Doctor Who: Resolution

The only Doctor Who episode for 2019 is the New Year’s Day special aka the Christmas Special moved to a different Bank Holiday. It’s fun and it has some good moments but it is an odd mish-mash of elements.

It starts with an ancient battle against an unseen enemy whose dismembered body is sent to three remote destinations (Siberia, a South Pacific island and Yorkshire). It’s all very big budget but a bit overly reminiscent of part of the not-very-good Justice League movie. By the end of the episode, the set up (including an ancient order of custodians) doesn’t go very far. It’s expensive purpose is mainly…misdirection.

Back in Yorkshire and back to classic Who territory we have two people working on an archeological dig underneath Sheffield Town Hall (which is a great building by the way, if you are ever in Sheffield — looks like it should be the parliament of a small European principality). The episode starts doing something good with its extended running time — gives characters time to talk, sketch out some personality & relationship to episode specific characters which will enhance the creepy aspects to come.

OK spoiler bit coming up. I don’t think it is a hard one to guess and even mentioning that there’s something to spoil makes it likely you’d guess what is coming up.

The archeologists accidentally bring back to life the ancient evil, which somehow teleports it’s bits back together again. The ancient evil is a Dalek: specifically the squid-like mutant being that sits inside the more familiar outer-shell.

This is a genuinely creepy and horrific monster. Using mind control to kidnap one of the archeologists the Dalek goes off on a Dalek mission of death and destruction. Eventually fashioning itself and a gloriously ridiculous homemade Dalek shell that’s 75% steampunk and 25% Ned Kelly.

From there the story arc doesn’t need much more description. The Dalek kills lots of people and the Doctor struggles to stop it.

On the human side of things, Ryan’s absent father turns up. Again good use is made of the available time to let Ryan, Graham and Ryan’s dad have multiple conversations. It’s never treated as simply ‘he’s your dad & you have to forgive him’ and Ryan gets some excellent lines.

Less good are the attempts to lighten the mood with a few diversions into jokes and whimsy. The best jokes (“How long is a rel?”) work fine but an extended riff on people can’t cope without wi-fi is hammered to death. Aside from being not very funny, it sits poorly in an episode that’s already gone down a body-horror, psychic control by psychotic alien death machine route. I don’t think it is intrinsically bad to have plotlines involving aliens taking over people’s bodies but it’s a genuinely horrific idea around bodily autonomy that doesn’t sit well with a light-hearted tone or the high death count in the episode.

There’s also an unfortunate case of a gay character being introduced only to be murdered a few moments later. Again, gay characters shouldn’t be magically immune from murderous Daleks but as others have pointed out LGBTQI representation in this latest iteration of Doctor Who has dropped to almost zero.

It’s overall an entertaining episode but how good is it? Partly the question is what to compare it with? Other Christmas specials? Well, they’ve been a hit and miss affair and this one has a lot going for it. Dalek episodes? This did so much that was right: a single Dalek, severely disadvantaged is nigh on unstoppable and disturbingly horrific. We also get a Dalek redesign that’s unusual but not intended to be a template for future Daleks.

Having said that, the episode structure unfortunately invites comparisons with the Christopher Eccelstone episode “Dalek”. Both episodes feature a surprise re-introduction of the classic enemy, the Dalek in question being severely disadvantaged & accidentally brought back to life, and everybody around it badly underestimating how deadly it is. However, “Dalek” had an intense performance from both Eccelstone and Billy Piper and an unusual resolution. This episode is never going to be that intense and if anything the dilemma is different & easily resolved.

In “Dalek” the Doctor is the lone survivor of the Time War, struggling with his own loss and anger. The episode finds a way for the Doctor to move beyond revenge. In “Resolution”, we have a Doctor that is well past all that and who has been, if anything, avoiding dealing in any ultimate fashion with the bad guys. There’s no drama in not killing the Dalek nor much in even equivocating about it.

So good but not brilliant. Many of the flaws in the season are still there: Yaz is once again underused and the whole thing feels like it should have been tighter. There’s no Doctor Who season in 2019 but I’m looking forward to where it goes next. There’s lots to build on.

12 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Resolution

  1. They should have had “Ryan’s Dad” meet “Yaz’s Mum”. Missed opportunity there.

    Another thing I missed was how a bunch of ninth-century types with swords and burning torches managed to take the Dalek down in the first place, given that it was capable, even in its scratch-built steampunked-up casing, of wiping out modern infantry and a tank without even breaking a sweat. If Daleks sweat. I presume they sweat, they certainly exude fluids whenever they get the chance. Never mind, anyway, just me being nitpicky.

    Good but not great. Like the whole of the season, really. I don’t regret watching any of it, but I’m not rushing out spending my pocket money on Tim Shaw action figures or anything like that.

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  2. I always thought Sheffield Town Hall was the butt ugly brutalist building that gets nuked in Threads along with the rest of Sheffield and buries the unpleasant regional controller and his staff.

    But I just googled “Sheffield town hall” and that’s actually a lovely building. So the brutalist building demolished in Threads must have been some other official building.

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  3. I felt like they had Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters in mind (squishy alien that rides on your back and controls you) so I was a little disappointed that they gave the game away fairly early by showing Lin looking weird in her car. There’s a nice bit in TPM where the narrator has had a run-in with a possessed person and then he leaves the office and starts telling you about things he’s doing for very unclear reasons, and after a while you realize that he’s been possessed ever since that earlier scene.

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    1. Doctor Who has a history of this as well, both in the new series and the old with the “creepy controlling alien on the back” thing. “Turn Left” and “Planet of the Spiders” leap to mind.

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  4. Also: 1. The actor playing Lin and possessed Lin was very good. 2. It cracked me up that you mentioned Ned Kelly because now I keep picturing the Dalek suddenly standing up to reveal a pair of unprotected legs.

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    1. I read somewhere that the actress who plays Lin is a regular on Call the Midwife, but since I’ve only seen about three episodes of that, she wasn’t familiar to me. Still, she was very good here.

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  5. There was some really swell acting here.

    I was all “yes, Puppet Master, Dalek, whatever — let’s get back to the discussions between Ryan’s dad and Ryan or even dad and Graham, or even the non-possessed archaeologist sweethearts.”

    Am wondering if things are going to be that rosy for Lin, though — does English law have an “innocent by reason of evil mutant possession” clause? Because it was her body what killed the cops and security guard. Does the NHS cover psychological problems caused by Daleks? It ought to, in the Whoniverse. Still, she’s lucky the first set of cops weren’t American, or at the first sight of non-compliance and tentacles, she’d have rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

    And the Doctor turns everyone into a better person — even Ryan’s dad MacGyvered the microwave to take out the Dalek, and there’s nothing like fighting evil to bring a family together.

    Between the sonic screwdriver and the Ned Kelly Dalek, apparently you can build any damn thing out of the bits and bobs in a Sheffield scrapyard.

    I also felt moved, when the soldiers were failing at taking out the Dalek, to quote the late great Brig: just once I’d like to meet an alien menace that wasn’t immune to bullets! Sadly not-much-exaggerated reason why UNIT wasn’t there to help.

    It all ended up being more than the sum of its parts, somehow.

    I must reflect on the season to determine what my Hugo nominations shall be. This one isn’t eligible, but there were several I quite liked. Yaz’ mum and not-Trump vs. the giant spiders, despite or perhaps because I watched it between my fingers (the sofa’s against the wall, no hiding behind) is on there.

    I would like to give a special award to Alan Cumming. Or perhaps all the awards.

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  6. One thing I have wondered a week later: yes, jolly good for Graham not being a murderer, but a) the stasis thingy means Tim Shaw might be able to come back and b) isn’t that really more cruel than death?

    Also, I think I’m picking Rosa and the Punjab as nominations. Both are callbacks to the original idea of Who, plus plenty of interpersonal/historic stuff regarding plain old humans. And of course the spiders, for being proper behind-the-couch stuff, and running down corridors. Because it isn’t Doctor Who if the Doctor and friends don’t run down corridors pursuing/ed monsters.

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