Review: Doctor Who New Year’s Day Special – “Eve of the Daleks”

Before you read on, there are spoilers ahead for this week’s review of Doctor Who. As a new year begins, the BBC dishes out the annual, feature-length episode of Doctor Who for 2022. “Eve of the Daleks” serves as Jodie Whittaker’s third to last episode as the Thirteenth Doctor, and to all intents and purposes, packs the blandest and uninspiring plots ever seen. The Daleks are out of revenge against the Doctor for her role in the destruction of their fleets due to the Flux, despite it actually being the Sontarans during the Flux finale, “The Vanquishers”. 

The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan are subsequently trapped in a time loop (courtesy of the TARDIS rebooting itself to look all funky and brand new) within the dullest of locations, a storage facility called Elf Storage (the S fell off according to the wonderful Aisling Bea, but more on her later). This is the first of three special episodes to wrap up Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as Doctor Who’s first female Time Lord, and frankly, it’s felt like, for a large part of the one hour, an absolute waste of potential.

From its low production values, a weak plot involving the tiresome Daleks (third New Year’s Day special in a row) and a familiar romantic subplot to tide us over during the slower intervals, there’s only one subplot worth discussing, which we’ll move onto shortly). In the interest of fairness, there’ll be some discussion on the episode as a whole, from its good stuff to the bad. Let’s begin with Aisling Bea.

The Daleks - "Eve of the Daleks" Review.
The Daleks – “Eve of the Daleks” Review. (Pic: BBC).

The Irish comedian, best known for her work on Living With Yourself and This Way Up, is truly the standout star in this episode. Her personality can be frantic and abrupt, but warm, honest, and affectionate in equal measure, supported by natural comic undertones. Bea plays Sarah, a young woman who runs, a storage facility with only one customer, Nick (Adjani Salmon). He’s loveably weird and dippy and ultimately becomes the perfect match for Sarah, despite Sarah’s initial reservations that are a bit weird.

Truth be told, he actually is. He dedicates a storage unit to the belongings of his ex-girlfriends, and by the size of the unit and vast amount of belongings he keeps, he’s had a surprising few. They find themselves nine minutes from midnight on New Year’s Eve, with nothing much going for them. Nick’s holding back his true feelings, while Sarah is pestered by her mother’s video calls and frustrated by a no-show from Jeff, a rogue employee at the facility. Soon enough, a single Executioner Dalek arrives and exterminates them, leaving them stranded inside the time loop, generated from the TARDIS, and with no way out.

The Doctor, Yaz, and Dan band together with Sarah and Nick and discover that the time loop is shortening each time it restarts, right after they are all killed by the Executioner Dalek. This adds an interesting dimension to an otherwise weak premise. To add to their problems, the Daleks have devised a sneaky way to infiltrate the storage facility and get around the time loop conundrum. Soon enough, we’ve got three Daleks rolling loose in the facility, and it’s still an absolute bore. The Daleks do exactly what you expect of them. Nicholas Briggs, the fantastic voice actor responsible for the Skaro pepper pots is marvellous as usual. He can be ominous in one moment, and full of humour in the next.

Sarah - "Eve of the Daleks" Review.
Sarah – “Eve of the Daleks” Review. (Pic: BBC).

There’s a particular quote that Daleks do not store stuff, that tickles the ribs. Sadly, the Daleks suffer the most during this episode. Other than a rotating exterminator ray, there’s nothing remotely interesting to mention about them. So moving on. While the Daleks successfully anticipate our heroes in every move they make during every cycle of the time loop, the Doctor, Dan, Yaz, Nick, and Sarah alter their behaviour to convince the Daleks of their movements for the next cycle.

In the final loop, with one minute remaining before midnight, the group succeed in luring the Daleks to the facility’s basement. There, the Daleks discover a cache of explosive materials belonging to another employee, including fireworks, (how fitting for New Year). The Daleks shoot and ignite the materials, killing them, leaving Nick and Sarah to stare dreamily at each other, while the Doctor glances at Yaz, and appears to contemplate a personal predicament of her own.

This then brings us onto the final major discussion point from “Eve of the Daleks”. Last year, Yaz (Mandip Gill) alluded to having romantic feelings for an unknown person, and in the time that passed, the storyline simply faded away. It makes it all the more surprising to discover that Yaz has in fact had feelings for the Doctor and to add another dimension to the plot, there’s even a chance that Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor might reciprocate the feelings for her companion.

Yaz - "Eve of the Daleks" Review.
Yaz – “Eve of the Daleks” Review. (Pic: BBC).

It’s the last thing I’d anticipated from this episode, but that’s not a bad thing at all. While the companion being in love with the Doctor trope has been explored time and time again, a same-sex relationship between the Doctor and companion breaks new ground. 

“Eve of the Daleks”, on the basis of its plot, is about as plain and interesting as the setting for this New Year episode. On the basis of how said plot develops, it’s as repetitive as the TARDIS time loop. As for the villains, the Daleks need a break. They are predictable and severely overused after making two appearances previously, both at the New Year. Nick and Sarah’s will they/won’t they romance subplot was filler to bridge the intervals between moments of action, but under the surface, it felt human, honest, and funny. 

I can say the same and so much more for comedian Aisling Bea. Her cranky and heartfelt performance was a marvel to watch and made a long, far from the thrilling hour of television feel so much more worthwhile. Her remark about speaking to her insurance providers with regards to destroying her workplace to defeat the Daleks was gold, and the Doctor’s follow-up that the insurance wouldn’t cover an act of Dalek is priceless.

The Doctor - "Eve of the Daleks" Review.
The Doctor – “Eve of the Daleks” Review. (Pic: BBC).

Adjani Salmon’s oddball personality matches Bea’s own and their chemistry blossoms on screen. However, it’s Yaz’s revelation of having romantic feelings for the Doctor that’ll undoubtedly be the one thing every Who fan will be talking about for some time to come. What did you think of Doctor Who? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below! 

Matt Bailey

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