Look, I can’t keep doing this. Let me put my heart(s) on my sleeve for a second, alright? Once upon a time (2005 to be exact), in a galaxy far, far away, I loved Doctor Who. I really, really loved it. The stories took me to both magical and terrifying places, and the Doctor and their companions were characters I aspired to be like. The friends I’ve made have become, as Thirteen would say, my fam. Doctor Who is my main fandom, my chosen family, and I ran for years, traveling all over the country to conventions, running panels, podcasting, cosplaying, writing, and laughing with friends in hotel lobbies.
No one was more excited than me when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Doctor. I fought many a fanboy on social media who couldn’t handle that his precious hero could be played by someone of the fairer sex. Steven Moffat laid the groundwork throughout his era as Doctor Who showrunner. All Chris Chibnall had to do was pick up the sonic screwdriver, and run with it.
In Season 11, he took a different approach by building a whole season without monsters—or at least ones we could see outwardly. Showing how humanity can be its own worst enemy instead of an iconic baddie like the Daleks or Cybermen was inspired (and depending on how you’re feeling amid the pandemic, spot-on as we watch people’s priorities shift to selfishness).
When Nostalgia’s Not Enough
By the time Season 12 of Doctor Who and its first “festive” special rolled around, it looked like we were back to being old hat again—we got the Daleks, then the Master, Jack Harkness, and a lone Cyberman. In “Revolution of the Daleks,” we got at least two of those again plus the Trump clone from “Arachnids in the UK”, not to mention cameos from some of the Doctor’s most iconic foes in the prison scenes.
It’s not like we haven’t seen the Doctor imprisoned before—the superior “Heaven Sent” spent a whole episode showing the Doctor in isolation and contemplating the puzzle they found themselves in as well as guilt over their lost companion, Clara Oswald.
Thirteen seems lonely—and has Harry Potter memorized to help her get to sleep at night—but then Jack shows up to the rescue. That’s all well and good, but if anyone is to spring the Doctor from jail, shouldn’t it be her own wife River Song, who spent a good portion of her life in Stormcage for killing the Doctor? (SAY HER NAME, CHIBNALL. Or actually, don’t because Big Finish has it well in hand.)
As for the so-called “Revolution of the Daleks” plotline itself, we’ve been here before in Doctor Who, sort of. Jack Robinson (aka spider guy) is trying to make Britain better again by capitalizing on using Dalek shells as anti-riot security drones. But one of the Daleks’ inner creatures has escaped and takes over a human body to genetically engineer new Daleks to be transported to the new government-approved shells and take over the world…again. Thirteen has it sussed and she calls in death squad Daleks to take out the new “unpure” Daleks and it ends up looking like a West Side Story standoff. The death squad Daleks’ ship has gotten an upgrade since we saw it last, at least. Robinson even tries the art of the deal on the Daleks and somehow ends up on top (and gets shortlisted in a knighthood).
Jack, on the other hand, is there to add depth and color to the emotions all the fam is feeling, and show those companions how risky and rewarding it can be to travel with the Doctor. We get a nod to Rose and how she’s trapped in an alternate universe and he mentions a handful of times that he’s immortal by accident. Even still, Jack feels more subdued and lost in his own nostalgia for his time with the Doctor. Although, seeing Yaz call Jack out for needing so much attention was a standout moment for her (after being seriously underused in the past two seasons). Yaz’s ferocious loyalty to Thirteen reminded me of one of Doctor Who’s unsung companions, Martha Jones, and the scenes featuring Jack and Yaz were a fun foil to past characters fawning over him.
Missed Opportunities and Forced Goodbyes
Overall, “Revolution of the Daleks” tries to tie together a lot of threads at once which feels more clunky than clever. And after a never-ending election season, the political subplot complete with protesters feels too on the nose but also doesn’t add anything to the overall plot. Isolation is a lost theme of this episode and we only get the barest of emotional twinges from it.
For example, the Doctor tells us that she did a lot of soul searching whilst in space jail and the opening wordless scenes feel like some of Jodie’s best work. Then you have all the members of the fam adjusting to the loss of the Doctor over the course of 10 months. Ryan has readjusted back to the slow path of regular life but still has a commitment to standing up for what’s right. Graham has also moved on to a certain degree as well.
But it’s Yaz who’s hung on, constantly looking for answers and a way back to the Doctor. Her anger also comes to the surface but is quickly dissipated as the episode unfolds and when the chips are down, she jumps at the chance to stay with the Doctor. I’d hoped she’d finally get to shine solo and give the characters more space to develop, but the BBC announced a new companion will be joining the mix shortly after “Revolution of the Daleks” aired.
Ryan decides to call it—which was fairly obvious after the long heart to heart he and the Doctor have earlier in the episode. This forces Graham’s hand because he can’t leave his grandson behind. There are long speeches for all and hugs, and I should have felt something. But I didn’t.
Ryan’s decision to leave is spiritually closest to Martha Jones, but it didn’t have the same weight. Martha left but laid her heart out so Ten could see all the pain he’d caused her by making her feel second best. Thirteen cares for her fam—probably—but Chibnall’s writing is so emotionally disconnected, the goodbyes felt both forced and hollow.
Jack tells Yaz to “enjoy the journey while you’re on it.” I don’t think my journey with Doctor Who is over, but it has shifted immensely over the past three years and it makes me long for the days where my friends and I would discuss everything from plot points to costuming choices in minute detail. “Revolution of the Daleks” didn’t do it for me, although many technical aspects (lighting and camera angles, the Dalek ship set) were very inspired.
So I’ll just say it straight out: Jodie Whittaker deserves a better showrunner, someone with a steady hand. One who can show, not tell. One who can give her character room to breathe and grow and not be bogged down by plot points or multiple companions we barely know. We’ve had two seasons worth and I’m still not exactly sure who Thirteen is, despite her best efforts and absolutely joyous nature on and off-screen. In “Let’s Kill Hitler,” the Eleventh Doctor tells River Song (then known as Melody Pond) to find the person she’ll one day become. I hope Thirteen finds herself, but until then, somewhere else my tea is getting cold. Goodbye, sweetie.