Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Wayne Yip
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Charlotte Ritchie, Nikesh Patel, Daniel Adegboyega and Nick Briggs
BBC One (UK)
First broadcast Tuesday January 1st 2019
It may have displaced Doctor Who's Christmas Day tradition, but the "spatial shift" in TV listings for 'Resolution' made this story no less of a gift. With sections of fandom wanting a return of old monsters, and with some arguing for stronger narrative threats for Jodie Whittaker's Doctor to face off against, 'Resolution' delivered in spades. And though it might be a truism to suggest that no new Doctor is truly forged in steeliness until they have faced the Daleks, it's a piece of lore that's extremely well borne out here.
And what a Dalek! Given the presence of a lone reconnaissance scout, this immediately had the feel of 2005's Rob Shearman-penned story, albeit reworked through the distinctive filter of Chris Chibnall's vision for Who. A steelpunk Dalek neatly recapped the sonic screwdriver's new origin story from S11.e1, with Chibnall again deciding to cast his showrunner's remit to 'make it new' into the narrative universe, having both Doctor and Dalek recreate their own remembered versions of the show's icons. At first, I was concerned by the DIY Dalek's design -- it reminded me of unofficial replicas and assorted fan builds seen over the years -- but on reflection, there was just the right blend of RTD-era industrial vibe, innovation (including the red-lit section set within the outer casing) and clanking homespun realism, given the story's clear justification for all this. The resulting 'Sheffield steel dalek' will likely prove to be a one-off boon to merchandising ranges, but Chibnall astutely mined Dalek mythology for some striking images and pay-offs; the mutant-on-the-back recalled iconic imagery from 'Planet of the Spiders' more than previous Dalek tales (and was occasionally a touch unconvincing, for my money), whilst the use of Dalek 'bumps' as housings for rocket-launchers was nothing less than inspired.
This may have felt more like 'trad' Doctor Who at times, but it was also full of surprises and brilliant bits of imagination. Having the Doctor confront this Dalek inside GCHQ was probably my favourite moment of series 11, combining a realist/spy-thriller version of how a lone Dalek might actually try to seize power in today's Britain with the inventiveness of Doctor Who at its very best. There was an air of inevitability about the scenario, once you realised where the script was going, but it fused the ordinary and the fantastical in a perfect way for a post-Snowden culture. Likewise, removing all wifi -- no Internet and no Netflix! -- made the Doctor's arch-enemy a resolutely contemporary menace, even if the 'family cutaway' struck a slight misstep in terms of its broad comic intent and clunkiness.
Another inspired moment, however, was the way that UNIT's non-involvement was tackled. Undoubtedly well aware of old-school fan complaints along the lines of "why weren't UNIT called in?", the showrunner dispatched these mercilessly. But the presence of a call centre operative reading off her computer screen put UNIT's demise squarely into the context of government efficiency savings, as well as implicitly evoking Brexit-style wrangling over international funding. Any long-term fans pondering how UNIT could have been so savagely undone via these real-world resonances might want to additionally consider the extent to which UNIT perhaps belongs properly and organisationally to the age of 1970s' public services and internationalism -- a world now undermined by decades of neoliberalism (traversing both major UK political parties). The scene may be strongly satirical, but its commentary remains perfectly evident: we can't have nice things like UNIT via any current politics of austerity or isolationism. Instead, extraterrestrial-incursion security has seemingly been privatised, resulting in MDZ's feeble defence of the former 'Black Archive' (you can't imagine Kate Stewart or Osgood allowing a Dalek scout to wander off with weaponry and propulsion systems).
This was very much a two-pronged 'Special'; a sort of double-A-side seeking to combine Dalek shenanigans with the emotional weight of Ryan's father reappearing. Perhaps these strands didn't always rest side-by-side as comfortably as the features of Aaron's combination oven, but on the whole 'Resolution' was a successful hybrid. It followed a textbook pattern by uniting its main plot threads at the denouement, both thanks to Aaron's engineering specs, and via the sting-in-the-tentacle of the Dalek's desperate final attempt at human possession. The thirteenth Doctor remained characteristically fallible, mind you, with her Dalek showdowns never quite going according to plan, and her "squid-sized vacuum corridor" expanding to human-sized proportions with almost fatal consequences. All of this allowed 'Resolution' to re-articulate Chris Chibnall's mission statement for Who -- that the Doctor's "fam" should be just as important as the Doctor herself. And so it is Aaron and Ryan who, acting together through forgiveness and love, finally overcome the Dalek's tenacity. In one strange moment, it even feels as though the script is reaching towards a parallel between family and monstrosity -- just as family is more than DNA and a name, as Graham tells Aaron, then so too is the Dalek more than a DNA identification and a matter of naming. Both Dalekhood and fatherhood hinge on behaviour, meaning that just as Aaron has to prove his status to Ryan then the Dalek is equally required to prove its nature to new viewers and new fans. This it duly does, the episode being jam-packed with gloriously retro extermination effects and Dalek ruthlessness. And though monstrosity and family are eventually opposed, with the "extended fam" predictably defeating the monster of the year, it is striking, in an episode where the Dalek's identity is initially a matter of DNA testing and naming, that the familial and the monstrous should ghost across one another.
This is a story firing on all machine-tooled cylinders. The direction from Wayne Yip is brilliantly kinetic and well-judged throughout, and the acting performances are uniformly first-rate. I'd especially single out Charlotte Ritchie, who does a lot of great work as Lin to really sell the Dalek 'pilot' concept, switching through various gradations of embodied Dalekness. In addition, Nick Briggs is on superb form, relishing the chance to do things such as providing maniacally extended and chilling Dalek laughter.
I still miss the pre-credits sequence, though. The response to Graham's much-trailed question, "does it have a name?", would have been intensified by immediately then crashing into the titles. OK, cutting the title sequence buys a little more story time, but a few judicious trims here and there could easily have made room for the titles, and for a more dramatic punctuation of the Doctor's reveal of the Daleks. I hope that pre-credits scenes are restored across series 12. And on this showing, the return of the Daleks -- plural and non-DIY this time -- would also be most welcome in 2020.
Regardless of how series 11 is packaged on DVD/blu-ray, it's difficult not to view this as anything other than the true finale to Jodie Whittaker's first season. The DNA of Chris Chibnall's vision for the show is coded right through it: fantasy plus grounded social/political resonance plus emotional realism, all added to an ethic of teamwork and elective family rather than Time Lord (super-)heroics standing front-and-centre. Yes, at times this Doctor seems more reactive or passive than in the past, as well as less torn by internal demons, and less shadowed by back-story mysteries. It makes the Doctor far less of a focal point, freeing up narrative space and time for at least some of the "fam", and reconfiguring Who in a more inclusive and mentoring mode than arguably ever before. Chibnall's work hasn't just been about bringing in new writers' voices, featuring new locales, and emphasising a renewed sense of Doctor Who's capacities to speak back to power. He has also resolved to give the Doctor a radical new stripe of narrative agency too, one less omnipotent, less certain, and more energisingly hopeful. And that, for me, is a resolution worth championing.