The Doctor faces a deadly countdown to midnight in Doctor Who‘s New Year’s Day special, Eve of the Daleks
After only a few weeks away, Doctor Who has made a brief return to our screens for this year’s New Year’s Day special. Eve of the Daleks brings Chris Chibnall‘s Dalek trilogy to its conclusion, with these most notorious of the Doctor’s foes having been at the centre of each of the Thirteenth Doctor‘s festive specials.
At the same time, this episode also marks the beginning of another trilogy, as it marks the first of three specials that will air throughout 2022. These specials will close out Jodie Whittaker‘s era, culminating in her departure in late 2022, in an episode which will form part of the BBC‘s centenary celebrations.
Eve of the Daleks finds the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan in the aftermath of the events of recent six-part serial Flux, which concluded in early December. Now, they’re flung headfirst into a fresh adventure. On New Year’s Eve, Sarah (Aisling Bea) finds herself working at ELF Storage as usual, with customer Nick (Adjani Salmon) visiting his unit as he does every year. However, their countdown to midnight turns out to be the strangest and deadliest they’ve ever known. They find themselves caught in a time loop, whilst being hunted down by an executioner Dalek. Together with the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan, can they survive into the New Year?
Eve of the Daleks Provides Some Relief in the Aftermath of the Flux
In the wake of the previous series, Flux, with its expansive scope and myriad of interconnected plot threads, Eve of the Daleks provides something of a relief. Only recently, the TARDIS crew fought off a force that threatened the fabric of the very universe itself. Now, they’re tasked with saving just two humans, in one building in Manchester. Creating such a self-contained adventure, was quite possibly made necessary under the COVID restrictions of the time. Nevertheless, as with Flux, any such limitations never come as a detriment to the story.
Reducing the number of cast members, along with the scale of story’s setting and time-frame makes Eve of the Daleks far more accessible to the more casual viewer. Those who might’ve found themselves a little lost in the often complex web of threads woven throughout Flux are sure to find this episode far easier to get on board with.
Aisling Bea‘s Performance Infuses Eve of the Daleks with Festive Humour
Eve of the Daleks far more closely follows the established tradition of a Doctor Who festive special than Resolution or Revolution of the Daleks. It brings us an adventure suffused with humour, which still maintains the severity of the threat faced by the characters. Placing Aisling Bea‘s Sarah at the centre allowed each of the other cast members to bounce off her. Chibnall has admitted in an interview with the BBC that Eve of the Daleks was written with Bea in mind. Her talent as a comedian and as an actress drives much of the story. She hooks the viewer right from her very first scene, before the Doctor even appears on the screen.
She and Adjani Salmon‘s Nick made for a totally believable couple. Their chemistry was such that Nick’s rather alarming habits (such as storing his ex-girlfriends’ belongings) could just about be forgiven. Even Pauline McLynn formed a memorable part of the episode as Sarah’s mother, despite only appearing in video form.
It was a particular treat to see the regular cast allowed the chance to show off their funnier sides, not least John Bishop, as Dan distracts a Dalek, asking it where he can “store some stuff.” Even the Daleks were given plenty of comedic moments. Their dead-panning declarations that “I AM NOT NICK” and “DALEKS DO NOT STORE STUFF” perfectly illustrates their capacity to be both a brilliant source of humour and a formidable enemy.
However, this comedic undercurrent did occasionally undermine those more sincere moments. In particular, the Doctor’s rousing speech about the importance of not giving up fell rather flat. It wasn’t immediately obvious whether we were being set up for a punchline.
Eve of the Daleks‘ Lighter Moments Never Detract from the Danger
Nevertheless, on the whole, all of this levity never detracted from the true gravity of the situation. By utilising the familiar trope of the time loop, Chibnall has created an episode with arguably higher stakes than most other Doctor Who stories. Without their usual plot armour, the Doctor and her companions are forced to confront death time and time again. Additionally, reducing the time loop by one minute each time only raises those stakes, and elevates that sense of urgency.
What’s more, restricting the characters to experiencing the same few minutes in the same building on repeat infuses Eve of the Daleks with a real claustrophobia. Nick and Sarah’s initial experience of that first loop feels particularly disorientating, with its subtly lopsided and out-of-focus cinematography. A later sequence which sees them pursued through those dark corridors also highlights how terrifying the Daleks can be.
Eve of the Daleks Leaves the TARDIS Crew Some Room to Breathe
Elsewhere, amongst all its levity and its high-stakes action, Eve of the Daleks still leaves the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan a little room to breathe and reflect on the events of the previous series. One of this episode’s stand-out moments came in the form of Dan’s frank conversation with Yaz. Throughout Flux, it became increasingly clear that Yaz wishes the Doctor could be something more than a friend. Nevertheless, to have her true feelings made more or less explicit is hugely important. One only has to look at social media to see how much this scene has impacted so many fans. Many viewers can see their own experiences reflected as Yaz admits that “I’ve never told anyone. Not even myself.”
Despite their brief heart-to-heart in The Vanquishers, however, the Doctor remains reluctant to open up to Yaz. Her stubbornness is all the more frustrating given there are only two episodes left for this incarnation. There’s a worry that by the time she finally expresses her true feelings, it’ll be too little, too late.
Eve of the Daleks Gives the Thirteen Doctor a Truly Festive Special At Last
Eve of the Daleks finally gives the Thirteenth Doctor a true festive special. Chibnall strikes that balance between wit and danger, getting the pacing just right throughout. Aisling Bea‘s performance infuses the story with some much-needed light-heartedness, whilst never downplaying the severity of the situation. We’re treated to a high-stakes and thoroughly engaging adventure with compelling characters at its heart. There’s even time for the TARDIS crew to reflect on their recent adventures. All this foreshadows what might be in store for them next, as their time together draws to a close.
Doctor Who will return with Legend of the Sea Devils in Spring 2022.
Legend of the Sea Devils finds the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) in 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat – from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching (Crystal Yu) and a monstrous alien force which she unwittingly unleashes. Will the Doctor, Yaz and Dan emerge from this swashbuckling battle with the Sea Devils to save the planet?