Doctor Who breaks with over a decade of traditional Christmas specials to deliver a New Year’s special instead. Technically, this isn’t the first time a DW event has taken place around that holiday, since the 1996 Paul McGann DW TV movie took place around the last day of 1999.
The 1996 Doctor Who TV-movie used New Year’s as a theme throughout; a renewed Doctor (McCoy to McGann), a new country (the United States), mentions of New Year’s Eve parties, and even a grand ceremony for a new high-end atomic clock to ring in the 21st century. DW96 was arguably flawed, yes, but there was no mistaking that the New Year’s Eve holiday permeated the entire movie. In fact, I’d say New Year’s Eve/Day is a far more logical holiday on which to hang the adventures of a time traveler.
But with “Resolution”, New Year’s is treated almost as an afterthought. The Doctor takes her Team TARDIS mates on a whirlwind tour of galaxy-wide New Year’s celebrations (of which we see only the very end), there’s casual mention of hungover excavators at a dig site beneath Sheffield, as well as a solemn opening/closing narration, but that’s about it. “Resolution” could’ve taken place on Christmas Day, or Boxing Day or Easter or Halloween for that matter because…well, it doesn’t matter. New Year’s Day is the new Christmas, because well, producer Chris Chibnall says so. Granted, many past DW Christmas Specials had used the Christmas holiday arbitrarily as well, but why break with tradition completely unless you have something better to offer? In this case, it’s not better, only different; and barely so, at that.
If that were my only disappointment with the special, I’d easily forgive it, but sadly it isn’t. “Resolution” has a tired, somewhat retreaded quality to it.
**** TARDIS-INTERIOR SIZED SPOILERS! ****
As opening narration tells us, around the 9th century, there was a great battle between primitive Earthers and a lone ‘enemy’ who was very powerful, but ultimately defeated. Given their defeated foe’s power, several warriors took various pieces of their foe to be scattered across the globe (Siberia, India, England, etc), to be eternally guarded. One warrior was unable to keep his promise, as he was ambushed and his pieces of the dismembered enemy were, in time, buried deep beneath (where else?) Sheffield.
Cut to the present, and we see two young archeologists, Lin (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mitch (Nikesh Patel) on a dig beneath the city who come across something strange at their dig site. The two are carrying on about a now-awkward party kiss the night before in a bit of “Big Bang Theory” character interplay that is used to up the dramatic stakes later (calculatedly so). Mitch likes Lin, Lin likes Mitch. Nice, but on with the story…
The two have accidentally dug up a piece of the mysterious fallen enemy of the 9th century conflict thought to be lost forever and….it’s a bit of Dalek; those longtime classic foes of the Doctor for the past 55 years of the show. It’s the gelatinous, squid-like, organic ‘pilot’ of the Dalek cybernetic organism that escapes…
Team TARDIS (Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, Mandipp Gill’s “Yaz”, Bradley Walsh’s “Graham” and Tosin Cole’s “Ryan”) arrives, materializing the TARDIS right in front of the two stunned scientists without any kind of plausible explanation…it’s treated almost as casually as if they’d just pulled up in a police car. So much for scientific curiosity, or at the very least a sense of wonder.
It takes the Doctor a short while to suss out what is happening, but with the aid of her magic wan–er, sonic screwdriver, she figures it out. It’s a piece of dormant Dalek, and it landed on Earth millennia ago only to be reawakened on the first day of 2019.
The Doctor swings into high gear, trying to reach her old contacts at UNIT (including Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart’s now-in-charge daughter) but to no avail. In a sly bit of anti-Brexit commentary, UNIT has apparently fallen apart, thanks to other international members’ lack of trust in their divorcing EU partner. This is one of the rare times that the polarizing politics of the real world have crept into this year’s offerings. It’s too bad the moment was played so broadly with an overly comedic phone operator named Polly (Laura Evelyn).
Team TARDIS is on their own. They move the TARDIS to Graham’s living room to figure out their next move…
As Lin goes home after the dig is closed off, she finds she has the missing parasitic Dalek ‘pilot’ attached to her back (shades of both the ALIEN face-hugger and the large beetle that attached itself to Donna in “Turn Left”), and is using her as its new ‘body.’ This is an ability unique to the ‘scout’ Dalek, and explains why we’ve never seen them do this before in the last 55 years. The lone Dalek plans to repeat the mission of the lone Dalek we saw in the Eccleston-era story “Dalek” (a tighter and more effective version of this same exact premise). The Dalek parasite forces Lin to do its will, hacking into the internet, and making her infiltrate an army base whilst wearing a stolen policeman’s uniform.
A further complication has arrived; Ryan’s ne’er do well dad Aron (Daniel Adegboyega) shows up at Graham’s door, offering to rebuild the bridges he’d burned with Ryan so many years ago. A bit of soap opera character development that, like Lin & Mitch’s flirtations, feels a little calculated. Arguably the reunion stalls the momentum of the story, but at the very least we get an attempted reconciliatory scene in a cafe that offers a well-acted moment between Aron and Ryan.
The episode’s big action piece comes as the Dalek flees host-body Lin and eventually recreates a version of its old mechanical self (complete with its kitchen wisk-weapon arm), which it uses to overruns the base’s defenses. This single moment felt the most Doctor Who-ish of anything seen in “Resolution”, as it reminded me of a number of Third Doctor’s adventures, when an alien creature would drop in from the sky and overrun a squad of Earth-based UNIT troops. It’s a nod to DW’s past that is appreciated, not too unlike a redshirt scene in classic Star Trek.
Through a bit of technical jiggering (courtesy of a microwave oven brought aboard by salesman Aron), the Doctor and her friends destroy the mechanical Dalek (a bit too easily, in fact) only to discovery that its wily occupant has fled the apparatus and attached itself to Aron’s back (didn’t see that coming, right?).
Dalek/Aron hijacks the TARDIS, and forces it to rendezvous with the Dalek fleet at Skaro. The Dalek’s biggest weakness is its outdated 9th century intel, since Skaro’s sun went supernova way back during the classic series. The TARDIS doors are opened and Dalek/Aron is nearly blown out into the void of Skaro space, but Ryan intervenes, using the power of his newfound love for his dad to help pull him back into the ship as the gooey Dalek parasite is forced into space. The father-son reconciliation comes a bit too easily here; there’s almost no transition to that moment, other than deadbeat dad Aron is about to be blown into space with an alien parasite on his back. Feels like an emotional cheat.
The dust settles as Aron grasps exactly where his son has been spending his time lately. The Doctor makes Aron an offer to join the team, but he politely refuses. The Doctor takes her trusted TARDIS off into eternity.
Analysis and Summary.
While I appreciated the nods to Doctor Who history and lore (both visually and story-wise), “Resolution” has a feeling of ‘too little, too late’ about it. With a season of largely hit-and-miss stories and aliens, the use of Daleks at the end of the year feels like desperation. The scientists and the subterranean dig setting do have a nice “Quatermass and the Pit” feel to them, as well as past Doctor Who adventures like “Web of Fear.” Nicholas Briggs’ return as the Dalek voice was also a nice touch, as were the army/UNIT references, but for some reason it all feels a bit perfunctory… ticking off boxes, rather than earning genuine audience emotion, as “Dalek” had done seemingly without effort in 2005.
“Resolution” is, in many ways, a rejiggering of 2005’s “Dalek” but without the extra dimensions that made that episode’s titular monster both terrifying and pathetic. 2005’s “Dalek” is a fully realized foe, rather than just the monstrous alien parasite we see in 2018’s “Resolution.” There could’ve been a moment, when the parasitic realizes that everything it’s fighting for (Skaro, its fleet) is now dust. Maybe that moment would’ve added some much-needed depth to the story, which Ryan’s too-easy reconciliation with his dad ultimately failed to provide. So instead of a new Dalek holiday special, we’re left with a longer but lesser remake of 2005’s “Dalek.”
The show’s anchoring at Sheffield is becoming a bit tiresome as well. Yes, there have been epic stories taking place elsewhere in the galaxy, but the show always seems to find its way back to Sheffield, somehow. I’d be happy if they’d untether the show far and away from the Sheffield homefront. The TARDIS is the center of the Whoniverse, not any one city or town (not even London or Cardiff). The characters shouldn’t just talk about the wondrous sights the team has seen … we should see them. At this point, the TARDIS is feeling more like the Doctor’s car than her home; it takes her to places, but it’s not quite her place.
I think this may be a fault of producer/writer Chris Chibnall’s work on police procedurals (“Broadchurch”) coming back to haunt his current work. Even the grittier cinematography (which I welcome) is used to anchor the show in greater realism. This realism can be an asset when trying to make the Doctor’s adventures more relatable, but if overdone it can also make the show feel mundane.
Speaking of the Doctor… I’ve also said this before, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m going to say it again: Jodie Whittaker is a fine actor, but we need to see more from her than the frazzled, post-regenerative Doctor mode we’ve seen this year. Her Doctor as written (I tend to blame the writing before the performer) comes in two speeds; frantic and panicked. By the end of her first season, we should start to see the kinds of shadings that prior Doctors had shown by the end of their respective years. Even the somewhat spastic Matt Smith had a few deeper moments on his Doctor scorecard by this point. From what I’ve seen and read elsewhere, I know Whittaker is fully capable of bringing that sort of depth; the frustrating part is that we’ve yet to see it.
The news that Doctor Who won’t return until 2020 gives me genuinely mixed emotions. Yes, I’ll miss the show during its yearlong hiatus, but I’m also sincerely hoping that its creative team wisely uses that year off to reevaluate its current course a bit.