Things I learned from Doctor Who: it takes eight minutes to build a surveillance network from spare parts around a subterranean drilling site, per “The Hungry Earth.” It helps if you’re a Time Lord, or maybe just have a sonic screwdriver. If you don’t have a sonic screwdriver, you could always build one using an alien crystal, a welding torch, and a bunch of Sheffield spoons. It should take you, oooh, maybe an hour or so? Or maybe if you’re very handy, and a Dalek mutant, in what looks like about the same amount of time you could cobble together from a few Dalek casing parts and a bunch of Earth metal a fully functional “junkyard chic” new outfit that can withstand bullets and shoot rocket grenades and fly, and even lights up when you talk.
I don’t know if this means Chibnall is in his private life a prodigiously handy do-it-yourselfer whose time estimates are outrageously optimistic, or if it’s just a subtle running joke. But more likely I think one of us is out to lunch on this one.
But hey! It’s just a show, we should really just relax, right? And it’s a pretty good show. The Moffaty cold open (which is technically the entire episode for some reason, a shame since the new titles and theme tune are the only consistently great thing about the Chibnall era so far) is exciting, though it boasts WTF-huge block letter subtitles that don’t fit with the look or the tone of the show in the slightest, and raises all sorts of questions that wait until the second viewing to become urgent (like why didn’t they toss the mutant right on the fire instead of dismembering it? if they erased the battle from history, how come there are picture books about it and something called “the Order of the Custodians” that apparently everyone knows about?). The action doesn’t slow down much, except for more installments of the generally well done Graham/Ryan soap opera.
And the Daleks are back! which is not something I generally get excited about, but I’ve always liked Dalek mutant-out-of-shell moments. It’s thrilling how deadly this recon scout is as just a “squid,” even if there’s a nagging sense that this has somewhat been done before, only for the Ice Warriors in “Cold War.” I also never get tired of creatures that sit on one’s back and control one’s mind, which we saw briefly in “Turn Left” and repeatedly in the gift that keeps on giving, “Planet of the Spiders.” Pretty much every scene with any part of a Dalek in it is compelling here, which is not something I would say of most other Dalek episodes.
What doesn’t work so well: Yaz once again barely registers on screen. There is absolutely no reason I can see to sideline her; she’s played by a perfectly capable actor and the character has an interesting and almost constantly useful background, yet she’s relegated to escorting archeologists out of a tunnel they’ve been working in for ages and, I dunno, beckoning people into the TARDIS? It’s beginning to look like she’s only there to avoid the shocking, SHOCKING prospect of the female Doctor traveling the universe with two men. This is a shameful waste.
The other thing: well, let’s just say I think Matt Smith’s lock on my favorite new series Doctor is safe for the time being. It’s not that Jodie can’t be great — we’ve seen it at various times all season. She has her moments in this, particularly when smashing Graham’s chairs and mistaking the doorbell for an intruder alert. I’d love to see her deploy a little more of that breezy offhandedness when dealing with the Dalek, like Smith before her with the jammy dodger. Of course she’s going to take the threat seriously, but her line readings in this too often could be anybody’s. The spark isn’t missing, but it’s intermittent. The great fun of this character is that they can turn on a time from grave to hilarious and still be taken seriously in the story. I’d like to see more writers and directors lean on the hilarious part and worry less about the dramatic declamations.
All in all, though, there are worse ways to spend a New Year’s Day — and the last new Doctor Who on TV until next New Year’s Day at the soonest — than watching microwave parts melt a Dalek to scrap. Cheers!