REVIEW: Doctor Who – “Eve of the Daleks”

Sickos Haha Yes | Know Your Meme
Me, watching Eve of the Daleks (2022, B&W)

Doctor Who is in a weird state these days. As someone who was not particularly fond (and has a great deal of especially harsh critique for) its eleventh and twelfth series, I wasn’t expecting it to get any better with last year’s Flux. And it didn’t. To be really clear here, I think Flux is a mess with no apparent focus, too many ideas, and heavily suffering from the usual lack of character development. But I enjoyed it, which is a different thing to it being good. I can enjoy lots of things while being fully aware of their not-so-peachy quality, extracting a kind of ironic enjoyment approaching the popular “sickos” meme (picture enclosed). Flux wasn’t mindnumbingly bad, but nor was it a masterpiece of serial television.

This, I think, is the mode the late Chibnall era has been operating on for me. I come away from most of its episodes in fits of laughter over a couple specific things, regardless of quality. And I really can’t lie that I’m not enjoying myself right now. Even though I’m looking forward to the second coming of Russell T. Davies a little more than Legend of the Sea Devils (yes…ha ha ha…yes!), I’m in a pleasant state just having a laugh at some silly TV until then.

And so: Eve of the Daleks. One syllable and a pedantic “the” away from The Evil of the Daleks, guest starring Aisling Bea, and featuring a long overdue time loop plot that I’ve wanted the show to attempt for ages. For once, everything seems to be in Chibnall’s wheelhouse too – a small guest cast, one solidly executed (hah) idea, a bit of structural pizazz, and everyone’s favourite murder tins. Personally, I’m glad that Chris Chibnall has delivered one script that I enjoy unironically before he bows out this autumn. He’s helped along by Aisling Bea as well, who plays Sarah, and frankly turns some lines of Chibnall’s that would be clunky in the hands of another actor into absolute gold. She may be the best guest star of this entire era; her or Alan Cumming.

But y’all don’t want to know about that, do you. You want to know about Thasmin. It’s canon, baby! The romantic ship seemingly fueled purely by lesbian thirst has gotten onscreen acknowledgment – Yasmin is gay, Thirteen may or may not love her back, Dan enters the pantheon of “characters who protect sapphic women with their lives”, I guess. Was it earned? Was it well written? Did it come out of nowhere or was it intended from the start?

Honestly – who cares. It’s happened, and for some people, that will be enough. We probably just have to accept that now. It’s desperately imperfect rep, it’s seeming a bit to late to fully commit, and it’s very, well, cis white male in how it’s written. But then, Clara is my favourite companion, and she’s canonically bisexual in exactly the same way: imperfect, late, frustratingly straight male. I have no investment in Thasmin as a ship – I’ve always felt the characters to be quite distant – but I do in Clara. So on some level, I get it.

And it’s so, so tempting to go through every Chibnall episode like some CinemaSins tribute band and list out every problematic or poorly written thing like it’s leftist praxis to treat Doctor Who getting things a bit wrong on the level of, I don’t know, Republicans passing shitty bills. But none of that really matters. Okay, the guy, Nick, who Sarah ends up with in this episode, is a bit creepy and keeps a storage unit of his exes’ stuff. Maybe he’s a serial killer, maybe he’s just intended to be awkward. It’s funny to joke about, or even seriously make the point that the message is lost, and that he comes across as dangerous to women, something Doctor Who probably shouldn’t be treating so lightly. Or maybe Dan outing Yaz is a better example – yeah, sure, maybe you could spin that one into something bigger, like “Chibnall made Dan out Yaz without her permission”, but it’s really just Dan trying to help the Doctor, not spitefully announcing Yaz is a lesbian like some homophobic grandad. It’s TV, not real life.

Thasmin and its handling is the same. I have critiques, I am frustated by Yaz’s untapped potential and mishandling, but equally – well, this is Chibnall Who. I have slightly better things to think about than whether its politics are always spot on. It’s neither inherently conservative nor inherently left-wing (or even centrist, for that matter). From the looks of things, it’s really just some fumbling around in the dark trying to produce a TV show. Chibnall, I think, is just less equipped to deal with the nightmare that is showrunning Doctor Who. Every fan’s greatest dream might just be the ultimate monkey’s paw.

That might sound like I think doing analysis of media is pointless, which would be a bit like shooting myself in the foot since that’s most of what I write these days, but it’s really about approaching it healthily; and it’s actually, like, extremely exhausting to go into every episode only thinking about scoring discourse points. The dust will settle one day and that quest will all be for naught. After all, Thasmin is canon now. God, who cares, I’m just gonna enjoy the hell out of this madness while it lasts.

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