*WARNING: Contains Spoilers
When it comes to writing Doctor Who, Chris Chibnall seems more at ease writing it as a blockbuster movie. The more successful stories under his penmanship, such as Resolution (2019) and Spyfall (2020), have maintained a perfect balance of simplicity and spectacle, delivered at breakneck pace with plenty of explosive action sequences peppered throughout. Moments of ongoing character development and emotional beats are there, but the big barnstorming bits are what ultimately take priority. For the most part, it works. For Revolution of the Daleks though, the limitations of the action blockbuster format are exposed, in what is a mostly enjoyable yet ultimately hollow exercise.
The most frustrating thing is how overstuffed the episode feels, even with a feature-length runtime. Within this 75 minute special, we have the central Dalek plot (itself a direct sequel to 2019’s Resolution) and the Doctor’s long-awaited reunion with fan favourite Captain Jack (John Barrowman). Atop all that is a returning villain (Chris Noth‘s shadier-then-shade businessman Jack Robertson), a follow-up to the big revelations revealed in last year’s finale, the resolution of a whopping cliffhanger (the Doctor in space prison) AND the departure of two series regulars. It’s a lot to fit in, and try as Chibnall does, nothing of note here gets the time it needs to develop organically.
Both the Doctor’s incarceration and Jack’s return are given the shortest shrift, which is a shame considering these elements are what the episode was largely marketed on. The prison setting could easily have been mined for more drama had the writer wished, but perhaps it is best left where it is. Jack’s return is the greater missed opportunity though. John Barrowman is as joyous to watch as he was back in the Davies era, and his scenes with Jodie Whittaker‘s Doctor are bursting with that same energy and charm! But beyond that initial meeting between the two old friends and an all too brief exchange with Yasmin (Mandip Gill) about how a companion always loses the Doctor eventually, his presence takes a backseat pretty quickly.
Great as his scene with Yaz is though, it’s that conversation that feels like the biggest misstep in the episode. Had the conversation been had with either Graham or Ryan, their departure at the end of the episode would feel a little less sudden and not as jarring. Instead, the scene is with Yaz, who ultimately sticks around, rendering the moment a tad redundant in the grand scheme of things.
Arguably, Ryan (Tosin Cole) gets a decent enough exit, the character having naturally moved on with his life in the months without the Doctor around. Cole gives a tenure-best performance as Ryan here, especially midway through the episode when he and the Doctor have a heart-to-heart aboard the TARDIS. Had it been just him departing, it’s likely the final scenes would have worked. Sadly Graham (Bradley Walsh) is not so fortunate in getting a decent send-off. Whereas he was once the show’s most rounded and developed companion, here Graham is carted off after very little screen time and with no agency in his departure – Ryan wants to go, so he must go too. It’s almost like an afterthought, as his decision to leave is never seeded once until the final moments. The lack of screen time and the rushed farewell not only do his character a disservice but it also upsets Ryan’s departure as well.
As a result, the final ten minutes seem to be under the unfortunate impression that it’s all sadder then it actually is – the callbacks to past episodes and characters are nice, but the emotional pay-off just isn’t there in these moments. It’s refreshing to see a companion leave of their own accord after all the deaths and sci-fi shenanigans involved in past departures, but the drama of such a choice is never explored to its fullest potential. Had the episode cut back on aspects like the prison and Jack, perhaps there would have been time to do so.
Despite these massive missteps, Revolution just about entertains as intended. The main Dalek plot is tight enough, even with the occasional plot hole. The idea of man-made Daleks used for crowd control is inventive and serves up some interesting new Dalek concepts, whilst the denouement with the decoy TARDIS is seeded nicely, ultimately resulting in a brilliant pay-off. Like the best blockbuster epics, the effects are jaw dropping – the vista of the Daleks surrounding the Doctor in a floating TARDIS and the subsequent folding in of the Police Box represents some of the best CGI the show has ever had, and will likely remain iconic for years to come once this era of the show one day passes into the history books. It’s just a shame that the companion farewells contained herein won’t be afforded a similar status.
In Revolution of the Daleks, Chris Chibnall‘s blockbuster movie approach to Doctor Who is laid bare, the intrinsic strengths and faults of such an approach on display for all to see. Often exciting but ultimately overstuffed, important character arcs fail to emotionally satisfy and the end result is a rather disappointing end for two of the show’s main characters. As a piece of holiday entertainment, it’s loud and proud. It’s just a shame that, like a lot of big budget movie blockbusters, it’s mostly style with not enough substance.