Doctor Who’s first and only episode of 2019 premiered on New Year’s Day and offered a better conclusion to series 11 than its finale episode. “Resolution” kicked this new year off with explosions, familial complications, and a Dalek.
The most dangerous creature in the universe
The special’s hook was that it’s the first Thirteenth Doctor episode to bring back an old enemy from before the Chibnall era. And who else would it be if not the Daleks, the first alien threat the Doctor faced in 1963. There’s something timeless about these hateful peppershakers and even the Doctor knows that they never can get rid of them for long. But exactly because they return so often it’s easy to lose interest in the Daleks and stop taking them seriously.
“Resolution” does a better job of building up a Dalek as a threat than any other episode in years. After a season of new villains, seeing a Dalek was exciting in itself but Chibnall re-introduces the Doctor’s greatest enemy in style. The aptly named “Dalek” is the single best Dalek story out there because it succeeds in making Davros’s creation scary again. “Resolution” also features a single Daleks who poses a great threat, and although it’s not quite as chilling as the claustrophobic feel of “Dalek”, it made the right choice by focusing on a single Dalek.
It’s also curious how, for the majority of the episode, the Dalek is without its iconic shell. The best moments of the Dalek are when it’s controlling Lin (Charlotte Ritchie). Nicholas Briggs returns to the show to voice the Dalek and the puppetmaster Dalek might just be one of his best performances yet. The battle for control between the Dalek and Lin is as interesting to watch as it is horrifying to think about. The later scenes with the Dalek destroying entire troops and casually exterminating people also retain their sense of danger but those are more “nostalgic”, in a morbid sort of way. Oh, look, it said “exterminate”! The “naked” Dalek scenes, in contrast, offer something new from this very, very old enemy and I appreciated that. Maybe Chibnall should try writing for old monsters in series 12.
On the Team TARDIS front, we had Ryan’s dad, Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega) thrown in the mix. It was an unexpected but welcome storyline for the episode and it further added to the conclusion of series 11. Graham and Ryan spent the season trying to get over the death of Grace together and Aaron was mentioned a few times in terms of what his absence did to Ryan. Now we have him try to make an effort and the various reactions he got.
Graham is in a unique position as Aaron’s de facto stepdad but also as the real father figure to Ryan. I loved that his initial reaction was “no” and shutting the door, but then their scene over the dinner table was the most significant and emotionally perfect of the episode. Despite his gut reaction, Graham later offers Aaron his compassion and understanding and makes him understand himself and Ryan’s feelings. It’s a brilliant moment for Graham, well-acted and thematically perfect for Thirteen’s era so far.
Ryan himself also shows more emotional maturity than his dad and he’s not afraid to call him out but also wants to give him a chance. Just like with Graham’s scene, Ryan’s café conversation with his dad gave Tosin Cole the opportunity to show another side of the character. Aaron is presented as both the absent dad and the human being who made a mistake. He’s not excused but afforded some sympathy. The show and its characters have this compassionate approach to him that has been such a huge theme in Thirteen’s era and I love that. Give the guy a second chance without forgetting how negligent he’d been.
The Doctor’s attitude, in particular, is a brilliant one. In contrast to how she greeted “Yaz’s mum” Najia, “Ryan’s dad” immediately gets a telling off for having missed Grace’s funeral. The ever so kind Thirteen pulls no punches in letting Aaron know just how bad he’d been at parenting. It’s deadpan without being unnecessarily cruel and shows that Thirteen is a) very protective of her friends and b) not unkind but willing to call people out. A small but excellent moment for Whittaker’s Doctor.
I’m your secret conscience
And speaking of the Doctor, the stakes were raised for her as she faced a Dalek for the first time. Thirteen hasn’t really “snapped” yet, the closest she got was when she saw Tim Shaw a second time. Now that she faced a Dalek she still hasn’t snapped, as such, but perhaps that’s just not who Thirteen is. Healed from the trauma of the Time War, she’s not as ready to go full on Oncoming Storm on everyone. She still knows exactly how dangerous a single Dalek can be though.
The confrontation scene went as expected. The music was a bit too epic, if such a thing exists. It was over the top throughout the whole episode, really, too much hype for a decent but by no means extraordinary. So, the Doctor vs. a Dalek. The best thing about Thirteen facing a Dalek was that she could show how she’s more willing to give a chance than ever before. Despite knowing full-well how a Dalek is almost incapable of feeling anything but pure hatred, she gives it a chance. She even wants her friends to acknowledge that she tried her very best and the Dalek still refused her.
It’s a very Thirteen thing to do, give even a Dalek a chance. In many ways, this is much better than getting an epic speech complete with explosions and angst from the Doctor. I want to see all sides of Whittaker’s Doctor as much as everyone else but we had those moments with other Doctors. We had them way too often, in fact. Thirteen is different and that’s what makes this era work. I would still like to see more serious moments from her and maybe even a “snapping” episode, but Thirteen’s approach was still unique and good to watch.
The curious thing about “Resolution” is that I was looking forward to the Daleks’ return. A Dalek episode that I not only liked but liked because it was a Dalek episode. The Aaron aspect was also a nice addition and I especially loved the two scenes with Graham and Ryan mentioned above. It was a fun and enjoyable special overall and a better note to end series 11 on than its real finale episode.
I had some minor issues that I haven’t yet mentioned. I liked the Doctor’s phone call that was meant for UNIT but it went on for way too long. A good way to parody the UK’s bureaucracy and even reference Brexit but too long. Also, does this mean that we won’t be seeing UNIT any time soon? I sure hope not as Thirteen and Kate Stewart would be absolutely delightful together.
The supporting cast was okay but no standout performances in this special, except for the Doctor Who veteran Nick Briggs. Even Mandip Gill didn’t have a lot to do as Yaz which is a shame, but hopefully next season she’ll have more of an arc as well as episodes like “Demons of the Punjab”. The theme of New Year’s Day wasn’t very strong except for Aaron and Ryan starting over. Still, it was about time to leave Christmas behind and try something different. As mentioned before, the music was too much at certain points. I liked how it was building up in the first half of the episode but then it got too much and lost its epicness by trying to make every scene seem crucial and even better than the previous one.
“Resolution” is bittersweet in that it was a perfectly enjoyable Thirteenth Doctor episode but also the last one for more than a year. Still, it did a much better job of saying goodbye to Team TARDIS, for now, than the last episode did. We can now go on without Doctor Who for a while, knowing that series 12 is coming eventually and that Thirteen and company will return to brighten up our days.