The Thirteen Doctor faces off against her greatest foe for the first time in a cracking New Year’s adventure.
Ever since Doctor Who’s revival in 2005, the Christmas special has been a long-revered tradition for British families and sci-fi nerds alike. Which, of course, made it more than a little disappointing when the BBC announced they’d be skipping the Christmas special this year in lieu of a New Year’s Day special. It breaks with established tradition, to be sure, and fans missing the opportunity to gather around the telly on Christmas Day to watch the new Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) deal with all manner of Yuletide-related dangers. It’s fortunate, then, that the aptly-titled “Resolution” manages to not just be a cracking Doctor Who adventure in its own right, but represents the kind of well-paced, high stakes television we’ve been looking for in showrunner Chris Chibnall’s ambitious yet shaky first season.
Summoned back to Earth by an alert of alien hazards afoot, the Thirteenth doctor and her “fam” Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) return to their home of Sheffield to see a mysterious creature awakened from an archaeological dig spearheaded by New Year’s lovebirds Lin (Charlotte Ritchie, Call the Midwife) and Mitch (Nikesh Patel). In true Who fashion, the creature quickly escapes by capturing and puppeteering the captive Lin, and swiftly works to rebuild itself and resume its millennia-old dreams of conquest. Of course, the Doctor quickly discerns what kind of creature it is (kinda like anyone with a brain at first glance of the episode’s trailer) – the Daleks. As if these galactic stakes weren’t bad enough, Ryan’s absentee dad Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega) arrives on Graham’s doorstep, inspired by New Year’s to make things right with his son.
While there was a lot to celebrate about season 11 – Jodie Whittaker’s fantastic take on the Doctor, the personable new companions, the show’s improved look and sound – Chibnall’s first season suffered from a consistently uneven pace and a certain lack of scope with many of its episodes. Hell, the actual season finale was called “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” but was just your standard techno-babbly corridor-chaser. “Resolution”, on the other hand, feels more like a properly high-stakes season finale: it sees the return of a classic villain (the first for Thirteen’s run), ties up some of Ryan and Graham’s lingering character threads, and offers some much-needed spectacle beyond a mere wave of the sonic screwdriver. There are car chases, military battles, a climax involving the TARDIS and a black hole, making the finale feel appropriately big in a way the intimate stories of this season have rarely accomplished.
And, of course, there’s “Resolution”’s inventive spin on the classic Daleks, literally and figuratively stripping down their threat to something genuinely compelling. Doctor Who has long been filled with oversized tales of massive Dalek armies: this time, like the Ninth Doctor episode “Dalek”, one Dalek is much scarier than a big sloppy CGI field of them. The special takes that even further, too, cribbing lovingly from the Brendan Fraser version of the Mummy movie by making the Dalek an ancient resurrected evil that must reassemble itself piece by piece. There’s a certain symmetry to watching a captive Lin weld together a makeshift Dalek pepper-pot tank at the end of a season that began with the Doctor fashioning her own screwdriver in a similar environment. This Dalek – a reconnaissance scout with abilities more advanced than the typical Dalek – is just as much of an improviser as the Doctor, making it much scarier and more compelling that your typical Who foe.
“Resolution” doesn’t just deliver on the spectacle, either; it’s a proper showcase for Jodie’s Doctor, who hasn’t had as much time to make her mark on the character amidst some dodgy, rushed episodes and a rather crowded TARDIS. Amidst a season that has swapped out familiar baddies for some disappointing original aliens (Tim Shaw, anyone?), it’s great to see Whittaker’s uniquely humanistic Time Lord finally face a villain that’s up to the challenge. Scenes in which she faces down the Dalek and reassures Lin of her impending rescue are a lovely showcase for Whittaker’s particular intensity, allowing her empathetic Doctor to finally turn that scrunch face towards a villain that deserves it.
Even in a special that sees the already-large Team TARDIS grow even further (at one point, the Doc consults her “extended fam”), “Resolution” finds a rare amount of focus for its supporting players. Aaron’s arrival on the scene leads to some fantastic scenes with Ryan and Graham, Adegboyega infusing Aaron with just the right mix of rightful shame and deflecting self-aggrandizement. He’s a guy trying to face up to his responsibilities for the first time, but doesn’t quite know how yet; Ryan, conversely, doesn’t know how to forgive him for what he’s done. That the episode manages to wrap that conflict up along with the universe-ending stakes of the Dalek so elegantly is a credit to “Resolution”’s great pace, something the writers should keep in mind for Series 12 when it eventually arrives in 2020. (Of course, this also came at the expense of Yaz, which is typical for the season: please give her more to do next time, Chibs.)
If this is the last Who we’re going to get for a while, at least the show goes into hibernation on a high note – “Resolution” sidesteps a lot of season 11’s problems with a more assured Doctor, the comfort of a strong, familiar villain, and a well-paced chase that offers plenty of scares and action. After the frustration of “Ranskoor Av Kolos”, it’s nice to see that Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor has finally found its footing.
- I loved the gag where we find out UNIT has been suspended “pending review” of their finances after international organizations backed out. Did Brexit ruin UNIT?
- I’m obsessed with the look of the stripped-down “junkyard chic” Dalek, with its thinner casing and Dalek-bump missiles. We even get to see it take down a tank!
- As frustrating as it is that “Resolution” is a New Year’s special, I did enjoy the little digs at the action happening on a day where “everything’s closed, everyone’s hungover, and there’s nothing to do.” After all, it’s much easier to steal things from a top-secret military facility when there’s just the one poor sap manning the security desk.