It’d been exactly 10 months since we last saw Team TARDIS, in the second half of the Series 12 finale. That also happens to be the case with the Doctor being locked up in the Judoon prison (“maximum security facility”), while her Fam are safely back home on Earth. (Did Chris Chibnall deliberately slip this in, or was it just a coincidence?)
First of all… the pre-titles. Beginning with a pastiche of the iconic “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”, followed by a recap of the GCHQ incident from Resolution before directly continuing into the main episode – exactly 367 minutes later. It definitely reminded me of The Zygon Invasion, which also started by recapping The Day of the Doctor. And seeing the damaged Reconnaissance Dalek being secretly hauled away… didn’t see that coming at all. Another thing I should also point out is that they didn’t make the same mistake as Resolution, by omitting the title sequence completely. (Keeps the thrills and anticipation in place.)
Speaking of the title sequence, I felt tempted to cheer at the top of my lungs when John Barrowman’s name appeared in the credits (once again). So nostalgic like the Series 3 and 4 finales! On the other hand, I was quite impressed with the colour change to the vortex – this time making it brighter, in contrast with Series 7 Part 1 which gradually darkened by each episode.
As the days go by for the Doctor, she really does have a stressful time being imprisoned and isolated from the universe. On a more positive note, it was pleasant seeing some familiar monsters from both the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat eras: Angela the Weeping Angel; Bonnie the Ood; Clyde the Sycorax; and an unnamed Silent who the Doctor forgot about (glad they’ve brought back the same sound effect). Not to mention Tiny the Pting (from my least favourite episode of the era, thus far) as well.
But… it does get better with some heartwarming results. We finally get to see the Doctor reuniting with Captain Jack Harkness, imprisoned right next door, by paying tribute to Utopia with a familiar dialogue exchange. Last seen together in The End of Time: Part 2, I love how they escape in that breakout ball which could be perceived as a literal “support bubble” (despite the special being filmed before the pandemic). And smuggling in a vortex manipulator before teleporting out, I predicted they would escape with a familiar device – like old times. If that weren’t enough, their reappearance inside the TARDIS also warmed my heart, especially Jack claiming to have a “suite with its own cocktail lounge”. Overall, this was very close to one of my initial theories of the special, before the trailers and synopsis gave us the impression that Jack was going to accompany the Fam while the Doctor remained imprisoned until near the end. (Turns out some of us were right all along!)
Going back to the present day, I was quite pleased to see the Trump-like businessman Jack Robertson reappearing in the special, after his character arc was disappointedly left unresolved in Arachnids in the UK. (I’m calling him “Robertson” to avoid mixing him up with Captain Jack.) Despite hating the outgoing president “for decades”, he still maintains the narcissistic personality, in extorting Leo Rugazzi and Technology Secretary (later Prime Minister) Jo Patterson, to boost his ego. And the idea of turning the Daleks into Defence Drones – aka “security drones” – by using water cannons and gas to disperse rioters is subtly reflective of today’s politics when you look into what inspired Terry Nation to create these evil pepperpots.
While the Fam suspects that Robertson’s in league with the Daleks, from examining the leaked footage to confronting him in person, I just love how they get interrupted by the TARDIS materialising inside Graham’s living room. But seeing the Doctor getting shoved by Yaz was genuinely heartbreaking, especially after being separated from them for 10 months. Nevertheless, the Doctor and Jack’s horrified reaction to hearing the word “Dalek”, after more than a decade, was just what we needed; and also Jack mentioning Rose Tyler, by name, truly cheered me up. If the reunion wasn’t bittersweet enough, the conversation between the Doctor and Ryan, in the TARDIS, was a fantastic opportunity to highlight the events of the Series 12 finale and the Timeless Child arc. Same with Jack talking to Yaz in Osaka, Japan, about travelling with the Doctor, by referencing her previous male incarnations – strong in continuity, overall. And how could I forget about Jack’s sonic blaster? Such a cool weapon!
More onscreen time and action for the Daleks, in this special, is a dream come true. From Robertson’s Defence Drone 3D-printing factory to the Dalek mutant clone farm, the build-up towards the titular revolution couldn’t impress me enough; not to mention how the Defence Drones’ lighting changed from blue to red, a colour often associated with evil. Same with exterminating humans with red lasers, including the Prime Minister right outside 10 Downing Street (a slight nod to Harriet Jones); it was terrifyingly epic.
Without seeing it coming, the Doctor’s idea of summoning the Death Squad Daleks (aka SAS Daleks) was indeed daring at the last resort – to maintain the suspense. Isn’t it fantastic that they’re the bronze Daleks, which have very much been the ‘standard’ design since 2005? Paying homage to Remembrance of the Daleks, Chibnall brilliantly depicts the war between the “pure” Death Squad Daleks and the “impure” Defence Drones. Love the explosive effects and camera angles on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, while Nick Briggs nails the contrasting voices of both Dalek factions.
What can I also say about the Death Squad Daleks’ saucer interior? Definitely reminds me a lot of the ones featured in the Series 1 finale, but with narrower corridors. And the infamous ‘heartbeat’ noise in the background… a touch of nostalgia. Like earlier on, as we thought that Robertson would align himself with the Daleks, he does so by betraying the Doctor – their ultimate enemy. At the same time, however, we are treated to seeing Captain Jack with Ryan and Graham planting explosives on the saucer, only to witness the original Recon Scout (in the form of a Defence Drone) getting exterminated. I thought it was handled better than in Victory of the Daleks, where the multicoloured New Dalek Paradigm declared the bronze ones “inferior” before unnecessarily exterminating them.
The climax delivered some visually spectacular results, immediately after the saucer’s destruction. Starting with the remaining Daleks hovering around the TARDIS in the night sky, I loved how the Doctor lured them into the console room of the “spare one” before folding in on itself and heading for the Void. An excellent homage to Doomsday.
With everything back to normal, I want to say that the Newsnight segment with Emily Maitlis interviewing Robertson was priceless, especially when he hinted at running for President again; just like the fictional BBC News coverage from earlier on in the special. Certainly wouldn’t rule out another return from Robertson, but who knows? In addition, I didn’t expect Captain Jack to mention another fan favourite: Gwen Cooper. Heartwarming indeed, considering that she appeared in the Series 4 finale as well as Chibnall being showrunner on Torchwood. Now that Jack’s paying her a visit on Earth, I already have my fingers crossed for a return in Series 13 – as a guest companion.
“Two hearts. One happy, one sad.” And so it ends here… for Ryan and Graham. (I was so relieved that neither of them were killed off.) Watching the Fam saying farewell with a royal huddle truly broke my heart, but I’m glad they left the doors open for a potential return. On a more positive note, this would give Yaz more room to have her character developed further, after being overlooked during most of Series 11. Regardless of their departure, bookending Ryan and Graham’s storyline with riding a bike on the same hill, from The Woman Who Fell to Earth, was full of grace. And yes, a cameo from Grace O’Brien was the icing on the cake.
While Revolution of the Daleks may not be everyone’s favourite, I found it to be an outstanding 71-minute blockbuster.