I was recently listening to a podcast and the host explained the holiday “Doctor Who” specials are meant for a more general audience than the regular series. I believe he said something British-y like, “It’s when everyone’s watching BBC all day on the telly.” And it stuck with me for Eve of the Daleks and not just for when Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker has a particularly terrible “Doctor Who inspires the humans” monologue. The terrible isn’t as much Whittaker’s fault as writer Chris Chibnall’s. It’s like an elevator pitch for a show no one would ever think they’d watch.
The Eve is New Year’s Eve. 2021’s New Year’s Eve in Manchester, to be exact. It’s Manchester so still new companion John Bishop—he’s in his fourth year as companion, story-wise, but only seventh episode—can talk some crap about Manchester. For BBC New Year’s bingers, I guess. It’s also more appropriate a story for Groundhog Day, as it’s about our heroes repeating the same few minutes over and over again. The Daleks are gunning for Whittaker and they’ve tracked her to a self-storage warehouse. But every time they kill the humans—there are five total, Whittaker, her two companions, and then two likable guest stars—time resets and the humans try to survive.
Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon are the guest stars. She’s the irate, disgruntled self storage warehouse owner (she doesn’t like working New Year’s Eve) and Salmon’s a customer. And he’s got a crush on her but she’s too busy being snarky to notice. Salmon and Bea will have their lethal romantic comedy arc through the special and it’s moderately successful. It can get away with going through intense experiences together to bandaid some of the problems. But mostly once Bea finds out about the crush, Salmon stops being a character. Even if he turns out to be a thin one.
It happens towards the end so it’s not a problem for long. The time loops where the humans try to survive get shorter throughout (countdown to midnight, natch), so there’s a nice rising tension. Chibnall and director Annetta Laufer do a fine job with the procedural, problem-solving aspect of Eve. Though it very much does not stand up to the rest of, well, time. When there’s real-time action, the characters eventually are just taking up lots more than the story pretends they are so as to keep the counting down to midnight gimmick.
Where the special simultaneously stalls out and goes into the ditch is with a big reveal involving Mandip Gill. Bishop’s other point in the episode is to force conversations with his costars to gin up character development. It’ll be Gill’s first character development in ages. But it’s also going to involve Whittaker, who’s gotten no character development her whole time as Doctor (backstory reveals don’t count).
Except it’s Whittaker’s second-to-second-last appearance as the Doctor. Even if they take the time to do the arc, it’s going to be rushed. And, ultimately, pointless, which seems likely to be the epitaph on Whittaker’s tenure.
Sure, she’s the first female Doctor, but she exists in the BBC’s reality where Rona’s not just real, racism and sexism in modern day England are over too, and portraying it historically is rosy-colored as well. Toothless might be the better description.
But, you know, general disappointments aside, a fairly good holiday special.