Doctor Who: 2019 New Year’s Day Special
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Wayne Yip
Synopsis: As the New Year begins, a terrifying evil from across the centuries of Earth’s history is stirring. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth?
Ever since the teaser trailer for “Resolution” made reference to “the deadliest creature in the galaxy”, speculation was rife that the New Year’s special would feature the return of the Daleks after a notable absence of classic monsters throughout Season Eleven. The BBC’s marketing team did a great job at maintaining the mystique, teasing a Dalek appearance without outright confirmation, which ensured that this episode was highly anticipated. I was regularly checking online for spoilers, but couldn’t find anything concrete, so when the episode begun I was unsure whether we’d actually see the Daleks or whether it was an elaborate joke. With the slow-burn nature of the episode and the gradual reveal of the Dalek threat, Chris Chibnall did a fantastic job at unveiling the creature whilst providing audiences with a fresh take on the Dalek story format.
One thing that struck me about “Resolution” was the similarities between the Dalek’s revival and the Thirteenth Doctor’s appearance in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”. For a start, this Dalek inhabits the body of a woman – much like how the Doctor switched genders – and it has to improvise without its metal casing and weapons, whereas the Doctor had to work without her TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver. Both of them used junkyards to craft replicas of their equipment using Earth materials, resulting in “junkyard chic” look for both the Dalek casing and the Sonic Screwdriver. It is a refreshing way to reintroduce the Daleks, stripping them down to the basics and building them back up throughout the story. Much like the iconic episode “Dalek” before it, there is something scarier about a single Dalek let loose on humanity than a whole swarm of them. The sequence where it wiped out an entire army platoon was chilling, and captured the deadly ferociousness of the creature.
Character development and human drama remain Chris Chibnall’s biggest strengths, and I loved the quieter moments in this episode sandwiched between the horror and violence. The opening sequence between Lin and Mitch as they awkwardly chat about their shared kiss the night before was beautifully realistic and cringey in equal measure, humanising the characters immediately and making the audience care about their fate – something vitally important as Lin becomes the vessel for the Dalek. We’re invested in her burgeoning relationship with Mitch and want her to survive, increasing the stakes beyond another generic threat to humankind. This is where Chibnall’s Doctor Who succeeds, by making the stakes smaller and more personal, as opposed to the bombastic world-ending plots of Russell T Davies or the clever wink-to-the-audience paradoxes of Steven Moffat – he is able to make us care about the secondary characters, such as Ryan’s dad, by making them real and flawed.
The slow reveal of the Dalek was incredibly effective, and while I doubt there were many long-term fans who didn’t recognise the squid-like creature on the walls of the sewers, I liked how Chibnall took his time to reveal the Dalek and held off putting it in its iconic armour until the final act. One of the legendary jokes about Daleks was how they were unable to go upstairs – a criticism that has been proved wrong multiple times with Daleks using jet-pack technology to fly, but this episode also dealt with a similar critique – that Daleks are nothing without their casing and weapons. As evidenced by the Dalek’s possession of Lin, they are just as deadly and malevolent in their squid form as they are inside their iconic casing. I should also point out how fantastic Charlotte Ritchie was in her role as the possessed Lin, radiating the menace of a Dalek through a human form. This was also helped by Nicholas Briggs’ superb voice-over, which sounded even more threatening without the traditional electronic reverb.
As much as I enjoyed the episode, there were a few nit-picks that stood out for me. Firstly, I was slightly miffed that they didn’t reveal the title to be “Resolution of the Daleks” – I thought the whole reason they delayed the opening credits to the end was to reveal that “Resolution” was just a placeholder title to help maintain the mystery of the central villain. It just seems a bit flat and uninspiring as a title on its own, although I guess some of the characters made resolutions in the episode, such as the Doctor’s pledge to explore “everywhere” and Ryan’s Dad’s decision to be a better father. The second nit-pick was the decision to dismantle UNIT for a throwaway joke – as the Doctor called up Kate Stewart, I was expecting a UNIT cameo from Jemma Redgrave and maybe Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood too, but instead it seemed to be included to pave over a potential plot hole and to make a slightly political joke about funding cuts. I half-expected the Doctor to look at the camera and say “bloody Brexit”. Aside from the poor attempt at humour, it annoyed me that it effectively stopped dead an avenue for Expanded Universe stories as Big Finish have been steadfast in its production of UNIT audio dramas since November 2015 – hopefully they can explore this plot thread in future boxsets.
Both seasonal stories and Dalek stories can be a bit hit and miss, and there was a strong sense of apprehension about including an established monster into this new era, but I have to say that Chris Chibnall and Wayne Yip did a fantastic job at bringing the Daleks to life (quite literally) without losing what made Season Eleven stand out. I’d argue it’s the best Dalek story since “Dalek” and proves the power in self-restraint as it felt so much more rewarding to see a Dalek onscreen after an absence of three years – their last major appearance was in “The Witch’s Familiar”. Also, focusing on one single Dalek really emphasised the threat they faced as opposed to the recent trend in using armies full of Daleks to invoke fear. I also liked how they added a new wrinkle into the Dalek mythos by showing them able to possess humans – much like how Moffat introduced humans with Dalek weaponry built-in. This makes them more mobile, more strategic and most importantly, more deadly.
A brilliant exercise in how to revitalise and reboot established monsters, “Resolution” was easily one of the best Doctor Who seasonal specials yet. Now, we have just to wait the unbearable wait until 2020 for a new episode…