SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains some spoilers.
I’m not scared of Daleks. Maybe I never was, but the absolute certainty that the Doctor will prevail and the frequency with which it gets accomplished in these New Who days leaves me cold. I still find the shouts of “ETERMINATE!” enjoyable, but that is not enough as I tend to shrug and think “Ugh, these guys again.” I’m sure I’m not alone saying it is time to update other classic enemies or come up with new ones.
Christmas/New Years episodes have never been known to take risks, so ok, Daleks it is. Despite my initial resistance and the worst type of mustache twirling villainy in Chris Noth’s Jack Robertson, “The Revolution of the Daleks” ends up providing a reasonably entertaining story with some genuine high points. The return of Noth’s American Fascist Capitalist Wannabe Political Animal (we get it, he’s not nice) is the worst, though.
The beginning of the episode spends too much time with this cartoon-y bad guy, so that’s annoying. The idiot plot contrivance of no one remembering what a Dalek is or being remotely careful about handling alien technology and DNA is also sloppy, but when Captain Jack Harkness shows up, all is forgiven. There is a reason why he is such a beloved character: John Barrowman simply lights up the screen. His blinding charisma is delightful and the call backs to his other appearances in the series land with the right amount of charming roguishness. He has been missed.
There is also a fair amount of time spent with Yaz (Mandip Gill), and that is another positive. She has finally been given something to do and reveals some depth. She is the one desperately holding the team together in The Doctor’s absence. Even Ryan (Tosin Cole) has some grown up dialogue and self-reflection for a change, but arguably too little too late. I can’t say the same for Graham (Bradley Walsh), even when he is trying to do something selfless, it comes of as strained and inauthentic and the Doctor once again reacts to his emotional state with indifference.
The ending is so freaking Deus Ex Machina they had to use two heretofore unknown and unexplained qualities of the TARDIS to pull it off, which they did, I guess, as long as the willful suspension of disbelief remains.
The Bottom Line
Revolution of the Daleks is a good, but not great Holiday Special. It could have used more humor and wonder and less lazy writing. Fortunately, some top-notch performance saves the day.