protest has seemingly been on the increase. I for instance have watched in horror and disbelief as the UK Government has mishandled the Coronavirus pandemic and failed to protect the lives of its citizens. Now, my favourite TV show has sought to remind us of the possibility that we are all vulnerable to terrible consequences at the hands of incompetent politicians. I don’t need to watch that. We are living it!
We’ve seen a lot of politicians stood at podiums in 2020. I could also see the Prime Minister, a Home Secretary, or similar individual introduces us to something as ridiculous as defence drones that turn out to be deadly and capable of eradicating life. If someone went to a member of the current cabinet with one of these creations and explained how they could distribute the coronavirus vaccines then they’d be rolled out immediately! This plot towed close to the line of terrifyingly plausible. Ultimately, ‘Revolution of the Daleks‘ is a victim of fate. Recorded months ago, few could’ve predicted what would transpire after the episode was filmed. But given the current situation it failed to provide the escapism we all so desperately crave and was a horrible reminder of reality.
Return of the Yank
To support the narrative that we shouldn’t trust those in positions of power was the return of Chris Noth as Jack Robertson. Remember him from ‘Arachnids in the UK‘? A billionaire hotelier with aspirations of running for President of the United States of America. The blindingly obvious homage to Donald Trump. I hoped that my expectations would be subverted and Robertson was actually trying to warn people that these new defence drones were actually dangerous. Nope. It was as I anticipated. He’s responsible for the defence drones. If only he hadn’t been allowed to get away with that environmental disaster the last time we saw him!
His appearance was also a reminder of ‘Arachnids in the UK‘ which saw massive spiders simply left trapped in a Sheffield flat and the villain of the piece allowed to walk off into the sunset with no repercussions whatsoever. As a result of that inaction he acquires the Reconnaissance Dalek and, with the help of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Leo Rugazzi, a technical expert who can also clone biological cells, brings the defence drones into existence. Cue chaos, disaster and death although astonishingly it is Leo who brings it about because of his hubris. Remember kids, be wary of politicians, rich people and intelligent experts. Can’t trust any of them!
The Timeless Children Hangover
Now let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, the previous episode of Doctor Who was ‘The Timeless Children‘. Like so many others, I was far from enamoured by the conclusion to Series 12. The cannon busting revelations can and have been discussed at length elsewhere. However, it was the largely unsatisfying finale which left such a sour taste in the mouth. The Doctor was passive throughout and even in the final critical moments the decisive action had to be taken by notable guest star from Game of Thrones. Some things don’t change as The Doctor languishes in her cell. Good job Capt. Jack was back in this episode or she might still been stuck in that space prison!
Unsurprisingly it didn’t take long before the Doctor was able to escape. A few scenes with lots of lines on the walls failed to convince that the Doctor had been in there for a long time. On the plus side there were some nice monster cameos. The Silence were good weren’t they! Anyway, it would’ve been a truly unpredictable direction for ‘Revolution of the Daleks‘ to end with the Doctor right where she started the episode. Series 13 could then be incredibly bold and see Yaz and Capt. Jack unite to try and find the Doctor. But no the incarceration was largely meaningless, serving only to give Ryan time to decide to stay on Earth, and instead it was Capt. Jack to the rescue.
Capt. Jack saves the Doctor and the episode
The return of John Barrowman as Capt. Jack Harkness was a major selling point to actually watching this episode. For some it may be that his return was the only reason they watched ‘Revolution of the Daleks‘. His cameo in ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ was pointless, serving only to distract the rest of the Fam whilst the Doctor encountered the Fugitive Doctor. This appearance was fortunately much more significant. Barrowman‘s charisma and enthusiasm for the role is always an entertaining watch. But he was more than that. Capt. Jack was the driving force for the action, breaking the Doctor out of space prison, investigating the Osaka Dalek mutant farm, infiltrating the Dalek ship and detonating the bombs on board. By comparison what did the Doctor do?
Remember when the Tenth Doctor punished the Family of Blood in that dramatic sequence at the end of that Series 3 two-parter? That was a good time. Unfortunately, the Thirteenth Doctor remains painfully passive. The action appears to just occur around her. She had verbal exchanges with Jack Robertson and Leo Rugazzi. Summoned the Daleks then taunted them from the TARDIS doors. Finally she gave out some hugs to the fam. The last one was of course vitally important.
Farewell to the Fam
Now where to start with ‘the Fam’. For so long we have bemoaned the fact that three companions is too many. With not enough time to delve into their characters, they’ve become a trio of largely bland scene fillers. In this episode we had Yaz sleeping in the borrowed TARDIS, trying to work out how to find the Doctor again. She came across like an ex who just can’t quite get over the breakup. She came across better when she did nothing. The ironic thing was that Yaz had the audacity to criticise Jack for needing praise! She’s the most needy character in Doctor Who we’ve ever seen! But fear not, John Bishop is joining the team because why return to the successful formula of Doctor plus one companion. This is because two spots have now opened up in the TARDIS.
The poor characterisation of the constituent parts of ‘the Fam’ made the break up severely lacking in emotion. What didn’t help was that despite a 75 minute running time both Ryan and Graham were again given little to do. Tosin Cole did share a dreary scene with Jodie Whittaker which dragged on and allowed Chris Chibnall to patronise the sections of fandom offended by his mutilation of the established cannon. By comparison Bradley Walsh and Graham seemed to be an after thought. This was epitomised by their departure scene where Ryan decides to leave so Graham decides to as well. It was almost fitting that we ended up back on the grassy hillside with Ryan attempting to overcome his dyspraxia because that first episode was probably the last time this interesting character point was actually mentioned.
The Chibnall Era
‘Revolution of the Daleks‘ proved to be a reminder of all the problems with this current era of Doctor Who. Firstly, it failed as entertaining escapism. Instead of lecturing us that mankind is slowly destroying the planet or that plastic is bad, we were taught that we shouldn’t trust politicians, technical experts or American businessmen. Speaking of that American businessman, the lack of any repercussions and villains being allowed to simply exit stage left proved catastrophic. But don’t worry it only happened TWICE during this episode as well. Meanwhile, the Doctor, our lead character and supposed hero, offered nothing other than exposition. Oh and hugs for the fam but the less said about them the better.
I’m sure the irony wasn’t lost on some as the RTD-era bronze Daleks obliterated the inferior Chibnall-era creations. I was frankly astonished that the television show itself would highlight in such obvious terms that the current era is so clearly worse than what has gone before. The ‘defence drones’ looked so flimsy opposite the bronze tanks from 2005. Similarly, the scenes in the space prison reminded you how great monsters like the Ood and Sycorax were before making you recall how rubbish the Pting was. Chibnall’s speech, sorry Ryan’s speech, concerning change would be far more effective if the rest of the episode didn’t highlight all it’s own flaws.
Summarising ‘Revolution of the Daleks‘ is fairly simple. It wasn’t as bad as ‘Arachnids in the UK‘ or the utterly abysmal ‘Orphan 55‘. Nor was it as deliberately offensive to long-term fans as ‘The Timeless Children‘. Instead it was a bland, predictable and ultimately underwhelming episode of Doctor Who. At least the next series will only have eight episodes to endure!