Doctor Who: “Resolution”

There was no Christmas special this season, but there was a New Year’s Day special, hence the double-entendre of the title “Resolution.” While it was one of the better episodes of season 11, I had some issues. (Don’t I always?) Let’s dive in.

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

“Resolution” has a pretty great setup — in the 9th century an army defeats a monster so terrible that its remains have to be chopped up and buried in three separate corners of the Earth, where they are guarded through time by generations of soldiers (not unlike the Mother Boxes in Justice League, now that I think of it) — but in the end the mysterious creature turns out to be just another Dalek. I was excited to see this new Doctor face her oldest enemy, but the setup was so creepy and compelling I couldn’t help but feel a little let down, too.

There were parts of the episode I liked a lot, though. The Dalek outside of its armor was quite scary, probably the scariest-looking Dalek without armor the show has ever had. The makeshift armor it welds together out of scrap metal (which, remarkably, only seems to take the possessed Lin about an hour to do) also looks great. It’s not an attempt to create a new look for the Daleks, thankfully — I’m looking rather pointedly at you and your failed candy-colored, Power Rangers-esque new Dalek designs, “Victory of the Daleks” — but rather this one Dalek’s approximation of its original armor with the materials at hand, which makes it all the creepier. There are some good action sequences and a few great moments of suspense. But what I really liked was the appearance of Ryan’s father, Aaron, who wants to make up for being a bad father after all these years. It’s a nice resolution (there’s that double-entendre again!) to something they set up well over the course of the season. I loved how the Doctor, who doesn’t always know how to act tactfully, immediately takes Aaron to task for missing Grace’s funeral before Ryan even has a chance to. Graham slamming the door in Aaron’s face is pretty great, too, as is their later, much calmer conversation over the box of Aaron’s old things that Grace had kept. Graham continues to be my favorite character of the new cast.

Unfortunately, the resolution of Ryan and Aaron’s conflict comes way too quickly and easily, in my opinion. I didn’t need Ryan to forgive Aaron, which he does; I needed Aaron to do something to prove that he really wants to make amends, which he doesn’t. It’s all wrapped up much too quickly, with no lasting consequences for either of them except that they promise to stay in touch now. It doesn’t ring true or emotionally authentic.

I got the sense during the season, and this episode kind of proved it to me, that new showrunner Chris Chibnall is intentionally aging the show down. It’s always been a family show, of course, but ever since the revival began in 2005 it has skewed toward slightly more adult emotions and situations. Chibnall seems to be taking it in the other direction, making it more child friendly, like the classic series. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean the big emotions and big stakes of past seasons are few and far between now. For example, were this an episode from the Davies or Moffat eras, Aaron would have proved his love for Ryan by sacrificing himself at the end to ensure the destruction of the Dalek and to keep Ryan safe. Here, all Ryan has to do is tell his absentee father that he forgives him and still loves him for Aaron to find the strength to shrug the Dalek off his back and send it hurtling into the supernova alone. No big consequences. No big stakes. Just a scary moment, and then everything is all right again. It’s going to take some time for me to get used to this more child-friendly take on Doctor Who.

Here’s where I get really nerdy, though, because I felt there were several continuity problems in this episode. First, if this Dalek was one of the first to leave Skaro and has been dormant on Earth since the 9th century, I don’t think it would know who the Doctor is. There’s the slight possibility that this Dalek was present when the Fourth Doctor tried to stop Davros from creating more in the 1975 serial “Genesis of the Daleks,” or learned about those events afterward in Dalek school, but that seems like a long shot. It would be much more likely that this Dalek was unaware of the Doctor because of its circumstances. (The Dalek also shows no surprise at how much Earth has changed since the 9th century. That’s not a continuity issue, but it would have been a nice touch.) Second, this Dalek has abilities no Dalek in the history of the show has ever had. This Dalek can not only survive its body being chopped into pieces, but those pieces can teleport back together and reanimate because of…ultraviolet light? Um, okay. Roughly five percent of sunlight is ultraviolet light, but I guess that wasn’t enough to do the trick over the centuries. It can also pilot people around while hanging off them like a backpack. We’ve seen Daleks brainwash people before, and we’ve even seen them turn people into sleeper agents in episodes like 2012’s “Asylum of the Daleks,” where the agents had those silly-looking eye stalks springing out of their foreheads, but we haven’t seen this before. These new abilities are explained away by the Doctor saying this Dalek is different from the others because it’s a reconnaissance scout, but that doesn’t make sense to me. These abilities strike me as something all Daleks would love to have, recon scouts or otherwise — especially the ability not to die when it’s chopped into pieces! (Also, since when is their armor so vulnerable to fire that a Dalek can be defeated by 9th century humans with a simple bonfire?)

But the biggest continuity issue of all is that no one seems to remember the events of the 2008 Tenth Doctor episodes “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” in which the Daleks invade Earth and move the whole planet to another galaxy! When the Doctor mentions the name Dalek to Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, they show no reaction and don’t seem to know what she’s talking about. Later, when a policeman pulls the possessed Lin over for speeding and she tells him he is an enemy of the Daleks, he acts like he’s never heard the name before. Even the Army soldiers who face the Dalek refer to it as a drone and don’t seem to know better. It’s only been 10 years since the Daleks appeared in every major city on Earth and presumably killed thousands of people! As far as I can recall there was no timey-wimey bullshit to make everyone forget it happened or create a new timeline where it didn’t, and yet no one remembers the Daleks?

Don’t give me that look, I told you I was going to get nerdy.

And now for additional nerdiness with some Doctor Who neepery! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Doctor’s scarf in “Resolution.” Any time the Doctor — or anyone — wears a scarf on the show, it’s hard not to see it as a nod to Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, whose long, multicolored scarf has become iconic. We get a mention of UNIT and Kate Stewart, followed by a thinly veiled dig at Brexit when it’s revealed UNIT is currently not operational because its funding is under review. We also see a mention of the Black Archive when the Dalek accesses Lin’s computer, a reference to UNIT’s secret vault of alien artifacts that we first saw in 2013’s 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.”  The Doctor takes her companions to 19 different New Year’s Eve celebrations across time and space, including the 2000 celebration in Sydney, Australia. Interestingly, the Eighth Doctor was also on Earth during New Year’s Eve 2000, as we saw in the 1996 TV movie. She could have gone to visit herself!

That’s it for season 11, and that’s it for Doctor Who until the next season starts in 2020. It’s going to be a long wait, but I’m eager to see where the show goes from here. And like James Whitbrook over at io9, I’m hoping 2020 will be the Year of Yaz, since she’s the one character who still feels underdeveloped and underutilized.

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