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Doctor Who: Resolution (Review)

Despite being positioned as a New Year’s Special and being the only episode of Doctor Who broadcast in 2019, Resolution functions as a season finale to the eleventh season.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. In terms of working relatively well, Resolution helps to compensate for the damp squib that was The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. It provides a sense of spectacle and threat that was sorely lacking from the last episode of the broadcast season. It also wraps up a number of thematic threads from the season and even provides a much more effective bookend to The Woman Who Fell to Earth than simply bringing back an underwhelming antagonist.

Calling the Dalek out.

However, there are also problems. Most obviously, the fact that Resolution functions as a slightly-delayed series finale makes The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos seem even more pointless. There was no need for The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos to serve as such a half-assed bookend to The Woman Who Fell to Earth, given Resolution would do a much better job. The storytelling real estate in The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos could easily have been given over to literally anything but the episode that was broadcast. That’s deeply frustrating.

There is another issue as well. Writing a New Year’s Special that also serves as a season finale is a risky move. The End of Time, Part II attempted this, and struggled to find the right balance, mostly be eschewing the holiday elements in favour of providing closure with the larger Davies Era as a whole. Resolution tries to strike a more effective balance between being an epic season finale and an episode that can be watched by the whole family after gorging on a massive dinner. This creates an internal tension that Resolution never quite resolves.

Digging deep.

There is a lot to like about Resolution. Chris Chibnall has not been the best showrunner for Doctor Who, demonstrating considerable lack of ambition when compared to his predecessors Andrew Cartmel, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. In fact, Chibnall is closest in aesthetic to Eric Saward, the script editor responsible for The Trial of a Time Lord, the storyline that Chibnall himself brutally skewered. With that in mind, a Chibnall-written Dalek episode was a dicey proposition, on paper.

The title of the episode is Resolution. The addition of a Dalek to the plot (albeit one concealed until the Christmas teaser) suggests the traditional “… of the Daleks” naming convention, like Evolution of the Daleks or Asylum of the Daleks. The episode is clearly meant to invite the fan nickname “Resolution of the Daleks”, which would place it alongside the “[R-word] of the Daleks” stories of the eighties; Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks. Two of those three stories happened under Eric Saward.

As a result, the plot of Resolution is a pleasant surprise. Chibnall’s traditionalist impulses and affection for the work of Eric Saward might have suggested an old-fashioned grim-and-gritty science-fiction take on the iconic pepperpots, along the lines of Resurrection of the Daleks. In contrast, Resolution is a much more adventurous and exciting piece of work. Although the Dalek fleet is mentioned, this is an episode built around a single Dalek that spends most of the episode outside its shell and then improvises a low-tech suit of armour for the climax.

Chibnall essentially pitches Resolution as a loose adaptation of Venom, about a sinister invading alien that attaches itself to a human being and effectively rides them around like a beast of burden. The references are quite overt. Much of the episode is spent with a Dalek “riding” a human body in a manner similar to the way that the symbiote attaches itself to Eddie Brock in Venom. The Dalek assures Lin, “I am your pilot.” The Dalek isn’t quite as snarky as the eponymous character in Venom, but it does offer something of a running commentary.

Call the emergency services, more like.

More than that, both Resolution and Venom focus on the horror that their human protagonists experience while their bodies are being controlled by an alien that is serving as the vanguard of an invasion fleet. Doctor Who has always appreciated that the tentacles make the Daleks supercreepy, but the way that they are shot in Resolution consciously evokes the way that the title creature creates tentacles in Venom. The car chase sequence in Resolution is a fairly overt homage to the motorbike sequence at the heart of Venom, with the Dalek even seeming to “eat” the police officer.

Even composer Segun Akinola gets in on the action. Akinola has largely been defined for his more atmospheric and ambient music throughout the eleventh season, but his score for Resolution tilts over into full-blown parody of heavy rock music. As Dalek!Lin weaves the car through oncoming traffic, electric guitars rage on the soundtrack in a manner that seems plucked directly from the mind of a hyperactive twelve-year-old boy.

Of course, there is tradition for structuring the Doctor Who holiday special around particular genres and films. Voyage of the Damned was The Poseidon Adventurein space! The influences on A Christmas Carol were self-evident. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe riffed on a combination of Mary Poppins and The Chronicles of Narnia. The Return of Doctor Mysterio played with Richard Donner’s Superman. However, Last Christmas may take the prize, blending Santa Claus into a hybrid of Inception, The Thing and Alien. By comparison, Resolution seems almost modest.

Indeed, there is something very appropriate in Chibnall choosing to structure Resolution as a gigantic love letter to Venom. After all, Venom is already well on the way to becoming a fabled “beloved bad movie.” (The first two acts are surprisingly fun, if not especially good. The final third of the film is one of the worst things released in cinemas this year.) More than that, Venom is one of the biggest box office hits of the year. It exists as a fixed point in popular culture. A large portion of the audience will have seen it. More will be aware of it.

Shore thing.

Venom is not a bad choice for a big bombastic seasonal special. It has been argued that one of the strengths of the Chibnall Era is the way that it has embraced populism. It has broadened the audience of the show. It has reengaged with a broader cultural conversation. The Chibnall Era is less ambitious and less sophisticated than the Moffat Era, but there is some evidence that it has been successful in attracting new viewers to the show, and that should be commended and celebrated.

More than that, and this is not something should be dismissed, “Venom… but with a Dalek!” is by far the most ambitious concept of the eleventh season. Of course, it doesn’t measure up to past contenders like “the moon is an egg!” or “a Doctor Who story without a monster!” or Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, but that’s not the point. Resolution is a more modest effort than something like Last Christmas, but it is more energised and creative than anything else that the eleventh season has offered to this point. It recaptures some of the mad energy that the eleventh season was missing.

On a purely structural level, this strange homage within Resolution also provides a nice bookend to the season. The Woman Who Fell to Earth seemed to have been written as a preemptive extended homage to The Predator, a movie which opened a few weeks before the start of the season. The establishment of the Stenza as recurring antagonists in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, The Ghost Monument and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos seemed built around a strange belief that The Predator would be a much bigger cultural event than it ended up being.

The twin science-fiction action movie references to The Predator and Venom provide a nice and unexpected sense of symmetry to the season. Both The Predator and Venom are archetypal “big dumb action movies” aimed at blockbuster audiences with more than a hint of eighties nostalgia to them. (Predator was released in 1987, Venom was introduced as a costume in 1984 and evolved into a character in 1988.) Resolution works better than The Woman Who Fell to Earth because Venom is a much more fun concept to play with than The Predator.

Fevered Mitch.

So, conceptually, Resolution is a shoo-in for the strongest episode of the season; with the possible exception of It Takes You Away and maybe Demons of the Punjab. However, the execution is a bit more muddled. It is something of a cliché to argue that Chibnall is one of the weakest writers working on his own show, but there is some measure of truth in that observation. Chibnall simply isn’t as good a writer as Davies or Moffat, and this is the first time in thirteen years that it would be hard to argue that Doctor Who was being run by the best writer on British television.

This is obvious quite early in the story. As with The Woman Who Fell to Earth, it is very clear that Chibnall is not as good with dialogue as Davies or Moffat. In The Woman Who Fell to Earth, Chibnall tried to compensate by shortening scenes and cutting frantically. In Resolution, Chibnall simply runs right into the problem. The early scenes between Lin and Mitch are awkward and forced, in large part due to the banter that Chibnall tries to write for the pair.

Lin and Mitch are discussing a kiss that they shared. This is standard character drama. Davies and Moffat could write the scene without breaking a sweat; Davies imbuing Lin and Mitch with warmth and humanity, while Moffat would be playful and cheeky. Chibnall tries to write the scene like Moffat. “Did it feel like a ‘Happy New Year Mates’ kiss?” Lin asks. Mitch responds, “It was more… kissy than that, I’d say.”

Ignoring the fact that it takes Chibnall significantly longer to hit this beat than it should, the exchange is notable for the manner in which it tries to evoke Moffat’s ear for dialogue. “Kissy” is the sort of goofy non-word that Moffat would sprinkle liberally in the Doctor’s dialogue; think “timey wimey” or “spacey wacey.” However, it is just too mundane and generic to really work in this context as a piece of dialogue coming from this character in this context. It is superficially Moffat-esque, but it demonstrates how hard it is to emulate that style of character bantering.

Keep it handy.

Indeed, the dialogue within Resolution is clumsy and awkward. As with a lot of Chibnall’s scripts for the season, characters tend to repeat themselves and one another to ensure that even the audience members sitting furthest from the television will understand what is going on. Arriving at the the dig site, Graham notes, “So, Doc, if it was there and it’s not there now, I assume it’s roaming around here. In the water. Should we be worried?” The Doctor responds, “Probably. Looks like it slid down this wall, and into the water.”

That’s terrible dialogue. Graham has literally just stated that the Dalek is most likely to be in the water. The Doctor, with whom he was conversing, does not respond directly to his statement, but instead repeats the same piece of information, that the Dalek is most likely to be in the water. One of those pieces of dialogue is redundant. There is an argument to be made for repeating exposition to keep the audience engaged and up to speed, but not twice within the space of two lines. Chibnall does this repeatedly.

Resolution works least well when Chibnall is channelling Moffat. It works significantly better when he is writing in a style that is more appreciably in line with Davies. This makes a great deal of sense, considering that his best script for the season was Arachnids in the U.K., the sort of “toyetic monster loose in the contemporary United Kingdom” story that the Davies era produced in the middle of each season; fun, enjoyable, broad, blockbuster, crowd-pleasing.

This makes sense in the context of Chibnall’s first Dalek-centric episode. At the risk of generalising, the Davies Era was very much about solidifying Doctor Who as event television. The Daleks were a large part of that, appearing in three of Davies’ four season finales. These episodes are generally highly regarded, and turned the arrival of the Daleks into an event. It is notable that the introduction of the Daleks served as a cliffhanger in both Bad Wolf and Army of Ghosts, in two consecutive seasons.

A screwdriver loose.

In contrast, the Moffat Era was more interested in playing with and pushing at Doctor Who as television. Moffat was much more interested in building season finales around the Master an the Cybermen, as in Dark Water and Death in Heaven or World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls. In contrast, Moffat was less engaged with the Daleks. They appeared as background characters in several stories like The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang or The Wedding of River Song or memorably in a brief interlude during The Pilot.

More to the point, while the Davies Era tended to treat the Daleks as a big monolithic force that were the ultimate representation of evil in the universe and the primary antagonists of the Doctor, the Moffat Era was more likely to do something mischievous or off-kilter with them in stories like Victory of the Daleks or Into the Dalek or The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. This approach was not always successful, but it tended to be interesting. These episodes are less likely to be ranked by fandom as essential or classic Dalek-centric stories.

As a result, it makes sense that Chris Chibnall would approach the Daleks in the style of Russell T. Davies rather than Steven Moffat, right down to positioning them as a surprise monster in the de facto season finale. (In fact, it’s interesting to wonder at what point it was decided to announce the return of the Daleks in the Christmas teaser, given how long Resolution waits to have Jodie Whittaker say the word “Dalek.”) This is a big and bombastic Dalek story, right down to sequences of the Dalek massacring soldiers and declaring that Earth is “annexed.”

Resolution returns to the idea of the Daleks as “a big deal.” As with Dalek, considerable effort is dedicated to proving that a single Dalek can be a credible threat, even when it is riding around in nothing more than the “remnants of its original shell, patched up with all sorts of spare parts. Mainly metal.” Similarly, the Thirteenth Doctor seems more anxious about the Daleks than the Twelfth Doctor or the Eleventh Doctor outside of his first encounter with them in Victory of the Daleks.

(Arche)ol(ogists) for one, and one for all.

On discovering that the Daleks have attacked Earth once again, the Thirteenth Doctor laments, “I always think I’m rid of them, but I never am.” As with a lot of the Thirteenth Doctor’s characterisation in the eleventh season, this seems to hark back to the Tenth Doctor. The Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors seemed to reconcile themselves to the perpetual continued existence of the Daleks. It is hard to reconcile the Thirteenth Doctor’s angst with the eagerness with which the Twelfth Doctor threw himself into the Dalek-Movellan War in The Pilot.

There are aspects of Resolution that do evoke Moffat’s characterisation of the Daleks. Moffat introduced the idea of Daleks “riding” human bodies around like puppets in Asylum of the Daleks, although those Daleks hid inside people. Asylum of the Daleks used Daleks as a metaphor for something that happens to people when they “subtract love.” In contrast, Resolution offers a much more literal riff on the concept, with the Dalek existing outside people. In Resolution, the Dalek is an external evil, rather than something nestling in the hollow space inside a person.

As has been traditional since The Power of the Daleks, there is a sense that the Dalek in Resolution exists primarily as something against which the Thirteenth Doctor might identify herself. Resolution allows for a number of big heroic moments in which the Doctor makes a number of big badass boasts. “You want this planet, you have to come through me,” she warns the monster. “My name’s the Doctor. Ring any bells?” Again, this sort of characterisation harks back to the Tenth Doctor.

Resolution also uses the reintroduction of the Daleks as an excuse to allow the Doctor to finally cut loose against an antagonist. One of the defining features of the eleventh season has been the general inefficiency of the Doctor, an unwillingness and a reluctance to actually stop the monsters; her refusal to topple the Trump surrogate in Arachnids in the U.K., her endorsement of space!Amazon in Kerblam!, her complicity in systemic racism in Rosa. There is a palpable sense of release in Resolution when the Doctor is finally allowed to actually defeat an opponent.

Sparks fly.

After offering the Dalek numerous attempts to surrender peacefully and return home, all of which the creature arrogantly declines, the Doctor turns to her companions. As if collecting witness testimony for some future inquiry, the Doctor insists, “I tried, I tried. I gave it a chance.” Whittaker plays the scene as if the Doctor is actually glad to have finally reached a threshold with an antagonistic force where she can justify interfering to stop it. It is long overdue.

Of course, there is something mildly frustrating in the fact that Resolution plays this sequence so earnestly. Given the historical context of the Daleks as stand-ins for fascism, it plays as a weird meditation on the debate about the efficacy of punching Nazis. There is something strange in the way that Resolution feels the need to draw the audience’s attention to the Doctor’s repeated attempts to reason with a genocidal pepperpot before she can justify the use of force. The Dalek has, after all, already murdered dozens of people. Force seems pretty justified.

In terms of using the Daleks as a stand-in for fascism, Resolution is decidedly broad. This is not an episode like Genesis of the Daleks or Remembrance of the Daleks, which is particularly interested in the idea of the Daleks as a metaphor for something in humanity. More to the point, it is not an episode like Bad Wolf or Asylum of the Dalek that suggests a connection between human and Daleks, that human beings can be turned into Daleks if properly exploited. The Dalek in Resolution never corrupts Lin. It never infects Aaron. Instead, it exists apart from them.

As such, there is no use of the Daleks as a metaphor for the rise of fascism in the western world, no way in which the Daleks serve as a reminder of dangers close to home. The Dalek in Resolution is unequivocally and manifestly alien, which means that there’s no way that it might be read as a commentary on contemporary politics. As with the rest of the eleventh season, Chibnall has largely avoided engaging directly with contemporary British politics, despite the sense that the Daleks are probably more relevant than ever in an era where Britain is gripped by anti-immigrant anxiety.

Sands of time.

The closest that Resolution comes is the best joke in the episode, which reveals that U.N.I.T. no longer exists because of budget cuts. “All U.N.I.T. operations were put on hold following financial disputes and funding withdrawal by the U.K.’s major international partners,” a call centre employee informs the Doctor. “You’re kidding?” the Doctor replies. “Other armed forces are available, if you can answer a couple of questions to help us direct your call,” the operator replies. It’s a broad joke about how Brexit will impact Britain’s public services, and it largely works. It also feels very light.

That said, there is something effective in the portrayal of the Dalek in Resolution. Separated from its shell, the Dalek is forced to take control of Lin. This angry ball of hatred takes control of a woman’s body and asserts its authority over her. It is underdeveloped, but it could work as a metaphor for how these ideologies try to control women’s bodies. Similar, it feels strangely appropriate that one of the first characters to be killed by Dalek!Lin is a young gay man.

To be fair, some of the issues with Resolution might come down to the difficulty in trying to balance the episode as a gritty Dalek story and as a broad crowd-pleasing holiday special. Resolution struggles a great deal in terms of tone. This is most notable in the way that the episode keeps cutting away from mounting tension and high-stakes actions to very broad jokes that sap any sense of momentum from the story.

While the joke about U.N.I.T. arrives early enough in the story that it doesn’t undercut the stakes, the climax interrupts the Dalek’s plot to conquer the world (and murder the population) by cutting away to a sequence involving a typical British family. “It’s shutting down the wifi, the phone signals,” the Doctor explains. “Woah, that Dalek just shut down the whole of Britain’s internet.” Graham cuts across, “What? On New Year’s Day, when everything’s shut and everyone’s hung over?” Ryan responds, “What a monster.”

“What was that about an ‘unidentified drone’ at Gatwick?”

That is the joke. It isn’t funny. Maybe it is in theory. It is easy to imagine the Doctor and companions shouting about this as the TARDIS console sparks and everybody struggles to hold on, an incidental and amusing detail in the midst of a larger crisis. However, Resolution doesn’t trust the joke to work in the background of the scene. It foregrounds the joke. This is actually a cut away sequence to the three characters standing in the TARDIS, having a casual conversation as if nothing important is happening.

The joke would already be a dud if it ended there. Unfortunately and inexplicably, it keeps going. The sequence continues to another cut away, a cut away from a cut away, essentially putting the audience at two removes from the actual stakes of story. The audience get to meet a stereotypical family who are affected by the loss of the internet. The children wonder what they can do to amuse themselves without the internet. Their mother replies, “I suppose… we’ll have to have a conversation.” This is a grumpy grown-up joke, a “kids these days…” observation that saps momentum.

The tension between high-stakes season finale and broad holiday special affects the episode in other ways as well. Perhaps understandably, given the fact that this is a show aimed at all sorts of family members, Resolution cannot commit to a bleak and nihilistic Dalek story. This is an episode that is appreciably less murder-happy than something like Dalek or The Parting of the Ways. It is much less cynical and grim than something like Asylum of the Daleks or Into the Dalek.

The Dalek in Resolution is allowed to kill various characters, but not any named characters. Over the course of Resolution, the Dalek murders its way through a bunch of anonymous background players; the two police officers who stop Lin, the security guard, the farmer, the soldiers, the administration officer. None of these characters have names. The security guard is the only character who gets any background. Resolution is structured in such a way that the audience never actually cares about anybody that the Daleks murder.

Cogs in a machine.

This somewhat limits the effectiveness of Resolution as a showcase for the Daleks as unstoppable killing machines. There is nothing in Resolution that is as ruthless or bloodthirsty as Revelation of the Daleks or The Parting of the Ways. There could not be. This is a New Year’s Special. This is meant to be “Doctor Who for the whole family.” As a result, every major character emerges unscathed. Lin is not especially traumatised by what the Dalek made her see and do. Aaron is successfully pulled into the TARDIS when the creature is flushed into space.

This is a shame. For all that Moffat was criticised for his unwillingness to kill off characters, he was willing to introduce likable characters and have them die to shock the audience. Even just in terms of characters that do not come back, Lorna Bucket dies in A Good Man Goes to War and Ross and Gretchen die in Into the Dalek. Both Dark Water and Death in Heaven are built around the sudden death of recurring character Danny Pink. Resolution wants very much to have its cake and eat it in terms of presenting the Dalek as an unstoppable force and avoiding any upset.

Still, there are a lot of ways in which Resolution works very well. It is structured as a much more engaging and satisfying conclusion to the season than The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, notably paying off a number of dangling plot threads. This is most obvious in terms of introducing the character of Aaron, Ryan’s father. The absence of Ryan’s father has been a recurring motif across the season, most notably discussed in episodes like The Woman Who Fell to EarthArachnids in the U.K., The Tsuranga Conundrum and It Takes You Away.

One of the strongest recurring motifs in the eleventh season has been a preoccupation with toxic and flawed masculinity. Repeatedly over the course of the eleventh season, the Doctor comes face to face with men who are bullies and abusers; Tim Shaw in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, Ilin in The Ghost Monument, Jack Robertson in Arachnids in the U.K., Manish in Demons of the Punjab, Charlie in Kerblam!, King James I in The Witchfinders, Erik in It Takes You Away. Aaron is the archetype here, the shadow who looms over the rest of the season.

The Doctor has a bone to pick with the Daleks.

Aaron is by all accounts a failure. He is a father who was afraid to put the work in. He abandoned his family. He left Ryan behind. The experience traumatised Ryan, leaving him shattered and vulnerable. As the Doctor points out in Resolution, Aaron could not even be bothered to show up to his own mother’s funeral. Graham offers a pretty damning indictment of Aaron as a man early in Resolution, warning the absentee father, “Family isn’t just about DNA. Or a name. It’s about what you do. And you haven’t done enough.”

This seems like a big idea. It is a signpost. After all, the Daleks are preoccupied with concepts of racial and genetic purity. Graham’s criticism of Aaron is a rejection of Dalek philosophy, a rejection of the idea that identity is determined by concepts like “DNA” or “name.” Indeed, Chibnall has already repeatedly stressed this in the eleventh season. The Doctor defines her companions as her “fam”, making them the ultimate found family. Ryan was upset at his father’s insinuation that Graham wasn’t “real family” in Arachnids in the U.K.

So it is very clear going into Resolution that Aaron has quite a mountain to climb in order to redeem himself. He has been the absent monster haunting the entire season. Graham has implicitly compared him to a Dalek. There is a tangible sense going into Resolution that Aaron is the real monster at the end of the eleventh season, and the Dalek is really just a surrogate that can stand in for him. There are a lot of big ideas here, but they align in interesting and challenging ways.

Unfortunately, Resolution bungles the pay-off of these themes. Aaron never really redeems himself. He shows up, has coffee with Ryan, gets criticised by both Ryan and Graham, gets brought along in the TARDIS, is captured by the Dalek, and is eventually saved by Ryan. At no point in any of this does Aaron actually redeem himself. At no point in Resolution does Aaron demonstrate to Ryan and Graham that he is worthy of their trust and their affection.

“Rusty?”

Resolution does try some narrative sleight of hand. Notably, it is Aaron who comes up with the idea of using the microwave and oven to defeat the Dalek. The Doctor even compliments him on the idea. However, that is a plot function rather than a piece of characterisation. It demonstrates that Aaron is clever in a way that Resolution needs him to be clever in order to resolve the plot. It does not demonstrate that Aaron has fundamentally changed in any meaningful way.

Resolution needs Aaron to do something that shows that he cares for Ryan. It would be a cliché, but still better than nothing, to force Aaron to sacrifice himself (or attempt to sacrifice himself) to protect Ryan from the Dalek. It would be a ridiculously contrived plot point, but it would work as narrative shorthand. The big criticism of Aaron is that he was never there when Ryan needed him and that he always put himself first and that he is a coward, so doing something heroic and risky would effectively redeem him.

Resolution never attempts any of this, assuming that providing some technobabble on the way to the climax is a suitable substitute for characterisation. To be fair, this is a recurring problem with Chibnall’s writing, most obvious in episodes like The Ghost Monument and The Tsuranga Conundrum. In The Ghost Monument, Chibnall’s script is more interested in providing exposition about the world than in developing its characters. The Tsuranga Conundrum devotes an extended monologue to the Doctor praising the fictional technology driving the ship.

The result is that Aaron is effectively let off the hook for all of his flaws, forgiven for no other reason than his biological connection to Ryan. To be entirely fair, this is not the first time that Doctor Who has hit this stumbling block. Mark Gatiss made a similar argument in The Idiot’s Lantern with an abusive father. Even It Takes You Away never seems to realise how abusive Erik was towards Hanne, to the point of convincing her that monsters existed so he could escape into a fantasy life.

Let the right one Lin.

However, it is a bigger issue with Aaron because Aaron is effectively the crux of Ryan’s emotional arc across the entirety of the eleventh season. Messing up this character arc is a bigger deal than messing up the character arc of a supporting character in a mid-season story. Watching Resolution, it seems like Chibnall understands the basic ideas that he has to pay off in Resolution to offer a sense of closure (or resolution) to the season’s larger arcs, but cannot actually make those connections.

The result is that the most satisfying pay-off for Ryan in Resolution is that he manages to save his father from a Dalek in the midst of a collapsing supernova. It isn’t quite riding a bike like he tried in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, but it is a physical obstacle that poses a challenge to a young man with a coordination-related condition. “Not bad for a kid with dyspraxia,” Ryan remarks to his father, putting a button on the moment that also suggests the unfortunate reading that Resolution is somehow about Ryan trying to prove himself to Aaron rather than vice versa.

In terms of symmetry between The Woman Who Fell to Earth and Resolution, there is a very satisfying juxtaposition between the Doctor at the start of the season and the Dalek at the end of the season, an inversion of the juxtaposition of Skaro in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar and Gallifrey in Heaven Sent and Hell Bent during the ninth season. The Dalek in Resolution has a journey very similar to that of the Doctor in The Woman Who Fell to Earth.

Both the Doctor in The Woman Who Fell to Earth and the Dalek in Resolution find themselves in an unconventional female form, forced to adapt and improvise in Sheffield. Resolution consciously evokes The Woman Who Fell to Earth in the sequence during which Lin fashions an improvised Dalek shell from Sheffield steel in a manner that recalls the Doctor’s construction of a sonic screwdriver in similar conditions using similar materials. It is a clever and effective juxtaposition.

Sheffield steel yourself.

Resolution finds a significant amount for the Doctor, Ryan and Graham. Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh all get big moments to play over the course of the episode. However, this does mean that Yaz is somewhat shortchanged. With Ryan and Graham getting big character beats, Resolution falls back into the familiar pattern of episodes like The Tsuranga Conundrum and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos of casting Yaz in the thankless role of “generic companion.”

Still, there is a sense that Chibnall has some idea of how Yaz is supposed to function in this role. The eleventh season has repeatedly fallen back on the idea of the Doctor as something akin to a universal police officer, “sorting out fair play throughout the universe” while riding around in a Police Box. As such, making Yaz a trainee police officer works relatively well in establishing her as a credible apprentice, similar to characterising Rory as a nurse and Bill as a student.

Resolution manages to make some use of Yaz’s police training, even in a very generic capacity. It is is Yaz who is tasked with dealing with Lin and Mitch at the dig, which she handles in a very official manner. “We’ll make sure it’s all kept safe,” Yaz assures the pair, demonstrating the sort of considerate and efficient service that the Doctor rarely affords guest stars. “I’ve got your details now, so we’ll let you know when it’s okay to come back down.” All that the sequence is missing is a shot of Yaz closing her notebook.

Resolution is a fairly sturdy episode. It has a strong enough central concept that none of its flaws ever overwhelm the story. It doesn’t always manage to pay-off its set-ups, but it understands that they exist and makes a token effort to acknowledge them. This alone is enough to elevate Resolution ahead of the season’s nominal finale, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos. It’s a pretty decent holiday special, a functional season finale, and a delightfully ambitious high concept. The result is one of the strongest episodes of an otherwise lackluster season.

You might be interested in our other reviews from Jodie Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who:

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3 Responses

  1. Ok, I’m pretty late to this one. That being said, I generally thought this was passable. Chibnall can write the Daleks pretty well-I’ll give him that over Moffat. But, bloody hell, that ”conversation” joke made me die a little inside.

    • Yep, Chibnall is – predictably, perhaps – much better at a conventional Dalek story than Moffat. Moffat seemed pathologically incapable of writing a conventional Dalek story, which makes a certain amount of sense given his interests as a writer. It’s perhaps very revealing that Moffat was offered the story that became Evolution of the Daleks by Davies during the third season and just couldn’t crack it.

      And there’s something to be said for a meat-and-potatoes Dalek story. Even one that misses as many set-ups as this one.

  2. Is it really possible that this episode was a homage (consciously or unconsciously) to Venom? The latter premiered in October 2018; the entirety of series 11 (including Resolution) was filmed between 31 October 2017 and 3 August 2018, according to Wikipedia.

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