Doctor Who: “Resolution” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
New Year, new me. Hands up if you’ve said that more than once? While lots of us can sometimes fail that oft-repeated phrase, many Doctor Who fans have been hoping that Resolution would achieve the sentiment for the show. While posting impressive audience figures through combined viewing numbers (now irrelevant overnight figures, be damned), there’s a bit of a divide over Series 11 amongst fans. One thing for certain is that Series 11’s tenth story, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (the title that never gets easier to type), rarely felt like a series finale, even with the return of toothy Tim and his new, ah, forceful, friends the Ux. With Resolution, we have a much truer finale, and a New Year’s adventure for a be-scarfed Doctor to cap off the festive period.
Resolution has multiple meanings as a story title. New Year’s resolutions, the resolution of Series 11, and the resolution of the story arcs within it. And also, surely, it’s (cheekily) Resolution of the Daleks! The worst kept secret in the world, you still have to give fair game to the BBC for keeping at least how the Daleks would be back or in what form a secret, if not that they were back (caving when handily whacking an “Exterminate” over the Christmas Day teaser). It begins promisingly, with the first pre titles sequence- just minus the titles!- we’ve had since The Woman Who Fell to Earth, setting up an intriguing world spanning concept of the Order of the Custodians, a secret society formed from a number of armies to defeat an ancient, deadly enemy, the most dangerous in the universe- a Dalek. And, more terrifyingly, the “Impact” font.
Taking the Dalek in three pieces to different parts of the world after the mythical “Battle of Hope Valley”, one of the custodians is killed before hiding his piece and is discovered centuries later by archeological team Mitch (Indian Summer’s Nikesh Patel) and Lin (Fresh Meat’s Charlotte Ritchie), with Team TARDIS soon arriving on the case, after plans to spend their twentieth consecutive New Year’s at Quantifer, a settlement where it’s permanently New Year (a cute partner to the town called Christmas from The Time of The Doctor) are scuppered by an alert from Earth that the hateful creature from Skaro has awoken. It’s a race against to stop the Dalek calling his fleet, and to complicate things further, Ryan’s dad Aaron (Save Me’s Daniel Adegboyega) has returned.
Every Doctor’s first encounter with the Daleks is worth the admission, no less for the first true Dalek story in almost four years. There’s a rare sense of scale established by the story instantly by the build-up, and that of the Dalek- singular- is impressive, through a long lost mystery. It’s a good starting point, particularly when it comes to drawing back slightly with the Daleks. They needed the scare factor and some originality re-introduced, after barely so much existing in any meaningful way never mind being a threat in recent years of Who. Series 8’s Into the Dalek made a valiant attempt at bringing the aura back, but it turns out what you really needed was to strip a Dalek.
We meet our Resolution Dalek exposed, in well drawn out early sewer scenes, as a wriggly, gross prop, the mutant slithering around in the water with an array of icky sounds. Paring back the Dalek to the simple Kaled mutant initially was the right choice, especially seeing it clinging gooily to the wall of the sewer, and with the “new” voice of the mutant- low and rumbling, methodical. Oh, hello again Nicholas Briggs, lord and commander of the Dalek race! This Dalek feels more evil and more, well, Dalek, than any we’ve seen in years. Another to add to the Who pantheon of “there’s something on your back” alongside poor Donna in 2008’s Turn Left and Sarah Jane herself in 1974’s Planet of the Spiders, there’s some real body horror present as the Dalek escapes the sewers and clings to the unfortunate Lin.
When the Dalek finally does get back in the casing, it’s not the classic design we’re all used to, but a new one-off ramshackle design built from a box of scraps, and with a swish new extermination effect. It also has the kind of manipulation and ingenuity that was needed to give the Daleks some agency back, even if it’s a lone one. This one has a wicked humour to it, as it revels in combat and talks with glee about Lin being a useful soldier, indulging in its malice. It even gets to laugh, in stunted, choked fashion. Sure, it’s a little cheesy (that’s the show!), but the “evil” acting that Charlotte Ritchie pulls off feels fresh and fun to watch, even if it could’ve been delved a little more into the hatred that we harbor in ourselves, to mirror the Dalek. Still, eventually seeing the Dalek showing off its new weapons and indiscriminately murdering soldiers is enough. We also get a dark inverse of the sonic building scene from Jodie’s first story, the sinister tones of Segun Akinola’s score (another stand-out, to no-ones shock) giving us a nice small series bookend.
The main event is naturally Thirteen facing off with the Dalek. She gets her personal face-to-face time near the story’s climax, but Resolution builds their confrontation throughout, featuring Thirteen saying “Dalek” for the first time with that glorious soundtrack cue, her own go at the “always think I’m rid of them” line, and an adrenaline fueled stand-off with the Dalek and The Doctor aboard the TARDIS which feels perfectly Doctor Who. When they do finally come face to face, the patchwork Dalek emerging from smoke in the spooky, orange ember lit workshop it’s a treat, with Thirteen’s passionate defence of humanity, and joy in revealing who she is to the Dalek feeling in line with Thirteen’s character. It’s not as a vitriolic reaction as often there is between Doctor and Dalek, but it begins quite understated and feels very her. It’s grin-inducing no doubt, and only elevates from there as the whole gang (even the guest stars!) come together and get their hero shot. Even the TARDIS is given a hero moment. If you’re going for a thrill ride, may as well throw everything at it!
What Resolution does well is paring back not just the Dalek, but Team TARDIS themselves, forcing The Doctor and her friends together, not least in the humourous scene with UNIT’s (let’s be real, temporary!) closing, a small jibe at Brexit I’m sure. The TARDIS crew feels more experienced, talking about their off-screen adventures (which was a big gripe for me in Series 11, the lack of that feeling). Even the TARDIS feels grander and more lived-in here than at any time in Series 11, from the superb initial visual in the sewer to the multiple landing gags through (finally!) a walking-in-and-setting-off shot. I feel like I know more about Thirteen as a rounded character, that she is a fallible one, one who really tries to be nice and seems confident-enough to mess around with a Dalek- but at the same time needs assurance from her mates, the people she cares about. She boasts about her and her mates saving the world, not just being self-congratulatory, before sliding across the floor to stop the Dalek. There’s still Chib-sposition abound, yet I’ve never enjoyed Thirteen so much.
This just makes it all the more of a missed opportunity for some characters in the gang. Mandip Gill’s Yaz is again sidelined, allowed briefly to do police work only to have a Dalek controlling an archeologist do more policing than her. The portions revolving around Ryan’s dad Aaron often harm the whirlwind pacing, even if scenes such as Graham and Aaron’s chat about the real meaning of family stand out by themselves. The lynchpin scene of that storyline, with Ryan and Aaron in the café, is slow but perhaps the best isolated performance we’ve seen from Tosin Cole, his confident, wronged fury shining. I don’t think he blinked once! The “I don’t know, because he ain’t around” line hits like a hammer.
Aaron’s dad feels like a misstep, however. After having talked about him all series, Aaron is revealed to be a man taking responsibility for his mistakes, wishing he was better at life. We’re given a good chance to garner sympathy for him, which makes The Doctor’s calm jibes to Aaron (maybe just her strong loyalty to her friends and their feelings coming out) feel at odds with the remorseful man we see, as unforgivable as his actions are. He’s not malicious, just pitiable. Aaron is ultimately even to thank for the plot resolution! I feel like just a few more scenes threaded throughout the series for Aaron would have made this all more emotionally palatable, especially given the moment when Ryan forgives him in a well-shot scene. Ultimately, Resolution sometimes misses emotional cues amongst the adrenaline, as the character work simply hasn’t been fully built up or developed, which is a shame as this could’ve been an even stronger outing.
Resolution feels like much more a series finale, with a solid hook of exciting popcorn entertainment and a triumphant Dalek return. It’s Chris Chibnall’s best script (by himself!) since the series opener, but I can’t help but feel a little bittersweet about it, though, as I feel like we’re getting closer to how this TARDIS team should be planned out – with a Doctor who is starting to feel more formed. The final scene makes me want more in this series, rather than the year gap we now face- it’s properly exciting, and if it capped off a belter of a series, I’d be completely satisfied. As is, I choose sincerely to believe that Resolution is returning director Wayne Yip and Chibnall’s promise that there is so much more to come from this team. Time will tell then, for what the future holds next series. Let Yaz be Yaz, Chibs!