This review contains no spoilers for the Doctor Who New Year special, but mentions plot details from the rest of Season 11 so far. Read on for our additional spoilery observations, after you’ve seen the episode.
We missed Doctor Who on Christmas Day, but not as much as we’re going to miss it for the rest of 2019. Chris Chibnall’s decision to move the seasonal special to New Year’s Day feels oddly timed, when Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and her fam would probably be really well suited to a festive episode, but here we are. Resolution has been billed by some as the real finale to Season 11, which is nice because it’s a significant improvement on The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos. Hewing close to the programme’s new formula, it also feels like an episode that sets out resolutions for the next season, which we now know will be arriving in 2020.
Given the occasion, it’s fitting that the episode is basically the hangover after Team TARDIS’ tour of the universe’s best New Year celebrations. Following a mysterious signal back to Sheffield on 1st January 2019, the Doctor and her friends find that an archaeological dig has awoken something ancient. Meanwhile, Ryan’s long-absent dad, Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega), turns up and becomes embroiled in the race to stop a murderous creature from taking over the world.
Over the Christmas period, the BBC broadcast trailers for the special that gave away the monster’s identity with a hastily added audio clip. While this revelation has not been as successfully concealed as other recent episode plots, the slow burn does still work in its favour. Chibnall’s script gives us a strikingly original take on something quite familiar here and it’s thrilling to watch it unfold.
Returning Season 10 director Wayne Yip does fantastically cinematic work here, but the script holds it back from being the rollicking action blockbuster that it first appears to be. In terms of showrunners, Russell T Davies was influenced by his comic book fandom and modern US TV, and Steven Moffat drew from his background in sitcoms to create mad sci-fi structures. Meanwhile, Chibnall seems to still be in the police procedural mode that also showed up in Torchwood.
Team TARDIS tend to have investigations rather than adventures, but the abiding problem with this approach is that there’s rarely an actual mystery to be solved. While the more measured pacing has been welcome, it feels like this episode is marking time for a great deal of its hour-long slot, whether running back and forth to the TARDIS but staying put in one time and space, or cutting away to a spectacularly ill-observed comedy skit that may just be the low point of 21st century Who.
On a similar note, Aaron is a character who just seems to stop the plot dead, first in the scene where Ryan monologues about him aboard the embattled Tsuranga during Season 11, and twice more during this story. Having been mentioned all season, there’s no way, in an episode with so much else going on, that the resolution of his plot thread doesn’t feel rushed.
All of that said, this de facto finale does represent a landmark for Whittaker’s Doctor. As well as putting a massive tick next to a scene that fans have been eagerly waiting to see her tackle, she’s more clearly defined here than she has been throughout the preceding season. It adds up to a memorable adventure for Thirteen, story wrinkles and all.
While it’s a significant improvement on the Season 11 finale, Resolution is a mixed bag that feels representative of the most recent season as a whole. Even as it evolves the Doctor in a way that’s made more meaningful by the iconic nature of a certain long-running conflict, the episode feels rather more procedural than spectacular. Still, if this evolution continues, we’re in for something special this time next year…
Doctor Who Resolution is available on BBC iPlayer until 2020.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Resolution of the Daleks! Would it have been so hard to bung an “of the Daleks” on that title at the end of the episode? What else was the point of skipping the title sequence at the beginning? Was it so there was room for that dreadfully unfunny cutaway to a family without wi-fi, labouring the joke that Graham just made? (More incoherent yelling.)
– Now that I’ve calmed down, let’s talk about the Dalek. Episodes like 2005’s Dalek and 2014’s Into The Dalek have previously broached the dangers of a single Dalek separated from the hordes that usually show up in season finales. Chibnall’s approach here is distinct from either of them, making a bloodthirsty new class of Kaled mutant that manipulates and innovates in order to get its way.
– It’s not all great, though. When it possesses Lin, talking through her is great and creepy, but talking to her is often laughable. We cut to her driving, but there would have to have been a bit where the mutant barked “GO TO YOUR CAR. OPEN THE DOOR. SIT ON ME. BEEP BEEP, I’M A MOTORIST”, before getting to that point.
– “Other armed forces are available.” The other comedy cutaway with a woman in a call centre explaining to the Doctor that UNIT funding had been suspended due to disagreements with the UK’s international partners was timely and funny, but it’ll never stick! Kate Stewart will surely return…
– If you just had Graham ask the Doctor to repair his microwave to make up for breaking his chair, (lovely comic timing from Walsh as always), Aaron could be written out of this episode completely. After all the build-up, the emotional payoff is simplistic, with everyone concerned just saying what they want at length. There’s no drama there, and even less in the climax.
– This marks the second episode in a row where the Doctor just uses the TARDIS to defeat the baddy. More glaringly, she pulls the same trick that the Tenth Doctor did on Mother in The Family Of Blood, so it’s slightly unbelievable that she doesn’t see the danger to Aaron until it’s imminent. Ironically, the resolution is the weakest part of Resolution, “best ever skids” notwithstanding.
– Being a police officer is more important to a Dalek in this episode than it is to Yaz throughout the entire season. On that note, does she care that two of her colleagues were murdered? Does she ever find out? Mandip Gill deserves better than she’s had so far; if there’s one resolution for Season 12, it should be to give her more to work with.