“Come on then, you lot. Places to go!”
When the higher-ups decided to scrap this year’s Christmas episode, there were unsurprisingly a lot of angry Whovians. Despite being generally complete pants, the Christmas special is a Who yearly event. But there was a silver lining, a New Year’s Day special. Don’t let the hokey title fool you, this was head and shoulders above the usual Christmas episodes and was a damn fine (and true) ending to the season.
So we start off with something a little different. In the aftermath of a great battle, the three remaining warriors from three different nations of the world chop the mysterious enemy into three parts and bury the pieces at different ends of the globe. Hundreds of years later, two archaeologists (brimming with more sexual tension than is normal for archaeologists, I presume) dig up a piece. What exotic corner of the globe did this piece of the deadly warrior end up? In the sewerss under the town hall in Sheffield. That’s where Team TARDIS come in (now with added fatherly issues).
The gang have been travelling around looking at different New Year’s Days from throughout history – a neat idea. But they’re interrupted by an alarm, in Sheffield no less. Now I’m getting a little sick of all the problems happening in Sheffield. Tim Shaw, Spiders, and now this. What are the chances that The Doctor could meet all these people and then all this stuff starts happening in their home town? And, often, directly involving their immediate family. I’ve been to Sheffield, it’s lovely, it’s like Manchester’s less smelly brother. But the coincidences are getting a bit much, even for this show. But I suppose anywhere is better than dreaded Cardiff, week in and week out.
The creature itself is utterly terrifying, in my opinion. Yes it is technically a Dalek, but in it’s squid form it resembled something out of Annihilation. When our unlucky archeologist stumbled upon it climbing up the wall I honestly felt sick. And yeah, once it latches onto her and starts controlling her like some creepy hentai ventriloquist it does get silly. But I’ve always thought good science fiction can be a little silly, especially when it’s this slick and well made. The later showdown with the military does stretch the Doctor Who FX budget but for the most part it looks great, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t grinning throughout. This is the big, silly finale we needed for the season.
So overall, I’d say this episode was successful in making the Daleks scary again. They’ve become a bit ridiculous recently, with redesigns and complicated stories that take away from what make them so terrifying. By having the gang go against one lone Dalek, it works so much better. It reminds me a lot of the Eccleston-era episode ‘Dalek’.
Elsewhere we have something altogether more terrifying than a Dalek; domestic drama. Yep, Ryan’s dad is back and he’s picked a hell of a time for it. His return gives us some truly excellent scenes with Bradley Walsh’s Graham, reminding us that if there were a few more Graham’s about the world would be a better place. More surprising is the phonomenal scene with Ryan and his dad. I’ve found Tosin Cole to be hit or miss but his performance here is outstanding, so much so that it feels like a different show. And sure, this drama might not be too entertaining for kids but it’s well-earned and effective.
Despite being great as a whole, there are a few glaring weak bits. Firstly, the token gay character. I love that LGBTQ characters are becoming more commonplace, but to introduce a throwaway gay character and then just kill him off ten seconds later feels more insulting than anything. It was the same in ‘Arachnids in the UK’, an LGBT character whose only purpose was to die. It’s an old trope, and Chibnall obviously has his heart in the right place, but he needs to try a bit harder.
Another weak scene is when the Dalek has turned off the country’s WiFi and 4G. There’s a reasonably funny line (“What, on New Year’s Day? When everything’s shut and everyone’s hung over” “What a monster.”) but then it transitions into possibly the worst scene I’ve seen on the show in a long time – certainly this season. When a family realises that the WiFi and phone signal is gone, one distraught son asks “What do we do now?” To which the mother replies, “I suppose we’ll have to have…a conversation.” Cue disgusted look from kids. Do you get it?! Because kids these days are always on their phones and tablets! But what Chibnall sees as comedy gold comes across as the sort of cringy old person observational comedy I’d expect to see on a teenager’s birthday card. It was like we’d fallen into the New Year’s special of Mrs Brown’s Boys, it felt out of place and too obvious. The first joke was decent, just end it there next time Chibs.
But despite that sickening scene, the episode still managed to be better than the vast majority of Christmas episodes. Unlike those, the entire plot doesn’t revolve around (and hinge upon) the holiday. And there’s not a town called Christmas, or an evil Christmas tree, or even villianous Santas anywhere to be seen. It’s a solid episode with some real scenes of emotion, a great villian, and some silly science fiction thrown in. More like this next season, please. If it ever arrives…
Reviewed by Jack