After 2021’s over-ambitious Flux storyline, head writer Chris Chibnall under-achieves with Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks, his third and final New Year’s Dalek special.
Switching The Doctor to locked-down reset mode, Chibnall here banks a solid base-under-siege tale, with temporal-emotional twists. Like the canned beef 'n’ beans that features, it fills a hole but little more, emerging a little too flavorless and processed to satisfy.
With the TARDIS itself resetting, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor promises pals Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) a holiday to "sentient beaches". Typically, the TARDIS has other ideas, depositing them in the dingy Elf Storage warehouse. Owner Sarah (Aisling Bea) grinches miserably, unaware that regular New Year's Eve customer Nick (Adjani Salmon) fancies her. But he’d better tell her fast, because our heroes are caught in a time-loop countdown, with Daleks killing them repeatedly.
Nodding to Groundhog Day, Chibnall neglects the crucial element of time-loop tales: they need to move forwards, not just round in circles. When Bea arrives on screen grumbling "Every New Year’s Eve…", she sets the pattern for a special that rarely transforms repetition into forward momentum. "We are relentless," boasts a Dalek. Feels like it, too.
Equally, the not-so-special warehouse setting looks under-developed. One of Who’s drabbest-looking seasonal specials yet, the result leaves you feeling like Yaz and Dan after the Doc’s unfulfilled beach-party promise: a little let down.
It’s left to Daleks and cast to save the day (and Eve), which they do by a temporal whisker. Bea has fun as the grouchy party-night worker, matched by Pauline McLynn in a performance begging for a ‘phoning it in’ pun. Whittaker, meanwhile, brings playful relish to her verbal parries with the ranting tinpots, though her Big Rousing Speech bit would surely leave the Daleks grateful they have no toes to curl.
Lit-up finale aside, it’s hard not to wish Chibnall (leaving the show in 2022) had brought more fresh fireworks to his NYDalek Trilogy closer. The two big crushes at the story’s heart – yes, Yaz confesses - never generate much steam, though an underlying theme of time and the need to use it wisely is nicely on-brand. With two specials left before his and Whittaker’s departures, Chibnall still has time to go out with a bang. On which note, the Spring special teaser looks more promising. Legend Of The…? Let’s hope the (Sea) Devils have the best tunes.
Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks is available now on BBC iPlayer. Here's how to watch the NYE special in America.