Show caption Will they escape the escape room? … Aisling Bea, Mandip Gill, Jodie Whittaker and John Bishop in Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks. Photograph: Sally Mais/BBC Doctor Who: episode-by-episode Doctor Who new year special recap – Eve of the Daleks Stuck in a time loop, the Daleks finally get to exterminate the Doctor – again and again! Martin Belam Sat 1 Jan 2022 20.00 GMT Share on Facebook
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Doctor Who has a history of casting comic actors against type in straight roles – think Frank Skinner, Catherine Tate, even Nicholas Parsons back in the day – but in Eve of the Daleks, you couldn’t help but feel as if guest stars Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon had been cast to play Sarah and Nick as exaggerated versions of themselves. Indeed, at times (while trying to assemble the means to escape from the junk lying around ELF storage) Bea must have felt as if she was back on Taskmaster.
Dan (John Bishop) himself described the situation as Groundhog Day. But given there was only an hour of TV for Chris Chibnall to play with, the device of having the time loop shorten each time around, and the characters having completely free rein in each loop until they died, the end result was rather more Russian Doll than Bill Murray classic.
Stalked by a Dalek in the shadows … the Doctor. Photograph: James Pardon/BBC Studios
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, in the first of the three 2022 specials that will see her bow out from the role, continued the more commanding form that we saw during the recent Flux series, fulls of plans and direction. She also had to deal with the Daleks finally learning to combat the sonic screwdriver.
As an episode it was fine enough, but it was neither the creepy, claustrophobic, being stalked by Daleks extravaganza it could have been, nor a full-on comedy. It fell unsatisfactorily somewhere in the middle, despite the immense chaotic energy Bea brought to proceedings.
Aisling Bea brought a huge amount of chaotic energy to the role of Sarah. Photograph: BBC
In the end, I suppose the message that a “good-hearted weirdo” can still get the girl at the end of a Dalek-infused romcom of death is as appropriate a start to 2022 as we are likely to get.
Sum it up in one sentence?
The Tardis team and friends face an escape room challenge to get away from Daleks who keep exterminating them in an ever-decreasing time loop.
Life on board the Tardis
Mandip Gill as Yasmin Khan, whose true feelings for the Doctor are revealed. Photograph: James Pardon/BBC
Yaz (Mandip Gill) has fallen in love with the Doctor! We haven’t just been imagining it. Whether the Doctor is going to reciprocate was left up in the air after Dan’s “My mate fancies you” act. It seems as if he has been scarred by Di’s standoffishness at the end of Flux, and doesn’t want anyone else to miss out on love.
There was also some lovely interplay between Yaz and Dan, reflecting that they spent several years stranded together in the early 20th century without the Doctor during Flux. The continuing references to rivalries between Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield might be baffling to the international audience, but when Yaz said there was to be no dissing of her mate, because that was her job, you could feel an evolved relationship.
There was some social media grumbling before the show – not the Daleks again! It is the third time Whittaker has faced them in a new year special, but then again, it is Doctor Who. It is always going to have Daleks, whose menacing sink-plunger first appeared on 21 December 1963.
Barbara, played by Jacqueline Hill, recoils from the first ever TV appearance of a Dalek. Photograph: BBC
The Daleks weren’t especially menacing here, though – certainly nothing like the creepiness we have seen in other recent new year specials – although they did get to exterminate the Doctor more times in one hour than they’ve managed in the previous 58 years.
Mysteries and questions
Doctor Who festive specials tend to either be continuity-free one-offs, or extremely continuity-heavy leading up to a regeneration. Despite Whittaker’s impending departure, Chibnall opted for the former. We only got brief mentions of the Flux being the reason the Tardis needed a reset, and the events of Flux were the motivation for the Dalek’s animosity to the Doctor this time around. The main mystery, to be honest, was what Sarah actually saw in Nick by the end.
Adjani Salmon as Nick in the room where he stashes the things his ex-girlfriends have left behind. Photograph: BBC
Deeper into the vortex
Was that the longest cold open in the show’s history? Sleep No More and The Woman Who Fell to Earth both skipped the opening credits entirely, but I made it 9min and 17 sec before Segun Akinola’s theme-tune arrangement crashed in.
It was Nancy Wilson’s 1963 recording of What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? that opened the programme – coming from the same year Doctor Who first aired.
At one point the Dalek said “I am not Nick”. It very much was. Nicholas Briggs has been providing the Dalek voices since 2005.
Doctor Who was the seventh most streamed show on iPlayer in the UK in 2021, behind Line of Duty, the Olympics, Pretty Little Liars, Euro2020, Silent Witness and Waterloo Road, which hasn’t been on since March 2015. The BBC say Doctor Who was streamed 41.8m times. That figure isn’t just for the current series – every episode since 2005 is currently available – but it does suggest the important place the BBC still sees Doctor Who having in its drama lineup.
Probably not the last we’ve seen of these deadly pepperpots. Photograph: James Pardon/BBC Studios
The Sea Devils are back! Looking hilariously true to their original 1970s appearance! We are also going to meet 19th-century Chinese pirate Ching Shih. That airs in spring, and then we will get the end of the Whittaker era in autumn. After that, judging by what he said to the Guardian last week, we’ll have a whole year to wait until Russell T Davies’s second run at the show starts in November 2023. Have a great new year, and I’ll see you here again for Legend of the Sea Devils.