In case you missed the heading, this review will contain HUGE spoilers for the Doctor Who New Year’s Day special, Resolution. If you haven’t seen the episode yet then watch it before coming back. Trust me- it’s more satisfying.
Now THAT’s a Dalek story!
Resolution is simply put a wonderful adventure from beginning to end. Whilst this isn’t the most complex or thought-provoking script on the planet (we’ll leave those to Malorie Blackman, Vinay Patel and Ed Hime) what Chris Chibnall has done is an hour long blockbuster that finally sees Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor confront a monster from the show’s long past. And what better foe to battle than the Daleks, an enemy almost as old as the show itself? And yes, there are explosions. And exterminations. And a long speech where the Doctor tells the Dalek to leave Earth or she will destroy it. Yup- this is Doctor Who. Just a shame we’re not getting any more this year, but this… was the start to 2019 we needed.
As usual the show looks utterly beautiful. Every shot of Chibnall’s era looks like a tableau of gorgeous detail and Resolution is no exception. Fortunately this season has been blessed with scripts to match the high quality of the production and Resolution is a tightly written thriller that never slags or stops being interesting. I love how the story evolves- a prologue depicts an ancient evil being locked up at three corners of the planet and then the story turns into a crawl in the sewers with a tentacled creature that evoked Resurrection of the Daleks. Then it turns into a psychological thriller when Lin is controlled by the Dalek mutant before an all-action pursuit occurs. In between this, Chibnall gives Ryan some much needed growth and complexity as a character and this is all supplemented by the phenomenal score by Segun Akinola.
From the second I saw Team TARDIS (one of my favourite line-ups in the show) I was instantly thrown into the adventure. This season has done such a good job of drawing me back into the show and these characters have become so loveable and real that I want to see them go on forever. Admittedly Yaz (once again) is a bit sidelined but Graham and especially Ryan get some of their best material. But that is nothing compared to the Doctor in this story. Faced with her oldest and deadliest foe, the Thirteenth Doctor is given her most dramatic and powerful material, even more so than It Takes You Away. I adore every second of the Doctor on screen- from her Troughton-esque manipulation of the Dalek’s control of the TARDIS, her speech to the newly formed Dalek warrior in the warehouse and the wonderful climax that sees Thirteen launch a Dalek mutant into a supernova. Whoever said this incarnation wasn’t brutal? With one series where does Thirteen stand right now? I need more dramatic material like Resolution, It Takes You Away and Rosa (the best episodes with regards to Thirteen as a character) from the writing but right now she occupies the higher tier of the midsection of Doctors such as Hartnell, McGann and Eccleston (that’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written)- roughly in the middle of my rankings.
And now to our favourite genocidal pepper pots. Let’s be honest, in the Moffat era Skaro’s finest were given a tough time, reduced to being cameos (The Big Bang, Wedding of River Song, The Pilot, Day and Time of the Doctor), in the background with no impact like the Series 9 opener and Asylum of the Daleks or not exactly working like Victory of the Daleks, despite that story not being without merit. Into the Dalek was the only time Moffat attempted to do a Dalek story properly and it worked but it was heavily flawed and borrowed way too much from Series 1’s masterful Dalek, still the race’s finest showing in the revival. Not all those stories are bad- some are great in fact- but it’s clear the race needed saving.
Enter Chris Chibnall. Whilst Resolution once again evokes Dalek there are several key differences. For starters, there has never been an episode that deals with the Dalek mutant in such detail before. Remember, it’s the mutant inside that’s the evil, and Chibnall makes this very clear in the episode with the very unique scenes dealing with the mutant on its own. The mutant controls a human being, engineers an armour for itself and can destabilise the TARDIS without even being in full power- if that isn’t a sign of how powerful and dangerous these creatures I don’t know what is. Another difference with Dalek is how the Doctor treats her opponent- whilst Nine reacts with rage and anger at not having wiped them all out, Thirteen accepts their past and hates it for what it is, not what it did in the past. Her moral compass has been clearly established in the last series and whilst her hatred for the Daleks is personal, she is still willing to give it a chance to abandon its plans, only destroying it when it refuses. I love stories where the Daleks are more resourceful and cunning such as Power of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks and Parting of the Ways and Resolution (of the Daleks. I don’t care- that’s what the story should have been called) is one of the more clever uses of the Daleks in recent years, with some nice mythology incorporated with the ancient patrol Daleks being imprisoned under the Earth. It’s so refreshing to hear Nick Briggs again and I love the custom shell- it’s obviously a one-off design but I would love it if elements of this design such as the cannons in the round things and the colour scheme were incorporated into an official redesign of the whole race. I mentioned in my review of Aquaman that the Sicily battle royale was the defining moment of that film that justifies what comes before and after, and Resolution has a similar sequence with the lone Dalek destroying the British army (“it’s a drone!”) with barely any effort. Never has carnage looked this wonderful and fun. Sure the scene is ultimately pointless but who cares- it’s a Dalek killing everyone. The Daleks are back.
Despite me really enjoying this episode, there were faults to it. For starters, whilst I like the idea of UNIT being taken out of action, Chibnall seriously needs to justify it in the next season or fans will not be happy. Was it so hard to make the soldiers who got killed part of UNIT, thus explaining why they can’t help? Another fault is a problem the episode shares with The Tsuranga Conundrum- Ryan’s plot, whilst good, adds nothing to the story until the climax. The scenes involving his father are wonderful but they are at odds with what is going on. The dialogue and conversation scenes have been phenomenal all series but Chibnall needs to find a way to organically integrate them in with the A-plot. And it’s only him that’s the problem in this case- all the other writers wonderfully blend the character with the plot but Chibnall sees them as two separate things, an issue he had even before becoming showrunner. Fortunately the climax brings Ryan’s arc full circle and the scenes are good enough to justify their inclusion, and unlike Tsuranga we have a wonderful main plot. Another scene which was an issue is the cutaway to the family affected by the Dalek taking out the Wifi- Ryan’s line just before was hilarious, but we got the joke. We didn’t need a whole scene to further explain the joke. Chibnall’s humour is good but he occasionally has an issue with when to stop telling them.
In conclusion, Resolution is a vastly superior festive special than the majority of Christmas specials and the best Dalek story since The Parting of the Ways. It has faults but ultimately the episode ends a wonderful run of Doctor Who on a high. I never had time to review The Battle of Rankoor Al Kovos or whatever it’s called but whilst I enjoyed it, particularly Graham’s arc, it didn’t feel like a finale and lacked the oomph of the best of the Chibnall era. Resolution gave us the finale we were waiting for and I see no reason why this couldn’t have been the two part episode 11 and 12 to the series properly, but whatever. As for the hiatus, I’ve done some research and apparantly the hiatus is due to the BBC giving Chibnall more time and resources with a bigger budget and more writers due to the success of Series 11. This means a lengthier pre-production, hence the delay. At the moment the show is a pop culture juggernaut again so I don’t think the audience will lose interest and a longer production period will hopefully give Chibnall a way to iron out the flaws in his era so far such as-
- Giving Yaz more to do.
- Letting other writers tackle the majority of episodes and save his own writing for specials and finales because that’s where Chibnall excels.
- Incorporate the show’s lore more.
- Show don’t tell.
- Craft a more connected season to avoid audience fatigue.
As it stands, I would rank Jodie Whittaker’s stories as-
- It Takes You Away
- Demons of the Punjab
- The Witchfinders
- The Battle of Raskoor Al Kovos
- The Woman Who Fell to Earth
- The Ghost Monument
- Arachnids in the UK
- The Tsuranga Conundrum
Incidentally, the difference of quality between the top and bottom episodes is so vast you could fit three Stephen King novels in the gap. Although that’s more a sign of how brilliant It Takes You Away is as opposed to Tsuranga Conundrum’s merely mediocre quality. We’re eleven stories into this era and I don’t think there’s been a terrible one yet, same with the Eleventh Doctor at first. All I can say is I hope the wait is worth it and Chibnall gives us another quality series of Doctor Who. Could the wait lead to more episodes being commissioned? I hope so.