It feels like ages since a new episode of Doctor Who has aired. I know season 12 finished airing this past March, but it feels much longer than that. After a year like 2020, it feels good to have a new Doctor Who episode to look forward to. And, let’s be real, a new episode of Doctor Who is always something to be excited for, even if you’re not loving the current run. Every episode of Doctor Who is a blank slate. There is a chance for that episode to be something great or, conversely, to be less-than-stellar. And that’s the joy of the show—you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s with this mindset that I approached the 2021 New Year’s Day special, Revolution of the Daleks. I enjoyed the previous New Year’s special, Resolution, so I was pretty excited going into this. Plus, there’s the added excitement of the proper return of John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness and the drama of two companions departing by the end of the story—Bradley Walsh’s Graham and Tosin Cole’s Ryan. Revolution of the Daleks had a lot going for it, but how did it fare as a story? Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks is a rollicking adventure. Filled with action, drama, a surprising amount of introspection, and plenty of heart, it’s an excellent special that should prove plenty pleasing. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: This review features spoilers. Read at your own risk.)
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Lee Haven Jones) The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover?
Finales are hard to pull off. Especially ones that have as much ground to cover as this one did. Where we last left off, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Ethan (one of the human survivors of the CyberWar, played by Matt Carver) were standing in front of the Boundary, a mysterious gateway between worlds/galaxies guarded by Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney), face-to-face with the Master (Sacha Dhawan) who is ready to explain what terrible secret he learned about the Time Lords caused him to destroy the planet. Meanwhile, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ravio (Julie Graham), and Yedlarmi (Alex Austin) were trapped on the CyberShip with Ashad/The Lone Cyberman (Patrick O’Kane) and the rest of his Cybermen Army, headed directly toward Ko Sharmus’s planet. With that in mind, The Timeless Children had a lot to tie up: it needed to reveal the secret behind the Timeless Child; it needed to reveal what Ashad’s plan was and how he would be defeated; it needed to reveal who Brendan (Evan McCabe), the mysterious man shown throughout last week’s episode, fit into everything and how the Ruth Doctor (Jo Martin) fit in with the established history of the Doctor; and, most of all, it had to be a good episode. Did The Timeless Child succeed at all of this? Yes and no. It featured a lot of answers that opened the doors to even more mysteries. It uprooted everything we thought we knew about the show before somewhat-disappointingly reverting to the usual status quo. It’s solid, but its ideas need more exploration to really land. (Full spoilers ahead!)
Season 12, Episode 10: The Timeless Children (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
In the epic and emotional series finale, the Cybermen are on the march. As the last remaining humans are ruthlessly hunted down, Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) face a terrifying fight to survive. Civilisations fall. Others rise anew. Lies are exposed, truths are revealed, battles are fought, and for the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) — trapped and alone — nothing will ever be the same again.
It feels like we just started the season, but we’re already nearing the end. This week begins the first half of the season finale and my excitement levels are through the roof. The most interesting episodes this season have been the ones that have revolved around the multiple overarching plotlines – what is the Timeless Child?; who is the Ruth Doctor?; what does the Lone Cyberman want and how will the Doctor defeat it? Plus there’s been the promise of a glimpse of the Great Cyber War. Following any one of those threads would lead to an interesting story, but the promise of all of them? That’s something exciting. Of course, this first half was never really going to answer all of those questions, but it certainly would begin to tie together all of this season’s various strands into something exciting, right? Thankfully, this first half of the two-part finale does everything a first half should do: it sets up the stakes, deepens the mystery, and leaves us desperately wanting to see how it all is resolved. (Spoilers ahead!)
Season 12, Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
The aftermath of the Great CyberWar. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) arrives in the far future, intent on protecting the last of the human race from the deadly Cybermen. But in the face of such a relentless enemy, has she put her best friends (Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh) at risk? What terrors lie hiding in the depths of space, and what is Ko Sharmus?
Mary Shelley + The Doctor + Gothic Ghost Story = genius idea. I mean, what else could you want? It’s such a good idea that it’s genuinely surprising the show has never done something like this before. To be fair, Big Finish Productions have done some audio adventures featuring Mary Shelley teaming up with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, but never has the show itself taken us on a trip to this particular part of history. And what better night for a Doctor Who story to take place on than the night Mary Shelley purportedly came up with the idea for her classic, Frankenstein. So, this would all seem like a pretty good set up for a great episode of Doctor Who. And, to be fair, it is – but not for the reasons you’d think. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a Frankenstein of an episode – pun intended – in the best possible way. (Spoilers ahead!)
Season 12 Episode 8, The Haunting of Villa Diodati (written by Maxine Alderton, directed by Emma Sullivan)
‘Nobody mention Frankenstein. Nobody interfere. Nobody snog Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy).’ Should be easy, right?
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her gang (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill) arrive at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s (Lilli Miller) Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real, and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.
This week’s episode of Doctor Who was another one of those episodes where I had no idea what to expect before watching it. The BBC’s promotional efforts for the episode played things very close to the chest, revealing only that it would be a fairly creepy episode and the villain, Zellin (Ian Gelder), would be doing something involving dreams and nightmares. Aside from that, it was super unclear what to expect from the episode. And, frankly, I think it really worked out in this instance because Can You Hear Me? is one of those episodes that has to be seen to be truly appreciated and understood. So, did I like the episode? For sure, though I think it could have benefitted from being a two-part story. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 7: Can You Hear Me? (written by Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, directed by Emma Sullivan)
From ancient Syria to present day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends. As Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) return home to see friends and family, they find themselves haunted by very different experiences. Who is the figure calling from beyond the stars for help, and why? And what are the fearsome Chagaskas terrorising Aleppo in 1380? To find the answers, Team Tardis embark on a mission that forces them to face their darkest fears.
This episode was a weird one for me because, unlike last week’s, I had exactly no excitement for it. I knew there was no way the episode would actually be continuing any of the overarching plot threads introduced in Fugitive of the Judoon, and after an episode as explosive as that one, it was really hard to be excited for an episode that would just be bog-standard Doctor Who. Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with regular, old stand-alone episodes of the show, but after something as exciting and groundbreaking as last week’s episode, it’s difficult to really get excited for “another random adventure!”. With that said, though, Praxeus is an excellent example of how great a stand-alone episode of Doctor Who can be. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 6 – Praxeus (written by Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer who washes up on a Madagascan beach? The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) investigate.
The Judoon are an interesting species but I, personally, have never understood the love for them. They’re rarely the actual antagonist of an episode, acting merely as a force for both the Doctor and the antagonist to face off against. So, while it’s cool they’re coming back in an episode more focused on them than those they’ve most recently appeared in, I can’t say that they were the big draw for me going into this episode. In fact, perhaps the most exciting thing about this episode, going into it, was the publicity hype it got beforehand. Throughout the last week, various official social media accounts tied to the BBC and Doctor Who have been teasing something that would be more shocking than the surprise reveal of the Master in the season premiere. Now that’s an exciting thing to tease before an episode airs. But, surely, they can’t actually deliver on that kind of monumental hype, can they? Short answer: YES. (This review features spoilers for Fugitive of the Judoon.)
Season 12, Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon (written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor)
Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
I love a good celebrity historical episode of Doctor Who. There’s just something that’s inherently fun about seeing the Doctor meet some famous person from history and have an adventure with them. Some of the best celebrity historicals are when Doctor Who answers some previously-unanswered question about that historical figure’s life – in The Unicorn and the Wasp, the show posits an answer to the question of why Agatha Christie went missing for a week, only to reappear with no memory of those days. So, when it was revealed that we’d be getting an episode about Nikola Tesla – who infamously claimed to have seen UFOs at one point in his life – it seemed like the show was setting us up for a really fun romp between the Doctor and Tesla that might answer the question of what, exactly, Tesla saw – which sounds really interesting. And with a title as bonkers as Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, it seemed as though we’d be getting an episode every bit as fun as its premise would suggest. So, was the episode interesting and fun? Was it good? Answer: yes. It is an immensely fun episode. (This review contains spoilers for Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror.)
Season 12, Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror (written by Nina Metivier, directed by Nida Manzoor)
It is 1903 and on the edge of Niagara Falls, something is wrong at Nikola Tesla’s (Goran Višnjić) generator plant, where someone – or something – is sabotaging the maverick inventor’s work. Has Tesla really received a message from Mars? And where does his great rival Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) fit into these events? The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) must join forces with one of history’s greatest minds to save both him and planet Earth.
Ed Hime’s previous Doctor Who episode, It Takes You Away, was one of my favorite episodes of the previous season. I thought it had a perfect balance of character stuff and plot stuff and it was just a whole lot of fun to watch – especially with that whole bonkers idea of a sentient universe presenting itself as a talking frog. With that episode being as good as it was, I was definitely looking forward to what Hime would do in his second episode. I mean, there’s no realistic way it was gonna be quite as weird as his first, but I hoped it would be pretty fun. And, to be fair, it was very fun. Orphan 55 has a great premise, some great characters, a poignant message, and some truly scary monsters. It’s an extremely entertaining episode that’s let down a little bit by a very on the nose ending. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 3: Orphan 55 (written by Ed Hime, directed by director Lee Haven Jones)
Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) takes Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill), and Ryan (Tosin Cole) to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
I love a good two-parter, I really do. But I’ll also admit that it’s extremely hard to stick the landing on one. The best two-parters have pretty explosive (sometimes literally) cliffhangers that have to be satisfactorily dealt with before the rest of the episode can focus on actually concluding the greater story being told. This was something previous eras of Doctor Who had struggled with a bit; RTD tended to write himself into corners that required a deus ex machina solution while Moffat’s two-parters often were more spiritually connected than narratively. Both of them frequently struggled with figuring out a way to properly conclude the stories they were telling. With Spyfall being the first two-parter from the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, the hope would be that he’d find a good way to thread this needle. And, for the most part, he does a pretty good job, delivering an episode that’s most definitely a narrative continuation of the previous and providing some solid answers while setting up an intriguing throughline for the rest of the season. (This review will contain spoilers for Spyfall, Part 2. Proceed at your own risk.)
Season 12, Episode 2: Spyfall, Part 2 (written by Chris Chibnall, directed byLee Haven Jones)
In part two of this epic spy thriller, a terrifying plan to destroy humanity is about to reach fruition. Can the Doctor and her friends escape multiple traps and defeat a deadly alliance?