Doctor Who New Year’s special review: The Chris Chibnall era finally embraces its past


The first Doctor Who New Year’s special is an exciting, cinematic reintroduction for one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies.

It’s possible that “Resolution,” the New Year’s special, is the most gorgeous episode of Doctor Who ever produced. Every frame is exhilarating, and I’d put it up against most action films that came out last year. This episode is, from start to finish, a wild, exciting ride.

Are there some cracks in this holiday installment? Of course. There are some clunky jokes (are we really meant to chalk the loss of UNIT up to Brexit?), an over reliance on the near-magical abilities of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, and a lot of technobabble-based, show-not-tell moments toward the episode’s end. But that’s okay, as “Resolution” marks the first instance of the Chris Chibnall era in which his Doctor Who finally embraces its own past. And it’s all the better for it, even if we all saw it coming months ago.

The “twist” of the episode, such as it is, is completely predictable and probably surprised no one that has ever watched this show before. Of course it’s exactly what you think it is: The return of Daleks. What’s a new Doctor Who era without the Doctor’s most iconic nemesis? It’s amazing that Chibnall managed to hold off going to this well for as long as he did.

And, for what it’s worth, his take on the Daleks is generally intriguing, and their presence adds a sense of connectivity with Doctor Who’s past that was certainly lacking during season 11. An overarching historical narrative explains how one of the creatures still survives on Earth, but Chibnall takes the opportunity to make a few changes to the classic monsters along the way. The fact that the first half of the episode is basically a body horror story, as a de-cased, squidlike Dalek crawls around and takes over a human, is creepy in a whole new and unforeseen way. (This bodysnatching concept is so disturbing, in fact, that the arrival of the traditional Dalek casing almost feels like a let down.)

The return of the Daleks also provided something many Doctor Who viewers had been asking for: a clear, definable villain for the Doctor to battle. To date, Jodie Whittaker hadn’t had much opportunity to display Thirteen’s steel, but as per usual, the psychotic pepperpots bring out the best (or worst, depending) in the Doctor. Though this version hasn’t had much opportunity to do the traditional sort of “this planet is defended” kind of standoff, Whittaker’s Doctor is more than up to the task.

(Maybe we just won’t talk about how…strange the new Dalek form looks, with its oddly overly pronounced waist?)

Additionally, thanks to the fact that the un-cased Dalek takes over the body of a woman, its confrontation with the series’ first female Doctor has a whole new feel. Too often, in the past, Doctor vs. Dalek confrontations have boiled down to what is essentially two guys seeing who could yell at one another the loudest. Here, there’s a distinct lack of bald-face aggression, and a much greater emphasis on soft-voices, smarts, and scheming. It’s an interesting twist on the longstanding relationship between these two enemies, and one that I sincerely hope we see again in future.

Picture shows: DANIEL ADEGBOYEGA. Image via BBC America

“Resolution” isn’t all cinematic tracking shots, explosions, and shouts of “Exterminate!”, however. Ryan’s heretofore-absentee father Aaron arrives, looking to mend fences with the son he’s largely abandoned. (Look, he missed his wife and his mother’s funerals. I’m not incredibly inclined to kindness here.) This gives the episode a more serious emotional heart than it might have otherwise, allowing Ryan to say to his father directly some of the things we’ve seen him say about him to others. (And let’s be real: The scene between them at the cafe is stunning.)

The episode’s climax, which sees Team TARDIS jerry rig a solution of spare parts to melt the Dalek’s DIY casing and explaining in technobabble how it works, isn’t as exciting as it probably should be. It’s not like most victories over the Daleks are things that necessarily make sense. (Do we even know what happened to them or what they did after their last appearance in season 9?)

The Dalek’s last-ditch decision to bodysnatch Aaron and threaten him with death is perhaps not as emotionally effective as the episode would like us to see it either. The entire sequence hinges on Tosin Cole’s ability to sell Ryan’s fear of losing his father, and while he does a Herculean effort, both here and during the diner scene when he explains how abandoned he felt, it’s hard to drum up a lot of fear on Aaron’s behalf.

(Sorry, guys, I may actually be a monster?)


Ryan (TOSIN COLE), Graham (BRADLEY WALSH). Image via BBC America

Other than having great taste in microwaves and being remarkably chill about the whole TARDIS situation, Aaron hasn’t done much to prove he’s worthy of Ryan, to be honest. Would this moment have landed harder had Ryan’s father chosen to sacrifice himself to destroy the Dalek and save his son/the Earth? Possibly. But it’s a holiday episode, so we’re basically guaranteed a happy ending of some kind, whether we want it or not.

Furthermore, despite the fact that both Ryan and Graham are given a significant emotional moments in this episode, Yaz is once again left with basically nothing to do. It’s easy to track the emotional journey of both her fellow companions throughout season 11 and this special, but I’m still not sure what Yaz’s was. Or if she even had one. In the end, we see Lin, while controlled by the Dalek, spend more time acting like a police officer than Yaz has all season. This is a problem season 12 has really got to address, because it’s getting kind of ridiculous.

But that’s a problem for 2020 to solve.

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Doctor Who is currently slated to return for season 12 at an as-yet-to-be-determined date in early 2020.