This story in a nutshell: EXTERMINATE! And for once, it actually does!
Oh Brilliant: Precisely the sort of story that a lot of people needed to see from Jodie Whittaker, one where she gets to confront an old foe and bare all of her teeth when doing so. The most surprising thing that could be done with the least confrontational of Doctors is to force her into a situation where she is panicked, angry and intense. Whilst there is still that element of domestic about 13 in this story (protecting her ‘fam’ is what she is about), this the first female Doctor at her most desperate and improvisational. The Doctor taking her family to a cosmic fireworks display is a great opening for the team, spectacular and emotional and really drawing on the fact that they have been travelling together for some time and are drinking in each other’s company. For a story that puts three of the four major players through the wringer it is lovely to see them all smiling in awe as they are introduced. It’s a shame she had to lose the coat and scarf so early. Despite aping Tom Baker a wee bit, it was a look that really suited her. Awkwardly the Doctor has no time for Ryan’s dad and tells him in the most succinct way possible that he isn’t a great father. I wouldn’t suggest she takes up the role of counsellor. Notice how all the Doctor’s quirks drop as soon as she realises that the Daleks are involved. She wastes no time in informing her friends of the deadly danger that they are facing. Hearing her say the sort of dialogue that we are used to hearing from Eccleston and Tennant (‘It’s going to kill anyone who gets in it’s path and it’s not going to stop until it’s taken control of this planet!’) does not detract from its power. I bloody loved the invasive way the Doctor took the fight to the Dalek, tapping straight into Lin’s conscience and spitting out threats. It’s the most no-nonsense she’s ever been and it really made me sit up. Especially when she makes the contact tangible and asks the Dalek to laugh to her face. Just like The Witchfinders, there is something genuinely fresh when the Doctor’s opponent is female – the woman/woman rivalry has a real frisson about it. The whole sequence where the Doctor first confronts the Dalek is just magic. We’ve been waiting for 40 minutes for it and it doesn’t disappoint. She lays down the gauntlet by saying if the Daleks wants the planet then it has to come through her.
Graham: There’s an unspoken rivalry between Graham and Aaron, in which Graham has the authority because he was the one who stood by Ryan whilst his dad let him down again and again. He’s the one who has had to pick up the pieces. For a grouchy old bus driver from Sheffield, Graham is a very wise bloke and he reminds Aaron family isn’t about who you are but what you do. It’s so bizarre that we lost Grace so early on because by continuing to get close to the people she left behind she’s become one of the most defined characters in the new series. Walsh plays the scene where he comforts Aaron beautifully, Graham offering him that wonderful gift of showing him all the things that Grace kept and hope for the future.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I need you to see just how serious my face is right now.’
‘Me and a Dalek. It’s personal.’
‘What d’you call this look? Junkyard chic?’
The Good: It’s not the first time that Chibnall has gone for a huge beginning that feels like the beginning of epic novel. Remember at the start of Dinosaurs of a Spaceship where he gathered up all of those famous historical figures and brought them all to the same place as the Doctor. Well Resolution does something a little similar but on a much bigger scale, with some awesome action set pieces, phenomenal direction and a genuine sense that he is going for movie style storytelling. It’s almost a shame that the story has to centre so much around Sheffield after such an impressive, dynamic, globe trotting opening. This is Chibnall writing in huge broad strokes like the best of Davies and Moffat, but very unlike the much subtler approach of series 11. Frankly the return of the Daleks to the series deserves a prelude this huge. I’m one of those people that was wowed by Segun Akinola’s scores for the previous season and I found his calmer, more atmospheric approach a refreshing approach after 10 seasons of (admittedly excellent for the most part) explosive wallpaper from Murray Gold. His work in Resolution abandons his understated style from series 11 and instead he goes for something hugely energetic, percussive and in your face. It’s a startling score and it truly got me involved in the action in a very immersive way. There are only two Doctor Who scores previously that I can remember owing quite this much to rock; Mawdryn Undead and Enemy of the Daleks but this trumps both of them for style and effect. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about how the relationship between Lin and Mitch is written (it’s pleasant enough but we’ve seen this sort of coy almost romance in the show countless times now) but it’s played extremely well by both parties and I was immediately invested. Chibnall does the unthinkable to Lin, which makes the desperation of Mitch very plausible. By the end of the episode I was very happy to see them together. They had earnt it. They’re a very cute couple. The scenes of the pieces of the Dalek mutant coming together have a very ominous air about them, long before we ever discover what the ‘artefact’ is. Seeing it writhing around in a sweaty bag is the first of several uncomfortable images that this episode sports. Whilst I still have a slight problem with the pulsating pensises (in a giggle in your hand/I never grew up kind of way), the directors have really adjusted to the new console room at this point and found exciting and visually interesting ways to shoot in there. It has a feeling of safety and home to both the décor and the lighting and I always like it when the TARDIS feels that way. It is our sanctuary after all from the horrors of the universe. Lin being menaced in the sewers is back to basics good old-fashioned scare Who, truly highlighting one of the most impressively sized sets the show has ever offered up. There is something so disturbing about the disgusting, pulsating Dalek mutant riding on Lin’s back and taking control of her that the episode takes full advantage of. Possession has long been a Doctor Who staple but I cannot think of many times where it has been played quite this personally or discomfortingly. Charlotte Ritchie really is excellent as the hapless archaeologist, struggling against alien control and surrendering when it applies painful pressure. She makes a tragic victim and an intimidating villain, an impressive mix. ‘Do not struggle or your friends will die at your hands’ is an impossible situation to be put in. It really feels like a violation of everything that it is to be human. Huge kudos to Nicholas Briggs too, who gives his one millionth Doctor Who performance (across television and audio) and somehow manages to create an original and terrifying new take on the Daleks. It’s probably his most satisfying turn yet. It’s a very small thing but I love the fact that Mitch walks into the TARDIS and it immediately takes off, cutting through his reaction to the Ship. How awesome is the notion of a Dalek taking a human hostage and having her build a casing from scratch out of materials from Earth? It mirrors the Doctor building the sonic at the beginning of her tenure. The result is a fantastic Dalek creation, outwardly so odd looking and a complete one off but one that is vicious and murders crowds of people on sight. Doctor Who’s ability to make the absurd terrifying continues in a great style. It’s great how the Dalek makes its entrance Terry Nation style, blasting its way into a room with a spectacular explosion. It’s almost like it thinks it is the end of episode one and it’s time to make its mark. For once a Dalek tries to kill the Doctor from the off. I’ve never understood why they stand around with their mortal enemy and chat so much. The way the whole head piece lights up is a great bit of design, making the conversation scenes much more dramatic. A huge round of applause to director Wayne Yip for making the scenes where the Dalek takes on the army so visually exciting because what this is essentially is a handful of soldiers firing on a toy (there’s no operator inside this Dalek). Again, this is aiming for movie like action and it goes a long way to achieving that. I bet this would have looked amazing on the big screen. The rocket launcher bumps are just beyond cool. Sometimes you just want Doctor Who deliver something kick ass and this does that in spades.
The Domestic: It’s in an episode like Resolution that you have to question whether the soap opera elements of Doctor Who are relevant. The trouble is that there are several moments where the action is slowed down considerably to allow for a heartfelt moment between Ryan and his Dad. Another problem is that some of the episodes best written exchanges are these scenes, and so squeezing them between moments of Dalek action was probably the worst place you could put them (in a position where you want them to end and get back to the exciting stuff). I believe there is definitely an episode out there where dealing with Ryan’s dad could have been the sole focus, like Rose and her dad in Father’s Day and Clyde and his dad in SJAs The Mark of the Beserker. However, it is in Resolution where their reconciliation takes place so let’s discuss the actual material, which is striking and emotional and brings out some of the best performances of Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh to date. I think Chibnall could write this sort of material in his sleep, he has a real feel for grounded domestic drama (some of his best scenes have been the non-SF moments of series 11 – Grace’s funeral, Graham returning to their flat, Ryan’s admission about his Dad in Tsuranga, Graham telling the Doctor that he is going to kill Tim Shaw) and he really lavishes a lot of time and care on the scenes between Ryan and the father that has always disappointed him. Ryan is clearly desperate for his father’s attention and approval, even when he has been so disappointed by him in the past. It feels like a very cathartic moment when he gets to drop his shields and just be honest with him. The dialogue hurts it is so raw. Speaking as somebody who has been in a very similar situation with my own father, this scene resonated very much. Aaron’s speech about making mistakes and running because you’re too ashamed to make it right also rings a lot of bells. Whilst I object to the lulls in the pace, this really is strong emotional material. Turning Aaron into a literal monster at the climax might push the metaphor a bit far but it does provide a reason for Ryan to fight for his dad and for them to reconcile. To be honest without that scene there is very little reason for the two plots to be in the same episode.
Oh Fandom: I love all the bedwetting a certain section of fandom have suffered over the idea of a gay character, introduced quickly, biting the dust has caused. Get a grip folks. It’s lovely the new series has embraced homosexuality so liberally but with equal rights comes equal deaths. Let’s not forget that Davies killed Jack more times than I care to remember and Moffat didn’t even give the The Fat One and The Other One names before dispatching them. It’s a token scene that serves a plot purpose where the character killed reveals a tiny bit about his life to prevent him from being a total cipher. Get over it. Also, the scene that reveals that UNIT is temporarily suspended with a coy Brexit gag is a gorgeous throwaway scene that almost seems designed to get the fans (you know the sort that declare series 11 so awful that it ‘isn’t Doctor Who’) in a tizzy is marvellous. I never thought Chibnall had it in him to bait hardcore fandom like this. More please. ‘How longs a rel?’ is the first laugh out loud Chibnall line. Before objecting too much about a Dalek being (almost) brought down by a microwave oven please remember that this is the same species that was defeated by a robot Frankenstein, disappointment (the one that self-destructs in a huff in Death to the Daleks), a bit of rubble (Genesis), despair (the one that self-destructs in Remembrance) and Donna twiddling a few knobs. Daleks are much more effective at making an appearance than they are at being defeated, and at least there is some effort on the creature’s part to struggle on.
The Shallow Bit: Nikesh Patel is an absolutely beautiful man. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.
Result: ‘Here’s my New Year’s resolution…I’m coming for you, Dalek!’ A truly impressive job of bringing back the Daleks for one of their most satisfying turns in the new series, Resolution had me on the edge of my seat on my first watch and it still grips me despite watching it several times now. Chibnall ditches his touchy feely approach to Doctor Who and goes for a dynamic, epic, emotive and exciting seasonal special with plenty of chilling scenes and riveting action. If anybody though that series 11 was too placid this is the shot of adrenalin that they needed. Everything is ratcheted up to 11; the direction is forceful, pacy and unashamedly exhilarating, the music the most in your face since the show returned in 2005, the performances of the regular cast match the severity of the threat and the Dalek itself is a brilliant makeshift design that looks absurd and murders without apology. Chibnall’s approach, bringing the Dalek together piece by piece, is inspired and in doing so he achieves the impossible: he delivers a totally original Dalek tale. That’s something I thought would be impossible at this ancient stage in the show’s history. The idea of the Recon scout Dalek, the first to reach Earth and the first to leave Skaro buried on the planet since the 9th Century and slowly bringing itself together and building a new casing is a terrific innovation. The first Moffat era Dalek story had a similarly innovative approach, except this is about ten million million times better. It’s funny because what this episode builds up to – a Dalek in its casing threatening to kill – is where a Moffat Dalek story would begin but by deferring its completion it adds so much suspense to the story. It’s a huge cast but everybody gets something to do (except Yaz, she’s just sort of there) and it’s another terrific showcase for Whittaker’s Doctor who has some seminal moments with the Dalek. Does Resolution need the domestic scenes wedged into its running time? Would it have worked as one 45-minute kick ass Dalek tale? Probably, and whilst the extended scene with Ryan in the café irritatingly kills the pace for five minutes, I cannot deny that this material is genuinely well written so I won’t be too harsh. It’s more than made up for by some unforgettable set pieces and moments where the series aspires to reach movie level production value. I love the fact that the first series of 13th Doctor adventures was so subtle for the most part that you might think that the show had gone soft with its first female Doctor and at it’s climax it delivers possibly the punchiest episode of the new series yet. It’s almost enough to make you think that Chibnall lulled his viewership into a false sense of security just to make his impact on New Years Day. Whatever the reason, this was the rarest of Doctor Who’s: one that gave me real chills: 9/10