[This review contains some minor SPOILERS!]
Series 11 of Doctor Who was notable for having tried to establish itself as an independent entity free from the clutter and expectations of previous seasons. There were not nearly as many knowing nods to earlier episodes and no recurring characters or classic villains. This proved to be something of a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, while the new season was more easily accessible to new viewers, many feel it deprived the new season of the sense of legacy that is a large part of the mystique of Doctor Who. On the other hand, every episode was a self-contained story and there was no overriding arc or grand scheme to the season involving a big mystery to be solved. Given how convoluted some of these season-long stories during the Steven Moffat era were, this was an improvement to the minds of many.
Still, one cannot ignore a legacy forever in a series like Doctor Who, so it is fitting that this revolutionary season should end on New Years Day – a holiday reserved for both looking back and looking forward. It is also fitting that this special episode, titled “Resolution” should resurrect the greatest enemy of The Doctor – The Daleks.
The story sees The Doctor and her mates alerted to a dormant Dalek scout having been unearthed by archaeologists in the sewers of Sheffield. Left without arms or armor, the monstrous alien takes control of one of the archaeologists, Lin, and starts using her to gather what it needs to protect itself and send a signal to the nearest Dalek invasion fleet. In the midst of all this, Ryan’s estranged father, Aaron, arrives seeking to try and build a connection with the son he abandoned years earlier, much to Graham and Ryan’s mutual annoyance.
Chris Chibnall’s script tries to find a nice balance between the more character-focused drama that this season has seen and the more action-focused moments that a Dalek story demands. He doesn’t quite manage it however, and the appearance of Ryan’s deadbeat dad only serves to distract from the sequences in which Lin becomes “piloted” by the Dalek. While the body horror elements of these sequences are effectively handled, the rock-infused incidental and transitional music backing these scenes seems wholly inappropriate. Indeed, I laughed during one tense moment when Jodi Whittaker’s perfect look of horror was immediately followed by a buzzy guitar solo as we cut back to Lin.
The script itself has a number of logic problems. The chief one is the idea that a single Dalek scout was defeated in 9th century England and its armor was split into two parts and taken to the ends of the Earth while the body itself was to be buried in England. The fact that Dark Ages warriors were able to face and defeat this one Dalek severely undercuts The Doctor’s claims that this scout was part of an elite brand of Daleks that could single-handedly kill 7 billion humans, even before it hastily assembles an improvised suit of Dalek armor. It also doesn’t help matters that The Doctor makes this claim before finding out that UNIT has apparently been shut down in the face of Brexit, which left me wondering whatever happened to the twin Osgoods and suddenly missing the Moffat era again.
Still, when “Resolutions” works, it works quite well. Whittaker delivers a fantastic performance and the scene where she confronts the Dalek scout may be her finest moment yet as The Doctor. The rest of the ensemble are similarly impressive. And while I may question the effectiveness of Chibnall’s desire to split the script in the way he does here, it cannot be denied that he does a fantastic job of establishing the characters of Lin and Mitch early on, making me wonder if we might see more of them in Series 12, even if this would make the TARDIS even more crowded than it is now.
In the end, “Resolutions” is a serviceable Doctor Who episode, but little more than that. Like the improvised Dalek armor, it is far less than the sum of its parts. There are however, some truly great parts that make the episode functional, if not fantastic.