Happy New Year, indeed! After sort of biffing it with the Flux finale, writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall kicks off 2022 with one of the best episodes of his era to date. It’s a distinction I’ve given to a few other hours before, including, most recently, the Weeping Angels installment of Flux. But “Eve Of The Daleks” almost plays like a best-of tribute to the highlights of the Chibnall era. It combines the quirky weirdness of “It Takes You Away” with the emotionally fueled pyrotechnics of “Resolution” and the sort of fantastic guest casting that elevated “Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror” and “Fugitive Of The Judoon.” Watching a stellar episode of Chibnall Who can be as frustrating as it is exhilarating because it makes you wonder why the show can’t just be this good all the time. But in the optimistic spirit of the New Year, let’s celebrate the present rather than dwelling on the past.
A big part of the reason “Eve Of The Daleks” works so well is because it starts with a great, simple premise. Time loops have long been fodder for some really fun sci-fi television (I’m looking at you Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Cause And Effect”). And while “Eve Of The Daleks” doesn’t reach the heights of “Heaven Sent” (what could?) it’s still a masterful use of the form. One of the first things this episode does right is to let its characters in on the time loop as quickly as possible, so we don’t have any of that annoying “waiting for our heroes to figure out stuff we already know” period. And the other thing it does right is to mix up each loop, not just with how its characters act within them but also with a ticking time clock that sees the loop get shorter by one minute each time it resets.
I’m sure there are no shortage of nits to pick with the time loop’s internal logic, which does seem to bend to whatever the episode needs it to in the moment. But where “Eve Of The Daleks” elevates itself above much of Chibnall’s previous output is the way it prioritizes character over exposition. Instead of getting bogged down in lengthy technobabble monologues that only ever serve to make plot holes seem more prominent, “Eve Of The Daleks” breezes past the time loop details in a way that makes it easier for the audience to breeze past them too. The point here isn’t to hash out every how and why, it’s to use the episode’s self-contained setting to force its characters to do some serious self-reflecting.
“Eve Of The Daleks” smartly realizes that a time loop provides a perfect metaphor for people who feel stuck in their lives—whether they’re bogged down by a job they hate, like storage facility owner Sarah (Aisling Bea). Or weighed down by an unrequited crush they’re too afraid to act on, like her sole customer Nick (Adjani Salmon). And while this episode likely still would’ve been a success if it had relied on its two incredibly charming guest performers to carry all the emotional weight, Chibnall elevates the hour by bringing the Doctor and Yaz into the fold too.
The Doctor is stuck in a loop of denial about the pain of the past and the consequences of her actions. Yaz, meanwhile, is finally explicitly revealed to be stuck in her own unrequited love story too—one she’s only just coming to realize herself. Like many a Doctor/companion pairing before them, Yaz and the Doctor are caught in that nebulous space of deeply felt but unacknowledged emotions. And that’s been coloring their actions for longer than either of them have been willing to admit.
It’s wonderful to see Doctor Who present a same-sex Doctor/companion romance as casually as it has with male Doctors and female companions in the past. Indeed, everything that unfolds in “Eve Of The Daleks” feels incredibly true to who the show’s characters are, which is a basic tenet of storytelling that Chibnall has really struggled with in the past. Thanks to the four years Dan and Yaz spent traveling the 1900s together in “Survivors Of The Flux,” he knows her as well as any two companions ever have (Dan is really more of Yaz’s companion than the Doctor’s). And coupled with his own experience being stuck in unrequited love with Diane, he becomes a much needed outside influence for forcing his two traveling partners to take stock of how they actually feel.
It’s great, great stuff, elevated not just by the propulsive thrill ride of the episode’s timey-wimey plot, but also by how genuinely funny “Eve Of The Daleks” is too. A big part of the humor comes from the genius of casting Aisling Bea, an Irish comedian who could wring a laugh out of reading the phone book. But Chibnall also writes solid jokes here too, from the way layabout employee Jeff is deployed as an unseen influence over the entire episode to funny lines like Nick’s uncertainty about whether a killer robot time loop is more unbelievable than three people from the council working on New Year’s Eve. (Equally great is the bit where Yaz, Dan, and Sarah all silently try to work out whether Nick is a serial killer who keeps trophies of his victims.)
Also intriguing are the thematic threads this episode sets up for the final two specials of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor. The fact that the Daleks arrive to hold the Doctor accountable for sacrificing millions of their kind to the Flux at least implies that Chibnall knows what the Doctor did was wrong, even if the Doctor herself still seems weirdly chill about doing a triple genocide. On the other end of the spectrum, the Doctor’s big monologue about humanity’s power to learn, improve, and come together after failing is perhaps her most inspiring moment to date; a guiding philosophy that feels distinct to this iteration of the Doctor.
More than anything “Eve Of The Daleks” winds up being a tribute to “good-hearted weirdos”—a sentiment that allows the episode to be sweet without falling into full-on treacle. Sarah and Nick’s love story is all the better for how quirky and specific it is, just as the time loop structure is all the better for how many unexpected detours it takes. (I especially like the “decoy loop” the TARDIS team deploy as their second-to-last go.) If Chibnall can keep up this energy for his final two specials, 2022 could turn out to be a really great year for Doctor Who, indeed.
- This is a fantastic episode for Dan. I love how long he was able to stay alive against a Dalek just by getting close enough to spin ahead of its gunstick. And John Bishop is really great in all his more serious, dramatic scenes with Whittaker and Mandip Gill.
- It’s a great little detail that Sarah can’t put her phone on silent, but I was expecting it to come back somehow—like as a way for her the team to find her or something.
- At one point Dan says that the Doctor “saved the entire universe last week,” so maybe we’re supposed to think she undid the catastrophic initial Flux wave somehow?
- The guy who enjoys the private fireworks show is Karl the crane operator from “The Woman Who Fell To Earth.”
- Doctor Who will return in the spring with Whittaker and Chibnall’s penultimate episode, “Legend Of The Sea Devils.”