Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks Review

Running out of minutes, the Doctor realises that the Daleks’ weakness is that they’re anticipating the humans’ actions based on what they got up to in the previous loop. She suggests using one of the loops to enact a decoy plan – feeding false information for the Daleks to ingest which will get them out of the way long enough to escape. As part of this, Nick runs to his storage unit and constructs a box fort out of all his ex-partners’ belongings, leading the Daleks to believe that building bunkers is the Doctor’s new strategy. When the final loop arrives, they converge on what they believe to be another barricade full of cowering humans, only to ignite Jeff’s illegal fireworks and blow themselves sky-high as Team TARDIS watch from a safe distance. 2022 arrives, the TARDIS is fixed and Sarah leaves with Nick to go and see the world. Whew.

If that were all there was to this episode, it would still be a bit of a belter, but it also finds time to work in some sweet character-building. Most of this is the ‘meet cute’ between Sarah and Nick, of course, but we also get an important scene where Yaz finally confesses her feelings for the Doctor and Dan, brilliantly, calls the Doctor out on having a lot more emotional awareness than she pretends to. It might be a charitable assessment of Whittaker’s blunt, emotionally-distant incarnation, but it’s a point well made about the character as a whole – somewhere in the Thirteenth Doctor’s head, memories of Rose still linger.

There’s space for a few laughs, too, from Yaz’s horrified “they’re alive still, aren’t they?” when Nick reveals his Vault O’ Girlfriends, and the Dalek’s blunt assertion that Dan has been designated the Inferior Human. It’s certainly not a comedy episode, but it has its fair share of funny lines. The acting’s on point, too, with Whittaker fully leaning into Thirteen’s arrogant streak as she fatefully stares down eyestalk after eyestalk, but it’s Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon that steal the show this week with two very flawed, vulnerable and human performances.

Maybe it’s all the real estate offered by the ELF Storage facility, but the constraints of pandemic filming seem a lot more obvious here than they did during Flux. There’s a lot of empty space being deployed, whether it’s framing characters in long, thin rooms so they can stand well apart or during carefully-distanced chase scenes. Rather than hamper the production, though, the limited sets and other considerations lead to some interesting choices and angles. The episode feels a lot less cinematic and ‘big-budget’ than Flux, but is no worse off for it. 

What’s also interesting is how well this could have served as a regeneration story if the final few minutes had played out differently. There’s the promise of a full TARDIS reset, for one thing (I personally was hoping to see the original console room when the doors opened) but there’s also a surprising cameo from Karl – the same Karl who was being chased by Tim Shaw back in ‘The Woman who Fell to Earth’ and apparently lives in Manchester now. Having him there for the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure would have made for quite the narrative bookend…

That’s the realm of might-have-been, though. We’ve two more specials to look forward to, and if they can match the quality and the creativity of ‘Eve of the Daleks’ I suspect people will genuinely be anticipating their arrival. Once again, we see that Doctor Who doesn’t need a huge budget, overburdened scripts or universe-ending antimatter waves to succeed. Sometimes the best things in life are the simple pleasures.