Warning: Spoilers for Doctor Who: Revolution Of The Dalek in our review!
From 2005 to 2017, the Doctor Who Christmas specials were tipsy indulgences, often overblown but fully flavoured. Under current showrunner Chris Chibnall’s watch, the special lands on New Year’s Day, where it docks in 2021 as a more temperate proposal: the meat ‘n’ veg version of Who to the feasts of Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies, solid yet a little stodgy.
Starting where 2019’s ‘Resolution’ left off, ‘Revolution’ chugs into gear slowly. Despite the hooks of new Daleks, companion departures and returning pals, it opens on Chris Noth’s Trump-ish hotelier Jack Robertson, first seen in 2018’s ‘Arachnids In The UK’ and here found spying business opportunities in the Dalek casing left over from ‘Resolution’. The display of his Dalek ‘defence drones’ adds a playful touch, but Chibnall overestimates Robertson’s appeal. He’s a useful plot device, not rocket fuel to launch a special with.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s stay in space prison from S12 continues, dampening Jodie Whittaker’s natural energies between a few gags involving her fellow prisoners. Missing her Doc on Earth, Mandip Gill’s Yaz is using a spare TARDIS as a base for ‘operation: where’s the Doctor?’
Tellingly, fellow ‘fam’ members Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) are finding life on earth more agreeable. Just as Yaz uses Post-it notes to locate the Doctor, so Post-it-note plotting and characterisation tend to dominate. The challenge of facing the Daleks without the Doc is under-developed, as are the reasons for the departures of Cole/Walsh. Harriet Walter’s PM and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s scientist are also broadly sketched, albeit well used to tease in a few political gags.
Not that there’s nothing to enjoy here. After a prison escape that puts a new spin on ‘bubbling’ and some sparky banter with the Doc, John Barrowman’s returning space rogue Jack Harkness is well used to support Yaz and nuke some Daleks. The Skaro screamers add tension in the Alien-at-teatime factory scenes, echoing 1966 classic ‘The Power Of The Daleks’ via 2010’s ‘Victory Of…’ But the inevitable Dalek invasion and intra-Dalek squabbling seem oddly perfunctory, beyond the pleasures of a dazzling disco-Dalek design makeover and a nicely blended-in Bristol Suspension Bridge takeover.
Whittaker enlivens Chibnall’s dialogue elsewhere, while the TARDIS with the working chameleon circuit banks some nifty money shots for the climax. And after too much draggy sulking from Ryan, the parting scenes are sweetly touching, with the caveat that we never got to know him or Graham like we did other TARDIS travellers. Does the finale’s reference to Gwen Cooper suggest a Torchwood reboot might be incoming? Maybe, but Doctor Who could use some re-energising, too.