As a year, 2020 felt like a very long and, at times, not very good Doctor Who episode. It’s wild to remember that Doctor Who had a full season early in 2020 and now the show is back with a New Year’s Day special. Here are some quick refreshers that you absolutely need: The Doctor returned to Gallifrey courtesy of the Master who had converted all of the Time Lords into Cybermen. While on her home planet, the Doctor learns she was originally not born on Gallifrey but a child lost in time whose genetics gave the Time Lords their regeneration abilities. Then her memories were erased. Oh and there’s a version of the Doctor out there somewhere who was wanted by the Judoon and had been hiding on Earth as a human named Grace. Got it?
We start with a Dalek smashing into the Government Communications HQ but it’s swiftly destroyed by the Doctor and her friends. A few hours later, the Dalek’s empty shell is transported to another government facility. The driver is poisoned and his truck and the Dalek are stolen by a nameless woman. This is all a plot by Jack Robertson, the evil American businessman from season 11. His political ambitions were ruined after the Doctor exposed his pollution plot but he’s on the rebound with the new technology secretary, Jo, and a software company run by Leo. Robertson and Leo have created a police Dalek run by AI that uses water guns, sonic deterrents, and gas sprayers to fight civil unrest. Jo is immediately on board.
79 billion lightyears away, the Doctor is in space prison and has been for decades. Other prisoners include a Weeping Angel, Oods, a Silence, and the P’ting from last season. It’s a dull existence with no apparent end until another familiar face pops up: Captain Jack Harkness. Although he helped the Doctor’s friends last season, this is the first time they’ve come face to face. He rescues her by using his smuggled in vortex manipulator and transports them to her TARDIS. They immediately take off to find the fam.
The fam is adjusting to life without the Doctor, who disappeared suddenly 10 months ago. Ryan and Graham are ready to move on but Yaz has covered Ruth’s TARDIS with notes in the hopes of finding the Doctor. Her friends are able to refocus her energy on the problem of Robertson’s Daleks. The trio goes to investigate, which essentially consists of repeatedly accusing Robertson of being in cahoots with the Daleks without ever explaining to him what Daleks are. He has them thrown out by his security team.
What the fam doesn’t know is there’s an even bigger problem. Leo is too curious for his own good and grew an actual Dalek organism from the tiny fragments left in the shell. This was a very bad idea and even Robertson, who himself is a horrible person, thinks so. He orders Leo to incinerate, which Leo does attempt to do but he makes the fatal mistake of opening the container first. The Dalek immediately snags him and takes control of his body.
Good thing the Doctor is back! She shows up in front of her friends and gets harshly shoved by Yaz for leaving them without any word for nearly a year. Resentments aside, they tell her about the Dalek and the Doctor’s scans discover a facility in Japan. Jack and Yaz go to investigate, commiserating along the way about traveling with the Doctor and also being left behind by her. His advice to “enjoy the journey while [she’s] on it” is very reminiscent of Sarah Jane’s advice to Rose in “School Reunion.” The facility is a Dalek clone farm with thousands just waiting in tanks so naturally Jack and Yaz set a bunch of explosives. They both narrowly avoid becoming Dalek drones thanks to Jack’s handy sonic blaster.
The Doctor, Graham, and Ryan confront Robertson who still doesn’t know what a Dalek is. He has, however, 3D printed thousands of them. Jo, now the Prime Minister, unveils the new police Daleks as the best weapon in Britain’s age of security. Our heroes plus Robertson gather at the clone farm, but they’re too late. Dalek Leo has secretly weaponized all of the shells Robertson made and transports the cloned Daleks into them. They immediately begin exterminating humans, including the PM and Leo.
The only idea the Doctor has to save Earth is a bad one. She secretly launches a message to the Dalek ship full of enforcers whom she believes will kill the new Daleks because they’re impure. And she’s right. But then there are still Daleks on Earth and Robertson has decided to side with them. He exposes the Doctor’s involvement, but she uses this to her advantage by luring every Dalek on Earth into the TARDIS. On the Dalek ship, Jack, Graham, and Ryan set explosives and blow everything up just as they, plus Robertson, teleport to safety. The Doctor reveals the TARDIS was Ruth’s and it’s set to self-destruct with the Daleks inside.
In the aftermath, Robertson paints himself as a hero who helped save humanity and the media buys it. Jack decides to stay on Earth to catch up with Gwen Cooper (please tell me this means we’re getting more Torchwood!). Ryan decides to stay behind as well. Earlier, the Doctor and Ryan had a heart to heart about the new memories she recovered on Gallifrey and how they’ve made her both angry and unsure of who she is. Ryan’s advice was to find out more about her life. In the ten months she’s been gone, that’s what he’s done and now he’s not ready to leave.
In contrast, Yaz has been eagerly awaiting the Doctor’s return so she can get back to all of time and space. Graham is more conflicted but ultimately decides that being on the TARDIS without his grandson won’t be the same. As the two men leave, the Doctor gives them psychic paper to aid in any investigations they want to do on their own on Earth. Later, Graham helps Ryan with his continued quest to ride a bike and they both see a vision of Grace watching over them.
The idea that Doctor Who thought we would remember anything that happened last season is laughably frustrating. This episode crammed references from almost the entire season as well as callbacks to season 11, but not in a particularly clever way. If anything, the story would’ve been better suited as a series finale rather than showing up almost a year later. Plus, the episode was far too slow for my taste. Just get on with it!
As usual, John Barrowman was a breath of fresh air and a good dose of cheesiness.
Jack committed a bunch of crimes, possibly more than he had to, in order to get thrown in prison with the Doctor. When she reprimands him, he shoots back, “You’re going to take the moral high ground while I’m breaking you out of prison? Be grateful!”
Yaz: “Are you feeling insecure? Because you seem to need a lot of praise.”
Jack, to himself: “Do I?”
The Doctor, explaining her feelings on Ryan and Graham leaving and Yaz staying: “Two hearts. One happy, one sad.”
If you were looking forward to a bunch of Doctor/Yaz adventures, temper that excitement. John Bishop cast as another new companion for series 13.
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