This special has a lot of extra weight unfairly placed on it now, as it is a bright spot in a dark time and relies on a lot of fans to give us the joyous reunion with our favorite heroes that we so desperately need. So it’s a shame that while there is a lot to enjoy in this epic 75 minute story, it all feels a bit under-thought and underwhelming. There are pacing issues to say the least, with very long conversations giving the characters emotional space, but at the cost of pushing most of the heavily teased Dalek action off the screen. Aside from a limited engagement on a bridge between the drones and the Daleks Death Squad, the whole conflict ends off-camera with a line of dialogue. And once one side takes out the other, the Doctor easily wipes out the remaining Daleks with a turn that takes five seconds to complete. It’s smart, make no mistake, but it’s also fleeting. And although we are shown that many aliens are exterminated indiscriminately, the stakes seem eerily small and contained.
It doesn’t help that this Doctor, perhaps one of the smartest and most dynamic incarnations on the show when it comes to messing up a plan or figuring out a villain’s intentions, is upset. by being in prison just enough to challenge her throughout her life. should be in charge. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to work there; the Dalek leading the takeover literally tells everyone the full plan in two minutes, saving us the tedious process of enjoying a story in which that shot unfolds in a dramatic and entertaining way. As for the Doctor’s boredom, given the previous story’s explosive confrontation with the Master, and all the new information revealed about the Doctor’s vast new past, these revelations seem surprisingly unimportant, save for one superficial recognition in a mopey conversation with Ryan (which is pretty much like as much as these two have talked since he joined the team).
And yes, Ryan leaves at the end of this story, never really having had much luck growing up. Graham joins him, which takes the heart of this team with him. There is a somewhat satisfying symmetry to Graham and Ryan’s final scene, though it also includes a note that some might consider too manipulative of how a Hallmark Christmas movie would avoid appearing too over the top. As for Jack, you can’t fault Barrowman for his reliable exuberance, but he seems underused and too often estranged from the Doctor despite the hype surrounding the reunion.
It is undeniable that the production values and the acting are excellent in all areas. Everyone brings their A game, and the Daleks look especially good this time around in both of their design variations. The MVP of the story is Noth, who clearly takes the opportunity to chew the landscape like a slightly more lucid Trump madman with illusions of grandeur. But while her performance is very energetic and delicious in its own way, her character’s utter lack of consequences to sell the human race is – especially at the end of 2020 – a very disturbing and intrusive resolution. This is not the year to save your villain for another day; he should have suffered for his horrible behavior.
There’s a bizarre bit of fan “wisdom” that has accumulated over the years that Doctor Who’s holiday specials don’t have to be substantial or even particularly well put together – they barely have to be. need to tell a story, they say; just flash Who-shaped lights on everyone’s face while they eat fig pudding or whatever people do on Christmas watching specials. They’re meant to be quickly forgotten sweets, just to add some joy to the day. Strange then how many times these specials have dealt with the darkest subject of the whole series – the death of one doctor in preparation for the arrival of another, for example, which led to some very funeral proceedings ( three times so far!). You can’t have it both ways – either they’re supposed to float around your brain with no impact and leave you with warm blurs, or they’re the dramatic lynchpins of every season of Who taking the point and then launching the story.
And then there’s this one, which features the onscreen slaughter of countless people by Dalek drones, the heart-wrenching departure of two regulars, two fortuitous characters presented as having family for the express purpose of making you worrying just long enough to make them die hurts (a recurring bet in producer Chris Chibnall’s Who is my only complaint about that time), a long gloomy conversation about the Doctor’s lonely stay in prison and the events of the latest series that shook his core sense of identity, and one of the show’s final lines stays with the audience as they return to their festive cuisine: “It’s okay to be sad. “
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