‘Resolution’ Proved New DOCTOR WHO Needed an Old Enemy

The following recap contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episode, “Resolutionâ€It’s a brand new year and we have a brand new Doctor Who. Sadly, it’s the only Doctor Who that we’ll be getting in this calendar year, but if Chris Chibnall and his crew are going to leave us waiting for more, they could have done a heck of a lot worse than “Resolution.†While fans, myself included, may have been disappointed by the news that this series would for the first time since 2005 skip the usual Christmas Day special in favor of a stand-alone New Year’s episode, it’s hard not to feel like this scheduling gambit may have been worth it. Despite the newness of the move, what we got was a story that felt like that familiar Who again.The most interesting aspect of the episode was the thing that most fans had guessed from the teasers, and the BBC’s marketing revealed last week. After a season of entirely new villains and monsters, the Doctor ( Jodie Whittaker) was finally facing off against her longest-standing foes, the Dalek. The tank-driving, genocidal mutant squids are back, and it would seem not a moment too soon. Following series 11, which made frequent use of villains who weren’t really villains, it was time for good old-fashioned baddies again. More impressive than knowing when it was time for a resurrection of the Daleks, Chibnall managed to go a step further and pull off a trick that seemed nearly unreachable at this point: He did something new with them.One of the most prevailing issues with the Daleks as villains is that when used right they can be utterly terrifying, but when used over and over again and in massive numbers, they begin to seem utterly ridiculous. But with “Resolution,†Chibnall made a Dalek feel the most threatening one has since their first updated appearance, 2005’s “Dalek.†Establishing this genocidal mutant squid as a recon scout with different abilities, this Dalek begins its assault by ‘piloting’ a human woman, an anthropologist named Lin (guest star Charlotte Ritchie.)  As scary as the monsters can be when driving around in personal tanks, having one control you, broadcasting its hatred into your brain, all while leaving you sentient and aware of what it is doing, is a level of cruelty that even the Doctor seems shaken by.The tank body is a must for any great Dalek episode, however, and “Resolution†does eventually deliver, with a DIY version of the iconic frame pieced together from stolen parts in a remote assembly yard. If that description sounds familiar, it doesn’t seem unintentional. This monster serves as a perfect dark reflection of the Thirteenth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, built from alien tech and Sheffield steel in Jodie’s first full episode “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.†This Dalek is as much encoded to face this specific Doctor as the broken down survivor of the Time War was that faced Christopher Eccleston in 2005. By squaring off against this particular villain, right now, Jodie Whittaker was finally able to take the kid gloves off and give us the Doctor that her fans have been dying to see throughout her inaugural season. Given a somewhat slow-pitch softball assortment of enemies prior, even her most inspired speeches and defiant quips often felt undercut by the plots around them. But here, her mix of anger, determination, and legitimate sense of the danger this creature represents allows for the building of tension that props her up where she deserves. When she steps forward and tells the Dalek “Aw, mate, I’m the Doctor, ring any bells?†it lands as the triumphant hero moment her performance has deserved for the last ten episodes. It tells the Dalek that she is its enemy, and it should be afraid of her.Another interesting choice that Chibnall makes in the episode, and one that is handled in one of the episode’s handful of comedic cutaway scenes–via an unsympathetic British government call center operator named Polly (Laura Evelyn)–is the revelation that, as far as we know, UNIT, the clandestine taskforce that polices alien activity on Earth, no longer exists, a victim of budget cuts. The organization has been a part of the show’s lore since the Second Doctor’s run in the late 1960s, and the Third Doctor worked for the organization throughout his era and have remained a staple of Doctor Who on screen and off ever since. Despite the initial feeling of sadness that such a significant part of the show’s history has been seemingly jettisoned for now, it actually feels like a smart call. Having a secret military organization step in and seize control at the immediate outset of an alien invasion has often been a storytelling crutch for the show, and cutting it out raises the tension and brings the show back to its more pure form, with the Doctor and companions being the outliers, the simple travelers who stand in the way of evil plots. As she hangs up on Polly, the Doctor states an exasperated “We’re on our own,†and immediately makes the stakes seem oh so much higher. The specials (Christmas and now New Year’s) that air during new eras of the revived series have often served as high water marks for what is to come. “The Christmas Invasion†introduced David Tennant’s Doctor to us and helped transition from the more uncertain first series into the more established tone that Russell T. Davies would keep for the remainder of his time as showrunner. Likewise, in 2014 “ Last Christmas†felt like the episode where Steven Moffat and his team really figured out how to write for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and could be considered the dawn of his more appreciated grumpy rocker grandpa persona. With that in mind, perhaps the revisiting of an old enemy was just the thing this Doctor needed to help Chibnall know where to go next in his run as well. When we see “The Doctor Will Return†appear at the end of the episode, we can only hope it’ll be in more stories like this one. If so, 2020 can’t get here fast enough.

Images: BBC

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