Image Credit: BBC (Fair Use)
Image Description: Dan, Yaz and the Doctor sit in Jeff’s lounge
It’s time once again to mark the occasion of the New Year’s Special, so beware of spoilers as John Salway reviews an episode that is, in many ways, Flux part seven.
The Doctor and the Daleks are back for an exciting New Year’s Day Special, and if that thought is giving you déjà vu for a second time, spare a thought for the TARDIS team, Sarah and Nick, who find themselves caught in a deadly time loop with executioner Daleks at a self-storage facility…
This story’s central hook is a familiar one, with time loop stories having something of a resurgence in recent years across many forms of media. But Doctor Who has long built successful episodes by putting a twist on old formulas, and here there are two to distinguish this from the crowd – the time loops are shortening each time, and that both sides are constantly adapting. Both of these wrinkles prevent the loops from becoming too samey or boring, and escaping the Daleks is presented as a genuine challenge for the Doctor. It’s a really good basis for an exciting, standalone adventure.
For the Daleks, the episode is something of a return to basics. They have no objective but to kill everyone in the building, but what makes all the difference is that they’re written as intelligent, thinking creatures rather than mindless drones. They anticipate what their enemies will do, and develop strategies of their own, such as disabling the lift. They also have new, mini gun-like blasters. Are these strictly necessary for the plot? No, but they’re a harmless addition that will please Dalek fans seeking a new variant to add to their spotter’s guide.
The emotional core of the story is the relationship between ELF storage owner Sarah, played by Aisling Bea, and customer Nick, played by Adjani Salmon. It appears to be aiming for a romcom unlikely pairing vibe, but this is spoiled by the fact that unfortunately, despite the episode trying to justify it, Nick really is a bit creepy and sinister. The contents of his storage locker are unsettling, his insistence at only visiting when he knows Sarah will be there is worrying, and despite Salmon’s best efforts to make the character likeable, there is just way too much baggage here to be overcome. During an emotionally charged moment where Sarah has an angry rant at him, we’re encouraged to think that she’s gone too far in her criticism. The problem is, however, that she’s exactly right and has legitimate reasons to be angry and scared. It’s very difficult to root for these two to get together, even though it’s obvious fairly early on that this ending is inevitable. This is a shame, as the irritable and endearingly flawed Sarah is a very memorable and likeable guest character – so it’s unfortunate she has to be saddled with Nick.
But there is another relationship in this story that I think is handled much more successfully, and one that really floored me on first viewing. This is, of course, the reveal of Yaz’s developing love for the Doctor. While there is room for debate on when this first became an intentional plot line for Yaz, there have been enough hints in her behaviour that it doesn’t come out of the blue and instead feels like a natural development. It’s also a good choice to have Dan be the one to facilitate the pair talking about their feelings, creating the sense of a team that really cares for each other. As someone who was very sceptical that teases of potential romance for Yaz and the Doctor would amount to anything textual, I’m delighted that the show has decided to take the plunge. Perhaps the one who benefits most of all is Mandip Gill, who is more than able to make the most of the material, particularly when Yaz finally admits the truth to herself as much as anyone else.
Eve of the Daleks is a moderately successful standalone episode boosted massively by finally making Yaz’s feelings for the Doctor more than just subtext. It’s true that with only two specials remaining, there doesn’t seem much time left to develop this angle adequately, but I can’t fault this episode for that. Even at this late stage, I’d rather an overdue attempt at character drama than none at all. Throw in competent, threatening Daleks and a great guest spot from Aisling Bea, and you have a very enjoyable hour of festive TV.
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