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Doctor Who New Year’s Day Special: Resolution Review

Let's get one thing clear right from the start: this episode really should have been called “Resolution of the Daleks.” Come on, Chibnall; don't be coy. That said, leaving the last part of the title implied was somewhat cool.

If you've been keeping up with my Doctor Who reviews, you're probably aware that I was decidedly unimpressed with Series 11. I also agree with fans who aren't pleased that the usual Doctor Who Christmas special was abandoned this year. I don't think Christmas-themed sci-fi concepts are that hard to come up with. It's a tradition that should have been upheld. On top of all that, the reveal of the Daleks as this episode's big bad only made me less eager to watch it. It seemed highly likely to me, based on Chris Chibnall's track record thus far, that he would do a terrible job writing the Daleks.

Was I proven wrong? To a degree, yes. Does this episode make up for all the failings of Series 11? No. But setting all the bigger concerns about the show's future aside, Resolution was one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who episodes I've watched in a very long time.

The Quick and Spoiler-Free Verdict

Overall, Resolution is a well-written Dalek story that skillfully puts a fresh coat of paint on a classic monster without compromising the time-honored elements that made the creature scary and popular in the first place. There are some significant problems with the plot and pacing of this episode, but in the end, it's still a fun watch.

Content and Themes

An intense, scary atmosphere is maintained throughout much of the episode, and there are multiple scenes of a nightmarish alien creature, but no actual gore or graphic violence.

What I Didn't Like

Resolution tried to tell two stories at once, but failed to mesh them together well enough to justify their co-existence in the same episode. Here, we've got the primary conflict with the Dalek alongside the plot thread of Ryan's dysfunctional relationship with his dad. The latter felt out of place. Granted, the scenes pertaining to this arc were well-written and acted, with Tosin Cole in particular delivering an excellent performance as Ryan. Deep character moments like these have always been one of Chris Chibnall's strengths. But they felt like they belonged to a different show. They were too mundane for Doctor Who. We've always had some Earth-bound scenes focused on the ordinary lives of companions on Doctor Who, but in the past, they've usually been kept brief and peppered with enough humor to hold viewers' attention until the return of more sci-fi-oriented material. In Resolution, the scenes without the Doctor and the TARDIS drag on a little too long.

The attempt to blend the two storylines together at the end doesn't really work, and relies too heavily on plot contrivances. Ryan's dad just happening to have the souped-up microwave needed to defeat the Dalek stretched credibility too far. Plus, his introduction to the Doctor's bizarre world was rushed, which made him feel out of place for the rest of the episode. It was like watching a character from a soap opera who accidentally wandered into Doctor Who.

There's a significant plot problem with regard to the Dalek's arrival on Earth. We're told through hurried flashbacks that a medieval army managed to defeat the reconnaissance scout when it first landed, which most likely means that they were battling it when it was at full power. However, later in the story, the Dalek manages to obliterate a squadron of modern soldiers, plus a tank, with little difficulty, even though it's established that the creature is weakened and relying on makeshift weaponry. This doesn't make sense. A few more lines of exposition might have solved the problem–or better yet, longer flashbacks to humanity's first clash with the Dalek. But though the concept of the guardians scattering the Dalek across the world is really quite fascinating, it barely gets addressed at all. We see brief glimpses of the guardians and the far-flung locales where they stashed their cargo, but all too quickly, the focus settles solely on Sheffield and remains there for the rest of the episode. It's an unfortunate squandering of a strong plot premise. In fact, here's an idea: why couldn't the storyline of this episode have been the entire arc for Series 11 instead of that Stenza snoozefest? That would have been much better than cramming all this good material into a single hour.

Politics took a backseat in Resolution, but they weren't gone entirely. The scene which reveals that UNIT is suspended due to Brexit (the word isn't used, but that's the clear implication) has sparked a significant degree of controversy among viewers. However, I have to admit that I don't really care about this scene, for three reasons: first, given UNIT's international focus, it makes sense that Brexit would have an impact on it; second, the scene mentions Kate Stewart, opening the door for her eventual reappearance on the show; and third, UNIT is unlikely to remain out of action for very long. That's not to say I wouldn't have preferred a subplot about the Thirteenth Doctor meeting Kate over Ryan's daddy issues, of course. But the overstuffed main cast means that there's never room to handle more than one big event at a time, and regardless, at least one of the companions always gets sidelined. Yaz had practically nothing useful to contribute in Resolution.

The scene which annoyed me the most was actually the “I suppose we'll have to have a conversation!” gag. Seriously? It's 2019, not 2009. Jokes about modern reliance on the Internet have been done to death. Why script, cast, and produce a whole scene revolving around this ill-advised attempt at humor? If it had to be included at all, one line from a main cast member would have been sufficient. Talk about a waste of the show's budget.

My final critique pertains more to Jodie Whittaker's performance in general than to this episode in particular. While I did think her acting was strong in Resolution, I still don't feel that she captures the ancient Time Lord fury that was a significant part of the Doctor's prior incarnations. The Doctor's darkness is clearly being downplayed in this era of the show, and I'm not sure I agree with that decision. I'm not saying that the Doctor's morality needs to be debated as much as it was in the Capaldi area, but a hint of true menace from Thirteen now and then would make a big difference. I believe Whittaker is capable of embracing that aspect of the character; I just don't think she's being encouraged to do so.

What I Liked

It's hard to tell a good Dalek story, for a number of reasons. For one thing, there are a lot of Dalek stories in the show's canon, so it's difficult to find something new to do with them. For another, their visuals don't naturally lend themselves to a modern sci-fi story. Let's face it, they do look very 1960's, and not particularly threatening on the surface. At the same time, however, the Doctor Who fanbase has never been keen on the idea of redesigning the Daleks. The show has erred on the side of caution with regard to this issue over the years, aside from that brief flirtation with the My Little Dalek motif back in Series 5. You just can't give the Daleks a complete makeover without getting fans angry, which makes them hard to weave into a story that's supposed to be genuinely terrifying.

Resolution deals with this problem in a very clever way, and in the process, provides a near-perfect introduction to the Daleks for new Doctor Who viewers. The classic Dalek shell isn't even glimpsed until about halfway through the story. Instead, we first see the mutant outside of its casing, in a scene which actually made me jump. We're brought face-to-face with the true horror of the Daleks right from the start, by means of some truly excellent visual effects. This makes the creature feel more like a creation of Ridley Scott than 1960's teatime BBC. The possession of a human isn't something we've seen Daleks do before (at least, not in this way), but it works well and adds to the horror. Charlotte Ritchie's strong dual performance as both Lin and the Dalek certainly doesn't hurt. When the casing finally does show up, it still looks menacing, partly due to the groundwork laid by the episode's first act and partly because of clever redesign choices. It's clearly a Dalek, but it still delivers scares on par with what we get from the “naked” Dalek earlier in the story. The color scheme, tweaked weaponry, and other subtle alterations to the classic look all work together to, essentially, make the Daleks scary again. (The echoes of the sonic screwdriver scene from “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” in the Dalek's forging of its own suit were a nice touch.)

I also liked the way the show's mythology was openly referenced instead of being watered down for the uninitiated viewer. It was smart and intriguing to use a specific type of Dalek from an earlier period in the race's history. This simultaneously explained the changes to the creature's design and capabilities and added more details to a portion of the show's mythology which doesn't often get explored. As such, there was something for both old and new fans to enjoy.

Despite my issues with Jodie Whittaker's take on the Doctor, I think she did an excellent job in this story. She got to take center stage more than usual in Resolution, instead of being eclipsed by the companions. The scenes in which she faced off against the Dalek were very satisfying. The rest of the cast delivered strong performances as well, even though their individual presences in the story could have been better balanced.

It was refreshing to see the Doctor's typical clever solution to the Dalek threat fail, as it reinforced the fact that the Doctor is fallible and raised the stakes one last time instead of wrapping up the story too neatly. And while I didn't care for the Ryan's-dad subplot, I still felt that the episode's final moments worked well. It was nice to see some emotional payoff for Ryan's arc. Granted, killing off his dad could have been effective as well, but it also might have been a big mistake. The repercussions of such a dark moment would have put the show on shaky ground going into Series 12 next year.

In Conclusion

At its core, Resolution is a fun Doctor Who story that makes good use of classic elements. It's not perfect by any means, but it still deserves praise, and it's actually a cut above many Dalek-centric episodes of years past.

The question is, what significance does Resolution have for the future of the show? It's difficult to say, at this point. The ratings for Resolution were very disappointing, down from the Series 11 finale and historically bad for a holiday event episode. I've heard rumors that the merchandising for the show's current era is not selling well overseas, especially when compared to the performance of merchandise related to previous Doctors. Audience appreciation scores are continuing to plummet despite acclaim for Series 11 from most professional critics, and even the mainstream media is beginning to voice misgivings about the direction of Chibnall's Who. Despite all its good points, Resolution still reinforces some of these concerns, rising closer to the standard of Doctor Who's golden years but falling short in the end.

Of course, Resolution was filmed before the bulk of audience reactions to Series 11 began to come in, so it can't be seen as either a positive or negative reaction to fan complaints. The episode does indicate that Chibnall is willing to include classic monsters on the show, and that he's capable of doing justice to them. It does not, however, prove that Series 12 will follow the template set by Resolution, nor does it solve the very big problems the show is facing.

All we can do now is wait and see. Well, that, and listen to a lot of awesome Doctor Who audio dramas.

Speaking of which, my introduction to the world of Doctor Who on audio is coming soon. I hope to explore many of the excellent stories from Big Finish Productions this year, so stay tuned.

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