Now that’s the way you start the New Year off with a bang.
Let’s be honest, Series 11 of Doctor Who ended on something of a damp squib with ‘The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos’, which left many people’s ‘whelmed’ status set to ‘under’. A perfectly serviceable filler for a mid-season slot, on reflection, but not the grand season finale we’ve become used to, thanks to Messrs. Davies & Moffat during their stints as showrunners. Thankfully, ‘Resolution’ was a season finale in festive sheep’s clothing, giving us the sort of high-stakes, high-octane action we needed, and wrapping up Jodie Whittaker’s maiden voyage as TV’s favourite Time Lord on a genuine high.
One of the main elephants in the room (a large room – it’s bigger on the inside) was the fact this wasn’t a Christmas special, which was apparently a tradition (even though it’s one which only stretched back as far as 2005 – the show had managed perfectly well during the previous 42 years with only one Christmas episode, back in 1965). Bah, humbug. Some of the Christmas specials weren’t terribly good. There, I said it. Okay, so ‘New Year’s Day special’ is more niche than a Christmas-themed episode, but as they’re not likely to make a habit of it, I’ll happily let this one pass, mainly because it didn’t lay on the New Year’s theme anywhere near as thickly as some of the Christmas stories (and Christmas-centric plots really got quite tiresome after a bit anyway).
Perhaps the other big elephant was the fact that Chris Chibnall had insisted upon his first year as showrunner not featuring any old characters or baddies, in order to give a clean slate for new viewers to come onboard, dispensing with a great deal of the heavily continuity-laden storytelling which had become a hallmark of Steven Moffat’s reign as head honcho (certainly fan-pleasing, but not great for the casual punter to be able to follow). This stuck in the craw of some fans, arguing that such a move was throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and needlessly dispensing with some of the bigger, more well-known elements which still have recognition with Joe Public.
You can tell Chibnall was playing a long game here, and wanted to save up the first reappearance of a classic monster for a special occasion. This was certainly it. In what was perhaps the worst-kept secret since the last one, the Daleks (or, to be more accurate, a Dalek) returned with great fury and gusto, and made the wait totally worthwhile. After the Doctor and the TARDIS, the Daleks are the next big element in the toybox which every writer wants to get heir hands on, giving their own spin on the malevolent pepperpots. The problem is trying not to make them seem repetitive, whilst not straying too far away from what makes them such a hit.
Thankfully, Chibnall actually managed to strike exactly the right balance here, and achieve the same sort of feat which Rob Shearman did back in 2005’s ‘Dalek’, by giving us a damaged, isolated Dalek, and putting the ‘fear factor’ back in, turning a lot of the bog-standard cliches firmly on their head. Shearman truly left no stone unturned. Sink plungers daft? Turn them into a deadly, head-crushing implement. Can’t go upstairs? Make the bugger able to levitate. And so on, knocking down all the supposed ‘truths’ to which the public had clung so dearly since 1963, and making the Daleks scary and relevant again.
Now Chris Chibnall has done exactly the same thing, taking it a step further by showing us what a Dalek really is, and how the living, bubbling lump of hate inside each casing can be just as lethal when ripped away from its protection. It gave us a chance to see just how devious and cruel the Daleks can actually be, as well as the threat just one on its own can pose. Of course, this is all helped greatly by Nick Briggs (voice of the Daleks on TV for the last fourteen years, and in official audios by Big Finish for nigh on twenty) being able to make the Dalek mutant seem like a proper character in its own right, rather than just a ranting monotone tin (or Dalekanium)-plated dull shouting machine. By gum, these are some proper evil, calculating bastards, and Chibnall & Briggs in tandem made sure we know it.
Once again confounding our expectations, like he has all season long, Chibnall give us an unconventional Dalek tale, yet one which was in many ways archetypal, and this showed us the raw, stripped-down essence of just what a Dalek truly is. The faintly ridiculous-looking ‘junkyard chic’ Dalek – where it tried to reconstruct itself from memory – was actually a clever move, as it looked more like children’s drawings of the monster, and makes it even easier for them to try and replicate it in artwork. The vague silliness of it is also undercut by the lethalness of the ‘bells and whistles’ upgrade it gives itself, to the extent that it easily takes down an entire military platoon without even breaking a sweat, before shutting down the whole of the UK’s communications and internet for its encore.
Of course, anyone who’s followed Doctor Who since its revival will know about the backstory which was crafted, making the rivalry between the Doctor and the Daleks even more personal, in the form of a great Time War, which was supposed to have wiped both the Daleks and Time Lords from existence forever (thank goodness for retconning). Even though both races have been restored, the fact that the sheer hatred still burns deep within the Doctor meant that it would give Jodie Whittaker the chance to show some true (Sheffield) steel as the Doctor, facing off against her oldest and deadliest enemy. If any of the doubters didn’t get what they wanted from this particular confrontation, then this clearly isn’t the show for them any longer, and I wish them well, as I really don’t know how else the #NotMyDoctor crowd can possibly be convinced that she is the Doctor, and deserves to be. She’s earned this, so let her have it.
Also rounding out one of the big story arcs of Series 11 (and making it feel far more like the season finale proper) was the mooted appearance of Ryan’s dad, Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega), tying up the loose ends left dangling throughout the run of their estrangement, along with his conspicuous absence after the death of Grace (Aaron’s mum, and Ryan’s nan) way back in the first episode. Although the cafe scene featuring the two seemed to slow the pace to an interminable crawl, it at least helped lay the groundwork for the reconciliation at the story’s end (although it does seem that ‘love saved the day’ is starting to be used as a resolution with alarming regularity nowadays, and feels rather a cheesy, cliched copout).
Even the supporting characters here are worth noting, with the pair of budding, lovestruck archaeologists Mitch (Nikesh Patel) and Lin (Charlotte Ritchie) being an endearing pairing. Ritchie in particular does a cracking job in convincing us of Lin’s possession by the Dalek mutant, from her horror when she realises that she’s not in control of her own body, to the devilish glee when the Dalek is firmly in the driving seat and committing all kinds of acts of wanton mayhem and murder, so her versatility does deserve some plaudits. As far as archaeology on television goes, Bonekickers was never this thrilling, and as for an crossover with a long-buried alien intelligence, I shall be casting a knowing sideways glance at Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull: you know what you did.
Honestly, there’s so much to love in this episode, which will make it stand up to repeated viewings, as it really is such unadulterated fun. The cherry on the icing on the cake is the joke about the Doctor’s allies on Earth, UNIT (Unified Intelligence Taskforce), having been put into mothballs due to serious funding constraints following Brexit – a joke which is perfectly timed, not only in its delivery within the episode, but at the point where we are less than three months away from it supposedly happening, and all sorts of related crises are filling our headlines on a daily basis. Bravo, Chris Chibnall. Now if only we didn’t have to wait until 2020 to see Team TARDIS in action again…
“THE DOCTOR WILL RETURN”
Doctor Who: Season 11 is now available on BBC iPlayer.