Image Credit: BBC (Fair Use)
Image Description: Promo image of Revolution of the Daleks
Victoria Walker finds that Chris Chibnall has all the right notes for Revolution – just not necessarily in the right order
I’ve found Revolution of the Daleks a particularly hard story to write about. Not because of a lack of things to say, more because I am not sure where to begin. My overall impression, looking back on it, is overwhelmingly positive though I am not sure if that is because of what it says or how it says it.
To begin with some more superficial elements, I do enjoy how this episode looks. Many of the visual elements are quite interesting, especially some of the lighting and interior choices. Most specifically, the costumes chosen for Jo Patterson, played by the very capable Dame Harriet Walter, were a particularly good choice. Notably, she goes from a Labour red to a Conservative blue, to a Third Party (I’d thought originally Liberal Democrat, but perhaps the Scottish National Party are more relevant) yellow. This tells an important story through colour, making clear the overall point of the episode is not a partisan issue. One could go further and perform an analysis on the sort of politician Patterson is in the various scenes, but that is for another time.
Looking at the story itself, the quick return of the Doctor is slightly disappointing. Many, myself included, had been looking forward to the TARDIS crew dealing with problems on their own, but they fall at the first hurdle, just before the Doctor shows up. While it is good that both Graham and Ryan have been left with a thirst for this sort of alien-hunting, the way this episode begins does not bode well for their prospects. That said: I was glad Graham had less to do this episode. However much I like him, he is about where he needs to be, and I am satisfied where his character has been left. I was also happy that Yaz had so much of the focus, though it is somewhat worrying that she spent ten months obsessing over the whereabouts of the Doctor. She’s definitely not a police officer anymore! As for guest stars, I was glad that Captain Jack was not the main focus, serving mainly to support the others. As someone who has not seen Torchwood, getting too much into Jack’s character here might have been confusing for some viewers.
From a non-character perspective, I was impressed by the political commentary. Anyone who knows me knows I love The Dominators, mostly for the well-considered narrative about fascism and authoritarianism. In fact, in my defence of the serial, I make the bold claim that The Dominators provides a better teardown of fascism than the Daleks ever have. In light of Revolution of the Daleks, I might have to backtrack slightly. Stripping back the sci-fi elements of the narrative, we have: a government utilises authoritarian methods to aid state control until a well-meaning person lets in a bad actor who uses the system for their own (evil) ends. I’ve heard the criticism that it relies on the audience to understand that ‘using fascism-lite to control the populace is bad’. However, I believe the episode provides a robust counterargument to this statement. The story hinges on the fact that you cannot separate such things from their origins, and they will infect the whole project. There was never any question that the rollout would not go smoothly. Where The Dominators battles the notion that we should allow fascists an audience in the name of free speech, Revolution of the Daleks battles the notion that any element of the fascist method can be adopted without too adopting elements of the ideology. I must give it to Chris Chibnall, he’s managed to write a pretty good episode… in hindsight.
Immediately after the episode, I rated it a six out of ten, potentially because of the number of elements of the episode I had forgotten. I only remembered the ‘four minutes to Japan’ conversation as I started to write this paragraph – The criticism that there haven’t been travel times in the TARDIS being a false one. They’re in Meglos and Vengeance on Varos at least. However, it is indicative that there is a lot of chaff in the episode, a lot of conversations that seem very long, and action that feels shorter than it is because of the speed of the scenes. The ingredients were there for something quite special, and even though I can pull out some interesting messaging, it still falls fairly flat. In all, Chris Chibnall has shown that he has the right ideas, but not quite the skill to put them together.