This story was the 2021 New Year Special. It was written by Chris Chibnall, and directed by Lee Haven Jones. It featured the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness (who previously returned to the show in "Fugitive of the Judoon"), and marked the Thirteenth Doctor's reunion with her companions following the events at the end of "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children". This story also saw the departure of Bradley Walsh as Graham O'Brien and Tosin Cole as Ryan Sinclair.
Continuing the ‘Recon Dalek’ storyline that began in "Resolution", a new line of Daleks was introduced, cloned from a remnant of the original recon scout. Their new design is a variant on the Recon Dalek's own casing. It also saw the introduction of a special black Dalek and the return of the bronze Daleks that were last seen in the 2017 story "Twice Upon a Time" - leading to a battle between both factions.
Executive Producer Chris Chibnall has said ‘We've crammed this year's Doctor Who festive special with an explosion of extraordinary acting talent’.
On the 23rd November 2020, John Barrowman confirmed that he would return for this festive special as Captain Jack Harkness. On returning to the show John Barrowman has said that it was ‘great being back’ and that returning to the show had been ‘like going home’. Having played Captain Jack Harkness in both Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood, has said the Daleks were the show's ‘quintessential villains’. He is also reported as saying ‘They are never to be underestimated as they will always find a way to survive, which is exactly why they have survived over centuries’.
On the subject of his and Tosin Cole’s leaving the show Bradley Walsh announced that viewers should ‘expect a lot of poignancy’ from this story. The pair have been at Jodie Whittaker's side since 2018. Tosin Cole has said it had been ‘an honour’ to play Ryan opposite Bradley Walsh's Graham and Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor and that filming his last scene had been ‘emotional’.
Bradley Walsh has also said that it was ‘amazing’ to be ‘only one of a few people on the planet’ to have battled the Daleks. The comedian, and host of the game show The Chase, has said he had ‘absolutely loved’ being on the long-running sci-fi programme and would miss ‘everyone and everything’ involved.
Tosin Cole has said that ‘Working with the Daleks is sort of like working with Doctor Who royalty. You have to respect them because they are so iconic’.
In November 2020, SFX (issue 355) reported that Chris Noth would return as business tycoon Jack Robertson (see "Arachnids in the UK"). This issue also reported that Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole would depart the show in this story.
This special also had Dame Harriet Walter make her Doctor Who debut (as Jo Patterson) alongside Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, of Utopia and Misfits fame as Leo Rugazzi.
Chris Noth (Jack Robertson) is credited as "Robertson" on BBC iPlayer, and erroneously as ‘Alan Robertson’ in the Radio Times.
This story included an uncredited part for Emily Maitlis (a newsreader for the BBC) playing herself in a scene where Jack Robertson gives an interview on Newsnight.
The title of this special story was revealed after the credits of the 2020 story "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children".
In April 2020, Chris Chibnall confirmed that post-production was continuing on this story remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Promotional stills from filming were released at a virtual Comic Con held on the 9th October 2020.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol was used as the setting for the scene when the two Dalek factions meet. These scenes were filmed in October 2019 while the bridge was closed, supposedly for repair.
Jack Harkness uses a temporal-freezing gateway disinhibitor bubble to break The Doctor and himself out of prison. He gets The Doctor's attention by knocking four times (see "Planet of the Dead", "The Waters of Mars" and "The End of Time").
Captain Jack Harkness travels by using a vortex manipulator ("Utopia", "The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords" and "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End") and uses a sonic blaster ("The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances"). The Doctor questions how Captain Jack Harkness was able to smuggle his vortex manipulator into the prison. Which Captain Jack Harkness responds; ‘You really want me to answer that?’.
Captain Jack Harkness recalls meeting The Doctor's companions and warning them about the Lone Cyberman ("Fugitive of the Judoon"). He is unhappy to find out that The Doctor did give him the Cyberium ("The Haunting of Villa Diodati") but The Doctor quickly claims that she resolved this, ‘sort of’ ("Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children").
The Doctor once again comments on how Captain Jack Harkness has ‘had work done’, to which Captain Jack Harkness replies; ‘You can talk’.
Captain Jack Harkness tells The Doctor’s companions how he became immortal (see the 2005 Ninth Doctor story "Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways") and that the person partially responsible for it is now stranded in a parallel universe ("Army of Ghosts/Doomsday" and "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End").
Captain Jack Harkness tells Yasmin that he is from the 51st century ("The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances") lived on the Boeshane Peninsula, ("The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords" and the Torchwood story "Adam") and how The Doctor abandoned him numerous times ("Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways" and "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End"). He noted that The Doctor was male then ("The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords").
Captain Jack Harkness turns down The Doctor's offer, to travel in the TARDIS, to instead reconnect with fellow Torchwood colleague Gwen Cooper. He had previously refused The Doctor's offer to travel with them to see Gwen again (see "The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords"). He also mentions Rose Tyler.
Captain Jack Harkness calls Graham ‘Silver Fox’ (see "Fugitive of the Judoon").
Yasmin has been studying the TARDIS that The Doctor sent her, Graham and Ryan back to Earth in (see "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children").
Ryan reflects on taking on giant spiders ("Arachnids in the UK"), a sentient universe, ("It Takes You Away"), Cybermen ("The Haunting of Villa Diodati" and "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children"), Skithra ("Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror"), Morax ("The Witchfinders") and the ‘mighty Pting’ ("The Tsuranga Conundrum").
Jack Robertson's political ambitions being ruined by a toxic waste scandal is mentioned from "Arachnids in the UK" and he remembers The Doctor and her travelling companions from that incident.
The Doctor's fellow prisoners include: a Weeping Angel, whom The Doctor nicknamed ‘Angela’: an Ood, whom The Doctor nicknamed ‘Bonnie’; a Sycorax, whom The Doctor nicknamed ‘Clyde’: a Pting, whom The Doctor nicknamed ‘Tiny’; a Silent; a Skithra; a Gathering Coil; a Cyberman; and a Thijarian.
The Recon Daleks have voices similar to those used by the Imperial Daleks in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks", the last televised instance of a Dalek Civil War.
Humans previously used Daleks to improve their nation's security without being aware of the dangers (see "The Power of the Daleks" and "Victory of the Daleks").
The Bronze Daleks kills the Recon Dalek's Defence Drone army because they view them as ‘impure’. The Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller previously encountered a set of Daleks who wanted to wipe out genetically impure Mutant Daleks created by Martez on Red Rocket Rising ("Blood of the Daleks"). The Eleventh Doctor encountered the Supreme Dalek, who did likewise to the Ironside Daleks for similar reasons ("Victory of the Daleks"). The Metaltron Dalek once committed suicide because it mutated and saw itself as ‘impure’ ("Dalek").
Before of their demise, the Drone Daleks insist they had to adapt their DNA to survive. This was Dalek Sec's argument in favour of combining Dalek DNA with human DNA in "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks".
The Daleks use ‘maximum extermination’ (see "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End" and "Victory of the Daleks").
The Daleks are transported to the Void to die. The Tenth Doctor twice before sent the Daleks and other enemies to the Void to destroy them (see "Army of Ghosts/Doomsday" and "The Next Doctor").
The Doctor is locked in prison for evading the Judoon twice and 7,000 other offenses. (see "Fugitive of the Judoon" and "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children"). This prison is 79 billion light-years away from Earth.
The Doctor tells Ryan that Gallifrey is devoid of life after Ko Sharmus used the death particle (see "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children").
Graham reminds Ryan of their destruction of the Cybercarrier while blowing up the Dalek saucer in a similar manner. In addition, The Doctor realises that, just like with the Cybercarrier, destroying the alien spaceship won't take care of all of the enemies and she requires a separate plan to finish the job (see "Ascension of the Cybermen/The Timeless Children").
The opening titles (‘A LONG TIME AGO... FAR, FAR AWAY...’) is a reference to the famous Star Wars opening title, ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...’.
The Doctor recites the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone while in prison as a bedtime story to herself, calling it a ‘classic’. She mentions ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley of 4 Privet Drive’ - which are the opening words of the first book in the Harry Potter series.
The Tenth Doctor had previously expressed an admiration for the Harry Potter series and its author, J. K. Rowling. (see the 2007 story "The Shakespeare Code"). The Eleventh Doctor had previously recalled that when he was eight years old, he loved ‘classic’ bedtime stories (see the 2011 story "Night Terrors").
The Doctor misses her intended temporal destination when returning to pick up her companions. The Eleventh Doctor had a history of doing the same ("The Eleventh Hour" and "Let's Kill Hitler"), and the Ninth Doctor once returned Rose Tyler one year late, causing others to think she had disappeared ("Aliens of London/World War Three"). Graham blames it on the TARDIS herself, noting her tendency to take The Doctor where they need to go (see "The Doctor's Wife").
The Doctor gifts Ryan and Graham psychic paper as they leave the TARDIS (see "The End of the World", "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks" and "Army of Ghosts/Doomsday").
Ryan puts on a grey beanie, with The Doctor remembering the yellow one he was wearing when they first met (see "The Woman Who Fell to Earth").
Ryan reads a story online about a village in Finland that is supposedly dealing with a troll invasion. Graham mentions having heard a story about a quarry in Korea that has been shut down due to reports of ‘gravel creatures coming to life’.
Ryan once again tries to learn how to ride a bicycle with Graham's help (see "The Woman Who Fell to Earth").
Graham and Ryan both see a vision of Grace O'Brien (see "The Woman Who Fell to Earth").
This story was broadcast on BBC One on the 1st January 2021, after being announced as being part of the 2020/2021 festive season. This story was aired in the United States on BBC America on the same day, and in Australia on ABC on the 2nd January 2021.
This was the first televised story, of the revived Doctor Who series, to be originally released to a streaming service, making its debut on iPlayer around 10 minutes before its BBC One broadcast, rather than shortly afterwards or live and concurrently, as is the norm. However, Series 1 of Class had previously debuted on the same service. (Perhaps coincidentally, the episodes of Class had also debuted on the iPlayer service earlier than the time that they were advertised to be released).
This is the first episode to have a 4K definition in the release, but only on iPlayer. "Twice Upon a Time" was re-released in that quality after the television broadcast of the story.
Before this story was broadcast there were a number of myths: This story would be a two-parter - This was proven false; The prison The Doctor was in would be revealed to be Shada (see the Fourth Doctor story "Shada") - This is unknown as this was neither confirmed nor denied; Davros would return - This was proven false; The Special Weapons Dalek would return - This was proven false; This story would continue the war between the Renegade Daleks and the Imperial Daleks - Although not entirely true, this story does contain a similar plot element; David Tennant would make a cameo as the Tenth Doctor - This was proven false; Graham or Ryan would die at the end of this story - This theory was proved to be incorrect as they would both leave the TARDIS alive at the end of the story and given an open ending (so could return in a future story).
Twelve selected pieces of score from this special, as composed by Segun Akinola, were released on digital music platforms on the 2nd January 2021 by Silva Screen Records.
The Lasts (Subject to Future Stories):
The last story of Season Thirty Eight (New Series 12).
Bradley Walsh's last story as companion Graham O'Brien.
Tosin Cole's last story as companion Ryan Sinclair.