Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s always a big surprise when the holiday episode of Doctor Who is a critical not-to-be-missed episode. When we last saw the Doctor, she was trapped millions of light years away in an alien prison. The New Year’s Day 2021 special Revolution of the Daleks is not a filler, out-of-continuity holiday showpiece, instead continuing after ten months have lapsed for the Doctor’s companions back on Earth, and after the Doctor has been imprisoned for years in that same relative time span. If you missed this episode you missed: the return of John Barrowman’s universal fan-favorite character Captain Jack Harkness, another Law & Order/Law & Order UK crossover/reunion, the last we’ll see of some major characters, a new Prime Minister, a preview of a new companion, and one of the best Dalek episodes in the 57 years of the series. As the studio releases word that Jodie Whittaker will be soon leaving the series, Revolution of the Daleks reflects that both her performance as the 13th Doctor and Chris Chibnall’s running of the series has finally arrived. It’s a timeless story full of important, lovely emotional beats, fantastic new sci-fi special and visual effects, and a return to the classic framework and themes of the show’s past.
Let’s take a look at why this episode was superb and offer up some candidates for the 14th Doctor…
The return of Captain Jack Harkness. For fans John Barrowman “is” Doctor Who. No other actor creates the excitement that he does, and if you ever tap into the convention circuit, you know how genuine he is and devoted to the character. His rescue of the Doctor from prison with that clever Breakout Ball (you remember Atari, right?) also known as a temporal-freezing gateway disinhibitor bubble–couldn’t be better Whovian storytelling. Hey, BBC, how about more Torchwood? Don’t miss the Weeping Angel, an Ood, a Sycorax, a Pting, and a member of the Silence locked up with the good Doctor (does that explain some of the hash marks?).
That Law & Order/Law & Order UK crossover/reunion. It happened once before, but former Law & Order star Chris Noth was back as the slimy CEO named Robertson along with the former Law & Order UK stars Bradley Walsh and Harriet Walter. A show with one of these all-time TV greats is cool, but all in the same episode is pure win.
Say goodbye to two friends. What a departure! Walsh’s Graham and Tosin Cole’s grandson Ryan get a lovely send-off, the kind of moments that remind you how quickly fans can get attached to beloved characters. Clearly Graham wanted to stay, but it made sense to go with his grandson.
A new Prime Minister. Star Wars: The Force Awakens actor Harriet Walker would make a good next Doctor, right? As the next Prime Minister she fills that role expertly–if briefly.
A preview of a new companion. Who the heck is John Bishop? Even avid anglophiles don’t know, but he has a comedy background. Outside the UK even less have heard about the actor, a new companion named Dan coming soon to a Doctor Who episode near you. He’s featured in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it post-show preview.
One of the best Dalek episodes in the 57 years of the series. Asylum of the Daleks? Bad Wolf? The Stolen Earth? Whatever your favorite, you can’t argue the cyborg aspects of the Daleks have rarely seen the great handling we found in Revolution of the Daleks. Those creepy organic beings gaining power through Robertson’s corporate desire to roll in profits at the cost of humanity–giving a mutant Dalek a chance to clone itself–is as classic a Doctor Who concept as we’ve ever seen.
And some things you might miss: This was the first episode of Doctor Who to be simultaneously broadcast in 4K UHD with HDR color grading, and the first Doctor Who episode airing first to a direct-to-streaming platform in the UK.
So add this to the 13th Doctor’s “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” as a great episode in the annals of the six decades of the series. This banner season has provided some smartly written sci-fi stories (including the season opener “Spyfall,” “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror,” “Praxeus,” and “Can You Hear Me?”) restoring Doctor Who with a season faithful to the pre-reboot era, with fun rollercoaster ride scenes like we haven’t seen since the Matt Smith/Karen Gillan seasons.
So who would be fun to see as the next Doctor?
How about Jo Martin, set up last year as a Doctor in the current continuity? How about delving into her story more? What about Lara Pulver, who played the incredible Sherlock character Irene Adler? Let’s really rock the boat and connect the dots: Everyone knows Mary Poppins had to be a Doctor in the Whoniverse, so how about sealing that with a tour of the character by Julie Andrews? Or even the new Mary Emily Blunt or Emily Mortimer?
How about plucking someone from the Harry Potter universe? Could anyone be more fun than David Thewlis? Maybe Jason Isaacs? Julie Walters? Or someone completely off the wall, like Hugh Laurie? Is it time for an Australian (Cate Blanchett?) or Canadian (Anna Silk? Bruce Greenwood? Donal Logue? Graham Greene?), or even an American actor as the Doctor? Other options: The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, or Prodigal Son’s Michael Sheen? It’s too bad Tom Hiddleston has his own show on Disney+ (Loki) since he’d make an interesting pick, too. Also from Marvel, what’s Tilda Swinton and Letitia Wright doing? Or Ben Whishaw from Bond? Or Whittaker’s Attack the Block co-star John Boyega or Nick Frost?
There’s always the big kind of surprise we haven’t seen yet: David Tennant always seems to be begging to come back. Why not have a quick season in the past, present, or future? How about the Doctor’s daughter, Tennant’s real-life wife Georgia Tennant (and Peter Davison’s real-life daughter)? Or another throwback, the “Next Doctor” David Morrissey?
Witness one of the best episodes of the series. Set your DVR to catch Revolution of the Daleks as it pops up again this week on BBC America and BBC Two in the UK. It’s too bad we’re losing Whittaker when Chibnall is hitting his stride with brilliant science fiction and Doctor Who storytelling.