Revolution of the Daleks

Story No. 324 Security drone
Production Code Series 12, New Year's special
Dates January 1, 2021

With Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Lee Haven Jones
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens

Synopsis: The British government unveils a new security drone.


"It's The Security Equivalent of the iPhone" by Jason A. Miller 26/4/21

[The Doctor explains the events of The Timeless Children to Ryan]
Ryan: Seriously? And how do you feel about that?
The Doctor: Mostly... angry.

Yeah. You 'n' me both, kiddo.

At the end of Series 12, the Doctor was taken into custody by the Judoon, and imprisoned. Twenty minutes into the very next episode, Revolution of the Daleks, she escapes. Cleverly and thanks to a beloved returning character, she escapes.

What was the point of all that, then?

At 71 minutes, Revolution of the Daleks is the length of a three-part Classic Series episode. The Doctor's return to "the fam" occurs roughly 25 minutes in, at about where the Part One cliffhanger would have been. Did the Doctor's imprisonment - which is implied to have taken up a couple of decades of her life, in between The Timeless Children, and this, the very next episode, impact the plot in any way? Or was the imprisonment merely a flimsy excuse to keep her out of the action for the first third of Revolution?

Certainly Chris Chibnall has set himself a "nightmare brief" in this New Year's Day special. The return of the Daleks. The introduction of another sinister new Prime Minister. The return of the Daleks. A Power of the Daleks/Victory of the Daleks-type setup, where the Daleks are introduced to humanity in a subservient capacity -- via the return of Jack Robertson, a less-than-beloved character from Arachnids in the UK, but beloved to those of us in the US, because he's played by Chris Noth, who's played square-jawed leading men on American TV screens for literally 30 years. So the prison subplot didn't serve a storytelling purpose in that it shifted the ongoing arc of the series, but did buy Chibnall 20 to 25 minutes of screen time to set up all these returning pieces.

That's a lot of time spent watching Chris Chibnall clearing his throat.

Of course, throat-clearing is forgivable, if the individual scenes are good and the eventual climax is impressive and/or surprising. You know else has a lot of throat-clearing? City of Death Part One. Once all the disparate components come together and are explained, Part One of City leads into two great cliffhangers at the end of Parts Two and Three, with tons of witty dialogue along the way, and a lyrical Part Four finale. Revolution of the Daleks is not City of Death, but once it gets going, it does so reasonably well.

The Daleks open this episode as robotic security drones, a collaboration between Robertson, his tech guy, and the new PM. But at what would be the Part Two (of three) cliffhanger, the Daleks' secret plans come together, and the slaughter begins. Hey, it took Power of the Daleks five of its six episodes to reach that point, and for the year 2021, the look of the new Daleks and their upgraded extermination technique looks great to the eye that it is watching it on its premiere date (of course, I leave it to the children of the year 2051 to decide if those effects have aged well).

"Can we stop there, and pretend there's no bad news?" -- the Doctor

The plot ends, cleverly and excitingly, with ten minutes still left to go in the broadcast. The Dalek forces --- Robertson's security drones, and then a fleet of traditional Daleks brought in to wipe out Robertson's impure race -- are dispatched in interesting and visually clever ways, but there are still ten minutes left to fill before the end credits.

"Two hearts -- one happy, one sad." -- the Doctor

It was no surprise going into this episode that the fam was splitting up, the BBC itself having leaked the news prior to airdate. The last ten minutes are given over to this. And the departure scenes are good. The New Series has historically had problems letting its companions go. In order to separate the companion from the TARDIS, the first two showrunners, Davies and Moffat, came up with increasingly tortured and emotionally manipulatives ways to write out main characters. Rose got separated out into another universe. Donna had to have her memories wiped or she'd die (or something). Two later companions were killed, only to come back to life via bizarro immortality, and Amy and Rory were banished to the past in a ridiculous and illogical way. Only Martha got to leave on her own terms, but otherwise, companion departures are generally overly dramatic and overly sentimental in the New Series.

Revolution of the Daleks, on the other hand, gets it right. Jodie Whittaker plays this remarkably well, with quiet heartbreak. That's a throwback Classic Series way to write out a companion, quietly and with a dash of sentiment but never too much. Death doesn't have to be cheated, alternate universes don't have to be involved. Sometimes, a companion can just... leave.

Oh, and a new companion was introduced via post-credits teaser, in a cleverly-written scene that at first appears to be a teaser for a different show entirely (but listen to the horoscope and it's all there), but I'm not from the UK, have literally never heard of the performer in question, and for a second thought that I was watching the return of Eric Roberts as the Master, but, no, it isn't -- it's a surprise new companion, and a reason for us to keep watching into Season 13.

Count me in, Doctor.