This year, Doctor Who aired a special on New Year’s Day. This is not the first time even in recent Who history of this happening. The last episode of Russel T. Davies’s run, “The End of Time, Part Two” also aired on New Year’s Day, concluding the story started at Christmas 2009. This is the first new Who Doctor to air a special on New Year’s Day instead of Christmas.
Going into the special, I was wary. There’s always been something softly appealing about the Christmas-y overtones and background of previous specials. Even when Christmas fades to the back, the episodes have always felt somewhat epic, just a little bit more special than any other episode. I was excited, however, about the possible return of the Daleks. The Daleks have been a Who staple since the first Doctor, appearing in the very second Doctor Who serial ever in 1963-4. The preview seemed to be setting up for such a reveal, but as I was already nervous, I was hesitant to get my hopes up.
Chris Chibnall made a clean break and a fresh start for himself this season by having episodes that did not use any previously introduced characters or planets (save for Earth). While Steven Moffat drew on his time as a writer under Davies, Chibnall decided to distance himself. While this is admirable, it left longtime fans a little off balance, though we could all agree that Jodie Whittaker was an excellent casting choice. In “Resolution” Chibnall brings back the Daleks and UNIT (though he makes a point of removing them as an easy plot device), drawing on the legacy of every previous Doctor Who showrunner.
But, here’s the thing, Chibnall did something that modern audiences hadn’t experienced in quite some time… He made the Daleks…
I know, hard to believe, but true! For decades we’ve all heard the stories of how terrifying the Daleks were, of the cliché of children hiding behind the sofa. While there have been some episodes where the Daleks demonstrate why this was the case, and why they are the Doctor’s greatest enemy, overuse has made them a cliché. Both Davies and Moffat have made missteps with the Daleks (Dalek-Humans of Series 3, M&M/Skittles Daleks of Series 5), but Chibnall has avoided this by adding a new element to the Daleks, and has made them a special event, but not using them in Series 11.
I have to commend Chibnall for his choices. I’m really impressed with how he continues to bring his aesthetic in a way that has actually been rejuvenating. He perhaps pulls more on old Who more than his predecessors, both with how he composes episodes, graphics, and music, but does so in a way that is fresh rather than nostalgic.
Without giving too much away, Chibnall begins by setting up the Daleks as the greatest threat in the universe. Something that has been said over and over again throughout Doctor Who, but is this time backed up. Here, an ancient Dalek manages to take control of a human body and demonstrates how and why they are so dangerous. Now, the Doctor attributes some of these skills to the fact that this is a ‘reconnaissance scout’, which is a little bit unsatisfying, but understandable. It might be more frustrating if the Dalek just started exhibiting new powers for no apparent reason. After all, while this is a new showrunner and new Doctor, this is not a new incarnation of the show as a whole, such as when Davies made Daleks fly.
The episode moves a little slowly, but picks up speed as it goes, with the bulk of the conflict, climax, and resolution happening in the last half of the episode. (In fact, the problem is only solved completely in the last four minutes– I was very concerned my recording would end before the episode did.) Like Chibnall’s previous episodes, this one takes place in Sheffield and features familial ties and makes allusions to the working class. The guest characters, however, are archeologists, which I wouldn’t categorize as working class, although their work is directly related to the events of the episode. Once again family, specifically Graham and Ryan’s, is at the forefront, and while it seems a little too easy in some ways, the happy ending is not unwelcome (a way in which Chibnall continues to distinguish Doctor Who from his work on Torchwood).
Overall, I found the episode enjoyable. It was a thrilling return of the Daleks and great fun watching Jodie Whittaker exhibit the terror as well as the swagger that every other Doctor has demonstrated in the face of the Daleks. Her Doctor here is a little more jarring and a little less human, but that bravado evokes the previous new Who Doctors. Unfortunately, we will not be getting new episodes until ‘very early 2020’. My suspicion is that we will see another New Year’s Day special kick off Series 12, but only time– and the BBC– will tell.