Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
When I saw the trailer for the Doctor Who New Year’s Special Eve of the Daleks I thought, “A Dalek time loop episode? I guess it could be interesting.” My expectations really were not set that high, but it wasn’t too low either as showrunner Chris Chibnall had pleasantly surprised me with the vast improvement that was Series 13. But I was not expecting the episode to be one of the best of the modern era, and possibly of the whole franchise.
With an Allons-y, a Geronimo and a Gallifrey-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s dive into Eve of the Daleks.
I usually start my reviews with the plot or the main characters but I’m gonna shake things up and start with the guest characters. Now most Doctor Who guest stars are so unmemorable that I effectively forget them by the time the credits roll. Not so with Aisling Bea’s feisty storage facility owner Sarah and her sole customer/sweet but odd secret crush Nick (Adjani Salmon) as I adored these two. I had actually seen Bea twice before but didn’t realise it until after the fact. The Irish comedian/actress played Paul Rudd’s wife in criminally underappreciated Netflix Sci Fi Comedy Drama Living With Yourself and was also an unfiltered wedding guest in the 2020 romantic comedy Love Wedding Repeat, which coincidentally was about the events of a wedding being repeated with different outcomes. Bea delighted with both roles and she is a blast in Eve of the Daleks as well, whether dropping great quips, chatting with her “Mammy”, falling for Nick or running for her life from Daleks. I am now slightly obsessed with her. Just slightly.
I’m not familiar with Salmon’s work but I really enjoyed him as well. I found his weird collecting of exes memorabilia hilarious and his line to a dead Dalek, “You can’t kill rasta!” (or something like that) made my Caribbean heart smile. And he had sizzling chemistry with Bea, making for a couple I actually cared about. And speaking of caring, these two felt so relatable and fleshed out I actually cared when they faced imminent death and died over and over. And I was worried if they both would make it out alive. That is a rare thing in the Whoniverse and a great accomplishment in the writing and acting departments.
And while I’m on the topic of the writing, what a delightfully tight, simple and effective script. Are we sure Chibnall didn’t have a ghost writer on this one? I kid, I kid. Time loop TV episodes have become a trope in themselves even beyond the Sci Fi genre, and admittedly Eve of the Daleks doesn’t exactly reinvent it. But Chibnall does avoid one of the pitfalls of the trope which is the inability to create tension when everything keeps resetting (this was one of the big issues in horror comedy Happy Death Day). The episode ratchets up the tension by reducing the time window each time, leading to a countdown to ultimate destruction.
Another feather in Chibnall’s cap is the use of the Daleks. During the Flux the showrunner did yeoman’s work in making the Sontarans and the Weeping Angels scary again, and he continues the trend with the Doctor’s oldest foes. Combine the lighting, pitch perfect editing, a new Gatling gun-type blaster and tonnes of Dalek sass courtesy of Nicholas Briggs and you have one fantastic combination. Sometimes less is more, and with just three Daleks the scares and thrills were turned up to 11. And I felt the impact of every, single kill even though I knew they would be coming right back.
Continuing on the positives I enjoyed the writing for the Doctor as well. I have complained in the past of Thirteen being too dependent on her “fam” and sometimes feeling like a side character, but here she is completely in charge and goes full smartest-person-in-the-room. More of that please. John Bishop’s Dan doesn’t do much here but he gets in a couple of spanking one liners. Now it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room, the elephant being the revelation that Yaz is in love with the Doctor. Where do I start?
Now I was never the biggest fan of the milquetoast companion but I noted some improvement in Series 13. And there were hints she fancied the Doctor before. But the reveal here simply does not work. For one, she doesn’t even confess it and Dan has to act as an awkward go-between. Secondly, the Doctor just brushes it aside which is on brand for Chibnall sidestepping Thirteen’s sexuality. Thirdly, it has zero impact on the plot and feels almost shoe horned in. And finally, it is way too late to drop this and it feels like a last ditch attempt to make a not-so interesting character more interesting. I presume there will be some type of payoff in either Legend of the Sea Devils or as the yet unnamed final special but it just throws off the pacing of Eve of the Daleks and could have been left out.
Other than that a truly excellent episode that had me engaged from the ominous start to the fireworks climax to the sweet resolution. Let’s see if Chibnall can continue to hit it out of the park with the next special.
Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10
So how would you rate Eve of the Daleks? And you can check out more wibbly wobbly, timey wimey reviews below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.