Doctor Who’s New Year’s Day special, “Resolution”, feels like the culmination of season 11 that the finale failed to be – Chris Chibnall puts out his best modern day sci-fi story so far, and the strengths of the show’s current incarnation are present with fewer weaknesses than permeated the season at large. This is the work of a team who’ve had time to get to know and work with each other, and a writer who seems more at ease and aware of his own abilities. It doesn’t make the year-long wait for season 12 any easier, but if it’s a glimpse into season 12, it’s a reassuring one.
It’s fun to see 13 and her team again, just because it’s been a few weeks since we last saw them. Their interplay and chemistry pick back up where we left them, and it’s fun to see them established and at ease with their team dynamics.
The guests this week start strong, with the relationship between the two excavators feeling simplified but believable – Charlotte Ritchie, in particular, turns in a star-making performance, a far cry from the forgettable faces of the week that permeated season 11 overall.
The final reveal and payoff of Ryan’s dad is handled well, with the awkwardness and tension of the meeting having real power. There are some excellent scenes here – Graham telling him that family is more than DNA or a name, Ryan telling his dad he doesn’t get to come back expecting respect – that highlight Chibnall’s emotional chops. It’s excellent to see the slow build of both Graham and Ryan’s emotional developments reach a climax, even if it’s a little undercut by the happy ending – maybe it was too much to kill him on New Year’s Day?
It’s worth noting that Ryan’s dad isn’t a black-and-white bad guy here – he’s actually quite relatable in his characterisation as someone’s who’s made bad decisions and not kept pace with them. “I wish I was better at life” is an incredibly powerful line.
The big moment we were all waiting for is here: the Daleks. Well, one. That’s been in pieces for hundreds of years. It’s almost impossible for some to imagine being unaware of the long history between the Doctor and the Daleks, but through the lens of this being new viewers’ introduction to the timelord’s most infamous foe, it’s a strong start.
The body horror of the case-less Dalek taking control of someone’s body is excellent at establishing how dominating and unsettling this alien is, and the real existential fear behind the writing is some of the scariest the Daleks have been in some time – the idea of being not only body-jacked, but killing innocents, is heavy stuff for a family show.
Jodie shines here. It’s become quite apparent throughout season 11 – and its press junket – that Jodie hadn’t been a fan of Doctor Who before landing the role, and some in the fanbase criticised her decision to not return to past stories/Doctors for background. It gave her a chance to take on the character from a clean slate, but at times led to 13 feeling somewhat detached from her own history and legacy. A lot of that is remedied here.
Jodie, and more importantly, 13, conveys just how much of a threat this single, injured, ancient Dalek is. Graham jokes that it’s “one squid vs seven billion humans”, but Jodie beautifully conveys the bitter and resentful relationship the Doctor has with them. Her remark about always thinking she’s free of them was particularly poignant. There are moments of comedy throughout this episode but the threat of the Dalek itself is some of the strongest since Eccleston’s “Dalek” way back in 2005. “Me and a Dalek? It’s personal.”
13’s first interactions with the newly reassembled Dalek are Jodie’s best so far. And her switching back and forth in tone and approach – talking to both the Dalek and the woman it’s controlling – effectively shows the two sides to the Doctor. Plus she actually gives someone medicine complete with dosage instructions. She’s a literal Doctor!
13 double-checking that she’s offered the Dalek enough chances and that she’s been nice enough is a cute moment, as is her remark that Ryan’s dad being good with gadgets is almost enough to make up for his parenting deficit. Graham also gets to say “it travels in space and time”, which is fun. 13 has two of her best lines here: “I’m not having that” and, “I think that was my best ever skid…I’m so chuffed!”
The finale isn’t the strongest, and the confrontation between the Dalek and soldiers doesn’t do much, but otherwise, this is easily the best non-historical episode of season 11, and Chibnall’s best writing for the show overall. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come. This is a great ending to a mediocre season.