Doctor Who’s ambitious if not poorly conceptualized Season 13, entitled Flux, came to an end with The Vanquishers, an episode in which the Doctor hijacked the Sontarans’ plans to dominate the galaxy and fed the matter-devouring Flux with so much matter that the apocalyptic event reached a stalemate of sorts. The new episode picks up right after the events of The Vanquishers, with the Doctor stumbling upon another temporal adventure while seeking to reboot the TARDIS.
Regardless of whether the Flux event is truly over or just at a convenient and temporary stopping point remains to be seen. However, the Daleks want revenge (even more than normal) against the Doctor, and in 2022’s New Year’s Day Special, entitled Eve of the Daleks, they finally get their chance. This episode is the Daleks’ third and final special installment during Chibnall’s tenure as the Doctor Who showrunner. Contrary to popular expectations, however, this episode has nothing to do with the previous two, which, admittedly, could be a point in its favor.
This particular episode opens up with Aisling Bea as Sarah yelling at her employee’s answering machine and a hopelessly optimistic Nick, who dropped by at Sarah’s business, Elf Storage (“Self” actually, but the “S” fell off), to drop off his Monopoly game. On New Year’s Eve, nonetheless. Interestingly enough, both characters embody different coping mechanisms with having a lousy time during the holidays. Sarah is voicing just how terrible things are, and Nick is still trying to make the best of them.
Nick asks Sarah to remind him of a list of things that can’t be stored, and with an obviously annoyed look on her face, Sarah lists all the things that can’t be stored, including food, guns, ammunition, or any materials that are in any way toxic, hazardous, or radioactive, with explosive or potentially devastating consequences. Unfortunately, she’ll soon come to find that her storage is filled with the same contraband she just described — the courtesy of her not-answering-his-phone employee, Jeff.
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is preparing a hard-reset sequence, explaining to Yaz and Dan that they’ll use the downtime to relax on the sentient beaches of San Munrohvar, and play chess with the fishes, and drink mocktails with the lobsters. After already resetting the TARDIS in Village of the Angels, the reasons for pulling a hard-reset switch is to flush out the remaining Flux debris, minimize the number of doors, and get the TARDIS back in a fully operational capacity.
However, as with most things Doctor and TARDIS something goes wrong, and the TARDIS goes into the hard-reset mode, delivering Team TARDIS right into the center stage and bowels of the, (S)Elf Storage facility. While the companions are understandably disappointed that they didn’t land on sentient beaches for some much needed R&R, the Doctor discovers a temporal disturbance with a cloaked signal, which is usually team TARDIS’ calling card to get on the move and find the out of time and space thing mucking about history/local life. A few floors up, Nick, delivering his Monopoly game to his storage container, encounters a Dalek, sporting an upgrade — a six-barreled rapid Gatling gun-esque overhaul. Nick was the first to get acquainted with the fatal effects of this upgrade, followed by Sarah.
The upgraded gun seemingly has no other plot purpose besides making this iteration of the Daleks slightly more intimidating, but this cosmetic change also comes along with a host of other features, as with a patented synthesized resolve the Dalek declares “we evolve” and we find out the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver is all but useless against disabling the Dalek’s weapon’s systems. This, of course, serves to both literally and figuratively disarm the Doctor much to her surprised chagrin and before the Doctor can recover or even spit out a clever retort — the Dalek blasts team TARDIS and seemingly kills them, no regeneration, and no Auton double on hand to take the fall.
So, everybody dies (seemingly), and after a few seconds, we see Nick and Sarah back at the reception desk and the groundiest of groundhog day bottle episodes really begins. The plot thickens, the time loop rears its ugly head and resets, and everyone’s back to square one, and a few minutes later, everybody dies again. Time loops are a typical sci-fi trope, and antagonists/protagonists alike usually take several iterations to figure out what’s going on before breaking the loop. However, Eve of the Daleks apparently has no time for that, and everybody is clued into what’s going on by the time the Dalek exterminates them for the second time.
They soon learn that the exits are shielded, preventing them from leaving Elf Storage, the building is filled with Jeff’s random and mostly explosive contraband, and the Dalek is predicting their actions based on their efforts from the previous loop. In loop four, the Doctor concludes that every new loop is one minute shorter, posing a problem for Nick since he never survives past 11:55 pm. If he dies in loop five, he won’t return to loop six since he’ll already be dead when the loop begins. However, this problem has more to it than Nick losing his life, as we come to understand that he’s harboring romantic feelings for Sarah for quite some time and only comes there to see her when he is sure she will be working.
A few loops later, and much more Daleks thrown in to rival Santa’s Reindeer, the Doctor realizes that Team TARDIS, and Sarah and Nick for the sake of this episode, could use the Daleks’ anticipation of their counter-moves to mislead them by giving them false information. As a result of this plan, Nick builds a childish fort out of his stored possessions, leading Daleks to believe that its intended purposes are to shield the humans. After the loop resets, the Daleks rush into the basement to destroy said childish fort built by the Doctor, believing the Doctor and his long-term and episode-term companions are hiding behind the collection of objects. However, these objects are actually Jeff’s very flammable, very explosive contraband, and the Doctor and the rest of the team escape through an unshielded exit as a giant explosion is triggered by a call from Sarah’s mother who still can’t quite figure out why the phone lines aren’t tied up on a wireless cellular device on New Years. Needless to say, the Daleks meet a fiery doom, as Team Tardis watches from a safe distance, and the TARDIS completes its rebooting sequence and is now ready for travel.
Despite being a very fast-paced episode, set in a constricted space, with limited resources, a ticking timer, and Daleks, Eve of the Daleks still managed to touch into some character-building. Most scenes between Sarah and Nick are setting a romantic stage for their trip around the world, and Yaz finally confesses her feelings for the Doctor to Dan, after the Doctor rushed off, leaving the companions “safe.” On the other hand, Dan also pointed out that the Doctor has a lot more emotional awareness than she claims. There are also a few spots for laughs, honorable mentions, a cameo appearance, and the fact that the Daleks probably attended the very same shooting school as the Strom Troopers from Star Wars — they sure miss a lot for superior galactic killing machines.
8/10 — Eve of the Daleks is a fantastic piece built upon the remnants of the Flux season that makes a compelling mystery with the murder of an entire cast even before the series’ intro sequence. Doctor Who episodes set in limited space with almost next to no resources always make the best stories, and this is particularly true with this episode. Unfortunately, Yaz’s Rose Tyler moment didn’t generate much steam, but it did stress the importance of time and the need to use it wisely. In truth, we’d call Eve of the Daleks a successful piece that brings the promise of a potentially greater adventure in the following special — and the return of Sea Devils.