For the first time in fourteen years there was no Doctor Who to accompany Christmas Day. Instead, showrunner Chris Chibnall decided to move the show towards a New Year special entitled, funnily enough, ‘Resolution’… though I’m still unsure why. It’s no secret that season 11 of the show has split the fanbase due to its fluctuating quality and lacklustre writing, and the optimist in me was hoping for the special to usher in a small sense of hope for 2020 (yes, that is how long we now have to wait until the next series of Doctor Who). We needed something grandiose and clever, something that felt like Doctor Who again and sadly, despite some small signs of life I don’t think that’s what we got.
Beginning with an awkwardly-narrated tale of a battle reminiscent of Game of Thrones (but without the actual battle), we find out that the most deadly creature to walk the Earth has been defeated by humans and cut up into three pieces and scattered across the globe to keep humanity safe. One in Russia, one in South America, and one in… Sheffield, because it’s Doctor Who. Apart from the stilted narration, the prologue lent itself a rather epic quality to the story and the snippets of globe-trotting did wonders to paint the picture of a global disaster should the creature be resurrected.
It’s been well advertised before the airing of the episode that the Daleks, The Doctor’s arch tin-can arch enemies from Skaro, would be making a return in the special and I must say it’s an interesting approach for Chibnall to take with them. The biggest failing with the Daleks has always been that their bark is worse than their bite. Constantly referred to as the most dangerous species in the universe, they’re often the source of ridicule both within and outside the show due to how easy they seem to be defeated. It wasn’t until the revived series in 2005 that they were able to conquer stairs for example. However Chibnall tries something different, something that the show has already done before with a classic enemy (Mark Gatiss’ ‘Cold War’ in 2013) but something different nonetheless. Two unsuspecting archaeologists Lin (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mitch (Nikesh Patel) accidentally resurrect the section in Sheffield whilst digging and bring the squid-like innards of the Dalek to life only to have it take control of Lin and use her to rebuild its outer-case and get word to the rest of the Dalek fleet.
Of course Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and her ‘fam’ Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) soon catch wind of what’s going on and try to stop an oncoming Dalek invasion. Oh, and Ryan’s absent dad Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega) has showed up finally wishing to spend time with his son to the chagrin of Graham. A lot to deal with then. First thing’s first. I found the first half of the episode to be slower-paced, and to be honest I thought it worked wonderfully. The budding relationship between Lin and Mitch, whilst familiar and cheesy, was pulled off relatively painlessly whilst Walsh’s Graham continues to be an emotional powerhouse when handling the sight of Ryan’s absent father. Even Whittaker’s Doctor is given some nice moments too. Her blunt reaction to Aaron “you weren’t at Grace’s funeral” was brilliantly alien, without being too naive to the man’s emotions. Whilst The Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Mitch attempt to look for a Dalek-possessed Lin, Ryan goes for coffee with his dad.
It’s here where the pacing slows down to a deathly pace. Ryan’s come a long way from the start of season 11, and his budding confidence allows him to speak the ruthless truth to his dad. It’s a good performance from Cole, nothing spectacular; some of the stilted wording and pauses are too long to create a environment that’s suitably tense, but it’s a nice dynamic and one that I’m glad the show went with despite feeling slightly tacked-on. However, one of Chibnall’s biggest weaknesses in writing Doctor Who is his reliance on exposition. Now, a little bit of explaining is always needed, but to have characters justify elongated and often-trivial set-pieces as they’re happening feels too much like the show becoming a parody of itself. The Doctor has always had the tendency to ramble incessantly whilst working but Whittaker’s Doctor seems to be dialing it up to a worrying degree. Multiple times throughout the episode we’re told what’s happening instead of seeing it, and it destroys all tension and instead becomes tiresome and shallow, particularly in the episode’s second half.
It’s a shame too, because hidden somewhere within all of this is a really good Dalek episode trying to get out. Charlotte Ritchie (Fresh Meat) is given the difficult task of being ‘possessed’ by a Dalek and trying not to look ridiculous, and she even manages to look a little menacing at points as the creature speaks through her. The Doctor finds out that the squid taking control of Lin and stealing a blaster from the black archive is in fact a recon scout Dalek – a particularly ruthless and deadly example of its species and possibly the first one to ever reach Earth. This is a great concept, immediately there’s the option of trying to explain to the disillusioned, destructive monster that centuries have already passed and that its species have already tried and failed numerous times to take over the planet… but instead the Dalek just wants to craft itself a body once again and tell its friends to kill all humans.
Meanwhile Graham gets some muted time alone with Aaron, who is introduced to the abilities of the TARDIS (remember when the whole ‘space/time travel’ thing was kept a secret?) and Lin constructs a Dalek shell in a Sheffield garage out of scrap – the same way The Doctor crafted her screwdriver. So far I’ve seen a mixed reaction to the Dalek’s new look. It’s a one-off of course, with a slimmer build, red interior lighting and… missile launchers (really Sheffield?) but I rather like it. The rusted and imperfect movement compliments the bleaker, more streamlined eyepiece- one that actually gives off an air of intimidation even. The reveal of the Dalek is terrifically handled and is easily my favourite part of the episode too. As it bursts through the doors, Whittaker’s Doctor tempts us with a few slithers of the fear and anger she needs to develop. Her distaste for the Daleks is missing from both the dialogue and the performance. Still, the episode knows to steal from 2005’s ‘Dalek’ in presentation, and the face-on static shots of the eyepiece movements are truly startling at points. Nicholas Briggs is back once again on voicing duties doing another terrific job too, I can’t imagine the creatures without him.
After escaping Sheffield the Dalek goes to acquire the power needed to send a message to Skaro, though on the way it’s intercepted by a flurry of military soldiers. Again, much like ‘Dalek’ we’re given a wonderfully bleak slaughter, albeit less effective here thanks to the environment, with the alien exterminating everyone in sight and blowing up cars and tanks that get in the way. Less is always more with Daleks, and there are snippets that show Chibnall knows this, but instead allows other elements to get in the way.
If the episode had continued in such a fashion I would have considered it a success. One that, much like only one or two from the last year, actually felt like an episode of Doctor Who. However, in the process of chasing her nemesis The Doctor attempts to contact Kate Stewart at UNIT, only to find the entire operation has been shut down due to overseas budget cuts. The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce has become such a pivotal piece of the show’s canon over the years, especially throughout Moffat’s tenure, that to sacrifice the entire concept for the sake of a cheap Brexit joke delivered via an exaggerated call center worker is a huge slap in the face to fans. Not only that, but in the process of shutting down Earth’s communication systems, the episode chooses to cut to a random unknown civilian family in order to deliver a ‘oh no, Netflix is down, I guess we’re finally going to have to talk to each other!’ joke that’s extremely lazy and tonally jarring. Chibnall has said that the show is supposed to represent the current state of the world we live in, and therefore should comment on social issues and bring them into focus. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that if an issue or statement fits into an escapist story then perfect, keep it in. But to base an episode of a science-fiction program solely around certain issues, or to sacrifice pieces of the show’s history for the sake of taking a jab at Brexit is just poor writing. UNIT deserves better, and I hope by 2020 we’re given a follow up on the state of Kate Stewart and Petronella Osgood.
The Doctor and her six(!) companions soon arrive and charge towards the Dalek, all of them amazingly dodging fire long enough to strap microwave oven chargers to the shell, melting the creature before it has a chance to send out the message. However, it escapes in its squid form and takes control of Aaron, milking the renewed emotional investment Ryan has in his father for all it’s worth as The Doctor attempts to suck the creature out of the TARDIS and into a dying star. It’s all very rushed towards the end, and you start to question whether this whole sequence was needed. The episode would have been fine as a standalone big-scale singular Dalek attack, without Aaron’s presence, but instead we got the chance to develop another character who isn’t The Doctor.
‘Resolution’ just ends up being a condensed version of what the entirety of season 11 felt like. There are some nice ideas and glimmers of hope scattered around, enough to keep you watching, but not enough to make it enjoyable. Wayne Yip’s direction, particular of the Dalek scenes, adds much-needed gravitas, whilst the mighty Segun Akinola’s score works overtime to ensure that everything feels at least a little bit as epic as it’s supposed to. It’s still just a case of writing sadly. We’re still left with a Doctor who has no relationship with her companions, no overarching story, no identifiable character traits and no chance to shine. But hey, a year’s a long time, plenty can change…