Welp, I wasn’t planning to do this, but I can’t stop myself. While I’m probably not going to be returning to blogging on a regular schedule for a while yet, I have to share a few thoughts on the latest television installment of Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more ambivalent going into a Doctor Who episode, honestly, which is kind of sad. I wasn’t dreading it, but I wasn’t looking forward to it either. After all the shoddy writing and pointless controversy of Series 12, my enthusiasm about the TV series has pretty much flatlined.
Did this episode fix that?
No. It did not. I didn’t completely hate Revolution of the Daleks, but I didn’t love it, either. I’m still feeling pretty meh about Series 13. There are a few interesting paths open for the eight-episode season of Doctor Who this fall to take, but the fact that Chris Chibnall is at the helm and still fully dedicated to his bizarre canon-warping agenda does not give me hope. As for this story, even Captain Jack’s return wasn’t enough to outweigh some pretty significant flaws. I enjoyed some parts of it, but for the most part, it was a pretty weak effort.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m not a huge Captain Jack fan. I don’t dislike the character, but there are other familiar faces I’d have been far more excited about seeing back in the TARDIS–Martha Jones, for example. That said, John Barrowman brought all his old enthusiasm to the role and had a great dynamic with Jodie Whittaker, so his scenes were highly enjoyable. I do feel that this story did justice to his character and to his relationship with the Doctor.
As for the Doctor herself, I was impressed by Jodie Whittaker’s performance in this one. One good thing that Series 12 accomplished was to leave the Thirteenth Doctor more well-rounded as a character. There are a lot of massive inconsistencies in her personality that need to be addressed, but at least there’s a bit more emotional depth to her now. And on the whole, there seemed to be less undercutting of serious moments with humor on the Doctor’s part.
One element of this story which I found clever was the use of the original Daleks. I’m sure there were spoilery reports online about this model of Dalek showing up, but I’ve been out of the loop on filming reports lately, so their arrival was a nice surprise. Given that past redesigns of the Daleks have been highly controversial (even the most recent appearance of the recon Dalek in Resolution), I liked the idea of introducing a major redesign for the sole purpose of having the Daleks we all know and…er…fear come back and obliterate them all. It was satisfying.
I have things to say in the next section about Graham and Ryan’s departure from the TARDIS, but setting aside how that was handled, the fact that we are down to just one companion in the TARDIS is a major improvement for the show. (Yes, I know a new companion is on the way, but even two is better than three.)
Frankly, I don’t know what happened to Chris Chibnall’s writing skills. I know he had them at some point. There was nothing overtly terrible about even the worst plot developments in Broadchurch; at least not that I can remember. But for some reason, his writing on Doctor Who is just…bad. Bad peppered with some moments of good, but overall, still bad. The large number of plot contrivances in Revolution confirms this.
The TARDIS takes four minutes to fly across one planet? Which happens to be the precise amount of time that the Doctor and Ryan needed for a heart-to-heart talk? Seriously? And the guy who’s an expert with robotics also just happens to be able to perfectly clone alien DNA? Because all scientists are the same, I guess… Worst of all, there’s the Chekov’s TARDIS. Apparently, Chibnall left that loose end in The Timeless Children just so that the Doctor could send the extra TARDIS on a suicide mission to get rid of the Daleks. But this isn’t just a ship; it’s a living creature, which the Doctor has just sent to its death. The destruction of a TARDIS should have been treated with more gravity, especially given that Gallifrey is now super, super destroyed. (Yes, I’m still mad about that.)
Okay. I’m done with nerdy nitpicking now. Let’s talk about the bigger problems.
The only effect which Graham and Ryan’s departure had on me was to highlight just how pointless their arcs have been. I will miss Graham, because he was an interesting take on the companion role, and he got a lot of great lines. But even so, he never made the impression on me which a similar character, Wilfred Mott, made in the course of just a few episodes. That’s a testament to the strength of Russell T. Davies’ writing skills. Ryan, meanwhile…I’m sorry, but there’s just no depth to him. I wish Tosin Cole all the best in his future endeavors, but to be brutally honest, he never had the charisma which a show like Doctor Who demands. I don’t think he’s a bad actor, but I do think he was miscast here. And the bad writing of his character certainly didn’t help. The whole departure scene felt tiresome and perfunctory. Reminding us about Ryan’s conveniently-forgotten dyspraxia only made it all worse.
Naturally, political themes came into play yet again. Jack Robinson (or whatever his name is, I genuinely don’t have the will to google it) is back as the cartoonishly-villainous Not-Trump from the awful episode Arachnids in the UK–because in case you didn’t know, capitalism is very, very bad. This, apparently, is why the BBC doesn’t care about declining viewer numbers. In any case, there was a fairly obvious anti-police message in Revolution, accented by the “security drones” attacking protestors and patrolling borders and national monuments. Yet again, Chibnall’s obsession with current events instantly dates an episode of Doctor Who and jolts the viewer out of the story. How hard is it to just write a show about a time-traveling alien? I’m willing to bet it can be done without using New York Times op-ed headlines as writing prompts.
As for the now-infamous “Timeless Children” arc, that’s clearly not going away anytime soon. The Doctor is still firmly convinced that her new origin story is true…despite the fact that it was imparted to her by somebody who hates her and routinely lies to her, inside a virtual reality which is notoriously unreliable. But, then again, the Master would never lure the Doctor inside the Matrix only to deceive her and ultimately try to destroy her, would he? After all, it’s not like he’s ever done that before…
Oh, wait, he did. Never mind.
So far, all that this “new canon” seems to be doing is giving the Doctor an identity crisis. But at least that’s new material for Series 13. After all, it’s not like the Doctor ever spent an entire season of the show questioning her identity before…
Oh wait, he did. Whoops.
Final Thoughts & Series 13 Predictions
Revolution of the Daleks does succeed in bringing back a fan-favorite character in a satsifying way. It also gives Jode Whittaker some decent scenes and does a few clever things with a classic monster. However, it does not work well as a companion exit story, largely because it just seems to be throwing away two characters the show never seemed to know how to use properly. It’s also riddled with distracting plot holes and the frustrating political insertions which have become the norm of this era of the program. I’m not left with much hope that things will get better in Series 13.
However, is it possible that they will? And will I be around to watch?
Honestly, I’m not sure of the answer to either of those questions, but I do have a couple of predictions for what will happen next, based one some hints we have so far.
First of all, we know that Doctor Who is returning in autumn of this year, with a reduced count of eight episodes for Series 13. This, in my opinion, is a good thing, since we could easily have done without several episodes in Series 12. Also, a new companion is boarding the TARDIS–Dan, played by John Bishop. I’ve never seen Bishop’s work myself, but he appears to be an established talent, so that’s a plus. (I call dibs on the “Dan is the Rani in disguise” fan theory, by the way.)
As for what the plot will be, there are a couple of hints about that. First of all, we know from the Doctor and Ryan’s conversation that the Doctor will be pursuing answers about her forgotten lives. Second, the BBC press release about Bishop’s casting mentions that he will be exploring the “Universe(s).” This could be a hint that the Doctor and co. will be visiting whatever universe the Doctor is actually supposed to have come from. But there’s another possibility as well, given the blindingly obvious moment of plot exposition from Jack about Rose being trapped in a parallel universe. Odd choice of words, “trapped,” given that she went back there of her own accord. In fact, the whole line is odd, since there wasn’t any reason to go into that much detail in that context. Judging from Chibnall’s typical lack of subtlety, I take this as a hint that Rose Tyler is slated for a return in Series 13…and possibly even the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor, as well.
Granted, all of this should be exciting, but given that it’s going to be penned by Chibnall…hoo boy. It has a very good chance of being an utter mess. Rumors about him bringing Rose back have been floating around for years now, so I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t happen, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.
Oh well. We still have Big Finish. Just keep telling yourselves that.