Reviewed by Tim Robins
The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?
Three cheers for Chris Chibnall and Co. for bringing Doctor Who back in spectacular fashion for New Year’s day in Revolution of the Daleks, a sequel of sorts to 2018’s Resolution… And a wonderful companion to The Daleks, the recently-released remastered collection of “The Daleks” strip from TV Century 21, published by Panini, which proved such a success it went almost immediately to reprint.
Revolution of the Daleks was science fiction 101. As author Brian Aldiss has suggested, SF may be defined as “Hubris clobbered by Nemesis”. Typically, a creation turns on its creator, a trope established at the dawn of the science fiction genre in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dalek stories have their own take on this trope, starting with Patrick Troughton’s opening story, The Power of the Daleks, in which a power grabbing colonist thought that the Daleks would help him cement power as governor of a colony – only to find the creatures have plans of their own.
The New Year’s special also used another trope that sets one group of Daleks against another. The first story to do this was The Evil of the Daleks, and warring Dalek factions can also be found in stories such as Revelation of the Daleks and Remembrance of the Daleks. The New Year special sees the Doctor realise only an army of Daleks can defeat another army of Daleks, a solution that is as appealing for The Doctor as asking the Time Lords for help was in The War Games.
Revolution of the Daleks also drew on some of the continuity established by showrunner Chris Chibnall. This included the involvement of crass capitalist and Donald Trump analogue Jack (Chris Noth) Robertson, last seen in Arachnids in the UK. Noth was better served here. His character teams up with an ambitious politician, played by Harriet Walter, who becomes Prime Minister during the course of the story on a platform of greater security for the British people. Robinson sells the UK government newly created Dalek machines (built using 3D printers ) to act as a national security force.
Unfortunately, an over enthusiastic member of staff, Leo, (played by Nathan Stewart Jarrett of Misfits fame) has also cloned an actual Dalek creature. This, in turn, has been cloning more of its kind behind, or actually on, the scientist’s back. Chibnall loves his out-of-the shell Dalek creature scenes and in this story has them scuttling about gantries, Aliens style, and plopping from above at inconvenient moments.
The new Dalek casing designs, black with neon framed panels, were top notch; far better than the ghastly hunchbacked, lollipop coloured Moffat versions. I have no doubt that, if Doctor Who were the phenomena it was during Eccleston and Tennant’s time as the Doctor, newly-designed Dalek toys would be flying off the shelves. However given the rate of release of figures from Character Options, that shouldn’t be too long in coming – after all, the Reconnaissance Dalek from Resolution was released very quickly after that story’s first transmission.
(As an aside, the Chibnall Daleks were controlled remotely on set, dispensing with the human operators who previously sat inside).
We meet The Doctor where last season left her, a prisoner of the Judoon. As an early publicity photograph showed, The Doctor has been using chalk marks on her cell wall to tally the days of her imprisonment. When a publicity photo was released, some fans thought The Doctor was tallying her sightings of The Silence, an alien race that can only be perceived when looking directly at them and who are instantly forgotten when out of sight. Although some fans dismissed this interpretation, in a sly gag, it turns out a member of The Silence had been imprisoned in a cage near to The Doctor to which she quipped that she had forgotten he was there. Well, I chuckled.
Revolution of the Daleks had been completed before the first Coronavirus lockdown and the passage of time has given some scenes an entirely unintended meaning. Notably, Captain Jack (John Barrowman, back from a cameo last season) forming a “bubble” with The Doctor to escape confinement.
That said, the real world events of 2020 made some of the story look rather tame. We saw the Daleks being beta tested on role playing rioters, but I wasn’t clear about the exact origin of Britain’s security fears. The Prime Minister in Revolution talked about increasing Britons’ safety and security, but this was vaguely linked to the Tories’ Brexit agenda.
Racism proved the anxiety that could not speak its name. 2020 showed people risking their lives to protest against racism and Chibnall has touched on this issue before, in Rosa and Demons of the Punjab, but skirting around it in a story pitting “pure” Daleks against a new hybrid rather undermined the departure of Ryan, who says that he has now realised what he wants to be and do in life.
(This turns out to be fighting trolls and gravel creatures around the globe. Oh. Okay).
Watching the Kingsman movies over the holidays helped me grasp the kind of tone Chibnall has aimed for – action adventure with gallows humour. In 1963, The Daleks also helped move Doctor Who away from its more domestic locale by introducing the scale of a space opera. And Chibnall has now introduced a cinematic aspect to the BBC’s longest-running drama.
Sadly, a report in The Mirror cast shade over my enthusiasm with rumours that Jodie Whitaker is leaving the show after this coming season. With nearly five million viewers (second only to Coronation Street), Revolution of the Daleks was the BBC’s most viewed New Year’s Day programme, at a time when the BBC is facing a lot of challenges – not least retaining a young audience.
For those who hung around after the end credits, a specially filmed scene introduced a new companion to replace Ryan and Graham – Dan (the van?) played by popular stand-up comedian John Bishop. (The teaser was only on transmission, it’s not on iPlayer. You will find it on YouTube and the official doctorwho.tv site). I’m certainly not going to hold my breath until October. But Revolution of the Daleks proved there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful about Doctor Who‘s future.
Remember readers, a review is an opinion. Other opinions are available
REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS: PRODUCTION CREDITS
The Doctor: Jodie Whittaker
Graham O’Brien: Bradley Walsh
Yasmin Khan: Mandip Gill
Ryan Sinclair: Tosin Cole
Captain Jack Harkness: John Barrowman
Robertson: Chris Noth
Jo Patterson: Harriet Walter
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Lee Haven Jones
Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall
The ultimate collectors’ edition of the classic 1960s strip. First published in TV Century 21 from 1965 to 1967, “The Daleks” strip was devised by Terry Nation and largely written by Doctor Who’s first story editor, David Whitaker.
For this collectors’ edition, all 104 instalments have been digitally restored – the vast majority from the original artwork.
The bookazine also includes new features about the writers, illustrators and publishers who created “The Daleks”, including a detailed interview with artist Ron Turner.
• Can’t wait for Character Options to release a “Revolution” Dalek? Why not scratch build one…