To those who have been reading my reviews of Series 11 will know that my reaction to not having a Christmas Day episode of Doctor Who for 2018, breaking a 13 year tradition, was not a happy one. The first series for Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker has been very up and down with a lot of the problems I have with it coming from Chibnall’s refusal to embrace anything about Doctor Who that fans have come to love. The TARDIS is rarely used in many of the episodes and the new monsters and sci-fi episodes have failed to really feel like the Doctor Who I know and love. Combine that with the news that we will not see another series until 2020 and this could well be the only Doctor Who in 2019 as nothing has been mentioned about next Christmas having a special in any way. So here we are, one special episode to both round off series 11 and keep fans excited for over 12 months to come….
“As the new year begins, a terrifying evil from across the centuries of Earth’s history is stirring. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth?”
It actually takes 15 minutes to find out what the threat truly is, and it is the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest of enemies. But before we do get to the actual fun stuff, the opening 15 minutes does need to be addressed as we catch up with Team TARDIS as they are enjoying New Year celebrations across the universe, when the Doctor whilst searching for the 20th celebration for them to visit is alerted to extra terrestrial shenanigans afoot on Earth, taking them back to modern-day Sheffield. I must admit, the usual banter between the Doctor and her team that I found charming during the series just feels more cringe now and just a little annoying especially with Bradley Walsh’s oh so wooden performance at the start.
This episode really has two stories within in with one being the discovery of who is threatening the earth but the second is perhaps the biggest connection to the series itself as with perfect timing, just within minutes of them landing the TARDIS in Graham’s front room (his poor chair) then a knock on the door introduces Ryan’s father for the very first time. This actually has some nice moments as both Ryan and Graham have their moments to confront him, with Ryan finally able to release all the feelings he has held within with his Father running away after the death of his mother and failing to show up at his own mothers, Ryan’s Nan’s funeral. Even the Doctor reminds him of this fact when they first meet.
The second story is of course the main focus and one which sees the return of the DALEKs in the form of a DALEK scout which centuries ago was defeated by tribes of men and then split into three parts and scattered to the furthest corners of the Earth where the descendants of the original tribes now stand in ritual defence of the burial sites. This reads well on paper but on execution it just becomes rather messy and almost farcical to see on-screen, such as one person reaching Russia but showing no effects of the winter she is trekking through or the man who managed to reach a far off tropical island by row-boat. The third of course, is the tribe from England and the man who could only make it to Yorkshire before being killed by bandits who also fail to steal the very object he was carrying and leaving the body on a road which is then not discovered until modern-day leaving his body and object to be buried by natural means. This would not be the first instance of sheer lazy writing by Chris Chibnall this episode.
I actually quite liked how Chibnall eventually uses the DALEK for this story, by inventing a new type of DALEK in the scout class, a class sent from planet Skaro to conduct reconnaissance and capture of worlds for the DALEK race but it is hard to imagine how medieval tribes people were able to overpower it enough to be able to dismantle it and then the only pieces they did decide to scatter was the now seemingly immortal genetic part of the DALEK, which instead of just burning it up as I assume they did with the metal shell, they chose to cut it up and send it around the world in 80 days. But once you put down the sheer laziness of just making things up to explain why events have happened as they have, what you do end up with is a genuine threat to Earth.
However it really is the performance of Jodie once again who sells this story completely with her first reaction to the most classic of Doctor Who monsters. The Doctor has genuine fear about this DALEK and when she tells Team TARDIS that “this is personal” you can feel it even if no one around her remembers what a DALEK actually is. The moments between her and the DALEK are great screen moments and are some of the best of her era so far and proves that Chibnall’s reluctance to use old Who for his run is a mistake, imagine this Doctor meeting the Cybermen or even the Master. So far none of the new monsters he has introduced into Doctor Who compares to any of the old guard and he did show that he can refresh them as he did with this Scout DALEK in order to tell new stories and to make them more threatening than ever before if he simply took the effort to use them properly.
There are other examples of Chibnall’s lazy writing by just having things happen with little explanation but with lasting results such as the Doctor placing a call to UNIT only to be told that due to having funding removed, UNIT was now suspended as an organisation to the shock of the Doctor. Even throwing in Kate Stewart’s name to find they had no contact information for her just showed Chibnall is more than happy to bin Doctor Who lore when it allows him to have a three-minute comedy skit that only fell flat for me as a viewer and fan. Then you have the DALEK building itself a new combat shell in the barn of a farm, now it having the look of being built using cast iron actually gave it a great look but there is no way the weapon systems including flight, laser and rockets (yes it even had rockets) could have been built in that farm in the short time. Now complaining about that in a show about an 2000 year old alien who travels in time and space does sound silly but Chibnall relies on the audience ignoring what they see in front of them too much in his writing for Doctor Who.
I did enjoy this episode but it does showcase more of why this series has been so hit and miss with fans and though it was enjoyable it was not amazing. Team TARDIS is still too big with Yas having yet again so little to do as Graham and Ryan took front and centre for the team in terms of story. Jodie is still an amazing Doctor and I do wish the number of people she travelled with is reduced going forward into the next series, a series we now have to wait over a year to see. This did little more than tie off the whole Ryan and his father story arc and drop some classic Doctor Who in the form of this one-off DALEK encounter, which the special Making Of vidoc on the Doctor Who YouTube channel explains “does not mean the DALEKs are returning, it is just a one off” just to remind us of Chibnall’s need to not revisit old Who for his time.
For me there is just something not clicking with this new Doctor Who structure with Jodie being the only constant brilliant thing about the show at the moment. I do feel as though in this next year, a lot of rethinking has to be done about the stories being told and how they are told each episode. A lot can happen in a year, and with the reports of both Jodie and Chris moving on after the next series still rumbling about but having more substance knowing the show is not returning until very early 2020, right now I am very concerned about Doctor Who.
This New Year’s special was average at best for me and not helped by the massive wait for the next series or Chris Chibnall’s writing still being rather lack lustre for me. But that is it now, the first series of the new Doctor is now completed and I can honestly say, if it was only Jodie and the TARDIS that returned in 2020 I would not be upset about it!