Yaz makes a tearful revelation and Dan steps up to take on the Daleks in Doctor Who’s latest New Years’ special: Eve of the Daleks.
After two full series and a six-part Flux special event, Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the thirteenth doctor is nearing its end, with just three specials left to go before her inevitable regeneration. The first of the trio is, of course, the Holiday/New Year’s Special – a time-honored Who tradition reimagined for New Year’s Day by current showrunner Chris Chibnall. This year’s New Year’s special, Eve of the Daleks, sees the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop as they try to escape the clutches of the Daleks – and though the special continues Chibnall’s frustrating tendency to place story over character, standout performances from Mandip Gill and John Bishop, as well as a major revelation for Yaz’s journey, make Eve of the Daleks an appropriately festive and memorable outing.
Fresh of the universe-destroying events of Doctor Who: Flux, Eve of the Daleks follows the intrepid TARDIS team as they accidentally find themselves stuck in a time-loop at ELF Storage on New Year’s Eve – trapped with storage facility owner Sarah (Aisling Bea) and her sole customer Nick (Adjani Salmon). With nine minutes until midnight, the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan relive the same scenario over and over – being killed by Daleks in their attempts to escape and save Sarah and Nick in the process. As time slowly but surely ticks away and their window of escape closes, the group must race to stop the Daleks and find a way out of the time loop – all while Sarah and Nick work through a blossoming romance, and Yaz and the Doctor struggle with emotional revelations of their own.
Eve of the Daleks marks the third Chibnall-led New Year’s special to feature the iconic Who creatures – rounding out the Dalek New Year’s trilogy alongside Resolution and last year’s Revolution of the Daleks. Refreshingly, though, where previous special took the Doctor and her companions across the globe and on adventures of epic proportions, Eve of the Daleks’ Groundhog Day-style time loop traps the characters in a single location by necessity – allowing for a smaller-scale adventure that would (ideally) abandon spectacle in favor of a more grounded, character-driven adventure.
To some extent, this attitude is successful – as opposed to massive swarms of Daleks, the Doctor and her companions only face off against two of the bin-shaped aliens. But the episode remains frustratingly heavy on the overcomplicated narrative, seemingly uninterested in exploring the characters who will be departing in just three short episodes. The narrative twists and turns come mostly by way of Chibnall’s new addition to the typical time loop trope: in this scenario, it’s not just a time loop but a loop that’s shortened by a minute every time the characters die – meaning that our heroes have (at max) nine chances to get it right before they’re exterminated for good.
It’s a clever, appropriately sci-fi twist on a genre staple, and it makes for higher stakes, but we’re not exactly sure if the stakes need to be any higher – stuck in a time loop with a pair of Daleks is enough peril as is, without throwing a new element into the mix. Regardless, the time constraint twist means that the Doctor spends the majority of the episode sprinting around the storage complex spouting technical jargon as she races to find a solution and her companions struggle to keep pace – which (though par for the course for the rest of Chibnall’s writing style) remains frustrating for how little it gives Jodie Whittaker to work with.
With three hours left in her tenure, we were hoping that Eve of the Daleks would give the Thirteenth Doctor the chance to finally decompress from the earth-shattering revelations in series 12 and Doctor Who: Flux, which revealed that she had countless previous lives erased from her memory. The Doctor is grappling with that revelation when we pick up in Eve, but instead of letting her talk through those feelings or even have time to ruminate with them, a vast majority of her dialogue is technobabble and expositional jargon – an especially frustrating decision considering just how capable of an actress Whittaker has repeatedly proven herself to be.
Ironically, of all the characters, it’s guest star Sarah and Nick who gets the most screen time and development – as they struggle to find a way out of the time loop, their tense, award relationship blossoms into romance, the two bond in the face of near-death, albeit not before the requisite bickering and a barrage of snippy-one-liners. Eve of the Daleks is without question of the funniest episodes of thirteens’ run – but with three of four companions coming from a comedy background, it should come as no surprise. Bea in particular, though, is the comedic standout – her dry humor, quick wit, and refreshing incredulity make for an entertaining contrast to the Doctor’s go-go-go attitude in this episode.
But while Bea and Salmon are certainly on the stronger end of the show’s guest stars, the real episode scene-stealers are without question Mandip Gill and John Bishop as Yaz and Dan – who has since grown incredibly close after spending three years trapped in the 1900s together during the events of Flux. The team TARDIS dynamic this series is a fascinating one – because though Yaz and the Doctor have now been traveling together for three whole series, the latest companion, Dan, is much more of a companion to Yaz than he is to the Doctor. At times it often feels as if it’s Yaz and Dan vs the Doctor: when Thirteen gets curt or snippy with Yaz, Dan (who has known Yaz for three years and has virtually just met the doctor) is quick to jump to Yaz’s aid – a new doctor/companion relationship that the series has yet to explore.
This complicated dynamic is taken even further by the long-awaited revelation that Yaz is in love with the Doctor – the biggest takeaway from the New Year’s Special. For loyal fans this reveal has been a long time coming – Yaz has spent the entirety of series 12 and 13 pining after her, but it’s still gratifying to hear the words spoken aloud – in a beautifully acted scene by Mandip Gill, whose consistently impressive, grounded, emotional performance has always been a highlight of the Thirteenth Doctor’s run. Her tearful confession to Dan that she’s in love with the Doctor is no doubt set up for exploration in future episodes – though, with just two specials left before regeneration, there’s no time for Yaz and the Doctor to dawdle about their feelings.
Thankfully, Dan seems to understand this as well – because he not only jumps to Yaz’s defense when the Doctor is short with Yaz, but he also directly calls the Doctor out when she pretends not to know about Yaz’s feelings – a refreshing change of pace after two straight series of companions who let the Doctor get away with skirting around her emotions and changing the subject whenever she’s confronted with something she doesn’t want to talk about.
Dan is this episode’s MVP. It was gratifying to see him stand up for Yaz. He puts himself in the direct line of fire on numerous occasions so others can have more time to attempt to escape the loop. Though he’s only been around for seven episodes, Dan is quickly becoming one of this era’s strongest characters, thanks in major part to John Bishop’s effortlessly charming performance.
Though it’s frustrating that Chibnall would craft such a plot-heavy episode only to shoehorn in the major revelation about Yaz’s feelings for the Doctor, Eve of the Daleks still leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the Easter special: mainly, whether the Doctor will act on or reciprocate Yaz’s romantic feelings, now that all three members of team TARDIS know that Yaz is in love with the Doctor. While Jodie Whittaker’s immense talent still isn’t being put to proper use – a dismaying development considering just how little time in the TARDIS she has left -standout performances from Mandip Gill and John Bishop make Eve of the Daleks a gratifying special and a pulse-pounding way to start the New Year.