Doctor Who – 2022 New Year Special
“Eve of the Daleks”
Doctor Who delivers a time loop episode with a looming Dalek threat and a rapidly diminishing timeline to solve the problem.
Every science fiction show eventually goes to the time loop well. It’s a popular story choice that allows fun to be had with repeating events and builds to a natural conclusion as those stuck in the loop perfect their actions in order to beat it. This episode uses the setup well with the strong touch of losing a minute on each reset to increase the tension.
There’s no mystery associated with the loop which saves a lot of time. It is obvious that the TARDIS caused it with that being unnecessarily confirmed in dialogue later in the episode. This allows most of the running time to be devoted to the situation at hand. There are a small collection of characters, a clear objective and some emotional tension to work through; all making the ingredients of a fun romp that doesn’t shatter the canon of the universe the show inhabits but manages to be a relentlessly fun outing that justifies itself through superb execution.
Outside of the Doctor, Dan and Yaz there are two new characters in Sarah (Aisling Bea) and Nick (Adjani Salmon); two hapless bystanders caught up in events they were unprepared for. They form part of the emotional core of the episode with a fledgling romantic connection existing between them while they try to survive something they were completely unprepared for.
As characters they really pop. Sarah especially is really engaging; starting out as a flawed character who doesn’t hide her short temper and has no filter attached to what she says. This is showcased really well when she cruelly insults Nick for his unapologetic optimism attached to the reasons he stores the discarded belongings of his ex-girlfriends in case they return to ask for them back. For him it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” tactic while also not cluttering his small flat with unneeded items. Sarah considers his optimism to be strange and clearly believes he should simply throw away what was left behind as there’s no chance anyone will return to retrieve them. She is called out for being harsh in judging him so completely and by the end of the episode she begins to learn to see the value in alternative points of view. Proximity to Nick in the midst of a crisis gives her plenty of opportunity to see him in a different light and find her way to empathy. Aisling Bea portrays this wonderfully with her outwardly brazen attitude being a clear defence mechanism that begins to wear away by the end of the episode.
Nick could be read as creepy in the way he conducts himself but Adjani Salmon’s performance never crosses that line. When he admits his feelings for Sarah he comes across as sincere and his shyness around her manifests in some really creative ways. A great example is when he asks Sarah to repeat the rules of the storage facility just to get some extra time with her before he stores the latest discarded item. The episode doesn’t quite justify them apparently entering into a romantic relationship by the end but it masterfully brings them together through the shared danger with definite shared growth being achieved. Sarah learns not to be dismissive of others and Nick learns to let go of his ex-girlfriends. They are simply yet well defined steps forward that feel earned.
Mirroring this is the Doctor/Yaz relationship with Dan noticing how Yaz feels about the Doctor while being unable to articulate them. After travelling with Yaz for years, Dan notices those feelings and encourages Yaz to be open about how she feels. Mandip Gill is excellent in this scene as she finally admits to herself that the feelings exist. The dawning realisation is combined with fear, confusion and relief on her face as she starts to live her truth. She still can’t bring herself to be open with the Doctor because she feels that the Doctor is on an entirely different emotional wavelength.
Dan tries to play matchmaker in his own way by flatly telling the Doctor that Yaz has feelings for her and calls her out on only pretending to lack emotional awareness. This makes Jodie Whittaker’s often emotionally distant take on the character appear deliberate as it may be a defence mechanism to prevent her from becoming emotionally invested to the point of having feelings for a companion just as a prior incarnation did with Rose Tyler. Whether this will receive more attention and build to a resolution remains to be seen but at the very least it appears to be building to an open conversation where Yaz discusses her romantic feelings for the Doctor. This is likely what will drive them apart.
Unlike Sarah, the Doctor is shown to actively resist emotional growth. When things seem at their most desperate she talks about her decisions catching up with her and refusing to let that bring anyone else to harm before dismissing it as unimportant ramblings when things settle down and she has the opportunity to reflect. She writes it off as a mad meaningless uttering which Dan immediately identifies as false. Even if Yaz puts up with the Doctor’s emotional distance Dan isn’t someone to accept it which creates a compelling dynamic with light resentment just below the surface.
Orbiting the intimate characterisation is more general widely applicable messaging largely around how unforgiving time can be. Several comments are made about time being something that can run out. In the case of the Doctor there is a literal entity called “Time” that is coming for her but on a broader level it acts as commentary on making sure the time available to you is used effectively. In this case they have a finite number of resets to solve a very particular problem but it also acts as an allegory of life itself being something that should be lived to its fullest. Sarah is depicted as someone wasting her life being alone at New Year when everyone else is enjoying themselves around others. It’s a commentary on how Christmas/New Year is a lonely and difficult time for many without framing it as a tragedy. Sarah is someone who would rather be almost anywhere else but she is also encouraged to make the best of the hand she has been dealt. Her mother (Pauline Quirk) is the main driver of that perspective by pointing out she met Sarah’s father at work.
Another general message is about the importance of reflection and intelligence. The Daleks learn and adapt in every loop which encourages the Doctor and the others to do the same. She talks about how they have a responsibility to use what they know to make themselves better and learn from mistakes. It’s strong advice for life as well as a time loop while feeding into the personal character arcs in a profound way with Sarah embracing that advice where the Doctor doesn’t despite being the one giving it.
A lot of smart decisions are made in execution of the time loop concept. The loss of a minute on each reset is an excellent way to increase the threat level and make every second precious, the multiplying Daleks are more of a force of nature than a well defined threat in their own right. They form part of the obstacle rather than being what the episode centres on. Their ability to learn and adapt through the loops prevents the plot from becoming repetitive while forcing the characters to think on their feet without taking the resets for granted. It also leads to the excellent tactic of using one of the loops to supply false information so that the Daleks are misinformed going into the final loop. Stakes are maintained by having a defined final loop that is their last chance to solve the problem. The solution is developed naturally over the course of the episode and satisfying when delivered because it makes use of elements that come into play as the narrative develops.
One thing that stood out as being out of place is Sarah mentioning that Nick would stay dead if he is killed in a particular loop. This runs counter to the established rules of the time loop prior to that point and it is never referenced again suggesting that it was a holdover from a previous draft of the script where the loops worked differently. It was an odd inclusion designed to increase tension at a particular point that didn’t work because all it did was create confusion. Another potential issue is how much ground the characters were able to cover and how much they were able to get done in an unrealistically short amount of time. By the end of the episode they had very little time but how little time they actually had didn’t translate into what was playing out. It’s a very minor issue but becomes more noticeable in the latter part of the episode.
Ultimately this was a tightly constructed, fun New Year romp that on the surface seems disposable but contains wonderfully revealing emotional beats that feed into the ongoing relationships and set up potential end points for both Yaz and the Doctor in particular. Having this disguised in a fast paced time loop Dalek crisis only serves to highlight the importance of emotional honesty through the messaging of never knowing how much time is left. A timely message in contemporary times and fitting given that Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor is sure to end.
A strong episode that delivers excellent characterisation and a tightly constructed time loop story that neatly feeds into the ongoing character arcs. Nick and Sarah are engaging character to include in this episode with clear flaws that set up character arcs to follow. Sarah starts off as being short tempered with no filter attached to what she says. She cruelly insults Nick for his optimism. She is called out for being harsh and learns to see the value in his perspective as well as other alternative points of view. Aisling Bea portrays this wonderfully with her brazen attitude acting as a defence mechanism that begins to wear away by the end of the episode. Nick could be read as creepy in the way he conducts himself but Adjani Salmon’s performance never crosses that line. Him confessing his feelings for Sarah comes across as sincere and his shyness manifests in creative ways. His arc involves learning to let go of his ex-girlfriends and be open with his feelings. Mirroring this is the Doctor/Yaz relationship with Dan helping Yaz confess her feelings for the Doctor to herself and starting to explore the implications of that. Dan plays matchmaker in his own way and calls the Doctor out on only pretending to lack emotional awareness starting the journey towards an open emotionally driven conversation that will likely end their relationship. Orbiting the intimate emotional storytelling is larger messaging around making good use of the time available and appreciating it. Intelligence and growth is also fed into this through the characters having to adapt to the Daleks learning in each reset. This advice is taken to heart by Sarah and not by the Doctor which is interesting considering she gave it.
Lots of smart decisions are made in the time loop plot. The finite number of resets and shortening time frame build tension expertly and the Daleks constantly learning prevents the episode from being repetitive. There is a point of confusion when Sarah expresses concern about a rule that the episode isn’t playing by and what little time the characters have doesn’t always translate into what is actively playing out. It’s a minor yet noticeable issue. Ultimately this is a tightly constructed and fun New Year romp that has emotional depth bubbling just beneath the surface along with strong messaging about the uncertainty of time. A timely message in contemporary times and fitting given that Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor is sure to end.
- a tightly constructed time loop plot
- using the Daleks as obstacles and keep the action fresh
- Sarah and Nick as strong presences
- clear flaws to the characters and arcs for them to follow
- Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon’s performance
- Mandip Gill’s excellent facial performance in Yaz’ moment of realisation
- Dan encouraging emotional honesty
- the wider messaging about the importance of using time effectively and the need for growth
- Sarah taking that advice when the Doctor doesn’t
- lots of good decisions made in constructing the time loop plot
- the odd concern from Sarah that is inconsistent with the established rules
- the little time the characters have not always translating into what is actively playing out
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