NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who” are present in this review
Doctor Who’s twelfth series isn’t scheduled to air until 2020, so 2019 will be a long year for series fans that are eager to rejoin the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions for a new batch of adventures. That said however, we are getting at least one Doctor Who episode in 2019, that being a standalone New Years Day special, another experimental revision to the show’s structure by new showrunner, Chris Chibnall. The New Years special replaces Doctor Who’s former traditional Christmas specials, which have been a series staple since New Who began its run all the way back in 2005. Some fans are bound to take issue with this, though considering the highly uneven quality of New Who’s Christmas specials, I suppose it’s not like the annual Christmas episodes were often known for being the very best of Doctor Who anyway.
Thus, we have, “Resolution”, a standalone Thirteenth Doctor special to follow last year’s Series Ten, which finally breaks Chibnall’s apparent rule of not featuring legacy monsters from previous stories in Doctor Who canon. That said, it feels like the right time to re-introduce a familiar threat to The Doctor for Chibnall’s tenure, and on that note, you might as well go for the biggest threat in the series’ villain encyclopedia! Yes, at last, we have the Daleks confronting the Thirteenth Doctor for the first time in this New Years special, or at the very least, one Dalek. As New Who in particular has established many times though, just one Dalek is more than enough to present a serious threat to The Doctor, and to any planet at large. Thus, we’re certainly not wanting for stakes in a pretty explosive and exciting New Years special, which seems to start Chibnall’s apparent new Doctor Who tradition on a pretty strong note!
The entire episode feels like it has a truly epic scale, and that’s great, since Chibnall, who also wrote this New Years special, seems wisely aware that this one offering has to tide Doctor Who fans over for the entirety of 2019! Right from the beginning, we get a big buildup to what’s ahead, as 9th Century warriors are shown defeating and breaking apart an apparent alien threat, one representing the, “Most dangerous creature in the universe.” Two of these so-called, “Custodians” hid their monster pieces successfully, but the third was killed by an arrow on his journey, leaving the remains of his piece to be buried with the centuries in what would eventually become Britain. Honestly, I wish the episode hadn’t uttered that line about this alien being the most dangerous creature in the universe, since it’s a dead giveaway as to what this enemy is for any Doctor Who fan who has come into the series at any point before this past season, but I suppose that mystery is taking a backseat in this special. In this case, it’s all about the action, and the imminent threat to Earth that The Doctor and her crew are now facing!
As an action-focused Doctor Who special, “Resolution” gets pretty much everything right. The special gets properly kicked off when two unassuming archaeologists accidentally uncover and revive the dormant Dalek while seeking the remains of Alfred the Great under Sheffield Town Hall, which leads to the TARDIS automatically bringing The Doctor and her companions to the same spot in present day 2019. Yes, of course this is happening in Sheffield, the new hotbed for Doctor Who mysteries ever since Chibnall assumed showrunner duties as of Series Ten. Anyway, the Dalek ends up assuming control of one of the archaeologists (yes, I know, Daleks couldn’t do that before), in a challenging symbiote-like relationship that seems very obviously stolen from Venom, one of 2018’s most high-profile superhero movies. The voice even sounds exactly like Venom’s voice from last year’s movie (even with the feeble effort at a Dalek filter laid over it), so the BBC aren’t even being clever about that! Then again, it’s not like a Doctor Who special has never blatantly stolen alien designs and story ideas from a movie before (*cough* Last Christmas! *cough*).
Most of this special can just be boiled down to chasing the Dalek and trying to prevent it from bringing a big fleet of Daleks to Earth, which is plenty engaging, if very simple in execution. The majority of the resulting thrills are very effective though, especially when the helpless hostage of the Dalek is forced to commit violent acts and flee the authorities against her will. I almost wish that this symbiote-like idea was saved for an episode that wasn’t focused on a Dalek, since there’s some potential left on the table through the obvious agenda of re-introducing Daleks to Chibnall’s Doctor Who episodes above all else, but oh well. I also somewhat wonder if this alien was originally meant to be another all-new alien monster, before the BBC possibly intervened and forced Chibnall to re-write the monster into a Dalek, since this Dalek suddenly has all sorts of capabilities that Daleks didn’t originally have, including aforementioned human hijacking capability, and the power to fry all of the TARDIS’ technology whenever it wants to. That latter power especially really stinks of narrative contrivance, since the chase is forcibly prolonged by the Dalek being unrealistically overpowered, even by a Dalek’s standards. Still, I suppose that the idea of sub-Daleks with different abilities is actually kind of cool, and something that Doctor Who has flirted with before, if not fully realized.
Sandwiched between all of this mayhem with the Dalek chase is the surprise introduction to Ryan’s father, Aaron, who has decided to try and re-connect with Ryan as part of trying to be a better person in 2019. This subplot is the main connection to the special’s New Years theme, and while this Aaron storyline sometimes feels like it belongs in another episode, the scenes shared between Ryan and Aaron, and Graham and Aaron for that matter, are all amazing. Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh really crushed their performances in this special, as both Ryan and Graham have to try and deal with Aaron’s absence, particularly at Grace’s funeral, and how it’s personally affected them, while also motivating their journey with The Doctor to some extent. Aaron’s attempt to turn his life around by selling legitimately good microwaves, despite struggling to make them not sound like a con, also comes into play when The Doctor finally concocts a plan to destroy the Dalek’s casing, before tricking it into falling into a supernova, almost taking Aaron with it in the process. It probably would have been more dramatically impactful if the show had committed to killing off Aaron here, but I guess that would be a dick move for the only Doctor Who episode planned for 2019, so I do understand why Ryan’s deadbeat father was ultimately spared.
“Resolution” worked hard to wow audiences and make sure that the one Doctor Who offering on the docket for this year was a very entertaining and spectacular one. It would have been ideal if we got more foreshadowing and buildup over a season regarding the new capabilities of the Dalek scouts, so they wouldn’t feel so contrived and forcibly inconvenient, but just seeing the Thirteenth Doctor encounter her first Dalek by itself is pretty awesome! It’s about time that Chibnall brought back a familiar Doctor Who foe, as much as I’ve enjoyed several of Series Ten’s new villains, and I’m happy that the Daleks were logically brought in to menace the Thirteenth Doctor first. Hopefully this means that 2020’s Series Twelve will feature a mix of new and old villains, but for now, this New Years special stands as one of the better Doctor Who Holiday specials, which I guess I have to call them now, since the Christmas specials no longer seem to be a thing anymore. The premise is simple, but the emphasis on action, terror and excitement is very well executed, especially now that we have to wait a whole year for more Doctor Who episodes, at least! Maybe next New Years we can see what the Cybermen are up to?
- Destructive, exciting Dalek action
- Nicely chilling Dalek hostage situation
- Great dramatic subplot with Ryan's father
- Dalek scout's new abilities are a little contrived