The Doctor is here to help us ring in the new year with her fam and an old friend (who will never stop flirting with her, gender regardless).
The scrapped casing from the Dalek that got exploded in “Resolution” gets hijacked and ends up in the hands of Jack Robertson (Chris Noth). He allows a scientist named Leo Rugazzi (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) to clear out and rebuild that shell, turning it into a security drone that can function as riot control—a plan he pitches to politician Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson). Meanwhile, Ryan and Graham try to get through to Yaz, who has been obsessively looking for clues as to where the Doctor might be and how they can help her following the events of “The Timeless Children”—they insist she give up the search and help them with their investigation into Robertson’s drones. It doesn’t get very far, as Robertson has no idea what a Dalek is, and has hired significantly more security than he used to have.
The Doctor has been imprisoned by the Judoon for decades. One day she’s in her personalized exercise yard and Captain Jack Harkness appears; he got himself arrested years back and has been working his way toward her in the prison, intent on breaking her out of jail. They manage to escape and make it back to her TARDIS, showing up at Graham’s house unaware that it’s been ten whole months since she last saw her friends. They’re all upset with her, but there’s nothing to be done. The Doctor scans the planet for Dalek DNA and finds there’s a plant in Osaka, Japan showing a mutated version of it; Jack and Yaz go to investigate, which gives Jack a chance to fill Yaz in on how life with the Doctor will pan out. The plant in Osaka is full of Daleks, cloned by Leo from remnants he found in the casing. The Doctor, Ryan, and Graham go to confront Robertson, and drag him along to the plant, which he has never heard about.
The Daleks have worked out a way to transport into their new drone casings and altered them for murderous purposes. To stop them, the Doctor decides to send out a signal into the time vortex to bring out the Dalek Special Assault Squad, a group that is tasked with maintaining Dalek genetic purity, figuring that they’ll be keen to destroy cloned and mutated stock. This plan works for the most part, but Robertson goes to make pals with the SAS Daleks, outing the Doctor’s presence to them and agreeing to help them take over the Earth. The Doctor has Jack, Graham, and Ryan head over to plant explosives on the SAS ship while she and Yaz figure out what to do with the rest of the SAS Daleks on Earth. The Doctor appears to them and invites them to come get her on board the TARDIS, which they all fly into—not realizing that it’s the secondary TARDIS that brought Yaz, Ryan, and Graham home from Gallifrey. The Doctor has rigged it to collapse in on itself and head to the Void. Jack and the boys are successful in their mission as well, ridding the planet of Daleks entirely.
Robertson makes it out the other side and bills himself as the man who saved the planet. When Ryan, Graham, and Yaz return to the TARDIS, Ryan announces that he’s done traveling—he’s got too much to do at home. Graham elects to stay too, to be close to Ryan. Yaz has decided to stay on the TARDIS, however, and they bid the boys a tearful goodbye. (The Doctor hands them both psychic paper before they go.) Graham and Ryan get back to the hill to practice riding a bike again, and also talk about how they’ll keep doing work to save the world.
I know that he’s immortal, but I’m gonna need a minute at the thought of Jack Harkness hanging out in prison for nineteen years, just to break the Doctor out of jail. You know, there are friends and then there are friends, and there’s something so beautiful about how much Jack adores the Doctor, even when she still won’t be honest about how much she loves him in return. (The jibe that he never had the room on the TARDIS is particularly bemusing given that we know it isn’t true—which means that she’s just being flippant with him for the sake of it, which is a very Tenth Doctor move.)
This episode operates on two entirely different fronts, and hilariously neither of them have anything to do with the Daleks. They’re completely incidental to this plot outside of the choice to make them cops which, while heavy-handed, was also a pointed and cutting jab in a year when so many civilians have been assaulted by police in riot gear. Chris Chibnall has gotten flak before from the fandom for being an unsubtle writer, and while the complaint is sometimes valid, I can’t really fault him for it because we live in patently unsubtle times. The Daleks are usually stand-ins for Nazis, but this year they’re law enforcement. The metaphor goes where it is needed most.
So we’ve got our two levels, one of them being a critique of this moment in time, and the other being an emotional stepping stone for the Doctor and her friends. The current events allegory is cringeworthy because we’ve just come through one rotten egg slurry of a year, and it’s painful to watch it continue. We’ve got Britain’s complicity in horrors and obsession with stability and security exemplified by Walter and her ascent to the role of Prime Minister. Robertson is a Trumpian stand-in for the ages, and in true-to-life fashion, he is never taken to task for any of his misdeeds. He creates the problem, funds it, sells out his planet and species, washes his hands of the ordeal instantly, and is back on the path to becoming president by the end. It’s on-the-nose, but it’s also entirely accurate, and that’s why we hate watching it. The only question that remains is whether or not he’ll show up again to annoy the Doctor—but it’s doubtful that he’ll ever get the comeuppance that he deserves because we don’t live in that world. Neither does the Doctor, sadly.
Chibnall couldn’t have planned it out ahead of time, but it’s particularly painful to see the Doctor coming into this story off decades of isolation. There have been plenty of Who narratives that have shown the character imprisoned and alone for years at a time, but the difference is that we, the audience, didn’t have much to compare it to. This year it’s all too easy to imagine the loneliness, the boredom, the fatigue and depression that come from being cut off. We can see the Doctor reaching for interaction, even with people she doesn’t care for—a Weeping Angel she calls Angela, a grouchy P’Ting, even the security cameras.
But what hurts the most about this particular version of the Doctor is that she’s even more reticent to be open about her emotions. (And that’s saying a lot because most of her previous incarnations were less than forthcoming.) There are heart-to-hearts in this episode, and she even gets to have a good one with Ryan, but she’s holding so much back. While her friends are devastated over her ten month absence, she never once brings up that the period was much longer for her. She admits that she’s angry at learning that the Time Lords hid huge swaths of her life from her, but she still won’t say much about it. Even at the end of the episode, when she thinks that she could break her timeline, go back and have that ten months she missed with Graham and Ryan, she still doesn’t quite understand what she’s struggling with. It takes Yaz reminding her that “it’s okay to be sad” for her to realize where the impulse is coming from.
Yaz thankfully gets her own moment with Jack Harkness because Jack is singularly poised to see things clearly—he pegs her instantly as the one who is too caught up with the Doctor, and it makes sense because he’s seen it before, more than once. He was close to Rose Tyler, of course, but he also watched Martha Jones’s life get destroyed by the Doctor, and it makes sense that he is keen to help Yaz work out feelings around traveling time and space. The talk is beneficial for them both; Jack gets that chance to sit in his own importance as someone who knows the drill already, and Yaz gets some much needed perspective on how a relationship traveling with the Doctor works.
And in the end, she gets to decide that she’s not done with it. Hopefully, the next season will see Yaz really come into her own and decide what she wants from her time aboard the TARDIS, now that she’s the only one around. For the first time ever, the show will star two women (alone) adventuring through the universe together, which is unbearably exciting. It shouldn’t be this momentous, but it took nearly sixty years to get here.
The end of Ryan and Graham’s story is beautiful for the fact that it is permitted such emotion, a journey defined by familial love and responsibility. It’s moving to see a companion get to make the sort of choice that Ryan makes, one where he genuinely decides that he’s outgrown his need for the Doctor and the TARDIS, that he is needed elsewhere more. He wants to spend time with his friends, with his father. And the instant that he makes that decision, that’s Graham’s decision made too—because Ryan is his grandson, and he doesn’t want to miss out on his life. The Doctor gave them both a new path, and now they’re ready to go out and live it.
I question the choice to show that shade of Grace in their final scene atop the hill, however; not only does it bring up the show’s mistake in killing her off yet again, but it actually detracts from their final moment together. Ryan and Graham may only be connected because of Grace, but the bonds that they formed over the course of the show are down to them. They made each other family.
They are also the next set who have come back to defend the Earth, a particular function of New Who that is always heartwarming to see. The Davies era started with this concept, the idea that traveling on the TARDIS would change you so fundamentally that you’d never be able to leave well enough alone. With two new sets of psychic paper, Graham and Ryan are ready to continue that work . But there’s an extra thought here—learning to ride a bike is just as important. In this episode’s ending, we see a matured message of what Doctor Who can offer us as an audience:
The little things matter as much as the big things. Save the world, but ride a bike too.
Things and Asides:
- The Doctor’s comment when she sees the Silent—“I didn’t remember you were here”—was great.
- It’s been years since I last saw Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from his time on Misfits, and I missed that guy. He was woefully underused here. Give him bigger parts.
- Jack neglects to continue on with the Doctor because he’s visiting Gwen Cooper, his former BFF and coworker from his Torchwood days. He mentions her kid as well, who was an infant last time we saw her and would probably be… freaking hell, Anwen is ten now? It’s tear-inducing to know Jack is out there being his own version of the Doctor in other people’s lives. But it also speaks volumes that ever since the Doctor abandoned Jack after his first death, he is always so careful to leave first.
- The point where Yaz tells Jack that he seems to need a lot of praise, and he’s like pffffft… wait. I may never recover from those third-degree burns, and I wasn’t the one receiving them. Thank you for that, Yaz, the whole fandom needed it.
- I do love that the show has fully given up on ever explaining how the Earth handles regular knowledge of alien incursions, but somehow it’s still a secret maybe? The Daleks killed the Prime Minister on TV this time. But, you know. C’est la vie, apparently.
The show is currently filming the next season, which will be eight episodes instead of ten—they take longer to film with pandemic precautions in place, hence the shorter run—which hopefully means that we’ll be back with the Doctor and Yaz sooner rather than later. Sometime this year would be nice.