Eve of the Daleks is a strange episode to be airing 3rd from last in the run of an era of a show, after only two more episodes we're done with these characters, and the Doctor will fall, and another woman will get up and saunter away.
And yet, we have finally gotten the episode where Chibnall's era of Doctor Who clicks together into the clearest statement of what it is. A lot of this comes from the limits of the episode: with only five characters with real active roles, and the Daleks mostly there for their plot device within the time loop, we have a lot of time for the different characters to reveal things about themselves, come into conflict, and understand themselves and others more. This has been the mode that the Chibnall era has been aiming for throughout its run, and when its hit it, its hit it incredibly well. Early scenes like King James' talk with the Doctor really stood out for the way the focus on the characters as straight drama worked. In fact, the moment where I really understood Jodi Whittaker's performance wasn't her big "I am the Doctor!" moment in her first episode, but her scene after Grace's funeral where she quietly talks about herself and what they've been through. When I saw that scene I thought, "Oh, Chibnall is onto something here." And when the show went into that mode, we got many of its best moments. But there were also issues.
The biggest one is the cast size. One less person has helped since the moment it happened, and the cast dynamic has really settled in. Dan, Yaz, and the Doctor work together so well as a trio it feels like every scene is now a vision of what they show was striving for. And with only two guest cast members, we have plenty of time to get to know both them and the cast. Its great, and its nice to see things working.
Thankfully, we also have a theme going through... this... episode... well....
The theme of this episode is one we've been building for a while: Communication and Secrets. The characters in this episode are stuck in patterns in their own life they can't seem to break out of where they keep either pushing other people away, or don't tell them what they're really thinking. And this leads to the best and the worst part of the episode.
The best? Well, as has been shouted from the rooftops: Yazmin Khan is in fact, in love with the Doctor. They really did it, and you know what, good for them. She's just been unable to communicate this, holding it in, not admitting it to even herself.
The worst? Well uh... So... gosh okay. So the romance in this episode between the two guest stars is supposed to be cute. But its pretty uncomfortable, and is only salvaged at all by just how charming both actors are. They give it their all, and they nearly pull it off. I bet for a lot of you, they did pull it off. But... I also know a lot of people who rightly can't get over how Nick is a stalker who keeps random objects from his ex-girlfriends and catalogs them like a serial killer inside a storage unit.
Do they find every way they can to play this as cute? Yes. Do they give Nick a big heroic sacrifice scene to make us like him? Also yes. Does he say that maybe he shouldn't have kept all those objects like a serial killer? Yes again.
Does this fix the fact that its like... the set up at all? Well, results may vary, but I'm going to come down on the "no" side pretty firmly. I very much wanted Sarah to run away from Nick, very far away. But they get together. And... well that's that.
So we have Yaz unable to communicate her feelings to the Doctor, the Doctor hiding things from Yaz and constantly running off alone instead of accepting help, and Nick hiding that he’s been stalking Sarah and keeping mementos from his ex-girlfriends cataloged.
Along with that, Sarah and her mother can’t seem to get on the same page, and Sarah’s current boyfriend Jeff just isn’t available to contact. And in the other corner, Dan is lamenting his own failure to communicate in the past and using that as the catalyst to move things forward for Yaz and the Doctor.
So what to make of it all? Well, overall I liked it. I definitely feel like Orson Krennic in Rogue One lamenting how close to perfection we were, but oh well. It is what it is, and I enjoyed it. Doctor Who doesn’t always have to be deep, sometimes it can just be a fun time loop romp with some nice character moments, and that’s fine.
Next time, we’re in China. We’ll see how that goes.
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Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.