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.