By Katherine Wheeler
After a nine month wait, the Doctor Who festive special had a lot to answer for: Why is the Doctor in prison? What are the newest Dalek designs truly capable of? Where did Captain Jack hide that Vortex Manipulator?
The episode begins with the Doctor (played by Jodie Whittaker) imprisoned. From the tally marks, it looks like decades since she’s seen her friends. We are given a brief look into her world before it is whisked away in the form of John Barrowman’s timeless Captain Jack. The two work a treat together and seem to have an instant chemistry, one the show has needed more of in recent episodes. Even better is Jack’s response to Yaz (Mandip Gill), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) as they reunite in Sheffield- he remains cheeky and flirtatious to a fault and is a perfect foil to some of the more restrained personalities at play.
After a tense scene between the Doctor and her friends, they split into groups. This is where Ryan gets a chance to shine. It has to be said that his character usually plays second fiddle to the others but it’s this normality that the Doctor needs to ground her. Their conversation makes for a needed break amongst the action and answers some of the questions fans had from the previous episode. Amongst many things, it’s a teaser of things to come in Series 13 and plays into a darker side of the Doctor’s past.
Of the guest cast it was Nathan Stewart-Jarett who shone the brightest, playing a brilliant but tortured scientist, Leo. His death at the hands of a Dalek made the creatures themselves seem like a bigger threat. The new Dalek design received critique from a few fans, but to me it was a perfectly terrifying reinvention. Standing next to 10 Downing Street, the so-called ‘Defence Drone’ is horrifying. However, it was a smart move to include both the newer and older models of Dalek as I’m sure a lot of fans very much appreciated the nostalgia factor.
That said, I would have liked to see a bit more destruction. A lot of the episode’s action takes place in the skies above Earth but the scenes on the planet’s surface are the most effective. Businessman Jack Robertson (Chris Noth) fits well into the story but seemingly gets away with no repercussions.
The conclusion arrives in the form of a truly masterful shot: a swarm of Daleks flying through the night sky into the door of a TARDIS about to implode. It’s a brilliant piece of cinematography and very poster-worthy. Although Ryan and Graham leave at the end of the episode, it is on their own terms. I think this is important, considering the last few companions have come to gruesome ends. It is possible we might see Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh return in the next series, but their exit here makes for a perfect ending and leaves Yaz’s character to develop more on her own.
Having been filmed pre-lockdown, the show was one of the only new Christmas programmes to air in 2020. It was a reminder of a precious escapism television has lost under COVID restrictions. The ability to see characters in a completely different world from the confines of your own home, exploring the stars and defeating dictators. The whole episode is a charm to sit down to in a time where things have never been more uncertain.
I mean it in all seriousness when I say: Doctor Who has never been this important.